Fly Fishing Rods – How to Choose the Right Rod

The first place to start when deciding to learn to fly fish is choosing a fly rod. The topic of fly rods is endless, everyone has different opinions on what works where, what rod suits what water, what rod will give you the ultimate distance, what size rod is best for what fish – but as a beginner there are a few key points that you need to understand before making a selection. Here I will address two of these: Rod Weight (including length) and Rod Action – these are the most important ones to get right!

Weight of a Fly Rod or ‘#’
The weight of a fly rod relates to the size of the fly rod, these are classified using a numbering system this ranges from 0 – 12 and above, but most rods will be within this range. The bigger the number, the ‘bigger’ the rod size i.e. a #7 (‘7 weight’) is a bigger rod than a #3 (‘3 weight’). An easy way to think of rod size is how much ‘power’ or how strong the rod is, this relates to the type of water you’ll fish, the types of flies you’ll use and the type of fish you’ll catch!

A 3 weight rod is a lightweight rod suited to smaller streams and smaller fish; you’d certainly struggle to control and land an 8lb fish on one of these! An 8 weight rod is suited to larger fish, such as an 8lb rainbow trout or steelhead, and larger pieces of water such as the river in the image. The important thing to think about when selecting a rod is, buy a weight that will suit the rivers/streams/lakes that you fish most often and the size of the fish in those pieces of water. For an ‘all rounder’ rod a #5 or #6 weight would probably be the one, but then if you’re mainly fishing for larger trout or steelhead a #7 or #8 would be better suited.

Length of the Rod
Rod length is not as critical to get right as rod weight. The most common rod length these days is the 9 foot rod; this seems to be the industry standard for most rods. However, for example, if you often fish in tight areas where overhanging bush is a factor, then getting a shorter rod would be a good idea.

Rods come in pieces, ranging from 2 pieces to 6, there is not great reason to select one over the other, it more a preference thing. Most of my rods are 4 pieces as they’re easy to carry around being more compact.

Rod ‘Action’
Rod action is a little more complicated than rod weight, but the easiest way to think about ‘action’ is how much the rod will bend (when under pressure from the cast). At a high level there are three groups of action, fast, medium (moderate) and slow.

A fast action rod is a much stiffer rod and will only really bend in the tip when put under pressure. These rods will enable you to get the greatest distance on your cast. A medium action rod with have a greater flex and will bend further down the rod when put under pressure – while it won’t enable you to cast quite as far as a fast action rod, it will be a little more forgiving on your presentation (placement of fly on the water). Slow action rods are very flexible; some will bend right over to the bottom of the rod – the softness of these rods give you great feel but are harder to cast and control for someone learning to fly fish.

So what should you chose?
An undisputable truth is that there is no such thing as a ‘wonder rod’ that suits all types of fishing and water, but there are certainly many rods that will cover most of your fishing needs.

The best piece of advice I could give would be to get into your local fly fishing store and try a few rods out. Make sure you have a good idea of the type of water you’ll be mainly fishing and the size of the fish in that water.

If the rod feels right a matches the type of fishing you’ll be doing then go for it!

Matthew Dunne is an experienced fly fisherman and the editor of an informational fly fishing website: