Choosing a Fly Rod for Beginners

The fly rod is probably the most important item of your equipment and is generally the most expensive. But as it can influence your first few years of fly fishing in either a positive or negative way it is important to make a good choice. Whilst most reputable fly shops will give you good advice, it is best to go in well informed.

Firstly know:

  • What you are fishing for,
  • Where you will fish
  • How much money you have to spend

Now all you need to pick is a rod that

  • matches what, where and how you fish (rod weight and length),
  • is the best quality within your budget
  • has an action that suits you,

Rod Weight

You need to choose a rod weight suitable for the type of fishing you will do.  Rods are given a number that signifies the line weight the rod manufacturer recommends.  Line weights start at 1 weight, and progress incrementally through to 14 weight, the smaller the number the lighter the rod. Your choice should be based on the size, power and weight of fish you intend to target.  The bigger the fish, the more powerful the rod (and heavier the line weight)  required.

Fish Size/Species Rod Weights
Small stream trout #1 – #5
River trout #4 – #7
Large freshwater fish (Rivers/Lakes e.g. Steelhead, Carp, salmon or Cod or Smaller Saltwater Species – Kawhai/Barramundi/Bonefish #6 – #10
Larger Saltwater Species – Queenfish/Giant Trevally/Sharks #9 – #14

Rod Length

Rods come in a range of lengths to suit a range of applications, but a generally the further you need to cast, the longer the rod. A rough guide follows:

Application Length
Small Streams 7 – 8 ft
Rivers 8 – 9 ft
Lakes/Saltwater 9 – 10 ft

Specialist applications will require specific lengths/weights (e.g. Euro nymphing uses long light rods).

Price and Quality

Rods come in a range of prices and quality.  You could spend as little as $60 or as much as $1200 on a fly rod. While price is not a guarantee of quality, you generally will get what you pay for.

The premium rod brands, spend a lot of time and money on research and rod development.  Generally their rod blanks  have the latest technology, are stronger and lighter.  They usually have very good warranties –  some are even lifetime warranties – and they will generally repair or replace our rod for a small fee.

There is quality in the the components that are used to make the rod, the cork in the grip, the reel seat, and the line guides. How evenly and evenly and finely the thread that holds the guides is wrapped, is also another indicator of quality.  On the cheaper end of the market, you get some poorly designed or made rod blanks. These may cast poorly and often break too easily.You can see the varying quality in the photos below.

How much should you spend ? You can spend anything up to $1200 AUD to buy a rod, but you do not have to do so to get a quality fishing rod that suits you. Nearly every rod that retails under $100 will be poor quality, if you test a lot of these you may get lucky, but don’t waste your time.  On the other hand don’t buy the latest most expensive rod in the shop thinking it will be the best. Buy the best quality rod that fits your budget and try before you buy. Try casting a few different rods side by side if you can. Then pick one you like that also fits your budget.

Rod Action

Rod action is how manufacturers try to explain how a rod much a rod bends and how quickly it unbends during casting and fishing. Rod design is quite complicated, however in general, rods can be classified into 4 groups:

Action Flex Description
Fast Tip The top 1/4 of the rod bends, and the rod unbends very quickly at the end of the casting stroke. The rod can be hard to feel, but requires a shorter quicker casting stroke, which makes it easier to cast tighter, and faster loops.
Med Fast Tip/Mid The top 1/3 of the rod bends, and the rod unbends quickly at the end of the casting stroke. The rod has more feel, requires a slightly longer stroke, but tight fast loops are still possible.
Medium Mid The top 1/2 of the rod bends, and the rod unbends slower. The rod has even more feel, requires a longer stroke, loop speed is generally slower. Tight loops require better tracking, and control.
Slow Tip Generally the rod bends all the way through its length, and the rod unbends quite slowly. These rods have a lot of feel, but require very good timing and tracking to make good casting loops. It is easy to over power these rods and generate tailing loops.

For a beginner I  recommend Medium or Medium Fast action rods, as they generally easier to learn with.  Timing the cast is a lot easier, as they can be cast with a slower rhythm and thus provide the beginner with more time to control the cast.  They also provide more feel or feedback  through the grip. You will feel a more a progressive change in pressure through the grip as the rod bends and un-bends.

Timing and feel are important for control of the line and leader.  Mastering these will begin to give mastery over accuracy,  distance and presentation. A medium or medium fast action rod, will make this journey easier and quicker.  A bonus is that these rods are more relaxing to use.

