The Best Fly Fishing Outfits for 2023: Rod and Reel Combos That Are Nothing Short of Amazing!

Maybe you’re new to fly fishing, and you’re searching for a rod and reel combo that can help you learn the art while simplifying an often overwhelming selection process. Or maybe you’re a fly-fishing die-hard looking for a backup rod and reel for the trip of a lifetime.

In either case, and potentially dozens of others, a fly-fishing rod and reel combo makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, combos have a reputation for sometimes iffy quality and performance, and knowing how to separate the duds from the studs can be tough.

But if you’re in the market for a fly-fishing rod and reel combo, we’re here to help. Below, you’ll find reviews of some our favorites, as well as as a complete buying guide to tip you off to the most important things to look for.

Quick glance at the best fly rod and reel combos:

Related: 

Best Fly Rod and Reel Combos Reviewed

Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit - Best Value Fly-Fishing Rod and Reel Combo

Material: graphite

Action: medium-fast

Length: 8’ 6”, 9’, and 10’

Weight: 3 wt, 5 wt, 6 wt, and 8 wt

Pieces: 4

Orvis is perhaps “the” name in fly fishing, though rod manufacturers as diverse as TFO, Redington, and Sage are more likely to win top billing from reviewers. 

The introduction of the Clearwater outfit has changed that, turning things on their heads for more than a few die-hard anglers.

Priced right for entry-level fishermen, the Clearwater is simply outstanding, dollar for dollar, and while you won’t be tricked into thinking it costs five times what you paid for it, it fishes awfully well.

Let’s get into the details.

Orvis offers the Clearwater in a 10’ 3wt, an 8’ 6” and 9’ 5wt, a 9’ 6wt, and a fight-ready 9’ 8wt. That covers a lot of fishing territory, and pretty much whatever your passion, there’s a Clearwater ready to stoke that fire.

As you’d expect, the Clearwater series sport graphite blanks. Yes, they’re a tad heavier than the high-dollar competition, but their medium-fast action won’t hobble experienced anglers while providing a forgiving point of entry for those new to the art. In hand, the rod gives plenty of feedback, and casting at medium range is easier - and more precise - than it should be.

To me, the standouts are the 9’ 5 and 8 wt. These are versatile weights for all-around performance, and if I were chasing species like brook and brown trout, I’d opt for the former, while rainbows, steelhead, pike, and the like will require the heavier 8 wt.

Orvis delivers these excellent rods with a capable reel that features an easily-adjustable carbon fiber drag disc system. Its smooth tension provides plenty of protection for your tippet, and the arbor is sized perfectly for the rod that wears it.

Now, don’t expect an entry-level rod to do it all well, and that stiff action can stymie short casts. But at 25 to 80 feet, the Clearwater really struts its stuff.

Are there better entry-level rods at this price?

I don’t think so, and I don’t think you’ll be left wanting.

Pros:

  • Excellent medium-fast blank
  • Casts well at medium distances
  • Versatile range of weights
  • Forgiving for new anglers who are just learning to cast
  • Excellent feel and balance

Cons:

  • ???

Redington Path Outfit

Material: graphite

Action: medium-fast

Length: 8’ 6” and 9’

Weight: 4 wt, 5 wt, and 8 wt

Pieces: 4

Redington’s Path is another of those rare entry-level outfits that will surprise you with their feel and performance. No, you're not going to think it’s a $1000 rod, but I can guarantee you you'll like the way it casts and fights.

Redington offers the Path in a 9’ 4wt, an 8’6” and 9’ 5wt, and a 9’ 8 wt. All are made from graphite, and just as with the Clearwater, they weigh a few ounces more than rods double or triple their price.

You’ll find that each of the Path rods has a medium-fast action that simplifies learning to cast well, and with a little practice, your Path will consistently drop and appropriately-sized fly past the 50’ mark.

The 4 wt casts dry flies pretty well, while the 5 wts are outstanding all-arounders. The heavy 8 wt, for its part, can cast streamers and other large flies with aplomb, and it has the backbone for har fights.

For some anglers, the cork handles may be a touch slender, and if you have big hands, you may find a day’s casting starts to cause discomfort. Female anglers and those with smaller hands generally may find the Path ideal, and if you've been having a hard time finding a good fit, don’t ignore these rods from Redington.

The Path series are supplied with Redington’s Crosswater reels, matched in size and weight to the rods to provide great balance in hand. The Crosswater is easy to fish, but not terribly durable, and some of its low-cost components probably won’t hold up over the long term.

That’s a real shame, because as a complete outfit, the Path rods are fantastic. And for anglers with small hands, the Path series may still be the best choice, as long-term reel durability really needs to take a backseat to casting comfort.

Pros:

  • Excellent medium-fast blank
  • Casts well at medium distances
  • Versatile range of weights
  • Forgiving for new anglers who are just learning to cast
  • Excellent feel and balance
  • Ideal for anglers with smaller hands

Cons:

  • Redington’s Crosswater reels aren’t known for their durability

Sage Foundation Fly Outfit - Best High-End Fly-Fishing Combo

Bass Pro

Material: graphite

Action: fast

Length: 9’

Weight: 4 wt, 5 wt, 6 wt, and 8 wt

Pieces: 4

Anglers new to the excitement of fly fishing need look no further than Sage’s Foundation to build their skills and perfect the art of casting and fighting. And for die-hards, the Sage makes an unbeatable backup option that won’t disappoint you if needed.

Sage builds the Foundation from very stiff graphite, adjusting the taper to produce a fast action. This allows anglers who’ve mastered the fundamentals to cast into the wind and achieve greater distances. That said, a fast action can be a hard tool to learn with, as it’s definitely more demanding to cast well.

In the hands of someone who has the required skill, Sage’s Foundations cast accurately at medium-ranges, but that relatively stiff blank won’t load properly with short lines. As a result, short range casting suffers.

The 8 wt is my favorite of this lineup, offering plenty of range, as well as fight-winning power when you’re after large fish. Pike, rainbows, steelhead, largemouth bass: they’ll all find themselves in your landing net given the power this blank starts to offer at just past its midpoint.

At this price point, the guides are well-executed, as is the cork on the contoured handle.

Sage pairs these rods with their outstanding Spectrum C Fly Reel. Known for its reliable drag system and capacious arbor, it’s a great reel in its own right and a fantastic addition to this outfit.

 

I like the Sage Foundation outfits for experienced fly anglers, but I think there are better options for those just learning to cast.

Pros:

  • Excellent fast blank
  • High-quality components
  • Casts well at all but short distances
  • Versatile range of weights available
  • The 8 wt is a monster tamer
  • Paired with the excellent Spectrum C reel

Cons:

  • The action is better suited to experienced anglers than those trying to build skills

Echo Traverse Fly Rod Kit

Material: graphite

Action: medium-fast

Length: 9’

Weight: 4 wt, 5 wt, 6 wt, and 8 wt

Pieces: 4

Echo’s rods have earned a die-hard following, and from technique specific options like the Streamer X to fiberglass models like the River GLASS, excellent feel, great casts, and remarkable accuracy are the norm.

Echo’s Traverse outfit is a capable rod and reel combo that’s perfect for relative newcomers as well as experienced fly anglers. These rods are available in 4, 5, 6, and 8 wt options, all measuring 9’. Each is manufactured from graphite, with the blanks tuned to a medium-fast action that’s a touch on the fast side on the water.

That makes them a bit harder to cast until you’ve got the fundamentals down. But that also means that fly anglers with years of experience won’t feel burdened by a rod that won’t let them make the most of long casts.

The Traverse is much faster than the Echo Lift, with roughly the same power when these rods are compared weight to weight. And as we’ve suggested, that makes them a better fit for anglers with at least some time on the water.

Casting distance and accuracy are excellent with the Traverse, especially if you stick to medium-ranges. And while not as delicate as the Lift or as capable up close, as an all-around rod, the Traverse is probably the better option.

Echo delivers the Traverse rod of your choice with a matching Ion reel. And while inexpensive, the Ion is a great performer, offering a solid drag system with very little start-up inertia and plenty of smooth tippiet-protecting tension.

Overall, I really like the Traverse kit, and if you’ve mastered the fundamentals of casting but can’t justify the price tag on the Sage, you’ll be really happy with the Echo.

Pros:

  • Great quality to price ratio
  • Excellent medium-fast blank
  • Casts well at mid range
  • Versatile range of weights available

Cons:

  • The action is better suited to experienced anglers than those trying to build skills

Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label Outfit

Material: graphite

Action: medium-fast

Length: 9’

Weight: 5 wt and 8 wt

Pieces: 4

Here at USAngler, we’re big fans of Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label rods. TFO supports fly-fishing education programs, and their years of experience with people who’ve never held a fly rod before translates into an awesome outfit for new anglers.

Let’s discuss why.

TFO offers the NXT Black Label in two options: a 9’ 5 wt and a 9’ 8 wt. 

The 5 and 8 wt. NXT Black Labels sport a medium-fast blank that’s forgiving of poor technique. And because you can really feel your rod load under false casts, getting your timing right and building fundamentals is much easier with this rod than with the Sage, for instance.

Both rods cast well, and for their weights, offer tremendous versatility in your choice of flies. The 5 wt, for instance, is quite capable with everything from dry flies to small and medium streamers, while the 8 wt casts large streamers well.

