For a discussion on How to Choose a Rod go here.
The most expensive piece of equipment is the fly rod. With the advent of saltwater fly fishing and the opening up of the global economy, fly fishing gear and in particular fly rods are getting better and more inexpensive all the time. So it is no longer a daunting prospect to fit your self out with a good very reasonably priced rod.
Rods can range from just a few dollars to specially hand-crafted bamboo rods which cost thousands. There is a difference between a cheap $50 rod and a $700. The question of course is whether the difference is worth the price. In time you will get the chance to try the difference if you want to but it is not necessary. For example we carry Echo, Mystic, Greys and St Croix rods which offer excellent value and perform exceptionally well.
Remember that you are just trying to catch a fish in a particular environment, so you need the equipment which suits that circumstance. In small spring creeks or streams there is no need for a rod which will handily shoot a line 80 feet into a stiff ocean breeze. By the same token, a soft 3wt is useless if you are trying to put a heavy streamer 60 feet across a strong river.
So first think where you are going to fish most. It may be that in time you will get several rods for different conditions. That is fine, and as rods get better and more inexpensive you will be able to do that.
Fly Rods fall generally into 2 classes – saltwater and freshwater. And then they are graded according to the line weight most suited to that rod.
The obvious difference between a saltwater and a freshwater rod of the same weight is the fittings. Salt water environments corrode, so the fittings are all made from corrosion resistant materials. Saltwater rods work fine in fresh water, but not vice versa.
In addition the range of saltwater rods tends to favour the heavy weighted lines whereas the freshwater range tends to lighter weights. However they do overlap substantially.
From our viewpoint, we are primarily concerned with trout fishing therefore in the interest of brevity we will generally confine our remarks to that subject.
In our view, the ideal rod we recommend for a beginner is a graphite rod between 8 and 9ft which casts a 5 wt line.
Material. Graphite is the most common material used in fly rods and is becoming so inexpensive, varied and efficient that really there is no need to pursue other options. The main problem with graphite is its brittleness. A graphite rod's integrity can be compromised by a single split shot hitting the shaft squarely during casting such that at a later time, the rod will inexplicably break. It's just one of the problems of graphite and the finer the rod, the greater the risk. Hence the willingness of many rod makers to offer lifetime guarantees on their product.
Those who would prefer bamboo do so for reasons which certainly do not include economy. Furthermore, bamboo rods are not as stiff as graphite and therefore are more limited in their application. On the other hand, for the seasoned spring creek fisherman who embraces the most delicate of presentations, bamboo is ideal. I grew up fishing with bamboo and personally prefer graphite.
There is also a resurgence of interest in fiberglass rods. I now fish most of the time with a Hardy "stream" which is a 7ft 3wt fibreglass rod. Actually it is 90% glass and 10% graphite. It is a beautiful little rod selling under $400. It enables excellent presentation and is more robust than graphite.
Action. The second consideration is the action of the rod. This describes the manner in which the rod performs when delivering the line and the fly. Rods will range from a soft or slow action to a fast action. Again there is an element of personal preference but for the beginner, a medium action is ideal. As one's skill's evolve, one will appreciate the differences the various actions offer. But as a first rod choice a medium action will allow reasonable distance to be covered without too much effort but at the same time be a little forgiving. With a faster action, if fishing with a light tippet, there is always the risk of breaking off while fighting a fish in faster water.
Length. Rods can vary significantly in length. Each variation has its advantages and disadvantages. Essentially the longer the rod, the greater the line control. However the shorter rod is more convenient on small streams and where back cast is limited or the terrain narrow. If one is fishing on a larger river where the current varies and there is a need to continually mend the line, the longer rod is preferable. Some of the guides like their clients to use 10 or 11ft rods for easier mending, particularly from a boat. From our view point, 81/2 ft to 9ft is the best choice.
The ability to mend a line will be enhanced by the longer rod, but it doesn't always have to be so. Often a simple mend with a faster rod may result in too much movement of the line resulting in movement of a small dry fly. This is a simple result of the physics of the strength of the rod and the lightness of the line and fly. Therefore, unless one is practiced mending with a faster rod, there is the risk of unnecessary movement to the dry fly.
On the other hand if one is nymphing with some weight on the line, the longer faster rod will mend well. Consequently, if you are going to fish a BWO hatch delicately, use a lighter slower action rod to minimize interference with the drift of the fly when mending.
Weight. We prefer the 5 weight because it give a little more flexibility in fishing. However, the heavier weight means that the delicacy of a 4 wt is not enjoyed to the same extent. I prefer a lighter weight simply because I enjoy feeling the fish fight. However, remember that while the fish is fighting it is expending energy so one wants the rod to be able to land the fish quickly enough so it can easily recover rather than exhausting it because the rod was not able to handle the fish and the current of the river.
If you are considering floating for fish, a heavier rod is always preferable, because the additional movement of the boat will create additional drag when fighting a hooked fish. Furthermore, one needs to be able to land fish quickly and get back onto the water before one drifts away from a pod of feeding fish. A good guide will always try and control the boat and if possible row back to drift through the same area. But sometimes in higher water or in a steeper narrower waterway it is not possible.
Pieces.Rods come in different pieces. Traditionally the rod was generally in 2 pieces the 2 parts being joined at the ferrule. However as the rod has evolved to the needs of the travelling fisherman, and the materials have evolved, it is possible to make rods in a range of pieces. Generally rods now come in 2, 3 or 4 pieces however that is not the limit at all. A 4 piece rod is much easier to travel. Many fishermen traveling overseas have terrible stories of arriving at angling destinations without rods and gear. So it is very attractive to be able to carry one's rods on board.
On the other hand, the cost of a rod increases marginally with the addition of more joints so again if cost is a factor and travel is not, a 2 piece rod is fine. Another problem arising from more ferrules is the greater risk of the rod coming apart while one fishes. So take care to check from time to time that the pieces are firmly together.
Care of your rod.
Saltwater. In saltwater, it is necessary to take great care of your rod to ensure that it will continue to work efficiently. Putting away a rod after a trip to the ocean without adequate care invites damage.
Impacts. One of the hidden difficulties of graphite rods occurs when casting a heavier fly or weighted line. A direct impact between a heavy fly and the rod can result in an immediate shattering or a weakening which later results in a breakage at the point of weakness. So when using a heavier fly or weight be aware of the risk that impact with the rod might have. One of the advantages of buying a rod with a guarantee is that the shattered rod can be replaced during its lifetime.
Boating. I have had more broken rods boating than anything else. It is almost axiomatic. Put an inexperienced person in a boat, tell them not to go anywhere near your rod and they then either stand or sit on it. Alternatively, boating with 2 fishermen is also fraught with risk. Unless you don't mind dealing with a broken rod, my advice is to never take your best rod in a boat unless you are on your own or only have a guide. If you ignore this advice then be warned. Boating is a killer of good rods.
Care. Unless you are like me and want your rods ready for a quick walk to the river, I suggest that you always put them away in their sock and their solid rod case. Make sure they are dry. If the sock or rod is wet mildew might develop. They last longer in better condition, don't get dusty and are protected. Wipe them down. Preferably, when fishing don't stick your fly into the cork butt. The guides are there for that purpose.
The cork handle can easily be cleaned with a wet wonder cloth. It will take off the grime from the surface and leave the rod looking almost new.
See here for the range of fly rods we carry.
We offer many of the products noted above for sale. Check our sale page from time to time to see any deals which might interest you.