Some people will recommend fast action rods, this is mainly because it is harder to over-power them , and hence harder to throw a tailing loop.  But these rods generally require better timing and lack feel.  These rods are best for distance casting or casting on windy days.

Slower action rods are often favoured by people who like gentle slow presentations, in still conditions. Perhaps small still-waters, or slow streams, where a gentle presentation is required. It takes a very experienced caster to cast these rods well in windy conditions or over long distances.  Beginners will usually throw tailing loops that end in a tangle.

Conclusion:

You are now a little better informed, so decide for what, where and how you will fly-fish, know your budget, and head to your local fly fishing store.  The staff will be able to advise you on some options.  Please try a few rods side by side before you make your purchase. Enjoy, smooth casts, and clean tight loops!

 

Five ways to hold a fly rod.

There are a lot of different ways to hold a fly rod, and it really doesn’t matter which one you adopt, as long as it is the right one for you. Most have pros and cons, but your grip should be relaxed and soft, and allow you to feel and control the rod. Here are five common grips to try out.

Thumb on Top – basic

IMG_2721

The simple grip is how you might hold a golf club or a cricket bat with ypur strong hand. Hold the cork with the palm to the side of the grip and the thumb on top. When casting the thumb stays on top and points in the direction of the cast.

Pros: This grip is simple and it makes it harder to over flex the wrist in the direction of the cast.

Cons: If the wrist is allowed to flex sideways, it can cause the back cast to be hooked behind the angler (poor tracking). This grip has less feel than the Thumb on Top index finger variation, especially on the back cast, and can sometimes lead to an overly tight grip.

Thumb on Top – Index finger variation.

IMG_2723

This is my personal preference, it is a variation of the Thumb-on-top grip, with the index finger crooked and extended further up the grip.  It is on the opposite side of the grip as the thumb and level or with it, or slightly higher up higher the grip. The rod should be held and controlled with the thumb and forefinger. The thumb should feel the pressure of the forward cast, and the index finger the pressure of the back cast. The remaining fingers should be loosely and passively curled around the grip.

Pros: This makes it harder to over flex the wrist, with the benefit of giving more feel, and lends itself to a softer grip.

Cons: If the wrist is allowed to flex sideways, it can cause the back cast to be hooked behind the angler (poor tracking).

Finger on Top

top

This grip is made with the palm and index finger top of the grip, with index finger extended in the direction of the rod tip. This grip is more often used by small stream and light rod enthusiasts.

Pros: it can aid accuracy, in that the finger can be pointed at the target on the presentation cast.

Cons: A downside of this grip is that it is very easy to over flex the wrist on the forward cast, and introduces too much or badly timed rotation. It also can put a lot of pressure on the index finger tendon, especially with heavier rods.

V-Grip

IMG_2727

This grip is made with the palm almost on top of the rod, but slightly rotated towards the side, with the index finger crooked underneath the rod.

Pros: This grip also provides good feel between the index finger and the thumb. It also helps with a crisper rotation at the end of the forward and back cast as it is more natural to snap the wrist this way.

Cons: However it can be a problem for those who want to over use the wrist( over rotation) or use it at the wrong time (loss of tension mid cast).

3 Point grip

IMG_2724

Attributed to Jason Borger, this is a variation of the V-grip. In this variation the Index finger is extended along the side of the grip, and the rod is held between thumb and middle finger. The remaining two fingers are curled lightly around the grip. This grip can feel strange to start, but advocates will tell you this soon passes.

Pros: This grip offers similar benefits to the V-grip, with the index finger providing stabilization, preventing unwanted sideways wrist flexion. It also provides good feel between the second finger and the thumb. It also helps with a crisper rotation at the end of the forward and back cast as it is more natural to snap the wrist this way.

Cons: This grip can be a problem for those who want to over use the wrist (over rotation) or use the wrist at the wrong time (loss of tension mid cast).

Summing up:

Some grips will have benefits over others, but the most important grip is one that is comfortable, relaxed and soft. A white knuckled tight grip will hinder your movement and line control, as well as being very tiring. Soft relaxed hands will help you feel the rod and thus control the loop’s form and shape. You only need to hold the rod with just enough force so that it does not slip from your hands. Try them out, you might find a new grip you prefer.