Fly Rod Weight Chart: Choose the Best Rod for the Task

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Fly Rod Weight Chart

Choosing the right weight fly rod is vital for your fishing success and makes fly fishing much more enjoyable.

Of course there are people in fly fishing who collect rods of virtually every weight, but who has the money to do that?

Not me, that’s for sure. I am content to settle on two or three rods of different weights that I know will get me through 95% of the fly fishing that I do.

To help you decide what fly rod weight is suited to various different situations and fish species, we have put together this handy fly rod weight chart.

Fly Rod Weights Explained

Before we get to the chart I just want to explain exactly what’s meant when we talk about the “weight” of a fly rod.

It doesn’t mean how much it actually weighs, it is a measure of how powerful it is effectively.

The rod weight relates the weight of fly line that it is matched to. 

As fly line sizes go up in number, the total mass of the line increases and it requires a more powerful rod to aerialize that line.

Fly fishing rod makers nominate a weight for their rods that aligns to the line you should use with it.

You can find the fly rod weight written on the rod near the grip.

Fly Fishing Rod Weight Chart

WeightType of waterTarget SpeciesNotes
2Tiny mountain streamsTroutTwo weight fly rods are specialist tools and only really suitable for fishing for small trout in tiny mountain streams
3Small streamsTrout/panfishMoving up to the three weight gives you a little more versatility. A 3wt fly rod with matching fly line weight is still best for fishing small streams, but is has a bit more power to handle the odd fish up to 12” or more that you can encounter in this type of water.
4Small streams and freestone riversTrout, crappie, other panfishA four weight fly rod is a lot more versatile than either a three or four weight. It’s small enough to fish mountain streams well, but has the capacity to be fished well in freestone rivers (and ponds if you are chasing panfish). It can also hold up well if there is a little wind about. (See our top 4 weight rod picks)
5Freestone rivers and tailracesTroutA five weight with matching fly line weight (or overlined by one line weight for short casting with very fast action rods)  is my choice as my standard river trout rod. A 6 weight feels like overkill to me on most rivers, whereas the five weight is fine for virtually the full range of river types and can be used on lakes at a pinch. It is overkill, though, for tiny streams and most five weight rods are 9ft, which is too long for optimal casting in tree lined streams. (See our best fly rods for trout)
6Lakes, large rivers and tailracesTrout, smallmouth and largemouth bassA six weight is my standard lake fishing fly rod. I have a 10ft 6wt rod for lake fishing which has enough backbone to cast the whole fly line if needed and is great for handling windy weather. A six weight of 9ft that’s capable of turning over the fly line with large or bulky flies makes for a nice bass fishing rod making it a versatile freshwater fly fishing tool.
7Lakes, large riversTrout, steelhead, salmon, largemouth bass, inshore saltwater speciesA seven weight, for me, is really an in-between weight and not one that I would choose. I have a six weight and an eight weight and have no real use for something that falls in the middle.
8Saltwater fly fishing, large riversSalmon, steelhead, pike, bonefish, peacock bass, striped bass and other saltwater speciesAn 8wt is my pick as the most versatile rod for saltwater and anadromous fish and for targeting trophy largemouth bass. It’s strong enough for some of the main flats targets (bonefish particularly) and OK for salmon fishing and steelheading if you are fishing single hand. It might be a bit undergunned in some circumstances, but fishing an 8wt over a 10wt pays off in terms of less fatigue. (See our best fly rods for steelhead here)
9Inshore saltwater fly fishing, pike watersBonefish, permit, pike, salmon, steelheadGoing up to a nine weight gives more firepower for flats fishing and for the anadromous species including large salmon – Kings and big Chum salmon and large Atlantic salmon, along with steelhead. If you mainly fish for these targets or you are mainly a saltwater flats fisherman, a nine weight is ideal.
10Inshore saltwater fly fishing, smaller pelagicsBonefish, permit, smaller tuna and mackerel species, snookWith a 10 weight rod you are getting into a size that gives you losts of stopping power for flats fishing and light offshore fishing. You’ll begin to notice that rods of 10 and up are more tiring to cast though! (See our best saltwater fly rods here and matching reels here)
11-12Offshore and large inshore speciesTarpon, false albacore and other strong saltwater fishNow we are into the true big game category with 11-12 weight rods perfect for chasing tarpon and pelagic species that can really pull
13-14Offshore and large inshore speciesGiant trevally, larger pelagic gamefish such as swordfish and sailfishRods of 13 and 14 weight are really specialised gear for bruising fish with a reputation for trashing tackle. The Giant Trevally is a perfect example and stopping these monsters before they bury in the reef needs a stick of this strength.

