Choosing a Fly Rod!
Your source for flyfishing and flycraft resources since 1975.
Much has been written and argued over how to select a fly rod, so I'm going to keep this simple for one main reason; if I make it too complicated, you might just get more confused and give up the pursuit of fly fishing altogether!
I'm going to part with tradition and tell you the ending first! My guess is that you'll probably end up with a 9' 5 or 6 weight if you're fishing for nice sized trout on rivers and large streams. You'll probably buy a 9' 8 if you're fishing for steelhead, throwing large flies for large bass or fishing the close to the shore for stripped bass in the saltwater. And if you fishing small streams for trout or just want to catch a few panfish, a shorter 3 or 4 weight will be ideal, probably closer to 8' in length.
So if the above circumstances apply to you, you needn't read any further.
But if you're in for torture . . . read on!
Line Weight & Length
We covered the generalities above, but I'll repeat them anyway. If you're fishing for little native brook trout in small streams or panfish in the shallows of a lake, you'll have a terrific time fishing 7 1/2' to 8' fly rod in a 3 or 4 weight. One of our most popular at Hook & Hackle for this purpose is a 7'9" 3-weight. It's a handy little rod that fun to cast and catch on. (This also happens to be one of the favorite rods that our customers like to build, but that's another story.)
But say I'm planning (hoping) to catch trout 15" and bigger, fishing larger streams and rivers and doing some lake fishing for bass. In this case, I'm going to chose a longer rod for casting further distances (if necessary) and with more backbone to fight the larger fish. Here, a 9' 5 or 6 weight is ideal. For the record, a 9' 5 weight is the most commonly purchased length and weight for beginners. (I built my own fly rod, a 5 weight, before I even went fly fishing, but that's another story.)
For most species of larger fish, a 9' 8-weight will suffice. I've use these to fish for stripped bass in Martha's Vineyard, steelhead in the tributaries to Lake Erie and will take one with me to fish when I go for pike & muskies in northern Ontario this summer. These are often use for bonefish too.
If you've read this far and don't believe we've addressed your situation, then you're either not paying attention or planning a trip for tarpon, where the sky's the limit. (When I went tarpon fishing a few years back, we used 12 weight rods, but that's another story.) Remember, small fish and small water = light, shorter rods. Big fish and big water = heavier weights, longer rods. Again, a 9' 5 or 6 weight is a good compromise for fly fishing in most fresh water situations.
The fly rod manufacturers have made this as complicated as it could possibly be because, well . . . . it's a really long story that has to do with technology, materials, manufacturing and so on. I can cut through all the "blah, blah, blah" and tell you that most folks, and I mean about 95% of them, will want to start with a rod action that has the words "moderate" or "medium" in the description, for instance "medium-fast" or "moderate-fast." If it has a description that describes it as "ultra-fast," "super-fast" or just plain old "fast," it's probably not a good place to start. Faster is NOT better and in fact, most newbies find them much, much more difficult to learn to cast. If you want something faster, you'll figure it out after a few years of fly fishing. I'm in my 23rd year of fly fishing and find that a medium-fast or moderate-fast fly rod suits me best about 99% of the time. (A fast rod is good when you're throwing long casts, fishing big flies or in windy conditions, but that's another story.)
I'll make this easy too. Get a graphite rod. It's a terrific material, affordable and forgiving. Period. (Fishing bamboo, fiberglass or boron rods can be fun too, but that's another story.)
Things to Avoid
Try and stay away from getting trapped into the actual weight of the rod, type of guides, shape of the grip and so on. Let the manufacturer figure that out depending upon the other factors that are important to you. Do not make yourself crazy!!! That's a job for our spouses, children, parents, friends, co-workers and politicians.