The Best Fly Fishing Rods for Beginners

Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith gives some tips on what to look for in your first fly rod, plus gives a few suggestions for the best fly rods for beginners!

Several fly fishing rod and reels all standing together.

Photo by Joseph Smith

Fly fishing is a fun and exciting outdoor sport. Entry into this often feels like the neophyte has to undergo some sort of initiation learning lingo, spending inordinate amounts of money on fly fishing gear, and being skunked multiple times before fish are actually caught.

In an effort to break this perception and make fly fishing more accessible for beginners, several outdoor manufacturers of fly fishing gear have created beginner packages to help anglers catch fish on a fly. These packages include a rod, reel, backing, line, and often leader.

All you need to do is choose your best fly from your fly box, add water, and catch a fish. Whether you are looking for a beginner fly rod for yourself or maybe one for fishing with your kid or even looking for that perfect gift, here are some important things to consider and a list of great starting options.

What to Consider in a Beginning Fly Fishing Rod

When it comes to weighing the best option for a beginner’s fly fishing rod, you’ll want to look at fly rod action, weight, length, rod material, and some comparison shopping checkpoints.

Fly Rod Action

A diagram showing the difference in rod bend in a slow, medium, and fast action fly rod.

The fly rod action is perhaps one of the most important things to consider when choosing a fly rod. The action is simply where the rod bends when under load. Rods come in either slow, moderate, or fast action. For most beginners, a moderate to moderate-fast action rod is ideal.

Slow-action rods tend to be geared more for delicate dry fly presentations. While the deep slow bend of the rod is easy to feel, the slower casting stroke and limited use preclude this as a beginner rod.

Fast-action rods bend at the tip. These rods generate fast line speed and are great for punching large flies through the wind at great distances. Because of this, they tend to be unforgiving with errant casts, and until a solid casting stroke is developed, these rods can be challenging for beginners to consistently cast.

Moderate-action rods tend to be the “Goldilocks” of action. Anglers can easily feel these rods load and these rods generate enough line speed that anglers can even cast large baitfish imitations with ease. The line speed, however, is not so fast that it is unforgiving of technical errors. For this reason, most beginners should begin with a moderate-action fly rod. Later, once they become more comfortable and are looking to upgrade, faster action rods should be considered, or maybe a slower action ultralight setup can be added to the quiver.

Weight

Fly rods are designated with different weights. These are not the actual weight of the rod but rather an indication of which fly line works best with this rod. The fly rod weight designation is very important as this often dictates not only what size fly it will cast but what species of fish anglers will be targeting. For most beginners, there really are only two weights that we will consider (and these are the weights that these beginning packages come in).

For trout anglers, who make up the vast majority of anglers, a 5-weight is the ideal rod. This weight has the ability to cast dry flies, large hoppers, and handle nymph rigs and streamers.

A 4-weight rod might be better for smaller streams but this weight often lacks the versatility that a 5-weight rod has. Likewise, a 6-weight rod may be better for casting streamers and fishing larger streams, but again, the versatility of the 5-weight fly rod trumps any benefit the 6-weight may have.

For saltwater anglers or bass anglers, an 8-weight is the best option. These rods will have the backbone to handle larger fish as well as turn over larger, non-aerodynamic poppers and baitfish imitations.

Length

Fly rods can come in different lengths. Some ultralight setups are around seven feet and are designed for casting in tight quarters. Two-handed rods such as spey rods come in sizes up to 15ft. For most fly anglers, the ideal length is a 9ft rod and this is a length that beginners should stick with. Rods that are too small are difficult to learn to cast and longer rods require casting proficiency or spey casting to properly use.

Rod Material

There are different materials that fly rods are made of, and rod materials have experienced many types of life forms. Historically, they were made of bamboo. Rods can still be obtained in bamboo but these slow-action rods are quite expensive and not ideal for beginners.

Fiberglass was the next technological advancement. These rods also tend to be slower in action and although they are still made, they tend to be niche rods. They additionally are heavy, which can lead to a tired arm after a day of fishing.

Most rods these days are made from graphite. Graphite makes lightweight, durable rods, that are sensitive and easier to cast. For this reason, these rods make the best beginner rods.

For completion's sake to really round out this conversation, there are also nano-silica resin rods. These rods use silica particles to fill the gaps in graphite fibers adding strength and power to graphite rods. These are the latest and greatest and fall out of the budget for beginners.

Other Factors to Look At

Although this article is primarily focused on fly rods, when looking at these combination packages, other features are worth noting for comparison’s sake.

