As well as explaining some of the history of fly fishing, we’re going to use this section to help you understand how to choose a fly rod from the huge range of products available from the various rod manufacturers out there. We’re going to talk you through the different types of fly rod and we’ll recommend a set of fly rods that will equip most anglers for almost any fly fishing situation they will come across. Finally we’re going to name what we feel are some of the best fly rods at each price point – from basic to luxury.
With so many fish to go after, it’s important to choose the right fishing rod and when you’re dealing with fly rods, it’s especially important to see past the patter of the fishing rod salesmen. Since these rods can be used in all situations and in both fresh and saltwater, what things do you need to consider when buying a fly rod?
- 1 How to choose a fly fishing rod
- 2 Different types of fly rods
- 3 Recommended fly rods
- 4 What are the best fly rods?
- 4.1 Recommended fly rods up to $150
- 4.2 Recommended mid-range fly rods – $150 – $300
- 4.3 Recommended premium fly rods
- 4.4 Recommended spey casting rods
- 5 About fly fishing
How to choose a fly fishing rod
Once you’ve got a budget and/or a brand in mind, focus your attention on line weight and rod action. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a little rule of thumb you can follow… Think about:
- The size of flies you’ll be fishing
- The conditions you’ll be casting in
- The size and power of the fish
Start with the fly, not the rod. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the weight of your fly and the conditions in which you’re fishing will invariably determine the weight of the fly line you need to use, which in turn dictates the rod weight. Heavier fly lines and more powerful rods are required for big flies, strong winds and long range casting; small flies, close-quarter tactics and calm conditions usually mean you can get away with a very light line and a whippy rod.
If you think about it, that’s how it should be – the objective here is to catch the fish, and to catch the fish you need to cast the right bait into the right position at the right time. After that it’s just a case of hauling in the unhappy fish! And that’s where factor three comes in: the size of the fish. Needless to say, big fish don’t always take big flies. Nor do they always require a long-range cast on a blustery day. Sometimes you can hook them on a tiny fly right under your feet. Does that mean you should use a light line and rod? No, it does not. Have a watch of this video of us tarpon fishing in Costa Rica. We were fishing from boats so we didn’t really need to cast at all – we could simply backdrift, handline, and let the line out with the current. But when you see the kind of power these beasts have, you’ll realise why you need a big, stiff, powerful rod.
Fly rods usually come with a recommended line weight, which runs from grade one, being the lightest, through to grade fourteen. Grades one to, say, four, are best for fishing small, narrow streams where you’ll catch smaller fish; grades five to eight are often used for trout; grades eight to eleven work for salmon and steelhead or saltwater species like bonefish and striped bass; while weights twelve to fourteen are usually only used for very strong species – perhaps large salmon in freshwater; tarpon, jacks and GTs in salt. Don’t feel you can’t stray from the manufacturer’s rating, though. The great Lefty Kreh – a famous fisherman and fantastic caster – believed that line rating was little more than just a guide and would happily move one or two line weights in either direction.
So the rule of thumb? Lighter rods and lines are generally more pleasurable to cast than heavy ones, and there will undoubtedly be times when you’re doing a lot more casting than catching, so enjoying the casting is important! What’s more, lighter tackle will help you present the fly more precisely and with less of a disturbance to the water (and the fish!), which at times can be crucial to your success. So weigh up the conditions, the approximate size of fly you’ll be using and the strength of the fish you’re trying to catch, and opt for a rod and line combination that has sufficient strength to subdue the quarry, but is light enough to enjoy casting for hours on end without getting thoroughly fed up!
Different types of fly rods
Fly fishing entails casting line rather than throwing a weight or lure, so a different type of cast is required from conventional fishing. The type of cast used will vary with the conditions and circumstances in which the angler finds himself, and different styles of casting require different lengths and designs of fly rod. The length, power and taper of the rod work together to transfer the fisherman’s action and strength into line speed, distance and accuracy.
