Congratulations! After much deliberation, or none, you’ve decided to buy your first fly rod. Pretty soon you’ll possess what is in my opinion, the finest tool to wade streams and pursue the fish who live there, including our beloved smallmouth bass. Fly rods are sized according to the weight of the line they cast best. While a 5 weight rod is the most common rod available and will allow you to fish for bass, trout, and panfish, my favorite rod is currently a 7 wt to fish for bass. There are a ton of great options in multiple materials and with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each material you will be able to find the rod that is perfect for you. So before we get to the fun part (the fishing), let’s get a foundation to start your fly fishing journey off on the right foot.
|No matter which rod you choose, good rivers and good friends are a key ingredient for a day out.|
Graphite: The newest and most popular fly rod material is graphite. Graphite is the premiere material in terms of performance when it comes to casting distance and accuracy. Graphite is a much lighter and stronger material than fiberglass and bamboo allowing rods to be longer and giving them the much needed ability to punch through the wind much more effectively. The action of graphite rods is in the tip giving them a much faster action and provides a fantastic sensitivity. For those that are looking to get started right away the Orvis Encounter ($159), Redington Crosswater ($111), and the Echo Base ($159) all offer combos that come ready to fish out of the box and are good first step on your road to fly fishing greatness.
One of the key tenets and best parts of OSA is our commitment to working with and supporting local companies when we can and Woodard Rod Co. out of Arkadelphia, Arkansas makes a fantastic product. Already offering rods suited for trout and smallmouth fishing, they are currently rolling out the White River, an 8 weight rod that appears like it will be a great addition to any bass fishermen’s arsenal. Combining modern rod making techniques and a knowledge of the requirements for equipment on our local waters they are pushing out a product truly for the Ozarks. When I fish graphite rods, Woodard is the first place I look. Find out more for yourself at http://www.woodardrodco.com/.
|The Diamond State 6 Weight is versatile enough to lay dries for trout and shift gears to deliver a streamer to a smallie in cover without a second thought.|
Fiberglass: Truly gaining momentum in the fly fishing market in the early 60’s fiberglass fly rods were the first to truly open up the world of bass fishing on the fly. They are marginally heavier than their graphite cousins and simply do not offer the casting distance or ability to cut through the wind of the aforementioned material. With that said, in my opinion there is no better material to learn to fly fish on. The slower casting stroke and ability to feel the rod load is invaluable to someone still mastering the mechanics of an overhand and roll cast. The slower action allows for a softer presentation. Once a fish is hooked the rod bends deep into the handle providing an additional layer of shock absorption between a fighting fish and your tippet. This deep bend is also why fiberglass fly rods provide some of the most exhilarating fights in fly fishing, every bump and run is transferred directly to the angler and the material truly allows fish to show off while the angler stays in control of the situation. If you want to learn to love fly fishing buy a fiberglass rod, find a creek of eager sunfish, and get to fishing.
Fiberglass is considered by many to be an “outdated” material and as such you can find selections from modern makers and vintage rods from Ebay for very reasonable prices. Most fly fishermen wouldn’t expect to find a great fiberglass rod being mass produced by Cabelas but that is exactly what you will find in both the Cabelas Prime rods and the Cabelas CGR. They are not only quality rods but are frequently on sale for as low as $40. They have developed something of a cult following in the glass community with the guys who love them (myself included) being fervent loyalists and converting new and old fly fishermen to the fold all across the internet. A few more glass rods that punch well above their weight class are the Featherlite and Sweetheart rods from Eagle Claw. These distinctively yellow rods are bargain basement priced at around $35 and are not quite as supple as some expect from fiberglass rods but when matched with the proper line (often one or two weights up from what the manufacturer represents) they are proven fish catchers.
|Bass, glass, and topwater. The recipe for a good summer in the Ozarks.|
Bamboo: I’ve never fished a bamboo rod. I would love to own one in the future but unless I have a rich uncle I don’t know about, the odds are I’m not going to be able to afford one on a line cook’s salary. Most are beautiful offerings that give off an air of history and are often as much a work of art as they are a tool for catching fish. They require regular maintenance and are often heavier than their more modern counterparts. While to me, they perfectly capture the spirit of our sport, unless you are okay with learning on and probably breaking a rod that costs roughly the same as a 1998 Ford Taurus, I cannot recommend bamboo as your first rod.
Line: Behind the rod itself, your line is going to be the most important purchase you make when building your first setup. While a cheaper line like the Cabelas Prestige Plus will get you started, lines from Scientific Anglers, Airflo, and Rio are well worth the investment. For your first rig I would recommend a Weight Forward Floating (WFF) line. This line set up will allow you to at least adequately cover most situations and WFF is the easiest fly line to cast on with in the beginning. As you learn more and begin building more specialized setups lines like a sink tip or full sinking line will suit you well for slinging big meaty streamers and bouncing crayfish patterns for smallies.
Reels: Here’s the thing. Unless you are chasing some seriously powerful fish, I can’t think of very many instances in freshwater where a reel actually does much besides hold line and balance the rod. For bass and trout fishing I land way more fish stripping the line in than I do actually using the reel and drag. While to me, the sound of a classic click and pawl reel like the Pflueger Medalist screaming is the sound of fly fishing, you should really just get a reel that you can afford and you think looks cool. Cheeky, Ross, and Redington all make quality disc drag reels that can take a good beating while you get the hang of things.
|This reel has been dropped on rocks, tossed in mud, and just in general not treated very nicely. It’s still kicking and that’s a good reel.|
While I can give you as much information as I have and the rods and companies that I believe in, the choice will ultimately come down to you. If I can get a little philosophical for a moment, a fly rod isn’t just a choice of the tool you will use to fish with. Your fly rod is an expression of how you choose to fish. The multitude of materials and styles of rod allow you to find a rod that is an extension of yourself, of how you want to fish and the experiences you want to have. If you have a fly shop near you go talk to them or email a company whose gear you are interested in. The great thing about this sport is if they are worth their salt they will be thrilled to help someone who wants to share in the things they love. Find some other articles like this one (that are written by much less handsome authors) and get a different opinion. Your first rod is your partner not only on the river, but on the journey that will eventually change how you look at not only fishing, but how you look at life. Your memories will be with this rod so take the time and make sure you pick the right partner. You’ll be glad you did.