12/16/10 – Many people get their fly fishing start by going on a trip with a friend and they end up using gear borrowed from that friend. Others find
a rod stored away and just take it out (old line and all) and start working with it and find that while it works it doesn’t feel quite right. Still others have
never cast but they’ve seen people fly fishing and want to try it. No matter what their motivation for getting into the sport once the decision is made people often come in and ask – what should I buy for a fly rod? My answer – it depends. It depends because
like many things in life selecting a fly rod is based in compromise.
No rod does it all. Saltwater rods don’t do well with size 18 emergers and trout weight freshwater rods don’t do well with 2/0 Clouser Minnows. Long rods create problems on a tight, small stream and short rods will often limit you on big water. So the question becomes what do you want to do with the rod? If the answer is I’m not sure I just want to try fly fishing I steer them towards a 9-foot, six-weight fly rod. But if they have done enough fly fishing to have a sense for the type of fishing they’ll be doing here are some other generalities that I mention to them.
Fly rods are identified by the line weight they are designed to cast and line weight isn’t selected based on the size of the fish you’re after it’s determined by the SIZE OF THE FLY you’ll be casting. If you’ll be casting mostly insect imitations and only the occasional streamer or nymph 5 and 6-weight rods will do just fine. The performance of lighter line weights is to easily limited by heavy flies, wind and ability. But a 5 or 6-weight is a good compromise for general freshwater use.
Fly rod lengths are another factor. If someone is located in a small stream Mecca and will seldom be on big water a short rod may be just thing. But a short rod won’t do much for them if they get into big river pocket water where they have to keep a lot of line up off the water or if they’re high-sticking deep runs. So for that small stream Mecca perhaps a 6’6″ or 7′ rod is in order but that big water, deep run high-sticking river may call for a 10′ rod. What’s the compromise? An 8 1/2′ rod. My rod length of choice. However, many would say go with a 9′ right out of the gate and certainly that would work.
Fly rod flex is also a big factor in rod performance. Tip-flex rods are without a doubt the most capable when it comes to distance and efficiency. But to get the most out of them you have to be a proficient caster – they are not forgiving and provide little feedback to the caster.
The other end of the flex scale is the Full-flex or “slow” action rod. These rods provide a lot of feedback because they flex right into the grip and you can feel it. But they aren’t a rod you want to distance cast all day. You can make them reach out but it takes a lot of effort and becomes tiring.
So, in the spirit of compromise I generally suggest Mid-flex rods for someone coming in for a starter to intermediate fly rod. There are certainly exceptions to this and if an individual is a classic “Type A” personality who can’t slow down from full throttle I’ll steer them towards a Tip-Flex but generally you can’t go far wrong with a Mid-flex.
If trout aren’t the target because saltwater is where they’ll be fishing it’s the same three factors that come into play. Line weight, rod length and flex are just as important in the salt as they are in sweet water. For salt the default line weight is 9-weight. An eight-weight will cast most any fly you need to throw until the wind comes up. A 10-weight will throw most any fly in fairly strong winds but is more rod than you need for a day of 3-5 pound bones. A nine-weight will throw any reasonable fly in moderate winds and not overpower that smaller game fish. It’s a good compromise -there’s that word again 🙂
Length is less of a consideration in the salt. Having to fit into tight quarters isn’t normally a problem out on the salt flats. But that doesn’t mean you want to run out and buy a 10′ rod to get that extra distance. Just the wind load on a 10′ fly rod over a 9′ fly rod is noticeable on the flats. The wind load and extra torque on your wrist and forearm are enough to keep me working with a 9′ rod. Keep those 10′ rods for high-sticking Steelies.
Rod flex again calls for some compromise. As I said when talking about the freshwater rods you can’t go far wrong with a Mid-flex rod and that holds true in the salt as well. Sure the Tip-flex rods will cast into a stronger wind and throw a slightly larger fly than a Mid-flex will. That is if you can cast the rod efficiently. When I hit the salt I fish Tip-flex rods but I’ve been casting a long time and switching my casting stroke to fit different fly rods and different conditions isn’t a problem for me. I can adjust my casting stroke but if you’re new to casting it’s generally easier to pick a rod that fits your casting stroke and one that provides a little feedback on how well the rod is loading. Mid-flex rods do that.
So there you have it. In my opinion the best general purpose freshwater rod is a 9′, 6-weight and for the salt I’d go with a 9′, 9-weight. But is there a true all purpose rod that will do fresh and saltwater service? No not that I know of. The closest to an “All Purpose” fly rod that I can remember is a rod from the past that Orvis called the All-Rounder. It was 8’3″ long, full-flex and cast a 7-weight line. You could tell when you had a six-inch trout on and you could land a 30′ striper with it. But the “All-Rounder” was too much of a compromise I guess because Orvis has dropped it from their lineup.
The rod that has taken its place for that category is the 9′, 6-weight. And the 9′, 6-weight does a good job as a general purpose freshwater rod but is just a little too light for much in the way of salt – but then fly rod selection is a compromise. At least it is unless we take a page from our golfing friends. After all they carry 14 clubs onto the golf course. Maybe we should start bringing more rods and a rod caddie with us when we fish. Then we could always have the right rod for the situation.