The cork handles on these rods sometimes come under fire for their aesthetics, and if you want truly beautiful cork, you’ll want to look elsewhere. That said, their composite construction is much more durable than raw cork, and they’ll handle mishandling and the elements far better.

The reel that TFO delivers with these rods is serviceable. It will hold plenty of line, and the drag is reliable and smooth. But it can’t compete head to head with the Sage Spectrum C, for instance, and really isn’t meant to.

These kits are designed around the needs of angling schools and new fishermen, and while you may outgrow the NXT Black Label in a few years, it’s an ideal outfit to learn and master the fundamentals with.

Pros: 

  • Affordable
  • Forgiving medium-fast action
  • Outstanding performance for the money
  • Casts well,

Cons:

  • The reel supplied with the rod is just OK

Buying Guide: What You Should Be Looking for in a Fly Rod and Reel Outfit

Action

A rod’s action describes where on the blank it will bend when force is applied.

The faster the action, the stiffer the rod and the nearer the tip it will want to flex.

All other things being equal, faster actions cast farther, generate higher line speeds, and offer less delicate presentations. By contrast, slower actions offer excellent short-range casting because they load easily with little line out, offering better presentations as well.

Experienced anglers tend to prefer faster actions when they need distance or wind-bucking performance, and the latest trends in blank technology are pushing for faster and faster actions.

But a fast action isn’t always the best choice, especially if you’re just getting started. 

Slow actions are ideal for small water and casting dry flies with superb presentations. And medium-fast actions are easy to learn to cast well, offer great medium-range casting, and function beautifully as all-around rod choices.

Weight

In contrast to action, power describes how much force it takes to cause a rod to bend.

Power matters when you’re fighting fish, as a more powerful blank allows you to apply more force to your line. 

Of course that’s not an unmitigated advantage when you’re fishing with light tippet, but all in all, more powerful rods are capable of fighting larger fish.

Fly rods are categorized by a system of “weights,” abbreviated as “wt.” 

Lower numbers mean lighter power, and thus a 3 wt rod bends more easily than an 8 wt rod.

That matters a lot when you get a fish on your line, as a 3 wt just can’t handle a big fish, nor can the line, leader, and tippet it’s designed to cast.

That leads to some rough-and-ready recommendations.

If you’re targeting trout, a 3, 4, or 5 wt will be perfect, and a rod of these weights will work just as well with panfish like crappie, bluegill, and perch. A 5 wt can also be used to fight smallmouth and largemouth bass, but a bruiser will demand skill to land.

For bass, pike, rainbow, steelhead, redfish, and other large fish, an 8 wt is a great all-arounder.

Reel quality

In a fly fishing outfit, I’d say that the rod is more important than the reel.

That may be controversial, but hear me out.

Your rod does all the work casting, and casting is 90% or more of fly fishing. Your reel is there to hold line and backing and little more until you have a fish take your fly. 

Then, what matters most is the drag system’s ability to apply gentle, constant tension with little to no start-up inertia.

Your drag serves one purpose on a fly reel: it helps to protect your tippet from sudden surges as you fight a fish, effectively acting as a shock absorber to cushion your delicate line. To accomplish this task, it needs to allow line to be released with a smooth, consistent, measured tension.

Better reels will use carbon fiber discs to create this pressure, and they’ll be easily adjustable.

Our Picks: the Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit and the Sage Foundation Fly Outfit!

We were exquisitely careful in these reviews, and an argument can be made for any of the rods on our shortlist. 

For instance, anglers with smaller hands might really love the Redington Path and find that it offers superior comfort. Inexperienced anglers might really need the action on the TFO NXT Black Label to develop their skills and practice the fundamentals. And die-hards with decades on the water may love the way the Echo Traverse casts.

But for most anglers, the Orvis Clearwater is the best value on the market today. Offering a versatile range of weights and length, the Clearwater sports a forgiving medium-fast action with plenty of power, and for medium-distance casts, it’s just a pleasure to fish. The reel that Orvis supplies with the Clearwater has an excellent drag system and plenty of capacity, and for the money, this combo is very, very hard to beat.

Experienced anglers may prefer a faster action than the Clearwater, and the Sage Foundation might be just what they’re looking for. You’ll find excellent components throughout this rod and reel, and a fast action that launches flies into the next area code. Ideal for anglers who’ve mastered casting technique, these rods are available in a variety of weights that have you covered wherever and whatever your fish, and the Spectrum C reel is just fantastic.

Any of the rod and reel combos we’ve reviewed will work well for you, but these two are the real stand outs.

As always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have, so please leave a comment below.

About The Author
John Baltes
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.