How to Choose a Fly Rod for Trout
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
What is the best fly rod for trout? Is there a one-size-fits-all fly rod for all trout fishing?
While a 9-foot 5-weight rod has long been considered THE standard trout rod, if you need to toss a big articulated streamer to brown trout in windy conditions or finesse a tiny dry fly to skittish spring creek rainbows, you'd be best served with a different stick. Indeed there are a lot of variables at play when choosing a rod for ANY species, but if you need some general guidelines to help you perhaps narrow down which trout fly rod is best for you, then read on!
Glass vs. Graphite- There's no denying fiberglass rods have become extremely popular in recent years. Glass is generally heavier and softer in feel than graphite, but some anglers prefer that buttery, slower, more relaxed casting sensation. They also offer a very different experience when fighting fish. These rods typically excel at closer, softer presentations, but you can effectively nymph and fish streamers with some glass rods, too. These days, there's even glass rods made specifically for big saltwater fish like tarpon!
Although some anglers favor the feel of glass, graphite remains the top choice. Graphite is lightweight, crisp, more sensitive, can be had in faster actions, and makes it easier to battle wind and chuck bigger flies. I've enjoyed the glass rods I've fished but personally view them as more of a "novelty" item when I just want to change things up a bit. I understand there are some anglers out there that primarily fish glass rods, and that's cool, but for me nothing beats the responsive feel and great capabilities of graphite.
Length- Notice how 9 feet is the dominant fly rod length? In many cases, this size is the best pick. That length gives a fly rod excellent line control and casting capabilities without feeling too cumbersome. When in doubt, just get a 9 foot rod.
A fly rod that's even longer can be slightly heavier and more unwieldy. However, that longer length makes it great for casting long distances and increases line control capabilities such as when mending or simply being able to reach over obstacles easier. Rods over 9 feet also allow anglers to keep their casts higher which is a great thing if you often fish around streamside brush or tall grass, or fish a lot from a low position such as when deep wading and float tubing. Check out our past article here regarding the pros and cons of 10 foot fly rods.
As rods dip below the 9 foot mark their distance casting and line control capabilities diminish. With that said, they can still be very useful. For the trout angler, perhaps the biggest reason one would buy a short rod is for fishing on small creeks with dense brush. Here, the short rod is less of a headache to transport when picking through foliage and it can make those short, precise presentations in tight spots even easier. Check out a past article on short fly rods right here.
Line Weight- Like I said at the beginning of this article, the 5 weight definitely dominates the trout scene. It's been such a popular choice because it represents the trout fishing "middle ground" and can kind of do-it-all to some degree. But, just because it is so popular doesn't mean it's the BEST line weight for you.
I've always been partial to the 4 weight for trout. Much of my past trout fly fishing has been with dry flies or downsized streamers on smaller rivers/streams or from a boat on a lake. I find the 4 weight to not just be more enjoyable because it has a lighter feel and makes the average trout even more exciting, but often more effective because it can present flies slightly softer and it's a little better at cushioning a lightweight tippet when hooked up. Yet, a 4 weight is still plenty able to cast some weight and overcome a decent breeze.
Here in Florida, I use a 4 weight all the time for largemouth and peacock bass with smaller streamers both weighted and unweighted. This rod size is not far off in capability to a 5 weight, and one could argue that fast or extra-fast action 4 weights can be neck and neck in capability to some 5 weights. Overall, though, the 4 weight makes a versatile choice on the "slightly lighter side" of things. Scope out What is a 4 weight Fly Rod Good For?.
I'd typically always recommend a 4 or 5 for an all-around trout stick, but again, many variables apply. Will you be fishing a lot of bigger water with larger flies? Is it often very windy? Here, a 6 weight might make more sense if you also don't need to make real soft presentations and will be using more modest tippets. Or, are you fishing nothing but small streams where flies are tiny, tippets are light, and most fish aren't whoppers? The 4 weight would likely be okay here, but a 3 weight can be a ton of fun and will be even better for very light tippets and extra-skittish fish.
Rod Action- Just like in all types of fly fishing, rod action is important when it comes to trout.
A moderate or moderate-fast action fly rod is perfect for anglers wanting to use more relaxed casting strokes. Though they can be used for all trout fishing to some degree, these rods are strongest at things like short to modest presentations, added delicacy, and roll casting.
Fast action rods edge a little more into what I'd call the "powerful" category, but a fast-action rod can be a very versatile choice, still capable of softer presentations yet having extra grunt on tap for weighted nymph rigs or streamer fishing. They typically shine most in terms of feel at medium to longer distances and offer improved performance in the wind. A medium-fast or fast action rod is a solid choice if you will be fishing a lot of places and using a lot of different techniques.
Extra-fast action rods are pretty specialized and have a stiff feel to them while casting since most of the flex is concentrated towards the tip. These rods are ideal for advanced casters in demanding situations such as dealing with long presentations, big flies, sinking lines, or strong winds. They can often lack feel in close unless you choose a more aggressive (heavier) fly line or up-line the rod to help it load.
Pieces- Fly rods commonly come in four-piece configurations, but you'll find everything from one-piece rods up to six pieces (or more!) that can be easily packed for travelling or hiking. Typically, the less pieces the better the feel and strength, but that also depends on the quality of the material and design. Buy a cheapo two-piece rod, and a four-piece model from a major manufacturer will probably feel a lot nicer.
At any rate, I primarily own all four-piece rods and, like most anglers, am totally content with them. The only rod configuration that kind of annoys me is three piece. When transporting a four-piece rod in a car or whatever, I'll just separate the middle rod joint giving me two sections of equal length that I can stow away together nice and tidy. With three pieces, you have to separate either the top or bottom joint, either of which will give you two uneven pieces that make quick transportation a bit more awkward at times.
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