“A good fly rod is worth every cent you pay for it – and more.”, wrote Samuel G. Camp in his 1911 book, The Fine Art of Fishing. This is still true today. No tool is more important to a fly angler than the best fly fishing rod that suits his/her fishing environment, type and size of fish, and type of flies.
Even when one is seasoned and has superior casting skills, the rod plays a very important role in achieving casting accuracy and precise fly placement. It can make the difference between success and failure when fly fishing.
If you want to get into fly fishing or want to get back into the sport after taking a hiatus, finding a good quality fly rod is your number one step. You want a pole that suits your fishing style and performs well but won’t break the bank or leave you saying,”I got what I paid for”.
However, finding a nice fly pole can become a challenge because of all the options available in the market, all the factors you have to consider when choosing one and the intimidating price tags top of the line fly fishing poles have.
To help you overcome these challenges, we’ve compiled a list of the best fly fishing poles that are top rated for their quality and performance when it comes to fly fishing and also have affordable price tags. We’ve also explained what you need to look for to pick the right pole for your needs. To start with, here are the best fly fishing rods.
If you’re just getting started fly fishing, I highly recommend purchasing either a 4wt or a 5wt that's 8 and a half or 9 ft long and rated medium action. The reason I mention 4wt or 5wt fly rods is that from my experience, any weight fly rod above those tend to be more fast action rods, which as a beginner can frustrate you if you don’t know how to load your fly line properly. Medium action fly rods are by far the easiest to learn from and enable you to cast and present your flies more accurately especially if you’re just getting into the sport.
About a fly rod's length, it’s of great importance to take into account the size of the watersheds you plan to fish. Fly fishing a 9ft 5wt rod on a small stream that’s only 8 to 10 ft wide with lots of overhanging brush above you can make fishing extremely tough. If you’re looking to fish smaller streams, I’d recommend purchasing a fly rod that’s around 6 and a half to 7ft long so you’re able to make precise and accurate casts, rather than becoming frustrated due to your rod being too tall and not having the optimal room to make the best cast and presentation you can to the fish.
When looking to purchase a fly rod for big game fish, whether this is for big wild brown trout, tarpon, striped bass, smallmouth bass, or any bigger sized fish; Purchasing a fly rod with a good fighting butt can give you a huge advantage on the water when hooking big fish. Most fly rods with fighting butts tend to be faster action rods made to land and control big fish. These fighting butts allow you to gain leverage on the fish, stick the fighting butt near your belly button so your arms don’t get tired, as well as allow you to have the power to set the hook required when big fish strike.
How To Choose The Best Fly Fishing Rod – Buying Guide
Next, let’s take a look at what you need to consider when choosing a fly fishing pole to ensure that you pick one best suited to your needs and whose performance you’ll be happy with. You might wonder why there are so many factors to understand and consider when buying a specialty tool like a fly fishing rod.
While fly fishing for trout in mountain streams and freshwater lakes is the most popular fly fishing activity, all kinds of fish species can be caught on the fly: freshwater species such as salmon, carp, bass, panfish, and pike and even saltwater ocean species such as redfish, striped bass, tarpon, snook, and bonefish, among others.
This means that different types of fly fishing rods are needed to handle the different types of fish and fishing environments. There is no such thing as a one-rod-fits-all fly rod. One rod can’t handle a small trout and a striped bass equally well. This is why it is important to make a well-thought-out choice.
The first thing you need to figure out to be able to choose the right rod is the type and size of fish you’ll be targeting and where you’ll be fishing. Will you be fishing in a lake, a stream or a large river? What kind of flies will you be using? How far will you need to cast?
Keeping your target species, fishing location and casting style in mind, pay attention to the following factors when choosing your best fly fishing pole to choose one that works best for you.
The weight of fly line you’ll be using with the fly rod is the number one consideration to make when choosing a fly fishing pole. The line is very important when fly fishing because it is what delivers the fly where you want it placed. Every fly pole is designed to cast a line of a particular line weight and fly rods are weight-rated according to the weight and thickness of fly line they cast.
