Written by: John Baltes
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There’s a beautiful simplicity to fly fishing, a pure connection to nature that can’t be matched by conventional tackle. When you’re knee-deep in a gurgling stream, feeling your rod load on the back cast, and watching your fly sail through the air to land on the water, life is nothing short of magical.

But getting started can be daunting. From rods and reels to tippet and leader, flies and waders to landing nets and hemostats, angling is equipment-intensive, and knowing where to start is difficult to say the least.

And while there are great rods for beginners out there, too often, anglers new to fly fishing are recommended to start their journey with rods that are excellent, but far too unforgiving, when you’re just learning to cast.

We want you to love fishing, and if you’re looking for a beginner fly rod, we’ve got you covered! Below, we’ll review some of our favorite fly rods for beginners, ending with a buying guide that will get you up to speed quickly.

Quick glance at the best fly rods for beginners:

Related:

Best Fly Rods for Beginners Reviewed

Cabela's Synch Fly Rod

Bass Pro

Material: graphite
Length: 8’ 6”
Weight: 4 wt.
Action: moderate

If there’s one truth about fly fishing that’s hard to swallow, it’s the cost of the tackle.

Premium gear will set you back quite a bit, and if your wallet is already feeling a little light, dropping hundreds on a beginner fly rod may not be doable. But that doesn’t need to leave you on the couch next weekend.

Enter the Cabela Synch.

The Synch is a fly rod that’s been designed around the needs of new anglers. Manufactured with a graphite blank that flexes along its length, it offers a forgiving moderate action that compensates for poor technique.

That may not sound like a real selling point until you’re deep in the learning phase of fly casting, but you’ll quickly come to realize that mastering a length of line, leader, and tippet will take a lifetime!

At 8-feet, 6-inches, the Synch’s 4 wt. model is a great beginner rod for trout and panfish like crappie, bluegill, and perch. It has enough backbone to help you fight small fish, while a big trout is going to be truly memorable. It loads well, casting distance is pretty good, and with some practice, the Synch is capable of impressive accuracy, too.

Of course, at this price point, the Synch doesn’t offer bells and whistles, and it’s definitely not going to outcast a fast-action rod in the hands of a pro.

But if you’re looking for an affordable, forgiving fly rod for a beginner, the Cabela Synch is very hard to beat.

Pros: 

  • Great price!
  • Forgiving medium action
  • Excellent performance for the money

Cons:

  • ???

Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label - Best 5 wt. Fly Rod for Beginners

5 wt. 9'0' 4 pc. NXT Black Label Rod

Amazon 

Material: ?
Length: 9’
Weight: 5 wt.
Action: medium-fast

Temple Fork Outfitters isn’t just another fly tackle company: they’re deeply invested in the sport. Backing education programs that teach novice anglers the ins and outs of fly fishing, their long-term experience with people who’ve never held a fly rod before really shines through in the NXT Black Label.

If you’re a fly fishing beginner, and you’re interested in fishing for trout, smallmouth bass, and panfish, there’s probably no better rod to start on than this. TFO bills these rods as “the gold standard for fly fishing schools and educational programs across the United States,” and we’re inclined to agree.

The 5 wt. NXT Black Label sports a medium-fast blank that transmits plenty of feel to your hand. You'll really know when the rod loads on the back cast, making it easier to learn to time your casts. It drops flies on to the water with finesse, offering delicate presentations rather than unsubtle plops. And it loads deeply, allowing long casts even on breezy days.

Obviously, this is a great rod for learning the fundamentals of the sport, but it’s sufficiently excellent that it may be a long while until you outgrow its performance. 

And if that weren’t enough, it’s also affordably priced.

Pros: 

  • Affordable price!
  • Forgiving medium-fast action
  • Outstanding performance for the money
  • Casts well, even into the wind

Cons:

  • ???

Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label - Best 8 wt. Fly Rod for Beginners

8 wt. 9'0' 4 pc. NXT Black Label Kit

Amazon 

Material: ?
Length: 9’
Weight: 8 wt.
Action: medium-fast

Given our praise of the 5 wt. NXT Black Label, it should come as absolutely no surprise that we’re just as enthusiastic about Temple Fork Outfitters 8 wt. For new anglers chasing bass, pike, rainbow, steelhead, salmon, redfish, snook, striper, and similarly large, hard-fighting fish, this 8 wt. rod is hard to match.

