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Your First Fly Rod

Updated on April 3, 2013
A 5wt fly rod with mid-sized reel, weight-forward fly line, and backing.
A 5wt fly rod with mid-sized reel, weight-forward fly line, and backing.

You are ready to take that first step towards fly fishing - acquiring your first fly rod. Chances are you have web searched “Fly Rod” and now find yourself in a minefield of information. You are afraid to start. This article will keep it very simple and help you select that first rod to get you off to a good start.

One underlying principle holds true for all fly fishing. It is very simple: the fly line propels the fly. Everything else either directly or indirectly is associated with the mechanics of the fly line or is a modification of the fly line itself when it comes to casting. Keep this principle with you when purchasing all items related to casting to include the flies themselves.

Keep it simple by acquiring your fly rod and associated equipment as one package. This will greatly increase your likelihood of getting a “balanced sytem” meaning the fly line matches the fly rod and to a lesser extent, the reel matches the line and rod. In order of priority:

  1. Acquire/purchase a complete set-up from a friend who is an avid fly fisher and knows the system is balanced. Note:this does not include Uncle Joe’s fly rod that has been sitting in his closet for over twenty years – chances are the line has oxidized and is too rough to use.
  2. Purchase a prepackaged outfit from a manufacturer. Chances are good that the system is balanced and has everything you need to get started – including some flies.
  3. Purchase an assembled outfit from a retailer. If you go this route, lean towards the rod and line made by the same manufacturer. Avoid a fly rod package advertised as “We took Company ABC’s fly rod and matched it with Company XYZ’s fly line with the line put on MNO’s reel". It could be balanced; it may not. Read the reviews if they are available.
  4. Purchase all your equipment through a local fly store. Actually, this could be the most preferred method for getting your outfit right the first time.The down side is cost. Generally local fly stores carry high end equipment that is well balanced, but expensive. My objective for now is getting you started on the cheap. If you decide you want to pursue fly fishing, your local fly shop should definitely be your next stop.The local fly shop will not only recommend fly rods and the line that will suit the fish you are pursuing, but they will also offer fly casting lessons, functional equipment, and local knowledge of fishing locations.
  5. Putting your own package together is not advisable. You could get it right the first time, but there is a fair chance you won’t and buying piecemeal is usually more expensive.

What do you look for in a fly fishing package? Make sure the package has a fly rod, fly line, fly line backing, and reel. If the package comes with leader, tippet and flies, you landed an extra bonus. All these items are described as follows:

  1. Assuming you are freshwater fishing, you should go with a five to six weight (5-6wt) fly rod. Sizes range from 2-16 - smallest to largest. A 5 or 6 wt rod that is eight to nine feet long is large enough to cast well, but small enough not to get your arm tired. Also, the rod will have enough play in it so that you will enjoy catching smaller fish, but large enough to land the occasional large fish. Get a rod made of graphite. There are some introductory fiberglass rods on the market and they are blast to catch fish with, but you will need to be an advanced caster to use one.
  2. The fly reel should be preferably mid size or maybe even large. Avoid small reels because they will require the fly line to be wrapped around the reel’s spool more. Small reels with smaller fly rods and smaller lines are fine, but a 5-6 wt fly reel will handle larger line and rod.
  3. Acquire/purchase a weight forward, floating fly line assigned the same number as the fly rod, 5 or 6 weight. Different lines place the weight of the line in different places and some lines sink or partially sink. A weight-forward, floating line is the easiest to handle while casting and the easiest to see because all of it floats. Caution! If the type of line does not say weight-forward on the package, assume it is a level line and not a weight-forward line. Level lines are much cheaper to produce and can reduce the price of a packaged fly rod. However, level lines are more difficult to cast and don't shoot through the rod's eyelets as well. As a beginner, avoid level lines. You can reconsider them later after you are an experienced fly fisher.
  4. Backing is nylon string that is spooled first on the reel, then attached to the back end of the fly line. Backing reduces the number of turns the fly line has to make on the spool of the real. The fewer loops the fly line makes on the spool results in a straighter fly line that handles easier when casting. Careful! Some packaged fly rod outfits lack backing. Make sure it is present.
  5. The leader is nylon line that ties on the front end of the fly line and leads to the fly. Of course leaders come in different sizes, but they all taper to a smaller diameter as they get closer to the fly. For now, if the outfit you are purchasing does not have a leader, purchase a 3X leader.
  6. The tippet attaches to the small end of the leader. The other end of the tippet ties to the fly. Again, tippets come in different sizes, but assuming you will fish with size 10 to 14 hooks, a tippet sized 3X or a smaller 4X are your choices.
  7. Finally, the fly should be tied on a hook sized from 10 to 14 and should be a fly that floats. This size will accommodate your tippet and is large enough to see as it floats on the surface. Remember, the objective here is to get you confident in casting – which a floating fly will accomplish more easily.

The above recommendation should result in a “balanced system” that will maximize casting efficiency. With enough fishing experiences under your belt, you can make the next decision to pursue fly fishing further or not. Fly fishing is an equipment intensive sport that requires variable fly rods, lines, and flies - all depending on the fish you are pursuing and the waters you are dealing with. Fly fishing is more like an art than a sport.There are all kinds of mediums used to cast and to express the bait; the fish you catch are an extra bonus.


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    • Tod Zechiel profile imageAUTHOR

      Tod Zechiel 

      2 years ago from Florida, United States

      Thank you

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Created the greatest arlsitec, you have.

    • Tod Zechiel profile imageAUTHOR

      Tod Zechiel 

      6 years ago from Florida, United States

      Thank you Ms King!

    • Joan King profile image

      Joan King 

      6 years ago

      Very good information about fly fishing.


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