When I was a kid, any rod was good enough. If it could get a line wet, it was good enough for me. I spent many hours hauling out bluegill and rock bass with an pole stiff enough to prop up a house.
It wasn’t until I was older, I started paying attention to things like action and length. These have an effect on casting, hooking and retrieving fish. I had never even heard the word ‘action’ applied to a rod until I was nearly an adult.
Then I got into fly fishing and length took on a whole new level. Action narrowed down but greatly affected casting as well as hooking.
A new variable had to be considered: fly rod weights.
Fly rod weight refers to the weight of the line the rod should be loaded with for optimal casting. The selection of rod and line weight is an all-important consideration based on species.
Much the same that most normal people aren’t going to fish an Ugly Stick for crappie or a standard bass rod for catfish, fly rods are somewhat specific. To get the most out of a rod, let’s break down the weights and see what they are capable of.
Table of Contents
Fly Rod Weights
Most fly rods are a single weight between 2 and 10. It seems strange to start at 2 but I have never seen a 1 weight fly rod and can’t imagine its use. Rods larger than 10 weight exists but they are usually custom made and beyond our scope here.
Some rods, mostly the budget models, are sold as a between weight so they could be a 5/6 and accept line weight for either rod. There is a lot of sense to this and this is a good way of exploring rods since there is some overlap in their use.
These are ultralight rods with very limited use. They are very slim, flexible, and can be quite hard to cast. Distances should be shorter and fish smaller for this rod. I find them useful for fishing small creeks with high banks that need shorter casting with greater line control.
- Best for panfish, brook trout, and other small fish
- Harder to cast with control unless distances are very short
- Rare and often made by only specialty fly-rod companies
These are great starter rods for those who only fish smaller water. You can bring in some medium sized fresh-water species including smaller bass. If you hook a bigger fish like a brown or larger bass, be ready to watch that rod bend!
- Works great for trout, smaller bass, and any variety of panfish.
- Great for fishing small water.
- Rod loads easier and casts better with less back cast.
The range starting at 4 weight is where most fly rods land. In this range, you get a great potential for catching medium and even some larger freshwater species. They have plenty of power for keeping fish under control and are moderately easy to cast.
- Great starter rod for most people, especially a 5 weight.
- Fishes well for trout, bass, and still works well for panfish.
- Easy to learn on and grow with, a rod you can use for a lifetime.
This is my personal favorite rod if you buy a dual weight. You can fish any of the fish below if you use a lighter line but an upgrade to a 6 weight rod opens up the world of bigger fish. These are probably the most versatile rods around.
- Most versatile rods around for what they catch.
- Great for anything from most trout, panfish, smaller pike and similar fish.
- Can fish larger, weighted flies for bass and pike while still being easy to cast.
I consider this the big fish rod for freshwater, it is likely the largest you will ever need unless you fish salmon and muskie. Starting at 7 weight, rods can become somewhat trickier to cast but are not yet too difficult.
- Great for anything from rainbow trout to any pike or larger bass.
- Moderate casting difficulty, especially for a starter rod.
- Can fish most any larger flies and top waters for bigger fish.
This is where we start to make the move to saltwater but still maintain the ability to fish most freshwater species. At the point around 8 weight, you are going to move away from fishing rainbow trout but browns are still good. In the salt, you can take on some of the moderate fish commonly fished topwater.
- Leave the small freshwater fish and go for the big bass, pike, and muskie.
- Can fish salmon and saltwater species like speckled trout, Mahi, and Snook.
- Starting into the harder to cast realm but still not too bad for the novice.
At this point, rods are getting harder to learn on and more specialized. Most people will never need a rod this heavy. Most people consider these a salmon rod but any salt species is viable as are the largest freshwater bass and muskie.
- Fish most any freshwater fish larger than a rainbow trout are fair game.
- Most top feeding saltwater game fish including salmon are great until you get to sailfish size.
- Hard to cast and take a lot of practice to use well.
– This is the high end for the big fish. I have known people to use a 10 weight on smaller shark species. They accept any of the larger flies well but are noticeably stiff. This can cause a lot of issue for the beginner and are best reserved for those with some practice.
- Fished for the largest fish including sailfish, salmon, tarpon.
- Freshwater rarely needs anything this large but could be used for muskie.
- Hard to cast, timing is critical to get a good transition between the back and front cast.
While none of these rules are truly hard and fast, they are a general guidelines on what you would want to use the rods for. I have brought in sizable smallmouth bass on a 4 weight rod and caught tons of panfish on an 8 weight. These are just not the preferred choice for those fish.
Where you can get a normal rod in ina variety of actions, fly-rods are narrower in their options. I would say that 90% are in the fast and extra fast range.
A conventional rod’s action is a reference to how quickly the backbone of the rod is reached. This is normally used an information on hook how sensitive the rod is and how quickly hook sets will occur.
With a fly rod action will also affect casting. Since this is the hardest skill in fly fishing to master, getting the right action is a big deal.
Medium and Lower Rods
These should not be used by beginners. Casting is very difficult and the need is very rare. Leave these until you know when you need one.
Most rods are not sold at this level until you reach high weight rods around 7 or more. You need a lot of line weight to get a good load on the rod for a proper cast. Of all the standard actions, this is my least preferred.
This makes up the great majority of fly rods, especially in the middle spectrum of line weight. They are easy to cast with moderately weighted line and perform well in a fight and on hook set.
Some rods, usually in 5 weight or less, are extra fast. These can be fun to fish with the added sensitivity and aren’t an overall bad choice. An added benefit is this action shoots line really well. It can be tricky to time but they can make some seriously long casts.
The final concern we are going to worry ourselves with here is the length of the rod. Most rods fall between 9 foot and 12 foot with most in the 10-foot range. Length affects casting but also your ability to control a fish.
Longer rods are often associated with more powerful rods with a higher line weight. These are designed to get the best possible cast for the stiffer rods. Generally, anything over 10 feet.
Rods 9 foot and shorter are specialty rods for very small water. I use a 9-foot rod to cast short casts in confined creeks in the eastern U.S. They can be harder to cast, especially if you want good distance.
For most people, a rod between 10 and 11 feet in length is probably the right choice. They do well at casting and get good distance. They aren’t as whippy and are easier to cast and maintain decent line control for tighter fishing conditions.
Just FYI, longer rods do not always cast farther.
Keep in mind that the species you’re targeting will determine the rod weight you chose.
If you want a versatile rod that can be used for multiple species, try something in the mid ranges.
If you have any questions, leave a comment, and I’d be glad to help clarify.