How to choose a fly rod

Choosing a fly rod can seem a bit daunting as you need to match it to the type of fishing, the water, the fly line weight and your budget. Here's how to do it.

How to choose a fly rod
© Fly and Lure
How to choose a fly rod
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to choose a fly rod
Beginners Fly rods Estimated reading time 10 - 17 minutes

What fly rod should I buy?

Choosing a fly rod can be a bit daunting, especially if it's your first one. The type of fly rod you need depends on the type of fish you want to target on the fly, the type of waters you'll be fishing and the weight of fly line you want to cast. However, fly rods also differ in their actions and the way they feel to cast and some models are better suited to beginners than others. There are a few things you need to think about before you buy.

Rods differ in length, line weight and action as well as appearance. This is the superb Orvis Helios in action.

What does the weight mean on a fly rod?

Fly rods are all designed to cast a fly line of a particular weight rating. You need to match your rod's line weight rating with a line of the same rating. If you try casting a line that's rated lower than your rod's line weight rating it won't bend enough to let you cast, while if you cast a heavier line on a lighter rod it will bend too much.

The line weight of your rod needs to match that of your rod.

What line weight rod should I choose?

For most fly fishers who intend to fish for average sized trout on small and medium still water trout fisheries, a #6 single-handed fly rod is ideal. This line rating sits nicely in the middle being light enough to be fun and heavy enough to handle good sized fish, bulkier flies and windier weather.

If you're going to fish larger lakes and reservoirs then you might prefer a heavier #7 rod, which can better handle sinking lines and bigger fish. Carp and smaller pike are best tackled with an #8, while proper pike fly fishing is best handled using a #9 or #10.

For targeting trout and grayling on medium to large rivers a #4 or #5 is well suited, but you can scale down to a #3 or even a #2 on smaller rivers.

A 9' #6 rod is ideal for targeting trout on most still water trout fisheries.
Rod weight Waters Species
#1-2 Streams Tiny trout
#3-4 Small rivers Small trout and grayling
#5-6 Smaller lakes Average sized trout
#7-8 Large lakes and reservoirs Larger trout and carp
#9-10 Large lakes and reservoirs Pike

Do I need a single-handed or double-handed fly rod?

Most people start off with a single-handed fly rod. Double-handed fly rods are much more specialised and are designed for targeting sea trout and salmon on larger rivers.

You'll almost certainly want a single-handed fly rod, not a double-hander, unless you're targeting salmon or sea trout in a big river.

What is the best fly rod length?

Typical single-handed fly rods range in length from about 8'6" to 10', with a 9' being the most common length. You can start with a rod of any length - you probably won't notice a massive difference. If you're fishing from a boat or on a reservoir there are advantages to using a 10' rod, while if you're fishing from smaller rivers then you might find a shorter rod, like an 8'6" more convenient. However, all of them are fine, so don't worry too much about the length.

A rod length of 9-10' is ideal for most fly fishers.

What is the best fly rod for a beginner?

It's ultimately the action of the rod that dictates how suitable it is for a beginner to use. Most rods on the market are either fast action or medium action, with fewer slow or through action models now on sale. The different actions give the rods a very different feel when casting and some take some getting used to.

For beginners, I'd recommend you go with a medium, mid-action or medium fast fly rod. This bends further along the rod than a fast action fly rod and tends to be a bit more forgiving. Faster action rods can be really effective in the right hands, but you need to be a competent caster and your timing needs to be spot-on. My first rod was a fast action and I didn't have a lesson for years - two things that were not particularly sensible, in retrospect...

A medium fast or mid action rod is more forgiving for newer flyfishers than a fast action rod.

Can I test a rod before I buy it?

Yes, some fly fishing shops will let you test their fly rods prior to purchase - our local Orvis store lets you try them out on the park behind the shop. That's a really good idea, as some rods can be an acquired taste and might not suit your casting style. However, if you're an absolute beginner that might not help much, as all rods can feel a bit weird at first.

