Choosing the proper fly rod

Posted on: Sat Jan 21

Proper fly fishing gear is essential. Along with the reel, flies and line, the most important gear is the fly rod. Fly rods may vary in length from 6 - 12 feet and come in different weights, colors, actions, materials and types. Understanding the rod that best fits your style of fishing is crucial to being successful on the water.

The basic science in choosing a fly rod is weight. The weight of a fly rod refers to how heavy a line is needed to make it cast properly. The higher the rod weight the rod the bigger the fish the rod can handle. It is vital to figure this out when choosing your fly fishing gear. The goal when choosing a fly rod is to choose a rod that will match the type of line you will be using. Typically, if you will be using 5wt line, you would want to use a 5wt rod. However, it IS possible to use line and rods that don't match their weights exactly. Casting becomes slightly more difficult if you are using line that isn't meant to be used with your current rod.

The length of the rod itself is also determined by the type of fish you are going after. The bigger the fish, the larger the rod and heavier the line. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the rod weight, the smaller the fish it can catch. For example, a fly rod of 3wt is enough to catch a small trout; but for bigger fish like a steelhead, a heavier weight rod, such as an 8wt, is essential.

Depending on the fish species, some of the most common weights in use include:

  • 1-2wt rods - for casting to small fish and delicate deliveries for tiny flies at short distances. Ideal for small trout and panfish such as crappies and bluegills.
  • 3 wt rods - for casting at short to medium distances also with small flies. Ideal for small trout and panfish.
  • 4wt and 5wt rods - for casting small & medium sized flies at medium distances with a wide range of fly sizes.
  • 6wt rods – with many uses, this rod is designed for casting all distances. Used for species like trout, panfish, bass and small salmon. These are typically great rods to use for beginners because they are typically a bit more forgiving when it comes to casting and can be used in so many different situations.
  • 7-8 wt rods – for casting long distances, these rods are used for big fish weighing up to about 15 pounds – from Atlantic and pacific salmon, steelhead and very big trout.
  • 9-10 wt rods - Designed for casting at long distances using large flies. Used for heavy fish of between 30-40 pounds like bonefish, bonito, permit, bluefish, striped bass, albacore, redfish, and snook.
  • 11-15 wt rods – These are heavy saltwater rods designed for large fish like billfish, and tarpon.

But how do you measure the weight of a fly rod?

Fly rods are manufactured with basic vitals like length, weight and style of line – typically listed on the rod label just above the grip. Measuring the weight of your rod requires you to understand the label system. But the label details may be missing with older or custom-made rods. This means that you must rely on your experience and feeling to determine the weight of the rod. Steps to determining the weight of your fly rod:

  1. Read the label to determine the rod weight and type. There are several letters followed by a number and another letter; all separated a dash. The first letter could be “WF” –weight forward, “DT” – double paper or “SH” – shouting. The number represents the weight of the rod.
  2. Cast the rod to determine the weight if a label is not available. This requires experience and a good feel for your rod. Heavy lines will overload the rod and light lines will under-load the rod. The line that matches the rod weight will make smooth transitions on the forward and back casts.
  3. Alternatively you can take the fly rod to a fly shop for a better understanding of your equipment and how it works.
  4. Fly rods are generally made from one of three materials - bamboo, fiberglass, or graphite.

Bamboo rods were the first of the fly rods and are still highly prized in spring creek fishing. However, bamboo rods are the most expensive and rare of all the fly-fishing rods ranging in cost from 1200 - $3000 per rod.

While fiberglass rods are still being made, they are not as prevalent as graphite rods. Fiberglass rods are almost portrayed as a novelty, but should be considered when looking for a rod with finesse and when looking for something that is extremely light weight.

As a rod type, graphite rods are the rods of choice for most fly fishermen. They're lightweight, functional and can be very powerful. It is the advanced material properties of graphite that make it strong and superb for casting longer distances.

For more information, head to your local fly shop. I have had my mind made up on a rod to purchase, only to have it changed after hearing some advice from the people who live and breathe the sport.