What Weights do Fly Rods Come in?

Fly Rod Weight Chart Feature Image 1
Rod weight relates to the rating of the line used

Fly rod weights range from a 1 weight fly rod  (the lightest rod) to about a 15 weight fly rod (the heaviest). It is fair to say 1 weight fly rods and 15 weight fly rods are uncommon, and most people will choose a rod that falls within the 2 weight to 14 weight range with the bulk of rods purchased being between 5 and 8 weights.

What About Fly Rod Length and Action? Is it related to Rod Weight?

These are independent of the weight, although as a general rule lighter weight rods are marginally shorter (a three weight creek rod might be 8ft long while a five weight river rod would be 9ft).

Once you go to a six weight or above, rod lengths tend to be between nine and 10 feet. Longer rods make it easier to pick up line off the water but can be impacted more by wind than short rods.

Rod action is also not a function of the rod’s weights. You can have a slow action rod, a medium action rod and a fast action rod in any weight class.

Slow action rods are rare now (perhaps the closest thing is fiberglass fly rods) thanks to modern fly rod construction techniques with most carbon fiber fly rods either medium-fast action or fast action.

Best overall Fly Rod Weights

In this section of the article, I have scratched my head and come up with what I think to be the right fly rod weight for these species. 

Fly line weight should correspond to the rod’s weight rating.

Fly Rod Weight for Trout in Rivers and Streams

Fly Rod Weight Small Stream
A Good Fly Rod Weight for Small Streams is a #4

I use a 5 weight rod for 95% of my trout fishing in rivers and streams and have done for years. It is is the perfect and most versatile choice and I will only put down my five weight rod if I am fishing a tiny creek where a 3wt or four weight is the right choice.

Fly Rod Weight for Trout in Lakes

Fly Rod Weight Six Weight
Me landing a trout in a wind swept lake with a six weight fly rod

Again, there is one weight that I think is perfect for lake fishing – a 6 weight rod. A five weight is a little undergunned for lakes, particularly when the wind blows or you need to cast long distances. But step up to a 6wt and you can handle those gusts of wind and cast sink tip and intermediate lines with ease.

Fly Rod Weight for Fly Fishing for Bass

I’d choose either a 6wt rod or an eight weight rod as the ideal choice for bass fishing. The eight weight has just enough to subdue a big largemouth bass and has enough backbone to turn over the leader even when fishing with big bulky flies with lots of air resistance. The 6 weight is great when you are targeting smaller bass.

Fly Rod Weight for Salmon

Salmon fishing calls for long and precise casts and enough backbone to stop a raging chum or chinook or any other type of salmon as it sprints downstream. I recommend an eight weight for this task.

Fly Rod Weights for Saltwater

For saltwater it is too hard to give a single fly rod weight of course! You need to consider the right rod weight for the diverse range of species and situations saltwater fly fishing throws up.

For bonefish I like to fish an eight weight fly rod, and it is not a bad rod weight for redfish too.

But that’s a little underdone for other flats targets such as permit or barracuda, where you might want to step up to a 9 weight rod or a 10 weight rod. 

A 10 weight fly rod  is good for handling smaller tuna species, snook and the aforementioned flats targets.

Then you can step up to 12 weight or above rods for fly fishing for the really brutal saltwater fish. We are talking tarpon, big tuna, swordfish, sailfish and giant trevally and other large fish.

What about double handed fly rods?

Double handed rods use the same weight rating system as single handed rods, although it is more common in the double handed world to overline the rod (choosing a line weight higher than the fly rod weight) as they are long, powerful tools that provide an enormous amount of casting power in the right hands.

Final Thoughts on Choosing the Right Fly Rod Weight

Fly Rod Weight Six Weight 1
Fighting a big brown trout is easiest with a properly chosen fly rod

So you can see from this article that fly rod weight is related to fly line weight and choosing the right weight depends on the fish your are targeting, how far you need to cast and what kind of flies you are going to be using.

The rod weights listed in the table should give you a starting point for choosing the right fly rod for the type of fly fishing that you prefer as well as what rod to buy or borrow for a particular fly fishing adventure.

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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.