Fly Rod Selection - How do I choose?
The fly fishing market can be intimidating as in today's world, there so many different fly rods to choose from. Sifting through piles of online blogs, manufacturer web sites or piles of brochures picked up at your local fly shop can drive someone crazy as they all tell you they are the best and that they are exactly what you need. With the overload of information avaible today, how is a person to choose? The fact of the matter is that there are actually many great fly fishing rods on the market. The truth is that all of them will get you out of the water and allow you to catch a fish or two. Most will cast a line decently, present a fly and if all things go well, fool a trout and put a smile on your face. So what's all the fuss about different brands and why is there such a huge price difference between this model or brand and this one? The bottom line (no punn intended) is that just like most things in life, there is quite a difference in how they are built, where they are built and the quality of materials used during the process. While we can argue this point with most consumer products in many different sports, we'll stick to fly fishing rods at the moment.
Just about all Fly fishing equipment was originally invented on well thought out craftsmanship. Almost everything our grandfathers fished with, including lines and leaders, were made by hand for decades (who hasn’t heard an elder explain how back in their day they use to make leaders out of cat guts?). True craftmanship gives way to products made with pride and excellence and the end result is typically something the end user can really enjoy. The downside to true craftmanship in today's world is it usually also comes with a price. The most expensive cars in the world are hand build one at a time, and you can tell. Fine shotguns can be very expensive and are made by hand and when you pull one to your shoulder, you can tell. True craftman built products are typically flawless and there is a real difference. Craftman built fly rods are no different. Put one in your hand and you can tell.
As the sport of fly fishing has grown and demand for equipment has grown stronger, so has the demand for lesser quality and less expensive options to get anglers started. This has given rise to products made overseas in larger factories where at the end of the day its not "How well was it built", but "How many did you build?" Sadly for many of these overseas factories, the craftsmanship has been lost.
A common statement we often hear is “you can’t buy a bad fly rod these days”. With trickle down R&D, inexpensive rod manufacturers that mass produce fly rods overseas have the ability to make decent rods that are infinitely better than rods designed even ten years ago. These fly rods must still be crafted by hand with the use of machining, but the time invested in each rod build and skill set varies greatly throughout the industry. While it's true that these rods are getting more anglers on the water who can enjoy our great sport, it's important to note that there is a real difference between fly rods mass produced overseas and those made here in the USA. The prase "They're just as good as the expensive ones" is simply not true. They are not the same and you can tell.
There’s a big difference between those fly rods that are mass produced and those constructed by trained craftsmen here in the USA. Workers in factories overseas often make a few dollars per day and their work is judged more by output rather than quality. Its important to recognize that fly rods made by companies such as Sage, Winston or Scott are built right here by people that are also your neighbors, friends and fellow anglers that support you and are dedicated to the angling community. These rods are more expensive because just like you and me, they want to be paid a decent wage to suppor their families, make there house or rent payments and put groceries on the table. Having visited a few of these manufactureres, you can really tell that these people truly care about the end product they produce and before it leaves the door, they want to be assured its perfect. US made fly rod manufactures have as many as 30, yes THIRTY, sets of hands that touch each rod to make sure that it’s crafted perfectly to the specifications of the model. These professionals make the decisions behind the grade of chosen materials, manage quality control, and labor costs all the while seeing the process through to the final performance testing of the finished product. If on step 29 the rod is not perfect, it either goes back to be fixed or heads to the recycle bin, but rest assured, it does not go out the door.
When equipment is mass produced, who is overseeing the quality control? Where is the attention to detail and pride of craftsmanship that goes into creating each individual rod? Why should that matter to you? Fact of the matter is maybe it doesn't! Maybe none of these things matter to you and that's ok but when you go to selecting that new fly rod and you see one made here, one made there, one at this price and one at that price, keep these things in mind. There really is a difference. Find the rod that's right for you and your budget and get out and enjoy.
Things to consider when selecting your fly rod.
Everyone has their own casting style, even if you are new to the sport. To find the right fly rod that acts more like an extension of your body, matches your casting style, it would benefit you immensely to cast a variety of fly fishing rods with someone that has product knowledge. Is this your first fly rod? Are you adding a fly rod to the quiver? What fish will you be targeting with this tool? What rivers will you be fishing or what part of the country? Answering these questions before you start looking will most certainly help you determine which fly rod is right for you. At the end of the day, choose the rod that feels the best in your hand and fits in your budget.
Rod Categories to Consider
The Workhorse, Freshwater multi-purpose - 4wt - 6wt
There’s that one rod that takes you home every time you use it. Maybe it’s the first quality rod you acquired after learning on that old Pflueger you purchased at a garage sale or a keepsake hand me down that is timeless and rich in history. A 4, 5 or 6 weight fly rod is the true standard workhorse trout fishing fly rod. This rod can throw dry flies, drift heavy nymph rigs and cast wooly buggers like a dream. If you only had to use one rod, this is the workhorse in the quiver. Typically, mid-fast to fast action fly rods will be the most versatile and our here in the west, we prefer 9' rods to shorter or longer on most occastions.
Dry Fly or Die - 3wt - 5wt
When presenting your dry fly, you are seeking the most delicate presentation. Most often the water area you are working is 20’-40’ so casting the entire fly line is usually not necessary for a true dry fly fishing rod. A fly rod that has some touch and feel to it is appropriate here and we prefer rods with a little softer tip to protect our light tippets that we often use when dry fly fishing. Also, a perfect line match with your rod is essential. Gone are the days where double taper fly lines (DT) are the most popular choice for dry fly anglers. DTs worked well with full flex or “softer” rods such as Bamboo and Fiberglass, but are not necessarily a great match for mid-flex or tip-flex flyrods of today’s technology.
Streamers - 6wt - 8wt. Sweet spot: 7wt
Big flies, big fish, we hope! This isn’t for your lackadaisical, relaxing day on the river as Mozart is playing in your head. Streamer fishing is Heavy Metal! It’s non-stop action while really using the most out of your gear. You will find a lot of opinions about what is the best streamer rod. The key is to select the best tool depending on your method. Are you going to be using sinking lines or floating lines? For either you’ll appreciate selecting a rod with a strong butt section to better control larger fish and a soft, fast tip for casting accuracy and line control. A mid to fast action rod will cast properly at a variety of distances (better load for shorter shots) where as a fast action will be more appropriate for casting longer distances, especially in wind (however, harder to load with short casts). True streamer rods are meant to do just that, streamer fish. Again, the appropriate fly line is a big deal here so keep that in mind when heading this direction.
Matching lines with your rod
Matching a fly rod with the appropriate fly line is crucial to maximizing the performance of the rod. A bad line will make the rod feel like a dud. Just imagine putting motorcycle tires on your truck or Monster Truck tires on your Mazda Miata (complete with a rod vault on the roof). Fly lines have come a long way since the invention of level line. Weight Forward lines remain the most used due to their versatile performance however there is a vast selection of specialty fly lines that will maximize rod performance. Keep in mind also that there are many fly lines on the market and that not all 5wt lines are the same. Some are true line weight lines and others are a half to full line size heavy. A flyshop professional will be able to help you make the right choice based on your needs (and they love to geek out on these kind of things). Be sure they ask what kind of rod you are using and what type of fishing you are doing so they can guide you in the best direction.