Fly Fishers' Republic

Your First Rod

April 25, 2006

by Peter Arfield

Range of rods in rack display

Your first fly rod is an important purchase at any price level. We need to consider: length, line size & cost! Do not be too concerned about nuances of rod action at this stage, ‘middle vs. tip vs. slow etc.,’ although rods rated very fast or very slow or full may not be the best choice for the novice.


For a river rod, a length of around 8½ft has a lot going for it on all but the smallest and largest of streams and rivers. For a lot of small lake fishing a 9 footer is useful and could well be more than handy in a lot of rivers with a no wading rule, or where it is not safe or desirable to wade. For instance the Wye at Bakewell here in the Peak District has a no wading rule – a 9 footer is an ideal rod here.

For larger waters you may find a rod of around 9½ft a benefit, especially for any boat fishing you may do, but the nine footer can be handy enough for waters where fish are noted for moving close to the bank under overhanging trees etc.. My local lake, Press Manor, being a good example. Although the large water angler will certainly require some more length and line size options for aspects of the sport, i.e. fry feeding or traditional loch style fishing, by the time you are ready to add to the collection, you will no longer need this guide. Probably.

Line size

Another way of saying the weight of line to suit the rod and style of fishing. Slightly beyond the scope of this item but line size is the weight (wt) of line to suit our rod. Suitable line size is often marked on the rod just above the rod grip i.e. #5 line or 5/6 wt or aftma #5 or something similar. These rod ratings are not written in stone but for all practical beginners purposes they can be.

Length/Weight Recommendations:

For the river a 5wt rod, between 8 and 9ft is good. A 4wt doesn’t hurt much, 3 definitely would, but you would get away with a 6 sometimes.

For lakes a 5 or 6wt rod of 9ft is a sensible option.

For larger stillwaters a 6 or 7wt or maybe an 8wt rod of 9 to 9½ft is good.

A 10ft 8wt rod while useful, can be a bit much for many novice casters especially if bought at a lower price range.

How much should we pay?

The good news for the angler is that rods have got better and cheaper over recent years. If I may wave my pipe stem and peer over the top of my glasses for awhile, I can tell you that carbon rods cost around £80 to £100 mark in the mid 70s. That was a fair amount of money then. Probably the equivalent of £500 plus, the price for a top end cutting edge rod today.

Fortunately, we can buy a perfectly serviceable rod for well under a hundred pounds in today’s money. If one is on budget it is getting more difficult to buy a really naff one, although they still exist!

Price range as at April 2012

Bog standard less than £100 – Manageable but go a little up-market if you can. Greys GS would be a good choice perhaps.

Budget £100 to £180 – Orvis, Greys and Redington do the most popular ranges, while Hardy have their Uniqua range just in budget with some retailers, and Greys Streamflex nearly comes in on budget.

One above budget £190 to £250 – Some nice stuff from Orvis, Greys, Redington. Hardy and Sage may be worth a look.

Getting Serious £260 to £350 – Nice stuff, about as high as many aspire to, £260 seems a popular price point no doubt for good scientifically researched marketing reasons. The reasons for spending this amount of cash on your first rod are real and the benefits are tangible in ways that will not be obvious to the dilettante. This is the sort of money keen and competent coarse anglers spend on a rod without too much soul searching. Coarse folk have been fishing for years with top end stuff; way beyond what a lot of dyed in the wool game anglers are accustomed to. Have you seen the price of carbon roach and carp poles? £1200 gets you “entry level” stuff!

Top rods. £499 to £700 odd – Slightly more than loose change for many people, but as John Geirach said… Question” How come you ride around in beat up old trucks yet have such snazzy fishing tackle? Answer “I would have thought the answer self evident.”

Top rods are an absolute joy to drool over, own and to fish with, but a novice should have other priorities in his or her fishing sights; like, where can I get proper lessons, how do I tie a fly on? So unless you feel especially flush, or have just had an appointment with a doctor that did not go quite as one would have wished, you should maybe leave the absolute top end alone for a while. You can go and see that nice chap in the fly shop in a couple of years or so when you have a firmer idea of the places you fish most.

