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!

 

How to Cast in Fly Fishing

Fishing flies generally don’t weigh much, usually they aren’t much more than a piece of fluff, so how can we cast this far enough and accurately enough to catch a fish ? Casting in fly fishing can seem a lot harder than it looks. But if you can understand the basic dynamics of what makes a good cast and how to spot a bad one, you are well on your way to learning this art.

Fly Casting

The aim of fly-casting is to cast a very light weight fly far enough and accurately enough to catch a fish. If you would like to learn about this fine art, read on and then why not book a lesson or two, or join us on one of introductory courses.

How does it work?

In regular fishing, you rely on the lure or sinker having some weight to enable you to cast far enough, and the more weight there is the further you can cast. In fly-casting, however, we have a virtually weightless fly and no sinker to cast with. So how do fly fishers cast so far?

Casting is achieved because of the special Fly Line that is used. In fly fishing we tie the fly to some thin nylon (leader), which in turn is tied to a special thick fly fishing line (Fly Line). The Fly Line actually has enough weight of its own to help us cast. The weight of the fly line is distributed along its length, and the more fly line we have out the more weight we have to work with, however there is some skill and timing required to cast it successfully. If the line is stretched in a straight line, it is easy to cast, but if the line is not fully straight, it is very difficult. More on this important topic later.

How far do you need to cast?

Current world record for fly-casting your typical stream rod is now around 40m (130ft) or more. Most anglers cannot consistently cast further than about 20m, yet they have no trouble catching fish. More than 95% of trout are caught within 10m, and in small streams even closer. So all this should be good news to the new fly angler; an accurate cast within 5 metres is all that is required on a stream, and on a lake 10 -15m is more than enough.

Getting started

We start with the line laid out in front of us in a nice straight line, holding the line in our other hand, or trapping it against the rod with our finger. We use the rod to pull the line and speed it up, and then when we have the line moving at maximum speed, we need to stop the rod in a short space.  When the rod slows and stops, the line keeps going, passes the rod tip, and forms a loop. This loop keeps travelling and straightens out behind us. When the line has straightened out (and before it falls to the ground), we reverse the process and pull the line in the other direction, speeding it up, then stop the rod to make the line go forward.

The loop is the shape the line makes as it moves through the air. As the curved front of the loop moves through the air, it leaves behind line attached to the rod (rod leg) and pulls the line attached to the fly (fly leg) through the air. As the loop unrolls, the rod leg gets longer and fly leg gets shorter, until the line straightens out completely. This is when we need to cast the line in the opposite direction. We can make many different shaped loops, however some loops are more effective than others are.

This casting forwards and backwards in the air is called false casting. False casting is used to lengthen how much line we have in the air, in preparation for the presentation cast. To false cast, we must have enough speed in the loop, so that we can let some loose line slip through our fingers and shoot out as the loop is travelling away from us.

The presentation cast is the final cast where we place the fly on the water. For the basic presentation cast we let the line straighten out above the water, and then land gently. This means that we do not disturb the water too much or scare the fish.

Basic casting Dynamics.

We use the rod to move the line, and we need to get it moving fast enough so it will carry the fly to our target. There are two main ways we can use the rod to move the line: like a giant lever (rotation) using our wrist or elbow, or moving it back and forth without rotation(translation).

Rotation: This is the natural way most people start to cast by using the wrist or elbow.  In doing so the rod rotates through an angle and the length of the rod multiples the movement of our hand. So much so that the rod tip (and hence the line) can be moved ten times faster than by our hand alone. This is the easiest way to speed up the line, except the rod tip will follow a convex curve (see diagram), which in turn creates wide-open inefficient loops, sometimes they are so wide that they are not really loops.

Bigloop

Translation: If we cast by moving our hand back and forth in a straight line, without flexing our wrist or elbow and rotating the rod (this is quite an unnatural movement), we can move the line only as fast as we can move our hands. This moves the rod tip in a straight line, and helps create narrower loops; however, it is requires a lot of effort to obtain enough speed for any respectable distance.

To make a great cast, you need to combine both movements.  If you look at videos (try YouTube) of great casters, you will see they use both rotation and translation in their casting stroke.  However, the amount and timing of each may vary between casters according to their unique style. You will also see that the wrist flex is generally kept to a minimum and the rotation occurs late in the stroke. If you watch in slow motion, you will see that their hands generally move in a straight line and manage to keep the rod tip moving in a straight line. This is helped in part by the fact a rod bends as force is applied to it, and unbends at the end of the rotation near the end of the stroke.

Loop shapes and casting efficiency

Our aim is to make smooth efficient loops that do not tangle. A good loop has smooth straight rod and fly legs parallel to each other. By keeping the legs of the loop parallel, we prevent tangles and knots forming in the leader. Knots (wind knots) in the leader are not caused by wind, but are caused by tailing loops. A tailing loop occurs when the loop legs cross over, which usually creates a knot in the leader.

tailingloop

We refer to the distance between the fly legs as the width of the loop. If the rod legs are close together, we call this a narrow loop and far apart, we call it a wide loop.

An efficient loop will be relatively narrow, with both the rod and fly legs smooth, straight and parallel to each other.

Narrowloop

Why is a narrow loop more efficient? Imagine you have a ping-pong ball and a small stone that weigh exactly the same. Which one can you throw further? The stone of course, but why?.

Air resistance: the stone will go further because it has much less air resistance than a ping pong ball. The air resistance will slow the ping-pong ball more than the stone; as the ping-pong ball moves forward it needs to push more air out of the way than the stone, so slows down much more quickly. It is the same with loops. A narrow loop has to push less air out of the way than a wide loop, so is more efficient.

How to cast efficient loops?

Some simple principles govern casting and making smooth straight narrow loops.
1. Smooth acceleration of the rod tip will keep the loops smooth.
2. For straight loops, we need to accelerate the line in a straight line. The rod tip pulls the line to speed it up, and the line will follow in the direction that the rod tip pulls. If the rod tip travels in a straight line, the line will travel in a straight line.
3. To form the loop, there needs to be a defined deceleration, a defined stop of the rod at the end of each stroke will achieve this.
4. Keep the line under tension and wait until the line is straight. The line needs to be straight and tight before a cast in the other direction is made. This means waiting for the loop to unroll and straighten between each false cast. The longer the line you are casting, the longer you must wait.

Common mistakes to avoid:

1. Too much rotation at wrist or elbow: leading to big wide loops and non-loops. Catching the ground behind or in front. (Rod tip following a concave curve)
2. Waving the rod. No acceleration or deceleration, just moving the rod at the same speed. Leads to lack of distance and open loops.
3. Too much force for a short stroke. If you try to use too much force, or hurry up a rod over a too-short stroke, the rod will bend too much and the rod tip will dip too much in the middle of the stroke leading to a concave rod tip path (see tailing loop diagram above). This always results in a tailing loop and knots in the leader.  This usually happens when we try to go for a bit more distance, especially on the presentation cast,
4. Weak back cast. If the back cast is weak, the line will not straighten out behind, leading to a loss of tension, and an ineffective forward cast.  This is because a lot of the forward cast is used to straighten out the line behind, and there is no weight to pull on.

If you would like to learn this fine art, why not book a lesson or two, or join us on one of Introductory Courses.