At 9 feet, the 8 wt. features the same medium-fast action that helps beginners learn to cast, offering exceptional feel and sufficient forgiveness that your first fishing trip won’t end in frustration. 

As we noted above, TFO is deeply committed to fly fishing education, and the NXT Black Label is a rod that’s often used to teach fly fundamentals. Chalk that up to high-quality manufacture and an action that’s soft and forgiving while providing long casts.

What sets this rod apart from its 5 wt. counterpart is, of course, the power delivered by a thicker, stouter blank. And while you can definitely catch panfish or trout on an 8 wt., when you’re casting flies to redfish over a shallow flat or offering a streamer to a big rainbow trout, this rod will really come into its own.

Pros: 

  • Affordable price!
  • Forgiving medium-fast action
  • Outstanding performance for the money
  • Casts well, even into the wind

Cons:

  • ???

Moonshine Rod Co. The Drifter

Moonshine Rod Co. The Drifter Series Fly Rod with Extra Tip

Amazon 

Material: graphite
Length: 10’
Weight: 5 wt.
Action: medium

Fly fishing can feel pretty pretentious, and many products related to the sport are priced as luxury goods and status symbols rather than fishing tackle.

Moonshine Rod Co. bucks that trend, offering exceptional quality and performance at prices that don’t require a second mortgage. And for new anglers on the hunt for trout, panfish, and smallmouth bass, their 5 wt. Drifter is simply amazing.

If you’ve heard that Moonshine just rebrands blanks like the Maxcatch and bumps up the price tag, you’ve heard wrong. Reputable rod builders have taken a close look at Moonshine’s rods, and they've confirmed that they’re the real deal.

We like the 5 wt. Drifter as an all-around beginner rod. It packs enough punch to fight largemouth bass while still offering sufficient sensitivity for trout and panfish. And while the blank may be heavier than hard-core anglers like, it casts beautifully, offering a soft medium action that forgives imperfect technique.

Whether you’re casting dry flies or streamers, you’ll find the 5 wt. Drifter is more than willing to do its part.

Moonshine delivers this rod with an extra tip, a nod in the direction of the inevitable car door or mistake. 

And while we prefer the TFO NXT Black Label overall, we’d happily fish the Drifter and never look back. But given that the TFO is easily available and priced a bit better, it’s hard to make an argument for the Moonshine unless you prefer a medium-action blank.

Pros: 

  • Affordable price!
  • Forgiving medium action
  • Outstanding performance for the money
  • Casts well, even into the wind

Cons:

  • A trifle heavy

Moonshine Rod Co. The Drifter

Moonshine Rod Co. The Drifter Series Fly Rod with Extra Tip

Amazon 

Material: graphite
Length: 9’
Weight: 8 wt.
Action: medium

Moonshine’s 8 wt. Drifter is a fantastic choice for larger freshwater and saltwater species. And from inshore adventures chasing bluefish, to cold, clear streams filled with rainbow trout, you won’t be outmatched if you've brought this rod along.

We can’t emphasize enough that faster actions are much more difficult to cast well than a soft medium like the Drifter. If you’re just starting your fly fishing journey, a fast-action, high-end rod that amazes in the hands of a pro will fizzle and fail for you, pretty much guaranteed.

You need that forgiving, easy-loading action to get started, and the 8 wt. Drifter is a very good first rod for big fish. It casts streamers and dry flies really well, even into the wind, and has enough backbone to help wrangle monsters into your net.

Yes, it’s heavier than “elite” rods of the same length, power, and action. And yes, for experienced fly anglers, a faster blank might be better, but the truth is that Moonshine rods get far too much bad press for what are by any fair standard excellent beginner fly rods.

Pros: 

  • Affordable price!
  • Forgiving medium action
  • Outstanding performance for the money
  • Casts well, even into the wind

Cons:

  • A trifle heavy

Buying Guide: What Beginners Should Know About Fly Rods

The learning curve for new fly anglers can be frustratingly steep - and we’ve all been there.

But when you learn about what you need - and why it’s a good idea - you can bend that cure a bit and make it a lot more shallow.

Bad recommendations

I’ve never seen a bad fly rod recommended to anyone, but I’ve seen bad rods for beginners recommended quite a bit.

The current trend in fly rods is fast actions. And like all other trends, this one has attracted lots of followers. As one elite rod company has complained, this has led to a “one-sided pursuit of extreme distance and brute power” while ignoring rhythm and feel.

