Choosing A Fly Rod | Which One Is Best?

Written by: Paul Procter

Choosing a Fly Rod

Whether you’re a beginner, or seasoned angler the purchase of a fly rod is something of a big deal. Advancing technology has brought with it the baggage of jargon, which certainly doesn’t help matters, especially if you’re starting out. What with “AFTM, line weights in grains and flex ratings”, it’s easy to get bogged down in literature. However, this simple guide outlines important points to help make choosing a fly rod less stressful and a whole lot quicker.

First up, you need to decide where the bulk of your fishing will take place. For instance, is it a river, if so, are there many overgrown areas that restrict casting? Conversely, a reservoir might be your favourite venue that’s exposed to the elements, which is clearly going to influence your choice. Not only will this determine the length of rod you might choose, but line ratings need careful consideration too.

Which AFTM rating?

Generally speaking the AFTM scale can be separated into 3 categories. Rods and lines rated from 1-5 are the best fly rods for stream and river trouting. Outfits of ATFM 5-8 are considered the norm for stillwater and reservoir work. Heavier outfits of 8-14 are what angler’s look to for pike or saltwater species. Naturally, there’s a degree of crossover here where a #5 rod might be fit for purpose on an intimate, sheltered stillwater, or a 7-weight outfit has worth for a bass in relatively calm conditions.

What length of rod is best?

Trout rods vary considerably in length from toothpicks of 6ft or so to lofty outfits spanning 10 and even 11 feet in some cases. Beginners often agonize as to the ideal length that makes for the best rod for casting distance, line control, and playing fish.  

Although a longer lever, it’s a misconception that long rods cast further. Bear in mind, they create more resistance when travelling through the air at speed during a casting stroke. You may not think it, but there’s a fair bit of drag when accelerating 10 feet of carbon when compared to a 9 foot rod. Interestingly, tournament casters prefer rods of 9’3” as apparently these generate ultra high line speeds. Whilst it’s unusual to find a rod of this length off the shelve, both a 9-footer or one of 9’6” are a mere three inches either side of this mark, making them a sound choice when choosing a fly rod like this.

That’s all well and good where room exists to swing longer rods, but in the confines of an enclosed stream a shorter length will make for the best fly rod. Whilst many plumb for a wispy 7 footer, it’s as well to remember the shorter you go the more precise your timing has to be when deciding what rod length is best. For this reason, unless it’s absolutely necessary, I rarely drop below 8ft. That said, Orvis ensure their shorter rods possess a full flex (below) that tend to be much more forgiving.

Orvis Rod Flex Index:

Spilt into three distinct groups of Tip Flex (9.5-12.5), Mid Flex (6.0-9.0) and Full Flex (2.5-5.5) the Orvis rod flex Index is a massive help when it comes to selecting an action for the job in hand.

Tip flex rods bend in the top third and are therefore referred to as “stiff”. These types are the best rod for casting distance, shooting heads and deep sinking lines. Tip flex rods generally suit those who fish large, exposed waters where accuracy at distance is important and they work really well with a quick, compact casting stroke. Often feeling “tip light” during casting they’re not always the best rod choice for a beginner. Keep this in mind when choosing a fly rod. 


Labeled as “Tip Flex” the angler instantly knows that this will be a stiffer, more responsive rod.
Photo by Paul Procter

Mid flex rods bend to their mid section though still provide enough strength in the butt section for casting/fighting fish. More forgiving they also provide feedback during casting when a definite bend can be felt. Yielding that bit easier too means finer tippets are protected when playing fish, making them the perfect all-rounder and the best rod choice for a beginner.

Full flex rods pretty much hoop over all the way down to the rod handle. This traditional action is best suited to shorter rods and a more relaxed, almost lazy casting style. Full flex outfits come into their own for close range work where precision casting is required and of course, prevent ultra fine tippets from breaking, making them one of the best fly rods  for river anglers.

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