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Best Fly Rods Reviewed: A Rod For Any River

If you’re new to fly fishing or an experienced veteran of everything from brookies to steelhead, it always pays to research the fly rod market. With recent improvements in blank tech, fly rods are getting better and better, easily exceeding the performance of top choices from just a decade ago.

If you’re looking for an awesome fly rod, we’ve got you covered!

Here’s a quick glance at the best fly rods:

Fly Fishing Rod Reviews

Fenwick AETOSBest Budget Fly Rod

Material: graphite

Length: 6’, 7’, 8’ 6”,9’, 9’ 6”, 10’, 11’ 1”, 13’, 14’ and 15’

Weight: #3 to #11

Action: fast

Pieces: 4

Fenwick offers the AETOS series of rods in an option for every angler and situation. From short 6-foot rods that are perfect for small streams and short casts to long spey rods that’ll have you throwing big flies 80 feet, there’s a rod in this line-up for you.

These rods are real performers, too, and Fenwick offers them at a very reasonable price–a real rarity in the fly rod market! Of course, that means you can’t expect titanium guides and premium materials and finishes, but don’t be concerned: the AETOS series delivers high-end performance.

Every AETOS rod features a fast action graphite blank, a large SiC stripping guide, and a series of aluminum snake-style guides that ease friction and facilitate superb casting. Each of these rods also wears a AAA cork handle, and all but the spey options use an uplock reel seat with a second locking ring to make sure your reel stays put.

The shorter, lighter-weight rods are ideal for mountain streams, where overhanging vegetation would be a problem for longer alternatives. The #3 is available in both 6- and 7-foot lengths, and the fast action maximizes casting distance for a rod this short.

The 9-foot #5 is the best all-arounder of the bunch, and for medium-distance casts–say, 25 to 50 feet–this rod is exceptional in the wind.

Saltwater anglers will appreciate the longer, heavier-weight spey rods like the 13-foot #8/9. In the hands of a master, it can loft a fly 60, 70, and even 80 feet–a testament to its quality blank at this price point.

No, the AETOS isn’t a performance rival for the much more expensive rods on this list, but then again, you won’t need to take out a second mortgage to buy one!

And for experienced fly anglers, these fast action rods will produce tight loops and wind-bucking casts, and the balance and feel in-hand is excellent.

If you’re new to the sport, however, be warned that these rods will be challenging to master, as loading the blanks won’t be as forgiving as with a medium or slow-action rod. But for long casts and breezy mornings, the AETOS is almost unbeatable.

Pros:

  • Reasonably priced!
  • Great fast-action blank
  • Great distance
  • Wide range of lengths and weights
  • Quality guides

Cons:

  • Probably not the best option for novice fly anglers
  • Subtle presentations are tough with a fast action rod

Hardy Zephrus FWSBest Short-Range Dry Fly Rod

Material: SINTEX carbon fiber

Length: 8’, 8’ 6”, 9’, and 10’

Weight: #3 to #6

Action: fast

Pieces: 4

Hardy’s Zephrus fly rods are among the best in the world, perennially making the shortlists of serious fly anglers everywhere. Uncompromising quality, advanced blank tech, and virtually unrivaled performance explain why.

All Zephrus rods feature a fast action carbon fiber blank.

Hardy uses a proprietary 3M adhesive resin to bind together the long carbon fibers of this blank. The result is unrivaled strength at a feather’s weight. Indeed, Hardy reports that this tech results in a blank that’s 60% stronger than comparable graphite while being an astonishingly 30% lighter, too!

And each wears a Fuji titanium stripper guide followed by REC black pearl recoil guides. These are very high-end components, and they really do improve casting performance.

So, how do I rate this rod’s performance?

Its carbon fiber blank notwithstanding, this isn’t a particularly light rod on the scale or in the hand. For anglers concerned about fatigue, there are better options on this list.

True masters of the art are looking for a #6 rod to cast well at as much as 75 feet or so, and despite its fast action, the Zephrus starts to run out of steam at that distance. To be clear, “starts to run out of steam” is relative, and this rod is still among the best available, and for all but the most demanding anglers, it’s probably the best rod they’ll ever hold!

All rod weights are remarkably sensitive, facilitating casting dry flies. And unsurprisingly, short casts are deadly with this rod, and the entire range really shines at less than 50 feet.

Overall, the Hardy Zephrus is a simply outstanding fly rod for all but the longest casts, and even then, it’ll get it done better than 99% of the options out there.

Pros:

  • Awesome fast-action blank
  • Exceptionally long casts
  • Deadly at less than 50 feet
  • Superb quality components throughout

Cons:

  • Probably not the best option for novice fly anglers
  • Long casts lose some accuracy

Douglas Sky GBest Overall Dry Fly Rod

Material: carbon fiber with graphene G-Tec platelets

Length: 9’

Weight: #5

Action: moderate-fast

Pieces: 4

Perhaps the very best presentation rod in the world, the Douglas Sky G in the #5 weight is simply unbeatable for casting dry flies.

