So, you need a new fly rod

Published on April 26, 2014

This is a fantastic time of year to shop for a new fly rod. Actually, anytime is a great time for someone like me, obsessed to the nth degree with fly fishing.
I absolutely love to fish with hand-tied offerings for just about any species that swims anywhere close to the surface. I’ve yet to try for cod, sculpins or flounder, but just about everything else I’ve had a crack at. I believe mackerel is wildly underrated as a sports fish for fly anglers, but I’ll leave that story for another day.

The lowly mackerel makes amazing table fare as well.

Why is it a good time to buy a fly rod? Well, first off, inland trouting is closed for a month, justified by reasons I fail to accept as having validity or viable supporting data. I’ve had my say on this before, but I’ll sound off again very soon. So now that anglers have time on their hands, they can browse online or shop local outlets for new gear. Also, don’t forget that both Mother’s and Father’s days are approaching quickly. Wouldn’t a shiny new fly rod make a wonderful gift on your special day? Just make sure to let your loved ones know the make and model you desire. It’s not a decision to be made lightly.

Buying a fly rod is nothing like purchasing a new car. Fly rods are for life and come with lifetime warranties. Much more research and careful reading of background information is essential to a wise and rewarding decision. Cars come and go, and typically these days have so little character. Fly rods, on the other hand, are loaded with character; slow and relaxing, fast-paced and lively, or a style betwixt and between. And you are initiating a long-term relationship.

Trying to figure out the best fly rod can be confusing and overwhelming for those not immersed head and shoulders in angling culture. Actually it’s no easy decision even for seasoned fishers. Fly rods are expensive and we all want to optimize our return on scarce recreation capital.

So, what are the key fly rod characteristics that we must consider and decide upon? I’ll start with the simplest, two hands or one.

Fly rods are designed according to purpose, in this case double- or single-hand casting. Today, I’ll stick to the single-hand rod because that’s what 99.9 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador anglers favour. There are also switch rods designed to be cast either single or two-handed, which muddies the water more than a tad. I told you this could get confusing.

First you need to decide on a rod length. Single-hand fly rods are much shorter than their two-handed cousins. Single handers typically range from six to 10 feet in length.  With that said, very few folks use rods shorter than eight feet. The only purpose for very short fly rods would be fishing tiny streams, particularly ones with overhanging trees and brush. There would be no need for casting power and the shorter rod might prove handy in confined quarters. At the other extreme, anything over 10 feet is very difficult to cast with one hand.

So, what rod length is best for you? It is generally agreed upon in the fly fishing world that a nine-foot rod is best for normal overhead casting. It has to do with physics, efficiency, and human anatomy, but the average human being can deliver his or her best fly-casting effort with a nine-foot stick of graphite. According to this premise, if you buy shorter or longer you should have specific reasons, because you are compromising casting ergonomics and distance, which are key ingredients in the game.

There are, indeed, valid reasons for going longer, up to 10 feet. Here’s my take on it: I find the longer rod an advantage for fishing bombers over holding salmon. Lots of line mending is needed to accomplish just the right drift over your target, and the extra length makes this manoeuvre easier. Line mending is essentially manipulation of the fly line after it has landed on the water, in a way that positively affects the drift of the fly. Also, 10-foot rods are much better for spey and roll casts — that’s casting to fish without a backcast. It’s powerful medicine in places where rocks or trees interfere with your casting.  

Why go shorter than nine feet? The obvious reason is for fishing small streams or gulleys where longer rods might prove clumsy. A lesser known advantage is related to the ease of releasing, netting or tailing fish. The shorter the rod, the easier it is to reach the fish with your free hand, especially for older anglers who don’t practise yoga. Also, shorter rods are naturally lighter; that means you get more thrill out of fighting a fish and less wear and tear on your joints. Life and fly fishing are both all about compromise.

If you are just starting out in fly fishing, go with a nine-footer.

Next, you have to choose a rod weight. They come in sizes two through to 12. Let’s have look at the extremes. A two-weight rod is super light and will have little influence on the direction taken by a 20-pound salmon. This is not a salmon rod. However, catching pan-sized mud trout on a two-weight is fantastic fun. Lighter rods deliver small flies with much greater finesse, and even an eight-inch trout becomes a worthy opponent. Everything is relative. You don’t need a 12-weight for any fly fishing that I know of here in Newfoundland. This is a very hefty rod and comes into its own on bigger, saltwater species like tarpon, tuna and dorado. Continuous casting is very tiring.

Most of us around these parts will fish for mud trout, seatrout or salmon. For salmon you are good to go between seven- and nine-weight. Sometimes I even use a six, but that may be pushing it a bit, especially if you hook a bigger fish in fast water. I think an eight-weight is most popular.

Lighter rods make for more exciting battles, but on ethical grounds you want to land the fish quickly, so you must decide for yourself. Eight is a good starting point.

Native brook or mud trout range quite a bit in size. For smaller pan-sized trout up to a pound or so, a four-weight is a great all-around choice. If you’re off to Labrador or Indian Bay for the big fellas, you might be better off with a six-weight weapon. For sea run browns around the Avalon Peninsula, you’re adequately gunned with anything from a six- to an eight-weight. Actually, a seven-weight would serve double duty as an all-around salmon and seatrout rod.

I’m at more than 1,000 words and I haven’t even mentioned rod action. Fly-casting sticks range in tempo from slow to lightning fast. I could go on and on about rod action but for today I will keep it very simple. Fast-action rods are more expensive and deliver no advantage for beginners. Don’t waste your money. They require more skill and a level of precise timing in the casting stroke that only comes with many days of practice. If you have been fishing for many years and crave high performance, then by all means, knock yourself out. Fast-action rods are like high-performance sports cars, and slower rods are more like SUVs or pickup trucks. It’s best to test drive a variety of rods and see what action tickles your fancy and casting ability.

Sometimes I go fast and sometimes I prefer the slower pace. It depends; on what, I will discuss another time.

There are so many brands of fly rods out there, and so many expert opinions, that you might easily get overwhelmed and draw from a hat. There’s Sage, Loomis, Loop, Guideline, ADG, Fenwick, Hardy, St Croix, Orvis and the list goes on, in no particular order of excellence. I’ve used just about all of them over the years and they all make wonderful products.

Graphite is an amazing material. Incidentally, Loop is now owned by one of our fellow countrymen, Chris Verbiski. You might know him as co-discoverer of the Voisey’s Bay nickel resource, but Chris is also a world-class globetrotting fly angler. He also runs two fly-fishing camps in Labrador under the name Atlantic Rivers Outfitting Co., one on Hunt River and another situated at the falls on the St. Lewis River.

Loop was founded in Sweden and quickly established itself as a world-class rod and reel company. If you want to shop local, by all means take a look at Loop. OP Hunting and Fishing carries the Loop line as well as Loomis, Fenwick, ADG and Hardy. Blue Charm Angling sells Sage, Orvis and Hardy. Coastal Outdoors and SportsCraft also stocks a line of fly rods and associated gear. You can order just about anything online. Have fun. It’s money well spent.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.