When entering the world of fly fishing, there are certain aspects of it that become overwhelming. Learning the rod weights and correlating numbers takes time. Having a full understanding of these numbers will help you fish your waters in a much more efficient way. It took me several months to understand what weight rod I needed and when I needed it, but the extra research has paid off in the long run.

What do all the numbers mean on fly rods?

The list of numbers include weight, length, number of sections, action as well as the necessary size of the fly line. The higher the number, the larger the flies and line and the smaller the number, the smaller the flies and line.

Numbers on a Fly Rod

Which Fly Rod Weight Should I Get?

Choosing the proper weight of a fly rod is going to allow you to better target the fish and do so in an efficient way. You can make the proper distanced casts and have enough power to fight fish.

2-3 Weight Fly Rods

These fly rods are a blast to use. They’re a bit limited in where they can be fished, but they create wonderful experiences. 2-3 weight rods are ideal for casting delicate flies at small trout in skinny water. At some points, you’re reaching out with the fly, dropping it a bit upstream and letting it drift down in front of the fish.

If you know you’re going to spend time on skinny water, do yourself a favor and pick up a finesse rod and enjoy all that it has to offer. They’ll allow you to really test your skills with presentation and casting.

You’re not going to throw 40-foot casts with these rods. Your max distance is going to be around 25 or 30 feet.

4-6 Weight Fly Rods

The 4-6 weight rods are the most common rods in a trout angler’s arsenal. These are perfect for small to large rivers. If you’re fishing out west in Montana, a 5 or 6-weight rod is perfect. You can get enough power to cast, but still delicately present flies if needed.

Casting a 9 foot 5 Weight Fly Rod
Casting a 9 foot 5 Weight Fly Rod

Many anglers choose to purchase a 4 to 6-weight rod for their first rig. It’s versatile and will fight the majority of freshwater fish that you find. If you know you’re interested in getting into the sport, but are unsure of what rod, then go with the 4-6 weight. You can throw streamers, dries and nymphs without having to worry about switching rods.

You’ll be able to throw 50 to 60-foot casts on a good day with some quality fly line. These rods are great to fish in rivers as well as still water. The versatility is ideal.

7-8 Weight Fly Rods

Your 7-8 weight fly rods are ideal for those larger freshwater fish as well as some saltwater fish. If you’re on your way to Alaska or Canada, a 7 or 8-weight will help in your attempts to catch steelhead. Also, these are great rods for pike, bass and muskie! Some would consider these to be a bit light, but depending on where you are, they’ll work just fine.

You can throw large streamers and poppers with these rods. They’re not great for finesse fishing due to the extra power that you receive with them. If you’re fishing flats or after other smaller saltwater fish, then the 7 or 8-weight would work well.

You can easily get 60 to-70-foot casts through strong current as well as larger lakes. At times, the extra power is necessary to help you get to the fish as well as fight them. While this is a bit more of a specialty rod, if you know you’re primarily after big fish, it’s well worth the investment.

9-10 Weight Rods

Most anglers would say a 9 or 10-weight is perfect if you’re targeting salmon, striped bass, snook as well as other saltwater fish. You’ll see spey rods come in this weight as well! Again, they’re a specialty rod, but if you live in an area with these large fish or often travel to remote areas with large fish, then a 9 or 10-weight would work for you.

You can make extremely long casts with these rods and fight double digit fish with no problem! Streamers are going to be the primary flies you throw with a 9 or 10-weight rod. Get after those big fish and put it to the test. You won’t regret it! There are few things that are more fun than a salmon on a 9-weight rod. You have to give it your all.

10 and Higher

Any rod over a 10-weight is created to be used in saltwater. Targeting tarpon, Giant Trevally, Sailfish and other large saltwater fish is going to require as much power as you can muster. Saltwater fish fight much harder than freshwater fish and will fight to their death. You need to be prepared to throw a heavy fly, heavy leader and fight monstrous fish.

Saltwater fly fishing excursions are wonderful. If you’ve never tried it, give yourself an opportunity to do so. Hiring a guide will help you learn a lifetime of useful information. These rods tend to be a bit more expensive due to their specific use, but if saltwater is your primary water, then it’s well worth the investment.

Fly Rod Selection Chart

To help fellow fly flingers choose a rod, I’ve put together a chart and a download – FREE. Look it over and download a copy to your phone.

Fly Rod WeightWhat Kind of Fish
2-3 WeightPanfish and Small Stream Trout
4-6 WeightGreat all purpose fly rod for Trout and Small Bass
7-8 WeightLarger freshwater Bass, Pike and Steelhead
9-10 WeightSalmon, Striped Bass and Snook
10 Weight and UPSaltwater and Specialty Fish Think 100 lbs+

Click on the below picture to get the a 3 page download that talks all about fly rod definitions. The best part – It’s FREE

Fly Rod Action

After you have chosen the necessary weight of your rod, the next step is choosing the proper action. The right action is heavily dependent on your experience, skill level and the type of fishing you’re doing.

