Your fly fishing rod and reel is the foundation of your entire fishing setup.  If your rod is wrong for your style, or the fish you’re angling for, you’re going to have a hard time – no matter how good the rest of your gear is.

Unfortunately, picking the right rod can be difficult, especially for newcomers.  There are so many different rods out there, with so many different purposes, that simply browsing the selection of rods at a store can be downright overwhelming.  Even experienced fishers can balk at the number of options.

So, let’s break things down and take it step-by-step.  These are the most important factors to consider when picking your next rod.

Five Questions To Ask When Selecting A Fly Fishing Rod And Reel

1 – How long should the rod be?

Typically, fishing rods can be anywhere from 4 and 14 feet, although you’ll probably want something in between those extremes.  What length you want depends on where you’ll be fishing, and what you expect to catch.

Short rods in the 4–8-foot range give you a lot more control over where your cast lands.  Also, being shorter, they have more tensile strength and will be better at landing large, heavy, or strong fighters.

Longer rods give you a much longer casting distance but sacrifice accuracy.  Also, as length extends, there’s a greater danger that the rod could snap if put under too much stress.

For beginners, a rod in the 7–8-foot range is generally considered best as an “all rounder” option.

2 – What should the rod be made of?

There’s no shortage of materials that can be turned into a fishing rod, but the vast majority are either fiberglass, graphite, or made from composite materials.

Fiberglass rods are the traditional standby.  They’ve been manufactured for decades, they’re quite strong, and they’re affordable.  These are often seen as a good choice for newcomers, but they do have one drawback for newbies.  They’re relatively pliable, which makes it harder to detect light bites – which can be a problem if you’re fishing for smaller catches.

Graphite rods first became popular in the 1970s and are still regularly used today.  These rods offer two major benefits: First, they’re significantly lighter than fiberglass rods, making them easy to handle.  Also, they’re much stiffer than fiberglass, so it’s easier for you to feel bites when they happen.

However, with stiffness comes breakability.  They’re more brittle than fiberglass, and not always up for a hard fight.  Also, they’re more expensive than fiberglass.

Composite rods are the choice of pros.  They blend fiberglass and graphite to get a ‘best of both worlds’ solution with none of the drawbacks of either fiberglass or graphite alone.  The problem?  They’re expensive.  Sometimes very expensive.  In theory, they’re a great all-around solution, but only if you can swallow the cost.

III. How fast should the action be?

The “speed” of a rod’s action is sometimes a little confusing for newcomers since it actually describes where the rod bends when it’s put under pressure from a hooked fish.  Fast-action rods bend at the tip, slow-action rods bend at the base, and medium-action is in the middle.

Fast action rods are the most responsive and give you the most tactile feedback.  However, they may struggle at far casting.  Slow action rods allow for amazing casts, but they offer less feedback and can be more fiddly about the type of lure and tackle that works with them.

For beginners, a medium speed action is a good starting point.

IV.  What rod power do you want?

The rod’s power describes its ability to withstand pressure, so this one entirely boils down to what kind of fish you’re trying to catch.  The heavier the catch, the heavier and more powerful your rod will need to be.  You should also match your line strength to the rod strength.

Something in the light to medium range is usually best for beginners.

V. What rod handle is best?

Finally, there’s the matter of the handle – the part you hold.  There are three common materials:

Cork rod handles are cheap and extremely comfortable to hold, plus they offer a lot of tactile feedback.  However, they’re easily damaged and frankly almost impossible to keep clean.

EVA foam is another option, basically opposite of cork: it’s long-lasting and easily cleaned, but less comfortable to hold.

Carbon fiber is the compromise option, both comfortable and extremely sensitive while being easy to maintain.  However, as you can probably guess, it’s the most expensive option.

And on the subject, what shape should the rod be?  Use a pistol grip if you want one-hand casts and a lot of control over the line.  Or pick a trigger stick if you want longer two-hand casts, but less control.

That’s it!  Armed with this information, you should be able to more easily pick a great rod for your needs and skill level. 

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