Is a Moderate-Action Fly Rod Right For You?
Updated: Nov 6, 2021
Faster isn't always better.
Fly rods that have a "standard" fast action are undoubtedly my favorites. As someone who mainly fishes streamers and is regularly on saltwater, this should come as no surprise. I really like these rods because they're great for casting bulky/heavy flies and cutting through a breeze, but they still make good all-around sticks for a variety of scenarios. In comparison, extra-fast fly rods can offer even higher levels of performance, but I view them as more specialized tools best suited for high winds, substantial flies and/or long-distance casts. Just remember that there is no industry standard when it comes to rod action, so there's always a chance you can come across a rod that is labeled "fast" but feels a touch softer or stiffer than what you'd expect!
Despite the popularity of fast rods, moderate or moderate-fast rods (or some may say medium or medium-fast) definitely still have a place. Although the saltwater realm is mostly dominated by fast and extra-fast rods, softer rods are widely used by a lot of freshwater anglers.
Is a more moderate-action fly rod better for you?
Although now I personally favor fast rods, I started my fly fishing journey over 25 years ago with a moderate-action fly rod. There's nothing bad about a newer fly angler getting on the water with something faster, but a slower stick can be easier to deal with when still learning. Why is this?
Those folks that don't yet have great timing with their casting will find a softer rod more forgiving. Rod recovery refers to how fast a rod goes from flexed to straight, and as the name implies, a fast-action rod does this at a fast rate. While this gives them a crisp, snappy feel and can generate excellent line speed, it also requires the angler to have a polished casting stroke and solid timing to really unlock the full performance. A more moderate-action rod bends deeper and recovers slower which simply makes casting easier and provides a lot of helpful feedback because you can really feel the rod load better.
Moderate rods aren't the absolute best for long distances, high winds or heavy flies, but they excel at short to medium–range casts and more subtle presentations. Since these rods can be cast gently and don't require you to "upline" or fish an overweight fly line, this gives them the upper hand when it comes to finesse at closer range. For example, folks that do a lot of dry fly fishing for fussy trout on small creeks would likely find a moderate rod to be ideal for making soft presentations with weight-forward or even double-taper fly lines. With all of this said, there's no law against using a more moderate rod for general usage in fresh or saltwater if it suits your preferences and of course the situation at hand.
Fast rods may be extremely popular these days, but that doesn't mean other options aren't viable. There's plenty of moderate and moderate-fast fly rods available on the market, too! Whether a softer rod is bought out of necessity or simply for the added enjoyment of the deeper-flexing blank, they can indeed be very useful (and fun!) tools for fly anglers of all skills levels on all bodies of water.
Moderate-fast saltwater example - TFO Mangrove Coast