Fly Rod: How to Choose the Right One for You

Published on 03/13/2023 · 13 min readWith all the options when it comes to fly rods, it can be hard to know which one is the best for you! Fly Fishing Expert Rylyn S. breaks down how to pick a fly rod!
Rylyn S., Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Rylyn S.

Photo by Rylyn S.

When choosing a new fly rod, it can be overwhelming with the amount of information available. Therefore, there are some factors to consider when buying a new rod: weight (the weight should fit the species and environment), application (nymphing, dry fly, streamers, Euro nymphing, etc.), length (the length should match the application and environment), and lastly, the action and power (fast, moderate, and slow action are key performance factors).

Being a fly fishing instructor and teaching beginners for the past 10 years, I understand that getting the right equipment is vital to creating a quality experience. The right equipment is like choosing the right tool for the job. If you do not have the correct tool, it will create a frustrating experience on the water. Getting the correct fly rod is essential for setting the standard and allowing you to grow as an angler without creating bad habits along the way. This buyer's guide will set you up for success out on the water.

I devote my life to helping beginner, advanced, and intermediate anglers. My passion is fishing in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. Anywhere from the small blue-ribbon trout spring creeks to Missouri's big "Freestone" floating rivers. Missouri and Arkansas are diverse and offer many rivers, streams, and tailwaters. I also spend my winters and summers chasing redfish, snook, and tarpon along the coast. Trout, redfish, gar, bass, carp, crappie, you name it! If it swims, I will try to catch it on a fly rod.

What Is a Fly Rod?

Photo by Rylyn S.

A fly rod is categorized in weight (wt), which ranges from 0 to 16, with 0 as the weakest and 16 as the strongest. Fly rods also vary in length, which has to do with what and where you are fishing. Unlike conventional fishing, you are not casting the lure but rather casting the weight of the fly line. Upon the release of the fly line, the leader and fly are launched to the target.

Before we get to the nitty gritty of selection, let’s understand the function of fly fishing rods:

Casting

The fly rod is a lever used to cast the fly line, leader, and fly to its given target. A good fly rod and fly line matched with good casting skills will effectively present a fly to its target without spooking the fish. This is also where power and action will come into play, which I will discuss later.

Setting the Hook and Landing Fishing

Not only is the fly rod used to present the fly, but it is also used as a lever to set the hook and fight the fish. Therefore, a fly rod needs to be strong and flexible enough the fight for the species of fish you are fishing. That is why selecting the correct weight is important not to hurt the fish or snap a fly rod.

Fly Line Control

The fly rod also controls the fly line. Once the fly has been presented, the fly rod controls the fly line to create the best presentation possible for the fish. Whether mending to reduce drag in the stream or creating a straight line for stripping the streamer back to entice larger predatory fish, the fly rod controls the fly line.

What to Consider When Buying a Fly Rod

Photo by Rylyn S.

What Fly Rod Length Is Ideal?

Most fly rods today are 9’0”. When I choose a fly rod for my students or clients, I usually start them out with a 9’0” unless they are middle schoolers less than 5’ tall. For my shorter students and clients, I will hand them an 8’6” fly rod, as it is easier for them to contract the fly line. When choosing an ultralight fly rod, you will see short lengths as these are used for tight quarters where there isn’t much room to cast a 9’0” rod.

There are also several other considerations for fly rod lengths regarding spey rods and Euro nymphing rods, as these are longer and are used for a specific application. The longer the fly rod, the longer the cast. As well, a shorter rod length equates to shorter casting distances.

What Fly Rod Action and Power Should I Select?

In its basic form, the fly rod's action is where and how it bends under a “load” or pressure.

When you cast a fly rod, it loads, which causes the rod to launch the fly line. Rather than casting a lure, you are casting the fly line, which propels the fly to your target. There are four action rods: fast-action, medium-action, medium-fast action, and slow-action.

A fast-action fly rod bends closer to the tip, can be difficult to grasp, and is best for the experienced angler. Whereas slow- and moderate-action rods will flex more proximate to the fly rod grip and are recommended for new anglers.

