When you’re shopping for a fishing rod, it pays to do a little homework before pulling the trigger on a purchase. There are endless feature options, huge differences in price, trusted older brands, and innovative newcomers—it can be very difficult to make a buying decision.
And the problem is magnified when you’re hunting for the right fly rod.
Fly rods are highly specialized pieces of equipment. Where many mid-sized baitcasting rods and spinning rods offer a great deal of versatility, a fly rod of a certain weight and length will have a comparatively narrow set of applications. That is, a rod that’s perfect for one fly fishing scenario may not be suitable for many other situations.
If that’s making you think you’ll need more than one fly rod, you may be right. It all depends on the type of fish you’re targeting.
In this article, we’ll focus largely on fish species as a guide to helping you pick the right fly rod. There are rod weight and length factors to think about, and knowledge about the materials used to make the rod can help too.
Top 10 Best Fly Rods
Sage Pulse Fly Rod
We picked this last fly rod just to make you drool. It’s one of the best fly rods of all time, but at around $450, you’d need to be convinced that the Pulse Rod from Sage is worth it before buying one.
You may be convinced after simply picking up the rod. The moment you do, you’ll feel the difference.
It’s beautifully balanced, and the rod just seems to feel lighter than you think it will be. That’s partly due to the fact that these rods are carefully handcrafted in the USA using blanks made with highly-engineered graphite.
A greenish blank with olive thread wraps and black trim make this rod turn heads, while Fuji ceramic stripping guides and chromed snake guides add to the stellar performance.
The Sage Pulse Rod is the most expensive fly rod in our review, and even if you don’t end up buying one, it’s good to know what the high-end of the fly rod market looks like.
Fenwick AETOS Fly Rod
Battling giant steelhead calls for a seriously hefty fly rod, and the Fenwick AETOS Fly Rod is just that.
It’s not uncommon for fly rod manufacturers to assign hybrid line weight classification to their heavier rods. Unlike 4- or 5-wt rods, stiffer models are more adaptable to a couple of different line weights. Fenwick makes a 13′ model of their AETOS Fly Rod that works well with 8- or 9-wt line and would be an ideal steelhead rod.
Large-diameter stripping guides, double-foot snake guides, and an aluminum anodized reel seat add to this rod’s performance, toughness, and durability. A deep blue with carbon flake accents on the rod tube give the blank a high-end appearance, and the cork handle makes this rod comfortable to use for long periods.
Echo “Small Water” Glass Fly Rod
If you asked an old-timer whose become used to lightweight graphite fly rods about fiberglass, he’d probably say it’s too heavy.
That’s old-fashioned thinking. While a glass blank will never be as light as its graphite cousin, current construction techniques have helped reduce the weight of fiberglass, and many anglers opt for the slow, subtle action that only a glass rod can give you.
The Small Water Fiber Glass Fly Rod from Echo, in this collection, is the best fly rod under $200. It would be a good choice for any angler who wants to see what all the fuss is about fiberglass fly rods.
The 7′ 10″, 5-wt model would be a blast to use on the narrow streams where tiny but colorful native trout lurk. You’ll be able to make the delicate casts needed, and the soft feel of the glass blank will make fighting those smaller fish more fun.
Redington Classic Trout Fly Rod
The first rod we’ll discuss is the Redington Classic Trout fishing rod. It’s packed with features that every trout angler needs, including a moderate action that allows you to fish a variety of techniques.
Of all the fly rods in our review, what makes this the best fly rod for trout fishing is its versatility.
Is has the feel to let you achieve a subtle dry fly presentation, but it also has the power to haul weighty nymphing rigs and streamers into position. Its lightweight blank provides a smooth, forgiving action that makes it easy to cast all day.
A 6 weight fly rod is often just a bit too heavy for many trout fishing scenarios, and a 4-wt rod can be trouble if you hook a big fish. A 9-foot, 5-wt rod has long been the number one choice among trout fishermen, and the Redington Classic Trout is one of the best 5wt fly rods you can find. Among the high-end features, you get a gorgeous finish on the dark brown blank, a matching rosewood reel seat, and titanium oxide stripping guides.
Echo Base Fly Rod
A classic fly for bass is a hair bug. Those bulky topwater lures drive bass crazy, but they’re hard to cast. It’s not so much the weight as the wind-resistance.
To get one of those bugs moving in the right direction, a 9-foot, 8 weight fly rod is ideal, and the Base Fly Rod from Echo is a great one.
