Finding the best fly rod for yourself or someone else can be overwhelming.
There are thousands of fly rods on the market today, one for every budget and fishing situation you can think of.
But don't panic, one fly rod will be enough to start with.
Before I share my personal recommendations let's look at some of the things you should take into account before you buy a fly rod.
The first thing to decide is whether you prefer fly fishing for trout in a small mountain stream, a medium to large river, or on a lake.
I like small streams and creeks, and I have had a lot of fun with my three-weight. I also fish medium to larger size rivers and lakes with my six-weight. For winter steelhead I use my eight-weight switch rod.
Can't decide? OK, maybe you will need more than one fly rod.
Again, it depends.
Most fly rods are single-handed. They are designed to be cast with only one hand. This is where a novice should start. Spend time improving your casting skills before moving on to a two-handed rod.
Switch rods on the other hand are exactly what they sound like. You can use these rods with a single hand or, because they have a short four-inch butt section, you can also use them with two hands. These are commonly used on small to medium sized rivers for steelhead.
Spey rods use two hands and are 12 to 14 feet long. These are used primarily on larger rivers where the fly fisher is targeting steelhead. Not the best fly rod for a novice.
There are a variety of materials used in fly rod construction. The most common are fiberglass, graphite and bamboo.
Fiberglass fly rods are more durable and can be lower in cost. Custom fiberglass fly rods on the other hand can be very expensive. In the lengths under 8 feet, fiberglass rods can give the same action and smooth feel as bamboo, making them ideal for spring creeks and small streams. Learn more about fiberglass fly rods.
Graphite fly rods are the most popular because they are lighter and if taken care of could last a lifetime. I talked to a sales rep from a well known fly rod company at a sports show last year. He shared with me that with the current technology available today, all companies build good graphite rods. They are however easier to break than fiberglass. Learn more about graphite rods.
Bamboo fly rods are a work of art and very aesthetically pleasing. They are rich in tradition and craftsmanship. They are more expensive than most graphite fly rods and cast very smoothly. Because they are very fragile, bamboo rods are not the best rod for a novice.
This is the weight of the line the rod is designed for, not the weight of the rod itself. Learn more about the best fly rod weight for you.
· 000 to 3 weight rods are commonly known as ultralight fly rods and are good for small mountain streams. These work well when you need to make a delicate presentation.
· 4 and 5 weight fly rods are more common and better for casting for distance on small to medium-size rivers.
· 5 and 6 weight rods are good for the most varied conditions and good in windy conditions. They can throw most of the flies used for trout: nymphs, larger dry flies and small streamers.
· 7 and 8 weight rods are best suited for larger fish like steelhead trout. These rods can cast heavier flies against the wind. My eight-weight switch rod has proven to be a good match for winter steelhead here in western Oregon.
Action in a fly rod is how deeply the rod flexes. A slow action rod flexes all the way to the handle and takes longer to load. What it means to “load” a rod will be discussed more in our fly-casting page.
The lighter weight rods have a slower action (for the most part). This is important when delicate presentations are needed in clear trout streams. The extra flex in the rod also helps protect the light tippets often used there.
Larger flies, more distance and a harder set of the hook call for a faster action rod (a less flexing rod).
Most fly rods in the 5/6-weight range will have either a medium or fast action. I would not worry about which is the best fly rod action for you. Spending time improving your casting skills will be more important. Learn more about fly rod action here.
I saved this for last because the length of rod will be obvious after you address the other points.
First of all I would recommend you go with a three- or four-piece rod. They have improved a lot over the years. The shorter sections of a four-piece rod make them a better travel fly rod.
Shorter rods (6-1/2 to 8 feet) are good for tight places such as brushy areas. These are common lengths used in the lighter weight rods and are used mostly on small streams and spring creeks.
Rods in the 8 to 9-1/2-foot range are used with the middleweight (4-6 weight) single-handed rods. These will give you the best compromise between good presentation and distance.
11-foot rods are common in the heavier rod weights and most switch rods. Longer fly rod lengths like my 8-weight switch rod come in handy when roll casting and mending my line.
I would recommend fiberglass as the best fly rod for creeks and small streams. These rods have an action similar to a bamboo and are very durable. Learn more about fiberglass fly rods here.
I would overload both of these rods by one line weight (4-weight floating line).
These rods are short-line rods that have a moderate action. The rod loads deep and the recovery is smooth, which transmits the feel from the rod tip to your hand. This makes it perfect for small trout in creeks and small streams yet it is also able to handle larger trout.
A good value for the performance it gives. This slow-action rod allows you to make delicate casts in tight places. It also has the backbone needed to throw larger flies. It is built with high modulus fiberglass and has a retro look. A little overpriced but if you can get it for under $200 go for it.
Here you need a good general purpose fly rod that will be good against the wind.
A four-piece, nine-foot, five-weight, single-handed graphite rod will do fine here.
You can't miss with either of these two rods:
A nice mid-priced medium-action fly rod. It is well balanced and highly responsive.
This four-piece rod makes a good travel rod with its micro fiber sock and Cordura tube.
The cork grip may seem a little small if you have large hands.
This four-piece graphite fly rod has a medium-fast action, and is perfect for any skill level.
It is able to handle the larger flies and streamers often called for in the larger rivers and lakes.
This rod also comes with a sock and tube.
Switch rods are some of the most versatile fly rods on the market today. They are good for roll casting, they make mending the line easier and they are a great rod for nymphing. Learn more about switch rods here.
These are very light weight rods that are very durable. These rods allow the caster a variety of casting options, both single- and two-hand. These options allow maximum casting distance with less energy. A very efficient tool.
Other companies like Sage, Orvis, R.L.Winston and G. Loomis make switch fly rods but they are very expensive. You can keep an eye out for a used one but it will be a long time before I pay $850 for a fly rod (as clumsy as I am). See our page on Buying a Used Fly Rod. Most people will not be able to tell the difference between these and the one above.
OK, we are talking Spey rods here. At this time I do not have a suggestion. I have already confessed my love of small streams and my switch rod for steelhead. Maybe these are in my future, but these are not the best fly rod for a novice.
Many fly rods come with a lifetime warranty. Be sure to research what it covers. You may have to pay shipping and a small fee but it's definitely worth it.
Also be sure to read the page on Ways to Break Your Best Fly Rod. Even with the warranty you don't want to spend the rest of your fishing trip watching others fish.
On Fly Rod Combos:
You will find that many manufactures also offer fly rod combos, which will get you started. These include the fly rod, reel, fly line and sometimes a case.
The thing to be careful of here is that often a cheap line is included in the kit.
On Building a Fly Rod:
As you advance past the fly fishing basics you may find yourself thinking about building a fly rod. This is a great winter project.