Fly fishing is unique in a variety of ways. The major players in the fly fishing game are different, the terminology is different, and the cast is much different than other forms of fishing. It’s no surprise then, that fly rods are unique in their construction, in the reels they’re paired with and in the line they use.
Fly fishing boils down the art of angling to its simplest form. It combines the tranquil simplicity of the fly cast with the constant struggle for perfection, making for a uniquely rewarding experience.
What Does the Weight Mean on a Fly Rod?
The weight that a rod is characterized by is one of the most important factors to understand when searching for a new rod. While the rod will be referred to by a weight number, what that number is actually referring to is the weight class of the fly line meant to be used with that rod.
The higher the number, the bigger the line and the bigger the fish you can catch. Weights will range from as low as 000 to as high as 15, although the most common weights used are typically 3 through 6.
A 3 weight is perfect for small streams, or simply for the most stealth approaches with the smallest flies.
You can continue to stay stealth and use shorter rods with a 4 weight, and you can also use a wider variety of flies.
A 5 weight rod is arguably the most versatile size, and a 9 foot length is recommended. If I were buying a fly rod for the first time, this is the size rod I would target.
6 weight rods are similar to 5 weights, they just cater more to larger flies than smaller flies.
While a rod may have a number such as an 8 weight, it will still be able to handle line as small as 7 weight (referred to as 7 wt.) or as high as 9 wt.
What are the Best Fly Rods?
If you’re looking for the cream of the cream when it comes to fly rods, I hope you’ve been saving up your disposable income. High-end fly rods will cost well over $1000 and the tier below that will cost $700+.
Who Makes the Best Fly Rods?
The are many major players in the fly rod game, some recognized fishing companies that make a variety of equipment, and others that specialize mainly in fly fishing. The most notable of these are Orvis, Sage, and Winston.
Other major players in the fly fishing industry are UK brand Hardy, Swedish brand Loop, and other major manufacturers such as G. Loomis and and St. Croix.
1. Best Fly Fishing Rods for Beginners
As a beginner, you don’t want to spend too much money on your initial rod, but you also need something that will get the job done. The best fly rods for beginners will be reliable and versatile, while not breaking the bank.
The best beginner fly rods in my book are made by Orvis. As a company that is foremost a fly fishing company, I inherently trust Orvis when it comes to their products. And after using many of their rods firsthand, I can tell you that your money is well-invested if you purchase an Orvis fly rod.
The best Orvis rod for beginners is the Clearwater. The Orvis Clearwater Outfit comes with everything you’ll need other than the fly and leader, as it’s packaged together with a quality Orvis reel and line.
The action on the Clearwater is medium fast, giving beginners a versatile rod, and one that should be easier to learn the art of the fly cast. The rod is also made from the same Helios material as the flagship Helios 3 rod which sells for more than twice the cost of the Clearwater Outfit.
At $300 for a quality, versatile rod and reel combo and the proper line that goes with it along with a case to boot? A beginner couldn’t ask for much more.
2. Best Fly Fishing Rods for Trout
For me, fly fishing and fishing for trout are one and the same. Whenever I’m fly fishing, it’s for trout, and whenever I’m fishing for trout (Lake Trout not included) it’s on a fly rod.
The best trout fly rods are going to be between 3 weights and 6 weights. The action on the rods will depend on the type of presentation you’re looking for. A medium action rod will allow for a softer presentation, while a faster action rod will allow you to be more precise with your targeting.
Sage rods, in my opinion, are the best fly rods for trout fishing. R.L. Winston rods are beautifully crafted and perform as high-end rods, and Orvis makes great products, but I feel most comfortable with a Sage rod in my hands. Sage also offers a wide variety of high-quality reels depending on your budget or style.
The Sage X is the rod you buy if fly fishing is one of your biggest passions and you’ve earned yourself something of a treat.
The flagship Sage X took home multiple awards at ICAST 2017, including Best of Show, Best Saltwater Fly Rod, and Best Freshwater Fly Rod. It features Fuji ceramic stripper guides, an anodized aluminum gloss black reel seat, and cork grips.
What makes the Sage X purr though, is the revolutionary KonneticHD technology used to construct the rod, delivering buttery smooth yet powerful casts with unmatched accuracy.
A step down from the X, but still featuring the finest Sage technology is the Sage Foundation. You can buy the Foundation Outfit which includes a high-quality Sage Spectrum C reel, along with RIO Gold line for just $550.
The Foundation features Graphite IIIe Technology on the shaft, hard chrome snake guides and tip top, and a black anodized aluminum reel seat.
3. Best Fly Fishing Rods For the Money
The best fly rods for the price come from a brand we haven’t mentioned yet, Fenwick, with their AETOS line of fly rods. Fenwick makes high-quality rods, but for less than $300. You don’t get the brand name of an Orvis or Sage, or the quiver in your hands when you pick up the rod like you would with a Winston, but the Fenwick AETOS blows them all out of the water with the best fly rods for the money.
4. Best Switch Fly Rods
Before revealing the best switch fly rods, let’s first define what a switch fly rod is in the first place. Switch rods are new to me, so I had to do some investigating into their background which begins with the spey cast.
