Fly Rod Action Explained – Which Rod Action is Right for Me?

Your rod action is actually one of the most important factors you need to consider when choosing a fishing rod. It is the main decider on how the rod behaves and how easy it is to use.

Still not got to grips with what ‘rod action’ is all about?

Don’t worry, here’s my full guide to fly rod action explained. I will tell you what it means and go into the different types, so you’ll be in a great position to choose.

Table of Contents

Disclosure: At BonfireBob, we recommend products based on unbiased research, however, BonfireBob.com is reader-supported and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on this page. For more information, see disclosure here.

What Does Fly Rod Action Mean?

In short, fly rod action is simply the term given to how much the rod bends and flexes at different points along its length. The different rod actions normally fall into one of three categories, with a little overlap. These are fast, medium or mid, and slow.

While they are only three words, they can make a world of difference to how your rod performs and how easy it is to use. Let’s go into more detail about the above types and what it means for you as an angler.

Want the good news?

The information contained within this article applies to more than just fly rods. So even if you are looking at other types of fishing rods, you’ll get lots of great ideas.

fisherman standing in shallow water and holding up fly rod

What Are the Different Types of Fly Rod Action?

Here are the three rod actions, broken down in detail. I’m also going to explain the benefits of each (as well as the downsides), why you might want to use them, and where you could consider fishing with each.

And…

If you get information overload, be sure to check my fly rod action chart below for an at-a-glance guide.

Fast Fly Rod Action

Remember how we said fly rod action measures how the rod bends and where the rod bends?

Well…

In the case of a fast fly rod’s action, the answer to the above is that it bends very little overall, and it bends mostly towards the tip. In fact, you’ll often hear anglers refer to a fast action rod as a ‘tip action’ for this very reason.

And here’s the thing.

Because the rod is very stiff, it takes quite a lot to get it to flex. As a result, you won’t find many light rods with fast action. Instead, they tend to be paired with heavy lines and flies, both of which will encourage the blank to bend a little in the cast.

Benefits to Fast Fly Rod Action

  • Very powerful rods, good for big flies, big water, and big fish.
  • Pretty durable and good for fishing around obstructions as you can pull away from snags.
  • Good for fishing with heavy sinking lines.
  • Excellent for distance casting.
  • A good choice for fishing into the wind.

Downsides to Fast Fly Rod Action

  • Because they don’t flex much, they take real effort to cast.
  • They tend to be heavy and tiring to use.
  • No good for beginners.

Why Use a Fast Action Fly Rod?

If you’ve read my article on fly rod weights, you’ll already know that heavy rods tend to go hand in hand with fast action fly rods. You’ll tend to use fast action fly rods when you want to catch bigger species and are fishing in ‘big water’ requiring huge casts.

You can consider fast action fly rods as somewhat ‘heavy duty’.

two men fishing in river with fly rod during summer morning

Moderate Fly Rod Action

Moderate fly rod action is considered the perfect all-rounder. There is still a little bit of stiffness in the rod and more towards the tip, but it requires much less effort to get the rod to flex.

Do you know what this means?

Less effort to flex the rod means it takes less effort to impart energy into the line.

In simple terms?

Moderate action rods are easier to cast.

They are ideally placed for all types of fishing, including lure fishing, nymph fishing, and dry fly fishing. The rod does have the most bend in the tip, but you’ll find the middle of the rod will also flex slightly.

Benefits to Moderate Fly Rod Action

  • Easy to cast.
  • Perfect for a range of fly fishing disciplines.
  • Excellent response and control.
  • It can be used in a wide variety of situations and venues.
  • Normally found in mid-weight ranges, excellent for beginners.

Downsides to Mid Fly Rod Action

  • Not as powerful as fast action rods.
  • Anglers can be ‘outgunned’ by bigger species.
  • Harder to cast into the wind than fast action rods.

Why Use a Moderate Action Fly Rod?

One simple word.

Versatility. If you are looking for a single rod action that can do just about anything, you should really aim for a moderate action fly rod.

They are great for beginners, and they lessen the ‘step up’ if you do choose to upgrade to a fast action rod in the future.

Whether you want to fish in relatively small pools or streams or try your hand in fast-flowing rivers and bigger venues, a moderate-action rod won’t let you down.

fly fisherman in brown jacket standing on river with fly rod

Slow Fly Rod Action

Slow isn’t much good, right?

Wrong. Slow action fly rods are actually a joy to use in the right circumstances. If I was to describe them in a couple of words, it would be…

Soft and whippy.

Slow action rods tend to sit at the lighter end of the spectrum. They are used for throwing tiny flies short distances in the cast. The ‘whip’ allows maximum energy to be imparted on the line. Because it is lighter, it lacks inertia to cast significant distances otherwise.

And there’s more.

A slow-action rod will bend equally throughout its length. Because they flex easily, they are ideal for tiring smaller species. They can become difficult to work with if you happen to hook something big. You’ll often hear slow fly rods referred to as ‘through’ action as well.

