Combining backpacking and fly fishing into one trip is a true outdoor experience. The challenges of living out of one bag with the joys and rewards of venturing to far-out waters in search of minimally pressured fish make it one of the most exciting adventures possible. Having the proper fly rod for these trips is vital for ease of packing and for success on the water.
Throughout the article, we’ll offer some recommendations about which rods you should choose for your next trip into the backcountry.
Best Backpackers Fly Fishing Rod: Quick Picks
Overall, you'll struggle to beat the Sage Foundation for a backpacking rod. It is powerful, sensitive, and won't break the bank.
The Orvis Clearwater continues to prove its value with the sensitivity it provides anglers while they're out pursuing spooky fish. The power it has isn't to be underestimated. Plus, at less than $300, it's one of the best deals on the market.
Best Fly Rod for Backpacking: Full Reviews
The Sage Foundation is one of the most versatile rods from Sage. It's a rod that's well-known for being strong and powerful with enough sensitivity that you can lay down dry flies or nymphs as softly as you would like. So, if you're going after salmon or finicky trout, you can have the power to make long casts, but still, place flies wherever you would like on the water. One important thing to keep in mind is that Sage currently sells this rod in 9' and 10' models. For less than $500, you're getting a rod that is a jack-of-all-trades that's up for anything.
- Comes in 4-weight to 9-weight options
- Fast action
- Graphite Rod Blank
The Clearwater is everything a backpacking fishing rod should be. It's strong, versatile, has a great warranty, and comes in all of the sizes you would need when you're out on the water. The rod tube is strong, and anglers of all skill levels have found the Clearwater to be a breeze to cast.
At less than $250, you'll struggle to find a better rod on the market. It's not uncommon for anglers to replace their high-performance rod with Clearwater.
- Medium, medium-fast, or fast action options
- 2-weight to 12-weight rods available in a variety of lengths
- 25-year warranty
Anglers who find themselves in the backcountry needing to cover water love the Blue Ribbon. It's easy on the shoulder, and the need for continuous mends and strong casts isn't there.
As long as you're comfortable casting with the Blue Ribbon, there are few places on the water you won't be able to hit. Plus, it's one of the more versatile rods on the market.
You can throw all the different types of flies you would need. It loads extremely well, and you always feel as if you're in control of the rod. You'll be spending less than $300 on a rod that can last you a lifetime of backcountry adventures.
- Moderate-Fast Action
- Models available from 7'6" 2-weight to 9' 7-weight
- Carbon fiber blank
Redington continually flies under the radar in terms of their fly fishing equipment. The Redington Classic is one of those rods you can take out of the tube and it's extremely easy to cast. There's no learning curve required to get the feel of this rod. A few backcasts and the rhythm is there.
The rod has a great reputation for being strong and surprisingly versatile. Dries, nymphs, and streamers are no problem for this rod.
At $170, you'll struggle to find a rod more capable of thriving in the backcountry. Plus, Redington offers a 6-piece 3-weight and 5-weight model that packs down even smaller for your backcountry excursions.
- Moderate Action
- Models available from 2-weight 7'6" to 6-weight 9'
- Lifetime Warranty
If you know you're going to be in dry fly heaven when you're backpacking, look no further than the Epic Reference FastGlass fly rod. The FastGlass is up there with Echo's high-performance rods without the higher prices. It's a glass rod that's extremely smooth, and it can hold its own with other types of flies as well. For $690, you're going to be making an investment, but it won't let you down.
- Comes in 3-weight 7' to 10-weight 8' options
- Medium-Fast Action
- Lifetime Warranty
What to Look For in a Backpacking Fly Rod
Any angler who has spent time in the backcountry pursuing fish knows how important the proper fly rod is. Backpacking fishing rods aren’t all the same, so it’s important to know some of the most necessary features of a true backpacking fly rod. Things like length, action, weight, and versatility should all be considered when choosing the best backpacking fishing rod for you.
Must Be 4-Piece With a Tube
Perhaps the feature that needs to be most prioritized when purchasing a rod for backpacking is that it is a 4-piece rod. Most travel fly rods are 4-piece rods and come in tubes that are around 36 inches long. You’ll want to avoid a collapsible fishing rod and use one that separates into four separate pieces.
These 4-piece fly fishing rods placed in tubes will guarantee that they’re going to be protected despite a fall or continual knocking against trees and rocks. A backpacking trip isn’t always easy on fly fishing gear, so make sure the rod comes with a high-quality tube as well as a rod sock.
Choosing the Right Weight
When you’re heading out on a backpacking fishing trip, make sure you’re well aware of the type of water as well as the size of fish you’re going to be targeting. For example, if you’re backpacking in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho and pursuing Cutthroat trout, you’re not going to need an 8-weight rod. You can easily get away with a 4-weight or 5-weight rod.
It has all of the power you need to cover some of those backcountry streams and rivers. Plus, it’ll fight any of the trout you find. The only issue that often hinders backcountry anglers is high winds. At high altitudes, wind speeds can be extremely high, so your technique may have to change depending on the weather.
If you’re backpacking along the coast of British Columbia in pursuit of Coho Salmon, you’re going to have to choose something different! 8 or 9-weight rods would be a necessity. Regardless of what you’re pursuing, make sure you do your research.
Choosing the Rod Action
On top of the type of fish you’re targeting as well as the water you’re fishing, you’re going to want to know what style of fishing you’ll be doing. If you’re throwing dry flies on gin-clear streams, you’ll want a slow or medium-action rod, so you can be extremely delicate.
If you’re needing something that can throw dries, nymphs as well as streamers, a moderate or moderate-fast action would do the trick. Moderate or moderate fast-action rods make for the best backpacking fly rod. They can do just about anything you need them to do.
If you’re fishing big water, in challenging weather or targeting big fish, you’ll want a fast-action rod. In terms of a backpacking rod, fast action may not be the easiest to maneuver, but it’s entirely up to your preference. If you consistently fish fast action rods regardless of the conditions, don’t change your preference just because you’re backpacking.
Choosing the Rod Length
Rod length is another important feature many anglers ignore. Not only does the length of your rod impact the places you’re able to fish, but it also dictates the size of the rod tube you’re using. If you’re bushwacking through small streams, stick with a 7′ or 8′ rod.
If you’re going to be jumping between small streams and moderate rivers, an 8′ or 8’6″ rod is going to work well.
If you’re following a large river or going to alpine lakes, you can easily get away with an 8’6″ or 9′ rod.
Longer Euro Nymphing rods that are 10′ or 11′ can be useful if you know this is the style of fishing you’ll be doing.
Good to Keep the Cost Down
One of the final things to consider is the cost. As mentioned earlier, backpacking isn’t always easy on fishing gear. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a spinning rod and spinning reel or a fly rod, the conditions beat up your gear. As a result, you don’t want to be spending thousands of dollars on your rod. There are plenty of rods for less than $300 that come with warranties and have all of the qualities needed to target backcountry fish on the fly.