Over the past decade, I reckon I’ve fished nearly 100 different fly rods, thanks in large part to my job as a fly fishing writer. Gear reviews are always popular, and fly rod companies are constantly bringing new products to the market. All this time spent reviewing rods has allowed me to figure out what makes a rod truly great, instead of just good or average.
So, as you look to add another rod to your quiver, this guide should help you figure out which fly rods are the best for your money. I’ve broken the rods down into categories based on price, because budget is the determining factor for which rods you can or can’t buy.
Best budget rods under $200
For the most part, fly rods that are cheaper than $200 aren’t all that great. This price range is tricky to get right, because manufacturers have to cut costs somewhere. So, you’ll usually see these rods come with a lower-quality cork handle, or a less-fancy rod tube than you’d expect to see on other fly rods. These are small trade-offs to make, though, for grabbing a fly rod that costs less than $200 and still performs admirably.
With that in mind, here are the best rods you can buy for less than $200.
Orvis has long been known for building some of the best fly rods on the planet, and they’ve been doing it for as long as anyone else – if not longer. The Clearwater is yet another example of why so many anglers decide to fish Orvis. This rod has a fast-action that’s pleasant to fish with for an entire day. The rod has a surprising amount of power in the butt section, meaning you can really punch out line at distance, even through a stiff wind or with heavy bugs on the end of your leader.
The Clearwater probably won’t win over a lot of fans in the aesthetics department, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from giving it a try. This rod is capable of quite a lot, and it’s priced amazingly well.
For years, until Orvis came out with their newly-designed Clearwater, the rod that I told all new anglers to fish was the Fenwick Aetos. I’m still not sure how Fenwick manages to build this rod for less than $200, but they do. It’s surprisingly light for being in this price range, and it has a very light swing weight.
Fenwick doesn’t offer any kind of lifetime warranty with this rod, but very few rods at this price will. Overall, though, the Aetos is a great piece of gear that’s capable of laying out a size 22 dry fly or picking up and fishing a heavy nymph rig. It’ll even toss smaller streamers with aplomb.
If you’re looking for a good beginner rod, I’d say it’s a dead heat between the Clearwater and the Aetos. My recommendation is to head to a local fly shop, give them the good ol’ fly shop wiggle, and see which one you enjoy best
Redington Classic Trout
I didn’t put the Redington Classic Trout down here at the bottom for any specific reason. It’s a fantastic rod with a very reasonable price. As the name implies, it’s primarily a stick for fishing traditional trout flies – dries and smaller nymphs. It’ll fish these incredibly well, and the Classic Trout may very well be one of the best fishing rods you’ll find on the rack at a fly shop. There’s a difference between a good fishing rod and a bad one, and the Classic Trout is tons of fun to fish.
It features a medium-fast action that forces you to slow down while casting. The light tip protects smaller tippets well, though it might be a bit under-powered if you run into some truly big fish. Rounding out this fly rod is a surprisingly nice rosewood reel seat and decent cork. In all, if you need a rod for small streams and spooky fish, but don’t want to spend more than $200, the Classic Trout is worth a serious look.
Best Mid-Priced Rods – $200 – $500
This is another tough category, because the lower end of it features rods that are only marginally better than their sub-$200 counterparts. The upper end of this fly rod price range, though, is full of sticks that are really, truly good rods – but at the cost of $500, isn’t it worth it to just spend $800 and get the best available?
That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. The following rods, though, are among the best you’ll find in this price range.
Douglas is a newer rod company, based out of New York, but they don’t act like it. Their rods are top-of-the-line in every price range, and I’ve yet to find a Douglas that I don’t absolutely love. The DXF is no exception, and it may very well be the best fly rod under $500.00.
This is a fast-action stick, made to handle anything trout fishing throws your way. The matte green blank is gorgeous, and Douglas selects beautiful wood inserts for the reel seat. This rod does not come in a rod and reel combo, although I don’t think that should be a make-or-break factor in your decision.
The DXF is easily one of my favorite rods I’ve fished in the past five years.
The Foundation is one of the best efforts I’ve seen Sage make at building a truly fantastic entry-level rod. If you’re a fan of fast-action rods, the Foundation is for you. It features a taper and feel eerily similar to the heralded XP, with enough backbone to push flies through wind, but the delicacy to present tiny dries at short distances.
