Dry Creek's Guide

Choosing Your First Fly Rod

If you’re like me, walking into a fly shop can be a little intimidating for the first time…or maybe first year. If you’re interested in fly fishing you know you need a few things, one of which is a fly rod. But which one? What do they mean by weight? How long of a rod do I need?  What’s the difference between a $100 rod and $1000 rod? Fast, medium, progressive, moderate-huh?

In this section, we will cover the basics of choosing a fly rod to match the conditions and environment to which you will most likely be using it for. Remember, this isn’t the end-all be-all of choosing a fly rod, but it’s a darn good beginners guide to one.

If you find this information helpful, please consider picking up the phone and making your next purchase through us. Here at Dry Creek Outfitters we keep our overhead low and our customer satisfaction high!

Choosing Fly Rod Length

When choosing the right fly rod length, the most important thing to consider is what type of water you will be mostly fishing. For instance, if you will be typically fishing large western rivers like those in Montana and Colorado, you might want a rod in a 9 ft length. This length will help you cast line further, mend line better and nymph fish more proficiently. This rod length is probably the most popular one sold, and that’s most likely due to the fact that most fly fishing is dictated by this region of the country due to its profound trout streams.

If you are interested in solitude and chasing wild trout throughout creeks and streams like those found in Arizona, the brook trout streams of the east, and headwaters throughout the west, you might want a shorter rod in the 7-8 foot range. A rod of this length will allow you to reach most if not all of the water, while providing you with more room to cast without getting hung up on trees, bushes rocks and whatever else is out there waiting to grab your fly and line. This can be greatly beneficial for novice casters as well, since less tangles and lost flies = less frustration.

If your are fishing for trout on a lake, will you be doing it from shore, a boat or a pontoon with your legs in the water? If from shore or standing on a boat, a 9 foot rod should be fine, but if you are sitting in a pontoon and therefor already closer to the surface of the water, a 10 foot rod might help to keep your line out of the water during your back cast.

If you rare fishing for bass on a lake, some people prefer a shorter. stouter rod in the 8 foot range that provides the power to toss big flies and lifting power to set the hook.

Most saltwater fly rods come in the 8-9 foot range as they allow you to

Dry Creek Outfitters Rod Length Suggestions:

  • Creek Fishing: 6-8 foot rod length
  • River Fishing: 8-9 foot rod length
  • Tail-water and Trout Lake Fishing: 9-10 foot rod length
  • Saltwater Fishing: 8-9 foot rod length
  • Lake Bass Fishing: 7-8 foot rod length

Choosing Fly Rod Weight

Fly rod weight is determined by the fly line it is intended to cast. Fly line weight is a measurement of grains and was determined at a time (1961) when Fiberglass (a slower casting material) was the primary material for building fly rods. Nowadays, since carbon fiber (graphite) is the most popular material for building fly rods, and happens to be a stiffer (faster) material, manufacturers tend to “over-weight” fly lines to work with a lot of the faster action (stiffer) fly rods. The higher the weight number, the stronger the fly rod.

Now then, most novice fly anglers tend to think that fly rod weight is dictated by how big of a fish you’re hoping to catch, and while that is true, it’s only part of the equation. There are other factors to consider such as; weather conditions, the size of the fly you are using, what style of fishing you are doing, and the size of the water you’re fishing.

The size of the fly. If you are throwing big flies such as wolley buggers, giant hoppers and articulated streamers, you need a heavier fly line to carry those bugs to your intended destination. You see, when it comes to traditional fishing, the lure carries the line, in fly fishing, the fly line carries the lure, or in this case fly. Hence, if you need a 6 weight line to bomb an articulated streamer across a river, then you need a 6 weight rod to cast that line.

In comparison, if you are on a smaller stream casting size 18 dry flies to rising fish, you might only need a rod that is a 3 weight or possibly lighter, and in fact a lighter rod will be able to place a smaller fly more delicately which becomes imperative when fishing for educated or spooky trout.  Another instance would be using heavy nymph rigs on a tail-water like Lee’s Ferry. While the average fish might measure in around 14″ the size of rod needs to be stout enough to cast a double nymph-indicator-rig.

Weather conditions affect rod weight as well. If it is really windy outside, say for instance the salt flats of the Caribbean, you may only need a 6 weight rod to cast your imitation shrimp to cruising bonefish however, due to the windy conditions you may actually need an 8 weight rod to be able to power through that wind to reach your intended target.

The size of the water plays into the equation as well. A rod with a heavier weight can cast a fly line further than a lighter weight rod. You may only need a 3 weight rod to cast a size 18 dry fly, but you might need a 4 weight rod to cast far enough to reach the target. Another thing to consider, is that the same fish with the same given proportions can use water to it’s advantage. So, a fish that you might be able to bring to net on a smaller, slow moving creek, might be able to overpower the same rod on a larger river with faster moving water.