As the experts at Field & Stream explain, “Most modern fly rods … are designed with a medium-fast or fast action. A fast action helps cast through stiff wind but isn’t ideal for beginners. Experienced anglers are more likely to use fast-action rods due to their strong backbone and ability to load quickly. We recommend beginners start with a medium or medium-fast action. This creates more time for anglers to get a feel for false casting and forces them to slow down their casting enough so they can focus on making a good presentation.”

When well-meaning fly anglers recommend fast rods to beginners, it’s mainly due to the dominance of this type of rod in the current market. But you can also chalk that up to forgetting just how hard it can be to learn to cast well for new fishermen.

It’s true that, all other things being equal, a rod with a fast action can cast farther and fight harder than softer rods, but only at the cost of feel and forgiveness. A fast rod in the hands of an expert can work real magic on the water, lofting flies incredible distances and allowing hard fights that softer blanks just couldn’t win.

But that same rod in the hands of a novice is going to be an exercise in frustration, as getting the timing right when you really can’t feel the rod load behind you will be next to impossible.

And plenty of very experienced fly anglers give fast actions as pass, preferring softer blanks that allow them to really feel the rod load. That perfect rhythmic casting action and subtle presentation demand it.

Action

Whatever rod you might fish when you have years on the water and the experience to choose what works best for you, novice fly anglers are best served by a medium to medium fast blank.

Action describes where on a rod force will cause it to bend.

Fast action rods bend near the tip, growing stiffer in just a few inches. By contrast, a slow action rod will bend easily along nearly its entire length, creating a true parabolic arc.

A medium-action rod will flex well back from the tip during casting. You’ll really feel the rod load behind you, allowing you to learn to time your rhythm properly.

Weight

Fly rods are categorized by a system of “weights,” abbreviated as “wt.” 

Lower numbers mean lighter power - a description of how much force it takes to bend a rod.

Thus a 3 wt. rod bends more easily than an 8 wt. rod.

That matters a lot when you get a fish on your line, as a 3 wt. just can’t handle a big fish, nor can the line, leader, and tippet it’s designed to cast.

That leads to some rough-and-ready recommendations.

For beginners, a 4, 5, or 8 wt. Rod is a very good place to start, depending on what (and where) you plan to fish.

If you’re targeting trout, a 4 or 5 wt. will be perfect, and a rod of this weight will work just as well with panfish like crappie, bluegill, and perch. It can also be used to fight smallmouth and largemouth bass, but a bruiser will demand skill to land.

For bass, pike, rainbow, steelhead, redfish, and other large fish, an 8 wt. is a very good place to start for new anglers. 

Material

Most fly rods are made from one of two materials: graphite or fiberglass.

Graphite is very light and exceptionally strong. It’s also very sensitive and stiff.

Fiberglass is much heavier than graphite and far more flexible.

Most fly rods are made from graphite, and for beginners, it’s the best choice. A graphite fly rod will load and cast well, while still providing plenty of backbone to win fights.

When you have more experience, you can try fiberglass rods with slow actions, and there’s no question that they excel at delicate presentations.

Length

A 10-foot rod probably isn’t the right choice in this location.

Fly rods average about 9 feet in length, but longer and shorter rods are available.

Longer fly rods are optimal where there’s plenty of space to cast. But if you’re wading in a narrow stream with overhanging branches, a shorter rod is the better choice.

The rods we’ve reviewed range from 8’ 6” (the Synch) to 10’ (the 5 wt. Drifter). 

A long rod might be the perfect choice for this river.

Our Picks: Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label 5 wt. and 8 wt.

If you’re new to fly fishing and you need a good rod to learn with that can see you through several years - or longer - of fishing without the need for an upgrade, you should consider Temple Fork Outfitters’ NXT Black Label.

Available in 5 and 8 wt., these excellent rods are the perfect tackle to introduce you to fly angling.

Their graphite blanks sport a medium-fast action that’s very forgiving, providing plenty of feel to help you learn the proper casting rhythm. As your casting improves, you’ll find that they load well, allowing you to cast reasonable distances even in the wind. And with practice, you’ll be able to place a fly exactly where you want it.

These NXT Black Label rods may be perfect for beginners, but their performance is such that you’ll never regret buying one.

As always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have, so please leave a comment below.

About The Author
John Baltes
Chief Editor & Contributor
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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