FFF logo

Federation of Fly Fishers Master Casting Instructors offering private and group lessons in One-Handed and Two-Handed Fly Casting

Simply the best!

Expert tips:

Choosing a fly rod

expert tips
Expert tips

The first question we need to ask ourselves when choosing the correct fly rod is "what am I going to catch ?"

Rods will have at least 3 obvious characteristics. First is the line weight (wt)  that works best with the rod. Line weight designation is most commonly on the rod butt section just above the handle.  The weight of the line is important to making the rod bend (load) properly.

Lighter line weights 2,3,4 are great for smaller fish, maybe up to 5 or 6 pounds, Brook trout, Small mouth Bass, American Shad, Grayling. Smaller rivers and 40 to 50 foot casts

Medium weights 5, 6, 7, for the larger Brown and Rainbow trout, smaller Salmon up to 6 to 10 pounds. Medium size rivers and 60 foot casts

Heavy weights 8, 9, 10 for large Salmon, Striped Bass and many of the salt water species. Used with larger flies and making longer casts up to 80 feet.

The extra heavy lines 11,12 for Tarpon and other large salt water species.

2nd consideration might be ROD LENGTH. Small streams may require shorter rods, 7 or 7.5 foot, mostly due to bush or tree cover and the limited amount of casting room. Common rod lengths are 8 to 9.5 foot. People who fish from canoes or float tubes may use 10 foot rods just to get the fly line higher off the water when making a back cast.

A 3rd consideration would be flexibility, or ROD ACTION. FAST action rods bend mostly in the tip, MEDIUM action bend from the tip into the mid section of the rod. SLOW action bend deeper into the rod, almost down to the handle. More about ROD ACTION next month. 


Some people may be able to waggle a fly rod in the store and figure out if they like the way it ‘feels’. Personally this doesn't do much for me, and I’ve cast a lot of rods. ”Waggling” the rod worked better on bamboo than graphite rods to test the action.  Bamboo rods had enough weight in the blank to make them flex, but graphite doesn't.

I want to feel the rod under load, which means I want the rod to have some bend caused by the weight of the line.  Unfortunately many fly shops can’t give you the option of trying a fly rod with 30 feet of line extended so we have to rely on the manufacturer or the store personnel to tell us what the ‘action’ is, or how the rod reacts (bends).

The categories for fly rod action are, slow action, medium action, and fast action. There are some ‘in between’ terms like progressive action, parabolic, full flex, mid flex and tip flex that are not far from having the same meaning as slow, medium and fast.

Sometimes people purchase the rod because they like the action, and sometimes we choose the action based on the type of fishing we are going to do.

SLOW ACTION:  (Progressive, parabolic, full flex) Rod bends, under load, almost down to the handle. Many dry fly fishers like slow action for small streams. The rod has a delicate tip, the casts are slower, and the tip reacts easily to a taking fish.

MEDIUM ACTION: (Mid Flex) Rod bends, under load, down to the mid section of the rod. The butt (lower) section of the rod is stiff and provides more fish fighting power. When you need to make a longer cast the rod bends into the mid section of the rod. Medium or Mid flex rods are probably the most popular. If you only intend to have one rod then this would be your rod of choice.

FAST ACTION: Rod bends, under load, at the tip. Rods are generally stiffer and will provide that longer cast on open water, with big flies and under windy conditions. These rods are considered more accurate, and are purchased by the more advanced caster. Timing is more critical in a fast action rod.

PROGRESSIVE ACTION: As the load (line length/weight) increases the rod bend is farther down the rod from the tip. I consider progressive action slightly different from the other three actions.  Most graphite rods now produced have a progressive action and action can be changed by the weight of the fly line used on it.

Choice of a fly rod action is such a personal matter, I would hesitate to recommend any one action to someone. 

You don’t need to purchase more than one rod as long as it does the job you want it to do. As fly fishers progress in ability the Medium (mid-flex) usually gets replaced by a SLOW or FAST action to better suit the fishing conditions that are encountered the most frequently.