The style of fishing can also influence your rod weight. If you are using a fast sinking/heavy line to reach fish deep within a lake or river, you are going to need a strong enough rod to cast that line and then have the pick up power to set a hook through all of that water.


  • 2 weight (trout/panfish) rods allow you to efficiently cast; small to medium dries, small nymph-indicator rigs.
  • 3 weight (trout/panfish) rods allow you to efficiently cast; small to medium dry flies, smaller dry-droppers, single nymph-foam indicator rigs, micro buggers and leech patterns.
  • 4 weight (trout/panfish) fly rod allow you to efficiently cast; small to medium dry flies, medium to medium-large hoppers, smaller double nymph rigs, dry-droppers, woolly buggers and leech patterns. (probably will have difficulty casting larger hoppers and nymph rigs in the wind)
  • 5 weight (trout/bass) rods allow you to efficiently cast; small to medium dry flies, dry-droppers, large hoppers, double nymph indicator rigs, woolly buggers, leeches, small articulated streamers.
  • 6 weight (light salt/trout/bass/carp) rods allow you to efficiently cast; medium to large dry flies, dry droppers, large double nymph rigs, large hoppers, woolly buggers, leeches, articulated streamers, clousers, salt water shrimp
  • 7 weight (light salt/steelhead/bass/carp/coho, silver salmon) rods allow you to efficiently cast; heavy nymph rigs, clousers, large articulated streamers, deceivers, steelhead flies
  • 8 weight (salt/steelhead/pike/carp/small roosterfish/bonefish/coho, silver salmon) rods allow you to efficiently cast; saltwater shrimp patterns,  crab patterns, deceivers, steelhead flies, clousers, large articulated streamers, double streamers
  • 9 weight (salt/steelhead/pike/bonefish/permit/roosterfish/king salmon) rods allow you to efficiently cast; saltwater shrimp patterns, crab patterns, deceivers, steelhead flies, pike/musky flies, clousers, roosterfish
  • 10 weight (salt/pike/permit/roosterfish/baby tarpon/king salmon) rods allow you to efficiently cast; saltwater shrimp patterns, crab patterns, deceivers, pike/musky flies, clousers, small tarpon flies, dorado
  • 12 weight (salt/tarpon) these rods and above are for big game fish.

Fly Rod Action

Fast action rod

Thisrod is stiffer and you are mainly using the top portion of the rod to cast. You can generate high line speed, tighter loops, and make more precise casts however, it may be more difficult for a beginner to get the timing down on a faster rod, as it provides less feedback and “feel” when casting. Another thing to be aware of with a faster rod, is due to the speed, a fly is placed on the water more aggressively compared to a more moderate action rod. This is something that wont necessarily matter on bigger moving water, but on smaller water and finicky trout, it could mean the difference between hooking that 20″ brown and spooking it.

Pros: Good at cutting through wind. Cast to further distances. Cast tighter loops to more precise locations. Cast larger flies. More “backbone” to fight bigger fish.

Cons: Can be difficult for roll-casting (a major cast used along creeks and when you have obstacles directly behind you.) Not as delicate at presentations. Less tippet protection (can lead to break-offs from stronger fish the turn or run suddenly.) Faster timing window can be difficult for novice to learn. Less “feel.”

Medium/Moderate Action Rods

You are using the top and middle sections of the rod to cast. Has a wider window of timing to absorb casting errors and provides more “feedback” when casting. More delicate fly placement which is beneficial when fishing for spooky trout.

Pros: Better tippet Protection than fast action rods. Good roll-casting. More delicate fly presentations. Loops are more open which leads to less tangling of multiple fly set-ups. More feel during unseen takes.

Cons: Not as good in windy conditions. Less power. Shorter casts. Not as precise as fast action rods.

Slow Action Rods

True slow action rods are typically made from fiberglass, which was the most popular material used before graphite. Fiberglass has made a comeback in the last 10 years and can be a great choice for creek fishing. These rods bend throughout their entire length, they roll-cast very well and provide great tippet protection. The newer fiberglass rods have a lot of technology in them, and are lighter and easier to cast then the 1960’s-70’s originals.

Pros: Great at roll-casting, great tippet protection, a lot of “feel” in them, stouter rods made in shorter lengths are great for creeks and allow you the ability to fight larger fish but feel smaller ones as well.

Cons: Not as accurate, not the best in windy conditions, timing can be difficult to learn.

Progressive Action

Although fly lines feel light, there is actually weight to them, and the more line you have outside of the rod-tip, the heavier the load you are casting. Progressive rods use the tip of the rod to cast with a lighter load (less line/smaller fly), and as the load increases (more line/bigger fly) -it uses more of the rod (further down) to help recycle that energy back into your cast.


