You, how you fish, and where you fish are entirely unique. To meet ever increasing interest in fly fishing, and differentiate themselves from the competition, fly rod makers have forged new technologies and designs. The number of new fly rod offerings hitting the market recently can be simply dizzying. So, we developed this guide to help wade through the brands, designs, and features to find the best fly rod for you.
We’re not sure how you got into fly fishing, and we’re not going to treat you to a history lesson about the origins of fly fishing (which is awesome by the way, lots online you can read). All we know is we love the sport, as we’re sure you do, and we want to get you to the best fishing possible, as fast as possible. That’s our motto, so let’s dive right into fly rods.
What we’re talking about, is how our approach to reviewing fly rods and gear began. It began with your comments. Our readers say they want good, complete, objective information. They want to make a solid choice about the best fly rod for them. Notice the title is “All About…”
Not because someone else (an “expert”) tried it and says it’s good. Not because a review says it’s “the best” without any real comparison or explanation. Not because a manufacturer says it’s the best. They won’t tell you the disadvantages, we will.
Not because a retailer touts it. Have you ever heard a retailer say something negative about the rods they sell? We do. And perhaps most importantly, not because it gets the highest commission. We don’t, in fact even though we are reader-supported, we recommend many rods and gear for which we don’t receive anycommission at all.
But rather we want you to have the confidence that the rod’s a great fit for YOU, and meets your needs and budget. That’s why we focus on thorough, objective reviews. See you on the water!
What To Look For In Your Fly Rod
You, and how you fish, are unique. Where you fish, what you fish for, your casting style, and the conditions under which you fish are different than anyone else. The good news is, fly rod makers are responding with an ocean of new options.
We’re betting the best rod for you is probably one you haven’t even heard about yet – whether the best model from a maker you know about, or even a manufacturer you aren’t aware of. The other news is, there’s a lot to wade through to choose the best for you.
Here are the criteria to apply before you choose a rod:
Type and size of fish you are pursuing
How you are fishing – wading, from a boat, sitting vs. standing
Casting style (conventional, euro, tenkara, spey)
Your skill level (beginner, intermediate, expert, pro)
Rod action (soft, medium, fast, hybrid)
Fishing conditions and distance (surface vs deep, small waters vs. large, swift vs. calm, etc.)
Preferred material (graphite, graphite variants, fiberglass, bamboo)
Freshwater vs. saltwater
Price and budget (cheap, practical, best value, high-end, outrageous categories)
How We Review Fly Rods
You, and where and how you fish, is different than every one else. We want you to find the absolutely best fly rod, that has the features you need and want, at the best price point for you.
Picking the best rod for fly fishing is not only challenging because of the huge number of brands and models, but also because there are increasingly so many features to consider relative to price.
We hear from readers that don’t recognize the difference between types of rods for different fish, fresh water vs. saltwater, everyday or guide-level use, or ultra-lightweight for back country vs. heavy duty. We cover these factors in considerable detail. It may be more than you want, and we certainly aren’t “mobile optimized” because we err on the side of ensure you get all the information you may need.
Our readers want to know exactly what they are getting for their money, and whether it’s worth it to spend more for additional quality and performance. For this reason, we use a proprietary rating system with a systematic approach to reviewing gear.
Our rating system compares features, quality, performance, and consumer satisfaction relative to price. You’ll find some of the most detailed comparison of specific features in our reviews, available anywhere in the fly fishing industry.
For the most part we present gear in the Practical, Best Value, and High-End categories. Once in a while, just for fun out of caution, we rate products that fall into our Cheap and Outrageous categories. The definitions of our most used categories are:
Practical – products that have basic features for a lower price, but are reasonably quality not cheap in nature.
Best Value – products where the manufacturer has done a really good job offering numerous features and strong quality for the price.
High End – top-end features and quality for a distinctly higher price. Basically, you pay for what you get, if not outrageously priced.
Fly Rods By Category – Types Of Fly Rods
(With Links To Detailed Reviews Of Our Favorite Picks)
This section gives you a “readers digest” overview version of our thoughts about every type of fly rod and fishing condition there is. For our specific recommendations and favorite picks, our summaries below also give you a link to our detailed reviews by category.
We do cover all the major brands, such as Simms fly rods, Orvis fly rods, Redington rods etc., however you may be surprised at why we recommend some of the lesser known brands for best fly rods in a number of categories.
Of course, based on your needs and preferences, of course anyone can choose a rod from any of these categories. Our reviews aren’t to suggest that only pros buy fly rods rated for experts, and only beginners buy entry level rods, etc. We just want to make sure you have the best information in front of you, to carefully review the features so you know what you are getting, and can make an informed choice. Enjoy our overviews and comprehensive, detailed reviews!
Many times when a beginner fly angler is ready to purchase a rod, they already know they ‘ll love the sport. For example, they’ve been out with a friend or parent and are already “hooked.” In that case they may want to get into an intermediate level rod right away (see below).
