The 15 Best Fly Rods Reviewed & Tested ( 2019 Hands-on Guide )

 

9. Good 3 Weight Fly Rod: Orvis Clearwater

Orvis ClearwaterThese Orvis Clearwater 7-foot-6-inch-long, four-piece fly rods are great for chasing after trout in the tiniest mountain streams. They provide a very soft action and consistent stroke, which will allow you to cast with better accuracy than you will with many other 3-weight rods.

And, like many other Orvis rods, these come with the manufacturer’s 25-year warranty, so you can shop with confidence.

 

10. Good 4 Weight Fly Rod: Sage X 4-Piece

While 5-weight fly rods may be better suited for catching trout and panfish in a variety of rivers and lakes, you’ll usually want to step down to a 4-weight rod when trying to use a delicate presentation in shallow-water creeks and streams.

The Sage X 4-weight fly rod is a great choice for these scenarios, and it is Sage’s top-of-the-line freshwater model. This 9-foot-long, four-piece model provides incredible casting accuracy and allows you to animate lightweight lures with precision.

 

11. Good 5 Weight Fly Rod: Hardy Zephrus Ultralight

A 5-weight rod is usually considered the ideal “all around” choice for freshwater anglers, so it is usually wise to select a very flexible rod, which will work well in a variety of circumstances.

The Hardy Zephrus Ultralight allows you to employ a very delicate presentation, but the medium-fast action provided by the SINTRIX 440 blank construction will still allow you to set the hook with authority. This rod measures 9 feet and 9 inches long which will make long casts a breeze.

 

12. Good 8 Weight Fly Rod: Sage Pulse Fly Rod

Fly rods in the 8-weight range are great for larger freshwater fish, including largemouth bass and pike, among others. Accordingly, you’ll want a heavy-duty rod that provides the power you’ll need to catch these types of fish.

The Sage Pulse 8-weight fly rod provides exactly this and will help you wrestle big fish out of the water. These graphite rods with Fuji ceramic stripper guides are available in 8-foot lengths for anglers fishing in tight quarters, and 13-foot-6-inch-long lengths when maximum casting distance is important.

 

13. Best Fly Rod for Salmon: Temple Fork BVK

To reliably catch salmon, you’ll usually want an 8- or 9-weight rod with a very fast action to help you deliver powerful hooksets and better control these big fish. You’ll also want a pretty lengthy rod, which will make it easier to cast long distances in the windy conditions that typically occur in good salmon streams.

The Temple Fork BVK satisfies all of these criteria and more. It features rich translucent olive blanks, braided carbon fiber reel seats and ultra lightweight chromium stainless snake guides to keep this 4.3-ounce rod as light as possible.

 

14. Best Bamboo Fly Rod: Orvis Penn’s Creek Bamboo 4-Weight 7-Foot Full Flex Fly Rod

Many fly fishers love the nostalgia and performance a good bamboo fly rod provides, and the Orvis Penn’s Creek fly rod is one of the best around.

Ideal for fishing for trout in mountain streams, you’ll love the full-flex design, which provides plenty of casting range, and the high-quality cork handle will ensure you retain a good grip on the rod and that your hands won’t get tired while fishing all day.

 

15. Most Expensive Fly Rod: Oyster Legacy Series Bamboo Fly Rod

You may feel nervous using it and most anglers would probably just hang it on the wall, but if you’re looking for the most expensive rod around, the Oyster Legacy Series Bamboo Fly Rod brandishes a five-figure price tag.

For this, you’ll get a 4-piece bamboo rod, with plenty of gold hardware and exquisite detailing. You can even select the artwork included on the rod. Just don’t drop in on a rock!

 

Factors to Consider Before Purchasing

man holding fly rod and line

One of the the reasons that make fly rod selection so confusing is the fact that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all rod.

Practically, any fish specie can be caught on the fly and therefore, different rods are needed to handle the wide variety of quarry. That’s why most fly anglers who’ve been fishing for some years end up with at least three different rods:

  • one for small streams and ponds
  • one for larger rivers and lakes
  • one for saltwater fishing

All the terminology associated with fly rods may seem complicated. But when you break it down, there are only four aspects you need to understand to make an informed purchase — line weight, length, action, and material.

 

Line Weight 

Every fly rod is designed to cast a line of a particular line weight.

If the line used is too light, it won’t have enough weight to load (bend) the rod sufficiently to complete the cast. If the line is too heavy, it will load the rod too much, causing your casting performance to suffer and could even break the rod in extreme cases.

