Fly Rod Weight Chart: What Size Fly Rod Do You Need?

Published on 10/31/2023 · 10 min readChoosing the right fly rod is critical to success on the water, but it's as much about having fun as ensuring fish find your net safely.
Andy Sparhawk, Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Andy Sparhawk

Choose the right rod to make the most of your day on the water. Brown Trout on a 5-Weight. Photo by Andy Sparhawk

TL:DR A fly rod provides strength and flexibility to cast a fly and play fish. When shopping for a new rod, it’s crucial to correlate it with the fish species you’ll be targeting and your chosen style of fishing. In this article, we will go over the basics of fly rod weight, what to consider when choosing a rod, and finally, a list of Expert-recommended rods for varying fish species.

My grandfather taught me there is a tool for every project. You wouldn't use a sledgehammer on a finishing nail, and you'd never use needle nose pliers to remove a manhole cover. Likewise, you wouldn't use a 7 weight to catch bluegill, and you'd be crazy to try and land a tuna on a 4 weight.

My goal at Curated is to help anglers maximize their time on the water. After a lifetime of pursuing trout throughout the Colorado Rockies, I know that the more time spent in practice will result in more fish in the net, and perhaps more importantly, more time fishing is more time to experience the restorative effects of nature. This ideal goes hand-in-hand with choosing the right rod weight. No one wants to get home from a day of fishing feeling like their arm is going to fall off from labored casting. Take this guide as just another tool to ensure your best fishing adventures are sooner than you think!

What to Consider When Buying a Fly Rod

Winston Fly Rod - the standard trout rod is a 5-weight, 9-foot, medium action rig. Photo by Juan Vargas

The two main uses of a fly rod are to increase and drive line speed to cast a fly and to provide leverage to play and land a hooked fish. When considering what rod weight you need, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What type of fish will you be after?
  2. What style of fishing will you be doing?
  3. How versatile do you need your rod to be?

What Type of Fish Will You Be After?

Every once in a while I’ll read a news story about a four year old landing a massive fish on a youth fishing rod. I am always amazed, because the chances of landing a big fish on a tiny rod is incredibly rare—though it must have been exhilarating.

Conversely, you could easily land a small fish on a massive rod, but it wouldn’t be much fun for very long. Matching a rod to the species of fish helps land a fish safely and effectively while also ensuring a challenge. Without such a challenge, the sport would quickly become boring.

What Style of Fishing Will You Be Doing?

Most beginner anglers envision delicately casting a dry fly to trout that are sipping flies off the surface. Though the truth is that trout only rise about 10 percent of the time. This means that the majority of your fishing will be done subsurface.

Whether it’s below and strike indicator or tightened, nymphing supplies the most consistent opportunity to catch trout. Even if trout aren’t your pursuit, you’re going to need a way to cast large bass poppers or streamers for predatory fish. This requires a higher weighted rod that boasts strength and flexibility.

On those idyllic days when the fish are looking up, that’s when you’ll want to go down to a low weight that’s lighter and can deliver a dry fly with finesse.

How Versatile Do You Need Your Rod to Be?

The weight of a fly rod is similar to the number on a golf club—the number loosely corresponds to how you’ll use it. Now, it’s not practical to have a bag of every rod weight; instead, many anglers choose one rod that allows them to fish several different ways.

As a trout angler, think of your 5 weight as a trusty 7 iron. It can’t do everything, but it will allow you to do most things.

Fly Rod Weights Explained

What Do the Different Numbers Mean?

Fly rods are designated by a numbered weight. The number on your rod roughly correlates to a specific amount in ounces or grams, but the assigned number helps simplify. To understand what type of rod you need, you must first consider the fish you are pursuing. Once this is understood, a rod should be balanced with the correct type of fly line and technique to hunt your chosen fish species. A balanced fly rod, reel, and fly line will provide power or finesse.

For instance, if you are fly fishing for large, strong fish by using heavy flies, your chosen rod will be thicker and heavier than a rod for delicately casting a tiny fly on the water's surface.

What Weights Do Fly Rods Come In?

Fly rod makers offer rods between one and sixteen. The lightest rods are from one to four, while the heaviest rods start at eight and up. Sizes five to seven offer the most versatility when fishing for different fish species.

What Weight Rod Should I Use? How to Choose the Right Rod for You

An 8lb Atlantic salmon. Photo by John Cameron

Smaller fish require lower weights. Bigger fish need a heavier rod to cast for distance, drive large flies, and battle large fish.

Panfish

Many first fly fishing experiences start with bluegill and sunfish at ponds close to home. Later, these feisty little fish that are so eager to take a fly may lure you back from time to time. To truly appreciate the experience, match these fish to the right fly rod weight, fly reel, and line weight for an exciting time.

