A fly rod is a timeless piece of equipment. With simple care and safe storage, it can last a lifetime or more. Yet the technology keeps improving, rods are becoming more refined, and there’s always that one rod you’d like to add to your quiver.
Whether it’s expanding your current capabilities, buying a rod for that dream trip to the mountain rivers or the salt flats, or just leveling up to a nicer rig, we pulled together the top rods available in 2021 to consider. And not only that, but we’re also going to help you figure out what rod is best for you and the action you’re looking to pursue.
What fly rod length should I get?
There is a lot that goes into choosing a proper fly rod. Line weight, rod action, components, aesthetics, and of course length are all key points that a consumer must make note of. As far as length goes, the 9 foot fly rod is the most common and widely-available on the market. This size offers the angler ample distance, line control, and castability while still being able to pack down into a tube that allows for easy transport.
Although it’s often tough to go wrong with the standard 9 footer, other lengths can offer distinct advantages. For this reason, manufacturers sell rods which can be as short as around 5 feet long all the way up to gargantuan sticks which can span 15 feet! Some folks may choose an alternate length out of absolute necessity while others might just want to gain a small edge, but regardless of reason it’s good to become familiar with the advantages provided by fly rods that are on the shorter and longer sides of 9 feet.
Features to consider when shopping for a fly rod
Before even looking for a fly rod, the first thing you need to decide is where you’ll use it. That will help determine the size of the fish you’ll be going after, and hence the length, weight, and strength of the fly rod. If you’re just starting out, there’s a good choice for that too.
Will you be fly fishing in saltwater?
The first question you might have reading this section is: How are saltwater fly fishing rods different from freshwater fishing rods, and why would I need both? The answer is twofold. First, saltwater fly rods are going to be less prone to corrosion than freshwater fly fishing rods. If you’re out in the salt all day, you’ll need something a little tougher than a rod meant for a Rocky Mountain stream.
Second, saltwater rods will help you make a very fast cast at that bonefish, tarpon or permit. If you see one of those fish, you may only have one shot, two at the most, to get a fly in front of it. That means you need a fly rod that reaches farther, quicker and more delicately than some others. You’ll want a rod that you can trust to land your fly exactly where you’re looking – and handle the beast at the other end when it takes the fly.
Sage fly rods are known for their strength, accuracy and versatility. This rod is no different. The SALT HD isn’t a budget fly rod, but chances are you’re not looking for a budget fly rod. The 6-weight is built to handle plenty of flats monsters with its 9-foot length and four pieces. It is handcrafted on Bainbridge Island in the U.S.A., and has an aluminum up-locking reel seat with a cork grip. But it’s that graphite III technology that will win a place in your boat.
Will you be fishing for trout in trout streams?
You might be wondering how we could be so bold as to choose one model as the best fly rod for trout. We know, it feels bold to us, too. But it really is possible. Realistically, you’re not going to go wrong with any mid-weight rod for most trout streams in the lower 48. You can even bring sockeye or silver salmon to shore in Alaska with a stiff 6-weight rod. High-mountain rivers may be best suited to a light 3-weight, and big rivers in Montana or Wyoming with feisty migrating brown trout might call for a 7-weight or even 8-weight. But if you don’t want to invest in all of those options, choosing a solid 5-weight will likely be your best option.
Will you be fishing large rivers?
If you don’t plan to be fishing on a stream larger than five to 10 feet across, a Spey rod probably isn’t for you. But if you find yourself on some of the country’s bigger rivers like the famed Deschutes in Oregon, consider a Spey rod.
Spey rods – also called two-handed rods – are very long fly rods designed to send a fly far across a river with speed and accuracy. If you’ve ever seen drone footage of someone Spey casting, you know how gorgeous it can be. And effective. If you want to catch a wild steelhead or big, migrating brown trout, look to one of these. If you’ve never done it before, you may also consider taking a lesson or two.
Are you a beginner fly angler?
Beginner anglers might want the magic of using a two-handed rod to cast a fly 75 feet across a river, but if you want to start small and figure out the basics, a tenkara rod is a good choice. Tenkara rods have both been around for centuries, and the concept is as basic as it comes: You attach a fly line to the tip of the rod, attach a leader and a fly, and you cast. It’s as simple as that. There’s no reel, no constant back-and-forth casting, no need to manage line coming off of a reel.
You can use a tenkara rod for any freshwater fishing adventure. They really shine on smaller streams where you want to delicately place your fly under a branch or overhand. Simplifying your fly fishing adventure makes it easy to learn how to fly fish, and tenkara rods do just that.
Our Top Picks
Orvis has long been known for building some of the best fly rods on the planet, and they’ve been doing it for as long as anyone else – if not longer.
The Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod is yet another example of why so many anglers decide to fish Orvis. This rod has a fast-action that’s pleasant to fish with for an entire day.
The rod has a surprising amount of power in the butt section, meaning you can really punch out line at distance, even through a stiff wind or with heavy bugs on the end of your leader.
The Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod probably won’t win over a lot of fans in the aesthetics department, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from giving it a try. This rod is capable of quite a lot, and it’s priced amazingly well.
For years, until Orvis came out with their newly-designed Clearwater, the rod that I told all new anglers to fish was the Fenwick Aetos. I’m still not sure how Fenwick manages to build this rod for less than $200, but they do. It’s surprisingly light for being in this price range, and it has a very light swing weight.