Recovery is how long it takes for a rod to return to its original state (straight line) after you cast it. A fast recovery rate helps stabilize the fly rod, and along with other manufacturer’s design features, prevents it from moving in a side to side motion. The slower it takes for a rod to recover, the more side to side motion can take place, which can impact the precision of your cast.

$100 vs $1000. What’s The Difference?

There is actually a lot of difference between a $100 rod a $500 rod and a $1000 rod. Although you might not feel the difference as a beginner, there is a lot that is going on within the fly rods design. For instance, recovery rate can impact how precise your cast is (read about that above), as well as other manufacturers unique design features that help stabilize the rod and prevent it from moving in a side to side motion. Check ut some of the differences below.

$1000 fly rod:

  • Made in the USA or country of origin.
  • Latest rod building R+D
  • Highest modulus graphite
  • Lightest rods
  • Lightest swing weights
  • Boron Technology (R.L. Winston)
  • Stronger materials
  • Finest quality components; guides, wraps, ferrules
  • Highest grade cork handles (no filler)
  • Lifetime Warranties
  • Excellent tracking
  • High end reel seats + hardware
  • Fast Recovery = More accuracy

$500 fly rod:

  • Possibly made in USA
  • Previous generations technology
  • Lighter rods
  • Light to decent swing weight
  • Quality components
  • Cork might have filler
  • Accurate tracking
  • High modulus graphite
  • Accurate casting
  • Downgraded reel seats, good hardware
  • Great bang for the buck!
  • Lifetime Warranties

$250 Fly Rod:

  • Made Overseas
  • Decent tracking
  • Good creek rods
  • Heavier Rods
  • Heavier swing weight (not as noticeable in shorter models)
  • Quality Guides
  • Cork will have filler
  • Lower modulus graphite
  • Slower recovery=reduced tracking
  • Most have limited lifetime warranties
  • Still a good rod for the price!
  • Cheaper reel seats, standard hardware
  • Novice most likely can’t tell performance from higher end rods

$150 Fly Rod

  • Made Overseas
  • Cork has filler
  • Generic components
  • Heavier Rods
  • Heavier swing weight (not as noticeable in shorter creek rods)
  • Slow recovery = decreased tracking
  • Lower modulus graphite
  • Inexpensive reel seat and hardware
  • Rods tend to be medium to slower in action
  • Still has a good feel and will get you on fish!
  • Maybe not the best rod to rely on in saltwater applications
  • Novice most likely will not be able to distinguish performance from higher end rods

* swing weight refers to how heavy a fly rod feels when you are casting it. This added weight can add up over a long day of fishing, and especially when you are casting heavier rods weights, like those used for saltwater.

* think of tracking like paddling a kayak, Does it travel in a straight line as you move forward, or does it move side to side.

Dry Creek Outfitters Fly Rod Suggestions

We feel these are great rod recommendations for the beginner angler on up. Check out the rod + reel outfits we have put together that can help you save a few bucks, and make your decision a little easier.

All Around Arizona Trout Rod

If you will be spending most of your time fishing the creeks and streams of Arizona, with a bit of lake fishing as well as out of state river fishing, we would recommend an 8 1/2 foot-4 weight fly rod in a medium action profile. This rod has the length to work rivers and lakes, mend line while nymphing, throw full size woolly buggers, and still give you a fun experience while chasing wild trout in smaller creeks.

Creek Rods

If you will be using the fly rod mostly on creeks and streams, with the occasional trip to the lake or river, we would recommend stepping down the length a bit to an 8 ft-4 wt rod. This rod will give you a little more room to maneuver and cast along creeks like the ones we have here in Arizona, and still give you the ability to fish freestone rivers and alpine lakes for native species.

Lake and Tail-water Specific Rod

If your main purpose is fishing lakes and tail-waters like those found at Lee’s Ferry and the San Juan river in new Mexico, we would suggest looking at fly rods in the 9-10 foot lengths with a weight range between 4-5.

Western River Rod

If your plan is to head up north to fish the legendary rivers of the great west, we would suggest a 9 foot-5 weight rod, or a 9 foot-6 weight rod in a more moderate action. If you plan on tossing big streamers from the bow of a drift boat, the 6 weight might be more down your alley, but if you plan on fishing more traditional dry flies, and dry-droppers, the 5 weight might work better for you.

Bonefish Rod

If you are headed down to the warm waters of the Carribean to chase bonefish, we would recommend picking up a medium-fast-to-fast-action 9 foot-8 weight rod.

Permit + Roosterfish + Baby Tarpon Rod

If you plan on chasing multiple species such as the ones listed above, a 9 foot-10 weight rod is the weapon of choice.