What Size Fly Rod Do I Need?

Most new anglers can be faced with a tough decision when buying their first fly rod. What is the best all around rod length and weight for most trout fishing? Some experienced fly fishermen can also have a hard time deciding which new rod to add to their quiver when they are ready to move beyond a single rod. Should I get a small stream rod or will I be heading to the saltwater, or chasing pike and bass?

I often tell people I guide that three rods will get you through most fly fishing situations found around the globe. The first would be a seven foot three weight for small streams and panfish ponds. The second is a nine foot five weight, which gets anyone through 90 percent of trout fishing situations. Finally, a nine foot eight weight will work for steelhead and salmon, bonefish and redfish, bass and pike and a host of other species.

The fact is, no one rod will get everything done well and anglers need to have the right tool for the job. Start by focusing on what species you will be targeting and what type of water you’ll be fishing. Next, consider your budget and get the best rod you can afford. Don’t go cheap. Lastly, consider what species of fish you’ll be pursuing in the future and what types and methods of fishing you’ll be doing. For example, will the rod need to do double duty for bass and trout or will it be used to cast dry flies and big, heavy streamers? A six weight may work better than a five normally used just for trout.

The following fly rod breakdown by weight and in some cases length and flex, should help explain what rods work best for a range of situations.

Six to Eight Foot Rods, One Through Four Weights Reels

Rods in this shorter, lighter size range are used where small trout swim in narrow creeks or panfish live in little farm ponds. These fly rods feature softer actions and are generally designed to cast dry flies or small nymphs and streamers shorter distances. They become very limited when throwing large, heavy flies and perform poorly at long range in the wind . They are very fun to fish and allow smaller fish to show off during a fight. A seven and a half foot three weight would be the best all around choice in this size run.

Fours, Fives and Six Weights Rods

This is the domain of the most commonly used trout rods. As mentioned above, a nine foot five weight will work great for most dry fly, nymph and streamer fishing anywhere trout are found. A mid-flex rod works best for most angling, while stiff rods will cast streamers better and punch out long casts more effectively. Softer actions work better for dry fly fishing and shorter casts. Four weights will do better with average sized trout when dry flies are the norm while a nine foot six weight will be appreciated on larger rivers with big fish and windy days.

Sevens, Eights and Nine Weight Rods

For Alaska or Belize…steelhead, muskie, snook or bonefish…these are the weights you’ll be using, all in the nine foot length with a fighting butt on the reel seat. The eight weight is the all around choice here and excels at casting bulky bass poppers, swinging lead eyed leech patterns for big rainbows or gently dropping a small Gotcha seventy feet onto a tailing bonefish. Sevens are great where smaller bonefish, salmon or carp are common and wind is not a concern. Nines work very well when a king salmon, permit or a big striped bass is likely to show up.

The Big Guns: Ten through Twelve Weight Rods and Beyond

Probably the most common fly rod used in this range is the twelve weight but all the rod weights in this class will cast long ranges with big flies, with only a couple of exceptions. They are designed for grueling fights with huge, strong fish. The twelve is the do-it-all equivalent of the five weight for trout or the eight weight for everything in between trout and tarpon. The twelve will handle giant tarpon, trevally and sailfish.

Ten weights are a little more fun to cast and fish with when false albacore are blitzing or big permit are tailing in the wind. Fourteen weights are usually shorter and used for flipping big billfish flies a short distance behind a moving boat where a teaser pulls a marlin or mako shark in close.

Need a Fly Rod?

As you can see, fly rods are designed for fairly specific purposes, situations and fish species. Choose a rod that will best suit your fishing needs. Rest assured, you may start out as a one rod angler but as you find yourself pursuing new fish in new areas, you will probably need to add more rods to your arsenal.

Call or stop by Vail Valley Anglers and talk to our fly rod experts in the fly shop when you are in the market for a new fly rod, whether it is your first or just your latest.

Brody Henderson, Senior Fly Fishing Guide