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GearReview.com's Guide to Fly Rods.
By Scott Clayton

A good balanced fly fishing outfit, one that matches the conditions you intend to use it in, allows you to focus on your primary fly fishing tasks: determining what and how fish are eating, and presenting a suitable imitation. If any piece of your outfit doesn't fit the conditions, it can be a distraction and anything that distracts you will decrease your odds of catching fish. Choosing the right fly rod for the conditions you fish is an important step towards a good balanced fly fishing outfit. The following 6 steps will help you make your decision.


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1. Where will you use this rod?
When choosing a fly rod, one of the first considerations to make is how and where you are going to use the rod, for example, a rod that works well on small streams is totally inadequate when fly fishing for Steelhead in Alaska.
Common fly fishing settings include:

  • Small trout streams
  • Large rivers
  • Lakes
  • Saltwater fly fishing
  • 2. Line weight
    Once you've determined where you're going to fish, you need to choose the line weight of the rod. Line weight ranges from 0 to 14, where 0 is the lightest and 14 is the heaviest. In general, lighter rods are used with smaller flies and shorter distances, while heavier rods are used with larger flies and longer distances. Choose a line weight that will allow you to present the flies necessary to catch fish. A 5 or 6 weight rod is recommended for those just starting out. The Gear Review staff leans toward the 5 weight.
    Special considerations:

  • Large and/or weighted flies
  • Multiple flies
  • Sinking lines
  • Large fish
  • 3. Length
    Next up in the selection process is choosing the length of the rod. Fly rods are manufactured in lengths that range from 5 ˝ to 16 feet. Rods that are 7 to 10 feet are common, while rods outside this range are considered specialty rods. Shorter rods are easier to maneuver in tight quarters. Longer rods give you more distance as well as more line control (line control, often referred to as mending, is the act of manipulating the fly line after the cast has been made).
    Common length uses:

  • 7 to 9 foot rods are the most common. Small streams with dense vegetation surrounding them are best attacked with a shorter rod. If you are looking for distance, and you have the room to attempt it, look for a longer rod.
  • 9 to 10 foot rods are commonly used while float tubing, the length makes it easier to keep your back cast off the water.
  • Saltwater fly rods are typically in the 9 to 9 ˝ foot range.
  • 8 ˝ to 9 is a good versatile length. The Gear Review staff recommends this length for first time fly fishermen.
  • 4. Action
    Arguably the most personal choice in the selection process is action. Action is basically where the rod flexes (or bends) while casting it. Action is usually described ranging from slow to very-fast. When choosing the action of a rod, your goal is to find a rod that best fits your casting style; simply put, a rod that feels good to cast. This is the most difficult area of rod selection to compare with other people because each person has their own casting style. The Gear Review staff recommends that you test cast any rod before buying it.
    Loosely defined action ratings:

  • Slow/Soft - flexes in the upper ˝ of the rod.
  • Moderate/Medium - flexes in the upper 2/3 of the rod.
  • Fast - flexes in the upper 1/3 of the rod.
  • Very-Fast - flexes in the upper 1/4 of the rod.
  • 5. Number of sections
    One more consideration is the number of sections (or pieces) a rod breaks down to. Most rods break down to 2, 3, 4 or 5 sections. The convenience of a 3 or 4 piece rod is tough to beat. Depending on how much traveling you will do, by airplane or backpacking, 4 or even 5 sections should be considered. The Gear Review staff recommends 3 sections as a minimum.

    6. Warranty
    Most people, when spending a lot of money on a fly rod, want some assurance (insurance) they'll be able to use that rod without breaking it. To solve this dilemma manufacturers usually have some kind of warranty on their rods. If you really like a rod but the warranty concerns you, the Gear Review staff recommends you call the manufacturer and discuss your concerns. While most fly rod manufacturers state their warranty a little differently, they all seem interested in covering defects or accidental damage. However, intentional damage will probably not be, nor should it be, covered.

    Given the number of great fly rod manufacturers in the market today and the number of different models they each produce, choosing the right fly rod for you can be a difficult, nearly overwhelming, task. Once you've decided, how and where you are going to use your new rod, and you've determined what line weight and rod length best matches your intended use, you're ready to cast some rods. Trying a rod before you buy it is the most important step you can take. If you're not sure what action you prefer, be sure to try rods that differ in action. A fly rod that feels good when you cast it and matches the conditions you fish it in is a big step towards a balanced fly fishing outfit.


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