It has the power and sensitivity for you to achieve pinpoint accuracy in your casting, and that helps you get your fly close to cover where it needs to be. A beautiful translucent blue finish, a high-quality cork grip, a sturdy reel seat, and chrome guides round out the feature list of this awesome rod.
All that makes the Echo Base a truly fine fishing rod and the best fly rod for bass that we reviewed. It also takes the prize as the best fly rod under $100 in our line-up.
Redington Crosswater Combo Fly Rod
We only included one combo in our review, but we really wanted to be able to recommend a true beginner’s setup, so here you go…it’s the Redington Crosswater Outfit. The combo includes a great value fly rod and a whole lot more.
The 9-foot, 5-wt version is ideal for new fly fisherman. The rod has a moderate action that’s very forgiving, and that’s important when you’re just starting out. This is a great rig to learn how to cast with, and that’s one reason it’s the best beginner fly rod we found.
Maybe the best thing about this combo is that it answers a lot of questions for you.
- What size reel should I buy?
- What’s a good entry-level fly line?
- How do I spool up?
The Redington Crosswater combo comes with a reel that’s the perfect size, resulting in a nice, balanced feel. Also, the reel will be pre-spooled with nylon backing and the right weight Rio Mainstream fly line.
If you’re new to the sport and want a great 5 weight fly rod, it’s not a bad idea to buy one that comes with all the other stuff needed to get on the water. The Redington Crosswater Outfit will have you covered.
Okuma Crisium Fly Rod
If you need a fly rod for bonefish, there’s a good chance you either live in or are planning to visit some place like Belize, Florida, Hawaii, or the Bahamas.
First off, lucky you!
As for the right rod to buy, the Okuma Crisium fly rod would be an excellent choice.
Not all saltwater fly rods are suited for targeting bonefish. You need something with some serious backbone. Some bonefish anglers like the feel of a 7 weight fly rod, but a sturdy 8-wt is the more common choice.
There’s an 8-wt version of the Okuma Crisium fly rod that has all the power you need to handle bonefish. It has the guts to let you land fish quickly, a can help you sling bulky streamers as far as you need to.
The Okuma Crisium is a two-piece fly rod with a lightweight graphite blank, a titanium oxide stripping guide, stainless steel snake guides, and a rosewood reel seat. Even with all those awesome features, it’s also very affordable, making it one of the best fly rods for the money.
TFO Lefty Kreh Signature Series II Fly Rod
The Lefty Kreh Signature Series II Fly Rod from Temple Fork Outfitters is our pick if you need a fly rod for panfish.
Nothing beats catching bream and perch on a whippy little fly rod. Those pint-sized predators attack topwater bugs and dry flies with a lot of gusto, and on a light rod, the fight can be impressive. Getting them into the boat is not a sure thing, but that’s what makes it fun.
A 4 weight fly rod is perfect for panfish. It’s got just enough power to move wind-resistance bugs through the air, but light enough to make the fight more of a challenge. Plus, it’s a weight that will be up to the task if a mid-sized bass decides to inhale your popper.
That scenario is actually quite common. Bass hang out near panfish to prey on them, so they’re often in the area when you’re targeting panfish. That’s why going down to a 3 weight fly rod for panfish is not advised. A 4-wt rod is light enough to keep it fun, and when you luck into a big largemouth bass, you’ll have a fighting chance of landing it.
A 4-wt model of the Lefty Kreh Signature Series II Fly Rod measures 8’6″. It comes with a high-quality cork grip, oversized stripping guides, an aluminum reel seat, and an attractive translucent dark green finish.
Okuma SLV Graphite Fly Rod
Fly fishing for muskie is not for the faint of heart. Often called The Fish of A Thousand Casts, muskie are known for feeding in the worst weather and being extremely picky about what they’ll hit. If you’re game, the Okuma SLV Graphite Fly Rod would be a good choice for battling those toothy predators.
Even the 9 foot, 10-wt model of the Okuma SLV Fly Rod is light enough to use all day, thanks to its advanced graphite construction. Its medium-fast action helps you move the bulky baits that muskie will be interested in, and when you get a fish on, this rod has the power to help you win the fight. The cork handle is both smooth and with a decent grip.
Wright & McGill Blair Wiggins Fly Rod
If you’re looking for a cheap fly rod for redfish, look no further. The 9-foot, 9wt model of the Blair Wiggins S-Curve Fly Rod from Wright & McGill is the perfect tool for the job, and, you can pick one up for a very affordable price.
