How to Choose a Single Handed Fly Rod

Even for the experienced fly angler the multitude of different lengths, line ratings, rod actions and prices can make buying a single handed rod seem a very daunting process. Advances in manufacturing technology such as almost pure carbon blanks and space age resin have provided the modern fly angler with a huge amount of choice when to comes to purchasing a new fly rod.

What is important when making your decision is keeping in mind exactly the purpose you wish the rod to fulfill - and remembering that, as with golf clubs, sometimes one rod won't do for all your different angling scenarios. One also needs an understanding of some of the terms that are often used - and equally as often misunderstood, that are used to describe each fly rod. This brief glossary of such terms will enable you to understand exactly what a manufacturer is trying to tell you about their rods

Handle types

There are three main types of single handed rod handle, each suited to - but not exclusive to - different styles of rod. Almost all fly rod handles are made of cork which gives fantastic grip, is lightweight and looks pleasing to the eye. Cork can vary in quality - higher end rods will usually be found with the highest "Flor" grade of cork.

Cigar handle: found on very short light freshwater rods and often on split cane rods. These usually have a sliding band reel seat that uses the friction of the reel seat and the cork to hold the reel in place.

Half Wells handle: often found on shorter, lighter line rods, usually up to around nine feet and often not more than a 6 weight line. Usually accompanied by a screw locking reel seat, these are a balance between being very secure and reasonably light in weight. Often they will feature a wooden spacer insert at the reel seat which will be lightweight, durable and very attractive.

Full Wells handle: which is maybe the most common style of handle. This is ideal for longer rods and/or higher line ratings where one may be looking to apply greater power through the rod during casting. Full wells are commonly found on rods of nine feet and more, and of line rating of a six or more. There are exceptions, Sage are using very thin full wells grips on many of their newer light line rods, claiming the handle style gives more control over different casting styles, though this is of course a very personal choice and it is always worth trying different handle styles.

Almost all saltwater rods carry full wells grips with corrosion resistant reel seats. A point always worth considering with corrosion resistant reel seats is that while they will resist the chemical action of salt water they do still need to be cleaned after use in order for them to continue to function. A reel seat that has been used around salt water should never be stored away unwashed or it will become damaged.

Rod Action

Rod action is an area that many anglers become confused by, and this is most likely down to manufacturers marketing spiel! A quick browse of any fly rod catalogue will show you that almost all of the most expensive fly rods are described as "fast action" or even "super fast action" - this would lead one to believe that all the best fly rods are of a very fast action when in reality the best rod action for you often is not fast! One needs to explore what rod action means and why it would or would not be applicable to your own fishing.

The term "action" is understandably misunderstood as being where the rod flexes from whilst casting, but this is not true. The action of the rod is actually a reference to how quickly it returns to a straight position having been flexed in the casting stroke - a "fast" action rod straightens in a "fast" manner, a "slow" action rod takes a little longer.

Most "fast" action rods are described as "tip-flex" with the term "flex" referring to where the rod bends from. It is not inconceivable that a manufacturer could make a slow action tip flex rod. The reason these don't exist is that there is no real fishing application for such a rod! A faster recovering rod will give the skilled caster greater distance due to the extra control over their cast, but will compromise the delicacy of the fly presentation. A mid or slower recovering rod will restrict the distance one can cast comfortably but will present small flies and light leaders more effectively. A mid to slow recovery rod will be easier to roll cast with than a fast-action rod due to more of the rod bending during the casting stroke.

Line Guides

Guides are a more simple affair. Starting from the butt-end of the rod, each fly rod will have at least one "stripper" guide, often two on heavier duty rods. These are the largest guides and take a high amount of wear. Most stripper guides are lined (Fuji guides are considered to be of the highest quality) though there are the new generation of REC Recoil "bendy" metal guides which are very malleable and virtually unbreakable. Further up the rod there are two kinds of guides that are used, either traditional "snake" guides which are very light in weight or more modern "single leg" guides which keep the wet line away from the rod blank more effectively while casting. Tip rings on fly rods do not vary greatly other than in size, which is made appropriate to the line weight of the rod it is whipped on to.

Which rod is for me?

Now we are aware of the variances in fly rod construction and action we can begin to form an opinion on what is the right rod for our chosen purpose. Below is a list of different angling scenarios and a guide as to which rod type to approach them with.

Very Small River/Brook Fishing: Fishing a small river or a brook will involve very short casts with light fly lines, low strength tippet and smaller flies, often in cramped casting conditions. This calls for a short rod of between five and seven feet to cast a line rating of 0-3. This rod should be mid/slow action as one will be casting short distances, often roll casting, for generally smaller fish.

