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Fly fishing can be a little different from other methods of fishing. And it’s not just the method that’s different; the gear can be different too.
What exactly is fly fishing and what might you need to get started?
To answer some of your questions we’ve put together a guide to help you choose the right fly fishing rod for your next trip whether you’re just starting out or you already consider yourself a keen fly fisher.
Top Choices: Rated Fly Fishing Rods
- Sage X 690-4 Fly Rod
- Hardy Zephrus FWS
- Loop Cross S1 Switch
- Echo TR Spey
- Moonshine Rod Co. The Drifter
- G. Loomis NRX Single-Hand
- TFO Axiom 2 Series
- DRAGONtail Hellbender Zoom Tenkara
- M MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch Extreme
In A Few Words…What Is Fly Fishing, And Why Do It?
What’s the Difference?
One of the main differences between fly fishing and other types of fishing is probably the weight of the lines and lures. In many types of fishing it is often your lure that helps to propel your cast whereas in fly fishing, it is often the line that helps to propel your lure.
Another difference is that it doesn’t generally require a boat and is mostly done on the banks of a river or while wading into the river.
The line used for fly fishing will tend to be a heavier weighted line compared to other styles of angling. There are a few types of specific fly line that can be used and the weight of the line will usually correspond with the weight recommendation of the fly rod you’re using in order that you can cast efficiently.
What About The Lures?
So, it’s called fly fishing for a reason and that reason is the bait. The lures used for fly fishing are often referred to as flies, because they mostly resemble flies and other insects.
These lightweight artificial lures can vary in their appearance and can even float on the water to mimic the behavior of real insects. They are very lightweight in order to present a more natural insect-like appearance and they require the weight of the line to cast them into the desired location.
Fly Fishing Locations
Fly fishing tends to be a style of fishing that is perhaps more suited to and more often done on rivers and moving water, although it is possible to also fly fish in lakes and other bodies of water, including both freshwater and saltwater.
> Inshore and offshore fishing explained
It is also often done mostly to catch cold water species, such as trout and salmon and can be a particularly popular method of fishing in the UK, which is where modern fly fishing is thought to have originated, back in 13th century England.
The Pacific Northwest is also a popular place for fly fishing, with the Skagit River in Washington and southwest British Columbia giving its name to the Skagit style of casting, which, similar to Scandi, involves a heavier piece of line, or shooting head, and a leader or tippet.
There are many reasons why people like to fly fish, with one being that it can be a relaxing activity where you can often be surrounded by beautiful natural scenery.
However, fly fishing can be tricky for beginners and can take practice and perseverance to master some of the skills involved. This means you may not always be successful in catching a fish on every trip.
Fly Rod Action
The action of the rod is what is used to determine how much the rod bends and how quickly it can return to its natural position.
A slow action rod should bend further down the rod, closer to the handle and should be slower in returning to its starting position. A fast action rod on the other hand, will bend closer to the tip and will return to its natural position more quickly.
Fast Action Fly Rods
Also known as tip flex rods, fast action fly fishing rods can be a good idea in windy weather or when you want to cast a greater distance.
However, fast action rods can be difficult to cast in small rivers and can be trickier to master if you’re a beginner.
Medium Action Fly Rods
A medium action or mid flex fly rod can be an ideal choice if you’re looking for one rod to suit various fly fishing situations, as it can be more versatile and can be easier to learn with than a fast action rod.
Slow Action Fly Rods
Slow action fly fishing rods, or full flex rods, might be better utilized in small rivers and streams where you don’t need to cast a long distance.
This type of rod can also be useful if you’re fly fishing for smaller sizes of fish because of the added flexibility in the rod can add more excitement when fighting small fish.
What About The Rod Weight?
The rod weight you will need will usually depend on the type of fish you want to catch, as well as the type of fly you will be using and the type of line you’ll need.
In order to make the right choice of fly fishing rod it can be a good idea to choose the weight of the line first.
The rod weight should then correspond to your line weight. The weights range from 0 to 14, with 0 being the lightest and 14 being the heaviest.
Weights 0 To 4
Fly rods that are rated between 0 and 4 can be good for smaller fish, such as panfish and small trout.
A size 4 rod can also be ideal for medium sized trout and could be a good all-around rod weight to use as it is also good for all small fish.
Weights 5 To 9
These weights can be good for a range of species including medium sized trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, steelhead, bonefish and even salmon.
Sizes between 6 and 8 can be ideal for most salmon and sizes between 4 and 6 can be good for all types of trout.
