What To Look For When Buying A Fly Fishing Rod

Multiple butt-ends of fly fishing rods with fly reels.

Purchasing a fly rod can easily become intimidating if you’re uncertain what to look for. Like any other hobby, the most important part is to have fun while not breaking the bank.

My experience buying my first fly fishing rod was rather intimidating. The market was heavily populated with many different makes and models.

The best advice for any fly angler is to know what you’re going to fish for. Knowing this saves you from purchasing an unnecessary fly rod.

If you know what species you’ll fish for then continue to read on to find out how to save hundreds of dollars by picking the right fly rod.

Understanding Fly Rod Action

Fly rod action is easy to understand yet it’s misunderstood by many. Fly rod action refers to the flexibility of your fly fishing rod. Fly rod action is often overlooked by beginner anglers but it plays a big role in your equipment combination.

How is a fly rods action measured?

It’s measured by the how much the fly rod will bend in the back-cast.

What are the different types of Fly Rod Action?

The three different types of fly rod action are: slow-action, medium-action, or fast-action.

Slow action fly rods are typically used for small rivers or streams. These rods are very generous in their flexibility, resulting in slow line speed. The slow line speed movement make these fly rods very forgiving when it comes to line cast accuracy. If you’re fishing in larger open waters or areas with harsher windy conditions, then slow action is not what you should be looking for.

Medium action fly rods offer its user a great combination of both control and accuracy. Unlike both slow action and fast action rods, medium action rods are versatile and can be used in both smaller rivers and in larger bodies of water. These fly fishing rods have a flexible tip while stiffer on the lower half.

This design offers the control similar to the slow action rods as well as the long casts of the fast action rods.

Fast action fly rods are generally very stiff during the back-cast with mainly the top portion being slightly bent.

These fly rods are the more powerful fly rods of the three types. If you require long casts or casts during windy conditions, then a fast action fly rod is the rod for you.

Purchasing one of these rods as your first rod can prove to be disastrous as they require good technique.

A fly fisher casting his fly rod in open water with mountains in the background.

 

What Length Should My Fly Fishing Rod Be?

Both shorter and longer fly rods have their unique advantages and disadvantages. The type of fish, and the size of the stream best decide the fly rod length.

Shorter Fly Fishing Rod

Shorter fly rods work better in small streams. They are better for casting accuracy and have more prominent use. Rods that are 6 to 8 feet are normally sold for fishing small streams where the casting room can be an issue.

Shorter rods can easily cut through wind and because of their compact size. They are generally lighter which offer seamless casts. Shorter rods are commonly better casters, yet not as skilled at line mending.

Another obvious reason for choosing a shorter fly rod would be that they are more portable. A 6 foot rod broken into four pieces takes much less room than a 13 foot rod that’s also broken down into four pieces. This can make it easier to travel on foot when finding different fishing spots.  

Here’s when you should buy a shorter fly rod rather than a longer fly rod:

  • Smaller fish
  • Small streams
  • Walking long distance
  • More rod bend

Here’s how to find a fishing spot that’s a perfect match for your fly fishing rod.

Longer Fly Fishing Rod

Rods longer than 9 feet provide some distinct advantages like line control and casting distance.

Rods sized 10 to 13 feet are popular among anglers as the added length allows holding more fly line to help control the fish. Longer rods allow a set up with greater invisibility because of their long leaders.

Also because of their sheer size and length, longer fly rods are better shock absorbents and allow catching bigger fish without the threat of the rod breaking. These fly rods are typically used in rougher weather, larger bodies of water, and catching big fish.

So when it comes to fishing in saltwater or big rivers, there isn’t much question about the length. You require a longer rod. It will achieve more distance and control the line better.

You should also take a quick read at other articles on how to pick the best fly fishing reel for your fly rod.

First time buying a fly fishing rod?

If you’ve never fly fished before, our recommendation would be to meet in the middle. A fly rod of 9 feet offers best of both worlds.

It will allow enough fly line in your reel to fight and control larger fish, while at the same time it offers enough rod bend to feel the fight of smaller fish. You won’t have too much trouble casting in smaller streams nor will you struggle getting those medium to long casts in larger streams.

If you’re still unsure check out our section on fly fishing kits.

What does the weight on a fishing rod mean?

A common misconception about fly rod weight is that it stands for how much the fly rod actually weighs.

It instead stands for the weight of the fly line that you’re supposed to use with your fly rod and reel combo.

You can tell the weight by looking near the end of the fly rod. It will give you a weight rating, i.e 5wt (5 weight is the same as 5wt).

The weight of fly rods start at 1 and go to as high as 15 weight. Every weighted fly rod has its own purpose. Some weighted fly rods are more preferred by anglers. For instance, the 9-foot, 5-weight is generally viewed as a popular fly fishing rod for medium sized fish.

Most lightweight rods in the range of 1 to 3 weights are made in shorter lengths. They are normally used for pond fishing or small stream, where shorter length is a benefit and the fish are small.