A spey cast is a two-handed cast done on a much longer rod than usual, called a spey rod. The spey rod was developed to be able to cast long distances and control a large amount of line on bigger bodies of water. The extra power from a spey rod is also used frequently to combat high winds.
What is the Difference Between Spey and Switch Rods?
- 12.5 to 14.5 feet long on average
- More conducive to large water
- No back cast, good for tight quarters
- More efficient for covering large amounts of water
- 10.5 to 12.5 feet long
- Lighter than spey rods
- Can use same swinging techniques as spey rods
- Great for nymphing techniques
- Can be used as one-handed rods
The reason for the name “switch” is that switch rods can be used as both two-handed, or one-handed rods. As a one-handed rod, a switch rod has the advantages of most spey rods in being able to cast further, control larger amounts of line and combat the elements. Switch rods are also some of the best nymphing fly rods due to their ability to handle longer amounts of line.
The switch rod is the modern evolution of a spey rod and is an invaluable tool to add to your fly fishing arsenal. So, with that out of the way, what are the best switch rods?
Well, if you truly want the best, you could buy an 8 wt. Sage X Switch rod at 11’ long…but it’ll cost you $1100. If you’re still interested though, by all means, here is the link, they’re running out at Amazon.
For those of you with slightly smaller budgets, here are a few high-quality but less expensive options:
5. Best Bamboo Fly Rods
Bamboo fly rods are as artful and nostalgic as you can get when fly fishing. The problem is you have to really want to enjoy that art and nostalgia in order to pay the price for most bamboo rods from major manufacturers like Orvis.
For the bamboo experience on a budget though, you can purchase a quality rod like this one from Headwaters Bamboo. Featuring six-strip construction, the Headwaters Bamboo fly rod has a two-piece construction, comes with an extra tip, and has six different sizes you can choose from.
6. Best Saltwater Fly Fishing Rods
Saltwater fly fishing is something I would love to try, but have not been able to. From what I’ve read though, the best salt water fly rods are made by the same companies that make most of the best fly rods in the world.
So, it’s no surprise that the best saltwater fly fishing rods in the world come from Sage, with their Salt HD fly rod. The Salt HD uses the same proprietary KonneticHD technology on the shaft that the Sage X uses, the difference with the Salt HD is a larger guide set with oversized Fuji ceramic stripper guides. The Salt HD also comes in larger sizes and can be used as a two-handed rod for spey casting.
While the Salt HD is the best fly rod for saltwater, due to it sharing the same material as the Sage X, if $950 is a little out of your price range, the Hardy Demon Saltwater Fly Fishing rod is going to perform nearly as well, for $300 less. The Hardy Demon also features some upgrades over the Salt HD, such as Fuji Titanium guides.
7. Best Bass Fly Rods
This is going to seem like a commercial for Sage, but I can’t help but go back to the fly rod masters again for this one. When you’re a company as successful as Sage and you make a rod specifically for bass, seasoned anglers pay attention.
The Bass II by Sage comes in four models, each at 7’11” to stay within tournament standards. The lightest of these is the Bluegill at 230 grams, the Smallmouth weighs 290 grams, the Largemouth comes in at 330 grams and the Peacock is the largest at 390 grams.
The Bass II was designed by Sage to feature higher line speeds, offer greater accuracy, and perform easier line pick up. The shorter length of the rod gives you maximum leverage when fighting bigger bass. While designed for bass, this rod can capably fish for a variety of species.
8. Best Budget Fly Rods
If you’re on a budget, the best affordable fly rods are also going to come with a reel and line for you to buy everything in one fell swoop. So, the best fly fishing rods and reels are likely going to come from Orvis, which makes high-quality products, but at approachable prices in the lower end.
The Orivs Encounter Outfit features an 8-Weight 9’ fly rod, which should allow you to go after the biggest of freshwater fish. It also comes with a large arbor fly reel, and Orvis WF floating fly line, as well as with a leader professionally rigged up and ready to go.
9. Best Affordable Fly Rods Made in the USA
Affordability is a relative term, so these are the best values in each price point. In addition to the Orvis Encounter above, the Sage Foundation Outfit and the Orvis Clearwater Outfit are the two most affordable bundles at their relative price points, while also being made in the USA.
The Sage Foundation Outfit gives you a high-end rod, reel and line ready to hit the water for $550. A nice deal considering it’s Sage.
A step down, the Orvis Clearwater Outfit still gives you a high-quality 5 wt. rod perfectly suited to beginners or more advanced fly anglers. The outfit has everything you need for under $250.
10. Best Cheap Fly Rods
The best value fly rods if you want to be on the water for the cheapest amount of money are technically the Eagle Claw Featherlight, which is calling itself a 4/5 weight, but at just 6’6” it’s not going to have much power or casting distance. With that said, it’s just under $25 so you can’t expect too much for that price.
The best actual fly rod that you can get for cheap is this Piscifun Sword Graphite fly fishing rod. It’s a four-piece, 9’ rod and you can get it in a 4 weight for under $40 or a 5 weight for just under $44. A great value for a decent quality rod from a respected manufacturer.