By David Hart
Choosing a first fly rod can seem like an impossible task thanks to the endless combinations of brand, length and weight. However, settling on a rod that suits your needs is really no more difficult than choosing any other fishing rod, says Richmond, Virginia Orvis sales associate and former fishing guide Dale Huggins.
“I use the golf analogy. You can’t really play a round of golf with just one club, and you can’t expect to catch every type of fish on just a single rod,” explains Huggins.
You can, however, get by with a decent multi-purpose fly rod that will deliver a tiny fly to a trout or a bulky popper to a bass. But just as you wouldn’t use a 9-iron to send a golf ball down the fairway, you wouldn’t use a 7-foot, 4-weight rod to cast a giant streamer to a tarpon.
Before you start shopping, here’s an explanation of those numbers:
Rods with a higher weight rating will weigh more simply because they tend to be longer, thicker and stouter, but that number has nothing to do with the actual weight of the rod. Instead, the number equals the weight in grams of the first 30 feet of a specific fly line. The rod, in turn, is built to match the weight of that line. A 5-weight line, for example, should be used on a 5-weight rod. The rod’s weight rating is a good benchmark for the size of the fish you plan to target. The smaller the rod’s weight number, the smaller the fish. A 3, 4 or 5-weight is standard for trout and panfish while a 7 or 8-weight is best for bass and smaller saltwater fish. A 9 or 10-weight works well for larger saltwater fish and big, strong freshwater fish like salmon or muskies.
“A lighter-weight rod like a 4 or 5-weight will be less powerful than a 10-weight, and you will have a hard time casting a big, bulky fly on a light rod, and you’ll also have trouble fighting and landing a big fish on a light rod,” says Huggins.
The Long and Short
The length of the rod is just as important as its weight rating. A long rod will deliver more line farther than a short one, but don’t assume you need the longest rod available. Fly fishing, trout fishing in particular, is often a matter of finesse. Dropping a fly in a pocket of water the size of a tea cup can mean the difference fish and no fish. In some situations, small mountain trout streams, for example, a typical cast might be 20 feet, even less. A long rod won’t provide any major benefit in that situation and it may end up preventing your from making accurate casts. Overhead limbs have a way of reaching down and smacking long rod tips. A shorter rod will prevent that. Fly rods designed for tight quarters come as short as six feet, but a 7-foot or even 7’ 6″ rod is a good all-purpose trout stick.
Big water like a western trout river, a bass lake or even the ocean demands a longer rod for the mere fact that it can cast a fly farther than a shorter rod. You’ll sacrifice a little accuracy with those longer casts, but distance often matters more than finesse on bigger water. A 9-foot rod is a good all-around length for big, open water, but some anglers favor a 10-footer.
The longer the rod, the heavier it will be and the more energy it will take to cast it. Although a 5-ounce rod may feel like a feather in your hands, it might feel like a sledgehammer after a long day on the water. Of course, if you’ve chosen the right rod, you’ll be too busy catching fish to notice.
Still confused? That’s okay. Jumping into anything new can be a bit intimidating. That’s why a trip to a local fly shop can help cut through the confusion. Buying a rod through a shop that specializes in fly fishing may cost you a little more up front, but the expert advice you’ll get will be well worth it.
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