Fly Rod Buyer’s Guide
BY THE BEAVERKILL ROD COMPANY
Finding the right fly rod can be more than a bit overwhelming for those just getting into the sport, but don’t worry—we’re here to help. Use this general guide to assist you in understanding the basic differences between the various types of today’s single-handed, graphite fly rods.
While you can, of course, use this information to help you choose which model of Beaverkill is right for you, the same information applies to most every rod out there.
Fly rods are designed to be matched and cast with a particular and matching weight (wt) fly line; 1 wt being the smallest, lightest, and most delicate and 15 wt being the largest, heaviest, and strongest.
When we talk about “weight” you can think of it as simply the ‘thickness’ of the line—the greater the number, the greater the thickness. And you can probably figure out that a thicker line requires a stiffer rod to handle its associated greater weight. So a 1wt rod is much ‘springier’ than a 15 wt, because it’s designed to cast a much lighter line.
So, which rod? When determining what weight rod you will need/want it all comes down to the species of fish you will be pursuing. The tables below will work as general guidelines, though there is a fair amount of subjectivity here:
FRESHWATER ROD/LINE WT
- Panfish, small trout, small streams = 1-4 wt.
- Trout, rivers & lakes = 4-7 wt.
- Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, carp = 5-9 wt.
- Steelhead and salmon = 7-10 wt.
- Northern pike, muskie = 8-10 wt.
SALTWATER ROD/LINE WT
- Bonefish, snook, redfish, sea trout = 7-10 wt.
- Permit, striped bass, false albacore = 8-10 wt.
- Tarpon, tuna, dorado = 10-12 wt.
- Sailfish, marlin = 12-15 wt.
So is choosing the right rod just about the species of fish? Nope.
The casting distances, size of the fly you are using, presentation needs, and WIND all play a critical role as well. If you need to cast a big fly in a lot of wind for even relatively smaller fish, you may need a bigger rod than you would think. Or, if you are tarpon fishing, the flies you use are smaller than you would guess (given a huge fish), but the size of the fish requires the stiffness/strength of a 12 wt. In order to adjust for these various situations you will learn to move up or down in rod weight or size to achieve the “feel” of your liking.
Fly rods are much longer than your traditional spin rods. This is due to the casting style and line control needed in fly-fishing. The majority of fly rods are 9’ in length, although fly rods can vary anywhere from 6’ all the way up to 10 ½’. The 8.5’ - 9’ mark is generally the best overall length to achieve the best combo of casting distance and line control. For certain situations, shorter lengths rods are preferable for small creeks with tight surroundings and longer length rods are preferable for salmon and steelhead on large rivers.
One important misconception is that shorter people or beginners should use a shorter rod. Unlike skis, this is not true. Sure, a small child might do better with a shorter rod, but for most adults, shorter is not easier—in fact, it can be harder per the line control issues noted above. So we wouldn’t typically recommend choosing a shorter length due to lack of experience.
Actions or Tapers
Fly rods come in three general “actions” or “tapers:” slow, medium, and fast. This basically refers to how much the rod bends during casting. This is also the “feel” of the rod. Slow action rods will bend all the way down through the entire rod. Medium action rods will bend from the tip through about halfway down the rod. Fast action rods will only bend through the tip of the rod. The action of the rod affects presentation and casting distance; slow being the most delicate presentation and fast being the longest casting distance.
But most importantly this is where your own personal casting style and ‘feel’ preference plays a huge roll. The general rule is that novice fly fishermen and women are better off with slow to medium action rods because 1) they are more forgiving i.e., have a larger sweet spot and 2) teach you to really feel the rod and line working together thus you learn to become a better caster. Another general rule is the larger and stronger the fish you are pursuing is the faster action rod you will want. Wind has a large affect on what action you may choose as well, with faster action rods performing better in windier conditions.
Go out and cast the various action rods of the weight you want to get an idea for what feels the best and which fits your casting style the most.
Most fly rods come in two pieces, a ‘butt’ section and a ‘tip’ section (although one piece rods all the way up to eight piece rods are out on the market). Generally speaking, 3 or 4 piece rods give you the best of performance with convenience for travel and storage. Now that rod technology has solved some of the old issues of the connections between the sections (called the “ferrule”), multi-piece rods continue to grow in popularity because of that convenience factor.
Until you’re well-versed in fly casting you won’t be able to truly notice the difference in performance of single or multi-piece rods—so choose according to travel needs and what overall rod you prefer.
Fly rod grips are typically made of cork (a few less expensive rods use foam). The different styles are available to match you hand size and type, casting style, and type of fish. Grips have very little to do with the performance of the rod and more to do with how your hand feels at the end of the day. Make sure it is comfortable for you. Just know that larger, fuller grips are preferable for bigger fish and longer more powerful casts usually associated with heavier rods and smaller, slimmer grips are preferable for the more delicate presentations associated with shorter more accurate casts of a lighter rod.
Fighting butts are another piece of cork or rubber extended at the base of the rod behind the reel seat. Fighting butts are generally only found on 7wt rods and heavier. Some are removable; others (typically on the largest of rods) are permanently attached to the end of the rod. The use of a fighting butt is for a larger area of the rod to be placed against your body while fighting fish, to keep the reel handle away from your body and clothing as well as providing you a better leverage point to help you in long battles.
The rod’s reel seat is where the reel is secured to the rod. Most rods use a simple ‘locking screw ring’ type set up, though lighter rods may only have simple sliding rings to secure the reel. This, again, has little to no performance-based value on the rod. Just make sure it is well made and sturdy, to keep your reel securely in place. The reel seat can, however, play a major role in the overall aesthetics of a rod, so here your personal tastes does come into play.
Guides are exactly that—they ‘guide’ the fly line down the length of the rod. Most common are “snake” guides, pretty much what most every rod on the market uses. Just make sure that the guides are made of high quality material so they are hard, abrasion-resistant, and corrosion-resistant so they will stand up to a lifetime of line slicing through them.
In closing we hope this information has helped you make a better-informed choice in finding the fly rod that’s right for you. As you have probably now realize, every fly rod has a different application, and there’s still plenty of room for personal tastes and preferences. We’d recommend that you keep an open mind and just dive in.
If you still find yourself in need of some help visit your local fly shop, guide, casting instructor, or rod builder and get a hands-on lesson or demo. Or, feel free to shoot us an email and we’ll be glad to offer guidance.