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2021’s Best Fly Rod for Trout: Sage, Scott & Orvis reviews

Looking for the best fly rod for trout of 2021? We’ve put our heads together to bring you reviews of five leading contenders at a range of price points and chosen a top pick for rivers, for lakes and for budget-conscious anglers.

Read on to find out our selections and what you need to know in buying a fly rod for trout (brand, length, weight, action) and the questions you need to ask yourself before you spend hundreds of dollars on a new rod.

These selections are borne out of hours spent on the water casting different rods and sharing views among the folk we fish with to hone in on what is truly the best fly rod for trout in each of these three categories.

In summary: our top trout rods

Rick Wallace with a large brown in Tasmania’s Western Lakes Credit: Greg French

Best fly rod for rivers and streams: Scott Centric

The Centric is Scott’s follow-up to their award-winning Radian series. This fly rod has been praised by many as the best Scott has ever made. It’s lighter, recovers more quickly, and dampens better than just about any other fly rod on the market. That makes the Scott Centric the ideal trout fly rod for rivers and streams.

Best fly rod for lakes: Orvis H3D

The Orvis H3 (Helios) series ranks among the best fly rods ever built. If you spend a lot of time fly fishing on lakes, then the power of the 9′ 6wt H3D can’t be beat. This fly rod is a workhorse and is also one of our best picks as a bass fly rod.

Best value fly rod for trout: Sage Foundation

The Sage Foundation gets a spot on this list because it’s such a great value. Of all the entry-level rods on the market, the Sage Foundation delivers insane value without breaking the bank. Perfect for tackling everything from spring creeks to small streams, the Foundation is a stellar medium-action rod.

Read on after our buyer’s guide section for detailed reviews of each of these rods and those that didn’t make our top three picks.

What to look for in a fly rod for trout

Now that you know what rods we recommend to anglers for trout, it’s time to break down the process a bit. These are the features we look for in a good fly rod, and they’re the ones that informed the rankings in this list.

Where you like to fish

First off, you need to be honest with yourself in regards to where you fish. Most fly fishing anglers spend time on moving water. That means you’re in need of accurate, quality rods that are capable of a wide range of presentations.

If you fish mostly stillwater, though, then you’ll look for something completely different. A stiff, fast-action 4-piece rod that generates high line speed, is powerful, yet responsive, is the best tool for your trade.

Let’s break this down into even more detail.

Rivers

The best fly rods for rivers are versatile sticks. You want something that can do a bit of everything. You need a powerful fly rod to cast through the wind. You also need something that’s capable of delicate presentations to warily rising trout.

Rods that throw dries, nymphs, and streamers with equal performance are the ultimate goal. For most trout fishing, that means a 9-foot, 4-piece, 5 weight rod is your best choice here. You might find that a rod in different line weights is better for certain situations, but in terms of something that does well for everything, it’s hard to beat a medium fast 9-foot 5 weight rod such as the Scott Centric (at the high end) and the Sage Foundation (at the lower end).

Small streams

Small streams are a much more specialized version of what you need while on a river. These waters demand a bit of finesse, and certainly require more skill from the caster to get flies in front of fish. Often, you’ll be fishing to trout that aren’t more than 40 feet away, if that. A rod with a good backbone will help you place casts in the right areas, and muscle fish quickly through pocket water to your net. Again, we are looking at the Scott Centric (at the high end) and the Sage Foundation (at the lower end)

Lakes

If you mostly fish lakes, look for rods in heavier line weights. A 6 or 7 weight fly rod is a good choice here. You want something that can throw streamers into a tough wind, is plenty stiff to handle long runs from big fish, and versatile enough to throw a nymph, streamers, or dry flies.Also, bear in mind you’ll need a rod that can throw larger flies, cast long distances, and comes from a family of fast action rods. Our best choices here are the Orvis H3D and the Sage X.

Detailed reviews of our best fly rods for trout

Scott Centric review

The Scott Centric is an award-winning rod already, which is saying something, since it had the unenviable job of following the much-loved Scott Radian. This rod, in a 5 weight, is one of the better fly rods you’ll find. It’s quick, with a soft tip, and the ability to deliver delicate presentations or big flies at a moment’s notice.

  • Phenomenal accuracy
  • Great feel and Scott quality
  • Game changer

Sage X review

The Sage X is one of the best fly rods for trout on the market. If you’re stuck choosing a fly rod and don’t have the Sage X on your list, add it. Yes, it costs a bit more, but it’s a wonderful piece of fishing gear. It’s a fast rod, with great recovery and ample power.

Whether you’re throwing nymphs to deep runs, or fishing dries, the Sage X has what you need to be successful on the water.

  • Strong all round rod
  • Good in wind
  • Versatile

G Loomis NRX review

The G Loomis NRX is another great piece of fishing gear, and once again, it’s a rod that we’ve seen perform best in a 5 weight. This fly rod is known for its superb performance at distance, in addition to its feel in close. If you’re looking for a rod that can really do it all, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that checks more boxes than the NRX.

The only big knock against this fly rod is that it’s no longer the company’s flagship, and as such, may not be serviced as effectively under warranty.

  • All-round performer
  • Versatile

Sage Foundation review

If you need to be price conscious, then it’s hard to overlook the Sage Foundation. This fly rod is light, durable, and comes with an excellent warranty. It does a lot of things well, but it doesn’t excel at anything in particular. It’s a jack-of-all-trades type of rod more than anything else.

  • Superb rod for the price
  • Sage quality, craftsmanship and warranty/customer support
  • Tops its category

Fenwick Aetos review

A worthy challenger to the Sage Foundation at the lower priced end of the market, the Aetos series is a popular choice for budget conscious anglers.

