If there is one article online on “how to choose a fly rod,” there are a hundred. Generally, the information contained therein is pretty solid. As long as someone isn’t shilling for a particular company, communicating the basics is a straightforward task for an angler that has been around fly rods for a while. Experts, or those who quote experts, can guide you through tapers, modulus counts, and enough technological jargon to make you wonder what exactly you’re getting yourself into.
This article is not that. Finish reading this, then go Google “fly rod buying guide” – I insist. There are other websites that excel at such things. Within the industry there are guys and girls that literally cast fly rods for a living. They can break down every 5-weight on the market with the nuanced verbiage of a master sommelier. That stuff is important, but, as I’ll attempt to convince you, it shouldn’t be top priority.
From buying fly rods for nearly twenty years, and selling them in one capacity or another for a good chunk of that, I think there are three truly essential things to consider as you shop for your next fly rod:
This is so incredibly preliminary, but it can’t be overlooked. If you’re going to seriously shop for another fly rod, you must have a designated line weight nailed down. That doesn’t mean that you’re committing wholeheartedly, but you have to start somewhere. Knowing you want an 8-weight for smallmouth allows you to go in to the buying process with a frame of reference. As you go deeper, a 7- or a 9-weight might leave an impression on you that steers you in that direction.
And ultimately, the number the builder puts on that rod is a strong suggestion. Contrary to popular belief (or, practice), the graphite won’t explode if you underline or overline the rod.
Second only to picking a line weight, establishing this criterion is going to do more for you than anything else. Are you in such a position financially that money is absolutely not a concern? Then skip this step… and make a generous donation to Casting Across.
However, for most people, a price range is a really beneficial thing. Can you spend $700 on a rod? Then by all means, spend up to $700. Look at everything in the $500 to $700 range. If $300 is your budget, that is totally fine too. These days, plenty of “economy” or “entry level” rods are more than adequate for any and all tasks you’ll ask of them.
That being said, the tech and components in the higher end models will justify that purchase if your ledger can accommodate such an expense.
Does It Work?
Here is the absolutely most essential, necessary part of buying a fly rod:
Can you cast it?
With your casting stroke, are you able to feel it load well? Or do you have to significantly alter how you cast to compensate for the action and length?
Do you fish for trout on small streams? How does it perform at 20 or 30 feet? Who cares if you can unload a whole spool of 4-weight line. Does the rod seem like a tool that will help you delicately and precisely lay midges where you want?
If you are fishing for big game or in the salt, which line shoots the straightest? Knowing full well that the angler is the one doing the bulk of the work, certain rods will mesh better with your stroke. You’ll notice this in tighter loops and less wiggle as you lay that cast down.
Again, your skill is a huge variable. If you’ve never picked up a two-handed rod before, don’t expect the top of the line model to make you proficient in spey casting. At the same time, some rods will help hide the weaknesses of beginners.
This element of the process will help you with deciding things like length, aesthetics, and material as well. Making bamboo an option will be determined by your price range. Whether you should go for graphite or fiberglass will probably become clear as you cast multiple rods.
Which leads to part B of the third step:
Does It Work Best?
Cast all the rods in your price range. Even if that means a dozen. Enjoy the process. Take notes, bring a friend, and make it an adventure. Head to a well-stocked fly shop or an expo show and work that casting pond / pavement. A good employee at a good shop can be invaluable. Chances are they know what they’re doing. They can help point out some things about how you’re casting each rod that you may very well be missing. Don’t feel guilty about doing it either. Just don’t go hop on Amazon to save $10 after a shop employee spent over an hour with you.
- Know what you want to fish for.
- Know what you can afford.
- Know that you can cast it, and that you can cast it better than any other rod that fits into the first two categories.
Even a fly rod of a few hundred dollars is an investment. Take the awards and reviews into consideration, but then go, cast, and either confirm or deny what is being said by the magazines and blogs. Your fly rod is for you. Make it yours.