By Spencer Durrant
When you’re new to fly fishing, the sheer glut of fly rods on the market feels overwhelming. How do you know which one to pick? Will a beginner fly rod serve you well as you get better at fly fishing? Or is it better to just plunk the money down for something nice right now? Are fast-action fly rods better than moderate-action? What length and line weight are the best for a beginner?
Those are just a few of the questions that new fly anglers face when sifting through the rack of fly rods at their local fly shops. Today, though, I’ll give you the information you need to pick a fly rod with confidence.
Choosing Fly Rods
The first step in picking the right fly rod for you as a beginning angler is to set your budget. More than anything else, this will determine what fly rods you look at and eventually buy.
Most beginner fly rods are priced in the $150 – $300 range. For this price you’ll get a decent fly rod that does most of what you need it to. In recent years, the quality – and quantity – of beginner rods has shot through the roof. Even if you don’t have much to spend, you’ll still be getting a solid rod.
Pick Your Species
While fly fishing is mainly done for trout, chasing bass, carp, and pike on the fly is growing in popularity. If you primarily fish for trout, you’ll want a 5-weight rod. A 6-weight rod is perfect for bass and carp, while a 7 or 8-weight is ideal for pike.
I’ll explain more on the line weights in a moment.
How You Fish
I grew up fishing the small creeks of the Rocky Mountains. I love fishing dry flies on small water. As such, I primarily use and fish rods that are shorter and lighter than what most anglers use.
If you plan on fishing standard-sized rivers with average-sized bugs (think places like the Provo or the Madison River) then a 9′ 5-weight is your best choice of fly rod. If you’re fishing smaller water, but still for good-sized fish, an 8’6″ 4-weight is a great option.
Dry fly fishing – if that’s what you’re doing exclusively – usually demands a softer presentation. My favorite dry fly rods are 7’6″ 4-weights.
But as a general rule of thumb – if you’re fishing bigger flies on bigger water, you want a longer rod with a heavier line weight. The opposite is true for smaller flies.
Fly rods are classified by two things – their length, and the weight of line they cast.
Fly lines are weighted according to the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. A 5-weight line is the fishing equivalent of a .30-06. It’s the right size to handle almost any kind of fishing situation you find yourself in.
Most trout fishing is done with a 9′ 5-weight fly rod. For larger fish, or when using larger flies, a 6-weight is a good option. Dry fly fishing is usually done with lighter lines and rods, like 3 and 4-weights.
Finally, you’ll likely hear about some rods being faster or slower than others. This refers to the action of the rod. Fast fly rods move the line more quickly through the air, while slower rods move the line at a more deliberate speed. Most new fly anglers find it easier to learn to cast with a fast-action fly rod, so that’s what I’d recommend if you’re looking to buy your first one.
Slower rods are usually associated with materials like bamboo and fiberglass. Often, slower-action rods are used when fishing dry flies.
Put it All Together
Once you’ve identified a budget, the species you’re fishing for, how you’ll most often fish, and the line weight that suits your tasks, you’re ready to start shopping for a fly rod. The key is to make sure that you know exactly what you’re looking for, otherwise the number of fly rods will just overwhelm you. For most trout fishing, a 9′ 5-weight fly rod is perfect. A 9′ 6-weight is great for bass and carp, while pike or other larger fish are best handled on a 9′ 7-weight.
While the ultimate decision for a fly rod comes down to personal preference, these are the starting points I’d recommend you consider as you look for your first fly rod.