When to Upgrade Your Fly Rod

Time for a new fly rod? Maybe! Fly Fishing Expert Rylyn S. gives a few reasons you might want to upgrade and some indications that it's definitely time for a new rod!

A man standing in a body of water casting a fly rod.

Photo by Anne Nygard

I still remember watching my tracking information while waiting on my first fly rod to arrive from eBay at my front door. That Cabela's Prestige II 9 foot 6 weight still has its place on the shelf next to my tying table, even if it is a six-piece now instead of a four-piece. After a fall in some swift current, what started as a four-piece fly rod at 7:30 a.m. in November ended up as a six-piece by 8:00 a.m.

Since then, I have lost, broken, and even had a few fly rods stolen due to my lack of locking my truck while fishing on a local gravel bar. While working in the fly fishing industry, I still tell everyone getting started to get a fly rod in the 4 to 6wt range, anywhere from 8'6" to 9' in length. With many brands, materials, and blanks, these sizes overlap in their performance. They can also be considered a multi-application fly rod. Once you start learning what you like the most (dry flies, nymphing, or streamers), you can dial in what rod is best for you.

Expert Tip: If you live in the United States and fish freshwater trout, bass, and panfish, a 9 foot 5 weight medium-fast action fly rod is where you will need to start. That will cover about 85% of your fly fishing needs.

If you’re like me, I want my fly fishing gear to last forever. So replacing a fly rod that we started with sometimes isn't necessary. Then there is the other side of the spectrum where we spend more time on the water, and the beginner setup isn't cutting it. When I started, all I wanted to do was catch fish. So I would tie on a colossal-sized indicator, a bead head nymph, and a mop fly at our Missouri trout parks and call it a day! Today, when I fish the little Blue Ribbon Streams here in Missouri, I use a different setup than what I am using on the larger rivers I am floating.

This is the point where we look at applications in fly rods. My question is, what do you need? Do you need a fly rod considered multi-application or tailors to where and what you are fishing?

When and Why You Should Upgrade Your Fly Rod

A man bending down in a river holding a trout and a fly rod.

Photo by Kayla Small

You Are Limited

Say you have caught the bug and are starting to develop your casting style. Now that you have dedicated your time to fly fishing, and this is a serious hobby, your fly rod is about to become your favorite tool. It would help if you had a fly rod to help you grow as an angler and get that fly where the fish are. Accuracy is so important and is the most critical factor in the feel of a fly rod. The more important fact here is that as you spend more time on the water, you might be willing to pay a bit more on a fly rod that casts as good as it looks!

Higher-end rods can most definitely offer significantly better performance than entry-level rods. However, we must think that the rod is only as good as its caster. It is time to upgrade when you are frustrated with your current setup's specific limitations. Just like that old hymnal says, "Count your blessings and name them one by one," it's time to list the aspects you want and don’t want in your fly rod. Doing this will help you narrow down your needs for your next fly rod.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What frustrates me about my current setup?
  • What kind of waterways am I fishing?
  • What species of fish am I fishing?
  • What is my favorite technique? (ex. nymphing, dry flies, streamers, etc.)
  • Where do I want to keep it budget-wise?

You Don’t Have the Right Tool for the Job

This year will be my sixth year teaching high school agriculture and conservation. One of the classes I teach is an agricultural mechanics and welding course where students do everything from troubleshooting small engines to welding trailers. Before we ever start in the shop, I have a safety rule. Only use the RIGHT tool for the RIGHT job. You can probably guess where this rule came from, and yes, you are thinking correctly. For example, I had a student try to use a cold chisel as a screwdriver—not good!

Use the RIGHT fly rod for the RIGHT application!

If you find yourself trying to cast an indicator rig in the riffles and you can't get the distance you need, it is probably time for a new fly rod with more power in the butt of the blank.

Suppose you find yourself trying to make delicate dry fly presentations to rising trout. Unfortunately, your fly either smacks the water or can't make the necessary distance. In that case, it's probably time for a new fly rod with a slower action used for presentation.

Suppose you keep smacking the bushes behind you and getting caught in trees on the new stream you just found. In that case, it is probably time for a new shorter fly rod intended for those intimate smaller streams.

As I said earlier, your first rod should be versatile and used for multiple purposes while being appropriate for the water you will fish the most. It might be time to build your quiver if you are a trout bum like myself. Consider skipping line weights as you add heavier and lighter fly rods to your toolbox. Also, it is a good idea to vary in length and actions, so you have a few choices at hand. For trout, your arsenal may look something like this:

  • 9ft 4wt: medium-fast action for medium to small nymphing and dry flies
  • 7'6ft 3wt: medium action for dry flies and small nymphs on small streams
  • 9ft 6wt: all-around nymphing and streamer fly rod

OR

  • 9ft 5wt: medium-fast action
  • 8ft 3wt: medium action for dry flies
  • 9'6ft 6wt: longer fast action for heavy nymphing and streamers on big water

Let's Face It: It's Just Old!

The technology that we see today in fly rods is not like the ones my grandpa used, catching crappie and bluegill around the cypress trees of Southeast Missouri. There is also a good chance that many companies are no longer in rod production. So, would I replace my grandpa's fly rod? No, as some are just irreplaceable. I am saying that modern machining and the blends of new materials have changed the fly fishing industry. Every year, new fly fishing gear comes to the market.

Fly rods have come a long way from bamboo and fiberglass. The modern graphite blend of fly rods outperforms accuracy at an extreme level. In addition, fly rods are lighter and even more durable these days. They outlast a fiberglass and bamboo fly rod, and you would be doing yourself a disservice for not picking one up.

Final Thoughts

A man wading in a river holding a trout.

Photo by Kayla Small

Here on Curated, we have a castability guarantee where you can try it out on the water for 14 days. We want you to love your new fly rod. If your fly rod is limiting you, is not the right tool for the job, or is old, come talk to one of us Fly Fishing Experts. We would love to give you free, personalized advice and recommendations, and we will get you geared up correctly!

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Written By
Hey There! My name is Rylyn Small. I am a High School Agriculture and FFA/Outdoor Teacher that teaches fly-fishing, angler education, hunter education, veterinary science, agricultural welding, and woodworking. I am also thankful to be the Coach for the EPHS Bass Fishing Team where we compete in the...

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