Douglas uses graphene, a wonder material, in the Sky G. The strongest, lightest material in existence, it’s added to the blank matrix and resin to provide unequaled strength and weight reduction. The result is a miraculous feel for this rod, making it a dream to cast.

Quality is job one at the factory–that’s clear. And from an REC titanium Cerecoil striper guide with zirconia inserts to REC titanium recoil guides, everything is top-notch. Expect AAAA floor grade cork, an uplocking skeletonized aluminum reel seat, and attention to every detail and aesthetic choice.

Why do we recommend this rod so highly?

This blank loads beautifully, producing ultra-tight loops. And as you’d expect, at shorter distances–under 50 feet–this rod provides a combination of accuracy and subtle presentation that’s just unbeatable. Designed for dry flies, I wouldn’t expect great things from it at longer ranges–and yet it still casts with the best of them!

75-foot casts are still accurate, and this rod really never seems to run out of power. That’s amazing performance from a #5, and even Douglas’s other Sky rods just can’t run with the G.

It’s that good.

Light in the hand, light in the cast, just the right action: this is a nearly impossible rod to beat for dry fly anglers.

Pros:

  • AWESOME blank
  • Exceptionally long casts for a dry fly rod
  • Great presentation
  • Deadly at less than 50 feet
  • Superb quality components throughout

Cons:

  • Probably not the best option for novice fly anglers

Winston Pure 490 Fly Rod OutfitBest Fly Rod for Novice Anglers

Material: carbon fiber and Super Silica resin

Length: 9’

Weight: #4

Action: medium

Pieces: 4

Winston’s Pure is the medium-action fly rod to beat, and for anglers struggling to cast fast action rods, it’s virtually impossible to beat. In this case, the rod comes with an excellent fly reel, a Ross LTX, and everything else you need to hit the water.

Exceptional attention to detail and high-end components define the Winston. A chrome stripping guide precedes chrome snake guides, and while probably not the equal of the Fujis it’s competition wears, these are very nice components that assist casting. And the tapered, high-end cork handle bears an uplocking reel seat that screams quality.

One thing Winston does very well is design each section of the rod to work its individual magic while still playing well together. The result is a tip that’s delicate enough for beautiful presentation, mid-sections that load easily, and a final section that has the power to fight a fat trout.

Making a rod that’s somehow more than the sum of its parts is a taller order than it seems, and Winston really outshines its competition on this front.

The Pure’s blank is carbon fiber, a truly high-end material that cuts weight like a college wrestler while still providing the stiffness to fight and cast. Designed with a medium taper, this rod loads far more easily than fast actions, making it particularly friendly to new fly anglers.

That softness comes at the price of pure power and distance, and short casts are this rod’s true strength. 30 to 40 feet and less is where the Pure can really strut its stuff, and it’ll struggle on windy days.

But when loaded slowly and carefully, this rod is both powerful and delicate, allowing amazing presentation of dry flies.

Pros:

  • Fantastic medium action blank
  • Awesome presentation 
  • Deadly at less than 50 feet
  • Excellent components throughout
  • Novice friendly

Cons:

  • Casting distance suffers, as does performance in the wind

G. Loomis NRX + FreshwaterMost Versatile Fly Rod

Material: graphite

Length: 9’

Weight: #5

Action: fast

Pieces: 4

G. Loomis’s NRX series are simply legendary, and with the improved blank of the NRX +, this company has taken its rods to the next level. As an all-arounder without equal, the 9-foot #5 is a thing of wonder for anglers who’ll face a variety of conditions with a single rod on tap.

G. Loomis uses very high-grade graphite in its blanks, and they’re renowned for their strength. Featuring a fast taper, they take some practice to load, but when you get the technique down, the range of this rod is simply awesome. 

Expect premium materials throughout: a titanium SiC stripping guide, single foot ReCoil guides, an aluminum uplocking reel seat, and a fully reverse-contoured cork handle that’s amazing when you’re looking for long, accurate casts.

G. Loomis’s new blank tech is a winner, and this rod feels much lighter in the hand than the previous (and still excellent) NRX series. The multi-tapered design of the sections produces far more casting power than you’d expect, very tight loops, and performance that seems to get better the farther you work your flies.

70 feet plus is no problem for this rifle of a rod, and while perhaps not the equal of dedicated short-range rods like the Pure up-close, the NRX + gets it done in spades everywhere and in any conditions, making it an easy choice for the best all-arounder.

Pros:

  • Fantastic distance casting blank
  • Wind-bucking performance that gets better the farther you cast
  • Excellent components throughout
  • Awesome all-arounder

Cons:

  • Not as accurate or delicate as rivals designed for short-range

What We Consider When Selecting a Fly Rod

Conditions and Flies

If I’m day hiking to a quiet mountain stream that’s shaded by lots of trees, I’ll want a short rod that casts well up close. But if I’m working a still lake from the end of a pier, I prefer a longer rod that casts as far as I’m able.

To pick the best fly rod for you, it’s important to consider where you’ll be fishing. Tight spaces demand short rods, and open water is just asking for long casts.