  • Price: Of course, this is certainly a big factor. The price will vary across different products, but remember, there is a reason the price differs, and that is largely due to quality.
  • Warranty: These rods come with different warranties. As a general rule, if the company believes their product is made of high quality, the warranty is usually for a longer period of time.
  • Reel: Fly reels are of different quality. The material the reels are made from will affect durability and the quality of the drag. Composite reels, although less expensive, are usually of lesser quality than aluminum reels.
  • Fly Line: Although this may seem a minor point, the quality of the fly line will greatly affect casting and the overall fishing experience. Some outfits come with non-descript budget lines while others use quality entry-level lines.

Top 3 Beginner Fly Fishing Rods

A young man standing in a river fishing.

Photo by Joseph Smith

Now that all of the background information has been cleared up, here are some of the best fly-fishing combos that entry-level anglers should consider. All have been chosen to be budget-friendly, easy to use, and durable. I have ranked them based on the criteria discussed earlier in this article.

These are just my opinions, and you may find you have other preferences. Once you upgrade, my hope is you will keep these as backups–or as lender rods for others who want to start fly fishing.

Best Overall Fly Rod Outfit: Orvis Clearwater

The Orvis Clearwater fly outfit.

The Clearwater is a medium-fast action fly rod. Compared to other beginner packages, fly fishers will appreciate the finer finishes of this rod, such as a more comfortable cork grip. The rod comes in a 3 weight 10ft rod designed to be an introductory European Nymphing rod, with the standard 5, 6, and 8-weight options.

The Clearwater reel is die-cast aluminum which is a step up in durability from the Encounter reel. Also included is Orvis Clearwater fly line and a protective Cordura rod case. This setup comes with a 25-year warranty. Priced in the middle of these combination package price range, this is a great balance of cost versus quality. This is a rod that you will keep as a backup even once you upgrade to a more expensive rod. This is one of the best entry-level packages.

For more on this outfit, check out my review of it here.

Best Overall Quality Package: Sage Foundation

The Sage Foundation Fly Rod Outfit.

The fly rod in the Foundation kits is a faster action than most of these other rods and some beginners may find this more difficult to begin to cast with. That being said, the components and graphite blank of this rod are better than other beginner kit rods as well.

This rod is available in a 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 weight option. The rod is paired with the Sage Spectrum C reel, a die-cast aluminum reel with a solid drag. The fly line is RIO Gold line, which is an upgrade from the RIO Mainstream line. This rod comes with a protective rod case and is backed with a lifetime warranty. This is the most expensive combination of these listed, but it is conceivable that the angler will never outgrow this outfit.

Wondering how it performs? Read a review of the rod here.

Best No Frills: Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label

The Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label.

This is another great option. The moderate fast action rod is available as either a 5-weight or an 8-weight and is engineered to be easy to cast. The reel is a die-cast aluminum reel designed to be durable. The kit includes a budget fly line with a welded loop end and protective case. This package is backed by a lifetime warranty. If the Clearwater is not in your budget, then strongly consider this option.

Check out this review for more information.

Others to Consider

Orvis Encounter: This is an inexpensive basic setup. The rod is available in different lengths of 8ft 6in to 9ft 6in and comes in weights 5, 6, and 8. The reel is an Encounter reel which is a molded composite material (not the most durable). The fly line, Orvis Clearwater, is a quality entry-level fly line. A protective rod case is included as well.

At a reasonable price, this is a budget-friendly option. Another plus…this rod comes with a limited five-year warranty, which is less than other beginner setup rods. On the downside, anglers who continue with fly fishing will likely outgrow this outfit.

Redington Crosswater: This is another inexpensive setup that is designed specifically for trout. Although this rod comes in different sizes, when purchased as a combination package, it only comes in a 5-weight. The crosswater reel is made from a polymer to help keep the cost down but, again, this is not a durable reel.

The fly line is RIO Mainstream weight forward line, and a Cordura protected tube is included. Redington covers this product with a one-year warranty. Similar to the Orvis Encounter, anglers will outgrow this combination package.

ECHO Lift: This is a medium-action, moderate-power rod that was designed with the beginning angler in mind as rod loading can be easily felt. The rods are available in 4, 5, 6, and 8 weights and are paired with a composite reel. Again, composite reels are often lacking in durability. The kit includes a budget-friendly, weight-forward floating fly line with a welded loop end and protective rod and tube. This kit features a lifetime warranty.

Final Thoughts

A man fly fishing in a river.

Photo by Joseph Smith

I hope this article has helped and inspired you to take up fly fishing. Check out some of these great trout stream destinations you could go to! If you have questions or need help selecting a fly rod or any other gear, please reach out to me or another Curated Fly Fishing Expert at Curated. We would love to help. Tight Lines!

Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith
Fly Fishing Expert
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Written By
I am an avid fly fisherman. Luckily, I have a pond in my backyard exactly two minutes from my fly tying bench. If there is open water, I will fish just about every day. Although I grew up fishing the fabled streams of Pennsylvania, I love to travel and fly fish for diverse species both fresh and sa...

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