Fly Lines and Reel Choices


Bearing in mind you need to invest in fly reel and a fly line to go with the rod, along with some other stuff in the bits and pieces category. Don’t worry too much about the other stuff too much, as I tell most of my clients when they gaze slack jawed around the shop, all you need is one of everything! In truth, stuff like line grease, fly floatant and clippers do not come to a whole lot of cash and will last some long time to come. We lose more stuff through carelessness than wear and tear, mostly.

Match your first fly reel to the price range of the first rod as a general rule. At the budget end an Orvis Clearwater reel costs £59 at time of writing. Greys and Leeda put out budget priced reels which are more than serviceable. At this stage economy on the reel is better then economy on the line, but more of that later.

If you go a bit better with the rod or if budget allows £60 – £99 buys more sophisticated reels including large arbor construction and improved drag mechanisms. If you’re a small stream angler you’ll hardly extend the line much more than a couple of rod lengths, play hit and haul with smallish fish, and very rarely use the reel for anything other than line storage. So why pay for a drag? Meanwhile some small lakes contain big fish! Set the hook on a fit rainbow or blue trout nowadays and you may be glad of a smooth drag and maybe enhanced line pick up speed a larger arbor reel can provide. If you need the extra features a reel over £60 will be fine, if not spend the extra on the rod and line. If you’re fishing big lakes, go for a large arbor reel and get the money spent as soon as you can. You never know just what you are lifting into nowadays and if budget does not allow drop some broad hints at christmas/birthday.


Your first fly line will be a floating line and I mostly recommend weight forward profile. Some well respected instructors and damn good anglers will argue the opposite and tell you double taper is best for the novice. Arguments either way are slightly beyond this article. Don’t worry about it at this stage. Pay around £25 to £30 for your line, economize on the reel if you must do so.

Other ‘Ponderables’

A simple idea could be to go for something like an outfit deal from a major manufacturer. These guys have been known to subsidize the cost of these in the same way some banks offer ‘student cards.’ My current favourite outfit for the novice is an offering from Orvis. All right, I know I have them to sell in my shop, but I also like to sleep at night. They’re genuinely a good deal. If you live the far side of the Atlantic try Cabela, I’ve heard they might be able to help. There will be plenty of time to work up to a top-end outfit in later years. Possibly.

If somewhat further down life’s highway and looking at a family budget, the above will serve you well enough, but the benefit of one above budget is no bad thing. A travel outfit can be considered, as multi joint rods are not the slightly dodgy things they once were. These can be tucked away in your car away from prying eyes ready for those snatched summer evenings on way home from work when the lawn doesn’t need cutting etc. etc. Again an economy reel but with hints dropped at birthday time?

If you’re in your late thirties you should definitely go one above budget if you possibly can. Our middle years are only middling if we are active into our eighties, some will be, but some never make it to be blunt. It has taken me some thirty years to get my hands on some really good rods, and even as a professional who gets the odd demo to play with I could still do with a couple more when I am feeling flush. Will it take you thirty years to get hold of a top rod?

If we find ourselves looking back rather than forward to our fiftieth birthday (!) and if funds will allow at all, you should probably go for the best you can possibly afford simply to get the best from the sport. You could argue the other way I suppose and go economy for a season in case the sport is not for you after all. I still say go for the best you can. After all, we all enjoy a bit of rock ‘n’ roll but there comes a time when a little Mozart does not go amiss.


Dealerships: A decent tackle dealer will steer you away from extremes of rod length and action you may be tempted by, at any price point. The dealer should have knowledge of the type of waters you will be likely to fish in the area. They should offer the novice some qualified casting instruction and be able to fit backing line, fly line, and install nail knots or loops to fly line as required. It is said a really good dealer will when required, be able to express surprise, admiration and some sympathy for the angler during normal shop hours at no extra charge; and possibly be out fishing on slightly more occasions than is good for business, a bit behind with the paperwork, and harbors a well used vice at an untidy bench. Probably.