A fly rod’s weight rating indicates the weight of fly line the rod is designed to handle. For example, a 5-weight fly rod is made to cast a 5-weight fly line. Matching the fly rod’s weight rating to the weight of the fly line you’ll be using is of critical importance, as it determines how accurate your loadings and castings will be.
The line weight you should use is determined by the type of flies you’ll be casting. Fly sizes and fish sizes have a direct relationship. Larger flies call for heavier lines to catch bigger fish and vice versa.
Once you know the line weight you’ll be using, it is very easy to choose the appropriate rod weight as this is usually indicated on the rod’s blank near the grip
Here are some examples to guide you when deciding what line and rod weight to choose:
0, 1, 2 weights are made for the smallest fish species such as brook trout and panfish fishing in small streams using very tiny dry flies.
3, 4 weights work well when using light tippets to make delicate presentations using small flies and targeting panfish and trout.
5, 6, 7 weights are the most common and versatile fly fishing line and rod weights. These can handle about 90% of all trout fishing situations. They also work well when catching bass, bluegill, fishing in big rivers and lakes, deep nymphing with weighted flies and casting larger streamers, poppers, and split shots. 7 also suits large bass, steelhead, and salmon. 5 is the most versatile weight rating and suits a variety of species, flies, and environments. It is also the ideal weight rating for learning fly fishing.
8, 9, 10 weights suit saltwater fishing for striped bass, tarpon, bonefish, salmon, and steelhead, as they’re capable of long distance casting of heavy flies.
11, 12, 13 weights are for going after the larger game fish such as larger tarpon and barracuda while 13 to 16 weights are for offshore fishing for large ocean species such as sharks, tuna, and marlin.
The action of a fly fishing rod refers to how much the rod flexes, where it bends, and how quickly it recovers when the load is removed. It describes a rod’s flexibility and stiffness. When fly fishing, it affects how a fly pole loads the weight of the fly line during a cast, how it casts, how it handles fish, and how it feels in the hand.
There are fast, medium fast, medium and slow action fly poles. The best action to choose depends on where you’re fishing, the type of fish you’re targeting, the fishing conditions, your casting style, your skill level, and what kind of casting action you prefer.
Fast action fly rods are the stiffest and bend just at the tip. Their casting action is as powerful as a rocket launch. The line comes out at high speed and they deliver excellent casting distance and accuracy. They are better suited to experienced fly anglers as they require advanced skill to handle well. They are the hardest to use for beginners. These are ideal when fly fishing for larger fish in big bodies of water and windy conditions where an angler needs to deliver larger flies far away.
Medium fast fly rods bend mostly in the top third. They’re more flexible than fast action rods, offer more control when casting and are capable of more gentle placements but still pack a lot of power for long distance casting.
Medium action fly fishing rods bend in the top half. They’re equally flexible and stiff. They are a happy medium offering the best of fast action and slow action with moderation. They load quickly but give the angler more control when casting resulting in smooth casts, are responsive and offer a good feel of the fish, and are also stiff enough to cast a good distance accurately. These are the easiest to learn with and are the ideal rod action for beginners.
Slow action fly rods are bend uniformly throughout their entire length. Their casting is gentle with slower line speed and soft presentations. Such a rod works well when fishing in small creeks and rivers for small, wary fish. It delivers a gentle fly placement that doesn’t scare the fish away. These don’t have the strength to withstand the wind.
When shopping for fly fishing poles, you’ll notice that they offer multiple length options. This is because length affects the rod’s casting ability and different lengths suit different fishing situations.
Nine foot is the happy medium offering a nice balance of power, control, casting distance, and accuracy. It is the most versatile fly fishing pole length, especially when targeting trout. It suits a variety of species and fishing conditions and is a nice choice for beginners and those who want an all-around fly pole.
Longer lengths make powerful and longer casts and offer better line control. they’re ideal when going after larger species in large water bodies. They are also required for some fly fishing techniques such as Tenkara fishing.
Shorter lengths are easier to cast and control when making short casts and fishing in small creeks and rivers where there’s heavy vegetation.
All-Around Rods vs. Specialty Rods
Fly fishing can be used to catch all kinds of fish in all kinds of water bodies. This presents a challenge when choosing a fly fishing pole: should you go for an all-around rod that’s versatile and performs well in a wide range of situations or a specialty rod designed to work best for a particular type of fly fishing?
If you don’t fish all that often and have a favorite species and setting that gives you the most satisfaction, you can go for a specialty rod that suits it best.
If you’re an avid fly angler and want to experience all kinds of scenarios, you’ll go for an all-round fly pole. However, you’ll soon find that it doesn’t perform as well as you’d wish for all situations.
This is when you’ll find yourself on the market for a rod with the kind of power and action to deliver optimum performance for your favorite fly fishing activities. Many avid fly anglers actually have a quiver of fly fishing rods to suit different species and fishing conditions.
If you’re just beginning, you may want to experience fly fishing in different environments and know the thrill of catching different all kinds of fish species on the fly. An all-around rod that’s 9 feet in length and has a 5 weight rating and a medium action will allow you to do this. Once you’ve developed a taste for a particular species or water body, you can then look for a specialty rod that will deliver the best performance.
Freshwater vs. Saltwater
Freshwater fly fishing and saltwater fly fishing differ a lot. It’s important to consider whether you’ll be fishing in saltwater or freshwater or you’d like to do both.
Saltwater fish are large, fast, powerful, and hard fighting. The saltwater fishing environment is also harsh and hard on rods and other fishing gear. If saltwater is where you’ll fish most, ensure you get a rod specially designed for saltwater.
Saltwater rods are stronger and equipped to handle larger fish, harder fights, winds, and saltwater abuse. They have longer lengths, heavier weight ratings, and fast action so they can deliver heavy flies far away and be able to fight more aggressive fish such as bonefish, redfish, tuna, tarpon, striped bass, giant trevally and marlin among others.
Freshwater bodies and fish tend to be smaller. If you mainly fish in streams, rivers, and lakes, a freshwater rod is an optimal choice as it will have the length, weight rating and action to deliver the best performance for freshwater fly fishing.
Many fly rods come in freshwater and saltwater models. If you’d like a versatile fly fishing pole that can perform well in both environments, ensure you get a powerful and tough fly rod made with corrosion resistant features to withstand the corrosive and abrasive nature of saltwater.
The fly rod blank material affects how it feels in the hand and how it performs. It is, therefore, an important consideration to make when choosing a fly fishing rod. Fly fishing rods have come a long way from their split cane days.
Bamboo fly fishing rods are still available. They are heavy, soft, slow action and require a lot of skill, patience, and care to use. A well-made bamboo fly rod is a work of art and will cost you a small fortune. Passionate fly anglers invest in them as an appreciation of their beauty, tradition, and craftsmanship and to experience fly fishing the traditional way.
After bamboo and before graphite, fly poles made of fiberglass were the norm. They’re still available today but there are not as many choices. Fiberglass rods are robust and durable. They have a slower action than graphite rods and offer a unique feel when casting and fighting fish.
For comfort in use and superior performance, graphite fly rods are the go-to today. Majority of modern fly poles are crafted from graphite. Graphite fly rods are strong, lightweight, easy to cast accurately and farther and have great sensitivity. Graphite is easily molded into any taper and graphite poles are available in slow to fast actions.
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How Many Pieces
The decision you’re making here is whether to go for a packable and portable multiple-piece rod that’s easy to carry or the ultimate responsiveness and performance of a one piece rod that’s difficult to transport.
A one-piece fly pole delivers the best action because there’s no break in its construction but when it comes to storage and transport, it isn’t practical. Most fly rods are nine feet tall. Can you imagine how challenging it would be to transport a delicate rod that long?
This is why most fly fishing poles today have a 4-pieces construction and break down into a compact package you can fit in your tackle backpack. There are even six, seven, and even eight-piece fly rods anglers who travel a lot or want ultra-portable fly poles for backpacking trips.
When this concept first came about, the breaks had a major negative impact on the performance of multiple-piece rods. Today, advancements in rod manufacturing technology have improved the way the sections are joined minimizing the performance loss at each connection.
The handle on a fly fishing rod and the grip it offers is very important. This is what provides you with the control and leverage you need when casting and fighting fish.
On nice, successful fly fishing excursions, you will have your hands on the handle for hours. It should feel comfortable and well-balanced in your hands, offer a firm grip no matter the conditions, and minimize wrist fatigue.
