One of the most intimidating gear decisions for the new fly fisher is selecting the right fly rod for the type of fishing you want to do. The decision making process may be more complicated now than it has ever been.
In the past few years, there has been a surge in popularity of longer than “average” Spey casting (and “switch”) rods as well as shorter than “average” rods that have their own special purposes. If you also consider the recent emergence of traditional Japanese Tenkara fly fishing into the American fly rod market… the process of selecting the right length rod is certainly more confusing now than ever.
What is the length of the “average” fly rod? There really isn’t a standard (or traditional) length for a fly rod despite what some people out there may believe. In fact, the “average” fly rod today may be both shorter and longer than a lot of “traditional” rods. Simply put- there is no standard (or traditional) length. Fly rod manufacturers today sell more rods in 9′ lengths than any other, but that doesn’t make it “standard.” It does make it “average.” For a fly rod, 9′ is a “middle of the road” length. It’s by no means short, but as far as fly rods go it’s really not very long either. Even though 9′ is longer than most anything anglers that fish by other methods will use (except maybe a good ol’ cane pole)- it’s not really that long when compared to a 15′ (or longer) Spey casting rod.
What length of rod is right for me? In order to answer that question you really need to be thinking about the type of water you plan to fish. Will you be fishing small Brook Trout streams in the Appalachians that you could practically hop across… or wide open western rivers? Will you be fishing something in between like a 50′ wide wadable spring creek? Will you be fishing for Bonefish in the flats… or Largemouth Bass on a lake? Will you be fishing from a boat… or maybe a float tube or kayak? All of these things need to be taken into consideration.
Of course, the other major factor in selecting a fly rod is determining what line weight is appropriate for the fishing you plan to do. The size and species of fish you plan to pursue will largely determine the line weight for you. Many authorities will recommend a certain line weight for a certain species of fish that will create the most “sporting” situation for the angler. Often, these recommendations are a bit under-weighted, and result in overplaying fish during a fight.
Not only do you need to consider the species of fish you’re after when choosing a line weight, but the average weight of the flies you intend to cast most effectively with your rod. You can cast smaller flies with a heavier weight rod much easier than you can cast heavier flies with a lighter weight rod… just something to consider. There are already some excellent sources available online for helping you choose the right line weight rod. There is yet another factor to consider, which is “action” or “flex.” You can read a bit more about “flex” from the Orvis website.
Unless your plan is to only fish for Steelhead in the Pacific northwest or salmon in Alaska, two-handed Spey casting is not something you’re likely to get into when you first start out fly fishing. Spey casting rods can be anywhere from 12′ to 15′ (and longer), but single-handed fly rods rarely exceed 10′. So, realistically, your decision for fly rod length will likely fall somewhere between 7′ and 10′.
The following is a list of ideal lengths (and weights) for particular fly fishing scenarios:
- Typical sized trout in a typical wadable trout stream- 8’6″ to 9′, 4 to 6 wt
- Small trout in small overgrown mountain streams- 6′ to 7’6″, 2 to 3 wt
- Large trout, Steelhead, and salmon in mid-sized to large rivers- 9′ to 10′, 7 to 9 wt
- Czech nymphing (or similar technique) for trout in a mid-sized to large river- 9’6″ to 10’6″, 4 to 6 wt
- Bonefish on the flats- 9′, 8 wt
- Permit or large Striped Bass from a boat- 9′, 10 to 11 wt
- Adult Tarpon from a boat- 9′, 12 wt
- Smallmouth Bass in a 40′ to 50′ wide wadable creek with overhanging branches- 7’6″ to 8’6″, 6 to 8 wt
- Big Largemouth Bass in a lake, fishing from a bass boat- 9′, 7 to 9 wt
- Bluegill (and other panfish) from a boat- 9′, 4 to 6 wt
- Largemouth or Smallmouth Bass from a kayak- 7’9″ to 8’3″, 7 to 9 wt
This list is certainly not all inclusive, and may be a source of debate for some anglers, but should give you a rough idea of what you might need for your particular brand of fly fishing. If you’re still a bit unsure, turn to the experts at your local fly shop. Just remember, under-weighting your rod so you will have to play fish to exhaustion in order to land them is never good for the fish. Responsible catch and release anglers use appropriately sized rods to land fish efficiently and release them quickly.
Above all, have fun selecting and fishing your first fly rod… there’s a good chance it won’t be your last.