If you’re looking to purchase your first fly rod, you’ll likely be met with a question very early on; What weight rod do you want? Answering something like “ I don’t know, a light one”, might earn you a few laughs from the guy behind the counter, but it won’t get you very far. Fly rods, like golf clubs, have a plethora of different sizes or “weights” that are all meant to do different jobs. Unfortunately, there’s no one rod that does it all, and if you’re looking to pursue more than one type of fish, or fish in a large variety of ways, you may be looking at buying a few different rods. But let’s focus on your first rod.
Fly rods care classified in sizes ranging from 0 to 15. Smaller weight means a thinner, more delicate rod, while something like a 15 weight may feel more like a broomstick than a precision instrument. All of these rods are designed perfectly for different jobs, unfortunately there is no one weight that’s perfect for everything (this is how we can justify buying that 27th rod that we need to have.) We can however, often get away with using one weight for a variety of different jobs.
In addition to each rod’s weight, it also has a specific type of action. The action of a fly rod is essentially how noodly or stiff that certain size is. It is measured on a scale of slow to fast. A slow action rod will feel very noodly and will bend very deeply into the rod while casting. A fast action rod will feel very stiff and only bend closer to the tip. While both of these actions of the same weight will have the same strength, they each have pros and cons. A slower action rod will be less accurate casting but is often less likely to break and will be more forgiving when playing a fish. Faster action rods are more accurate, have better feel, and can be easier to cast for some, but they are more likely to break and don’t absorb as much of the shock when fighting a fish. Despite these differences, rod action is ultimately a personal preference; there’s not a right or wrong answer. So, Isaac, just tell me what rod to buy is likely what you’re thinking right now!
The first thing to ask yourself is what type of fish you plan to spend the most time going after. Rod weights 0-3 are great for pan fish or very small trout, fish weighing up to a pound or two. Weights between 4 and 6 are very versatile; they could work well for trout, bass, walleye, carp, and fish weighing from one to 6 pounds. Weights 7-10 are great for bigger or stronger fish, redfish, pike/musky, bonefish, permit, salmon, pretty much anything between 5 and 20 lbs. if you are looking to pursue a fish that could probably eat a small child or the annoying neighbor’s pet, you’ll be looking at 10 weights and above. Fish size is your primary factor in choosing your fly rod’s weight, however, what type of flies your casting is important as well.
Fly consideration is really the fine-tuning in selecting your first rod. A smaller rod is going to have a hard time throwing a bigger fly. A bigger rod is going to present a small fly about as gracefully as a fishing guide doing the two-step (excluding Miller). If you plan on fishing small flies (one inch or less) for trout and bass, a 5 weight will probably be your best bet. If you plan on fishing flies bigger than an inch, for primarily bass and maybe some trout, you’ll probably want a 6 weight.
Overall, I would suggest if you’re looking for a fly rod for trout, get a 9 foot, 5 weight, fast action rod. It will handle 90% of the trout fishing situations you encounter and will be terrific to learn on.
If you plan to primarily fly fish for bass, get a 9 foot, 6 weight, fast action rod.
If you’re looking for a more specialized fishing pursuit such as saltwater or very small freshwater fish, consult with a local fly shop for a local, expert opinion.
No matter what you are pursuing, don’t buy a high-end rod for your first, you’re likely to break it in your first few years, and its quality won’t be appreciated until you’re more experienced. The entry-level rods available today are incredible compared to what fly rods were only a decade ago, and they will more than serve your purpose.