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Picking Your First Fly Rod

by Philip Monahan

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Question: I’m relatively new to fly fishing and want to buy my first “good” fly rod for the upcoming season. There are hundreds of models on the market, so how can I help make sure I get the right one for me?

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Fly Rodsphoto by James Jenkins

Answer: The most important words in that question are the last two: “for me.” A guy who works at one of the country’s busiest fly shops once told me that 99 percent of his rod-buying customers come through the door with their minds already made up. There are many reasons for this—they want the same rod as their favorite celebrity, a buddy told them what to buy, or they did research on the Internet. But this is a terrible way to prepare yourself to drop a good chunk of change, especially since you might not end up with a rod that works for you.

There’s really no such thing as an objectively “best” fly rod because all such judgments are subjective, taking into consideration the talent, experience, and prejudices of the individual caster. So, rule #1 is Don’t take anyone else’s word that a rod is right for you. This is your choice and yours alone. That said, follow these steps to increase the odds that you’ll find a rod to fit your skill level, fishing style, and tastes.

  1. Take a casting lesson. The better caster you are, the better you’ll be able to make different fly rods perform well.
  2. Determine how much you’re willing to spend, and focus on the rods in that range, rather than wasting your time drooling over rods you can’t afford.
  3. Think about the fishing situations in which you’ll be using the rod, and then consider which kinds of rods and actions are best suited for the task.
  4. Go to a specialty fly shop and cast a whole bunch of rods. Bring your own reel, loaded with the line and leader you’ll be fishing with. (Unless you plan on buying those, as well.)
  5. Ask the advice of the experts in the shop, or bring an experienced fly fisherman with you. Their experience can help you determine the right length, line weight, and action.
  6. Cast the rods at your normal fishing distances; don’t just pick the one that you can cast the farthest. For instance, if you are a small-stream brook-trout angler, look for the rod that casts and feels best at 10 to 30 feet. Don’t be wowed by the stick that lets you throw the whole fly line in the parking lot.
  7. Once you’ve narrowed the field down to a few candidates, then you can let your more trivial personal preferences—whether you prefer a certain color, fine components, a rod company, or grip style—run wild.

Let me repeat that the only way to find the right rod for you is to cast a lot of rods.Fly shops are far and away the best places for anglers to learn about rods and get expert advice. But you have to be willing to listen and learn. And the few extra dollars you’ll spend at the fly shop—instead of getting the rod online—will pay off whenever you need advice in the future.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • Steven Monell

    I am very glad to see recommendations that are based on fact and not romantic emotion. Taking a casting lesson first is the best money spent IMHO and the one most people choose to overlook for many reasons (e.g. don’t have the time, been daydreaming about the new rod, excitement of new toy, etc.) Casting with your reel and line setup is so important as this will let you know how the new rod will perform with your specific gear. This is really very well written and I wish someone would have told me this when I first started, would have saved alot of money and disappointment!

  • okieflier

    I went into a specialty sporting good store about 3 years ago to look at rods. They had a nice new older model of a Winston rod on closeout. I went home and did some research and thought I would like the rod. Went back to the store and asked to cast it. The salesman said no problem. He found an old reel with worn out line on it and went out to the parking lot. Advice #4 above about bringing your own reel would probably made a sale for the rod. Trying to get the feel of that rod with junk fly line wasted my time and turned me off. Thanks for the helpful hints!

  • Roger Wachtler

    I would say buy a combo rod and reel from a well know manufacturer. That way the rod, reel and line are all balanced. Something you would not know about if you bought the items yourself individually for the first time and were not a great caster yet. Select one that comes with a lifetime replacement warranty. That’s generally when you know you bought a quality product. Start with a 4-5 weight 9ft. floating line for all purpose fishing.

    Word of warning: do not buy something too expensive it might be pointless. As rods and reels become more costly they generally become highly specialized for a specific feel or ability. Having no experience you wouldn’t know the difference anyway. When you know what direction you want to take your fishing, you will find the tool that does it.

    Always try to support your local shop.