The best fly fishing poles have high-quality cork handles because these are lightweight, offer a strong grip, and are also sensitive and contribute to the overall feel offered by the rod.
On lighter weight rods, you will find that the handle design has a taper towards the thumb. This is to provide a light touch and help achieve casting accuracy. Heavier weight rods feature a reverse taper that becomes thicker towards the thumb. This is to offer a nice leverage point for your thumb and apply the power needed for long and heavier casts.
Unless you practice Tenkara fly fishing where a reel isn’t part of the equation, you will need a fly fishing reel to complete your fly fishing outfit. The reel connects to your rod at the reel seats. It stores your fly line and provides the drag for fighting heavy or fast moving fish without breaking the line or snapping the rod.
The rod and reel should be well-balanced so they can work together perfectly. They should be matched to use the same line weight. If you are using a 5-weight fly line and a 5-weight rod, you will need a 5-weight reel with the yard capacity to hold the amount of line you’ll need.
Pair the rod with a reel that matches its type of fishing. For example, a light presentation rod for casting dry flies will balance with a smaller, lighter weight reel. A long, heavy weight rod for casting streamers will work well with a heavier reel.
To simply the setting up, you can opt for a ready-made fly fishing rod and reel combo such as the Orvis Encounter outfit reviewed above. You can also purchase your fly pole and reel separately and create your own custom-made outfit. You have to pay special attention to the specifications to ensure that you create a well-balanced fly fishing outfit that suits your fishing style.
It’s ironic how delicate fly fishing rods are given the amount of power they provide when casting and fighting fish. Their tips break easily and the blanks weaken, acquire undesirable curvature, and become susceptible to breaking when hauling fish. It is important to take great care when transporting and storing your fly rod to prevent damage and keep it in tiptop condition.
This is where rod cases come in. They are specially designed to keep the rods protected when in storage or during transport. Some of the best fly fishing poles come with their own custom rod case saving you the hassle and extra expense of purchasing one separately.
If the fly stick you choose doesn’t include a rod case, it is totally worth it to buy a good rod case for it separately. If you have a 4 pcs rod, ensure the rod case has four compartments so each section has its own space for optimal protection.
Again due to the delicate nature of fly fishing rods, warranty is another important factor to consider. Always check the kind of customer service and warranty the manufacturer offers for the rod. If the rod breaks or becomes damaged, you want to be assured that you will get prompt and satisfactory customer support.
The most excellent fly fishing rods come with good warranties and satisfaction guarantees. You will come across one year, five years and limited lifetime warranty offered to the original owner. Ensure that you register your rod after purchase in order to benefit from the manufacturer’s warranty.
Most manufacturers will replace or fix a broken rod without hassle. It’s important to take as much care as possible to prevent damage as you will still have to pay a shipping and processing fee not to mention the shipping hassle.
Q: What are Spey Rods?
Q: What is Tenkara?
Q: How to Choose Fly Rod Length?
Q: How to Cast a Fly Rod?
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Fly fishing is one of the most effective, engaging, and enjoyable fishing techniques. The fly fishing rod is a very crucial part of the experience. Figuring out exactly what you’re going to try to catch and where is the number one step towards picking the best fly fishing pole.
The above information on how to choose a fly fishing rod plus the reviews of the top rated fly fishing poles to choose from will make it easy for you to choose a fly fishing rod that delivers the best performance and allows you to enjoy your pastime to the fullest.
As a beginner looking to get into fly fishing, choose a fly fishing rod that will help you learn without breaking the bank. To simplify the process of getting started, consider a fly fishing combo that comes with the rod, reel, and line you will need already assembled. Other related articles for fishing, fishing pliers, fishing hats, saltwater spinning reels, fish fillet knives.
With a great fly fishing pole, all you have to do is go out and delve into the fly fishing experience. As you gain more experience, you will discover what actions, lengths and weight ratings work best for your favorite style of fly fishing. Once bit by the fly fishing, don’t be surprised to find yourself amassing a quiver of your best fly fishing rods.
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Are you an avid fly angler? What’s your favorite fly fishing rod? Share your experience with us in the comment box below