Choosing a New Fly Rod

News & Tips: Choosing a New Fly Rod

Every fly angler, at one point or another, finds him or herself in the market for yet another fly rod. The reasons might include an upgrade to better quality or simply finding a rod designed for a specific purpose, such as casting big streamers or fishing small creeks. This used to be a relatively simple process, but like everything else about the sport and modern life, things are a bit more complicated than they used to be. We're in the envious position of having too many choices.

Fortunately, selecting a new rod is a job that isn't too hard to take. And, if you keep a few fundamental thoughts in mind, you'll find a rod that will keep you happy for years.

Get Help

The first thing I'd advise is to visit a reputable fly shop such as the ones inside your local Bass Pro Shop and tell the sales associate what you need the rod to do. This can make the process a whole lot easier as he or she will likely show you several options and allow you to compare them in hand.


Before buying a fly rod you need to have an understanding what rod weight means. I'm not talking physical weight of the rod but rather the weight of line it is designed to cast. The rule is the lower the number the more delicate the rod and, generally speaking, the poorer casting distance you'll get. Also, the greater the number — all things being equal — the heavier the rod.

Most quality manufacturers make rods from 3- to 12-weight, but they can be found outside of that range too.

A 3-weight rod is essentially designed to launch small flies from size 28 to 12 or so at panfish and small trout. You won't cast too far with them (then again they are meant for small waters, so you shouldn't have to). They are hell to use in a good wind but they are fun when you get an appropriately-sized fish on. They're delicate wands for refined fishing.

On the other end, 12-weight rods are brutes made for saltwater fish and possibly very big muskie and pike, should that be your thing. They'll cast the biggest streamers you can tie for as long a distance as you are able. They are much less affected by high winds too.

For most stream trout fishing a 4- or 5-weight will suffice.

ChoosingNewFlyRod TempleForkSpey
Longer rods, such as this spey rod from Temple Fork Outfitters, are a great asset in larger rivers and lakes.

If I had to buy one rod for trout, bass and relatively small pike, I'd by a 5- or 6-weight. If I was chasing steelhead, bigger bass, pike and carp, I might go with a 7- to 9-weight. But those are just my personal preferences. All this should be tempered by the angling opportunities available to you. In my neck of the woods a good bass is 5 pounds. In your waters, they might be much larger, for instance. That's why it's important to talk to the sales associates in a good fly shop.


Fly rods come in a variety of lengths appropriate to the rod (line) weight. Shorter rods of 7 to 8 feet might be just the ticket in small tight quarters; longer rods are definitely an asset in larger rivers and lakes — that's why spey rods have such a following.

In the case of normal fly rods, however, rods of 8.5 to 9 feet are the norm. I prefer the extra length of a 9-foot rod because it keeps the line off the water that much more during a false cast. If I were fishing from a float tube, I might consider a 10-foot rod for the very same reason.

Longer rods also give you more leverage when fighting a fish and make mending line easier. On the down side, the longer the rod, the heavier it is.


Action refers to the bend in the rod as it is worked. A slow-action rod bends throughout most of the rod. A fast-action rod bends mostly at the tip. Slow-action rods lessen the impact of a strike so they are good for big trout, light tippets and nymphing. Fast-action rods make prettier loops on the cast and are ideal for fishing wet or dry flies.


ChoosingNewFlyRod HeatFlyRods
With a variety of grips available, the main thing to do is pick one that is comfortable.

There are a variety of grip configurations. The main thing to remember here is that it should feel comfortable in your hand. If you are going to use it to fight bigger fish, a fighting butt is a good option too.


These days you can choose from bamboo, which are custom-made, or commercially available graphite or fiberglass rods. Bamboo is classic, expensive and has a traditional feel. Many love it for the aesthetics.

There is a similar nostalgia for fiberglass rods and a bit of a revival in interest. But the vast majority anglers want graphite rods because they perform better as a rule and are lighter and easier to cast farther with.

All graphite rods are not created equally. Typically, the more money you spend, the better quality you'll get. This quality difference has to do with modulus, which is strength to weight and rod action and recovery. Also, you are often paying extra for superior rod guides, more of them and finish.


One other consideration is whether or not to get a two piece rod or one that breaks down further.

My own experience is that a two piece offers marginally better casting but nothing that is of real advantage in most fishing situations. On the other hand, I truly enjoy the compact convenience of a four-piece rod and so that is what is always in the back of my vehicle.


Needless to say, the rod should be quality built. That doesn't necessarily mean expensive but more times than not it does. Buy the best you can afford but remember, at a certain price point you are often paying for the status bestowed by a manufacturers name rather than any huge advantage in performance.

A concrete indicator of good quality comes with the warranty offered. Ask about it and make sure that's part of your decision making. I have never regretted buying a rod with a good warranty.

Cast It

ChoosingNewFlyRod WRFSHobbsCreek
Many fly anglers like the compact convenience of a four-piece rod.

This might be the most important thing of all and the reason you should actually visit the fly shop. There are many great rods to choose from in whatever configuration you are hoping for. But there will also be one that stands out from that group that just seems to work better for you. It will feel more balanced, fit better in your hand and generally feel effortless to use well.

The only way you can find it, is to cast a few rods and compare — something most quality fly fishing shops are only too happy to facilitate.

In the end, purchasing the right fly rod is a matter of having a good idea of what you want while at the same time keeping an open mind to the suggestions that experienced fly fishing sales associates might offer. And, of course, casting them to make sure the dream and reality are one in the same.

Buy the best you can afford, choose wisely based on performance rather than brand name, and you'll have a fishing tool that will last a lifetime.