The fly rod is usually the most expensive part of the fly fisher’s outfit and should be chosen carefully. There are three ways in which rods differ: length, stiffness and material.
Fly rods may be purchased in lengths from about five and a half foot trout rods to 16 foot two-handed salmon rods. The longer the rod, the more energy required to cast it, but the easier it is to control the line.
Stiffness is determined by the rod’s thickness, the material from which it is made, and its taper. Of the various rod materials, graphite is the stiffest, whereas bamboo and fiberglass are less stiff.
Rod taper and action
The way a rod is tapered (that is, the transition from a thicker butt to a thinner tip) will determine its action. Action will become obvious once you have [learned how to cast] and try casting several different rods. Softer or more flexible rods have a slower action, whereas stiffer rods have a faster action.
Material is perhaps the most important decision
Whilst all factors need to be considered when buying a rod, the most important is probably material. Fiberglass, bamboo and graphite are the most commonly used.
Fiberglass is the cheapest and probably least desirable of the three. Fiberglass rods have great strength and will tolerate much abuse, but they are heavy for their size, commonly weighing about two to three times that of a comparable graphite rod. When you consider that you can cast a fly rod several thousand times on a long day, even an ounce or two difference in weight can be a big factor. That said, if you come across an old fiberglass abandoned in a friend or relative’s garage, go ahead and use it, and save your money until you are more experienced and know what you want.
These are considered to be the finest form of the rod maker’s art; they are time consuming to make and so therefore more expensive. Bamboo rods are usually more flexible than graphite and therefore have a slower action. However, for some types of fishing where a delicate presentation is necessary, many feel that bamboo cannot be beaten, and many experienced fly fishers feel the pinnacle of the sport is catching a creek trout on a small dry fly with a bamboo rod. If you are a beginner bamboo is probably not the first rod you will want to buy.
The most popular fly rods today are made of graphite. They are extremely strong for their weight, and they can be expensive, but it is possible to get a reasonably priced and good quality rod, mainly because the primary difference between a good and a premium quality rod will be the materials used for the reel seat, the handles, the guides, and the overall finish.
Buying your first fly rod and reel
In our opinion the best choice for a beginner would be a medium-priced graphite rod, but in order to make a good choice you must first think about the kind of fishing you wish to do.
Let’s say you plan to fish primarily for trout; you should expect to use flies from size #4 nymphs and streamers (larger flies are best handled with a seven to nine weight line) to size #20 dry flies (best handled with a three to five weight line). A good compromise for your first fly rod would be six weight line, as this can be successfully used to handle both very small and very large flies. Fly rods are labeled to correspond to the line, so that if you have a six weight rod you need a six weight line.
For that first 6 weight rod, longer is better. A long rod (eight and a half to nine 9 feet) will make it easier to handle your line on the water whether you are using drifting nymphs or dry fly casts. It is easier to cast because it keeps the line from falling to the ground on the back cast and away from your ears on the forward cast.
Although there are three main types of reel, the only one you should be considering as a beginner is the single action reel.
Next, you need to understand the reel drag system, which is a factor when you are ‘playing’ a fish that has taken your fly. As the name suggests, this puts friction on the line as it travels one way but not the other. Work out which hand you will be reeling with (for example you might cast with your left hand and reel with your right) and then make sure that your reel’s drag system is set up to support that. Most will be set up for right hand reeling, but this can be reversed. If you’re unsure how to do this yourself, then any good supplier should be able to take care of this for you.
Some more expensive reels will have adjustable drag. Whether you can afford that or not, just be sure that your reel can accommodate your line and an additional 40 yards of Dacron ‘backing’. Backing is important for two reasons: first, a large strong fish might take your fly and make long runs; second, the more line already spooled on the reel the less effort it is to get line onto the reel fast.
Finally, there is balance. The right reel will balance your rod correctly (this is important in casting and also when playing a fish) and so your joint choice of rod/reel ‘combo’ is important. One more reason to go to a knowledgeable dealer who can advise you on the right purchases for a properly balanced rod/reel combo.
With thanks to Judy Lehmberg