Fly Rods 101

How to choose a fly rod

In full disclosure, up until five or so years ago, this topic was as puzzling to me as what fly to use, when and where. I have found more and more that there is a lot of personal preference here when it comes to reel seats, handle design, colors, wraps and brands. There are however a few fundamentals you should know in choosing the right fly rod for you.

As a jumping off point, the beginning fly fisherman, especially those looking to catch trout, will likely be in search of a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-flex rod. This is a universal size, and you can catch everything from wild trout to carp out of a drainage ditch. 

Weight

Fly rods are rated by weight. The weight indicates the size of fishing line that matches the rod. Generally you can line up or down by one size, which is why a 5wt is the best universal size for a trout rod. Most people think about fish species when it comes to choosing a weight and while that works just fine, I would also encourage you to think about the size of fly you are going to be throwing, and the intended use of the rod.

As a general rule on rod weights:

  • 1-4: sunfish and small trout, small streams
  • 4-6:  general trout, larger streams and rivers
  • 6-8:  bass, carp, light steelhead, salmon. and saltwater
  • 8-10: winter steelhead, salmon, and saltwater
  • 10-14: big game

Length

Fly rods act as a lever, so length is a very important aspect when picking a fly rod. The longer the rod, the easier it will be to get more distance on your cast, mend your line, and fight fish. However if you are on a smaller stream you will want a shorter rod to navigate overhanging brush and for added precision when casting at close range.  As noted before,the standard trout rod is a 9ft 5wt rod. This length lets you get the distance, accuracy, and line control needed in most trout situations. 

Action

The three types of fly rod action are fast-action, medium-action and slow-action. Each of these types of action have their benefits and drawbacks. It is important to match up the type of fly rod action with the type of fishing you will be doing.

Fast Action 

A fast-action rod is just what the name implies. At the end of the backcast, the tip of the fly rod is slightly bent but the rest of the rod is virtually straight as an arrow. This has benefits in the following circumstances:

  • Long Casts - The stiffness of the rod allows for more power in the cast.
  • Fishing on windy days - The stiffness of the rod allows easier casting on windy days since the rod is more powerful.
  • Somewhat less physically demanding - Due to the power inherent in fast action fly rods, the angler works less to cast the same distance compared to using a slower, more flexible rod.

Disadvantages of fast-action rods include :

  • Difficult for Beginners - Beginners might struggle learning how to cast with a fast-action rod. The sheer power in the rods makes "getting a feel" for the fly and fly line difficult. Precise casts in particular will be difficult for new anglers.
  • Not ideal for short casts - Not the best rod to be used where short casts are necessary - such as spring creeks. For short casts, a more flexible rod provides greater accuracy and a "smoother touch." For small stream fishing, a fast-action rod has a substantially greater likelihood of leading to the fly and fly line being slammed into the water - making the fish you're stalking head for the hills.

Medium-Action 

Medium action fly rods are the most versatile of the rods available. They perform well in a wide variety of conditions. They are also easier to learn with than with a fast-action rod. On the backcast with a medium action fly rod, the rod will be bent beginning from about halfway down the rod - thus falling in-between fast and slow action rods.

Overall, if an angler will only own one fly rod for freshwater trout fishing, then it should be a medium action fly rod unless the fishing situation falls into one of the other categories above or below.

Rod Features

There are other features to a rod that might make it the best choice for you.

  • Number of pieces: These days most rods come in two or four pieces. Four-piece rods are becoming the standard as they are easy to pack and travel with.
  • Materials: Most rods these days are composed of a Carbon or Graphite compound (numerous debates out there on the similarities and differences here), although fiberglass has been making a comeback in recent years. 

In Conclusion

There are plenty of people who love nothing more than discussing fly fishing (myself included). So if you have any other questions about rods and which is the best for you please get in touch with us.