This is a nice rod for fishing small creeks where softer presentations at a distance of up to 30 feet or so are often called for. Within that distance range this rod will keep pace with some of the high end alternatives for a budget price.

Will it does have the delicacy required for this type of fishing, the lack of butt strength and slower action in this rod become apparent once casts get up in distance or your throw strong winds into the equation.

For the price, though it is demands consideration.

  • Bargain price
  • Great starter rod
  • Nice dry fly rod

Orvis H3D (Helios) review

This is powerful rod designed to tame adverse conditions or present flies at a long distance. The Orvis H3D is a real workhorse that won’t let you down when fishing stillwaters or big rivers even in high winds.

It’s the perfect rod for throwing tight loops into a gale, pulling a big fish away from structure or sending a streamer to far side of the river. We rate it as a good bass fishing fly rod too.

While it is a very accurate casting rod, it is not the right choice if your fishing typically requires finesse, delicacy and some flex in the rod to protect thin tippets.

 But for what it is designed for, this rod excels and is well worth the hefty price tag.

  • Stillwater and big river king
  • Powerful
  • Pinpoint accuracy

Trout fly rod buyers’ guide:

In this section we break down some more of the key considerations in choosing the right trout fly rod for you including type of flies you are casting, typical length of cast, rod and line weight, line type and rod length.

What type of flies you fish

The best fly rod for trout for you will be heavily dependent on the types of flies you fish. Your fly rod has a big impact on how it presents certain flies.

Dry fly

If you primarily throw dry flies, you’ll want a light, soft fly rod. The best rod weight for a dry fly is largely considered to be a 4 weight. A slower action rod is your best friend here.

Nymphs

Nymphing is a different experience than dry fly or streamer fishing. A medium fast action rod that excels at roll casting will be your best rod here. You’ll also want something light, since you’ll need to hold it high during dead drifts.

Also, pay attention to the accuracy of the rod. Nymphing requires a healthy dose of accuracy.

Streamers

Streamers don’t require the delicate presentation or accuracy that you need out of a rod for dries or a nymph. A streamer is a heavy, meaty fly that demands casts for long distances, with power behind them. A great rod for streamer fishing is one that’s stiff, with a high modulus graphite blank.

What length of cast is typical for you?

The distance you cast also plays into choosing the best fly rod for you. Most trout fishing happens with a range of 20-60 feet. You don’t need a rod that can throw 100 feet, simply because that’s not where you’re likely to find trout.

Once you’ve determined what flies you’re using, and your typical casting distance, it’s time to look at the key features of fly rods.

Material

Fly rods are built from tons of different materials. There isn’t one material that’s inherently the best, although most of the best fly rods for trout these days are built from graphite. They also happen to be 4-6 weight rods.

Graphite/carbon fiber

Graphite is the most popular material for fly rods. It provides a wide range of possibilities for rod actions, and you can find 0 – 10 weight rods built from graphite at nearly every fly shop in the world.

A graphite rod is typically lighter, more powerful, and more durable than other fly rods.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass rod have a very slow rod action, and are built for those who enjoy slow casting. A fiberglass rod will cast off the tip exceptionally well, and is capable of the most delicate presentations.

Bamboo

Most fly rods were built from bamboo before the advent of fiberglass. Bamboo rods are still a great choice for those who don’t have a price restriction. They’re also some of the prettiest rods ever built, and give the best dry fly presentation possible on a fly rod.

Rod and Line weight

For trout rods, we are talking about four weight to six weight rods as a general rule. Our preferred trout rod is a five weight with a six weight the better choice if you mostly fish big rivers or stillwaters or live in a windy area. Always get a four piece rod so you can travel with it easily.

In general, we will pair the rod with a line of the same weight. For some medium fast rods that are used predominantly for fishing at close quarters, we might “overline” the rod by one line weight – ie putting a six weight line on a five weight rod. We do this to make it load more quickly for short accurate casts, but it means compromising on distance casts. And whether you should do this or not always depends on the characteristics of the individual rod and the line. Test it out first before you do this!

Line type

Floating

Floating fly line is the most common type of line. It’s what we all use, and you can find it for sale anywhere. It’s designed to cast a nymph, dry fly, or streamer with ease. Whether you’re casting a fast-action or slow-action stick, everyone needs a floating fly line.

Intermediate

Intermediate lines are performance-focused. They’re built to sink your fly to a certain depth, and a certain speed.

Sink tip

Sink tip lines were primarily designed with streamer performance in mind. These are heavy casting lines that sink the tip deep, so you can get your streamers in front of trout.

Rod Action

Rod action is an important component of picking a great rod. Fast-action rods are the big thing right now, although there is a slight renaissance of slow action rods, too.

Presentation vs power

When it comes to fly rod actions, you have three choices – slow, medium, and fast. Medium action rods are the most versatile, fast action fly rods are the easiest to use, and slow action rods are built for specialized fishing situations. Generally, a medium action rod gives you a great balance between power and presentation, while fast and slow rods fall on the opposite end, respectively.

Line speed

Line speed is an important factor if you’re casting into the wind. A rod that generates high line speed will perform better in wind, or when using heavy flies.

Fast, medium or slow?

We touched on this above, but generally, you’ll want a fast or medium action rod for most fly fishing situations. A slow action rod is designed for dry fly fishing to wary trout.

Rod Length

The most versatile fly rods are 9 feet long. You may find that a shorter or longer fly rod is better, based on the size of the water you most often fish.

Final thoughts on fly rods for trout

Picking the best fly rod for trout isn’t an easy task, but once you break things down, you can see you just need to find something that ticks off most of your boxes. Take the time to do your research, and you’ll come home with a rod that you’re very happy with.

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