Selecting a Fly Rod

Selecting a Fly Rod

When starting out, many women are unsure about how to select a fly rod that is right for them. If you were lucky, the instructor in your beginning fly fishing class had several different rods for you to try out as you learned. (See my December article that refers to the three basic casts you should learn in a beginning fly fishing class.) Hopefully, you also learned that a fly fisher selects a fly rod based on what fish, and what weight of fish, she intends to catch with it. Besides what fish you want to catch, there are three basic rod characteristics that are important to consider. They are the rod's length, its weight and its flex.

Even though fly rod manufacturers make fly rods of many lengths, it is pretty well agreed in the fly fishing industry that the best all-around fly rod length is 9-ft. That's considered to be the most versatile length for the widest variety of fly fishing situations you'll encounter. Some people who fish very small streams prefer a shorter rod, but you can still fish these streams just by casting up-stream or down-stream instead of across the stream with a 9-ft rod. Or, you can consider buying two fly rods, one for the small streams and one for your other fishing.

Next let's talk about the "weight" of a fly rod. Don't be confused. This does not mean what a rod weighs if you were to put it on a scale. Instead, the weight of a fly rod is determined by the diameter of the fly line that the rod is designed to cast. In your beginning fly fishing class you probably saw fly lines that were of different thicknesses. Those were lines designed to catch lighter or heavier weight fish.

Let's start with what rod weights catch what sizes of fish. For instance, a 4-6 weight rod catches trout, bass, bluegill, crappie, etc, but would likely break if you used it for larger fish like steelhead or salmon. A 7-9 weight rod is required to catch larger fish such as redfish, stripers, muskie, most of the salmon species, and steelhead. If you're fishing for marlin or tuna in the ocean or even king salmon in the rivers, you'll need an even heavier weight fly rod, maybe even up to 14-weight!

So, the first answer to the question of "which rod" is for you is to determine what fish you're going to fish for with the rod. Some of you will know the answer to that question right off, and others of you will find that you are not sure. If you know that you'll be fishing primarily for fish like trout, then a 9-ft 5-wt rod is perfect for you. If you are one of those who say that you want a rod that you can use for both smaller and heavier fish, then I recommend that you buy a 9-ft 8-wt rod. You can always catch smaller fish with a heavier rod, but you can't catch heavier fish with a light weight rod.

The third important characteristic of a fly rod is it's "action" or flex. Manufacturers design fly rods to bend at different points along the length of the rod when you have a fish on. Some bend, or flex, only at the tip of the rod. These are often referred to as fast-action or tip-flex rods. These rods achieve greater line speed and distance in the cast but they do so by requiring greater power in the casting stroke. They often feel rather stiff to the beginner, who may find them tiring to cast in the beginning. Often they are a manufacturers' most expensive line of rods.

A rod that bends about one-fourth of the way down from the tip is generally referred to as a medium-fast action rod. These rods can achieve quite high line speed and casting distance, but they are easier for a beginner to cast and are typically less expensive than fast action rods.

Medium-action or mid-flex rods bend about a third of the way down the rod. They are the easiest to cast for many anglers and help them achieve better accuracy. They rods are generally most effective with smaller fish. They are usually not as effective in fighting large fish because the butt of the rod is not as stiff is it is in the medium-fast or fast-action rods. Medium-action rods are usually in the mid range of a manufacturer's price line.

Full-flex or slow action rods may be difficult to cast, and they often have a "wobbly" feel to them because they bend fully half way down the rod blank. They are ineffective in fighting large fish because the fly fisher cannot use the stiffness in the rod butt to hold against a powerful fish. These rods are generally the least expensive in a price line.

Most women find that they prefer a medium action rod when fishing for small fish, but a medium-fast flex rod when fishing for larger species. You should know that a woman can cast any fly rod a man can cast, and do so just as effectively.

These days most rod manufacturers indicate which type of flex a rod has. Ask to see the catalog description and be sure to go out and actually cast any rod you're thinking of buying. It helps if you have the salesperson "play" the fish so you can see how the rod would bend if it has a fish on.

Cost is, of course, an important consideration in the purchase of a fly rod. As we discussed in the first Women Talk Fly Fishing webinar. if you are buying a 5-wt or 6-wt fly rod and reel for smaller fish, there are several good "combo" packages on the market in the $150- $250 range. With the 8-wt rods it is often better to buy the rod and reel separately except when the "combo" package says that the rod is a medium-fast or fast-action fly rod. (Sage Manufacturing makes such a combo where the Flight model fly rod included in the package is a fast-action rod.)

Be sure to take your time and buy good quality equipment to begin with. These rods & reels have good warranties and will be repaired or replaces by the manufacturer if they break. If you buy cheap equipment and break it, you'll just have to go out and buy more equipment.

Unless you want to go fishing right away, you can always assemble your equipment over time or get it as gifts. I got my first fly rod for my birthday, my reel for Christmas, and my fly line for Valentine's Day. Didn't cost me a thing!