Weights 10 To 14
These heavier weight rods tend to be more suitable for larger fish and can be useful for catching saltwater species.
Northern pike and some large bass species may require rods with these weights. Rods in this range can also be suitable for sailfish, tarpon and marlin.
Is Length Important?
Just like with other types of fishing rods, the longer the fly fishing rod the longer the casting distance. A good versatile rod length can be somewhere between 8 and 9 feet.
Rods shorter than 8 feet will usually tend to be for smaller bodies of water or for very light line. A short rod can give you more accurate casting and can be easier to use in smaller spaces, for example if you have lots of trees around.
Video: Choosing A Fly Rod
A 9 foot rod can be a good choice if you need to cast a greater distance or if it’s windy.
Rods longer than 10 feet are generally Spey rods or switch rods.
Any Tips On What Reels To Use?
Once you’ve chosen your line and rod, the next thing you will want to think about is the reel.
The reel you will need will usually depend on your rod and line, as the weights for the rod, reel and line should tend to match up together, so your most suitable reel should ideally have the same weight rating as your line and rod.
Saltwater vs. Freshwater Rods
It can be possible to use the same fly rods for both saltwater and freshwater fly fishing but it depends on what you’re hoping to catch and where you’re fishing.
In the deeper waters offshore you might want a heavier rod to account for the larger fish you’re likely to be targeting.
Lighter and medium weight rods can also be used in saltwater, especially if you plan to fish in estuaries or in the surf.
One thing you may want to be mindful of, however, is the corroding effects of saltwater on freshwater gear. So it can be a good idea to make sure you rinse all your gear with clean fresh water after you’ve used it in saltwater to help prevent damage.
These rods take their name from the River Spey in the Highlands of Scotland, where Spey casting is thought to have originated. Spey rods tend to be more than 12 feet long and can range up to 16 feet in length.
Spey rods can also be referred to as double handed rods and can be ideal for Spey casting, where you can cast longer distances in larger rivers where there may not be much space behind you to accommodate overhead casting.
However, Spey rods can still be used for traditional overhead casting techniques.
Video: Ian Gordon’s Spey Casting Masterclass
Switch Rods (mini Speys)
A switch rod, like the Spey rod, is a double handed rod. Yet, unlike the Spey rod, the switch rod will tend to be shorter, usually in the range of around 11 to 12 feet long.
These rods have a certain versatility about them because they can also be used for single handed casting if required, letting you “switch” between the two methods of casting. They can also be useful in smaller rivers.
Tenkara takes its name from the Japanese style of fly fishing. One of the main differences with a tenkara rod is that you don’t need a reel. A reel is not used in tenkara fly fishing, just a light rod with a cork handle, light line and a fly lure.
This is because it tends to be done in small mountain streams where you don’t really need a lot of line. Without a reel, you therefore need to pull the line back in with your hands.
This minimalistic style of fishing can give you a more “back to nature” experience, since when you’re landing the fish, it is just you, the line and the fish.
Other Useful Info
Number Of Pieces
Fly fishing rods will often tend to be longer than traditional rods and a lot of the time you’ll find that they come in more than one piece.
This can make them easier to carry to and from the water and can also make them much easier to store in your home, as not everyone will have space at home for, say, a 10 foot rod.
A lot of fly rods will tend to be made from carbon fiber or graphite, or some type of composite material. Graphite rods will often be more expensive than carbon fiber but they can be lighter and stronger than carbon fiber.
A graphite rod could give you more accurate casting and could be easier to master for beginners, as there is less flex in them after they’ve been cast.
You may also find bamboo rods. But these can often be more expensive than graphite and can also be heavier than other materials. They may not be ideal for beginners but they can be easy to maintain.
Cork can be a good choice for a fly rod handle because of its durability, natural grip and comfort. It is also a lightweight material that shouldn’t affect the rod’s sensitivity or performance and can mean less fatigue if you’re holding the rod all day.
Cork can also be sanded to create a more comfortable ergonomic handle. However, you may also find rods with EVA foam handles, which can offer good durability but may affect the rod’s sensitivity.
Beginners Tips On Using Your Fly Fishing Rod
There are several types of casting techniques when it comes to fly fishing and many of the techniques are probably quite different to what you might be used to if you’ve only ever cast a spinning or casting rod.
This is because of the way in which the lure is propelled; by the line rather than the weight of the lure itself.
This means you have to provide the line with the power from the rod while remembering that the line will follow where you point your rod tip.
