One of the questions I get asked a lot owning a fly rod company is: How do I know what size fly rod to get? It makes sense why people are confused about what fly rod to get because there’s 16 plus different weights of rods along with different actions and not only that there’s different types of fly rods like spey rods, ESN rod, saltwater rods, switch rods, fiberglass rods, freshwater rods, and the list goes on and on. Then to add to the confusion there’s floating lines, sinking lines, sink tip lines, Skagit lines, Scandi lines, shooting heads, backing, and running lines.
So how do you make sense of all these choices and what rod will work best for you? The truth is that, it depends! Probably not the answer you were looking for, huh. It depends on what type of fish you are targeting and how big they are on average and what style of fly fishing you’re young to be doing. If you’re going creek fishing in the mountains for wild trout in the 1-3lb range you don’t want to get a 12-weight rod because it is way too stiff, it will feel like you’re fishing with a tree branch and the fish you just caught will probably go flying in the air like a lasso, likewise if you’re going muskie fishing you don’t want to grab your 1wt rod because it will snap right in half when you get one to take and it starts fighting. You need to find a rod weight that will match up close to what you’re targeting. I typically split my rod size decision up into a few questions:
- How big is the average fish I’m going after?
- What type of water am I going to be fishing? (Creek, big river, small river, or lake)
- What size/kind of flies am I using? (Streamers, nymphs, dry flies, poppers, ect.)
- What style of fishing am I going to be doing? (Casting, nymphing, spey, dries, ect.)
The first question will tell me quite a bit about what size rod to pick for the most part. The smaller fish for example will be better fought with a smaller weight rod and the bigger fish will be better fought with a larger weight rod.
The second question will tell me how far I will most likely need to be casting. If I’m in a larger river or lake I might want to use a bigger rod weight (depending on technique) to cast further to the fish further away. Likewise, I don’t need a big weight or longer rod for a small creek I won’t hardly be casting in at all.
The third questions will tell me if I want a rod that has finesse like a 3wt or 4wt for dry flies or if I’m casting bigger flies like streamers then I will want to grab a fly rod that can get the bulky streamer out there like a 5wt to an 8wt.
The fourth questions will tell me what type of rod I want to grab. Most guys fishing in a river, stream, or lake fishing the typical indicator above and nymphs below setup will want to grab a 1-8wt carbon rod. If your using dry flies then a fiberglass rod, bamboo, or a lower weight carbon rod can be a good tool because of the slower action you can display a delicate landing with your dry fly and not scare the fish away. If your nymphing then a 3wt-4wt esn or Euro style rod will be a good choice due to the fact the longer lengths can get you out in the river further, the butt section has enough power to fight a larger fish, and the tip section has enough finesse to protect your tippet. Spey style fly fishing rods are longer and have a lot of power so you can roll/spey cast the larger spey/scandi lines with different tips out into whatever river or lake you’re fishing. Then you have a switch fly rod that is meant to be a mixture of both spey style and overhead casting giving you the option to choose from both.
There is a place and a time for each one of the different styles to shine and that’s one of the beautiful things about of flyfishing. You can pick and choose what is going to work best for you or you can keep it simple and go with what you know.
Here’s a general breakdown of what each size rod is good for:
-1wt - 4wt: will be best used in small stream applications, small trout, panfish, and ponds with smaller fish.
-5wt - 6wt: are probably the most used and versatile rod sizes out there. They will be best used for average sized trout, medium sized rivers, medium sized lakes, small bass, perch, whitefish, and even smaller catfish.
-7wt - 8wt: will be best used for bass, carp, catfish, steelhead trout, salmon, some saltwater applications, large rivers, and large lakes.
-9wt +: These larger rod sizes will be good for larger saltwater fish, pike, musky, and any application where big hard fighting fish are the target species.
There is one more thing to think about when choosing a Fly rod and that’s the rod’s action. The common actions are soft, medium, medium fast, and fast. My favorite action and the best action for most beginner, intermediate and up anglers is a medium fast action because it allows some forgiveness and still has enough power and accuracy to get your fly out there where you need it. Soft action is my go to choice when I’m dry fly fishing because it allows a better landing so fish don’t get spooked but can take a little to get used to fishing. A fast action is good for saltwater species where your casting heavy line to a very spook able fish and need to cast long distances to get it there with accuracy. Of course, there could be other instances where one action could shine in other uses, but these are a pretty good general rules of thumb for rod actions. With all of these things to consider just grab the closed rod weight to what size fish you think is out there and get out there and get to fishin, you can always adjust the next time you go out.
By Anthony Saling