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Fly Rod Buyer's Guide at Cabela's

Fly Rod Buyer's Guide

Author: Mike Schoby

Our Fly Rod Buyer’s Guide is sure to steer you in the right direction, regardless if your intended quarry is bluegills or blue marlin.

For a novice, looking to get into the sport of fly-fishing, there may be no more daunting task than selecting the right fly rod. With dozens upon dozens of different models, configurations and styles to choose from, where does one begin? Our Fly Rod Buyer’s Guide is sure to steer you in the right direction, regardless if your intended quarry is bluegills or blue marlin.

Weight Ratings
Fly rods are designed to cast a particular weight fly line - this is known as their weight rating. Rods are rated anywhere from 1 through 14, with 1 being the lightest fly line and 14 being the heaviest. While the size of fish does play a part in how heavy or a light a fly rod should be, wind, casting distances, and fly size is just as critical in selecting the right fly rod weight.

These charts provide a general outline of recommended fly rod weights for various fresh and saltwater species:

Freshwater Species Rod Wt.
Panfish (bluegills, redears, crappies, pumpkinseeds, etc) 2-5
Average-size trout - lakes and streams 4-6
Smaller trout in small creeks 1-4
Smallmouth Bass 5-8
Largemouth Bass 6-9
Steelhead 7-9
Salmon 8-10
Northern Pike and Muskie 8-10
Grayling 2-5
Northern Pike and Muskie 8-10

Saltwater Species Rod Wt.
Bonefish 7-9
Tarpon 10-12
Mahi-Mahi (dolphin, dorado) 10-14
Sailfish and Marlin 14

It is easy to see there is a substantial amount of overlap in fly rod weights and one rod can be successfully used for several species. However, it should be noted that one rod cannot do it all. If your fishing includes trout, grayling and panfish, a five weight could easily meet these needs. If your fishing ranges from bluegills in the summer to steelhead in the winter - a single rod does not exist that would cover these extremes effectively. In this case it is best to own two rods, a lightweight 4 weight for panfish and a heavier 8 weight for steelhead. If you regularly fish in windy conditions, cast long distances or use large/heavy fly patterns, pick a rod on the heavier end of the spectrum for the given species.

Fly rod action refers to how much of a fly rod bends during casting. Length
The first thing aspiring fly anglers notice about fly rods is their extraordinarily long length. Nine feet is one of the more common lengths found on fly rods today. In years past, fly rods were made much shorter, due to the heavy blank materials, i.e., bamboo and fiberglass, but with today’s ultra-light graphite construction used in the vast majority of rods, lengths can be longer with the weight being kept to a minimum. For most situations, longer is better; it provides more distance when casting, better line controlling abilities and better line mending. While there are exceptions, nine feet is a good all-around length. Obviously for certain situations shorter rods are preferable (small creeks) and in some situations longer rods perform better (steelheading on large rivers).

Fly rods can be had in several actions or tapers. The action refers to how much of the rod bends during casting. Fly rods are rated from slow to fast. On a fast rod only the first third of tip should bend when casting. On a medium action, the rod should bend from the tip to the halfway point. A slow action rod will bend all the way to the grip during casting. Each type of rod has its merits, pros and cons. Determining which rod works best for you depends upon many factors including your own particular casting style, and desired performance (i.e. wind, distance and presentation).

It is best to cast several actions to determine what works best for you, but generally speaking novice anglers will do better with the more forgiving nature of a slow to medium action rod, while more advanced anglers will receive the utmost in performance from faster action rods.

Multi-piece Rods
Traditionally, most rods were two-piece rods (one ferrule joining a butt and tip section together). And this tradition continues today with the two-piece design still being the most common and arguably has the smoothest casting properties, but for the traveler or hiker looking for a rod that will fit into a small package for transportation, a multi-piece rod might be the perfect solution. Multi-piece rods come in many variations from three piece all the way to seven-piece rods and can be had in a variety of weights. Generally speaking, the less pieces the stronger and smoother the rod will perform, but advents in blank material and ferrule technology has narrowed the gap between single and multiple-piece rods considerably.

On fly rods, the reel hangs from the reel seat much like it would on a spinning rod and there are several styles to choose from. Reel Seats
A reel seat on a fly rod is essentially like a reel seat on any other type of rod - in short it is a place to secure the reel. On fly rods, the reel "hangs" from the reel seat much like it would from a spinning rod and there are several styles to choose from. On lighter weight rods, simple sliding rings will perform fine, but on heavier rods intended for prolonged fights (often off the reel) locking (either up or down) reel seats are mandatory as they provide a surer, wobble-free place for the reel.

Grips Styles
The best fly rods utilize high-quality cork for a grip. However there are several styles of cork grip available to match your hand type, casting style and fish sought. While in all honesty the style of the grip has the least amount of affect on the performance of the rod - it does make a difference between enjoying a day casting and one that is uncomfortable. Select a grip that fits your casting style and hand size for the best performance, but keep in mind, fuller grips perform better for long, powerful casts with heavy rods, while lighter, thinner grips are the preferred choice for shorter casts and more accurate, delicate presentations with lighter rods.

There are several styles of cork grip available to match your hand type, casting style and fish sought. Fighting Butts
Fighting butts are an extension of cork or rubber at the base of the rod, behind the reel seat. Typically found on heavier rods (8 weight and above) designed for prolonged battles with large, powerful fish. A fighting butt provides a large diameter area to firmly place the rod against your body while fighting a fish. Not only does it give you a leverage point, it keeps the reel handle far enough away from your body to keep it from snagging on clothing and accidentally breaking off a fish.

While there are several types of fly rod guides, the most common are snake guides. A quality fly rod is easily recognized by a large amount of guides (one at least every foot) while a poorly made one has only a few. By using more guides, a fly rod can more effectively take the strain of casting as well as playing a fish by distributing the load evenly over the entire length of the blank. In addition to the number of guides, what they are made out of also plays a part in the longevity and performance of the rod. Poor-quality guides are made of soft steel that may or may not be corrosion resistant. After just a few seasons, they will become grooved by the line and will rapidly tear up any line ran through them. On the other end of the spectrum, high-quality guides are made from extremely hard, abrasion-resistant materials such as Sic (silicone carbide) and will stand up to a lifetime of use.

Choosing the right fly rod may seem complicated at first, but by understanding the differences among rods, and determining your specific needs, you will go a long way towards enjoying your time on the water.