It’s constructed using the maker’s unique S-Curve blank technology. That means it’s reinforced with a high-density woven graphite cloth that adds power and makes the rod amazingly strong, light and sensitive.
Lightweight stainless snake foot guides and a non-slip rubber grip allow this rod to stand up to tough saltwater conditions. A removable fighting butt lets you set up the rod to your liking, and the exclusive “Flats Blue” finish gives this budget fly rod an awesome appearance.
Fly Rod Selection & Target Species
Of all the factors that will impact your decision about which fly rod to buy, there’s one that’s more important than all the others—target species.
The kind of fish you’re going after is so important because it defines three critical elements of the equation:
- The size of the fish that the rod will need to handle.
- The type and size of flies you’ll be casting.
- The surroundings where you’ll fish.
An 11 foot 9-wt rod that’s right for saltwater fly fishing would not work well on a small, tree-lined trout stream. The rod would be too stiff, and trying to wield an 11-foot rod on a tight stream is no fun.
On the other hand, if you were heading out to catch bonefish on some wind-blown flats in southern Florida, your favorite small-water trout fishing rig, say, an 8-foot, 4-wt rod, would not be a good choice. It simply would not have the power to cast the large streamers used to attract bonefish, much less land one of those bruisers.
As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the fish, the bigger the rod you’ll need. By “bigger,” we mean heavier weight, and longer. Check out the Buying Considerations section for details about weight, action, and length.
This section covers the details we factored in when coming up with our recommendations.
Keep reading to find out how rod weight, action, and length; construction materials; and price should be considered when you’re shopping for top-rated fly rods.
Rod Weight & Action
If you’ve read any of our other rod review articles, like Best Bass Fishing Rods, for example, then you probably came across a discussion of rod weight and action. We break it down in two definitions:
- Weight describes how easily a rod bends.
- Action describes the location in the rod’s length where the bend occurs.
While those definitions apply to all types of fishing rods, they take on even greater significance when discussing fly rods, for one very good reason:
With fly rods, you do not cast the fly, you cast the line.
Compared to other kinds of lures or bait, flies weigh almost nothing. Fly line, on the other hand, is intentionally weighted as part of the manufacturing process, often in a weight-forward configuration.
Fly rods are designed to take advantage of weighted fly line. On the back cast, the pull of the line loads up the rod in a very smooth, even way, setting up all the power needed to get the forward cast moving everything toward the target.
With very little leeway, a rod’s weight rating dictates the weight of line you’ll need to use with it. A 3-weight rod is intended by the manufacturer to be fished with a 3-weight line. An 8-wt rod needs 8-wt line.
Almost all fly rods have what would normally be considered a slow action, at least when compared to other kinds of fishing rods. A huge percentage of a fly rod’s blank is involved in even the slightest bend.
Fly rod action is somewhat of a fine-tuning factor when selecting gear. Cases, where you may want an especially slow action fly rod, include when fishing for smaller fish, or when you need to make ultra-precise presentations with small flies. A fast action may be needed if you need to handle huge fish or cast bulky, wind-resistant streamers or popping bugs.
As mentioned, target species will have a lot to do with the weight of the rod you need, but some other factors you should take into account include the size of the flies you’ll throw and how windy it will be. In general, larger fish and flies, and high wind speeds call for heavier weight fly rods.
Fly rods are longer than other kinds of fishing rods. A 7 or 8 ft fly rod is considered short and would be ideal for fishing tight spaces like small streams and creeks. In that scenario, you’d be making only short casts, so power is not an issue, and the short rod length is easier to maneuver around trees and other things that get in the way.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you need to make long casts, you’ll need to be able to move a lot of line, with purpose. A 10- or 11-foot rod is needed. What’s more, those long-cast situations often occur in wide open, windy places. If the tarpon are up-wind and you have to launch a giant streamer 90 feet to reach them, you’ll need the power that comes with extra rod length.
Before moving on, it’s important to point out that a long rod may be needed for reasons that have nothing to do with power. In medium to large streams and rivers, you’ll encounter sections with multiple currents. Having an extra foot of fly rod at your disposal, say, a 10-foot, 5-wt., you’ll be able to reach over water that would otherwise put a huge belly in your line, thus allowing you to present the fly in a more natural way.