Fast Action

A fast action rod is great for experienced and strong casters. They have the least amount of flex of any action and that allows for a strong fight as well as power to cast through the wind. In order to succeed with this rod, your technique and timing needs to be in line.

Medium-Fast Action

A medium or moderate fast action is quite versatile. You’ll find many 4 to 6-weight rods are moderate-fast action. You can throw dries, nymphs and streamers with ease. You’ll find that these rods have a bit more bend in the blank and not quite as much power.

You won’t be able to cut through the wind as well as you would with a fast action rod, but it does the job. If you’re new to the world of fly fishing, go ahead and give a moderate or medium-fast action a try. Bringing one rod to the river is much easier than several! Many expert anglers still use a moderate-fast action rod because of the sensitivity it provides.

Medium Action

A medium action rod is a solid choice for new fly anglers. It’s even more forgiving than a moderate-fast action rod, but it’s not nearly as powerful. You have to be careful with the size of fish you target when using a medium-action rod. Since it has a bit more bend, you won’t have the power to fight a larger fish.

Many affordable rod options are made with a medium action. You’ll find lighter weight rods with this action because you can nicely lay down small dry flies with the more rod bend. You’ll see about half of the rod bending as you cast.

Slow Action

Many classic fly rods are slow action. They’re a perfect option for the anglers looking to fish small streams and gently lay down small dry flies. Nearly the entire rod bends as you cast. If you’re new to fly fishing and are spending time on small streams, a slow action rod is a great choice.

The rod won’t make you feel as if you’re losing control of your line as you cast. Beware of using a slow action rod in windy conditions! It’s not ideal and you won’t make much progress if you’re looking to make casts over 20 feet.

Fly Rod Length

Fly rods often vary in length, but there are a few standard lengths that you must have. Try to equate the length of the rod to the control you’ll have over the fly line. Often being able to reach out just a bit farther can make the difference.

large open loop fly casting

9-Foot Rods

9-foot fly rods are common in 5 and 6-weights. These are long enough for you to throw dry flies, but also launch streamers quite a distance. A 5’ 9-weight rod is a great versatile option that you can use in almost any scenario that you would like.

8’ 6” Rod

8’ 6” rods are also another common length for 5 and 6-weights. They aren’t going to present dries as nicely, but they can work well with streamers and nymphs. The 8’ 6” length is the most versatile length that you’ll find on the market.

Rods Less than 8 Feet

Rods shorter than 8 feet are best used on small rivers and streams. They allow you to cast in tighter areas and do so accurately. If you know that you’ll be spending the majority of your time in skinny water, then a rod under 8-feet is going to be your best friend. Depending on your skill level, you can choose a different action.

Rods Longer than 9 Feet

Rods longer than 9 feet are often used for euro nymphing. These are ultra-finesse rigs and excel in tight conditions. Longer rods can be a challenge to cast and will get tangled in trees on the banks. However, they allow for a longer reach onto the water and extremely realistic fly presentations.

Number of Sections in a Fly Rod and Why

Most fly rods are either two or four pieces. When fly rods were first created, they were made in two pieces. As technology has developed, they are made primarily in four pieces.

As far as travel is concerned, a four-piece rod is ideal. You don’t have to pay to check your four-piece travel rod tube. If you travel with a two-piece rod, you’ll find that the majority of airlines are going to make you pay for it.

7-Piece Fly Rod, Great for traveling
7-Piece Fly Rod, Great for traveling

You’ll even find fly rods that break down to seven pieces. These will fit on a personal item in your backpack! If you can’t take much on the plane, but still want to fish, then the 7-piece rod is perfect.

What’s a Great All-Around Fly Rod?

A great all-around fly rod is an 8’6” 5-weight fly rod. You can use these on small rivers, lakes as well as large rivers. If you choose a rod with this weight and length, make sure you have a moderate-action.

This provides you with the sensitivity to lay down dry flies, but still gives you enough length to make those longer casts with streamers. An 8’6” 5-weight fly rod is one that you can always use no matter where you’re fishing. It’s not a bad idea to own a couple of these rods depending on how much fishing you do.

What Does a 5/6 Weight Mean?

A 5/6 weight rod is not uncommon to see. Essentially this means that the rod can hold both 5 and 6-weight line. If you do purchase one of these rods, it’s best if you go with a 6-weight line. It’ll give you a bit extra weight so you can make longer casts and get a true feel for the fly rod.

Do You Need More Than One Fly Rod?

The answer to this question depends on how much fly fishing you do. If you fly fish in large rivers, small streams and lakes, you’re going to want more than one fly rod. You won’t be able to fish all of these waters well with only one rod.

However, if you fish similar sized water and fish all the time, one fly rod will work great for you. If you’re like most fly anglers, you’ll quickly fall into the addiction of buying new fly rods.

Last Cast with the Perfect Weight Fly Rod

For beginners, choosing the right size rod can be intimidating. The numbers are confusing at first, but with a bit of research they all begin to make sense. If you match the rod, reel and line numbers, you should be in good shape. An improperly weighted rod is frustrating to use so make sure you put in the time to create a well-balanced setup.


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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 2 Fly Fish