Rods in the range of 4 to 8 weight classes can come in different lengths. These rods typically offer the requirements that most anglers want. They offer the weight of the line they need for their cast. Here’s how line weight affects your cast.

Depending on the material of your fly rod, your fly line can be any of 3 weights. If you have a 5wt graphite fly rod, your fly line range can be from 4 – 6 weight. If you choose your fly rod outside of this scope, your casts will lose accuracy.

If your fly line is heavier than the fly rod, your fly rod won’t match the flexibility to whip the fly line to the desired distance. If your fly line is a lot lighter than the fly rod, your fly rod will lack in flexibility leaving your fly line near your feet. Using the wrong fly line weight causes problems with accuracy and control.

Choosing a lower weighted fly rod will limit your fishing to smaller fish, calmer water as well as non-windy conditions.

How Much Do Fly Fishing Rods Actually Cost?

Whether you’re getting into the hobby as a beginner or are looking to upgrade your fly rod, you can quickly find yourself breaking the bank. Most modern fly-rods will give you the high performance you desire with the cost range of $100-150.

There are many rods that will offer greater performance and longevity but their price range normally starts in the $1000+ dollar range.

Regardless if you’re a beginner or looking to get multiple fly rods, our recommendation is to look at less expensive fly rods. Here’s why:

  1. If you’ve been fly fishing for a short time only, chances are you won’t really be able to tell the difference between a $150 fly rod and a $1500 fly rod.
  2. If you decide you want to switch hobbies, you won’t be left with thousand dollars worth of unused equipment in the garage. Those are always fun to explain to your significant other.
  3. If you fly fish for years on inexpensive equipment, you’ll better appreciate the fly rod upgrade. You’ll also have a better idea of what to look for in your next fly rod as well.
  4. Any money you save on a fly rod can be used for other fly fishing equipment, such as waders. It’s not really fly fishing if you’re not using your waders to go in new water territory.

Why choose a 9’ 3wt fly fishing rod?

Delicate presentation

This is the greatest and generally self-evident. Small line diameter settles all the more gently on the water. A thin line of a 3 or 4wt will give less unsettling influence on the water surface.

Short Range Cast

Casting where water levels are low or where waterways are not as wide. You will be fishing headwaters and smaller streams where long casts are not the standard.

Protect light tippets

Summer conditions regularly call for better diameter tippets. Lighter rods normally have more flex which offer better control and accuracy on the cast.

Why choose 9’ 5wt fly fishing rod?

Longer Range Cast

Casting where water levels are high or where waterways are wide. You will be fishing headwaters and larger bodies of water where long casts are necessary.

Works Well

The most popular sized fly rod among fly anglers. This is mainly due to it’s versatility. It will work well for small fish but will also work well with medium to large-sized fish. 

The 9wt length fly rod also gives you enough length to cast with better distance, while also being compact enough for travelling.

We recommend this fly fishing rod for winter trout fishing.

Specialized Fly Lines

The size of the rod starts to bridge the gap from lighter freshwater hunts to casting the bigger flies and chasing the bigger game fish in all waters.

If you’re an angler who appreciates the specialty of presenting their fly, consider adding a lighter rod to your arsenal for those summer days when the presentation matters the most.

A picture of two fly fishing rods beside muddy wader shoes.

 

In Conclusion:

Length, weight and material build of a fly rod all matter! Determining the length of the rod will determine the water you fish in as there isn’t a one size fit all. Shorter rods are meant to be for smaller bodies of water. These rods are perfect for short casts in small stream settings. While longer rods are meant to be for larger bodies of water. Longer rods will help you make longer casts and help you cover a larger area of the water.

The material build of a fly rod will determine the flexibility. More weight allows your fly rod to be more flexible. The flexibility on the backcast allows for longer casts. The material build can determine both, the longevity of the fly rod as well as the fight of a fish.

The fly rod weight will make it easier to choose the weight of your fly line. The rule of thumb for choosing a fly line to match your fly rod is a 1-1 ratio. For a 5wt fly rod, your first choice of fly line should be a 5wt fly line. If your fly rod is made out of graphite, then you have some wiggle room. On a 5wt graphite fly rod, your fly line can be anywhere from 4wt-6wt.

The fly rod action in simple terms describes the flexibility of the fly rod on the backcast. Slow-action fly rods offer you a great deal of control of accuracy while fast-action fly rods offer you powerful long casts in even windy conditions. If you’re still unsure, a medium-action fly rod is a good starting point because of its versatility of both control and power.

More expensive doesn’t always mean better. Modern fly rod are build with quality such that most beginners won’t be able to tell the difference between a $150 dollar and a $1500 dollar fly rod.

Getting to know the fly fishing equipment you’ll be purchasing is super important. Ultimately this equipment will determine the amount of fun you’ll have or how much your wallet will like you – or hate you.

 

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