How to Choose a Fly Fishing Rod

How to Choose a Fly Fishing Rod

The sport of fly fishing can be challenging, exciting and very rewarding. Although you can start learning to cast with just about any rod, choosing the right fly rod will make learning easier and also greatly improve your odds of catching fish. Need some help getting started? Follow the steps below on how to choose a fly rod.

1. First, narrow down your selection by rod length. Short rods (about 7’ or shorter) are ideal for fishing in areas with cover (i.e. overhanging tree branches). Long rods (8.5’ or longer) are adept at making long, powerful casts in areas unobstructed by cover (i.e. sandy beaches, wide-open riverbanks, etc.). Longer rods are also easier to cast from a float tube. For the most versatility, a medium-length rod (about 7.5’ to 8.5’) is a good starting point for beginners.

2. Next, choose a rod weight. Fly rod weight determines what line weight can be used effectively and subsequently what kind of flies can be cast. Lightweight rods are best for casting light flies with delicate presentation, a technique that is ideal for targeting fish that spook easily. Heavier rods are best for casting heavy flies and bait, which are used to target larger fish species. Consult the chart below to determine what rod weight will work best for your needs:

Rod Weight Description Flies Tippets Best Use
2wt Ultra, Ultra Light Under size #16 Under 2 lbs. or 7X Specialized for fishing tiny flies and very light tippets. Great for spooky fish where delicate presentation is the most important factor.
3wt Ultra Light Up to size #14 Under 3 lbs. or 6X Delicate presentation, but longer casts than #2
4wt Light #12 to #20 2 - 6 lbs. or 5X Popular size for spring creeks and mountain streams. Casts comfortably to ranges of 45 feet.
5wt Medium Light

Dries up to #6

Tiny emergers down to #20

3 -10 lbs. or 4X Casts comfortably to ranges of 60 feet with a size #12 fly. Comfortably handles fish 9" or 5 pounds. Considered the most versatile weight.
6wt Medium

Bushy #4

#20 Weighted nymphs Flies to #18

3 -10 lbs. or 3X Has enough line mass to deliver large weighted nymphs to 60 feet and #10 unweighted flies.
7wt Medium Heavy #2 - #14, bass and saltwater 6 -12 lbs. or 2X Useful for: Windy conditions, fish average over 5 lbs., casting exceptionally large flies
8wt Heavy Largest trout and salmon flies, bass and saltwater Over 12 lbs. or 1X Useful for: Windy conditions, 6-15 lb. trout, heavy tippets

3. Finally, choose a rod action. The way a fly rod is constructed determines its action, which in turn affects how the rod will flex and handle. Fast-action fly rods focus the majority of the flex near the tip, which offers greater sensitivity and powerful hook setting. However, using a fast-action rod effectively requires a lot of practice. Medium-action fly rods focus the majority of the flex between the halfway point and the tip. Medium action offers the most versatility and is more forgiving. Slow-action fly rods distribute flex across the entire length of the rod, which is best for making short, gentle casts. Most beginners should consider a medium-action rod. The chart below illustrates how action relates to flex:

Rod Flex

At this point, if you’re still unsure about what to buy, consider choosing a 5wt rod between eight and nine feet in length. This is a versatile choice and will allow you to target a variety of freshwater fish species, including trout, bluegill, bass and more. For more in-depth information on fly fishing tackle, be sure to visit our Fly Fishing Guide.