Michigan Fly Fishing
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Selecting a Fly Rod

by Brian Pitser

How to Select a Fly Rod

As a guide, teaching fly fishing schools, or working behind the counter in a fly shop, we are constantly asked about fly rod selection.  This is a conundrum for most anglers, especially beginners, or really for that matter, anyone looking to purchase a new rod.  In a guide boat or in a school, we observe fly casting on a continuous basis.  It is hard to bear watching an angler struggle all day with a brand new $600 dollar fly rod that does not fit their casting style, becoming more frustrated with each missed cast.  Hey, it happens and it has happened to me.

My first real fly rod, other than the old Shakespeare Wonder Rod or an old Fenwick Fiberglass rod, was an Orvis 7’9” 5wt. that was a very soft-action rod.  It was a wonderful gift from my parents and as time would tell, did not fit my casting style one bit.  Although the Orvis Superfine was a great, high-quality, 25 year warranty rod, it was more frustrating for me to cast, than fun.  It is hard to believe in hindsight that I even stuck with this sport that later became a passion, career, and obsession if it were just to be based on trying to cast this particular rod.  There was no selection process in choosing this rod, it was based on a name and marketing.  I did not cast it beforehand, so how was I to know if the rod would fit my casting style?  Later on, I discovered through more trial and error (not to mention expense) what type and action fly rod best fit my casting style and ability.  How to avoid some of the common mistakes in selecting a rod will become important as you look at this sport and select new fly fishing gear.

First of all, try before you buy.  Cast the rod and get a feel for how it performs.  Take the time to head out to the parking lot, grass, or a casting pond (Schmidt Outfitters has a private casting pond) and see how the rod performs.  Try different brands, price levels and actions to gain the best understanding and selection for the rod that will work best for you.  One wouldn’t buy a car without first test driving it, so why should a fly rod be any different?  Cast the rod at the distance you will be fishing and see how it performs at 20-50 feet.  Never mind the long casts the shop kid is making or the other guy casting 80-90 feet. Get a comfortable distance of line out and see if you can feel the rod load at a normal casting distance.  Move back and forth between rods and give it some time. Make sure the rod tracks straight, and you can cast it accurately. The cork grip should feel comfortable in your hand, and it should balance well with the reel. When you find the right rod that fits your casting style, you will know instantly this is the rod for you.
Everyone has their own casting style, so pick the rod that best fits your style and casting ability. There have been times when a person walks into our fly shop to buy a high-end, very expensive rod and we end up selling the angler a less expensive rod that will better fit the angler’s casting ability. In the long run the angler wins and we have gained a new customer. Selling the person what they thought they wanted would have put more money in our pocket and would have been easier than walking out to the casting pond, but in the end, buyer’s remorse would have set in and the customer would have been unhappy.  Don’t be fooled by marketing hype or magazine articles; use the marketing as a way to make a list of rods you would like to try casting, but check it out first and get your hands on the gear to cast before you lay down your hard-earned cash. 

If you are a beginning angler, go to a fly fishing school or fly shop with casting instructors where you can cast a wide variety of rods, in all price ranges, and different brands.  We encourage our beginner students not to purchase equipment before taking a school.  There are many great outfits on the market today geared toward an aspiring fly angler that will allow him or her to begin the sport and grow. There is nothing more frustrating for someone truly interested in the sport to give up because of the casting aspect of fly fishing, and many times it has to do directly with equipment selection and trying make the cast.  There are rods that students bring to class that even the experienced instructors have a difficult time casting.  Make sure you go to a reputable fly shop and cast some rods before you make your buying decision.  You will much happier in the long run and gain more enjoyment out of the sport as well.

With so many great rods on the market, it can be difficult to narrow down which rod is right for you.  My advice would be to stick with a major brand such as Sage, Orvis, Winston, or Scott with a lifetime warranty.  Accidents happen and it’s great to have a warranty when something goes wrong.  There are some great overseas rods being produced that cast wonderfully and are a bit less expensive like brands such as Redington and Temple Fork Outfitters that you may want to consider and cast as well.  Support your local fly shop and use them as a resource to select the rod of your choice, based on what feels right to you and fits your budget.  If you happen to be in the northern Michigan area, come by our fly shop and take a bevy of rods out to the pond. Cast until you find the fly rod that best suits your needs and casting style.  In the long run you will be a much happier angler and gain much more enjoyment from the sport.   

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