One of the first things all fly fishers have to do when they start out fly fishing is having the right fly fishing gear. Of all the bits of fly fishing gear to choose from, the most important and key decision for success is choosing a fly rod that is right for your abilities and the species of fish you’re targeting.
When I was a young fly angler, I had no idea about fly rods, their different weights and what that actually meant on the water when it came to my casting or the species I was after. I just picked a fly rod out of my Dad’s collection and went fishing.
By picking the right fly rod, your fly fishing will benefit immensely. Your fly casting will be a lot better, it’s easier to cast, and long casts become far more manageable. Here are all my tips on how to choose a fly rod that is right for you.
What are fly rods meant to do?
Before you go and pick a fly rod, it’s important to understand what is expected of a fly rod when it comes to fly fishing, and there are just two major things:
- Casting – your fly rod is there to help you cast your fly line and fly long enough, with great accuracy and delicacy so that you don’t spook any fish and have a good chance of catching one.
- Hooking & fighting a fish – fly rods are also there to help you hook fish and then fight them to the point you can land them. This means they have be both strong and fleixble enough to handle whatever kind of fish in on the end of your line.
Now that we are on the same page when it comes to the purpose of a fly rod, lets look at the factors your need to think about to choose the right one.
What species of fish are you fishing for and where?
The kind if fish you plan on catching is the biggest decider on which fly rods are right for the job. If you’re trout fishing, then you’re going after a smallish fish that eats small flies. This means the rod doesn’t have to be too strong to fight the fish, or have too much power for casting the small flies they feed on.
Now let’s say you plan on fly fishing for 100lb tarpon in the Florida Keys. Tarpon are very different from trout and are around 100 times bigger, eat much larger flies, and you’re going to need a much strong rod to hook and fight them, heavier fly line, plus the rod needs to be able to cast big flies a good distance.
Another thing to consider is the location you’re fishing in. Let’s take trout as an example. You can catch trout in small streams, medium sized rivers, or huge lakes, each of which can require a different fly rod as on a large lake you’ll cast long distances and might need a heavier rod to reach them and maybe cut into the wind.
Picking the right fly rod in all of these situations starts off by selecting the right weight fly rod to match the fish and location.
Fly Rod Weights Explained
All fly rod manufacturers such as Sage or Orvis give every high quality fly rod they make a weight rating written as WT, and this is what tells us anglers how strong the rod is and what it’s best for.
Fly rods range in weight from 2-16, a 2 weight being the lightest and a 16 weight being the heaviest. Generally the smaller the fish the lower weight rods you’ll need and vice versa. Here is a guide to weight vs fish size for you.
- If you’re heading trout fishing on a river, a 3 or 4 weight rod is ideal as it’s light and delicate for casting small flies and strong enough to handle the size of a trout. When targeting trout on a lake, a 5 weight rod might be better as it’s a little more powerful making it easier to cast further and into the wind.
- When going for bass, a 6 weight fly rod is a better choice as you’ll be casting larger bass flies and have to stop the bass from snagging you in cover – also bass fight harder than trout.
- When you want to go fishing in saltwater for bonefish or stripers, then an 8 weight is what you’ll need. And for bigger fish like tarpon, a 12 weight is must or you won’t be able to lift and fight those monsters.
Generally speaking, for beginners wanting to learn fly fishing and go after trout or bass, a 5 weight is the first fly rod to own and add to their list of beginner fly fishing setup as it’s in the mid-range which makes casting a lot easier and a rod that is too heavy or too light.
Fly Rods And Fly Line Weights
The weight of a fly rod directly corresponds to a line weight and to use your rod effectively you will need to match your rod with the right weight line.
For example a 5 weight rod needs a 5 weight line, a 4 weight with a 4 weight, and a 6 weight with a 6 weight line.
Line weights differ in weight to match the power of rod. If you fished a 2 weight line on a 5 weight rod, then you’d barely be able to cast as the line weight is too light to load the rod with enough energy, and vice versa. A heavier line weight on light rods is hard to manage, you’ll be able to get some distance but the heavier line weight will result in poor line control and this accuracy and presentation.
The weight of a fly line also corresponds to its breaking strain and thus a heavier fly line like a 12 weight can have a core of 80 lbs where as a 5 weight fly line will have a breaking strain of around 30 lbs. This lines up directly with matching your fly line weight to your rod weight to the size of the fish you’re going after.