The best fly rod brands take advantage of modern materials as much as possible, but also tend to rely on time-tested materials.
Refining manufacturing techniques get a lot of their attention, with high-end rods being the result of specialized processes that cost more money to complete.
1. Rod Blanks
Most fly rod blanks will be made from graphite. Its combination of durability, lightweight, high strength, and flexibility have made it the preferred material for constructing fly rod blanks. You may find some high-end rods with blanks made from a mixture of graphite and boron, which can increase a rod’s sensitivity and strength.
An old-school choice for fly rod blank material is fiberglass. Modern construction techniques have helped reduce the weight of fiberglass, and some anglers prefer the slow, subtle action you get from glass rods. They enable more delicate casting. Plus, the bendiness of a fiberglass rod can make a small fish feel like a whopper. These will most likely give you the casting distance you need.
An even older-school choice is bamboo. Once the only material used in fly rod blanks, bamboo, like fiberglass, brings a slower action than can be achieved with graphite. If you want to fish like your grandfather did, and don’t mind a slightly heavier rod, bamboo can be a fun option.
2. Rod Sections
One important note about fly rod blanks pertains to the ferrules. Those or the barrel-shaped connections that allow you to connect the pieces of the rod together.
A lot of them will deaden the action of the rod. That’s one of the trade-offs you make when opting for an easy-to-store, seven-piece travel rod over a conventional two- or four-piece rod.
3. Reel Seats
At the large end of the fly rod blank, you’ll find a reel seat. It’s a critical connection between your rod and reel.
Saltwater fishing calls for a seat made to withstand the briny conditions. Think aluminum, maybe carbon fiber, with no wood insert. If you’ll only use the rod in freshwater, feel free to factor in how good a carefully selected and polished piece of walnut looks when incorporated into the seat.
When it comes to fly rod grips, you’ll almost always find cork. Grip style is where you’ll see the most difference. The best grip style for you depends on what feels right and the type of fishing you’ll be doing.
A common grip style for light fly rods is what is referred to as a cigar-shaped grip, with a smooth taper. Half-wells are found on heavier rods, featuring a less tapered shape in front, enabling a bit more powerful casting.
Longer rods often include a fighting butt behind the reel seat. If you’re battling a surging redfish or muskie, being able to rest the rod butt against your body will reduce fatigue and give you increased leverage.
The last thing we’ll cover on the topic of fly rod materials is guides. Metal rings or loops spaced out over the length of the rod keep the line in place and help distribute the flex of the rod throughout the whole length.
Guides are affixed to the rod with thread wraps and epoxy. They’re all supposed to be pretty small. That’s to keep the line close to the rod and to reduce drag. The first one or two guides up from the reel, the stripping guides, are larger.
Most fly rods have guides made from stainless steel, but some premium fly rods feature titanium or nickel guides.
Fly rods are unique among other types of fishing rods in that it’s easy to find fly rods that cost over $1000.
We didn’t include any of those rods in our review, because, when you get into that price range, you’re paying for looks. A gorgeous, lacquered finish on the rod blank, a carbon fiber reel seat, and Grade A cork imported from a remote village in Portugal will make for an awesome looking rod, but those things won’t help you catch fish.
Most of the fly rods discussed in this article cost between one and two hundred dollars. That’s where we think the sweet spot is when it comes to fly rod prices. We also included several fly rods priced at well under $100, which may be great choices for more casual anglers.
Advancements on manufacturing techniques have allowed fly rod makers to offer low- and medium-range fly rods that perform exceptionally well on the water.
That’s good, because you’re probably going to need more than one fly rod.
Fly fishing has a way of spreading to all your fishing activities. You may start fly fishing for trout, and the next thing you know, you’ll be wondering how your local bass would react to a hair bug dropped into their spawning bed.
When that happened, you’ll need to leave your 5-wt in the closet and buy an 8-wt. That’s how opting for low- to mid-range rods pays off—you can build an arsenal of fish-specific fly rods without breaking the bank.
Which Fly Rod? Let the Fish Help You Decide
In this article, we’ve focused on fish species as a major factor in picking the right fly rod. There are also rod weights and lengths that work better in some scenarios than others, plus, it’s smart to look at the materials that go into making the best fly fishing rods.
We’re hoping this information makes it easier for you to find the right fly rod for the type of fishing you have planned. Armed with a little knowledge about this specialized class of fishing rod, you should have no trouble picking a fly rod that’s just right for you