Luckily, as long as you use the proper line weight your rod was designed to cast, you shouldn’t have any problems with it being too light or too heavy. And don’t worry, a rod’s proper line weight is almost always labeled on the blank near the grip.

But we’re talking about choosing a fly line weight before you buy a rod. So which should you choose?

Your fly line weight selection comes down to two factors:

The good news is that fly size and fish size are almost always related. Simply put, heavier lines cast larger flies and catch bigger fish while lighter lines cast smaller flies and catch smaller fish.

With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown of the different fly line weights and what they can be used for:

These ultra-light lines are made for the most nimble fly rods and are typically reserved for pursuing the smallest fish species with the tiniest flies — think small stream brook trout and panfish.

If you have a lot of size 28 or smaller Adams dry flies in your box, go ahead and grab a 1-weight rod. Otherwise, better go up a few sizes.

 

3 and 4-weight lines and rods are still on the light end of the scale and are the line weights of choice anytime light tippets are used to make subtle presentations with small flies to fish like trout and panfish.

 

The most common line sizes for all-around trout fishing. Five weight rods are by far the most popular fly rods in existence and can handle 90% of the trout fishing scenarios you’ll encounter.

Six and seven weights are also very versatile and are helpful when casting larger streamers and poppers or in windy conditions.

 

The go-to sizes for saltwater species like redfish, bonefish, and small to medium-sized tarpon. They are also employed on rivers when fishing for salmon and steelhead when super long casts with big, heavy flies are needed.

 

These extra heavy line sizes are reserved for true big-game fishing. 11 and 12 weights are used for bigger-sized tarpon as well as other inshore and nearshore species like barracuda, amberjack, and giant trevally.

Line weights 13 up to 16 are primarily used for offshore fishing when marlin, tuna, and sharks are the target.

 

 

Length 

While fly line weight is a relatively fixed parameter based on your target species and fly size, fly rod length is based more on personal preference.

Fly rod models of certain weights are offered in different lengths. For example, a 5-weight Orvis Clearwater as mentioned earlier is available in lengths of:

It’s widely agreed that 9-foot fly rods offer the best balance of casting performance and accuracy, which is why there are so many 9-foot fly rod models on the market. If you’re shopping for a first fly pole, go with a 9-footer and you’ll be safe.

However, there are times when shorter or longer fly rods are beneficial. If you primarily fish small mountain streams lined with thick vegetation and overhanging trees, a 7-inch rod may give you an advantage when casting in tight pockets.

Keep in mind that shorter rods move less line on each casting stroke which can make long casts more difficult.

Some anglers find longer rods in the 10 to 12-foot range that are helpful when they need to keep as much line as possible off the water. This is often the case when performing specialized techniques such as Euro or Czech nymphing.

Another use for longer rods is when using two-handed techniques like spey or switch casting which require different style fly rods altogether — let’s stick with single-handed rods for now.

If you have to place your fly rod order, just remember that 9-foot rods are the easiest and most accurate to cast.

 

Action

fisher with fly rod

Basically, a fly rod’s action refers to its flexibility and how it loads the weight of the fly line during a casting stroke.

It plays a significant role in how it casts, how it handles the weight of a fish, and most importantly, how it feels in the hand — something that’s difficult to put in words and must be experienced.

Some fly pole manufacturers describe a rod’s action in terms of a flex profile or flex index which describes how much and at which point the rod flexes.

A rod’s flex index is determined by its taper or the physical shape of the rod blanks from tip to butt.

  • Some rods have soft, flexible tips and stiff butt sections.
  • Some are uniformly stiff throughout the entire length.
  • Other rods, like the Redington Classic Trout, have more gradual tapers that start out soft at the tip then consistently become stiffer towards the butt.

You’ll also see rod action described in terms of “fast” and “slow.” This refers to the rate at which the rod rebounds after being bent which is a reflection of the rod’s stiffness — a stiffer rod has a faster action, while a more flexible rod has a slower action.

Fast action rods are often preferred when power, distance, and accuracy are needed. Slow action rods offer a better feel of both the line in the water and the fight of the fish.

Most fly rods that are geared towards beginners have moderate actions — not too fast nor too slow. They load quickly for smooth casting, offer a good feel of the fish, yet stiff enough for the occasional long cast. When in doubt, go with a moderate action fly rod.

