So, back in my post on the differences between spin (i.e. bait) fishing and fly-fishing, one of the things I noted was that the for spin fishing, the mechanical wonder of the spin reel was important, while for fly-fishing the rod’s characteristics are more complex, and the reel is just there to store your line so you don’t trip over it.
As one of my instructors (Chuck Prather) once said “Call it a rod, call it a stick, just don’t call it a pole”.
In this post, we’ll talk about fly rods, and try to characterize them.
Salt Water Fly rods (sometimes called ‘spey’ rods) are heavy duty, and often have two cork handles, so that you can easily hold on with two hands. Obviously, if you are going after a Bonefish or a Tarpon, you will need a bigger rod than if you are going after Trout. We’re assuming you don’t live near the ocean, so you are going for a Freshwater rod.
Fly Rod Materials:
There are two main materials used to construct fly rods these days. Bamboo (the traditional, and expensive option), and Graphite. At one time, there were fiberglass fly rods, although they are not terribly common any more. Bamboo is really only an option if you are rich, and nostalgia is more important to you than price. So we’ll assume you are going with a Graphite rod.
Fly Rod Pieces:
The next main categorization of fly rods is “how many sections”. The more sections the rod breaks down into, the more portable it is. However more sections means more possible points of failure longer set-up time, and some people believe, poorer performance. The main types are 2-piece (‘basic’ rods), 4/5-piece (‘travel’ rods), and 7-piece (‘backpacker’ rods). A 2-piece rod case is 4-5 feet long. That will fit in the trunk of most cars, but barely. And it’s really a pain in the butt on airplanes. I have a 4-section Sage and a 7-piece Cabela’s rod. I think 4/5 section is the way to go. The case is 2.5-3 ft. long, which fits just about anywhere. The 7-section just isn’t that much smaller, takes longer to set up and is typically more expensive.
Fly Rod Weight:
This is where you start getting down to the brass tacks of what you will be fishing for, and where. If you are going to be on a tiny stream in the mountains, a huge deep river, or a lake. Weight is a function of how heavy a fly line your rod can throw. The higher the number, the heavier a fly line you can throw with the rod. Heavier line = bigger fish.
I fondly recall fishing the tiny Onahu Creek in RMNP, for trout that were 6-8″ long, and maybe weighed 1-2 pounds. The first time I set the hook on one of those little guys with my 5-weight rod, I jerked it right out of the water and smacked myself in the head with the fish.
You can fish for little fish with a medium rod (assuming you are willing to risk fish-to-the-head), but you can snap your rod and/or line fishing for big, or even medium fish with a little rod. So, most people recommend a 5-weight (which is in the middle) rod for most freshwater fishing purposes (assuming you aren’t fishing for pike or something). My Cabela’s rod is a 3-weight, and I just find it too light and hard to cast with.
Remember, if you have a 5-weight rod, you can run 3,4,5,6, or 7 weight line in it. It will cast differently with different weight line in it, but depending on the conditions, it may be that you need the snap of a 5-weight rod to throw a 3-weight line a really long way to get little fish that are a long way from shore.
Given that, you’ll probably want to start with a fly line that matches your rod weight. More on that in a later post.
Fly Rod Length:
The length of your rod is somewhat related to the weight, in that you aren’t going to find a 10′-long 3-weight rod. However, the longer the rod, the farther it can theoretically throw the line, and the higher the trees have to be above you to avoid being snagged. For your mid-sized 5-weight rod, they usually come in 8’6″, and 9′ lengths. Since I mostly fish little spring creeks, I probably could have gone with the 8’6″ rod. Maybe it’s the man in me, but I wanted the flexibility to fish a larger river (like the Colorado), so I went with the 9′. To be honest, I’d pick what was on sale or available.
Those are the main considerations. Now we’re onto the little features that various rodmakers use to lure you onto their brand, rather than some other brand.
Reel Seat: The Reel Seat is where your reel attaches to the rod. A solid connection is important (so it doesn’t fall off when you drop your rod), and one that’s easy to take on and off. Most fly rods these days have an uplocking reel seat. Note that “uplocking” means Up-Locking, not “Uplock” “ing”. I was confused by that for a while. This isn’t Germany, we typically use hyphens for that sort of word-agglomeration in the U.S. I digress. Wooden reel seats are nice, because they look pretty, and they don’t tarnish. I’m not convinced it really matters.
“Easy Casting“: A lot of rods these days are set up for new casters, and they are specially made to make it easier to learn to cast. I like them. They are indeed easier. They adjust the way the graphite is distributed along the rod to give you a better “whip” for less effort. Why start out on a “pro” rod that’s a pain in the butt to cast until you are an expert?
Case: You need a hard case. Buy a rod that comes with one.
Warranty: So…here is where things get sticky. My Sage rod comes with a lifetime warranty. If I run it over with my car, I can sent it back to them and they will fix it and return it to me. My rod cost $450. My brother’s Elkhorn rod has no such warranty. If his clumsy brother (me) steps on the tip of his rod and snaps it, he has to pay them $35 plus shipping to fix it. His rod cost $140. He’s broken his twice (one time was NOT my fault, he jammed it into a door frame). I’ve never broken mine. He STILL hasn’t spent as much on his as I spent on mine. You do the math. That said, I wouldn’t trade my rod for his…but for other reasons than the warranty. I just love the way mine casts.
So, you do get what you pay for, but be careful. I can’t recommend enough that you go to a fly shop or show and try out different rods. However, if you haven’t fished too much, it will be hard to know what to get. As a result, I recommend not spending more than $200 on your first rod.
As to what to buy, I recommend a Graphite 5-weight, 9′ rod that breaks down into 4-5 pieces, has an uplocking reel seat, a hard case, and is recommended for beginning casters.
I’ll try and post some links to rods I like later on.