How to Choose a Fly Rod
Let’s look at what you should do to choose a quality fly rod. One way is to find a local fly shop where you can trust the owner. Most fly shop owners are small businessmen and must please their customers to stay in business. They generally are long time fly fishermen themselves. They may also be guides or teach casting classes. Plus you may be able to negotiate a better deal than at a discount store.
Another way to find a fly rod is to research on the internet if you have some idea of what you want and how much you are willing to pay. Check the sites return policy and any warranties before ordering.
If you are a beginning fly fisherman or even an advanced one with four or five years experience, you many not have all the information about choosing a fly rod.
Factors to consider when choosing a fly fishing rod
1. Budget — What is your budget for the rod, reel and line total. Generally you should plan on spending $200 to $300 on a rod, $150 minimum on a machined fly reel and $60 to $80 on a Scientific Angler or Rio fly line. This totals out to less than $600. Combo outfits which consist of a rod, line, reel, backing and leader can reduce this cost.
2. Guaranty — Is there a lifetime guaranty on the rod? Or a long term warranty? Most major rod manufacturers offer a lifetime guaranty and Orvis a 25 year one. Also most rod manufacturers charge a shipping fee if you have to send your rod in for warranty work.
3. Fish Species — What type of fish will you be going after?
Will you be mostly stream fishing for trout or lake or pond fishing for trout, bass, panfish, wipers, catfish, etc. In Colorado, most of your fishing will be for the one or more of the above species.
4. Fishing Distance — What is the normal distance you will be fishing? Generally you will catch the majority of your fish within 20 feet of where you will be standing.
This is not just my opinion but the opinion of (fly fishing great and fly rod builder Tom Morgan, “During the last 40 years, most trout have been taken from 20 to 40 feet and I expect the next 50 years will be the same.” )
I recommend starting about a rod length in front of you and then working out to 30 to 40 feed or the stream width if you are nymphing. If you are dry fly fishing, you would need to cast to where the fish are working.
Summer of 2005, I have taken trout within 3 to 4 feet of where I was standing with no more than 6 feet of leader off the tip of the rod. Select a rod that will roll or overhand cast comfortably for you out to 45 feet. This will meet the majority of your fishing needs.
5. Casting Ability — Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced fly caster. Your casting ability will determine your rod selection. As will the “Rod Flex” or “Action” There are basically five Flex or Fly Rod Actions today.
• Fast, tip action or tip flex — main flex is in the top 1/3 to 1/4 of the tip section depending on manufacturer. This action loads the rod very fast and requires precise timing and control of the rod to achieve good loop control and line speed. A fast action means the rod recovers quickly from being under load. The caster must be able to “feel” what the rod is doing during the casting stroke to take full advantage of this action. (Often preferred by advanced or expert casters).
• Medium Fast – This action has the flex in the upper ¼ to 1/3 of the rod blank. It is a good action for the intermediate caster and many beginners like it too. It is faster than the Medium action but not as fast as the fast or tip action. This action is a little more forgiving of casting errors by the caster.
• Medium or Mid-flex — rod bends in the middle 1/2 to upper 1/3 of the rod. This action is good for beginners, intermediate or advanced casters who like a “forgiving” feel. (This is also a good action for nymph fishing because the fish can do a lot of the hook set when he takes the fly and turns to run for his safe place.)
• Slow or Full-flex — rod bends from tip to butt section even under moderate load. While very forgiving of casting mistakes, this type of rod action produces a slow rod recovery rate. Such a slow recovery rate, can make casting over a period of hours tiring.
• Progressive — No noticeable difference between the stiffer and more flexible parts of a rod.
6. Guides and Reel Seat — Examine the guides and reel seat for superior components. The guides should be a high quality chrome finish or better yet is nickel alloy for the guides and reel seats. Anodized aluminum is also good for reel seats. If a wood insert is used in the reel seat, is it firmly glued in place. The Cork Grip should be good quality cork with no major pits or blemishes. If it has pits filled in, are they sanded smooth so there are no rough spots. The finest Portuguese cork is flora grade. It is very smooth and has no pits or blemishes. This grade of cork is very expensive and more difficult to obtain today than it used to be. Probably the finest maker of rod components today is REC.
7. Spine Test — Each section of a fly fishing rod has a spine. The spine is where the rod flexes least. You want all the guides to be lined up along the spine or on the side of the blank opposite the spine. Some say guides aligned on the spine increase the distance and some say opposite the spine increases accuracy. In either case you want the guides on the spine or opposite.
