Uh oh, someone’s hooked on fly fishing. That’s why you’re here right? You’ve gotten an entry-level fly rod and are now trying to determine how to upgrade. Or maybe you have heard old guys arguing over which fly rod is better after you asked them which you should get for beginning your fly fishing journey.
Well, whatever the reason is, you’re debating between a 4-weight and 5-weight fly rod and needing some more information to help with the decision.
Hopefully, this article will help.
4-Weight vs 5-Weight Fly Rods
4-Weight Fly Rod
5-Weight Fly Rod
Best for fishing smaller water bodies where fish tend to be smaller
Best for beginners not sure of what types of fish or water they might be after
What Is a 4-Weight Fly Rod and What Is it Good for?
A 4-weight fly rod is a little brother to the 5-weight fly rod. However, it's barely the little brother and offers some attributes that many anglers might prefer. It provides good versatility like its big brother but is better suited for smaller waters.
Yes, a 4-weight fly rod is a lighter rod, and yes, lighter rods are generally for smaller fish, or are they? Some fly fishing enthusiasts might say fly fishing with a 4-weight is better than using its big brother, the 5, because it gives the angler more sensitivity, allowing them to feel the smallest of nibbles.
A 4-weight, while lighter in construction, still has enough strength to toss out good size dry flies while being delicate enough to toss out your smaller flies like a caddis or an ant pattern. A 4-weight is also the perfect size for hooking into a medium or small trout without ripping the hook through the creature's mouth. But the 4-weight is still strong enough to do battle with a good size bass.
The great thing about fly fishing is that the gear is lightweight and can be broken down and carried on a weekend hiking and camping trip. The tackle for fly fishing is small and often fits in a box smaller than a deck of cards. The rod and reel are usually two- or three-piece sets and can be carried on a backpack with surprising ease.
If this sounds like the type of adventure you crave and want a fly rod for the trout you see swimming in those dainty streams you come across on your trek, the 4-weight is your rod.
What Is a 5-Weight Fly Rod and What Is it Good for?
The 5-weight fly rod is the most common entry-level fly rod used. It's typically 9' long and offers a great range of capabilities. It's most common amongst entry-level fly fishing anglers because it can be applied to many situations.
The 5-weight fly rod differs in versatility from the 4-weight because the 4-weight offers a low- to mid-range versatility. While the 5 provides a low- to the light-heavy range. This means that the 5-weight can catch smaller fish species like trout and catch larger fish like striped bass.
The 5-weight also offers versatility in fly size capabilities. This versatility is about its ability to cast large flies like a bass bug or a sizable woolly bugger. It can cast smaller flies, but it's almost too stiff of construction to allow for a proper presentation.
Water Sizes and Types
The 5-weight is excellent for medium-sized rivers and lakes. The 5-weights are also useful in smaller streams but lack some of the finesse needed to fish some of these waters. It can be used for smaller streams but it's just not ideal.
There are some 5-weights designed for saltwater fishing also, so if you're unsure of what your fishing style might be, a 5-weight fly rod is an excellent place to start experimenting.
Relevant Characteristics Between 4-Weight and 5-Weight Fly Rod
4-Weight Fly Rod
5-Weight Fly Rod
Typically 9’ rods are the norm but shorter rods are available
Typically 9’ rods are the norm but shorter rods are available
Light construction allowing for more sensitivity
Heavier construction for handling larger fish
Heavier but still light
Sensitive casting action makes presenting smaller flies easier
Medium fast casting action adds to better distance while casting but makes using smaller flies more challenging
Can handle lighter flies better but lacks in being able to cast heavier flies with weights
# of Weights
Can cast heavier flies and some subsurface flies that require added weight to get them deeper
Similarities and Differences
Determining the best choice between these two rod weights relies primarily on your preferences and the bodies of water you'll be fishing. However, here we're going to give the areas that the 4- and 5-weight are different to determine which one might be better for you.
Likewise, we'll give the similarities, so you know which attributes are present in both to make a more informed decision.
4-Weight and 5-Weight Fly Rod Differences
Some of the differences in 4- and 5-weight fly rods might not seem exactly obvious, so we will discuss some of the important factors to consider.
The difference in construction might not seem like much when you're holding it in your hands at your local fly shop, but once you get out on the water, the difference will be night and day.
The lightweight structure of the 4-weight will become clear once you begin casting, especially with smaller flies, like a small mayfly pattern. The gentleness with which the fly settles on the water will be just like the beautiful picture we all have in our heads.
This ability to better present smaller flies becomes extremely important when hunting for smaller fish such as trout. Trout are picky eaters anyway. There have been many stories of two anglers fishing 50 feet from each other using the same fly, but one was using a size 8 fly and the other a size 10, the size 10 being smaller.