You can check out our post here on the best beginner fly rods if you’re still looking for the best in the market.
What else needs to match your fly rods?
It’s not just the line weight you need worry about. For your fly rods to work effectively as possible you need the rod, reel, and line to all match so your setup is balanced. Luckily, picking a fly reel to match is easy for fly fishers as they use the same weighting system.
So the matching system goes a bit like this. Size fish = rod wt = line wt = reel weight and size.
What does rod action have to do with it?
One of the most confusing parts of high tech fly rods is working out what action means when you’re holding a rod in your hand.
Rod action describes where along the length of the rod it will bend or flex and it’s measured from fast to slow, fast bending near the tip section and slow bending near the butt section. An easy way to remember it is:
- A slow action rod is bendy with a lot of flex
- Medium action rods have a bit of flex but are a little stiff
- A fast action rod is has the least flex and feels stiff
But, what does all this mean when you’re holding the fly rod in your hand and casting with it?
A fast action rod is stiff and this helps you make long casts, punch into the wind, and with a fast action you need less energy to make the cast. This is because the lack of flex ensure the rod holds onto your energy more and transfers it into the line more efficiently.
The stiffness also makes these rods better for mean fighting fish like bass as you can stop them from running into snags more easily.
As an experienced angler, I always use a fast action rod but for new fly anglers, they will be hard to cast with as there is less feel in a fast rod. Also, they are quite tricky for making short casts with.
A medium action rod has a medium amount of flex and is ideal for a new fly angler as it combines feel with enough stiffness for making long but delicate casts.
If you’re going to own just one fly rod then a medium action rod is perfect, especially for trout fishing.
Slow action fly rods bend at the butt and are best for smaller fish like brook trout or crappie or when presentation is more important than casting distance. They are soft rods which allows you to drop your fly very delicately on the water and when you hook a small fish, then bend so much which makes the fight more exciting.
Fly Rod Length
Rod length doesn’t change much in fly fishing as most single-handed fly rods are around 9 feet long. But the length you need does change depending on the technique of fly fishing you’re doing and can range from 7.5 to 10.5 feet and here is why.
Manufacturers have made 7-8.5 feet long rods for more delicate presentations and when fishing smaller rivers or streams. They are ideal for dry fly fishing.
Rods that are 10 feet long of more are made for euro-nyphing where a longer rod mades it easier to dift nymphs without needing much of a back cast.
But, if in doubt, a rod of 9 feet is great for all occasions.
Different Piece Rods
Fly rods also come in a number of different pieces. The most common are two piece rods and four piece rods. It used to be that the lower the number of pieces the better then energy transfer and the better the cast but nowadays technology has removed all that.
I would highly recommend a 4 piece rod as these are much easier to store and travel with. They will fit in your suitcase and check-in luggage and in the trunk of your car.
Price – how much do you need to spend?
If you go down to the local fly shop and take a look at all the rods you might get a little surprised at the price of some of them. Rods can range in price from $1200 to under $100. But luckily, companies like Orvis, Sage, TFO, and G. Loomis do make rods that are more affordable than their top quality $1200 models.
If you’re just starting to learn fly fishing then spending a lot isn’t going to be very appealing. But, the price of fly rods is a direct reoresitivie of their quality and performance. My advice is to go for a mid price rod of around $250 as it’s the perfect balance of affordability, quality and performance.
If you’re planning on picking a second hand fly rod, then you might want to check out these used fly rods for sale.
What is the best all around fly rod weight?
If you’re fishing in freshwater then the best all around fly rod weight is a 5wt rod. They are the most versatile and you can use them for bass or trout on both lakes and rivers.
A 9wt is your best choice for saltwater fly fishing setup for beginners. They are delicate enough for bonefish and permit while being strong enough for small tarpon, stripers and snook.
What makes a good fly fishing rod?
What makes a good fly fishing rod is quite a personal thing. It should be light enough for you to cast easily with, load well so you can make longer casts, be delicate enough for good presentations, and be tough enough to fight the fish you want to catch.
All the factors are relative to your abilities, style, and fishing sitatuion – what feels good is usually right, so go with your gut.