Getting Started in Fly Fishing – Part 1 Fly Rod Selection

Various Fly Rods

During my adolescence I was lucky enough to spend my summer holidays at Christina Lake in southwestern British Columbia, Canada. I spent most of my time fishing the lake and nearby creeks with spinning gear and a worm. One enlightening day, when I was eight, I saw a person fly fishing for the first time and asked my dad what they were doing. He proceeded to explain the concept of fly fishing and from that point on I had to have a fly rod. The first question I pondered was “What equipment do I need to start”.

I’m asked this exact question day after day and thought it would be a good idea to go through the different equipment you will need to get started in fly fishing. Over the next few weeks, I will review all the different equipment needed (fly rods, reels, lines, leaders, knots, etc.) and what questions you will have to ask yourself before you buy.

Let’s begin by looking at finding the proper fly rod. I will only focus on single hand rods, for now, as these fly rods are what people usually start with.

There are many different fly rod manufacturers in the world and selecting one can be a very daunting task but if you follow these guidelines it should make your decision easier and enjoyable. Since graphite fly rods are the standard, we will assume you are going to purchase one of these. There are three main factors that should be considered before buying a fly rod: length, weight, and action. There are other qualities about the rod, such as modulus strength and so on, but we will stick to the basics.

*** Important Note: Make sure you know your budget before buying, as fly rods can vary in price from $100 to well over $1,000.

How long should the fly rod be?

  • If the majority of your fishing will be lakes and large rivers then the fly rod should be 9 to 10 ft. in length. You will want the extra length to encourage longer casts and enable you to cast larger flies and/or strike indicators.
  • If you will only be fishing small streams the fly rod should be 7.5 – 8.5 ft because you will want more precise, shorter casts and shorter fly rods allow for a more delicate presentation.
  • If you plan to fish all of the above then the fly rod should be 9.0 ft. A fly rod in this length is the perfect all-around fly rod. I have a few fly rods that are 9.0 ft and have used them in every circumstance.

NOTE: Fly rods can be bought in as few as two pieces (stronger but tougher to pack) and up to six pieces (break easier but good packing rods). As a general rule, I’ve found that two-piece rods are stronger and can handle more bend than multiple piece rods, due to fewer ferules (where the sections fit together). My favorites are three and four piece rods, since I don’t mind giving up some strength for convenience.

A G-Loomis NativeRun Rod and Case

What weight fly rod should I buy?

  • The general rule is “the higher the number (weight) the heavier/thicker the fly rod”.
  • The weight system works this way: One (1) to three (3) wt fly rods are light and ideal when targeting smaller fish in small to medium waters. Four (4) to seven (7) wt fly rods are made for medium to large trout, bass, and other freshwater game fish. These fly rod weights are ideal for the all-around fishermen. Eight (8) to twelve (12) wt fly rods are designed to handle the larger and/or stronger game fish such as Steelhead, Salmon, Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon.
  • If you were to have one all-around fly rod for trout, I would select a 9.5 ft – 6 wt. This rod is ideal for many BC lakes and rivers.
  • If you are lucky and can afford multiple fly rods, then I would have a four (4) wt for smaller river fishing and an eight (8) wt for the larger fish but remember to stay within your budget… rods can be expensive!!
A G-Loomis 9 Foot 6 weight StreamDace Rod

A G-Loomis 9 Foot 6 weight StreamDace Rod

Should my fly rod have a fast, medium or slow action?

  • The fly rods ‘action’ is directly related to the ‘stiffness’. If the fly rod has a fast action, it is stiffer. If the rod has a slow action, it is softer.
  • Most people starting to fly fish will not be able to really tell the difference but as they progress they will develop a “feel” for the action they like.
  • The only true way to select the right ‘action’ of your fly rod is to try it out. Most retailers will string the rod up and allow you to take some test casts.
  • Generally, stiffer/faster rods allow for quicker casts but are not as sensitive. A soft/slow rod may not load the line as quickly as a stiff rod, but they are more sensitive.
  • When I am fishing lakes I love to use a soft/slow fly rod because it allows me to detect strikes much quicker. When I am using sink tip lines in a river I like a stiffer/fast fly rod, so I can cast the fly quickly and accurately.
A G-Loomis GL3 Fly Rod

A G-Loomis GL3 Fly Rod

Summary on fly rods

No one will be able to tell you what fly rod is perfect for you. You will have to figure that out on your own but if you answer the questions above honestly, it should help in your decision. If you have friends that fly fish, ask to try their fly rod. If they are true friends they will allow you a few casts.

High-end rods can be expensive but are usually guaranteed for a lifetime, so worth the value. You have to remember to set a budget BEFORE entering the store or going on-line and realize that less expensive rods can be a good staring point. A well-treated fly rod can be passed on for generations.

In Part 2, I will review reels and lines.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below, or email Don Freschi at askdon@sfotf.ca