 

Material

Graphite

The vast majority of today’s fly rods are made of graphite. These fishing sticks are:

  • incredibly strong
  • lightweight
  • easy to cast
  • has a great feel

Fly rod designers and manufacturers love graphite because it can be rolled into practically any taper imaginable, leaving endless room for performance improvements.

Different grades of graphite are used in fly rod construction. Generally, the higher the grade, the lighter, stronger, and more expensive it is.

 

Fiberglass

Before graphite became the material of choice, the best fly rods were made of fiberglass.

Fiberglass is very robust and durable while being very flexible, resulting in fly rods with a distinctly slow action. Today, anglers are rediscovering fiberglass as a relevant fly rod material, praising it for its unique feel when casting and fighting a fish.

 

Bamboo (AKA Cane)

oyster bamboo fly rod epic series
Oyster bamboo fly rod –
Epic series

Before fiberglass revolutionized fly rod performance, any fly rod worth its salt was made of bamboo.

Unlike graphite and fiberglass rods which can be produced on a large scale with machines, bamboo fly rods are made exclusively by the hands of craftsmen. For that reason, they are among the most expensive rods available.

Action

They load with minimal effort, making quick, delicate casts a breeze. Although it’s easier to load it, they aren’t optimal for shooting line or casting great distances.

Cane rods excel at close-range dry fly fishing where subtle presentations are the key to success.

 

Look Into These Aspects Too!

fly rod set

How Many Pieces?

As we mentioned, the most common fly rod length is 9 feet. You might be wondering how one transports a 9-foot rod. Strap it to the roof of the car?

Practically, all modern fly rods break down into two or more pieces. Connection points in the rod, called ferrules, allow quick assembly and disassembly, turning a 9-foot rod into four easily manageable pieces. Slide those pieces in a case and you’re ready to go.

These days, four-piece rods are the most common. You can still find two-piece rods but these are typically shorter in the 6′ to 7’6″ range.

Six, seven, and even eight-piece fly rods have become popular in recent years especially among anglers who travel a lot or take their rods on backpacking trips.

When these travel-friendly rods first came out, they didn’t offer the best casting performance compared to their four-piece alternatives. But as rod technology advanced, this has become less of an issue.

If you’re interested in a packable travel fly rod, check out the Orvis Clearwater Frequent Flyer, Redington Classic Trout 6-Piece, or the Echo Trip 8-Piece.

 

Should You Go for a Fly Rod Combo?

The rod is only part of the fly fishing gear equation. Once you get a rod, you still need:

For a new fly angler, choosing all those separate components can be a serious hurdle to getting into the sport. Manufacturers realized this and now, many offer fly rod and reel combos — package deals that have everything a new angler needs to get started.

In many ways, fly rod and reel combos are a great convenience and make the purchasing process easier. The problem with these is that many times, the reels and fly lines are of inferior quality compared to what you’d buy separately.

There’s a high likelihood that you may end up replacing these components in due time, so it might be better to buy the good stuff from the beginning.

Although it’ll take more time to research and shop around, you’ll end up with a nicer overall setup if you assemble your rod and reel yourself. However, if you’re simply testing the waters of fly fishing, a combo kit is an excellent way to get started.

Like we mentioned before, the St. Croix Rio Santo is offered as a rod and reel combo and is one of the nice package deals on the market. Orvis and Redington also offer combos worth considering.

 

Leading Fly Fishing Rod Brands

When you’re ready to upgrade your starter fly rod, these are the four top-tier rod manufacturers you want to check out.

Sage

Sage

Sage makes fly rods with a heavy emphasis on high performance and innovation. The company was founded in 1980 by Don Green and Bruce Kirschner in Bainbridge, Washington and has been producing “specialty products for specialty anglers” ever since.

In the 1980’s, Sage was one of leading manufacturers producing graphite fly rods.

These early graphite rods were built with the company’s Graphite II Technology which utilized a concept developed by Don Green called Reserve Power — the idea that a fly rod should never run out of casting power.

They became known for these fast action rods capable of achieving tremendous line speeds for super long casts. Through continuous development, they became the first manufacturer to produce fly rods built specifically for saltwater anglers.

 

brand highlight

Their latest innovations in fly rod technology are centered around several proprietary graphite materials including Konnetic HD, Generation 5, and Graphite IIIe, each offering unique benefits for their particular rod designs.

One of the most defining aspects of their products is that every rod is designed and built by hand in their factory at Bainbridge Island in Washington.

