Starter Series: Choosing the Right Fly Rod

Starting Fly Fishing, Starting to fly fish, First Fly Rod, first rod for fly fishing, how to choose a fly rod, how to choose your fly rod, how to choose your first fly rod

One of the missions of Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing is to promote fly fishing here in Texas.  In promoting the sport, education is needed for those that are new.  A lack of education and the fear of approaching experts was a major reason that it took me soo long to get into the sport.  So, providing easily accessible, honest advice to those just getting into fly fishing is something I am going to strive to provide.

When first getting into fly fishing, you need to focus on acquiring five things.  All of these can be expensive, but they don't have to be!  There are less expensive ways to go about getting started if you want, and hopefully Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing can walk you through this process.  Here is what you will need:

  1. Fly Rod
  2. Fly Reel
  3. Line Set-Up (Backing, line, leader, tippet)
  4. Accessories (flies, storage, net, etc.)
  5. Knowledge (where and how to fly fish)
Each of these five things will be discussed in its own article.

This first article will be your introduction to fly rods.  To help you learn about your options and decided what you need in your first rod.

To begin your foray into the world of fly fishing, the first thing you need, before anything else, is a fly rod.  But there are so many different choices, each with their own numbers and technical terms, so where do you start? 

To start, it is good to understand just what a fly rod is for before you choose your rod.  The fly rod is different than a conventional casting or spinning rod.  In fly fishing, as opposed to conventional fishing, the rod is not casting a "lure."  Instead, a fly rods job is to make it easier to move the fly line.  In fly fishing, the line is what delivers your fly, and the rod's job is to serve as a lever to help you move that fly line.

It is also important to know the type of fish you want to target and the types of water you will be fishing.  Each rod is designed to do certain things well, and that can limit what it does "best."  You need to know what weight, length, and action, of rod will be best for what you plan on doing the most.  It will make your fishing much more enjoyable to have something that works.

Choosing the Right Rod Weight

Fly rods come in a variety of "weights" ranging from 0-weight to 16.  The higher the number, the "heavier fishing" the rod is designed for.  Typically, most fly anglers would break the rod weights into the following categories:
  • 0-3 weight: Light or even ultralight fly fishing.  Typically used to fish with small flies, on small creeks/bodies of water, targeting smaller fish (light trout, sunfish, and sometimes small bass).  These are great for fishing small dry flies.
  • 4-6 weight: Medium-light to medium fly fishing.  This is the area where most fly fishing is done, especially when first starting out.  These are versatile rods designed for a majority of your fishing needs (bass and trout.)  These are versatile rods that can typically handle different styles of fly fishing.
  • 7-9 weight: These are medium-heavy rods that are typically used for casting bigger flies. They are most often used in pursuit of larger fish (larger bass, some saltwater fishing, salmon, and steelhead)
  • 10-12 weight: These are heavy rods designed to throw big flies and fight big fish (Muskie, tarpon, and heavier saltwater.)
  • 13 + weight: These are rods that are typically used in offshore, super heavy saltwater fishing (marlin, etc.)
For someone just getting into fly fishing, especially fishing the freshwater here in Texas, I would suggest a 4, 5, or 6 wt. rod.  If you are looking to fish mostly smaller creeks and rivers, wanting to land some Guads, Rios, and Sunfish, I might recommend a 4wt.  If you wanted to focus more on the larger bass (like largemouth), but are still mostly fishing the rivers here in Texas, I would probably suggest a 6 wt.  But, a 5 wt rod is where I started and what I still fish most often.  That would be my suggestion for your first fly rod as well.  It is well rounded and suited for many situations.

Choosing the Right Rod Length

The next option you need to consider when purchasing your first fly rod is the length of the rod.  Fly rods come in different lengths and these different lengths can serve different purposes.

Most fly rods will come in an 8.5 to 9 foot length, but you can find rods that are shorter and some that are longer.  In my opinion, you really can't go wrong with sticking with a 9 foot length when choosing your first rod, however, other lengths can provide advantages for different types of fishing.

Shorter rods (usually 6 - 8 foot long) Advantages:

  • Easier to cast in tight spaces. Many of the rivers, especially in the hill country, are covered with trees.  A shorter rod can allow you to move and cast in these tighter bodies of water.
  • Easier to land a fish.  A longer rod can prove to be difficult when landing a fish, especially if you are fishing from a kayak or something.  A shorter rod can make it easier to bring the fish in closer, helping you to net the fish.  They can also be beneficial when trying to put a lot of pressure on big fish (thinking about offshore rods.)
  • Lighter and less space.  Shorter rods, because they have less material, are usually lighter rods, making full days of casting less tiresome.  They are also shorter and easier to pack if you are taking a hike or traveling a distance with other gear, when heading to your honey hole.

