How to Select a Fly Rod

How to Select a Fly Fishing Rod: [A Complete Guide]

I can still remember my first fly rod.  A 9 foot – 5wt Redington, I lost it fishing from a moving canoe.  I committed the sin of leaving the line in the water and then setting the rod down.  The line snagged on something and was pulled out of the canoe – GONE in 6 feet of water….

That was more than 30 years ago, and I’ve lost, broken, built and designed fly rods since then.  To this day, I still tell folks buying their first fly rod to get a 4 to 6 weight, 9-foot medium fast action fly rod.   I say a 4 to 6 weight because with the differences in brands, materials and tapers in those sizes will overlap in performance.

GUIDE TIP: If your fishing in North American freshwaters a 9 Foot, 5 Weight, Medium Fast Action Fly Rod will cover 85% of what you would fly fish for. Wondering what all those numbers are on a fly rod? Read 👉 What do the Numbers Mean on a Fly Rod

To List the Critical Fly Rod Selection Criteria

  • Fish Type you’re targeting.  The size of fish will narrow the selection considerably.  Small trout and panfish are perfect on a 3 weight fly rod. Decent size trout and bass, look at a 6 to 7 weight.  Saltwater and Salmon look at 8 weight and up.

Look at the below CHART for matching fish to rod weight

Select Fly Rod and Weight
Select Fly Rod and Weight
  • Fly Rod Action the stiffness of a fly rod will match the style of the fly fisher and method of fishing.  The “action” is broken down into three general classifications.  Slow, Medium and Fast.

A slow action fly rod will bend down most of its length, usually to the grip.  Casting a slow fly rod takes some patience, because you need to let the fly rod “load” or bend.

A medium action fly rod bends to approximately half its length.  This is a really good option for a general-purpose fly rod.  You’ll be able to fish most methods (dry fly, nymph and streamer) okay. 

A fast action fly rod bends in the upper 1/3 and is great for streamer fishing and casting big wind resistant flies.  A fast action requires power and strength to bend the rod and cast effectively.  For me, I struggle casting a fast action all day.  I’m not saying this is bad -I’m a little guy.

  • Length of the fly rod can vary from 7 feet to over 10 ft.  The most common is an 8 ½ to 9 foot fly rod.  When would you select something shorter?  A 7 ½ foot fly rod is great when bush wacking small creeks and just dapping LINK a fly onto the waters surface.

GUIDE TIP: If you’ve ever tied a fly, you’ve got the skills to build a fly rod. Learn about the tools and rod components you need to build a fly rod. 👉 DIY Fly Rod – Tools and Components

  • What fly you’re tossing.  Large wind resistant flies need a heavier weight fly line to propel them which in-turn requires a high weight fly rod.  Alternately if you’re tossing small size 20 dry flies to fish easily spooked, using a high weight rod/line will splash down on the water surface and spook those fish.
Peeper Popper Fly for Bass
Peeper Popper Fly for Bass

The Cost of a Fly Rod

After I lost my first fly rod, I was on a mission to upgrade.  I went to fly shops and touched and cast as many as I could. Eventually I found a 4 wt 8 ½ ft G Loomis. It sported a price tag over just over $400.    At that time spending $400 on a stick that I would most likely break in a car door was way out of my budget.

How I saved $$ Building a Fly Rod?

I mailed away to get the blank and the components as a kit. (Cost $180) After I received the fly rod kit, I stared at it and realized.  I’m going to mess this up. 

If building a fly rod sounds like something you’d like to try, read this article about 👉 Fly Rod Building Tools and Components.

Next, I bought an inexpensive fly rod kit for my wife.  ($95 She didn’t know how to fly fish) My reasoning was I could learn and give the perfect anniversary gift.  (I can’t believe she’s still married to me)  I learned a lot and ended up getting a bunch of tools to build fly rods (spending hundreds $$ more) I think that fly rod cost +$400 in the end.

I fished with that G Loomis for over 20 years, the memory of when it broke flying off the car roof still haunts me.

With so much to learn about fly rods let me help with these articles:

If you’re just starting out, I would recommend budgeting $250 to $400.  In that price range you’ll get a fly rod to last a lifetime and will grow with you.  It will probably have a lifetime breakage warranty, the company like TFO, Echo and Orvis has great service and the fly rod was most likely been developed with the beginner in mind.

SAGE has started offering a FOUNDATION FLY ROD COMBO. Check it out on Amazon with this link – Sage Fly Fishing – FOUNDATION Outfit – Fly Rod, Reel & Line Combo This kit has it all, rod, reel, line, and even a sweet rod tube.

Sage Foundation Fly Rod
Sage Foundation Fly Rod

If you have more cash, in the $500 to $750 range are some AMAZING fly rods from Sage, Winston and Scott.  I’ve fallen in love with the action that Winston has developed. 

Guide Tip: If you want something less than a $100. I’ve written a whole article.  Best Fly Rod for under $100

More Items to Considered When Selecting a Fly Rod

Casting Style, learning your style of casting will come with time.  It blends where you usually fish with how you’re typically casting.  For me I love wading tree lined rivers, which usually means roll casting 90% of the time.  A longer fly rod (9 to 10 feet) works best with a slightly heavier weight line and rod (6 or 7 weight)

Materials, fly rod materials have evolved from bamboo ->  fiberglass -> graphite.  Now most fly rods are a true composite system developed specifically for a “fly rod taper” see Wikipedia 

Fly Rod Sections or “Pieces”.  The current standard on the mark is a 4-piece fly rod.  These usually are 32 inches in length.  Just slightly larger than that luggage bin box at the airport.