Video: The Basic Fly Cast
Where And When To Fly Fish
Rivers can be good places to fly fish as many fish can often be found waiting for food to be brought downstream by the currents. This means casting into pools within rivers might be a good idea, as the fish often tend to hold out in these areas where there is reduced current.
Rivers can be better for fly fishing. In a river you can work with the currents and access most of the river through your cast compared to a lake where you may only be able to cover a small amount of the water.
Rivers where there are trout and salmon can be ideal for fly fishing, as trout will often happily eat flies all year round. But the size and type of fly the fish will eat will often depend on the time of year and your geographic location but generally you can fly fish in every season.
Taking Care Of Your Fly Fishing Rod
Once you’ve shelled out good money for your rod you’ll want to keep it in tip top shape. Rinsing it with clean, fresh water after each fishing trip can be a good idea to make sure you get rid of any sand or salt that might have made its way to your rod or reel.
> How to maintain your rod and reels
Many fly rods will often come with their own protective cases or covers. Storing them inside their cases once they’re clean and dry can be ideal for keeping them safe and ready for your next adventure.
They can usually be stored more conveniently when they’re dismantled and in their cases compared to being fully extended.
Video: How To Take Care Of Your Fly Rods
It can also be a good idea to remember to utilize the power of the rod butt when it comes to fighting your fish, as this can help to prevent the tip from breaking under the pressure.
You may also want to look out for other objects when you’re carrying your rod, as it can be easy to knock into things with a 10 foot rod.
Top 9 Best Fly Fishing Rods
1: Sage X 690-4 Fly Rod
- Length: 9 foot
- Weight: 6
- Pieces: 4
This Sage X fly rod is a 9 foot rod that is designed for a 6 weight line, so it could be a good option if you plan to fish for salmon or trout.
The Sage X rod comes in 4 pieces, which can make it easier for you to transport your gear to and from the river. It also comes with a protective rod tube so you can store it safely while you’re traveling or when it’s not in use.
It is a fast action fly rod that features KonneticHD technology, which is a graphite and resin composite material that can help to reduce the lateral and medial vibrations on the rod. This means it can help to create tighter loops when casting, which can improve accuracy.
2: Hardy Zephrus FWS Fly Rod
- Length: 8 foot to 10 foot
- Weight: 3 to 6
- Pieces: 4
The Hardy Zephrus fly rod comes in a range of lengths and weights that can let you choose the best combination for the type of fish you want to catch.
Ranging from an 8 foot, 3 weight up to a 10 foot, 5 weight and 9 foot, 6 weight, the Hardy Zephrus is a fast action rod with Sintrix 440 construction, which is a carbon fiber and resin composite that is lightweight with improved strength and durability.
This fly rod could be a good all around option for fishing in smaller creeks as well as larger rivers, with the light line weights being ideal choices for smaller fish but can also be suitable for smaller salmon and medium sized trout.
3: Loop Cross S1 Switch Fly Rod
- Length: 10 foot 7 inches
- Weight: 6
- Pieces: 4
The Loop Cross S1 Switch is a 10 foot 7 inch switch fly rod designed for 6 weight fly line. It is a medium fast action rod that can offer good versatility for both shorter and longer casts and it could also be a good choice for beginners, as it may be easier to cast compared to a fast action rod.
This fly rod is a switch rod, which also gives you the versatility to switch between single handed and double handed casting, so it might be a good option if you plan to fish in different areas where you may need both single and double handed casting applications and don’t want to use two separate rods.
The rod comes in 4 pieces for convenient storage and ease of transportation and it also features nano resin and carbon fiber construction and a comfortable, lightweight cork handle.
4: Echo TR Spey Fly Rod
- Length: 11 foot to 13 foot 6 inches
- Weight: 3 to 8
- Pieces: 4
This Echo TR (Tim Rajeff) Spey fly rod is a 4 piece rod that comes in a variety of lengths and line weights, giving you the opportunity to choose the right rod for the type of fly fishing you want to do. However, this is a Spey rod, so it’s a longer rod designed for double handed Spey casting or Skagit casting.
It is a medium fast action Spey rod that can be ideal for larger bodies of water or wide rivers where you can cast greater distances. The line weight range can also make it a good choice for a variety of fish species, from small panfish to trout, steelhead and salmon.
It can be used in both freshwater and saltwater, as long as you rinse it thoroughly in clean freshwater after each saltwater trip.