They make all their graphite rod blanks in-house unlike most companies that buy pre-rolled blanks from outside sources (often overseas). This important fact is the reason for the exceptional quality and top-shelf price of their fly rods.

Most Sage fly rods feature fast or ultra-fast actions. They are primarily designed to suit the needs of advanced anglers, which makes it the only downside of their rods.

Although they offer significant performance benefits, beginning fly anglers may find them difficult to cast.

 

G. Loomis

G. Loomis

The G. Loomis rod company was started by an avid sportsman who was also a genius-level machinist — the one and only, Gary Loomis.

Inducted on the IGFA Hall of Fame in 2007, Gary Loomis had an enormous impact on the fishing world as a whole. His early designs and innovations set the pace for the future of rod design.

Although he is still hard at work, designing and making parts and materials that extend far beyond the fishing world, he is no longer a part of the G. Loomis rod company. It is already owned by Shimano though the rods are still branded as G. Loomis.

 

brand highlight

Despite this changing of hands, G. Loomis fly rods are still renowned for being high-performance products. One of the main reasons why their rods are still good is because of their lead rod designer — world champion competition fly caster, Steve Rajeff.

Their newest and most premium fly rod, the Asquith series, is designed by Rajeff as a collaboration of G. Loomis and their parent company Shimano.

Using Shimano’s proprietary Spiral X graphite, the Asquith fly rods are incredibly strong yet feel light in the hand even in the heavier line weights.

Although G. Loomis is owned by Japan-based Shimano, all G. Loomis fly rods are still built by hand from start to finish in Woodland, Washington. Its quality has remained consistently high over the years.

But some customers feel that their customer service has gone downhill since its original owner left.

 

Orvis

Orvis

Founded in 1856, the name “Orvis” has become synonymous with fly fishing. As one of the oldest and longest-running manufacturers and suppliers of fly fishing gear and apparel, no other company has as big of an impact on the fly fishing lifestyle.

Although the brand now encompasses a wide sphere of products and services — everything from casual clothing and dog beds, to custom shotguns and shooting schools — they continue to produce some of the best fly rods on the market.

 

brand highlight

While Orvis has a broad lineup of lower-priced fly rods such as their Encounter and Clearwater series, their high-end offerings are what turn the heads of the savviest anglers.

Currently, their top-shelf offering is the Helios II series which has won numerous awards and is their strongest fly rod ever created — 20 percent stronger than the original Helios.

Orvis makes their Helios II rods in a wide range of line weights and tapers, each designed for specific fly fishing uses including freshwater, saltwater, big game, and two-handed spey and switch.

Their fly rods are made by hand in their workshop at Manchester, Vermont by true craftsmen and women of the trade.

On top of that, Orvis is a big proponent of natural conservation, committing 5% of their pre-tax profits to a diverse set of conservation groups and projects.

 

R. L. Winston Rod Co.

L. Winston Rod Co.

The R. L. Winston Rod Co. started in 1929, producing bamboo fly rods using processes and designs that revolutionized the fishing world.

In those early days, Lew Stoner (the “L” in R. L. Winston) developed a patented technique for building hollow fluted bamboo rods, greatly reducing their weight while increasing their power.

These were the top choice among competition casters of the day — both fly and conventional — and were used to set and break several world records.

Although the R. L. Winston Rod Co. has changed ownership several times, their efforts in innovation have never ceased. In the 1970’s, they produced some of the leading fiberglass rods and quickly moved to graphite.

 

brand highlight

In the 2000’s, their rods rose to a new level of performance with the company’s heavy focus on proprietary blends of graphite and boron — a chemical element turned into fine tungsten wires that are lighter than aluminum but five times stronger than steel.

Now, Winston makes some of the most solid casting rods in the world where boron is a critical component.

Though R. L. Winston took a space-aged turn for the better, they still produce their all-time classic bamboo rods. If you stick with fly fishing long enough, you’ll end up craving for one of these handcrafted pieces of functional art.

Better start saving up now because a bamboo Winston will cost you.

 

Final Thoughts

Fly fishing is a gear-centric sport, but no gadget or tool is more important than a well-made fly rod. Choosing the right rod may seem difficult but keep in mind that there’s a good chance of ending up with more than one gear.

So if you’re just starting out, it is suggested to choose a smooth casting rod that can handle a wide variety of fishing scenarios then get busy casting a fly rod.

When you’re ready for an upgrade, find a good local fly shop that carries some of the premium brands we covered and test cast as many different models as you can.

This article is part of our fishing gear guide.

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