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Picking The Right Fly Rod

By selecting the right fly rod to match your skill levels as a fly caster you'll enjoy the sport much more. Use enough rod to meet the challenge, no more, that's what keeps it sporting.


For a number of years I have been amazed at the verbiage one finds in the Cabelas fly fishing catalog regarding the descriptions of their branded fly rods as well as brand names we are more familiar with. I don't know who they have on the payroll dreaming up the stuff but it is charming, well done, exciting in some cases, makes you want to buy the rod, and in just about all cases is so much crap you need a case of music roll to get through the catalog.   On one page, THIS is the rod for every possible fly fishing condition you could ever conceive. And on the next page, THIS is the right one. They talk about precision, tracking, loading, flex, wind bucking power, and a host more tidbits that most folks don't know what it is but are to embarrassed to ask. And they sell fly rods, dudes get them and find they cast no better than they did with their old rods, in some cases worse, and they just dumped $350 to $800 on the latest whiz bang rod.

A fly rod is two things. A tool, and a spring. In an average year I probably have over 200 different fly rods in my hand between lining reels and rod outfits, new stock, and the classes. Even within brand I seldom find two exactly the same. Within a few casts I can get acquainted with the rod and make it work to my liking. But, and this is a huge but, I completely understand the metrics of casting a fly line from an Engineering standpoint. So much so that on a given rod I can form tight loops, open loops and any size in between. A performance rod can be made to work in a short cast, a basic rod can be made to propel an impressive amount of fly line.

Just to prove it to myself, I just went outside with a 6 foot broom handle and a WF8F fly line. In less than 1 minute I was casting the line 30 to 40 feet. Granted, I was using two hands on the broom handle, but none the less I was able to form a loop and cast the line. I wouldn't want to fish this way, but it does say much for what is possible if one understands what makes a line go through the air.

I will say right here and now, lawn casting is NOT indicative of what a fly rod will do on the water. No matter how floating your fly line is it will hold on to some water and add weight to the line thus changing the loading points. For me, I find it much easier to cast on the water than on the lawn. Grass does not offer the proper resistance to perform a roll cast either.

Let's look at some of the things that make a good fly rod, or not. Put a rod together and hold it out in front of you horizontally. Move it up and down briskly. If the tip moves dead up and down in response to your energy input you have an excellent tracking rod, whether it's glass, carbon, or cane. If it forms little circles or moves left or right, not so good. Think about what happens here in a cast. As you engage in the forward stroke and stop the rod, the very position of the tip when the rod stops is what directs the path of the line. So you may have done everything right, and yet your cast lands a few feet off target. The longer the line, the greater the error off target. In the short game it may not be as noticeable and be dismissed entirely. But when you can't hit the mark it may or may not be your fault.

In the video he continually refers to line speed. While it can be a good thing, for the average guy, speed kills, just as it does in a lot of other facets of sports. Take a look at bows and arrows. If you want speed you must use a lighter arrow. When you do, you sacrifice penetration, so there is a trade off. Apply it to a rifle. An 87 grain Spire point can be driven over 4000 feet per second from a 257 Weatherby Magnum. At 500 yards you can safely catch it in a baseball glove as it has shed all of it's energy. I would not recommend doing that with a 120 grain bullet from the same rifle however. So weight and speed work against one another, but in a way, they are most connected.

Let's look at line speed and what it does for or against us in a typical fly fishing application. On the salt flats for bones where the water is gin clear a long line is called for to even have a shot at these fish. Here, line speed equates to distance, and as long as it can be controlled is a wonderful thing. Now let's take the fly rod to the brook, stream, or river where most of us fish. A rod designed for distance in most cases will suck in a short cast. Why? Simply because you can't load it, you can't get enough energy stored in the rod because you don't have enough line out.. I have to double haul some of the power rods to get anything positive in a short cast. This consumes way more energy that should be used to fish close in and takes the joy right out of it for me. If you do convince the rod to perform close in it means you met its demands and you do in fact have line speed. All I can say is aim your cast high because a 300 mph cast at 15 or 20 feet is going to make one Hell of a splash when the line hits the water and scare a lot of fish.

Fast action rods have become the vogue since most guys on the water can't get out of the fast pace from work, are all wired up, and don't let the rod do the work. They work fairly well, but in most cases a rod with more flex would offer a wider performance window and a greater fishing experience. The two biggest challenges I have in the casting classes are slowing them down, and getting them to back off the horsepower.. Fly casting is not in need of the macho man or Rambo. The gals often wipe out the guys as they don't have the power to over power the rod. Just as trying to kill the ball in the game of golf ruins the score, so does trying to muscle distance from a fly rod. Every fly rod has a window in which it will perform. Those who make their living with a fly rod in hand 365 days a year can open that window on both ends, but for the average guy it just isn't going to happen.

High performance rods have a place just as race cars have a place. We would not consider it practical to take a 1000 hp AA fuel dragster to the grocery store to get a gallon of milk even though it could be done. And yet, we see a lot of average fly fishermen packing rods that cost a fortune that are capable of laying out 2 complete fly lines while they cast less than 40 feet where most of the fish are caught. Too, longer lines demand more mending on the water in a drift. I have yet to meet the man who can mend line at 80 or 90 feet in a fair current. The fact that the cat in the video says he likes the Rio lines because they are a half size up tells me right there the rod is going to be a bitch to load for the average person. I'd like to get my hands on one of those Sage rods and do a test evaluation with it. I'm more than sure that it will perform like a staff of the Gods if Sage says it will as I am a big Sage fan. Just depends on whose hands it ends up in.

If one fishes the wide rivers of the West, long rods of 9 feet with some back bone are required as there is most often a breeze or stiff wind. Moving up a size in rod and line can do much to overcome the wind. That same rod on a New England brook where a 7 1/2 foot 2 weight would be a better choice is something that each person must decide for themselves. Here too, the size of the fly being cast enters into the picture. But in the end, it's all about fun, because that's what fly fishing should be. If you come off the water at the end of the day beat, you're probably carrying the wrong rod for the job. I sell to the average Joe, and if I don't make him or her a very happy camper they don't come back. By providing them with the right tool for their skill level they do in fact come back, happy, have a lot of fun, and catch their fair share of fish. Which tells me, I have done my job.

As we become more in tune with the environment and the practice of catch and release one finds the softer flexing rods to be easier on the fish as well. A stiff and unforgiving rod in the hands of a strong man can tear a trout up beyond recovery.

If you are a tournament caster or really need to lay out a lot of line then the high end performance rods are the right tool for the job. But if you are the average week end fly fisherman who can schmooze the woman in your life into taking a one week vacation on some prime waters, then stay with a more forgiving fly rod that will cost you a lot less, and provide a much higher fun factor!



by Koda

Retired Manufacturing Engineer from Lockheed now dedicated to providing fly fishing gear, casting lessons, fly tying lessons, and help where ever possible. I truly enjoy giving back to a sport that has given me so much over the years.
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Wednesday, September 28 2011 @ 08:13 PM EDT


That is great work on your part.  Really looks good.  You embellished it nicely with photo's.

Keep up the good work.


Lee Goldsmith
Lee's Fishing Page
Site Admin


Saturday, November 05 2011 @ 08:11 AM EDT

You know I am not sure why I never read this before...?  It is an excellent report on fly rods and their applications.


Thank you Koda for making this mystery that has us wondering every time we turn a sportsman's catalog page, or wonder into a fly shop, is our gear good enough?


Good work!



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