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Bamboo vs. Glass vs. Graphite Fly Rods

6 mins read
three fly rods side by side on a rocky bakcground
By Spencer Durrant

The fly rod market can be tough to navigate for new anglers. Not only do you have to wade through dozens of options from tons of different manufacturers, but more and more frequently these days, you’ll run into fly rods made of different materials.

Today, we’ll take a look at the three different materials fly rods are built from and the differences between them, so you can be more informed when you’re shopping for a fly rod.

Bamboo

bamboo fly rod laying on a background of rocksBamboo is the OG material for building fly rods. It’s what Brad Pitt used in A River Runs Through It. For those of us with grandfathers who fly fished, they likely used bamboo at some point. It’s sometimes referred to as “split cane.” Bamboo is the heaviest material that fly rods are built from, which is why you’ll often see these rods built in shorter lengths, and for lighter line weights.

Bamboo fly rods are revered for their craftsmanship and quality. Good ones usually take upwards of 80 hours to build, and it’s done by hand. However, that means bamboo is very expensive. High-quality bamboo rods today start around $2,000. Classic rods from revered makers like Everett Garrison can sometimes sell for over $10,000.

How does bamboo fish?

Bamboo rods are slow. They don’t generate the same high line speed and tight, crisp loops that you’re accustomed to seeing from modern graphite rods. This slower action makes bamboo rods ideal for fishing situations that demand delicate presentations, which is why bamboo fly rods are so often associated with dry flies.

The slow, methodical action of bamboo makes it a pleasure to use for those who enjoy fly casting. Getting much distance with a bamboo rod requires precise casting, so if you’re new to fly fishing, using bamboo might be a bit frustrating. The slower action also means that it’s harder to cast bamboo in the wind than graphite.

Glass

fiberglass fly rod laying on a background of rocksBamboo was the material-of-choice for fly rods up until the 1950s, when an embargo with China forced fly rod builders to pivot to a new material. Their choice was fiberglass, and it’s still a well-loved material all these years later.

A top-tier glass rod is cheaper than a top-tier graphite rod, but glass is far more similar to bamboo in terms of action. Fiberglass has undergone a big resurgence in popularity lately, and has even branched out to use in saltwater fly fishing. Glass rods are lighter than bamboo, but heavier than graphite.

How does fiberglass fish?

Fiberglass rods are slow and flex deep into the cork. And just like with bamboo, glass rods are excellent to use when fishing dry flies, emergers, or smaller nymphs.

Glass rods stretch more than graphite or bamboo, which gives them a unique feel while on the water. That stretch also makes glass rods more durable than graphite or bamboo.

Graphite

graphite fly rod laying on a background of rocksGraphite fly rods are the most popular in today’s market, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Graphite is crystallized carbon that’s incredibly strong, yet has some flexibility, and a fantastic ability to transfer energy. That makes it an ideal material to use for fly fishing.

The vast majority of fly rods available today are built from graphite. It’s relatively cheap to use in manufacturing fly rods, although high-end graphite fly rods are more expensive than anything except bamboo. It’s a versatile material, used in all fishing applications.

How does graphite fish?

Graphite fly rods are what you’ve more than likely fished with, and will continue fishing with. They’re generally faster-action rods that generate high line speeds and tight loops. The power that graphite generates makes it ideal to use in all fishing situations. Graphite rods are generally considered the easiest to learn to fly fish with because their stiff action demands less precision when fly casting than bamboo or fiberglass.

Because graphite is such a versatile material, it’s able to handle everything from fishing small dry flies to trout, to landing marlin and sailfish in the Pacific Ocean.

Here at VFC, we’ve developed our own graphite fly rod— The Fly Flinger. Check it out here!

Wrapping Up

The three materials from which fly rods are built are very different. Bamboo is an all-natural material that has a truly organic feel to it. Fiberglass is slow, like bamboo, but has its own intangible qualities. Graphite takes the best features of both bamboo and glass and adds stiffness and strength, allowing anglers to cast farther and with greater accuracy. The material that’s best for you depends on your budget and the fishing you plan on doing.

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