How to Choose a Fly Rod – The Essential 2021 Guide & Tips


If you are looking for a new fly rod, you’ll undoubtedly have found that there is plenty of choices out there. Some might say that there is too much choice!

The good news is that there will be the perfect rod out there for you!

The bad news?

There is no bad news, because today, I will help you find something perfect and show you how to choose a fly rod. I’ll also answer some common questions that you might have.

Let’s dive right in…

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What Should I Look for in a Fly Fishing Rod? (Buying Guide)

Here’s the thing about choosing a fly fishing rod…

It can all get a bit technical.

But don’t worry, once you know what all the terms mean, it is actually pretty straightforward. I’m going to run through all of the things you’ll need to consider.

fisherman wearing fishing vest and using rod fly fishing in river

What’s the Difference Between a Fly Fishing Rod and a Regular Fly Fishing Rod?

There are quite a few differences. Let’s have a quick run through some of the most obvious…

Fly Rods are Lighter

Fly fishing is really active. You are casting and retrieving constantly.

In short…

You don’t want a rod that weighs too much, or you’ll find that you’ll get tired really quickly.

Fly Rods have a Shorter Handle

Casting with a fly rod is all done with one hand. As a result, you’ll find the rod’s handle is significantly shorter than on a regular rod.

Fly Rods have a Faster Action

‘Regular’ fishing rods tend to use extra weights placed on the line to provide the inertia to cast.

This isn’t the case with fly rods.

One rod, a decent fly fishing line, and a tiny fly. That’s it! The rod needs to be a little more ‘whippy’ to accelerate the line and perform a cast.

fly fishing equipment rod, tools, box with flies and landing net

How Do I Choose the Right Size Fly Rod?

By deciding on the right size of fly rod, you’ll be able to narrow down the options significantly.

And believe me…

The size of your rod makes all the difference. Here are a few really simple rules of thumb to give you a good idea of where to start:

Big Water, Big Rod. Small Water, Small Rod.

If you intend to fish small streams, ponds, or lakes, you will want to go for a smaller rod. And by ‘smaller’, I mean somewhere in the region of 7 to 9 feet.

Why?

Here are the key features of smaller rods:

  • They aren’t made to cast long distances.
  • It is easier to cast accurately, perfect for sight stalking fish.
  • You’ll tend to cast smaller, more delicate flies.
  • They are easier to transport and handle, particularly in areas where your cast may be restricted.
  • You get a better presentation of your fly.

If you are more inclined to fish big lakes, large and fast rivers, or are even considering saltwater fly fishing, then you are going to need something larger.

What do I mean by ‘larger’?

Anything over 9 feet is going to be much more suitable.

Here’s why big rods are better for bigger water:

  • You can cast a lot further.
  • At long ranges, accuracy doesn’t matter quite so much.
  • You can cast larger, heavier flies, perfect for rough conditions.
  • Big water tends to be more open, so you don’t need to worry about overhanging branches and bushes.
  • They allow you to ‘punch’ your cast into the wind.

Big Fish, Big Rod. Small Fish, Smaller Rod.

Have a good think about the type of fish you are trying to catch. If you are going for small brook trout that are unlikely to weigh more than 1 lb, then a big rod will probably be overkill.

Here is the kind of conditions and fish that are well suited to a small rod… Ok, they aren’t monsters, but it is so much fun. Check it out!

Conversely, suppose you will be specimen hunting something big and hard fighting, like bass or huge rainbows. In that case, you are going to be seriously under-gunned with a short and light rod.

You want big and hard fighting, you have to give this a watch… Amazing.

What Weight Fly Rod Should I Buy?

The weight of the fly rod actually refers to its characteristics as opposed to its weight in pounds and ounces.

The lower the rating or ‘weight’, the more delicate the rod is.

Here’s a really quick guide:

Fly Rods with Wt #1-4 Wt (Light Fly Rods)

These rods are great for smaller venues. Here’s what I love about them:

  • Super delicate presentation of flies
  • You can cast with pinpoint accuracy
  • Even smaller fish feel like monsters

Fly Rods with Wt #5-7 (Medium Fly Rods)

Wt #5 is about as perfect as it gets if you are looking for a good all-around fly rod. You still get some of the finesse of lighter rods, but with a little more power.

Here are the good things about a medium weight fly rod:

  • They handle fish of all sizes
  • You still get a good presentation
  • Fish with a variety of fly sizes
  • Good casting distance

Fly Rods with a Rating of Wt #8+ (Heavy Fly Rods)

These are the big hitters for big fish and big waters. You’ll see these used predominantly in saltwater fly fishing or on huge lakes with heavy sinking lines.

Here’s what makes these rods shine:

  • Huge casting distances
  • You can play really big fish
  • Ideally suited for large streamer type flies

You want to know how to determine fly rod weight?

It’s easy…

It is normally printed on the rod, just above the handle. Simple, right?

fly fishing rod and reel and caught sea trout

What Does Action Mean on a Fly Rod?

In the simplest terms, ‘action’ measures how ‘bendy’ the blank of a fly rod is and where it bends.

You’ll generally tend to find two different descriptions when talking about fly rods:

Moderate or ‘Through’ Action Fly Rods

Through action, fly rods are also called ‘medium’ action. They bend along the entire length of the rod. You’ll tend to find moderate action fly rods are heavier in terms of line rating.

They are really good for casting heavy flies and fighting bigger fish as the blank exerts a lot more pressure.