Of course, the tradeoff here is that you get a rod that’s not as aesthetically pleasing, nor is it as light as some other rods. But if you want a Sage and Sage-like performance, but don’t want to pay more than $400, it’s hard to pass up the Foundation. It’s just a fun fly fishing rod that’s extremely capable and a joy to fish.
The good news is that the Foundation is covered by Sage’s lifetime warranty. If anything happens to this rod, you send it in, and for $75, Sage will either repair or replace this fly rod.
Thomas And Thomas Zone
Thomas & Thomas has a reputation for making some of the best fly rods in recent memory. A vintage Thomas & Thomas fly rod commands respect and reverence from most anglers I know. But the company sort of fell off the map for a while, before re-entering a few years back with a bang.
The Zone is their cheapest fly rod, but at $499, it’s not being sold for chump change. The Zone is a great trout fishing rod, with a nice moderate-fast action that’s not too slow. And, Thomas & Thomas offers a lifetime warranty on this rod, too. That helps give you some peace-of-mind when you take your fly rod on a long trip and worry about it breaking.
Lastly, the Zone is one of the prettiest rods on this list. Thomas & Thomas doesn’t skimp when it comes to build quality, and the deep midnight-blue of the blank, its unsanded ridges, and amazing cork handle combine to really make this a stunner of a fly rod.
Echo is another company making and selling great fly rods right now. The Trout rod is a newer addition to their lineup, but it’s more than proven its worth as a solid fishing stick. Each rod model features a different action, so you can match your fishing style to a rod that has a matching action. For example, the 8’6″ 4wt will fish completely differently from the 9′ 6wt. These rods have all been built from the ground-up in each length and weight category to deliver a truly great fishing experience.
The Trout doesn’t skimp on looks either, like some of Echo’s other rods. It features a matte-black blank with blue thread wraps, and decent cork. The cork handle is shaped to accommodate a wide variety of grip styles, too. In all, this is one fly rod that you definitely need to give a serious look.
Hardy Sirrus Glass
Word on the street is that the Sirrus Glass will be discontinued soon, but that shouldn’t stop you from picking one up if you can find them for sale. This is the first fiberglass fly rod on this list, and it’s not that I have anything against glass fly rods. It’s just that there are so many great rods to choose from for a piece like this, that some have to be cut.
The Sirrus Glass fly rod, though, deserves a spot on this list because of the fishing experience it offers. It’s an absolute pleasure to cast, with a soft, forgiving action that glass fly rods are known for. It’s an excellent dry fly rod, and it looks great, too.
Scott is another fly rod company that has a long history of building great fishing tools. The Flex is a fast-action offering that’s a bit pricey, but good if you’re looking for a fly rod that will do it all without hesitation, the Flex should be at the top of your list. It can handle just about any fishing situation you throw at it, and then ask for more.
Douglas gets another entry in the mid-priced fly rod market with their incredible Upstream rod. This fly rod is built for dry fly fishing on tiny water, and it does that exceptionally well. Available only in weights 2-4, the Upstream fly rod features a blank color that’s reminiscent of bamboo, with spigot ferrules and an incredible, soft slow action. If your idea of a perfect day of fishing involves small creeks, small fish, and tiny flies, than this is the rod you need in your quiver.
Best Expensive Rods – $500+
In all honesty, once you hit the $500 or so mark when shopping for fly rods, the differences between one rod or the other really depend on your fishing style. A $600 rod will be nearly as great as an $800 rod, and you’re not sacrificing anything by going with the $600 option. In this category, the most important thing you can do when shopping for a rod is to find one that matches your wants and desires exactly. You’re spending a lot of money – get something perfect. This will be an important part of your fly fishing life for years to come – so don’t skimp.
Winston makes some of the best rods on the planet, period. They build according to the philosophy that the best fly rod is one which is the best fly fishing rod – not just a fly rod that can throw an entire fly line. The Air embodies that philosophy incredibly well, and it’s one of my favorite fly rods I’ve ever fished.
The Air features the classic Winston progressive action, which is quick and lively in close, but slower and more controlled at distance. This fly rod is one that will handle any situation you want to put it in. Hand-crafted in Twin Bridges, Montana, the Air is probably best known as a dry fly rod, though I wouldn’t hesitate to throw big streamers with it, either. This fly rod has the backbone to get the job done, and it’s one of the finest fly rods Winston has ever built.
