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Whip It: How to Choose a Fly Rod

Few feelings rival the anticipation that builds while waiting for a trout to rise, and having the right rod in your hand only elevates the thrill when you finally set the hook. Backcountry Gearhead Brandon Collett spent a day with our video crew on the famed Provo River to share a few tips on choosing the perfect rod.


As applied to fly rods, weight is an indication of the species and river conditions for which the rod is best suited, not a reference to its actual physical weight. Generally, lower weight rods are preferred for smaller streams and species while heavier weight rods are intended for large species and big bodies of water. For a reference point, a rod weight in the four to six range is considered ideal for the typical western trout river.


Fly rods usually range from 7 to 10 feet in length, although some two-handed spey casting rods can be several feet longer. Rods in the 7 to 8.5 foot range are ideal for tight casting on overgrown riverbanks,and will help you achieve a delicate presentation in those conditions.  An 8.5 to 9 foot rod will provide the greatest versatility, and will excel on medium size rivers, yet still provide good performance on small streams and larger waters. Rods measuring 9 feet and longer will be the go-to choice for bigger species, large size flies, and windy conditions that require greater control and casting power.


The action of a fly rod is a reference to where and how the rod flexes. Fast-action fly rods isolate the majority of the flex in the tip of the rod, while the middle and lower sections of the rod will remain fairly stiff. A fast-action flex pattern is ideal for long casts, heavy flies, and windy conditions. Medium-action rods will begin to flex in the middle of the rod, making them a very versatile option. If you’re new to fly fishing or looking to own just one rod, a medium-action is the way to go. Slow-action rods have the softest flex of the three categories, and are favored for the gentlest presentations. When the name of the game is floating delicate dry flies, a slow-action rod is the secret for success.


Video Transcription

Hey, this is Brandon from We’re up here on the Provo River
today outside our home base in Utah. Today I’m going to walk you through how to
choose the right fly rod.

Three biggest considerations when choosing a fly rod are weight, length,
and action. Today we’re going to be looking mainly at trout fishing rods
although those three considerations hold true for any species. Now when
we’re talking about the weight of a fly rod, we’re not actually talking
about how heavy it is and the actual physical weight of it. We’re more
talking about the application of the rod. The higher the number of the weight
of the rod, the further I’m going to be able to cast and the more power I’m
going to fight a larger species of fish.

So in determining which weight of a fly rod to get, you want to consider
three main things- the species that you’re going for, the size of the
river, and the technique you’re going to be using. Now for most trout
fishermen, they’ll find themselves falling into the four to six weight
category with the five weight really being perfect for most uses. But
if you’re spending most of your time on big open water, big rivers, fishing
for big brown trout, that type of thing, you’re going to want a bigger
weight rod like a six plus.

So today we’re on the Provo River which I would consider a small/medium
size river. This is going to be ideal for a four and five weight, even a
six weight, but if I was up fishing the Madison in Montana or other large
rivers, I’d probably be throwing more like a six, maybe a seven or even an
eight weight.

The next main consideration when choosing a fly rod is length. A typical
trout rod will be eight and a half to nine feet, but the range for all
species generally is seven to ten feet with the exception of spey casting
where you find much longer rods for two handed use. Your shorter length
rods are typically for trout fishing and smaller stream applications.

When you’re in a brushy stream, it’s nice to have a shorter rod and these
shorter rods also help with your presentation for delicate dry fly fishing. An
eight and a half to nine foot rod is ideal for most trout flying purposes. It will
really excel in medium size rivers and lakes, but it will also get the job
done on your smaller streams and bigger waters.

Your longer length rods like a nine and a half, a 10 footer or even more
are going to have a lot more power. They’re going to be ideal when you find
yourself fishing on a bigger river, lake, maybe the ocean. It’s going to
help a lot on those windy days throwing those bigger flies, and it’s going
to be ideal for larger species of fish.

The third consideration we’re looking at today is fly-rod action. The
action in the fly rod is determined by how and where the fly rod flexes.
Fast action fly rods have most of the flex at the top and the rest of the
rod will be pretty stiff. These rods are generally more powerful and they
excel at throwing heavier flies, casting longer distances, and casting in
the wind.

Medium action rods are going to be a little bit softer than the fast action
rods, and the flex is going to come more from the mid-section. This is
going to let you cast dry flies more delicately although you’ll still see
some of the advantages you see in fast action rods if you’re casting
further distances and throwing heavier flies. With this being said, if
you’re only going to have one rod, a medium action rod is probably going to
be what you want. They’re going to be the most versatile fly rods out
there and they’re also great for beginners.

Slow action fly rods are going to be the softest of the three actions we’re
talking about today with the flex coming from the bottom of the rod. This
soft flex is going to allow to land a fly much more gently than the other
two actions. Whether we’re talking about fishing a small stream or throwing
dries on a much larger river, the name of the game with slow action fly
rods is presentation.

So that wraps up the three determining factors in how to choose the right
fly rod- weight, length, and action. Keep in mind we’re really just
scratching the surface here, so if you have any further questions about fly
fishing, fly rods, or anything that we sell at, feel free
to call or chat in with our knowledgeable Gearheads.

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