The most common cast is the overhead cast, in which the fly line is raised up and over the angler’s shoulder, then brought forwards towards the fish, with the whole line being airborne at all times. The energy stored in the rod is transmitted to the line, which fires out straight behind the angler, with the ‘back cast’, and then forwards again with the forward cast. Most fly rods are designed with overhead casting in mind, so they are long enough to generate sufficient line speed, but short and light enough to be wielded with one hand. Lightweight fly rods will probably range between 7 and 9 feet and should take between #4 and #7 fly lines (possibly lighter, but that is getting into the range of fairly specialist tackle). Typical mid-range fly rods will be between 9 and 11 feet and should suit a line of between #6 and 9-weight. Heavy fly rods will also be between 9 and 11 feet, but will suit lines of between #9 and #14-weight.
Sometimes the overhead cast cannot be used, for example where the angler is fishing with trees or an obstacle directly behind him. At such times one of a number of ‘roll casts’ can be used. Roll casting enables the angler to keep most of the line in front of his position, using a combination of friction and change of direction to create ‘load’ in the rod, which is then used to produce forward momentum in the line. A popular form of roll cast is the ‘spey cast’, named after the River Spey in Scotland, where it was developed. We’ll look at spey casting in a little more detail below, but typical spey casting rods will be fished two-handed, will be much longer – typically anywhere between 12 and 16 feet – and will take fly lines of between #9 and #12, or perhaps more.
Recommended fly rods
Skip to best fly rods >>
With so much choice available, we’re going to try to help you cut down the options slightly, by recommending a set of rods that should equip even the most intrepid fly angler for almost any situation. Of course there are more options available, but in our humble opinion, the following should be suitable for 90% of the fly fishing situations you’re going to encounter.
Light fly rod
If you intend to fish for small trout, grayling, largemouth or smallmouth bass, or perhaps the smaller coarse fish species in the UK and Europe, you’ll probably want to get yourself a lightweight fly rod. Although I know they exist, I’ve never fished with anything less than a 4-weight, which is light and whippy enough to enjoy catching even the smallest fish. Take a look at the recommended rods below, several of which offer a 4 or 5-weight option. If you want to save time, we think you can’t go too far wrong with this pretty little 7.5-foot fiberglass rod from Red Truck. Gorgeous.
All-round, mid-weight trout / bass / bonefish rod
Throughout my fly fishing career I have used a number 7-weight trout rod for almost all my conventional fly fishing. I’ve caught small trout in reservoirs, strong seatrout from Scottish rivers, rainbows and grayling in Alaska, striped bass in Cape Cod and bonefish on the Bahama flats. Strong enough to punch out a line but soft enough to play a small fish, I’ve found this to be an excellent all-rounder and would recommend this rod weight to anyone as the first purchase. You can see some recommended models below.
Heavy duty fly rod
If you’re planning on catching big fish on fly, but you don’t need a spey casting rod, you’ll probably want something like a single-handed ten-to-twelve-weight. This rod should serve you well for salmon – perhaps in the narrower Scottish or North American rivers where a long cast isn’t required. Obviously a twelve-weight will take more punishment than a ten-weight, but it will also be stiffer, harder to cast and won’t give such a delicate presentation. As I said before, try to fish as light as you can without feeling under-equipped to battle the fish. A ten-to-twelve-weight should double up as a serious saltwater fly rod, ideal for catching GTs, tarpon, barracuda and permit. If you’re after 100lb+ tarpon in Costa Rica, go with a twelve. If you’re more likely to chase double-figure salmon, go with a ten-weight.
