Fly Fishing Rods – What’s The Big Deal?

Here are just a couple examples of great salmon flyfishing rods used for catching salmon on a fly. Be sure to check out our full inventory of salmon fly rods for sale.

fly fishing rodAre you a beginner or even intermediate fisherman who gets out maybe half a dozen times a year? Chances are you’ve got a friend and are part of the general angling population otherwise know as a weekend warrior.

Some of us with kids and a significant other, or family or all of these things, have planned to hit a pristine hole that your fellow “I get to fish whenever I want” angler had mentioned to you.

Of course before you know it, the fishing excursion gets pushed off to the side for now for a seemingly more important reason and when it finally happens your look at your salmon fly fishing rods and wonder if they’re the best for the conditions your fishing because it’s been so long!

Well it’s nice to be able to talk to flyfishing dealers who have done the dead themselves when it comes to getting out lot’s and testing equipment and bringing the results back to the shop for their customers! Problem with that is not all of us live in an area where these shops are available, and little timmy workin’ at the counter of the big department store barely knows where the fishing reg’s are!

Well Go Salmon Fishing has lot’s of knowledge and had done tons of research to clear this up for you, although I warn you, this by no means is set in stone answers to the ever lasting question of “what fly fishing rod should I buy?” The answer to that question, unfortunately, varies like everything else in fishing and what I like may not be what you like or even what you need, but we want to do our best to clear it up for you so you can make a decision to buy a rod based on what conditions you fish in.

Much like buying a car, you want to know what features it has like air conditioning, traction control, heated seats, type of engine (electric hopefully these days!) or whatever. Now here’s where it starts getting a little complicated. Depending on where you drive and if it’s your first car after just getting your license, you might want to NOT buy the brand new Ferrari or Mercedes Benz because even an advanced driver wouldn’t know how to handle them on the best conditions let alone in the rain! But then again maybe you’re going to take it slow, learn at your own pace and maybe you only want to buy a rod once, so it better be the best! Well buying a fishing rod is the exact same idea.

Presentation is everything!

Okay so if you don’t already know I’m a stickler when it comes to presentation. How you present yourself when you go out, how you present the food you are serving to your guests and especially and most importantly how you present the fly that you’re going to SLAY with on the river is the most effective way to get an idea across to the people around you or the fish in the river.

You want to present a fly that is proportionate to the fish you’re after, the river you’re fishing and the rod you’re using. All three of these things come in a wide variety of sizes and account for allot of the confusion when choosing the right tackle, but we’re going to focus mainly on rods in this article.

In order to keep our focus on the rod, we still need to know the size of fly that we will use in order to determine the size of the rod. Here is a basic table to determine what size of fly is best suited for a specific size of rod, that will give you a quick idea of what to look for;

Now it might be easier to see that the bigger fish that you are targeting are going to take a bigger fly and therefore need a bigger rod to cast a large fly out far enough to lure the buggers in! Of course you can’t just put a honkin’ fly onto a little rod because it just doesn’t have the “spring action” or “speed” to get a nice long cast our without having your line ball up into a rat’s nest in the water in front of you, or get caught up in surrounding terrain. All in all you can see that the chart recommends a fly rod that is 8-10 weight.

Okay now that we’ve got a good idea of the weight of the rod – oh by the way the weight of the rod is usually on the shaft and near the thickest part of the rod near the handle – Let’s talk about the type of casting we’ll be doing.

Casting variations for Salmon fly fishing;

For any type of fly line rating that you have on your reel, is going to be the determining factor of what rod action or speed that is going to benefit you the most. The action or speed of the rod is a way to determine how flexible the rod is or in other words how much of the entire rod bends when stress is put on the line or rod.

It’s important to keep in mind that although there are really only three categories of actions or speeds when it comes to rods, many manufacturers claim to have added bonuses and technology that puts their rod in a different class of their own, but I personally find it heresay and if you find a rod that fits your style, then the purchase of your rod, via the basic three actions, will catch you fish regardless. Of course with experience you may develop a certain feel for a rod and find a technology helps you, but in the mean time lets have a look at some of the basics now!

Through action rods or moderate action rods:

Through action rods or moderate action rods are often thought of as fairly rigid and bending uniformly from butt to tip without a change in curvature. These rods dampen rigid hits from fish more than a fast action rod and are generally easier to cast for beginners as timing becomes less critical. Although “roll casting” is a more advanced cast for flyfishing, these rods are a perfect match for such a maneuver or technique! The disadvantage to these rods is “feel” of the fish, accuracy of the cast and distance.

Medium/Moderate or parabolic action rod:

is slightly more progressive than a through action and by comparison the butt of the rod is stiffer. This usually means is that for a given rod length the AFTM line rating is higher. Parabolic is a great all-round action and a well designed rod should be capable of good performance for most techniques whilst being comfortable with a decent amount of line out. Timing is a bit more critical but a well designed rod will not overload easily. Parabolic rods suit me best for teaching and demonstrations.

Fast action rods give the ultimate in distance and for those with finely honed timing and casting skills they are the fishing equivalent of a high performance car. Like a high performance car they are not much good off road and so if you are a beginner looking for a general purpose rod my advice is to stay clear of this style unless you intend to fish mostly in situations where distance is paramount and you are prepared to practice your casting techniques to exploit the rod’s capabilities. Anglers who want distance and accuracy for bone fishing, reservoirs and the like may well choose a fast action.

