Knee deep I stand contorting my neck as I stare into the rosy red light desperately trying to differentiate my fly from the foam bubbles and the late afternoon Caddis hatch that litter the water's surface. No matter how hard I squint, I just can't figure out which fly I should be focused on.

"Maybe if I adjust my position or take these sunglasses off?"

"That didn't work."

"Put those back on, how about another cast?"

I accelerate the fly line to halt in the calm air behind me, and once again focus on the line, then the fly, as it passes by in a rush to land softly on the water's surface. My eyes are locked on the fly as it lazily drifts down the eddy line. I'm so excited that I almost forget to raise the rod tip as my fly is engulfed in a froth of white.

"Set the hook you dummy!"

There are literally thousands of fly rods to choose from but which one will help you in creating memories? The following is intended to give you some of the basics in, weight, action, size, and price that hopefully will put you on the right track to fly rod ownership.


Before going into the details of rod construction let's cover the basic premise of fly-casting. Unlike gear fishing where the line weighs nearly nothing and lead weight or a steal spoon provides the weight to load the rod, the art of fly casting is in the ability to use weighted line to load or evenly flex a rod on the back cast, then unload and propel the line and fly on the forward cast. Therefore, picking a fly rod is all about matching your casting stroke with the right rod and line weight combination.


Determining where you will be using this rod the majority of the time will help you decide on the appropriate weight. Will it be that small creek not far from home, standing on a local beach strewn with cobbles as the waves lap the shores, or maybe on your next backpacking trip to your favorite alpine lake?

Fly rods are given a weight, which has nothing to do with the actual weight of the rod. It's the number that best describes a fly line that will properly load the rod on both the forward and back cast. Fly line manufactures alter the diameter and density of line producing a variety of lines given numbers from 00 through 12+ that are then matched to the rod weight that best suits your fishing environment and desired casting length.

In general, a rod with a small weight number will cast a shorter distance and require lighter flies. If this is going to be your only rod, I would recommend picking a rod weight that represents the largest, heaviest fly you plan to fish. Here are some generalizations that describe fly rods by weight:

00-3 weight rods are designed to cast up to 40 feet or so and are best suited to small dry flies in the 24-14 size range. They are most commonly 6-7 1/2 feet in length and are best suited to small streams or areas with heavy cover behind the caster.

4-6 weight rods are designed to cast up to approximately 70 feet and are capable of casting most dry flies and nymphs up to size 6. They are typically 8-9 1/2 feet in length and are the workhorse trout rods used on most mid-sized rivers and streams.

7-8 weight rods are capable of casting up to 100 feet with heavier and larger flies. They are typically 9-10 feet in length and are best suited to fishing larger rivers or saltwater beaches for large fish like Salmon or Steelhead.

9-12 weight rods are designed to cast "your kitchen sink" (well, not really) but they can throw some huge flies up and over 120 feet. They can reach lengths of over 14 feet and are typically used for large game and are designed more for landing fish than casting.


Rod action refers to the flex and feel of a rod. Most rods can be classified as slow, medium or fast action.

Slow Action Rods

These rods are typically quite soft and can flex almost all the way to the cork handle. They are best suited for anglers who have a wider, slower, more open casting stroke. Slow action rods tend to be a good choice in the small weight range. They work well at casing short distances and chasing small fish.

Medium Action Rods

Medium action rods often flex in the upper third of the rod and are most common for the beginning angler or those looking for medium length cast. These rods are an excellent all around choice to fit most fishing situations.

Fast Action Rods

Fast action rods allow anglers to cast tighter loops (back cast and forward cast) that increase line speed and distance. The higher line speed also makes these rods very capable of casting in heavy winds.


By now you probably have some ideas about which weight and action rod fits your needs. Now let's cover 2-piece rods verses 4-piece.

2-piece, 4-piece or even 5-piece rods are all available in today's market. Most often, the fewer pieces a rod is the cheaper the rod. This is justified by the amount of engineering it takes to provide a reliable, even flex as you add joints to the system. I prefer to go with 4-piece rods because they are easy to store and travel with. These typically break down to be around 2 1/2 feet in length and fit in many different style travel bags.


Price might not be such an issue with rods if all you had to buy was the rod, but that's often not the case. You need a reel, fly line and backing. If this is your first rod you are also likely to be buy a whole lot of other fly fishing garb such as, tippit, fly boxes, vests, flies, etc. So where should you spend the bulk of your hard earned cash? The rod, hands down. The rod is the most critical piece to the puzzle. Besides skill (which you learn through practice and instruction) the rod has more to do with your ability to make quality presentations to eager fish than any other piece in the system. Not to say a cheap rod isn't capable of making quality casts, but often they aren't as consistent and can be much harder to learn or improve your casting ability on. So with that said, I spend most of my money on the rod, buy the best line I can afford, then whatever money I have left would go to the reel.

Cast It

When buying a rod make sure you take some time to cast it before you buy it. I've picked up some amazingly expensive rods, cast them and known right from the start I liked its cheaper counterpart better. Have a knowledgeable sales person work with you to find the rod that fits. In fact rod manufactures like Sage are now outfitting some of there retailers with a casting analysis tool that break your cast down into section give you tips to improve on and help you choose the right rod for your casting stroke.

Ask Questions

Ask some question about what comes with the rod. Is there an unconditional replacement / repair warranty? How about a rod tube and sleeve? Details like these have a way of leveling the playing field when it comes to price. My experience is that many of the cheaper rods don't come with these items, which are all things that I've found to be really useful in the long-term ownership of a fly rod.

You should now have the basics of choosing a fly rod. Find a good instructor to help you with your casting stroke and you're on your way to years of great memories.

John Scheafer is the co-owner of Anew Outdoors, a Washington guide service that offers fly fishing, sea kayaking, rock climbing, backpacking, ski touring and snowshoeing. When John's not fly fishing the Yakima River, his personal time has yielded such adventures as sea kayaking around Washington's Olympic Peninsula, landing the elusive steelhead with the fly rod, climbing Yosemite National Park's El Capitan, kayaking the Colorado's Grand Canyon, and skiing off the summits of many Washington volcanoes.

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