How to Choose Your First Fly Rod
Picking a fly rod can seem like a daunting, discouraging jumble of confusing terms and endless choice. Just like any piece of sports equipment, or a precision instrument, fly rods come in a seemingly endless variations and a wide range of price. So which one’s right for you? The good news is any fly rod can catch a fish, so there really isn’t a bad choice. Hopefully this article can smooth out the confusion and set you on the right track, so that you can stop shopping and get fishing!
Price is the main concern for most folks, but price can be worked around. The first thing to consider is “where do you/will you fish?” From this information you can decide what length and line-weight you need to meet your fishing requirement’s. Line-weight is used as a way of describing different rod ‘power’, which is dependent on type fishing method and size of the fish you will be targeting. Here’s a quick, and by no means definitive, line-weight use overview:
3 Weight (and smaller) – Technical small stream/lake fishing for small trout and panfish.
4 Weight – Also good for small-medium stream/lake fishing. A good choice for delicate dry fly fishing on any water size.
5 Weight – An excellent all around trout size.
6 Weight – Another excellent all around trout size, which will provide more power to cast heavier rigs and streamers more easily. Not as delicate with dry flies. Good small bass rod.
7 Weight – A great choice for a dedicated streamer rod. Too heavy for most nymph and dry fly applications. Light saltwater use. Also good for bass and carp.
8 Weight (and larger) – Mostly used for saltwater/big game applications.
Next, what length do you need? In most cases a 9’ foot rod is ideal for both optimal casting and fishing. The only reason you would go shorter is if you mainly fish small tight areas with lots of overhanging trees and bushes which would impede the casting action of a longer rod. Longer rods in the 10’ – 11’ foot range are mostly used for high sticking (holding most of the line off the water) or float tubing in lakes (helps keep the line in the air during the cast while sitting low in the water in a float tube). Any longer and most rods are considered a spey rod which is a different style of rod, cast using two hands. Around the Bozeman area a great all around rod is either a 9’ foot 5 or 6 weight.
Another common, and often confusing, choice is the rods ‘action’, or how the rod flexes. The popular style over the past years has been the ultra-fast rods that load up quickly and can throw long casts with ease. These rods have their place, but especially for beginners the slower rods that flex more into the middle of the rod are better to learn on and are more accurate at typical fishing lengths. Again it’s important to think how you are going to use the rod. Rods that load up quick and throw 80’ feet of line easily are fun but unless your fishing saltwater a little overkill. For most freshwater applications most fish are caught in the 20’-30’ foot range, so make sure you pick a rod that you feel comfortable casting in that range.
For the most part fly rods come in multiple pieces, and the consensus used to be that the fewer the number of pieces the better the rod would perform. This is because when a connection, otherwise known as a ferrule, is added to a rod the connection point needs to be thickened and strengthened to allow the rod to fit inside itself. This disrupts the natural taper of the rod and so you can end up with ‘dead’ feeling spots in the rod. The good news is that over the year’s rod manufactures have found workarounds that negate these drawbacks as to be virtually unnoticeable. As such, the vast majority of rods nowadays come in four pieces. You will come across two and three piece rods from time to time, and even extremes of one and as many as seven pieces (travel/backpacking rods). Really the number of pieces is a non-issue anymore, so base your rod choice on other more pertinent characteristics.
One of the most important things is to make sure the rod you choose comes with a warranty. The unfortunate truth of graphite rods is they can and do break. There are things you can do to help prevent breakage, but having the safety net of a good warranty is something worth having. Luckily, most of the major rod manufacturers offer good warranties. The price varies from around $30 up to $125 for warranty work, so it’s worth taking into consideration.
Still kind of confusing, right? Well, the best advice I can give is spend what you can. Just like most things, the more you spend the better it usually is. Especially if you think fly fishing is something you’re really going to get into. You don’t want to buy something that you’re going to grow out of skill wise in a few years. The good news is you don’t have the break the bank to get a good rod. There are lots of decent rods in that $100-$300 range, and in the $300-$500ish range there has never been a better or larger selection to choose from. The higher-end fly rods can easily top $800 or higher. However, especially if you are just getting started in fly fishing the benefits of these high-end rods might not be immediately apparent. The next piece of advice would be to cast cast cast and cast some more. Go to your local fly shops and ask to cast everything in your price range (some not in your price range just to see the difference). Ask if they have some demo rods that you can take and actually fish with. Borrow your friend’s rods. Basically, you can’t go wrong with whichever you choose.
All fly rods have been designed to cast and fish well, but you will find that certain rods match your casting style a little bit better. With rods from Redington, Echo, Thomas and Thomas, Orvis, Sage, Scott, and G-Loomis it is tough to not find a rod you absolutely love in our shop. If you’re are in the Bozeman area and in need of a fly rod, stop by our Bozeman fly shop and we’ll get you setup for success.