Fly Rod Buyers Guide
Other Fly Fishing Tackle Buyers Guides:
- Fly Reel Buyers Guide
- Fly Line Buyers Guide
The fly rod is arguably the most important piece of fly fishing tackle you'll buy. It's the key item in casting your fly out to the fish, different rods will be better for fishing small rivers with dry flies or casting big saltwater flies for sea bass and the choice of rod can have a big impact on how enjoyable an experience your days fishing is.
The essential things to bear in mind when buying a fly rod are:
1. Fly Rod Price (and your budget)
As with most things in life, you tend to get what you pay for in a fly rod. When starting out in fly fishing I often recommend allowing about half your budget for the fly rod. This still leaves a reasonable amount for a good quality fly reel and fly and a few other bits and pieces you'll need.
In our experience you can place fly rods into one of four price brackets:
1.1 Low Cost Fly Rods (<£50)
These will tend to be fairly basic fly rods, possibly made from glass fibre, that are good for learning or trying the sport at minimal cost. Rods made from Glass Fibre will be heavier than those made from Carbon Fibre and will have a slower casting action. The slower action can make them more forgiving for beginners and is often preferred for short range casting on small rivers. In recent years low cost manufacturing in China and elsewhere has brought Carbon Fibre fly rods into this price range and these can often prove remarkable value for money if not with quite the same high a level of quality or performance that the more expensive rods provide.
1.2 Quality Fly Rods(£50-£150)
At this price range we're looking at good quality, light weight fly rods that will cast well and be a pleasure to use. The more expensive ones will have better reel fittings, handles, rings, etc and will start to use higher strength (modulus) carbon fibre that allows slimmer rod blanks to be used giving lighter weight and a faster action.
1.3 Performance Fly Rods (£150 - £250)
At this price range rods are turning into advanced casting tools that are lighter and will cast further and more accurately. The quality will typically be very high and if you can afford them these are usually terrific fly rods to use. At the more expensive end of this range expect to see rods making more of a statement with greater use of design feature to make them look as good as they perform.
1.4 Delux Fly Rods (£250+)
Fly rods in this price range are becoming state of the art, often made of the finest quality components. They're usually extremely light, have a fast action that is best for experienced anglers and often come with an unconditional warranty.
2. Fly Rod Material
Most fly rods these days will be made from carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is stiffer than glass fiber, allowing rods to be thinner, lighter and given a faster action.
Traditional style split cane rods are still used by traditionalists who like the soft action they provide and appreciate the skill and expertise that goes into a craftsman made hand crafted fly rod. They tend to be very expensive and lack the light weight and fast action most modern anglers are looking for.
3. Fly Rod Length
The fly rod length should be chosen to suit the style of fishing it will be used for.
All else being equal a longer fly rod will generate a higher line speed and cast farther. However it will be heavier, need more force to generate the line speed and be more tiring to use.
Our recommendations for fly rod length are:
3.1 Fly Rods for River Fishing:
9 ft. or less. Long casting isn't the objective here. Choose a lightweight fly rod that will make it easy for lots of short distance casting. A little 8' #5 fly rod will feel extremely light and very pleasurable to cast with when compared to a 9'6 #7 reservoir rod.
3.2 Fly Rods for Small Stillwater:
9 ft - 9 ft 6". A good length of fly rod that will accurately cover feeding fish and cast reasonable distances.
3.3 Fly Rods for Large Stillwater:
9ft 6" - 10ft. Most people will find a fly rod of this length the best for long distance casting. Much longer than this and the effort needed to cast outweighs the advantage of increased rod arc.
3.4 Fly Rods for Boat fishing:
10ft. or longer. Casting from a boat is often made from a sitting position and the extra length in these fly rods helps keep the line higher in the air for cleaner casting.
3.5 Salmon Fly rods:
Salmon rods are traditionally in the 12-15' foot range that allow for spey casting where the line is cast out without a back cast. Heavier lines are used to carry out the larger flies that are used.