Benefits to Slow Fly Rod Action

  • Easy to cast delicately over short distances.
  • Normally a feature of very lightweight rods.
  • Easy to control the line.
  • Perfect for beginners learning to cast.

Downsides to Slow Fly Rod Action

  • Accuracy suffers greatly on longer casts.
  • Not good for bigger fish.
  • No good for casting big lures and streamers.
  • Too light for larger venues.
  • Terrible at casting into the wind.

Why Use a Slow Action Fly Rod?

You’ll want to use a slow-action fly rod if you are just starting out. You’ll also find that most rods used for fishing streams will be slow action. Streams are the ideal place to get going for new anglers.

If your idea of fun is dry fly fishing and nothing else, then a slow action fly rod could be a perfect choice. They reign supreme when it comes to great fly presentation.

Fly Rod Action Chart

Want a quick guide to fly rod action. Check out my chart for fly rod action. Explained in very simple terms:

Rod Action Fast Moderate Slow
Bend bias Tip only Tip to middle Throughout entire rod
Typical Rod Weight 7 – 8 weight rods 4 – 6 weight rods 1-3 weight rods
Distance Casting Good Average Poor
Close in Casting Poor Average Good
Ideal Fly Size Large flies, lures, and streamers All flies (just don’t go too big or small) Small delicate flies and nymphs
Venue Size Larger venues All venues Small streams and pools
Species Salmon, Steelhead, Large Trout, Large bass All species, moderate-sized to large Smaller species, Brook trout, Panfish
Ideal for Experience Level Veteran All anglers Beginner

How to Choose the Right Fly Rod Action for Me

It can be tricky to choose the right rod action, as it is very personal, and what works for one angler might not work for another.

All that said.

You can hedge your bets by thinking carefully before making your choice. Take another look at the above fly rod action chart and then consider the following factors…

fly fisherman fishing at river

Experience Level

When choosing fly rod action, the first port of call is, to be honest with yourself about your experience level.

If you have never cast a fly rod before, I’m going to tell you right now that you need to steer clear of fast-action rods and opt for something more manageable.

Moderate and slow action fly rods are much easier to cast, and with beginners, that is about 90% of the battle won when learning to fly fish. If you take a look at my article on the best fly rods for beginners, you’ll see that most have a moderate action for this very reason.

Where will You Fish?

Once you’ve decided your experience level and have a clearer picture, you can go a little more in-depth.

Where you will fish will have a huge bearing.

Not on the type of rod you want

But the type of fly fishing rod you need.

The choice of fishing location may make your decision for you. If you are going to be fishing in tiny little brooks for trout, then you aren’t going to want to be encumbered with a fast action ‘broomstick’.

Likewise…

If your local fishing spot of choice is a huge lake or a deep river, you will find that you need something a little more powerful.

But Bob?

As a beginner, we thought you said to steer clear of fast action rods?

You are right, my friends, I did.

The answer?

There is a halfway house between moderate and fast. Can you guess what it’s called?

Moderate-fast action fly rods combine the good of each, giving you a powerful rod capable of big casts and is easier to cast with a little more control.

A solid choice is a moderate action. Go up to moderate fast if you feel like you need to beef it up a little.

fly fisherman wearing wading pants and fly fishing in river

What are You Fishing For?

Your target species is another deciding factor when choosing rod action.

Want a general rule of thumb to help you out?

The bigger the fish, the stiffer the action you will need. A fast-action rod will be massive overkill for tiny trout. If you are using a slow rod to catch salmon, you will have a bad time.

Match your rod action to the size of fish that you intend to catch most of the time.

How will You Fish?

Your preferred fishing style also comes into play when choosing rod action.

Slower rods aren’t good for subsurface fishing, especially with bigger flies.

They tend to bend too much, and the blank doesn’t have the necessary strength to haul the weight of the line through the water, especially when casting.

As mentioned above, slower rods are wonderful for casting lightweight flies with precision. So, if you are looking to dry fly fish, then they could be a wonderful choice.

Fast action rods have plenty of ‘muscle’ in the blank. These are just what you need for subsurface fishing with long streamers and heavy sinking lines.

What do the Different Rod Actions Actually Look Like?

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and I really want to help you guys out. If you need to see it in real life, here’s a quick video showing you exactly how what each rod action looks like for real.

Conclusion

Knowing which rod action is right for you can take a little trial and error, but now that you’ve had fly rod action explained, it should make your choice a lot easier. With a range of budget fly rods out there, you could even consider trying a couple before committing to your ‘forever’ rod?

Consider your experience level and how you intend to use the rod, and then go from there.

If you are still struggling to choose a fly fishing rod, don’t worry, guys. I’ve produced a detailed guide here showing you everything you’ll need to know when making a fly rod selection.

What do you think is ideal? Let me know in the comments!

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.

Recent Content