Of Rods and Reels

Choosing a Fly Rod Part II


Graphite. Remember that word, because the vast majority of fly rods are made from graphite nowadays. Skip the heavier, clumsy, fiberglass rods. Yes, the latter are much less expensive, but they just don't cast nearly as well— and that means frustration and disappointment. Go ahead and buy yourself a bamboo fly rod if you must. Yes, it will run you between $1,000 and $2,000, but they are lovely and traditional.

Graphite is strong, efficient in the physics sense, and very sensitive, and it has all the other attributes needed to make a good fly rod. Naturally, the higher the grade of graphite, the more expensive the rod. You can buy a decent graphite fly rod for as little as $100 or thereabouts, even less if you catch them on sale.


Too many beginning fly-fishers fail to consider the grip on the rod they are considering.

Grips come in varying diameters and shapes for varying sizes of hands and personal tastes, numerous species and sizes of fish, and different conditions on the water. Large hands often like a full wells grip (which also gives the angler the ability to put additional thumb pressure on the grip); medium-sized hands frequently like either a half wells (not a reverse half wells, which is a poor design, ergonomically speaking) or cigar; smaller hands seem to prefer the superfine. Again, the choice is yours.

Cork grips are the industry standard. If you will be handling many slimy fish during a day's fishing wipe your hands on a rag to remove the slime before you grip the rod again. Then again, if you are releasing the fish, you shouldn't be handling it in such a way that the fish's protective slime comes off on your hand.

Rings And Things

To go into any more detail on the parts of a fly rod here would be pointless. Suffice it to say that any good introductory, broad-brush book on how to get started fly-fishing (and fly casting) will tell you about the intricacies of the fly rod, touching on such things as reel seats designs, guides, hook keepers, and so on. As this is not an introductory fly-fishing book per se, and it certainly isn't broad-brushed, we'll skip such minutiae and move along.

Fly Reels

On May 12, 1874, the founder of The Orvis Company, Charles F. Orvis, was granted a patent on his new Trout Reel. Virtually all fly reels since are based upon the principles that set this reel apart from all others. While materials used to make the first reels (nickel silver and nickel-plated brass) have changed (to aluminum), it is still very evident that Mr. Orvis changed the face of fly-fishing forever.

Today's serious reels are light and durable, and capable of taking tremendous pressure from powerful fish trying to fuse the reel's drag system. Whereas the old adage that describes a fly reel as a place to store fly line still rings true for small, less-than-powerful game fish like blue-gill and many trout, when you intend to fight fish off the reel, like red drum, steelhead, bonefish, and permit, the reel becomes much more important, and the most important aspect of that reel is the drag system it employs.

Regardless of the type of drag system your reel features (disk or ratchet-and-pawl), make sure it functions smoothly (no skipping) from the moment it engages to the moment you land the fish. (Changes in friction applied during a fight will likely cost you the fish.) It must be heat-resistant throughout the fight. When completely disengaged, the drag should be just that— completely disengaged— so that line runs freely off the spool. And the drag adjustment knob must be easily accessed and used, yet out of the way and not cumbersome or awkward. Reels with a palming rim allow the angler to apply additional drag with his palm, a nice touch that can come in handy.

The reel should be matched to the rod for balance. Too heavy or too light a reel for the rod will hinder casting and playing of the fish.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »