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Fly fishing is an extremely fun and rewarding activity, but to get set up with a fly rod, reel, and line can easily cost upwards of a few hundred dollars. That doesn’t need to be the case. There are plenty of ready-to-fish fly fishing combos out there to get you started for under $100. We purchased and tested the three best fly fishing combos under $100 so we could recommend the best one for you to get started fly fishing.
A fly fishing combo that includes a rod, reel, line, and leader is the best way to get started fly fishing for a beginner and also for many intermediate and advanced fly fishers. Four of the five fly fishing setups that I’ve owned were purchased as combos and they’ve all performed great for me. Purchasing your fly fishing rig as a combo makes it easy to be sure that you have a balanced rod and reel with the appropriate line so you can start fishing as soon as possible. Most combos even come pre-spooled so there is almost no setup required on your part.
We searched the internet for fly fishing combos under $100 and dug through forums and blog posts to find which ones offered the best performance values. Combos we selected needed to come with at least a rod, reel, and line and be available in 5 or 6 weight. We believe a 5 or 6 weight rod is the best for beginners because it offers the most versatility for freshwater fishing. These weights are also right in the middle of the fly rod weight range, so once you learn on a 5 or 6 weight it’s easy to adjust to a heavier or lighter rod.
In the end, I purchased three combos to test: the Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Fishing Outfit, the Wildwater Fly Fishing Starter Package, and the Shakespeare Cedar Canyon Fly Fishing Combo. I purchased these combos with my own money so that there was no pressure from sponsors to promote one product over another. We really want to give you the best possible recommendation to get you started on the right foot.
Fly Fishing Combo Evaluation
Two of us spent two days fishing these three combos on a local river. We fished dry flies, light nymph rigs, heavy nymph rigs, small streamers, and big streamers to get a feel for how the gear would handle different fishing scenarios. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to test how well the rods fought a 5-pound trout, but we did pull in a lot of whitefish! After thorough testing, we give our thoughts and recommendation on each combo below.
Best Overall: Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Fishing Outfit
The Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Fishing Outfit offers a quality build and great performance. A beginner can grow with the outfit for years to come. This would also be a great option for an intermediate fisherman looking for an upgrade or to expand their rod selection.Public Lands Journal
Of the three fly fishing setups that we tested the Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Fishing Outfit offered the best equipment. The fit and finish on the Bighorn rod are what you’d expect from a higher-priced product. We found the rod’s action to be very nice and forgiving. The moderate action is soft enough to be forgiving for beginners while providing enough backbone to get some distance on your cast or buck the wind on a breezy day. The Bighorn rod was also the only rod designed for a specific weight fly line. In this case a 5 weight. This gives you the option to upgrade lines later, or to add a sinking line to your rotation. With a 5/6 weight rod, some performance is sacrificed with the line pairing.
The Cabela’s Prestige II reel is an excellent pairing with the Bighorn rod. The aluminum reel features a large arbor to reduce line memory and increase retrieve speed. The disc drag is very functional and adjusts easily. It feels much like a reel that costs twice the price.
We spent two afternoons testing the rod on a local river. We fished small dry flies, large streamers, and heavy nymph rigs. The Cabela’s Bighorn Outfit performed well under all conditions. It easily cast dry flies and had enough oomph to cut through a light breeze. The setup also did well roll-casting nymph rigs with extra weight added. One minor problem was the fly line. It was the best line of the three tested setups but sometimes had problems staying afloat in complex currents and back eddies. This can happen even with premium fly lines and proper mending and line management helped alleviate the problem.
Bottom Line: The Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Fishing Outfit offers a quality build and great performance. A beginner can grow with the outfit for years to come. This would also be a great option for an intermediate fisherman looking for an upgrade or to expand their rod selection.
Runner Up: Wildwater Fly Fishing Starter Package
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this kit to a beginner that was itching to get started fly fishing. It is a quality setup that offers a ton of great extras for an impressive price.Public Lands Journal
It’s impressive what’s included in the Wildwater Starter Package, for the price. You’ll receive a rod, reel, fly line, leader, rod case, fly box, 9 flies, line nippers, and a retractable leash for under $100 (at the time of purchase). If you want to make one order and start fishing as soon as the package arrives, then this option is for you.
The performance of the Wildwater rod doesn’t match up to the Cabela’s Bighorn. It is a slow action rod and leaves something to be desired when casting big streamer and heavy nymph rigs, or casting into the wind. The rod does seem well built and the slow action will be forgiving for beginners. Due to the rod’s slow action, it can be difficult to make the appropriate mends in complex currents, especially with a moderate to long cast.
Wildwater has done a good job with their reel. Like the Cabela’s Prestige II it is a large arbor aluminum reel with a disc drag and large arbor. The drag does not click as positively as the Prestige, but it is much better than I was expecting. The fly line is adequate but lacks a welded loop requiring a knot to connect to the leader (it does come attached). Like the Bighorn outfit, the fly line had a hard time staying afloat at times.
Bottom Line: I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this kit to a beginner that was itching to get started fly fishing. It is a quality setup that offers a ton of great extras for an impressive price.
Not Recommended: Shakespeare Cedar Canyon Rod/Reel Combo
To be frank, the Shakespeare setup doesn’t even hold a candle to the previous two mentioned in this article. The rod might perform as well as the Wildwater, but the reel is plastic and feels cheap. The drag doesn’t have a positive click and the pre-spooled fly line came with kinks. The rod doesn’t even have a fly keeper. A small detail that speaks to the overall thought that I feel went into the product.
The only potentially saving grace for this product is the price. It comes in at less than $70 (at the time of purchase). But if you want to buy a fly box, some flies, and a rod case that will bring you up to $100 and you might as well just buy the Wildwater, which gives you all those things plus a better rod, better reel, and better fly line.
Bottom line: I’m not even including a link because you shouldn’t buy this setup.
Overall, I was impressed and a little surprised by the quality of the Cabela’s Bighorn setup. Over 20 years ago I started fly fishing with the Cabela’s Prestige setup. I fished that rod and reel for over 15 years before passing it on to my roommate who wanted to get started fly fishing. It seems you’ll get the same kind of longevity out of the Bighorn. It’s quite impressive how much value Wildwater has put into their offering. You can make one order and go fishing as soon as it arrives (make sure you have a license). These two outfits show that you can get started fly fishing for a very affordable price and that the gear you buy as a beginner can stay with you for years as your skills increase.
Win One of These Fly Fishing Combos!
We want more people to experience the joy of fly fishing. To that end, we are giving away all three of the combos we tested for this article, with fish slime still on the handles! To enter, fill out the form below, subscribe to Public Lands Journal on YouTube, and leave a comment on this video.
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