Moderate action fly rods tend to feel a lot ‘stiffer’.

Fast Action Fly Rods

Fast action fly rods are normally really ‘whippy’. The majority of medium to light fly rods will have a fast action. This makes them perfect for accelerating lighter lines and flies.

They are ideally suited for smaller species.

A Bit of Both?

Occasionally you might see a fly rod described as ‘medium-fast’. This can offer the best of both worlds, with excellent casting capabilities and also the means to pull in larger fish.

If you are struggling to visualize the difference, don’t worry. There’s a great video guide right here:

If you are struggling to get the perfect pairing, don’t worry. I’ve got a great list of fly rod combos right here.

Is Fly Rod Brand Important?

Listen.

Sure, you might find that the more ‘premium’ brands perform better.

But let me tell you this.

When you are just starting out, you won’t really feel the difference, especially when you are learning to cast.

So here’s my advice…

There are plenty of really great budget fly rods out there that perform just as well as more expensive brands. If you are smart, you might manage to pick up something that is both a great brand and good for the money!

two men fly fishing in river

How Many Pieces are the Best Fly Rods?

Ok, no question. Here’s the answer.

Go for a 4-piece fly fishing rod.

Why?

There’s plenty of reasons:

They are Easy to Transport

Two-piece rods are really cumbersome. If you have two-piece types of fly fishing rods, then you will soon grow tired of transporting them around.

It’s far nicer to carry around a rod that splits into smaller 2-foot sections.

They are Easy to Store

If you are like me when you aren’t using your gear, you want it safely tucked out of the way.

A four-piece fly fishing rod is really easy to store. I leave mine in the trunk and forget it’s there. That way, when I want to go fishing, I just hit the road and drive.

They are Easier to Maintain

Look.

Accidents happen. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve broken a tip section on my rod.

You’ll normally find that many great fly fishing manufacturers will offer the ability to buy replacement sections. This is much more unlikely with a two-piece rod.

They are More Durable

The best thing about four-piece fly fishing rods is that most come in a protective Cordoba tube. This will prevent you from damaging them when you drop the rod…

Or shut it in the car door…

Ask me how I know.

fisherman waering waider using rod fly fishing in river

What is the Best Fly Rod for a Beginner?

Ok, there’s plenty of information above that details what you should be looking for when deciding how to choose a fly rod.

But I promised to make it simple.

Stick with this, and you won’t go far wrong…

Here’s what I would consider the key elements of the best beginners fly rod:

Length

Go for a rod around the 10-foot mark.

Why?

This will cover you for 90% of situations. Big fish, small fish, large waters, and small streams, all covered. It is a great all-around size that offers all of the advantages I talked about above.

Action

For beginners, a fast action rod is probably going to give the best results. You don’t need to cast huge distances to start off with, and you’ll find it much easier to accelerate your line.

Fast action rods are easier to cast. The flex of the blank will also ensure that fewer fish are lost as it gives a little more cushioning in inexperienced hands.

Pieces

As I said above, four-piece fly rods are the way to go. Beginners tend to be a little clumsy with their rods. Why not choose something that isn’t going to break easily through mishandling when you are on the way to the swim?

Weight

Stuck between which weight rating you need for your rod?

No problem, here’s what you need to know.

If in doubt, choose a #5 weighted fly rod. This is a great all-rounder, giving you the ability to cast small flies and large streamers. It will also cover you for most types of venues.

The other great thing about this rod weight?

You’ll be able to handle monsters up to 25 lbs (and beyond). No problem.

Reel Seat

I’ve saved this one until last…

It’s important!

Make sure that the rod you choose has a screw locking reel seat. You are going to be casting that rod back and forth all day. With the best will in the world, friction-type reel seats get loose reel quick.

And here’s the thing…

I hate dropping my best reel in the water.

Screw reel seats prevent this and will allow you to enjoy your day.

And get this…

I’ll put my money where my mouth is. If you want to see some great examples of the best beginners fly fishing rods, I’ve got a dedicated article right here.

fly fishing rod and fly box full of flies

What Features Should I Look for in a Fly Rod?

The above deals with the bare bones of what you need.

Let’s look at some nice extra features that will make a good fly fishing rod great.

Hook Keeper

This little wire loop is a God-send if you are on the go.

Hint, you will be.

A hook keeper is a tiny metal loop that allows you to hook your fly while carrying the rod.

Here’s a great tip…

Don’t use your cork handle. It’ll get really damaged over time.

Quality Cork Handles

Speaking of handles, look for a good quality cork grip.

Here’s how you tell. Easily…

Simply look for the letter “A”. The more “A’s” the handle has, the better the quality. AAA means a premium handle.

Stripping Guides

No, this isn’t what led to my first divorce.

Stripping guides are the large line ring closest to the handle. Ideally, you want to choose a rod with a coated guide to preventing your line from sticking. This will add to your casting distance and make the rod easier to use.

Finish

I always advise people to go for a fly rod with a matte finish. This means it won’t flash in the sunlight as you cast.

Why is that important?

Trout are really easily spooked, especially in clear conditions. A matte finish allows you to fish more stealthily.

Or you could always do this:

How to Choose a Fly Rod (Final Thoughts)

A fly rod is a deeply subjective choice. There’s so much choice!

Work on picking the right length, action, and weight, then fine-tune your selection with the finer details.

What works for you? Let me know in the comments below.

While you are here, why not check out my fly fishing gear guide and see if there’s anything else that you might need?

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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