Longer Rods (9.5 + foot long) Advantages:

  • Casting distance.  Longer rods are going to get your fly delivered longer distances.  If you are fishing open lakes from a boat, or saltwater flats or the surf, longer rods will let you get your fly in the face of fish further away.
  • Increased height.  If you are fishing from a float tube, or if you are wading a river where the banks are covered with reeds or tall grasses, the increased length will allow you to keep you fly higher and up out of the grass behind you.
  • Line control.  Longer rods will give you more ability to mend, or move, your line.  If drifting your fly down a creek and there is stick in the way, a longer rod give you more ability to lift the line up and move it around the obstacle.
If you are purchasing your first fly rod to fish the freshwaters of Texas, I would usually recommend a 9 foot rod.  That length will fish well enough in 90% of the scenarios you will find.  However, if you know you are only (or mostly) going to fish small, tight creeks, you can go shorter, and if you know you are mostly fishing open lakes, you might want to go a little longer to get more distance in your cast.

Choosing the Right Rod Action

Bamboo rods typically have a slow action,
and will flex the length of the rod.

Rods come in many different flexes, or actions, some dictated by the material the rod is built from, some dictated by the taper of the rod, but all fish differently and serve different purposes.  When purchasing your first rod, I would worry less about the material (fiberglass, graphite, etc.) and more about the action of the rod.  There are three basic types of rod action, but of coarse there are rods that fit in between these three basic categories.
  1. Slow or Full-Flex Action.  These rods are designed to bend at least three-quarters or more, sometimes down the full length of the rod, from tip to handle.  These are usually your fiberglass or bamboo rods, but you can also find graphite rods with slow action as well.  Slow action rods require you to slow down and take longer on your casts.  They also can allow for softer, more delicate presentations of your fly.  They excel when you are fishing small streams, with small (usually dry) flies, and do not want to spook the fish.
  2. Medium or Moderate Action.  These are rods are built do flex about a quarter to half way down the rod.  They have plenty of flex in the tip, but have are stiffer near the handle.  It provides a middle ground, between the slow delicate casts of the slow action rods, and the rapid casting of the fast action rods.  These are versatile rods that can cast and fish small dry flies and larger streamers.
  3. Fast or Tip-Flex Action.  These rods are usually built of graphite and designed to only flex at the tip.  They are quick, cast quick, and built to fight strong fish.  They are ideal in situations where you need to quickly present a fly to a target fish (like when targeting a cruising bonefish on a flat.)  Fast action rods also help to punch casts through winds that you can experience on open water.  They are also good for anglers who tend to cast "too fast" and can't seem to slow down, like in the case of many people who are transitioning from conventional fishing to fly fishing, but are not good for all beginners because they do not "absorb" casting mistakes.
I would almost always recommend a medium action rod as a first fly rod.  If someone is coming to fly fishing from conventional fishing and tend to be rushed when making their cast, I would recommend a little faster rod, maybe a medium-fast action.  And, if someone has never conventional fished before, but seems to be someone living a slower lifestyle, looking to get into the "art" of fly fishing, I might recommend a slower action rod.  But, like I said, for a first rod, the medium action is hard to beat


So there you have it.  For most people out there looking to purchase their first fly rod, I would recommend a 5 weight, 9 foot, medium to maybe medium-fast action rod.  It is versatile enough to fish in many situations and works great on almost all waters here in Texas.  Once I got that rod, my second and third rods for fly fishing here in Texas would be a 3wt, slow to medium-slow action, 7.5 foot rod and a 8 wt, medium-fast, 9 foot rod.
I still fish with this rod (my first.)

These are also easy rods to find, and you should be able to pick one up at any fly shop, or easily find a used one on Facebook marketplace.  And speaking of buying a rod, for your first rod (when deciding if you want to sink a life savings into the hobby or not) a used rod is a great choice!  You can usually find a high quality used rod for sale for less than you can find brand new lower quality rods for sale in a store.  Another good option, when just starting and deciding if fly fishing is going to be for you is to purchase a fly fishing combo or kit from a reputable brand.  Orvis, Redington, and Echo, all make decent quality combos for beginners that are all around or under $200.

I hope this article helped you learn a little about fly rods, and can help you to make the right choice in purchasing your first fly rod!  Be careful though, once you start fly fishing, you will never stop.  If you have any advice for first-time fly rod buyers, let me know in the comments.

Peace out-side, y'all.