Before jumping too far into the gory details about fly rods, let's talk about the function of a fly rod. A fly rod, at the end of the day, has three purposes. These are:
Now that we know what the purpose of the fly rod is, it is time to be honest and ask yourself a question - exactly what types of fish will I be fishing for? You must answer this question honestly since the answer to this question determines everything else that follows.
For example, you need a different type of fly rod to fish for trout than you do for huge bass or small panfish. Likewise, a freshwater fly rod is a lousy choice for saltwater fishing.
Thus, think things through and decide what fish species you will actually be going for the most. If you plan on coming to Montana, that answer is most likely trout with some bass thrown in for good measure.
There are few things more confusing in the sport of fly fishing than fly rod action. So let's explain things - its actually quite simple.
The action of a fly rod refers to how flexible the fly rod is. If you forget everything else, try to remember this. The action of a fly rod is simply a fancy measure of how flexible the fly rod is.
With that in mind, essentially, there are three different types of fly rods that a beginning angler should concern themselves with. The three different types of fly rods are differentiated by the amount of flex in the fly rod (or the action if you just forgot).
So, how is the amount of flex in a fly rod measured? Simple, it is measured on the backcast. The more the rod bends on the backcast, the more flexible the fly rod is.
All fly rods will have one of three types of "action." Fly rod action, as explained above, is just a fancy term that expresses how flexible a fly rod is. The three types of fly rod action are fast-action, medium-action and slow-action. Each of these types of action have their benefits and drawbacks. It is important to match up the type of fly rod action with the type of fishing you will be doing.
A fast-action or tip-flex fly rod is just what the name implies. At the end of the backcast, the tip of the fly rod is slightly bent but the rest of the rod is virtually straight as an arrow. This has benefits in the following circumstances:
Medium action fly rods are the most versatile of the rods available. They perform well in a wide variety of conditions. They are also easier to learn with than with a fast-action rod. On the backcast with a medium action fly rod, the rod will be bent beginning from about halfway down the rod - thus falling in-between fast and slow action rods.
Overall, if an angler will only own one fly rod for freshwater trout fishing, then it should be a medium action fly rod unless the fishing situation falls into one of the other categories above or below.
Slow action fly rods are very flexible. On the backcast, a slow action fly rod will bend beginning about 1/4 of the way down the fly rod - and at full backcast will almost be arched into a shallow, graceful 90 angle.
The ideal use for a slow action fly rod is to fish small streams. The flexible nature of the rod makes it easier to cast and have perfect presentation. Additionally, slow action fly rods are very forgiving and easy to learn on - although they lack the utility that a medium action fly rod possesses. Finally, anglers who primarily fish for small fish (such as brook trout, small rainbows, panfish) might want to go with a slow-action fly rod since smaller fish are more fun to catch on a flexibile fly rod.
Today, the weight of a fly line is measured in a tiny unit called grains. Rather helpfully, the fly line manufacturers came up with a numbering system that labels how heavy or light a particular fly line is. This numbering system runs from 1 (ultralight) to 14 and beyond (heavy).
Well, that's nice, but so what? Actually, it's important to understand this concept. Remember, in fly fishing, it is the weight of the fly line that casts the fly. If an angler chooses the wrong weight fly line for the types of flies they use, then many problems develop with casting precision and control.
For example, if you attach a tiny size 14 dry fly to a fly line that has a weight of 7, control will be lost and the fly will hit the water with a splash due to the heavy weight of the line (which pulls the fly down harder). Conversely, attach a heavy fly to a fly line that has a light weight - and the fly will develop a destination of its own. Control will be difficult and, once again, the fly may crash into the water.
Because of this, it is crucial - repeat crucial - to make sure whatever fly rod you get has been designed to "mate up" with the fly line and the size of flies you plan to use.
How to know what weight of fly line to use? That, happily, is simple. Just match up what you'll be fishing for with the chart below.
Figuring out what fly rod length to get is simple. Depending on what you plan on fishing for and where you plan on doing it, get something from 8 feet to 9 feet in length.
Here's some other considerations to think about when you are shopping for a fly rod.
Now you know why its' so important to determine what you plan to fish for before doing anything else. By knowing what you plan for allows you to choose the right fly line weight to use. And by knowing what fly line weight to use, that then determines what fly rod weight (as well as fly reel weight) to use.
Thus, the rule is as follows:
Fly Line Weight = Fly Rod Weight = Fly Reel Weight
Just be sure to match everything up exactly. While death won't befall you by failing to match everything, your fishing experience will definitely be better - especially for a beginner - by following this simple formula.
Thus, if you are going to use a 5-weight fly line, you will be best served using a 5-weight fly rod and 5-weight fly reel too.
In theory, neither you nor your gear will be damaged by going "up or down" one level. However, there IS a performance drop. Thus, there is no reason to "invite" degrading performance unless you have no choice.