Fast-ActionMedium-ActionSlow-Action
- Less flexible- Fluid motion- High in flexibility
- Casts powerfully- Multi - application- Slow line speed
- Fast line speed- Forgiving on timing- Best for shorter distance casting
- Requires timing and skill- Great for beginners and intermediate anglers- Great for beginners to intermediate anglers
- Best suited for an experienced angler

Power is how much pressure is needed to load or bend the fly rod. If the fly rod blank is thicker and has a fast action, these tend to perform more powerful distanced casts. More controlled and small casts are produced from a thinner and more flexible fly rod, which translates to a lower-powered rod.

What Fly Rod Weight Should I Choose?

Sizes of fly rods range from 0 (ultralight applications) to 16 (heavy applications). There is not an all-size-fits-one fly rod out there that can be used for all applications. What I use for trout fishing here in the Ozarks will not work for the redfish I am fishing for in Louisiana.

Here are some quick references regarding what size to choose for your application:

Rod Weight by Use Case

Fish SpeciesFly Rod Weight
Panfish0- to 4- weight
Grayling3- to 5- weight
Small Creeks and Streamer Trout0- to 4- weight
Trout4- to 6- weight*
Smallmouth Bass5- to 8- weight
Largemouth Bass5- to 9- weight**
Peacock Bass8- to 10- weight
Carp6- to 10- weight
Steelhead7- to 9- weight
Salmon8- to 10- weight
Northern Pike and Musky8- to 12- weight
Bonefish, Redfish, and Snook7- to 9- weight***
Striped Bass and False Albacore8- to 12- weight
Golden Dorado8- to 12- weight
Permit9- to 10- weight
Tarpon, Roosters, and Giant Trevally10- to 12- weight
Mahi Mahi10- to 14- weight
Blue Fin Tuna12- to 14-weight
Sailfish and Marlin14- to 16-weight

*Trout: A 5-weight is considered the all-around trout weight. A 4-weight is better suited for dry fly fishing, and the 6-weight would be used on larger streams or throwing streamer patterns.

**Largemouth bass: A 7-weight or 8-weight is considered the ideal weight, as this size rod can throw larger poppers with ease and can pull large fish out of heavy cover.)

***Bonefish, redfish, and snook: Although some bull redfish are chased with larger rods, the 8-weight is considered the all-around saltwater weight.

How Do I Choose a Fly Line Weight?

Photo by Rylyn S.

The nice thing is the weight of a fly line measures in grains and is numbered accordingly. For example, a WF6F (weight forward, 6-weight, floating fly line) matches with a 6-weight fly rod.

I recommend choosing a 5wt, 9ft fly rod if you're just starting. This is a great starting point, as it can cover a range of species and the majority of freshwater applications (as shown in the chart above). Contact a Fly Fishing Expert at Curated, and we can even set you up with a different weight if you are fishing for mostly salmon and steelhead. The same goes for saltwater applications; we have better options for those.

Match It Up!

Fly Line Weight = Fly Rod Weight = Fly Reel Weight Example: A 590-4 (5wt 9’0” 4-piece) needs a WF5F (Weight Forward 5wt Floating) Fly Line with a ⅚ WT or -5+ Fly Reel.

Other Features to Consider When Buying a Fly Rod

Fly Rod Pieces

If you are a traveler, I would consider going with a 4-piece fly rod. The great thing about it is that most of your fly rods today come as four pieces. However, there are 6-piece, 3-piece, 2-piece, and even solid 1-piece blank options. A 4-piece fly rod will allow you to easily slip it into a small suitcase or a fly fishing luggage bag specifically designed for travel.

Fly Rod Construction

Even though these are getting as rare as the Ozark Sasquatch, fiberglass rods are still around. I suggest avoiding fiberglass and bamboo rods unless you need a rod for a child to start with. Instead, go with graphite. It is lighter and stronger than the other options.

Fly Rod Combo

If you are getting started or just need something that is set up and ready to fish, go with a fly rod outfit kit. These include the rod, reel, backing, fly line, leader, and in some cases, a case. Just tie on a fly, and you are catching fish. Here at Curated, we can custom-build a fly rod outfit for you. Just because it is a combo doesn’t detract from the quality and performance. We will match the perfect rod, reel, and fly line for you.

How Much Do Fly Rods Cost?

