When you finally surrender and decide to give fly fishing a try you'll be faced with the task of choosing your first fly rod. To help you get off on the right foot we'll take a look at the three most common choices - fiberglass, graphite and bamboo. And although they are the most common they are not the only choices available. Carbon fiber rods are beginning to develope a loyal following. High tech and generally expensive they are a bit beyond "first rod" status. You may also still find used rods made of ash or other hardwoods, steel, boron and even beryllium-copper. But for now, let's stick with the first three.
Before heading off in search of a rod you need to understand rod (and line) weight. Now, the rod weight number has nothing to do with the actual weight of the rod. Rather, it is an indicator of what weight line works best for that particular rod. And, while you can theoretically cast any line weight with any rod, you won't get anything that resembles satisfactory results unless you match line weight and rod weight.
So what is line weight? Well, originally, line weight was measured in grains. But, since next to no-one understands grains, the manufacturers assigned the various line weights a number in the range of 1 through 14 with 1 being the lightest and 14 the heaviest line. Now the reason for the different line weights is because different weights work better for different conditions. Generally, the smaller the fly the lighter the line - the bigger and heavier the fly or streamer the heavier the line. Lighter lines cast shorter but handle tight quarters like brooks and streams whereas heavier lines cast farther in open and windy areas. So knowing what you'll be fishing for and in what conditions goes a long way in determining what weight line and rod you should choose. Below is a general guide to line and rod weight.
- 1 to 3 weight - panfish and small trout, small flies, short casts
- 4 weight - small to medium trout, small to medium flies, short to medium casts
- 5 to 6 weight - excellent all around trout or smallmouth bass rod. Handles small to larger flies and short to longer casts
- 7 to 8 weight - brown and lake trout, largemouth bass, steelhead, large flies and streamers, long casts and windy conditions.
- 9 to 14 weight - salmon and salt water fishing, large flies and long casts in open areas.
Once you've zeroed in on your prefered weight it's time to look at the pros and cons of the different materials that rods are made of.
Fiberglass: Nearly impervious to sun, salt, water, heat, cold and general neglect these once state of the art rods are now mostly found in discount stores. Very inexpensive, tough, moderately light and strong they are a good choice for kids, cheap backup or "throw it in the truck just in case" rods. There are still some folks that swear by them but to my way of thinking a 'glass pole is better left to pole vaulters.
Graphite: Probably the most popular rods available today. Strong, forgiving, easy to cast and low maintenance, these rods cover the price spectrum from easy on the budget to quite expensive. Generally, the less a rod weighs the more it will cost. Of course price is also affected by the quality of details like type of reel seat, guides, wrappings, etc. If you're like most people you'll find that a graphite rod will meet your needs quite nicely. But a word of caution: an inexpensive graphite rod may be fine to learn on but expect to upgrade in the near future. If you can justify it, spend a bit more on your new rod. It will last longer, weigh less and give you greater satisfaction over the life of the rod. In fact, spend enough and you'll never need to buy another one. Here you definately get what you pay for.
Bamboo: Considered by many to be the best, this is where it all began. Some of the first fly rods ever made were bamboo and they're still being made today. Which says a lot about how they handle and feel. Catch a trout on a bamboo fly rod and you just may never settle for anything less. But, as nice as they are, they're not for everyone. They are heavier than 'glass or graphite rods and require considerably more care and maintenance. And then there's the cost. Unless you buy used you can expect to spend anywhere from around a thousand to several thousand dollars for a new rod. Not advisable if you're just starting out. Better to start with a decent graphite rod. But, once you're hooked like me, there's just no better rod to chase a trout with.
Like anything else you may buy, no fly rod is all things to all people. Which is why I have some of each. And if you find that fly fishing agrees with you, eventually you will likely have several rods of your own, too. In the mean time, I would suggest a decent graphite rod in your choice of weight as a good place to start your fly fishing career.
Thanks for reading,