The other option is to delay buying your first fly rod until you've had a lesson. This is something I really can't recommend highly enough. It will make a massive difference to your confidence and your learning curve and can stop you picking up bad habits that can take years to get rid of. Orvis runs free fly fishing courses that teach you the very basics, but there are also hundreds of extremely talented fly fishing instructors who can give you more in-depth lessons. They'll also let you try some of their rods to see what you like most.

Most Orvis stores will let you try out their fly rods before you buy and give great advice on selecting the right model for your needs.

How much are fly fishing rods?

Fly fishing rods are available to suit all budgets. They start in price at around £50 for a budget fly rod and rise into the hundreds and high hundreds. This is on par with fishing rods for other types of angling, and if anything, cheaper than some coarse fishing rods or poles. Most fly fishers will use a budget to mid-priced rod, and you can get a lot for your money if you shop carefully.

What's the best fly rod for the money?

That depends on how much money you have, what you're fishing for, where you're fishing and what floats your boat tackle-wise. You tend to see quite a lot of brand advocacy and loyalty in the world of fly rods, so the recommendations you get will depend on what a given person has used. We've only used a couple of dozen different rods, so our recommendations are limited to the ones we've personally used.

There are loads of superb high-end rods on the market. You definitely don't need to spend a fortune on one of these, and they won't make your casting any better, but they can be great to use, beautiful to look at and they often come with a much better warranty. Lots of them are fast action though, so do check first. The Orvis Helios is a beauty and gets outstanding reviews, while the Loop Cross SX is also sublime to use. For rivers, the slow action Orvis Superfine series is great fun to use. Expect to pay anywhere from £500-900 depending on the model.

The Loop Cross rods are superb. The Loop Cross S1 is better suited to the novice with a big budget.

It's arguably in the mid-range price bracket where you find the biggest bargains. These rods can sometimes be just as good as the high-end price bracket rods. Again, there are loads on offer. The Snowbee Spectre is nicely made for the money. The Orvis Recon is also great value, being not a million miles away from the older models of its high-end Helios rods. However, we really love the Loop Evotec range. In fact, we love these rods so much we sold our others to replace them with other Evotecs and now have six in various shapes and sizes. They are really well made and cast beautifully. Expect to pay £200-400 for rods in this band.

We've got loads of Loop rods...

You don't need to spend a fortune to get a perfectly usable fly rod these days. There are some great rods on the market that can be picked up for a fairly low price that cast almost as well as those from the bigger name brands. The Shakespeare Agility fly rod range has a very big following. They're nice, light rods that are well made and very well priced. The Wychwood Truefly SLA rods are also great - George started off with one of these and absolutely loved it. Airflo and Greys also make some good rods in this price band. Expect to pay £50-100.

The Wychwood Truefly SLA is a great budget fly rod choice.

Should I just buy a fly fishing kit?

While there's nothing particularly complicated about selecting a rod, reel and fly line that should go together and work well, many newcomers to fly fishing do prefer to buy a fly fishing kit which comes with the rod, line and reel set up and ready to use.

You do get a more restricted choice but there are some good basic kits on the market for newcomers. We've recently been using the Guideline Kaitum kit, which comes with the excellent Guideline Favo reel, a nice fly line and a forgiving Kaitum fly rod. It's nice and easy to cast (despite not being the lightest rod on the market) and can be picked up for around £227.

The Orvis Encounter fly fishing kit is also great. They're nice quality, come with a nice light and stylish looking rod and are great fun to use and cast. The plastic composite Orvis Encounter reel isn't as fancy as the Guideline one, but they represent good value for £169.

The best budget option by far though has to be the Airflo Elite fly fishing kit. The rod and reel feel a bit heavier than the Orvis one, but they're surprisingly good and very capable kits. They're remarkable value for £80 and are ideal if you want to get started on a tight budget.

There are some good fly fishing kits on the market. This is the Guideline Kaitum Trout kit.

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