Fenwick doesn’t offer any kind of lifetime warranty with this rod, but very few rods at this price will. Overall, though, the Aetos is a great piece of gear that’s capable of laying out a size 22 dry fly or picking up and fishing a heavy nymph rig. It’ll even toss smaller streamers with aplomb.
If you’re looking for a good beginner rod, I’d say it’s a dead heat between the Clearwater and the Aetos. My recommendation is get the Aetos if you’re looking for a faster action rod.
G. Loomis’s NRX series ($795-895) covers a lot of bases. From flinging flies for bass to the salt and back to trout again, there are 20 individual models to pursue in this rod family alone. Overall, the series is built for fast action, feel, and finesse.
The biggest thing to note in the entirety of the series is the mega drop in weight. Loomis’ blank technology GL8 nets a 15% reduction in heft from its previous NRX offering.
Choose from the NRX+ LP, Freshwater, Saltwater, and Spey + Switch offerings. And check out this lights-out review from the folks at Yellowstone Angler, a renowned fly shop near the banks of the — you guessed it — mighty Yellowstone.
The new two-handed spey rod from the folks at R.L. Winston ($1,250) is designed for versatility while steelheading or chasing salmon. And the incorporated SuperSilica resin system and Boron III technology echo earlier sentiments of lightweight materials meeting both action and durability standards.
This rod took home Best of at the 2019 European Fishing Tackle Trade Exhibition. And steelhead experts in Oregon and Washington state have gone nuts for this setup, from the folks at Gorge Fly Shop in Hood River to the Spokane experts of Silver Bow Fly Shop.
Available in weights from 5 to 9 and lengths from 11’6″ to 14’6″, there’s a two-handed spey rod for a bevy of situations on the water in this collection.
The Wild Water Combo is the cheapest way to try a day of fishing when it comes to your equipment. No need to choose the correct version since the Wild Water Starter Kit only comes as a 4 pc 5/6 wt. This is the perfect rod for entry level fly fishermen and women since you can basically cover all situations when fishing for species like trout.
The hard tube case that comes along with the Wild Water Fishing Combo is very practical since you don’t even have to take off the reel. On top it features a pocket than can hold your fly box, leaders and tippet spool – very handy. A carry strap and hand ring round off the well thought through package.
The reel even features an adjustable disc drag – something that normally only comes with higher end reels. This means you can adjust the drag (brake power) according to the species you are targeting – nice feature for an entry level product such as the Wild Water Fishing Combo. Like the Kastking Emergence Fishing Combo, the Wild Water reel comes pre-spooled with backing, line and leader. You can easily change the reel’s retrieve from left to right hand.
Yet there something fishy going on here. I can’t figure out why such a great performing rod isn’t significantly more expensive. The performance is akin to rods that would be at least double the price!
For the money, you’ll be investing in a rod that will see you past the beginner stage and could be with you for years to come.
You’ll possibly have noticed with my suggestions for the best beginner fly fishing rods that they all have a moderate-fast blank. This rod has one too! This action is perfect for taking the line off the water quickly and producing easy castability.
The Sage Igniter requires plenty of speed and a lot of line to fully load, but once loaded, the Igniter casts a like a cannon. It throws heavy flies great distances with good speed and accuracy. The Igniter proved especially adept at delivering big dry flies like hoppers and salmon flies across broad rivers, even in windy conditions. Indeed, the Igniter seemed designed specifically to beat gusty winds.
At short distances, the Igniter is awkward and struggles place flies cleanly — the rod just won’t load properly with less than 25 feet of line in play. But beyond that range, the Igniter is hard to beat for power and performance.
The Thomas & Thomas Avantt is the lightest fast action rod we’ve tested, yet it also proved to be one of the strongest in terms of fighting power and casting distance. The Avantt earned the test’s highest rankings across all but one of the test categories, and was dubbed the favorite by every test team member. The biggest knock on the Avantt proved to be its price: As with much of the outdoor market, lighter weights and better performance equates to higher prices and the Avantt is one of the most expensive rod in the test.
The Sintrix NSX blank is made from Hardy’s newest carbon fiber composite, with a proprietary resin that increases the strength-to-weight ratio over Hardy’s previous materials. It helps create a rod with a lower swing weight, better hand balance, and all the juice you want when you need to reach the other side of the river, cast with less effort over the course of the day, and make crisper, easier mends while fishing.
The 9-foot 5-weight we tested weighed a stunning 3.0 ounces, even with the uplocking machined aluminum reel seat with a maple burl outer spacer, and a durable carbon fiber insert for the reel foot. It also has a flexible CERECOIL stripping guide with a ceramic insert, laser-engraved line weight on the reel hood, and low-profile single-foot line guides. This is the best trout rod in the Hardy universe, on par with the best-casting rods on this side of the pond, but there are little extras that make you feel like you’re unpacking a piece of heritage each time you open your rod case.
This product is a perfect gift and ideal for any beginner or fishing lovers. It also has a one year warranty and lifetime repairing warranty. As a professional fishing tackle supplier, they offer a 100% “No Hassle” guarantee for one year. This product also has a high balancing performance and customized burl wood insert in the reel seat rather than aluminum insert like other brands.
It is super light and sturdy because of carbon fiber blank construction makes the rod at least a 20% increase and at least 20% lighter in weight significantly. This is widely used in freshwater or saltwater 4wt slow action suitable for small trout and sunfish in small streams; 5wt medium action suitable for general trout in larger streams and rivers. 7wt/8wt medium-fast action is suitable for bass & salmon in saltwater.