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Choosing a fly rod (Part One)
  |  First Published: October 2005



When I first considered putting together my thoughts on choosing a fly rod, I assumed it would be a simple matter. As it turns out, I was very wrong. There are so many different rods available these days and they are designed for almost every fishing application you can dream of.

Even when you eventually narrow the field to a specific type and style of rod, you are then faced with choosing from possibly four or five different brands.

This final choice is a little like selecting a partner. Some of us prefer the tall slim types while others the more curvaceous models. When it comes to both fly rods and your partner, it is imperative that you look after them and, most importantly, understand how they work. If you can do this, any model you choose should work well and become part of a lasting and satisfying relationship.

So how can we work out which fly rod suits us, and our needs, best?

Firstly, nearly all fly rods in any price range on the market today are good, and initially you should not disregard any of them. Car manufacturers make many different models under the one badge, but as we know some of them are shockers and some are exceptional. The same goes for rod makers. Some may have an exceptional 8’6” 5wt but the 9’ 7wt is ordinary. Within reason, you don’t need to be too brand-specific.

Your choice should be more a matter of deciding how much you can spend, looking at what your needs are and finally, having a good look and feel of what is available. Let’s look at it in that order of priority.

You may eventually end up with a couple of different brand names in different weights and lengths for different situations. This is how it is for me. After 24 years of high level tournament casting and 12 years of full-time guiding, I have five different brands of rod, in three different lengths and four different line weights.

Cost

The cost of a standard fly rod varies enormously from $150 to $1,300. While you get what you pay for in most cases, an expensive fly rod won’t necessarily outperform a cheaper version. The old guy who taught me to cast all those years ago used to say the most important aspect was the “nut behind the butt”. Perhaps in fly casting, more so than any other sport, this is true. A good caster will be able to make a $150 rod outperform a poor caster with a $1,100 job. The bottom line is that before you part with heaps of money, you should start thinking about paying a little for some proper casting instruction!

If you believe you will be flyfishing for years to come and can afford it, I think you should spend more than $500. This will buy you a well-known brand name that will work better than the cheap versions if you spend the time learning how to use it.

In most cases the rod will come with an unconditional lifetime warranty. A fly rod at 9’ long and as thin as a match is about as strong as an eggshell. This guarantee could be worth two or three times the original investment to you. I don’t think I know of any fishing friends who haven’t busted a fly rod. Rods in the $500 price range will have better quality fittings that last longer than the cheapies and they also look good.

However, if your budget doesn’t allow for an extravagance like this, there are plenty of good rods under the $500 mark.

Some makers target beginners by offering rod, reel and line combos. While this is a reasonable concept and the value for money is hard to beat, don’t forget that you get what you pay for. It might pay off to spend a little extra and buy a steel reel instead of a plastic one (they will try to sell the plastic as ‘graphite composite’). You may also want to put a higher quality full-length fly line on, or even one line weight heavier.

Regardless of price, you should look for a brand that feels light yet strong. The rod should have larger rather than smaller diameter runners and there should be enough of them. When you join the two sections together and wobble the rod, you should not be able to feel a ‘knock’ in the ferrule. Chrome steel type runners are better than the inserted type.

Generally, the fewer or shorter the bindings on the rod, the lighter it will be and the better it will work and feel. If you are just starting in flyfishing and the rod is weighted for two line weights, say a 6/7, I recommend buying the heavier weight line as it will help you feel the load on the rod at the short distances you will begin with.

Lines

Think about buying a double taper line as your first line rather than a weight forward. If you do not understand the differences then you should find out. Also consider purchasing a practice casting kit, which contains a reel spooled with a fluoro orange double taper line, leaders and targets. There are three practice exercises explained in a booklet and if you put some time and effort into practice I guarantee you will improve your fishing outcomes. Besides, it is a bad idea to practise casting with your expensive fishing line.

Next issue we continue to look at choosing the right rod the first time.

Buying good quality gear should provide you with years of pleasure – and a few good fish too!

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