[Image courtesy of Farlex reels]
Spey casting or double-handed fly rod
While in some places it’s always possible to use an overhead cast, sometimes, particularly when fishing remote, overgrown rivers, you’ll have no room behind you whatsoever. Spey casting, or spey rods, are a type of double-handed fly rod for exactly this situation. The art of spey casting and the rods that are used to perform it were developed by anglers fishing for salmon on Scotland’s famous River Spey, where high, overgrown banks made overhead casting virtually impossible. With plenty of salmon running, fishermen realised a new style of casting was required and they began using roll casts. But with their traditional single-handed fly rods, a roll cast wasn’t sufficient. The River Spey, although not hugely deep, is a wide river and anglers regularly found their flies falling short. And so, due to the length of cast required and the size of flies being used, they developed longer, more powerful rods, with which they could cast their heavy flies much greater distances. At between twelve and sixteen feet, Spey rods must be fished two-handed and, although it is possible to cast them overhead, the traditional method is to form a large loop where much of the line remains in contact with the water. Forward power is then generated through a combination of line weight and surface tension.
To keep things simple, I’m going to recommend a few different rods – some of which you can buy at various weights, others you can’t. Please note, these are just our own feelings on the matter. If you feel like you need a second opinion, please get one.
Recommended fly rods up to $150
Ross Essence FC Rod
There are much cheaper fly rods out there and some of them are probably great rods, but we wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending anything under $100. We’ve heard too many stories of rods breaking or falling apart at the seams. The Rod Essence series, on the other hand, comes highly recommended and we’ve heard excellent things. if you’re just getting into fly fishing or you want a decent rod that’s not going to set you back a month’s pay, you could do a lot worse than one of these beauties.
Recommended mid-range fly rods – $150 – $300
TFO Temple Fork Lefty Kreh Professional Series II Graphite Fly Fishing Rod
From 3-weight to 10-weight Temple Fork Outfitters make a fantastic range of rods, which are definitely better than their price would suggest. I’ve fished with some of the best tackle on the market but the difference between those and a TFO is negligible. Between us here at Drowning Worms we own several TFO rods and we rate them very highly. Great casting rods with a medium-fast action.
Redington Vapen Red Fly Rod
We talked about this rod in our page on fishing rod brands and manufacturers because it’s a rod we love. As well as being very unusual (yet pleasing) on the eye, it’s also a 4-piece travel rod and therefore much more convenient for overseas trips. It’s reportedly lovely to cast and has a very good build quality. if you want something a little different, this could be the rod for you (also available with a cork handle).
Recommended premium fly rods
Hardy Zenith #7 Fly Fishing Rod
There are certain rods we simply desire and the Hardy Zenith is one of them. Having spent quite a few years in the wilderness, Hardy have come back with a bang with their new proprietary ‘Sintrix’ rod construction. When I first tried these rods (I remember it was a nine-weight, double-handed, spey casting rod) I was utterly blown away. Until that time I was happy with my own rod, which I’d been using for years. This rod showed me just how much fishing rods have developed over recent years. Truly stunning.
Sage ONE Fly Rod
This is the rod we’d buy if money wasn’t an issue! There are thousands of good rods out there and plenty of excellent ones too, but if money wasn’t an option, we’d be buying ourselves a Sage One. Ironically it’s not the top-of-the-range rod from Sage, that prize goes to the ‘Method’, but we’ve spoken to enough excellent casters and done enough research to know that the ONE is every bit as good as the Method, if not even better. If anyone feels like buying the Drowning Worms team a Christmas present, a bucket load of these would go down nicely!!
Recommended spey casting rods
There are anglers out there who will only fish with old, tattered fishing tackle and who will tell you that one rod is as good as any other. With fly rods, this simply is not true and, to a large extent, you get what you pay for. What’s more, the longer and more powerful the rod becomes, the more obvious the difference between an average rod and a great rod becomes. Spey casting rods need to take an awful lot of pressure – they are turning over heavy flies and heavy lines and are expected to produce long-distance, accurate casts. If there is a rod out there you should invest your savings in, you could do a lot worse than to spend more on a good double-handed fly rod. That’s not to say there aren’t options. The Greys rod below is a fine rod (don’t worry that nobody has reviewed it, apparently there aren’t many salmon rods selling via Amazon at the moment!). But if you spend more on one of the Hardy rods further down, you will notice a marked difference in your casting ability. Given that 99.9% of the average salmon fisherman’s time is spent casting and not catching, this may be a worthwhile consideration.