Ideally, cast tiny nymphs or foam poppers with a 3 weight. I can't tell you how many clients I've worked with at Curated who wanted a fiberglass rod like the Redington Butter Stick or Echo River Glass to spend quality time with their children. I love that!

  • Our favorite fly rod for panfish: Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit · 8'0" · 5 weight.

Trout

The standard trout stick is a 5 weight fly rod. For durability, many guides will set up beginners with a 6 weight, medium-action rod. Either works perfectly fine for the majority of situations encountered while pursuing trout. A five or six can present dry flies with enough finesse while handling tension-casting nymphs; they can even huck small- to medium-sized streamers in a pinch.

Once you become more advanced, you may decide a variety of rods are beneficial for more specialized fishing. For instance, a 5 weight rod is less fun when creeking small streams. In this case, a lighter rod makes catching eight-inch brookies much more fun. Many anglers will add a 4 weight fiberglass or bamboo rod for this reason. These slow-action rods allow you to shoot bushy flies under overhangs and let small trout put a bow in the rod bend.

A heavier rod will come in handy when you choose to go all-in on streamers. Additionally, look to move up a weight when stillwater fishing. A 7 weight will be able to support heavy, articulated streamers, and the longer rods can aid in line speed.

Bass

Bass are a blast to pursue on a fly rod, but not all bass fly fishing is the same. A general bass rod starts at a 6 weight. Match that rod with a 6 weight line that floats, and you'll be able to target largemouth bass with a slump buster below the surface or cast large bass poppers near weeds.

You don't have to use a different rod for smallmouth bass, but an extra spool loaded with sinking line will help you more effectively target the bronze backs deep with crayfish patterns. If your fly fishing resembles conventional jig-and-pig tactics in the weeds, don't risk losing a fish-of-a-lifetime on a six weight. Instead, go up a weight to a seven or even eight weight and add fly rod length for more leverage.

Bonefish/ Redfish

7-Weight Fly Rig in Search of Bonefish. Bonefish are built for power and speed. Make sure your rig is built the same way. Photo by Andy Sparhawk

Anyone who has had the chance to fish inshore saltwater knows bonefish and redfish are instantly addictive. Their sheer power and selectivity are renowned. You need to make long, accurate casts for bones with a rod that features a lot of sensitivity. Start with a 7 weight, medium-fast-action rod that can create enough line speed to drive a Crazy Charlie 30- or 40-plus yards. Strip-strip-strip and hold on to that handle!

Salmon/Steelhead

Sea-run salmon and steelhead can be fished with single and two-handed spey rods. Regardless, their size and power require rods between an eight and nine weight. A longer rod also aids in reaching the other side of large rivers and swinging flies, not to mention absorbing the force of a strike.

Pike/Muskie

Long, heavy rods are musts for northern pike and muskie. For pike, look to use an 8 to 10 weight rod that is at least nine-feet long. For muskie—the fish of 10,000 casts—your rod should be a 10 to 12 weight. The added length will help cast large flies and aid in the classic figure-eight technique that elicits near-the-boat strikes by these toothy predators.

Tarpon

Torpedo-like tarpons average between 50–80 pounds, with adults growing eight feet or more. Trophies may tip the scale at more than 200 pounds. For such a massive fish, only the strongest rods will do. For Tarpon and bluewater fish, a fourteen-foot fly rod is necessary; though the rod is just one component that anglers who obsess over these types of fish must balance. To complement a 14 weight, tarpon anglers pair it with a matching rod with bullet-proof drag systems that won't break down. Hook a monster tarpon without the right gear and prepare to be disappointed.

Chat With a Real Expert

Come prepared - a 5-weight for nymphs and dries. A 7 weight for streamers. Photo by Andy Sparhawk

Matching the right rod for the type of fly fishing is essential to maximizing your time on the water and ensuring you have the most fun possible. Choose wrong, and the thrill of battling a fish of any size is diminished; or worse, you never have a chance to lay eyes on that fish of a lifetime.

To ensure you pick the right tool for the job, chat with a Curated Fly Fishing Expert. We offer free, customized advice. I like my clients to describe the fishing they are planning - it’s that simple! Once I listen to their needs, I compile only the options that will work best in my curation. From there, clients can choose what they like right from their screen - no driving to a Big Box store. The best part is, I remain your contact throughout the shipping process, so I know exactly when your rod arrives. Curated experts remain your dedicated fly fishing guide, so if you need to order anything else, you’ll work directly with the same Expert.

Whether it’s stalking tailwater trout in the west or poling around salt flats for tailing bonefish, there’s a perfect set-up for you and your next trip. Feel free to ask questions with a quick text or jump on a face-to-face video call. Finding the perfect rod doesn’t get any easier, and with the help of your own personal fly fishing expert, that confidence in your selection will translate all the way to the water. Get started, today!

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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