Sunday, November 8, 2009

She’s So Fly Guide to Fly Rod Flex and Weight

The fly rod is usually the most expensive part of the fly fishers outfit and therefore should be chosen carefully. As a matter of fact, out of all of the fly fishing equipment that you purchase, your fly rod is where you should put most of your money.  

 Fly rods are labeled to correspond to the line, so that if you have a six weight rod you need a six weight line. Many guides that I know recommend that you should use one size larger fly line than the rod weight size, e.g., use a 5 weight fly line with a 4 weight rod.  This is what I do, and it works for me. 

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The major differences in rods are length, stiffness (Flex) and composition (what it's made of). Fly rods may be purchased in lengths from about 5 1/2 foot trout rods to 16 foot, two-handed salmon rods. 

The longer the rod, the more energy is required to cast it, but the easier it is to control the line. Stiffness on the other hand, is a function of the rod's thickness, the material from which it is made and its taper. Of the various rod materials, graphite is the stiffest; that is, it has the greatest modulus of elasticity, whereas bamboo, and then fiberglass, are less stiff. The way a rod is tapered, that is, the transition from a thick butt to a thin tip, will determine its action.
Action, or Flex, is rather difficult to define, but it is obvious when you cast several different rods that some are fairly soft and flexible, or slow action and some are stiffer and therefore faster action. Some rules of thumb are:
  • Tip Flex flexes, or bends from the top 1/3 of the rod.  This is normally called a "Fast Action" and can be more difficult to cast for the beginner.  I like Tip Flex rods because it reacts well to my casting action, and it's easier to punch the line through heavy winds.
  • Mid Flex bends from the top 1/2 of the rod.  The Mid Flex, or "Medium Action" rod is a good all-around rod for the beginner or expert fly caster...easier to cast, and good in most situations you'll find yourself in.  I use Mid Flex rods in my lighter weights for fishing small streams.  The softer action helps me with those precision cast in small areas.  If you're a beginner, get a Mid Flex rod.
  • Full Flex bend from the top 2/3 of the rod, or from just above the handle section.  Full Flex, or "Slow Action" rods are usually not the choice of fly fishing guides, but if you're have trouble getting your line out there, a Full Flex may be what you need.  It loads up with little effort on your part, although line control is more difficult.

All of these factors need to be considered when buying a rod, but the most important of these is probably material. Fiberglass, bamboo and graphite are the most commonly used materials.
Fiberglass is the cheapest and the least desirable of the three. They are heavy for their size, but have great strength and will tolerate much abuse. A fiberglass rod of a certain line weight and length will weigh about two to three times that of a comparable graphite rod and is therefore not as desirable. 

When you consider that you can cast a fly rod several thousand times on a long day, the difference of an ounce or two can be a big factor. Of course, if you have an old fiberglass rod you found abandoned in your parent's garage, go ahead and use it. Save your money until you are more experienced and know what you want.  Bamboo rods are considered to be the finest form of the rod maker's art. Because building a bamboo rod is very time consuming, they are quite expensive and probably not the first rod you will want to consider. Bamboo rods are usually more flexible than graphite and therefore have a slower action. However, for some type s of fishing where a delicate presentation is necessary, bamboo cannot be beaten. Many experienced fly fishers feel the pinnacle of the sport is catching a nice spring creek trout on a small dry fly with a bamboo rod.

The most popular types of fly rods today are made of graphite. They are extremely strong for their weight and can be designed for any type of action. Although some graphite rods are fairly expensive, reasonably priced, good quality rods are available. The primary difference between a good quality and a premium quality rod is the modulus of the graphite used, and the quality of the materials for the reel seat, the handles, the guides and the finish. 

Most experienced fly fishers would recommend your first rod be a medium priced graphite rod.  In order to make a good choice for that first fly rod, you must first think about what kind of fishing you wish to do.

If you plan to fish primarily for trout you should probably expect to use flies from size #4 nymphs and streamers to size #20 or less dry flies. Because small dry flies are best handled with a three to five weight line and because large nymphs and streamers are best handled with a seven to nine weight line, a good compromise is a six weight line. It can be successfully used to handle both very small and very large flies.  My most versatile rod is my 5 weight Tip Flex high modulus graphite rod with 6 weight fly line.  I can accurately and easily cast a #24 dry fly or a #4 streamer with this outfit.

As for rod length, a long rod is much better for that first 5/6 weight rod than a short one. A long rod (8 1/2 to 9 feet) makes it easier to handle your line on the water when drifting nymphs or mending dry fly casts. It is also somewhat easier to cast because it keeps the line from falling to the ground on the back cast, and away from your ears on the forward cast.
Later on, depending on the types of fishing you do most, you may want to add shorter, three to five weight rods, or longer eight or nine weight rods for specialized fishing, but for now, your first rod should be an 8 to 9 foot 5/6 weight rod.

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