My first suggestion is to not buy a rod without casting it first. If at all possible, go to a local fly shop. My second piece is to get a bit of casting instruction…even one lesson…before you do that. Professional instruction will be the best bet to get you on the right path, but if that isn’t in the cards or the budget, try to find a mentor that can at least help you with the fundamentals. Without the ability to execute some semblance of a proper fly cast there really is no way to evaluate a fly rod. In the case you choose to ignore this advice, my recommendation for a beginner is a moderate action rod. Don’t worry, even if you don’t, the salesperson at the fly shop will know what I’m talking about.
Rod Length: I often recommend that anglers use the longest rod they can get away with on the waters they primarily fish. That said, 9 foot rods have become a bit of a standard for a reason. They are long enough to help achieve good casting distance, assist with mending reach when drifting, keep line up off the water in complex currents, and clear bushes and taller grasses that might be in your backcast, yet not so long that they become cumbersome, tip heavy, or hung up in trees assuming the areas you fish are fairly open. If you fish smaller waters or ones with lots of overhanging branches, an 8 or 8.5 ft rod can be a great option whether you’re a beginner or intermediate fly angler. If you fish somewhere wide open, big water, and/or are looking for more reach a 9.5 or 10 foot rod can be great as well, but I usually don’t recommend it for a beginner.
Line weight: As I mentioned, 5wt would be a great all round choice. I’ll also offer the following. If you are primarily targeting smaller fish on smaller waters, consider a 4wt…even a 3 if you are planning just to fish small creeks for smallish fish. Conversely, if you are really interested in targeting larger warm water species like bass, a 6wt will allow you to more easily throw the bigger flies necessary to entice them. The size of fish you plan to target certainly comes into play, but choice of line weight primarily comes down to the size of flies you plan to cast.
So, in summary, an 8-9 ft 4-6wt rod is a good choice for a first rod depending on the waters you plan to fish. If in doubt, get a 9ft 5wt.
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