We’ve selected the 14-foot 9-weight. A #9 line and matching rod will serve you well in all but the most extreme salmon fishing situations. Sure, you may not be able to cast quite as far as the guys with a 16-foot monster, but there really aren’t many circumstances where you’ll need to. Trust us when we say that a well-presented, straight cast of 30 metres will out-fish a messy 40-metre cast 8 times out of 10. What’s more, a 14-foot rod will be lighter, nicer to use and will be versatile enough to use on smaller rivers where a longer rod would be cumbersome. Greys are owned by the same company that own Hardy and you can bet that their rod blanks are made in the same factories. Make no mistake, these are great rods.
Hardy Marksman double-handed fly rod
There was a time when there was nothing better than a Hardy rod. In the late 1800s the Hardy brothers dominated the fly fishing world and led by example, competing in casting competitions throughout Europe and America – and winning. Since then, the brand has had its ups and downs, and there was a period where their build quality became suspect – so much so that many of the anglers I knew wouldn’t go near them. Thankfully those days are long gone and today Hardy is right back up at the peak of rod making – competing as one of the world’s best manufacturers. This 4-piece Marksman is evidence of exactly that – solid build quality and immense casting power in a rod that’s light enough to fish all day happily. We would use one of these without thinking twice.
Hardy Zenith spey rod – the ultimate?
Claiming to be up to 60 percent stronger and 30 percent lighter, the Zenith uses Hardy’s new Sintrix rod construction, which I had to try before believing. These rods are in a different league. The one I tried was a 9-weight, 14-footer yet I could cast consistently further, smoother and with better presentation than with my own 15-foot rod, which I’ve been casting for years. Needless to say, I am upgrading. You won’t be disappointed if you do the same – it’s a gorgeous, powerful rod, with the fittings and titanium guides you’d expect from a rod of this price.
About fly fishing
Whether you love trout and salmon, feel like trying a new method for your favourite species, or fancy treating yourself to a saltwater fly fishing trip of a lifetime, the beauty of this approach is its simplicity. No digging for bait, no mess, nothing to refrigerate – all you need is a fly rod, reel, fly line, some leader material and a box of flies. What could be easier?
Although it is believed to date back as far as the 2nd Century, fly fishing was only popularised when Izaak Walton wrote the Compleat Angler, which wasn’t published until 1653. Nowadays it is extremely popular and fly fishermen can be found in both fresh and salt water, chasing a variety of species all over the globe.
Freshwater fly fishing
In North America popular freshwater fish include trout, salmon, char, steelhead, bass and pike. In Britain and Europe, the most popular fly-caught species are ‘game fish’ like trout, salmon and grayling. Having said that, in recent years coarse species have become increasingly popular on fly, including pike, zander, chub, carp, bream – and whatever else the committed fly angler can tempt.
Saltwater fly fishing
Saltwater is a different matter. Around the UK and Europe you can catch a large number of predatory fish on fly, notably bass, pollock, mackerel and even cod. In more tropical areas anglers pursue the likes of bonefish and tarpon, which offer very little value as food, but which provide tremendous sport on fly tackle – especially when hooked in shallow water, where they often feed. Other popular species are permit, giant trevally (GTs), redfish, striped bass and snook, although there are many more.
We hope this information helps you as you embark on or continue your fly fly fishing journey and we’ll hope to see you on the river bank some time. Tight lines!
Brook trout image credit: Trippy Trouters
Disclaimer: Please note, although we feature advertisers on the site, we are not paid to promote any rods or brands in particular and these are our own true opinions. We do use Amazon affiliate links, which is one way that we make money from this site, but the price to you doesn’t change.