Test for guide alignment — Assemble the rod with all the guides aligned. Rest the reel seat end on the floor. Place the tip in the palm of one hand. With the other hand gently put some pressure on the middle of the rod to bow it slightly. With your thumb and index fingers, carefully roll the rod until it jumps slightly. This is the spine. Roll the fly rod back and forth over the spine a couple of times until you know where the it is at. Then sight down the rod to see if the guides are lined up on the spine or opposite it.
8. Choosing a balanced fly rod outfit — Balance has two meanings here.
• The Rod, Reel and Line Weight are all matched to each other. For example a 5 wt rod would use a reel designed for a 5 wt line and a 5 wt double taper, weight forward line or sinking type of line.
• The assembled unit of rod, reel and line achieve a reasonable physical balance.
Test for Physical Balance — Assemble the rod with a reel and line to match the rod weight. Either bring your own rod and line or borrow one from the fly shop. String the rod and allow about 3 feet of line to hang down from the tip.
Extend the rod and allow the reel to hang down. Put your thumb on the cork grip where you normally would when casting.
Then place the rod on the edge of your index finger under the reel seat at the place where you put your thumb on top. The assembled rod, reel and fly line should balance level or close to it.
When you are making over 100 casts a day in a full days fishing, an unbalanced outfit can totally tire you out.
9. The Casting Test — The only true way to tell about a rod is to put a matched reel and fly line and cast the assembled unit. Most fly shops have a casting area where you can try out the outfit.
Try some 25 roll casts. You should be able to easily roll cast out to 30 feet on dry ground with your test rod. Try some 25 to 30 overhand casts. Again, you should be able to get out at least 40 feet without much effort.
How does the rod feel when casting? Is it too stiff or too fast an action? Is it mushy meaning too slow an action? When you load a rod into your back cast, how fast does the rod recover for the forward cast?
If the rod just does not feel ok, don’t buy it. Go to the shop owner, tell him of your concerns and ask for help.
Remember a beginner to intermediate level caster will usually be happier with a Medium Fast or Medium / Mid-Flex rod action. An advanced caster will appreciate the Fast or Tip action.
10. Fly Lines — Your choice of fly lines should be taken into consideration. Modern fly lines come in weight ranges from Sage’s 00 to 15. As the line number increases so does the line weight. So a 2 or 3 line is for smaller streams and a 15 is for deep sea or surf fishing.
Your fly line should be matched to the fly reel and rod you purchase to work best. This means if you purchase a 5 wt rod, your reel should be for a 5wt fly line and your line should be a 5 wt “double taper” or “weight forward” fly line.
Basic fly lines for use in Colorado and surrounding states are:
• Double Taper — A 90 foot long line tapered equally at both ends. The first and last 15 feet of line are tapered to increase in weight from the tip to the belly of the line. Then the line diameter and weight is constant for the next 60 feet. Next the line starts to loose weight and line diameter until it reaches a tip size equal to the front section of the fly line.Usually marked as DT1, DT2 and so on through DT6. When one end of the line becomes worn, you can turn it around and use the unused tapered end.I recommend a DT5 or DT6 weight line as a good starter line for fly fishing. After fishing a double taper line for 33 years and a weight forward for 4 years, I am still convinced a double taper line will roll cast easier than a weight forward.
• Weight Forward — Almost all WF lines have heads that are 44 to 49 feet long. Remember that most of us don’t have the need or the ability to roll cast longer than 45 feet. This first 30 to 50 feet of the 90 feet fly line contains most of the weight. The line behind the head is a smaller diameter line running line. Noted as WF5, WF6, WF7 and so on.A weight forward line will load a rod quickly. Generally weight forward lines are used on rods for 5 weight and up. They are good for casting heavy nymphs, bushy dry flies and terrestrials into a stiff breeze.
The delicacy of presentation is determined by the mass at the front of the fly line. A DT and a WF line with the same taper and tip diameter will deliver the same presentation.
To load a fly rod, you must have the belly of the line within the guides. Since the Double Taper has a 60 foot belly, you can have more line outside the tiptop and still load the rod.
The Weight Forward line will load a rod quicker but you must get used to watching how much line is outside the tiptop before your casts.
The fly line is the part of your equipment that actually delivers the fly to the target.
Using quality fly fishing gear will increase your fishing enjoyment. And quality does not have to cost a thousand dollars to get started. A good fly fishing outfit can usually be purchased for under $350. We carry several in our fly shop.