Fly rod prices can range anywhere from $150-$950, whereas mid-range prices are $300-$500, with excellent fly rod selections in most brands for all fly fishing applications.

Concentrate spending your money on the fly rod and fly line, as these two are the most important for your setup. You can spend less on the fly reel. Most will come with a lifetime warranty from manufacturers like Sage, Scott, Redington, and Winston. Orvis has a 25-year guarantee. High-quality fly rods create high-quality experiences out on the water for any angler. However, let your budget dictate your decision.

How to Choose the Right Fly Rod for You

Photo by Rylyn S.

Choosing the right fly rod can be daunting even when it shouldn’t be. We are overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at us online, and it can be intimidating to go to a fly shop. Considering everything above, let’s look at three fly angler scenarios. We will look at species, location, and experience. I will highlight the important features they need in their new fly rod and the formula for pairing up the correct setup.

Meet Jackson: Beginning Angler Seeking Versatility

Jackson is just getting started in fly fishing and needs something for his truck and traveling that will be a multi-application fly rod where he can throw dry flies, nymphs, and small to medium streamers. Jackson really enjoys fly fishing for trout in stocked lakes and hitting his local streams in the Ozarks chasing smallmouth, trout, and the occasional opportunity to catch panfish. Jackson wants something that can do it all.

Features Jackson should look for:

  • A medium-action is a great fly rod that can delicately present dry flies while having enough power to cast streamers which is best for new fly fishers
  • A 5-weight rod that is 9'0" as it is the most well-balanced rod and is very versatile for larger and small fish
  • A WF5F fly line since it will be the most versatile for multiple applications
  • A 4-piece fly rod so he can stow away under his truck seat when not in use

Fly rod examples:

Meet Ali: Small Stream Backpacker

Ali has many fly rods in her arsenal but is needing something that she can use to backpack into remote locations of the Smoky Mountains to chase brook trout. She will only be dry fly and nymph fishing in small cascading pools. Her location doesn’t have a lot of room to cast and needs something that can handle small water applications. The biggest fish she will catch may be 10-12 inches. She needs to conserve space as she will be backpacking and camping for a few days.

Features Ali should look for:

  • A slow-action fly rod that can delicately present dry flies and small nymphs to spooky mountain stream trout
  • A 2wt or 3wt fly rod that is anywhere from 6’0” to 7’6” inches in length, allowing her to roll cast and false cast in tight quarters for smaller fish
  • A WF2F or WF3F weight fly line will be the most versatile for dries, dry droppers, small wool indicators, and nymphing
  • A 4-piece or even the better choice of a 6-piece fly rod that she can throw in her backpack for her hike into the mountains

Fly rod examples:

Meet Richard: Established Freshwater Angler New to Saltwater

Richard is heading to the Florida coast to chase redfish and speckled trout inshore. Richard also needs something that will work for Florida bass when he goes to Lake Okeechobee. He needs something that can be used in saltwater and freshwater with the ability to throw streamers, saltwater flies, and big bass bugs. Richard has been fly fishing most of his life, so he is familiar with casting but is all new to the saltwater realm.

Features Richard should look for:

  • A fast action fly rod that has the power to make long-distance casts and the power to push through the wind while fishing the coast
  • An 8wt 9’0” fly rod that has an anodized aluminum reel seat and a fighting butt to hold up in the salty conditions
  • A WF8F fly line that is suitable for saltwater applications and warm weather applications.
  • A 4-piece fly rod as he will need it for traveling on a plane

Fly rod examples:

Conclusion

Photo by Rylyn S.

Whether you are just getting started in fly fishing or have been all your life, choosing the right fly rod is essential for creating quality experiences on the water. If you are hiking to high mountain streams or chasing redfish on the Louisiana coast, there is a fly rod just for you. Not all fly rods are the same and provide the opportunity to specialize in applications. You also have the option to grab a fly rod that is designed for multiple applications.

Tired of big box stores? Our one-stop fishing shop is the best place to buy fly rods. Here at 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 you need an upgrade, a new addition, or something specific for where you are going on your next trip, come talk to one of us Fly Fishing Experts. We would love to give you free, personalized info and recommendations, and we will find your next fishing gear!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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