Fly rods differ from their spinning and casting counterparts in several ways. Since they are such crucial pieces of equipment, it's vital to understand their unique attributes and specifications. So come along and explore some of the ways fly rods set themselves apart!
The blank simply refers to the actual shaft of any fishing rod. Most fly rod blanks are made using graphite, while others are comprised of fiberglass, bamboo, or boron. Blanks used for fly rods are often four pieces for the most effortless transportation, but other configurations are also available. Some fly rod blanks are even one long single piece!
Nine feet is a standard fly rod length that affords the angler a good mix of casting performance and line control. Much shorter and much longer models can be found, each having its specific advantages and disadvantages. Generally, shorter rods excel at short, precise casts and are easier to maneuver within tight quarters. Longer fly rods are best for casting the furthest distances and efficiently controlling the line in very tricky currents.
A spinning or casting rod is rated to cast/fish with a specific range of lure weights and line poundages. Fly rods are unique because they are just rated to cast specific line sizes, often expressed by the term "weight." Why is this? Simply put, a fly rod casts the heft of the line rather than the actual fly, which often weighs practically nothing. The line's physical weight makes the rod flex during a cast, thus propelling the fly out to the target.
Most rods are rated to cast a single weight of line, but some rods are actually rated to cast two line weights. For example, a #10/11 rod is rated for 10 and 11-weight lines. Other specialty rods may also carry a rating for the physical weight of the line, such as grains. No matter how the rating is shown, all fly rods can cast other line sizes to some degree, but they normally perform best for average usage by adhering to the rating on the label. With that said, some folks fishing stiffer rods like to use one line size heavier: for example, using a 6-weight line on a 5-weight rod. Doing this is often called "uplining" and can help flex or "load" a stiff rod a bit more to aid in casting at shorter distances.
The action describes how a fly rod flexes. Actions are often classified as slow, medium, medium-fast, fast, and extra-fast. A slow-action rod is quite soft while casting, flexing deeply down towards the handle and offers finesse but not much raw casting power. On the other end of the spectrum, an extra-fast rod focuses more of its flex towards the tip for less delicacy but much more stiffness, power, and distance capability. These faster rods usually require more skill and better timing to cast at their full potential. Medium-fast rods offer a good compromise of power and finesse for many situations and are excellent choices for beginners.
Closest to the handle, you'll find the stripping guide or guides. These large guides look just like those found on conventional rods. However, each of the smaller remaining guides is usually made from thin wire with single or double "feet," which refers to the part of the guide tied to the rod. These two-foot wire guides can be called "snake guides" and have a twisted appearance. Snake guides are the most common type of fly guides.
Handles on fly rods vary in size and design depending on intended usage and manufacturer. Two common grip styles are the reverse half-wells (narrower on one end than the other) and full-wells (same flare on both ends). In addition, some rods for specialized river fishing or big game saltwater species may have an extra-long or two-piece grip.
Reel seats usually have one or two thin uplocking rings tightened by twisting to secure the reel. Many seats for heavier applications (like saltwater fishing) are entirely made of aluminum, while lighter models often feature some type of decorative inserts such as wood or graphite weaves.
Many fly rods geared towards more heavy-duty applications sport a fighting butt below the reel seat. You'll most often find this feature offered on 6-weight rods and up. A fighting butt allows you to more comfortably and effectively fight a large fish for an extended period. Fighting butts can range from small and low-profile to larger models with flared ends.