Orvis Helios 3D
When Orvis released this rod, they billed it as the most accurate rod ever built. After having fished it for a few years now, I have to agree with Orvis – the H3D certainly gives you the tools you need to make pinpoint casts at any distance.
This is a fast-action fly rod that generates a high line speed and does it all with almost no swing weight present. That means you can fish this rod all day long and not end up with tired, sore shoulders. For those of you who go on long fly fishing trips, this is particularly nice because you won’t be exhausted by the end of your time on the water.
I’ve personally used the H3D on a variety of fish, from sockeye salmon in Alaska to tiger trout in Utah. It handles everything well, and whether it’s the rod for you depends entirely on the rod action you’re looking for. If you want a fast, wind-resistant fly rod that just gets the job done, then it’s hard to pass up the H3D.
It’s hard for me to talk up the H3D too much, in all honesty. This fly rod has handled catching 20-plus inch trout on 6x tippet, and then turns around and horses in a seven-pound sockeye salmon. It feels indestructible, and I’d be surprised if I ever break any of the H3 rods I own.
Douglas Sky G
Of all the rods on this list, if I could only have on to fish with for the rest of my days, I’d pick the Sky G. I know I’ve featured Douglas a lot on this list, but it’s for a good reason. They make fantastic fly fishing rods. It’s that simple. I have more fun fly fishing when I’m using my Sky G than almost any other rod.
The Sky G has a fantastic progressive fast action and a blank stiff enough to pick up 60 feet of line and recast it in one motion. If you spend a lot of time fly fishing big water, the Sky G will be a revelation for your fly fishing game.
Despite all that speed and power, the Sky G protects lights tippets extremely well, and generates amazing line speed. It’s also the rod with the lowest swing weight ever recorded in George Anderson’s Yellowstone Angler 5-weight Shootout.
For trout fishing, I’d be hard-pressed to name a rod other than the Sky G that’s the best. I’ve fished it in a variety of situations, from small streams to big rivers and lakes. It handles it all with grace, and makes casting feel effortless. It’s so light, yet powerful and responsive, that at times you forget you even have a rod in-hand.
And at the price of $795, it’s hard to justify not buying this rod. And I’m not being hyperbolic here. It’s really that great of a fishing tool.
Now, let’s answer a few of the more popular questions I’m often asked about picking new fly rods.
How much does a good fly rod cost?
This all depends on your definition of good. If you want a rod and reel combo, you’ll always pay more. If you prefer a low rod weight, you’ll also have to shell out more money. If you’re after something that’s just an absolute joy to fish, you don’t have to spend as much – but you definitely can.
I guess the best way to tackle this question is to say that a good fly rod costs as much as you’re willing to spend. Thanks to advances in rod building technology, it’s possible to find a great fishing rod at nearly any price point. Yes, there are marked differences between a top-of-the-line rod and a budget bin pick, but those are tradeoffs you’ll have to decide to make on your own.
Who makes the best fly fishing rods?
This is another question I hear often, and the answer is fairly the same as above – it all depends. Right now, however, Orvis, Winston, Sage, and Douglas are producing some of the best rods on the market, all at various price points. Other manufacturers are doing well too, but these are the rods I personally love to fish the most. Echo and Redington are building good rods right now, too, and you can’t overlook Fenwick, either.
The bottom line is that it’s easier now than ever before to find a good fly rod at any price. The only limiting factor here is your own budget.
Now that we’ve answered two of the most popular questions I get about new fly rods, let’s move on to the meat and potatoes of this post – the list of the best fly rods for the money.
At the end of the day, the fly rod that you’ll love the most is the one that you like the most. The best thing you can do to make sure you find the right rod is to visit fly shops, test cast them, and even see if your fishing buddies have one you can borrow for a trip or two. With the more expensive rods, it’s definitely an investment you want to make carefully. The cheaper rods are still great – but it’s less important to really love a $150 rod than a $900 one.
It’s also important to match the rod to your fishing style and most common fishing situations. I live and work in the Rocky Mountains, so I tend to buy fly rods that are better for small streams and smaller fish. That’s the kind of fishing I do most, and my fly rod collection matches that fairly well. I tend to have more slower, softer-action fly rods than most other anglers I know, because that’s the kind of fly fishing I prefer to do.
Do your homework, look for the fly rods that fit your fishing style, and set a budget. Once you do those three things, you’ll be able to find a fly rod that’s perfect for your fly fishing adventures for years to come.
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