Small River/Medium River Fishing: Again for this style of fishing one will be making short casts with light tippet, and making roll casts as often as over head casting. This calls for a mid-action rod of between seven and eight feet and of a line rating between 2-4

Medium River/Larger River: For this particular scenario one requires a rod to be more of an all round performer, capable of presenting gently at short and longer ranges as well as being equally adept at roll casting as over head casting. Long light leaders will still be in use as will a multitude of different fly sizes. A mid-tip flex rod with a medium action will enable the caster to make longer casts with ease without the rod being too stiff as to pull the hooks out of smaller fish or break light tippet. When buying a new rod remember that a stiff powerful rod will break tippet and pull the hook out of fish! A rod of between eight and nine feet to cast a line between 3-5 would be ideal.

All Round River/Small Stillwater: As a fly fishing shop this is the category we often come across, and one that requires some compromise. Many anglers wish to purchase a rod to perform a variety of functions, and the simple truth is there isn't a rod out there that can do "everything". Fishing a river usually requires added delicacy in presentation and smaller fish, stillwater fishing often requires using big heavy flies and sinking lines - the simple fact is you need two rods here! A rod of between eight and a half feet and nine and a half feet may perform either task but you will encounter situations on your stillwater where the lower length is prohibitive to casting further, or on the river nine and a half feet may be too long and cumbersome! The two multi-tools are the nine foot five and six weight rods with a mid-tip flex and a medium-fast action. If you intend on fishing the river more than the lake go for the five, if you intend on fishing the lake more than the river go for the six.

All Round Stillwater: This can be another contentious category. Rods of between nine feet and ten feet are to be used, and can be from five to eight weight depending on their purpose. A nine foot six weight will be perfect on your smaller still water but will seem a little light for a blowy day out on a boat on a large reservoir. Likewise a ten foot eight weight will be too long and heavy to fish on a small clear still water. Again consider where you intend on fishing the most and match the rod you purchase to that environment. A great compromise is the modern trend for nine and a half foot six weight rods with a fast action.

Large Stillwater Bank / Boat / Light Sea Trout & Salmon: This type of fishing requires fairly specific rods of very fast action to cast between a six and eight weight line. From a bank a fast action tip-flex nine or nine and a half foot seven or eight weight will give the caster the power to punch in to a stiff breeze, but the shorter rod will be lighter and reduce casting fatigue with relatively heavy gear. From the boat one will almost always use a ten foot fast action mid-tip rod to cast between a six and eight weight line. The use of sinking lines from a boat means that stiffer rods are essential. If one doesn't wish to use sinking lines then a six weight will often be adequate. For a single handed light sea tout and salmon rod look for nine and a half or ten foot rod with a medium/fast action and a middle to tip flex as this rod usually will not require the same levels of distance as a reservoir rod, or the ability to use fast sinking lines.

Pike / UK Saltwater / Light Tropical Flats Saltwater: It is indeed possible to purchase one rod to perform all these tasks. For all saltwater applications the nine foot rod is preferred due to its ability to punch into a breeze. The rod action will always be fast for the same reason, and these rods will be very much tip-flex which will help when making longer presentations on the flats. A line rating of between eight and ten is ideal. Reservoir pike anglers who use fast sinking lines and large flies should err towards the ten weight. Bonefish anglers in shallows flats towards the eight weight as delicate presentation is still important in this situation.

Heavy Flats Fishing / Permit / Nursery Tarpon / Snook: For particularly windy conditions or larger flies the eight or nine weight may feel a little under-gunned. The nine foot ten weight is a fabulous multi-tool, often over-looked by all but the most experienced anglers. For fishing for permit, smaller tarpon, barramundi or for casting big nasty flies under the mangrove for snook the ten weight is ideal. For a trip abroad an eight weight and a ten weight will cover you for almost everything the flats can throw at you!

Large Tarpon / Giant Trevally / General Offshore: Now we get towards the really heavy specialist gear. With tarpon and GTs growing to well over 100lb you need a hugely powerful rod to fish for these fish. The minimum line rating is an eleven, the twelve is the most popular rod and the thirteen is necessary in many places. For offshore fishing a variety of very fast sinking lines can be used, so the twelve and thirteen weight rods are the most suitable.

Billfish / Sharks / Tuna / Heavy Offshore: The most powerful fly tackle available is required for the largest quarry we can catch on a fly rod. These brutes can cast up to a sixteen weight line, though in fact one does very little casting with such a rod as fish are teased to the side of the boat. Often these rods become a little shorter due to the lack of casting, this rod really is just a fish-playing lever. It is not uncommon to find eight or eight and a half foot rods with the extra power to pull back hard on a fish.

Guide by Farlows expert Andy Buckley