5: Moonshine Rod Co. The Drifter Series Fly Fishing Rod
- Length: 10 foot
- Weight: 7
- Pieces: 4
This Moonshine Drifter fly rod is a 10 foot rod that conveniently comes with two tip sections which can offer you the benefits of having access to both medium and fast action tips on the same rod.
Designed for use with 7 weight line it can be a good rod for catching game fish, including bass and steelhead. It can also be ideal for salmon fishing.
The Moonshine Drifter is a graphite rod with good sensitivity and features high grade cork handle grips and a spalted burl reel seat with anodized copper hardware. It also comes in 4 pieces to make it easy to travel around with.
6: G. Loomis NRX Single-Hand Fly Fishing Rod
- Length: 9 foot to 10 foot
- Weight: 7 to 10
- Pieces: 4
The G. Loomis NRX fly rod offers various combinations ranging from 9 to 10 feet long and 7 to 10 line weight ratings. This can give you the chance to choose the most suitable size for the area and fish you plan to target but these sizes can be ideal for larger or more powerful fish, such as steelhead, salmon and bass.
It is a durable, lightweight graphite rod with a nano-silicon resin system that’s designed to boost the strength and performance of the rod. It is a fast action rod to allow for plenty of distance when casting, as well as good line control.
The NRX fly rod benefits from a comfortable lightweight cork handle and it has good sensitivity so you don’t miss a hit.
7: TFO Axiom 2 Series Fly Fishing Rod
- Length: 9 foot
- Weight: 5 to 12
- Pieces: 4
The TFO Axiom 2 fly rod is a 4 piece rod that comes in a variety of line weights, ranging from 5 to 12.
This means the rod could be a good choice if you’re looking at the lighter end of the scale for an all around fly rod or if you’re after something on the heavier end that can let you catch more powerful fish, such as some saltwater species.
It is a medium fast action rod that can be ideal for beginners to experts and a range of casting applications. The rod is engineered to have no bounce, wobble or shock as your cast stops to give you more efficiency and improved accuracy.
The Axiom 2 also comes with a sturdy travel case and a cloth sleeve to help protect it whether it’s in storage or transit.
8: DRAGONtail Hellbender Zoom Tenkara Fly Fishing Rod (Best For Bass)
- Length: 13 foot
- Weight: 3.4 ounces
- Pieces: 1
This DRAGONtail Hellbender Zoom is a lightweight Tenkara rod that collapses down to just 24 inches long, making it ideal for traveling and even backpacking or kayaking.
Tenkara rods don’t usually have the same weight ratings as traditional fly rods, but this rod may be comparable to around a 6 weight fly rod. It can be ideal for bass, trout and other species in the 16 to 22 inch length region.
The rod has a telescopic zoom feature that allows the rod to be fished as an 11 foot rod or a 13 foot rod, giving you the added length advantage if you’re in larger streams or need a longer casting distance.
This tenkara rod comes with a complete starter package including line, flies, tippet and foam line holder, as well as a protective rod sock and storage tube. This means it could be a good option if you’re just getting started and want to get out there fishing right away.
> Read our guide to bass fly fishing
9: M MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch Extreme Graphite Fly Fishing Rod
- Length: 8 foot 4 inches to 10 foot
- Weight: 3 to 10
- Pieces: 4
The Maxcatch Extreme fly rod conveniently comes in 4 pieces for easy transportation and features MaxLinq carbon fiber blank technology to offer strength and durability while maximizing the lightweight performance.
The rod comes in various sizes and weights, ranging from an 8 foot 4 inch, 3 weight rod to a 10 foot, 8 weight rod and a 9 foot, 10 weight rod. So there is a wide choice of options to suit many different fly fishing applications.
It is a fast action rod that can be suitable for accurate and long distance casting. It benefits from stainless steel guides and an aluminum reel seat for added durability and corrosion resistance, making it a good choice for both freshwater and saltwater angling.
The Maxcatch Extreme also benefits from a lightweight contoured cork handle that’s designed for comfort and improved casting.
Fly fishing can be a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors and the peace and quiet of nature, whether you catch a boat load of fish or not. It can be a relaxing experience requiring patience and skills. But while it might take a little while to master those skills, we think it’s worth it.
Before you choose your fly fishing rod, remember to think about what you plan to catch and where you plan to fish, as this can determine the type of flies and the weight of line you’ll need. Once you know this, you should be able to choose the best fly rod for the job.
How long did it take you to master your fly cast? Maybe you have a preferred line weight and rod to use? Tell us about it in the comments. And remember to share this guide to encourage more people to get out there and experience fly fishing.