As an example of how rod action is inferred by the combination of rod length and line rating nine foot rods rated #5. #6 and #7 may fit respectively into each of the above categories. (Strictly speaking there more to it than that simplified example.) My rule of thumb is that dividing the rod length by 1.5, rounded to the nearest whole number gives a nice general purpose action and produces the following table.

Rod Wt.
Freshwater Species
Panfish (bluegills, redears, crappies, pumpkinseeds, etc)
Average-size trout – lakes and streams
Smaller trout in small creeks
Smallmouth Bass
Largemouth Bass
Northern Pike and Muskie
Northern Pike and Muskie
Saltwater Species
Mahi-Mahi (dolphin, dorado)
Sailfish and Marlin

Before leaving the AFTM system and rod ratings I should give a warning. There is a tendency by some manufacturers to underrate their rods with a line rating that is, for most anglers too light. Such a rating may well be OK for an experienced angler who can use hauling techniques with the stated line weight to load a rod, but not for a beginner. Many of the American rods are marked with line sizes smaller than their European counterparts.

The length of rod chosen should be appropriate to the type of fishing. If you wish to fish small streams a nine or ten foot rod will be a handicap so you will choose a much shorter rod somewhere between 6 and 8 feet long perhaps. For general river fishing and small still waters rods between 8ft and 9ft 6in are usual and for larger rivers and lochs I suggest something between 9 ft and 11 ft. It is a mistake to imagine that a longer rod will necessarily allow you to cast further. Leverage on your arm increases as the rod length increases and the friction caused by the greater number of rod rings also increases.

Neither of these effects is helpful in achieving distance. For a person of average build a 9ft 6in rod is perhaps the best choice for distance casting. Longer single handed rods have their place for working teams of wet flies or for fishing in rivers for sea trout and salmon where the extra length allows better control of the drift.

Double handed salmon rods are probably easier to select than single handed rods because the relationship is generally river size vs. rod length and the only observation that I would add to that is that a longer and stronger rod is an advantage for sunk line fishing. For Spey casting a parabolic action is by far the most efficient.

Obviously you expect to get a better quality fly rod if you pay more for it. Generally speaking, up to a certain price that will be the case and even some of the top priced items are good value (if not the best). There are several things to look for in a rod. Joints are there for convenience and are a source of weakness and discontinuity.

Ideally a rod should have as few as possible but that is not practical in our international world so the next best thing is to have joints that are properly designed and fitted. If you rotate a perfectly fitting joint close to its gripping point it should feel smooth all the way round. Inspection of the male portion of the joint will indicate how much bearing surface is being used, in an ideal world all of it will mate.

Unfortunately that occurrence is rare with certain manufacturers and not always the cheapest ones either! If a rod is to track true each section of it should be aligned into the preferred bending plane and when assembled the joints should be in perfect alignment. Again do not take this for granted, one very famous “top quality” manufacturer makes no attempt to spine their product, they simple align sections until they look straight and build the rod.

The result is that their rods are known within the business for bad tracking, i.e. the rod does not move back and forth in exactly the same plane, instead it wobbles from side to side. Nowadays I much prefer rods that break down into convenient carrying lengths and accept that the slight impairment in the action of a well designed rod is well worth the ease of transport. Rod rings are mostly the high stand off chrome snake type which are perfectly suitable.

Lined rings are also common and the only problem with them is that if the lining is damaged, the rod is unusable. This is a slight inconvenience when you have another rod to hand, the problem is of totally different magnitude when you are in the middle of nowhere on vacation and you only have one rod. For that reason you should always carry a spare tip ring, any other damaged ring can be removed without causing too much difficulty.

Some manufacturers love to boast about the lightness of their rods and there are two things that a beginner should realize before swallowing the advantages of lightness hook, line and sinker. The first is that many of the weights stated on the rods are incorrect. Often the weight refers to the weight of the blank only and this practice is to say the least misleading.

The other thing is that lightness often compromises strength and it is no accident that one of the first manufacturers to offer a lifetime guarantee did so because their reputation was becoming seriously damaged by the breakage rate of their rods, reputedly over 40%! Slightly heavier rods either contain more graphite or some glass fiber that greatly enhances their ability to stand up to some abuse.

Having started off speaking about shirts I suppose that I should finish that way. I have tried to outline the reasoning behind purchasing a fly rod, starting with the size and working through the purpose, styles and quality choices involved. Lastly, like a shirt, it comes down to the fit and it must be comfortable.

There are some things that I find instantly objectionable. For instance a badly shaped handle or poor quality cork packed with filler that will soon fall out. I especially hate a handle that is too thick for a comfortable grip (and I have not got small hands). A rod handle should be easily enclosed by your fingers so that you do not have to hold it tightly.

Really the only way to assess a fly rod is by casting it on the water and so my final piece of advice is to do that before you buy. Any decent tackle dealer should be willing to lend you two or three rods to test, most professional instructors will have a batch of rods and lines that you can try. Take advantage of them, an independent professional instructor should offer the best advice, if none are available ask a competent fishing friend to accompany you or maybe the tackle dealer will offer his services.

If you are a more experienced angler you will be able to make up your own mind and in that case you will most likely have a number of lines that you want to try with any rod. A modern fly rod is a significant investment, choose carefully, choose wisely and you should have chosen a friend and companion that will repay you with many hours of pleasure on the water.

Lets fly fish, tight lines.

Ratings for a parabolic action fly rod
Length (feet) 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Line AFTM number 4 5 5 6 7 7 8 9 9 10 11 11