Similarly, rods specialized for the delicate presentation of dry flies will suffer a bit at distance and in the wind, while wet fly rods may lack accuracy up close.

Where are you fishing, and what are you throwing?

These are the questions you need to answer up-front!

Material

In the world of fly fishing, two blank materials dominate: graphite and carbon fiber.

Graphite is strong, stiff, and light, making it an ideal choice for fly rods. And by varying the modulus of the graphite itself, as well as its length and taper, a variety of actions can be created. It’s also robust enough to make excellent ferrules, and far more sensitive and flexible at these joints than fiberglass. It’s also reasonably priced, helping to keep fly rod costs “reasonable.”

Carbon fiber is even higher-performing, offering unparalleled stiffness, strength, and sensitivity. It’s also superbly light, but it’s incredibly pricey material, helping to explain why high-end fly rods are so expensive.

Which is better? It really depends on the rod. But it’s fair to say that carbon fiber is probably taking the lead among high-end rod manufacturers, especially for shorter blanks and dry flies.

You’ve probably heard about alternatives like bamboo and fiberglass. And yes, there are a few rods made from these materials, but their number is vanishingly small. Bamboo rods cost an arm and a leg (even by fly rod standards), require careful maintenance, and generally aren’t very weather-forgiving (they hate the cold).

And fiberglass was the go-to option when bamboo wasn’t available post-WWII, but its performance has simply been eclipsed by graphite and carbon fiber.

Weight

Fly rod weight is measured not by the mass of the rod itself, but rather by the line it’s designed to throw.

Common fly line weights run from #2 to #10, with the most popular choices clustering in the range of #3, #4, #5, and #6. Much like spinning or baitcasting tackle, casting with line that doesn’t match the specifications of your rod will result in poor performance.

The most common all-around weight is #5, but as a jack-of-all-trades, it masters none. For tiny dry nymphs, lighter lines offer superior presentation, and the massive flies you’ll throw for steelhead or reds will work a lot better with line in the neighborhood of #8 to #10.

Most beginning fly anglers are best served by a #4 to #6 weight rod.

All other things being equal, heavier-weight rods tend to cast farther than lighter-weight alternatives.

Action

A fly rod’s action means pretty much what it does for any rod: it’s a measure of where on the rod the blank starts to bend under load. 

The trouble with these terms is that they’re relative: relative to the weight of the rod, relative to its length, and relative to one another. The only way to know what a rod feels like in your hand is to try it. Nevertheless, these descriptions can help you get a general sense of a rod’s performance.

Indeed, as experts like Phil Monahan at Orvis explain, while “wholly inadequate as a way to describe how a rod will feel in your hand, the ‘rod-speed’ scale does tell you something about how a rod might perform. The terms ‘fast,’ ‘medium,’ and ‘slow’ refer to how fast the rod bends and recovers.”

Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that:

  • Fast action rods tend to bend nearer the tip. This makes them excellent for casting on windy days, and when mastered, better for long distances–more than 50 to 60 feet. That said, delicate presentations are a bit tougher with a fast action fly rod.
  • Medium action rods begin to flex at about 25 to 30 percent of the length from the tip. This allows them to load and unload more easily during casting, and it improves presentation, but it usually costs some casting distance. At less than 50 feet, though, a medium action rod can offer a deadly combination of accuracy and delicate presentation.
  • Slow action rods begin to flex further down the blank, creating a classic parabolic arc from the blank as a whole. This allows the rod to load and unload very easily, making timing during your cast a critical concern. Presentations are lovely with slow action rods, though casting distance will generally be inferior.

Length

The length of a fly rod matters for many of the same reasons that rod length is generally important. For instance, a given thickness of graphite will bend more the longer you make it, and as a result, a “long” and “short” #5 rod will behave very differently in your hand.

The sweet spot for most fly rods is about 9 feet, though shorter rods are well-suited to fishing tiny streams where casting space is constrained. They also offer deadly accuracy up close, making them ideal finesse options. By contrast, longer rods tend to offer greater casting distance, making them ideal choices for locations where open water is the rule.

And as you’d expect, longer rods tend to provide longer casts; shorter rods tend to offer greater accuracy.

Handle

Almost all fly rods sport a short cork handle. The exceptions are longer spey rods, designed for two-handed casting.

The two handles at the bottom are worn by spey rods, allowing two-handed casting for extra distance.

Lighter rods tend to have handles that taper toward the front, while heavier rods tend to use a reverse taper. But increasingly, modern fly anglers have come to appreciate a reverse taper and plenty of handle girth for an easy grip.

Reel Seat

The reel seat is to the rear of the handle on a fly rod, and the reel is locked in place by a ring that’s either screwed toward the blank or toward the butt. Such down- and uplocking designs are equally effective.

Largely a matter of personal preference, as long as the seat holds the reel firmly in place, you’ll probably never notice the difference on the water.

Final Thoughts

Fly rods are an investment in excitement, and to get the most fun for your dollar, it pays to do your homework.

We hope these reviews have helped you pick the best rod for your needs, and as always, we’d love to hear your questions, comments, and concerns.

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