Choosing a Fly Fishing Rod: Weight and Action Explained

Choosing a fly rod can be a confusing process. We’ve written this article to simplify the process and help to save you money. The idea with this article is we’ve …

Choosing a fly rod can be a confusing process. We’ve written this article to simplify the process and help to save you money. The idea with this article is we’ve condensed our years of experience with different rods and species to give you a guide to buying the right rod and not wasting money on rods that aren’t suitable for your style of fishing.

Fly Rod Weight: Depends on Species and Waterways

The first things to consider when buying a rod are the main species you are pursuing and the conditions in which it is found. From there you can get an idea of how hard the fish can pull and what sort of a cast is needed to get the fly in front of it. This enables you to selected a “weight” of rod that’s ideal for what you want it to do – weight refers to the line that the rod is matched with. The higher the weight, the heavier a given length of line and the heavier the rod needs to be to cast that line effectively.

Fly rod (and line) weights go from 1 weight (sometimes written as #1) right up to 14 weight (sometimes written as #14).

We’ve developed this handy little table for choosing a fly rod

SpeciesRod Weight
Panfish 0 to 4 weight
Trout (streams and rivers)3 to 6 weight
Trout (lakes)5 to 7 weight
Steelhead7 to 9 weight
Salmon8 to 10 weight
Smallmouth Bass5 to 7 weight
Largemouth Bass6 to 8 weight
Carp7 to 10 weight
Northern Pike and Musky8 to 12 weight
Bonefish, Redfish7 to 9 weight
Striped Bass, False Albacore8 to 12 weight
Peacock Bass, Golden Dorado8 to 12 weight
Tarpon, Rooster Fish, Mahi Mahi10 to 12 weight
GT, sailfish, marlin12 to 14 weight

Best fly rods for trout

Trout is where it all began for fly fishing and there are more trout rods sold each year than any other type of fly rod. Trout rods range from 3 weights through to seven weights at the upper end. Choose an action that suits your style of fishing – fast action for punching out long casts and medium action for delicate presentations. More info via the button below and in these articles:

Our best value trout rod: the Sage Foundation

Sage Foundation buy now image

The Sage Foundation

Choosing a Fly Rod for Bass

Bass fishing with a fly rod is gaining in popularity for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. Bass fly rods need to be bit more powerful than trout rods to cope with the larger, less aerodynamic flies you need to cast and the pulling power of a large bass.

For bass, you are looking at a six weight or more (right up to an eight weight) as the best size rod. Rod characteristics depend a bit on whether you are fishing with poppers or streamers and the environment you are fishing in. More info via the button below.

Our top pick: the Orvis H3D

Orvis H3D (Helios)

Choosing a Saltwater Fly Rod

Saltwater fly fishing is a rapidly growing branch of the sport. The array of fish that you can target in the salt is huge – as is the range of conditions you will find them in. Saltwater rods run from a lightweight estuary rod of six or seven weight, right through to a 14 weight outfit capable of tangling with tackle wrecking Giant Trevally and sailfish.

Again, starting with the species is the way to choose a fly rod and also factor in the conditions you are fishing in – for example, flats rods should be nine feet to help keep the line low and out of the wind, but in other salt water scenarios a longer rod may be better. More information below.

Our Top Pick: Scott Sector

Scott Sector

Final thoughts on choosing a fly rod

Hopefully the information above (and on the links) helps you narrow down your search for a fly rod and prevents you from choosing a fly rod that isn’t suitable or you don’t need.

Personally, I have a five weight for all my river fishing for trout, a six weight for lake fishing and an eight and a 10 weight for my saltwater fishing. I don’t chase the big saltwater pelagic fish and GTs, so this is enough for me. Remember from a cost point of view to get as few outfits as you can get away with as for each rod you buy, you also need to get a reel, line and backing. The cost can easily start adding up!

Photo of author
Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.