Having sections in a fly rod creates slightly stiffer area which you could debate effects the action and creates a potential weak spot. 

In my car write now is a 7 piece 5 weight fly rod.  It’s in a short tube less than 18 inches long.   That favorite G Loomis fly rod was a 2 piece.  I ordered it that way thinking it would be easier to build.  Just know many fly rods may have a different number of sections.

Fly Rods are Built with a Taper.  The taper IS the heart of a fly rod.  It affects the action, mass, casting style and even the accuracy.  Basically a composite mat material is wrapped around a tapered mandrel, then rolled in a press. 

Warranty, most fly rods over $200 will have a lifetime warranty for breakage.  You just pay round trip postage and a small handling fee.  Usually about $40 usd.

The MASS (weight) of a fly rod.  Not to make this confusing, but the mass/weight of a fly rod might be a criteria for selecting.  Fly rod manufactures will advertise how “light” they’re fly rod is.  I’ve only experienced one time that a fly rod felt heavy.  When nymph fishing using a “High-Sticking” method you’re arm is extended out and up from your body. 

If your setup is a little bit heavy, after a full day of fishing you’re going to feel it.  In this case look for your setup (rod, reel and line) to be as light as possible – shoot for less than 12 ounces.

Places to Buy a Fly Rod

Fly Shops, PLEASE visit a shop and test a fly rod.  Usually they’ll have some rods rigged up just for testing.  In a 45 minute visit you can learn about everything spoken about in this article.  I’ll warn you though, as you touch higher end fly rods – your going to appreciate what a really good fly rod feels like. 

Any fly shop that’s still in business is going to be reputable.  It’s not that the shop is trying to upsell you.  A fine fly rod will cast better, more accurately and will have a higher fit and finish.

Some Great Places to Find a Fly Rod Online

  • Cabela’s carries most of the big brands including G. Loomis, Orvis, Redington, Sage and TFO.   They’ve been great whenever I’ve needed a fly rod quickly. 
  • Feather Craft, out of St Louis is a fantastic online option.  The folks their KNOW what there talking about.  The owner – Bob Story and the crew will actually pick-up the phone and will steer you to a great recommendation.

Feather Craft is going to have all the big name brands. Don’t be intimidated, call them, they will help.

  • Amazon doesn’t offer high-end fly rods, so don’t look for a dream fly rod there. But if you need a decent fly rod and have it delivered ASAP – I recommend three fly rods from this online superstore
  1. Wildwater, 9 foot, 5/6 weight Combo.  Less than a $100, it comes with rod, line, reel, leader, clippers, fly box and flies.  In fact it has a lifetime warranty and is shipped from New York State. Link to AmazonWild Water Fly Fishing 9 Foot, 4-Piece, 5/6 Weight Fly Rod Complete Fly Fishing Rod and Reel Combo Starter Package
  2. TFO NXT, and great combo with rod, reel, backing and line.  All for Under $200, a great fly rod that you could be proud to show your fishing buddies. Link to Amazon – Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label Fly Rod and Reel Kit
  3. Sage Foundation Fly Fish Rod or Even Better look at the COMBO.  Built in Washington state Sage is known for excellent high end fly rods.  The foundation is exactly what the name implies, a solid foundation into fly fishing.  The combo has a great quality fly rod, machined 2200 fly reel with disc drag, a RIO Gold Fly Line, plus a nice rod tube. Link to Amazon – Sage Fly Fishing – FOUNDATION Outfit – Fly Rod, Reel & Line Combo

If You’re Putting Together a Fly Rod Setup (Rod, Reel and Line)

Balance is the first word that comes to mind when buying and assembling a fly rod outfit.  Get your fly rod, reel and string your line.  With your hand in a natural spot on the grip the outfit should balance level.

balance fly reel
balance fly reel

Some Specialty Fly Rods

  • Two Handed or Spey Fly Rods, If you want to take casting distance and line control to another level, a two-handed fly rod might be the next step.  These fly rods are LONG usually 13 feet and longer.  Just like a roll cast they use the tension of the line on the water to load the fly rod without using a backcast.
  • Switch Fly Rods are a blend between a two-handed fly rod and a classic single hand rod.  They excel at using different styles of casting (spey, skagit and traditional) without being so long.  Usually 10 to 12 feet in length they’re a little easier to fish on a smaller river, but still allow some of the line control that a long rod provides.
  • Euro-Nymphing Fly Rods usually in the 10 to 11 foot range.  These rods allow the fly fisher to reach out and flip heavily weighted nymphs into likely holding water.  The longer length is great for picking the line up out of the water and leading the fly through pockets, runs and pools.

Fly Rod Accessories (Must Haves)

  • Get a fly rod tube with sock.  Use it.  I really like the tubes that allow you to keep the reel on the rod.
  • Ferrule wax, those joints between the fly rod sections are called ferrules.  Having a wax will help the sections come apart without wearing out the joint.
  • Not an accessory but wipe your fly rod down occasionally it’s going to last longer.

Final Cast – Get Out and Fly Fish!

If you continue your fly fishing journey, you’re going to find out that different fly rods are used for the infinite variables in the fish size, current strength and fly fishing techniques.  I stand by my recommendation get a 9 foot, 5 weight, medium fast action fly rod. 

With experience you’ll learn the qualities in a fly rod that you prefer and will understand your style of casting.  When that first fly rod breaks, have a good idea of what style of fly fishing you most enjoy and will be able to select a fly rod to meet the need.

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

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