Other times, fly anglers are just testing the waters, not sure. Even if they already fish with a spinning rod, they may be tentative or fly fishing may seem daunting or more complex. In that case, we suggest getting an entry level fly rod. Entry level rods also make great gifts to someone you think may really get into fly fishing.
But entry level rods are also great if you are on a budget, and frequently purchased as a back up to a more expensive rod, especially if you are planning on the trip of a lifetime.
If you are already into fly fishing, and want to take the next step in improving your casting, then you may want to consider a step up in performance.
Intermediate level fly rods start to introduce features present in more advanced rods, such as a faster action or vibration reduction, but at a mid-market price. Often these rods are rated “Best Value” using our classification system.
They may not be super specialized or advanced, but they are high quality rods that will perform well and last a long time.
It used to be that a good fly rod for trout was a good fly rod for trout. However, in just the last few years manufacturer’s have introduced a host of specialized rods for trout and other target species, that we’ll differentiate between the many options in our reviews and how-to articles.
So in this category, we’re talking about rods that are effective across a range of conditions, generally for medium sized rivers and waters, for average to modestly large trout (say 8 to 20 inches). This type of rod is generally a line weight of 4 – 6, average 5 weight is ideal. This rod will also serve you well for panfish, small to average sized bass, and other freshwater fish in this size range.
For this type of all-around, versatile trout rod, read our detailed review at The Best Fly Rods For Trout. One thing to guard against, is to avoid the temptation to buy a stiffer / faster action rod than you need, which will take some of the fun out of playing fish this size (and will actually detract from your casting as well).
However, once you get into larger fish such as trophy trout, and/or big waters, you’ll want to start thinking about a trout rod that is longer, stiffer, and has a higher line weight such as 7 – 9 weight. Big waters such as the Deschutes river in Oregon, Green River in Utah, and Delaware river in NY and PA have not only bigger fish, but also more water to cover, demanding a different rod.
Beyond size of fish/water, there are specialized techniques to fish for trout that excel under certain conditions. If you are considering Euro-nymphing, Spey casting, or Tenkara style, then be sure to read about those below before taking the plunge.
Despite what many articles out there would have you believe, smallmouth are not the same as largemouth bass, and can’t be treated as such. Not only are they different species, but Bronzebacks prefer different flies, that are presented differently, and the biggest fish are found in different waters than largemouth bass.
The best fly rods for smallmouth can’t be lumped together with largemouth. The best rods for smallmouth are fast action to handle longer / deeper casts and strong fights, but still with enough finesse to present the fly well. We prefer several models that are 9 feet, 6 weight rods, plus or minus 1 weight depending on your specific circumstances.
If you want to productively catch more and bigger Bronzebacks, you will do better with different gear than for largemouth. Our picks for The Top 3 Fly Rods For Smallmouth Bass might surprise you.
It cuts both ways – bass are not the same as bass are not just bass. Despite the fact that most articles discuss bass collectively, largemouth are not the same as smallmouth bass. Not only are they different species, but lunker largemouth are found in different waters and temperatures than lunker smallmouth, are located differently, prefer different flies presented differently, and take different gear to land.
The best rods for largemouth are not only fast action, but have super stout butt sections, and are shorter than rods that are otherwise optimal for smallmouth and bigwater trout. These rods present super-bulky flies better, and importantly give you the horse power to keep the lunkers from immediately breaking you off in their nearby lair full of snags.
If you want to productively catch more and bigger largemouth, you will do better with different gear than for trout and smallmouth. Our picks for The Top 3 Fly Rods For Largemouth Bass might just surprise you.
Fly Rods For Salmon
The best of the best, across every category, for fly anglers pursing salmon and other big game fish. With a proliferating number of manufacturers, models, features, and performance specifications, the the great news is there’s lots to choose from. The other news is, there’s lots to choose from! We’ve done a lot of advance leg work to help boil it all down to the quality information you need to make a confident decision. Read our reviews at The Best Fly Rods For Salmon.
Fly Rods For Spey Casting
From its 1800 origins in Scottland, Spey casting has developed to be a modern-day, increasingly widespread technique. Whether you want to reach more water more efficiently, fishing for salmon or steelhead, or just love the art form and think it’s awesome to cast such a long rod, Spey casting may be for you. Read more at The 10 Best Spey Rods.
Fly Rods For Surf Fishing
Surf fishing, in particular standing in salt water, puts extra wear and tear on your rod and reel, through the corrosive power of salt and the uncompromising power of the ocean. Be sure to choose a rod that will not only help you catch fish, but last long enough to justify the price.
Our detailed review article for rods in this category is under construction.
Ultralight Fly Rods
Fishing in backcountry not only opens up new opportunities for catching wild fish in unspoiled wilderness, but also comes with its own set of challenges for fly rods and gear. This article covers both ultra-lightweight waders, and also some tips and techniques to carry your gear. Not to mention, ways to lighten your load as you push into previously untried waters.
Our detailed review article for waders in this category is under construction.
Congratulations, you’ve found an early version of this article. Be sure to check back soon for updates!