3.6 Fly Rods for heavy duty fishing - saltwater, pike, etc
These tend to be rods in the 9.0' - 9'6" range but rated for a heavier line to carry out the larger flies used. Typically in the range of #8-#9.
4. Fly Rod (and Line) AFTM number
The AFTM (Association of Fishing Tackle Manufacturers) number is a rating given to define a common standard for fly line 'weight'. In essence, each AFTM number is a measure of the weight of the first 30 ft of fly line, 30 ft being seen as a reasonable length of line to be aerialised outside the rod.
The weight of the fly line has two important functions: 4.1. The fly line carries the fly out so it must have enough momentum to carry the fly line out to where we want it. Ideally the line should also be as light as possible to minimise any disturbance to the fish. Particularly important when fishing for wild trout that are easily spooked. 4.2. The fly rod and the fly line work together to cast the line out. The key thing here is that the fly line and fly rod rating should match so that the fly rod can cast the fly line properly. The AFTM number defines the weight of the first 30 feet of fly line as follows (in grains):
|AFTM #||Weight (Grains)||Tolerance|
To convert to metric or ounces: 1 Grain = 0.065 gm = 0.0023 oz
The most commonly used line weights in the UK are AFTM #6 or AFTM #7 as these are good all-round lines for stillwater fishing.
Lighter weights such as AFTM #5 or #6 or less are mostly used for river fishing or where the angler mainly fishes nymphs or dry flies.
Heavier lines such as AFTM #8 or #9 or higher are mostly used for casting large flies and lures and are sometimes used for salmon fishing.
5. Fly Rod Action
Fly rods are often described as having a slow, medium or fast action. The action of a fly rod is effectively it's speed of recovery from being bent and an indication of what style of fishing it is best suited to.
A fast actioned fly rod will impart a high line speed to the fly line to cast long distances with tight loops. On the downside however, they can be quite stiff (potentially leading to more line breakages when playing fish) and need better timing to make the most of them.
A slow actioned fly rod will not cast as far, but is more tolerant of poor timing and is more sedate to cast with. It will also be better for casting short distances as it will still flex with relatively little line out.
For most people, a medium actioned fly rod is often best, giving the best of both worlds. Good distance, tidy loops and suitable for most fishing styles.
6. Fly Rod Weight
The weight of a fly rod has an impact on how easy it is to use and how tired you will be at the end of days fishing.
Most carbon fiber rods these days weigh about the same, but a good quality lightweight fly rod is always a bit more pleasurable to cast with. A good lightweight rod can be 20% or more lighter than other rods and the difference in use feels much greater than it perhaps seems in numbers.
7. Fly Rod Handles, Reel Seat and Rod Rings/Guides
Fly Rod handles are virtually all made from cork. They may come with a plastic cover, but this should be removed before use as any moisture that gets in will be unable to escape and can lead to the handle rotting. Better quality fly rods will use a more expensive cork for the handles, giving a slightly better feel and appearance.
The different handle shapes tend to be a design feature rather than have any particular significance to the angler.
All fly rods tend to have a screw reel fitting these days and this will safely secure the fly reel to the fly rod. Different styles of fly rod reel fittings are mainly cosmetic.
Fly rod rings or guides are there to guide the fly line out along the rod and keep it away from the rod to prevent sticking. Ceramic lined guides are always nice and will generally be fitted to the better fly rods. Some fly rods promote special 'Anti Line Slap' guides that hold the fly line farther way from the rod, but we tend to be sceptical over whether these have any real advantage for the angler.
8. Fly Rod Country of Manufacture
Most fly rods today are made in the far east due to their low labour costs. This seems to have little detrimental effect on their quality and performance and means that some great value fly rods are available.
The top notch/delux fly rods tend to be hand made in the UK or USA and the extra quality and cost of labour is clearly reflected in the fly rod price.