Before You Buy Your First Fly Rod

If you’re new to fly fishing, purchasing your first fly rod can be as bewildering as buying a car. There are so many variables to consider.

Besides, if you ask five friends for advice, you may get eight different opinions. It’s easy to get frustrated. Or even to feel stupid. Don’t. Selecting a fly rod should not resemble choosing a health care plan.

This should be fun!

Making some key decisions before you start shopping, though, will help you make an informed, confident purchase. It will also keep the fun in the process. So here are the decisions you need to make.

Price Range

How much do you want to spend?

If you’ve never fly fished before, a starter rod in the $100-150 range will serve you well. Less is more.

If you’ve fly fished enough to know that you really want to pursue this, then I’d suggest spending a bit more — perhaps in the $300-600 range. Buy a fly rod you will still enjoy using in two or three decades.

I purchased a Winston rod (see below) a few years ago, intending to use it for life. I paid good money for it (although the price I paid then looks quite reasonable now). I don’t regret the decision. At some point, you’ll want to buy your “fly rod for life” (unless, of course, there is a significant breakthrough in technology). If you’re ready to do so, then get a higher-end rod which fits your budget. But if you’re still experimenting, spend less.

Note: The mid- to high-end rods typically have a 25-year or lifetime guarantee. This means you can get your rod repaired for about 10% of its cost if you step on it in the dark and snap it in two (which I’ve done).

Brand Preference

I apologize in advance for leaving out some fine manufacturers. But here are some options:

On the lower end of the price range, some good options include Redington, Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO), St. Croix, and Cabela’s. For mid-range to high-end rods (in quality and price), I’m a big fan of Orvis. Sage makes a fine rod, too, and I was all set to purchase one until I picked up a Winston Boron IIx which was made in Montana. Loomis is another fine choice, as is Scott.

Don’t fret over the difference between a high-end Orvis or Sage or Winston. Choose the one that feels right.

Rod Size

If you’re fly fishing for trout in the big western rivers like the Yellowstone or Bighorn, a nine-foot, six-weight will be a good all-around rod. It’s big enough to handle streamers and make long casts in windy conditions. Some swear by a nine-foot, five-weight. That’s fine.

To me, it’s like the difference between using a 30.06 or a .280 Remington for deer. Either will do the job. If you’re fly fishing the spring creeks of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, an eight and a half foot, four weight will be more appropriate. It’s a bit lighter and more delicate for those smaller streams which require more gentle casts.

Some fly fishers swear by an eight-foot rod for smaller stream fishing. One question to ask is, “Where will I be fishing most often?” If “smaller spring creeks” is the answer, then go with a smaller rod size.

Type of Action

A mid-flex or a medium action is the place to start.

This designation means that the rod flexes or bends in the middle when you cast your line. This makes it versatile (good in most conditions) and forgiving (not too temperamental). A tip-flex or fast action rod bends closer to the tip. The stiffness of this action gives you more power — especially on windy days. It is better for longer casts, but beginners sometimes struggle to get a feel for it. A full flex, or slow action rod, is easy to cast. But it’s better for short distances. You’ll have to work harder to get the line out on long casts. It’s like pedaling in gear 3 on a ten-speed bike as opposed to gear 9.

The pedaling is easier, but it takes a lot more effort.

If you can make (or at least think about) these decisions ahead of time, you’ll be in a better position to make a choice when you enter your local fly shop.

Yes, unless you’re an expert, buy your rod at a local shop.

You can often try casting different rods to see which one works best — and you’ll get a little bit of help with your casting, too. The guys and gals at your local fly shop will also help you choose the right reel and the right line to go with your rod (yes, more decisions).

Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the purchase. I guarantee that buying your first fly rod will be more fun than buying a garbage disposal or a pair of dress shoes.

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2 thoughts on “Before You Buy Your First Fly Rod

  1. I wish someone gave some guidance before I bought my first outfit. I think I would’ve just bought a really good mid-priced outfit. Not those prepackaged outfits, I’m talking about matching up a good rod, reel, backing and fly line. In any case, at least now I can pass down my noob starter outfit for those starting out. And it’s true, when you get serious with fly fishing, everything else gets pretty serious too.

    • Yes, it doesn’t take long to start taking fly fishing seriously! I agree that most pre-packaged outfits are not worth it. Better to spend a bit more and get good quality in your rod, reel, and line. It’s better to hand down a mid-priced outfit than something rather klunky. Even though beginners most beginners cannot distinguish between good quality and highest quality, they can tell the difference (in the feel) between good quality and poor quality.