The fly rod is the defining element in any tackle ensemble as it is responsible for propelling the weighted fly line and relatively weightless fly out into the river or lake and to the targeted fish. It is the angler’s primary tool, a synthesis of functionality and art. The very first fly fishing rods were crude instruments that got the job done, but today’s high performance fly rods come in many shapes and sizes and are constructed of space age materials like fiberglass and graphite that would no doubt have the earliest anglers salivating at the advances in the primary tool used in fly fishing.
Modern fly rods are designed, first and foremost, to cast fly lines as efficiently as possible. This goal has created a community of specialized casting specialists and “fly rod taper” designers who focus on the physics of fly casting and materials science and engineering in the search for the most effective fly rod ever produced. These advances in fly rod design have led to parallel advances in fly line design and construction as well as a general improvement in the casting ability of anglers of all skill and experience levels. Improved casting accuracy and distance, both direct results of modern fly rod advancements, have also opened new horizons in the sport, allowing anglers to fish new water and harsh conditions that were never accessible with older fly rod designs.
There still is a passionate community of more traditional rod builders and enthusiasts who maintain the art of creating high performing rods of split cane bamboo. These cane rods are most often found in the deftly skilled hands of trout anglers on smaller spring creeks, but several of today’s best bamboo rod builders are also constructing highly effective rods in heavier line weights and in lengths and tapers suitable for Spey casting.
Components of a Fly Rod
The fly rod blank is simply the physical rod itself. Each rod style has a unique shape or “taper” throughout its length designed to deliver a specific fly line weight or fly line style as efficiently as possible.
Fly rod grips are a key component to the fly rod itself. Grips are generally made of Portuguese cork and are shaved and sanded on a lathe to create an ergonomic handle. A series of classic grip styles are available; Half Wells grips are popular in many mid-weight trout rods, Full Wells grips give steelheaders and saltwater anglers a bit more control when casting heavier rods, Cigar grips are extremely popular on the lightest fly rods, Spey grips are long and tapered allowing an angler to easily wield a two-handed rod of 13 feet or more in length.
Guides are small coils of light, but durable metal that hold the fly line close to the rod, allowing an angler to actually use the fly line and fly rod in tandem to successfully complete a fly cast. These coils are sometimes referred to as “eyes” and the first guide or guides near the butt end or handle of the rod blank are called the “stripping guides” and the rest of the guides are called “snake guides.” The final loop-shaped guide at the tip of the rod blank is simply called the “tip top.” Fly rod guides have “feet” and are secured to the rod blank with tight wraps of thread about the feet. Generally, guides have two feet, but single-footed guides are becoming more popular with rod designers as weight considerations become more important for a modern rod’s performance and marketing story. Recoil snake guides — guides that retain their original shape even after being bent — are also finding their way to mainstream fly rod design for their enhanced durability and performance.
The reel seat is metal component that holds a fly reel to the rod. Reel seats can be as simple as two aluminum rings (called cork-and-ring reel seat), or can be beautifully machined combinations of aluminum and wood or composite material for larger, heavier reels. The reel seat is a relatively new addition to fly rod design as anglers used to hold the fly reel in their free hand as recent as the mid 1800s.
Fly Rod Construction
The best fly rods, whether bamboo, fiberglass, or graphite are put together with the utmost care. Construction is the ultimate determinant of how efficiently the rod transfers the energy of the caster through the rod to fly line and eventually to the fly. A poorly constructed rod is not efficient and will not directly transmit the energy generated by the caster to the fly line, often resulting in a “wobble” at the end of the casting stroke. This wobbling transfers to the line resulting in a weaker, less accurate cast. The better and tighter the construction of a rod, the more efficient it is, and the more accurate and powerful it will be at all distances.
In modern graphite rods, the quality of construction is directly related to the type of source graphite used to make it. As a general rule, the higher the modulus (a term indicating how much graphite is present in the rod), the better the graphite. Quality rod makers are continually searching and redefining the right amount and type of graphite to make their rods even better. Translation: just the right amount of modulus graphite will make a higher performance rod. Rods that use modern aerospace grades of graphite will transfer the most energy with the greatest degree of ease and also allow for the best accuracy.
Fly Rod Performance and Optimization
Fly Rods and Line Weight
Generally speaking, the weight of a fly line is proportionate to the size of the species you’re pursuing. If you are fishing for smaller fish with smaller flies, a lighter line weight will allow you to present the fly more accurately. However, if you are going after big fish, a heavier line is important for turning over larger flies in the wind and casting greater distances.
Action and Flex
Fly rods are characterized by where the rod flexes. A “fast action” fly rod flexes near the tip, and a “slow action” rod flexes near the butt of the rod with “medium action” somewhere in between. Action determines the tempo of your casting stroke. It also determines the ability of your rod to generate line speed, a term for how quickly the loop travels away from the rod tip. As it takes less effort to cast farther and more accurately with a fast action rod, beginning casters are often best fit with this action.
The type of water and fishing determines appropriate fly rod length. Smaller streams mean tighter casting situations, and a shorter rod is much more manageable. Big Western rivers and salt water require a longer rod for increased distance and power. While, anglers fishing for steelhead and salmon commonly prefer longer rods for large mends and roll casts. Generally speaking, a nine-foot rod is ideal for the vast majority of fishing situations. If you are new to the sport, this length will perform effectively in a variety of waters and will allow for a solid development of your fly cast.
Check out the best fly rods available today.