The angler using a size 10 was catching a trout every time his fly hit the water, while the person using a size 8 never even had a fish look at his fly. (Editor note: this happened to me on a trip to Oklahoma. Yes, it was disgustingly frustrating.) Now one would think just put a smaller fly on, right? Yes, but it also matters how the fly hits the water and how it sits on the water's surface.
If the fly hits the water too hard, it’ll spook the trout, which are extremely easy to scare with just your shadow. On top of that, if the fly isn't sitting on the surface properly, the silhouette will be wrong, and the trout will ignore it. This last part is what some anglers mean when talking about the presentation of a fly.
A 4-weight fly rod will dramatically help with the presentation while using smaller flies. This will increase the likelihood of catching finicky fish such as trout.
In contrast to the trout, some fish species are so aggressive it doesn't matter how the fly hits the water, they are going to hit it. The most popular species like this is the largemouth bass. This species is extremely aggressive and territorial. Toss anything that looks like food in front of it, and chances are if it's hungry, it's going to bite.
In this situation, a 5-weight might serve you better as it has meat to handle the fight a good size largemouth will give. It can also throw out larger flies such as a bass bug or frog pattern black bass enjoy so much.
4-Weight and 5-Weight Fly Rod Similarities
There are some apparent similarities between the 4-weight and 5-weight fly rods, but some are more important to know than others. We will discuss those similarities here.
The critical thing to know when considering the similarities between the 4- and the 5-weight fly rod is that they are equally versatile. These fly rods can be used for small species like trout and panfish or larger species such as bass.
When deciding which rod to purchase, don't let the fear of not catching larger fish on the smaller rod deter you. You'll raise more eyebrows telling a story of how you caught a 3 lb bass on a 4-weight than you will if using a 5.
The 4- or 5-weight can also cast large and small flies; one simply casts larger flies better, and the other smaller flies better. That doesn't mean they can't both cast the same flies. It means the angler must have more skill and practice casting.
There have been many arguments between anglers over which is better, the 4-weight or 5-weight No one could win this argument because they are both great rods, and it depends on the person using them.
Packability becomes a concern when going on vacation to hike, camp, or a specific fishing excursion. Both of the fly rods are offered in 2-4 piece sets. Having the ability to break down a 9' rod into 2-4 smaller sections makes stowing a fly rod easy.
You can attach it to a backpack and walk the trails along a river until you get to a place you want to camp or fish and it won't get hung up in the trees. Or you can just as easily place it in the backseat of a car and not worry about it taking up precious space. This ability to be broken down is an excellent feature for fly rods because of their overall length when assembled.
Fly Rod Weight Chart
Advantages of 4-Weight Fly Rod
Here are some things you'll enjoy with a 4-weight fly rod:
There are some sharp advantages to using a 4-weight fly rod. The main reason being it's a more nimble rod. This attribute gives the 4-weight a greater sensitivity. Sensitivity becomes essential when fishing for a species like a trout because they don't always hit very hard.
When feeding, trout will barely sneak up on their prey from below and lightly suck in a bug floating on the surface. If it's something they like, they will eat it; if it's not, they spit it back out. There’s no way to know how many fish have gotten away because they took in a bait so lightly it was never felt, and then they spit it back out.
We aren't trying to beat a dead horse here, but let's face the facts when fly fishing, the key characteristic that separates it from other fishing styles is in the cast. When a small fly like a damselfly is attached to a line, a 4-weight will cast it better than a 5-weight and help it land on the water more softly.
As mentioned before, this is paramount when fishing for trout because they spook incredibly easily. When you start to pick up different casting styles, like a roll cast, or D-cast, the finesse the 4-weight offers makes loading the tension on the rod much more manageable, allowing for better control.
Advantages of 5-Weight Fly Rod
Meanwhile, some people will prefer a 5 weight:
Best for Beginners
5-weight fly rods offer their own set of advantages when setting out on a fly fishing endeavor. The most important we think about is how it's forgiving of beginners learning to cast. Because of its heavier design, a beginner can tie on a heavier fly, get out into a larger river, and cast more forcefully.
This casting style is common with beginners who most likely come from using a spinner or baitcaster setups. Because the new fly fishing anglers are coming from one of these fishing styles, their tendency to try and force the fly out further is relatively normal. The 5-weight is a good rod because it has a slightly stiffer construction and can take a stronger cast.
Also, beginners might not be sure what they are fishing for specifically, and the 5-weight is better suited for catching a more comprehensive range of fish without the angler having to overthink about snapping their rod.
The 5-weight does have a better range of fish sizes it can handle. If you hook into a small trout, you'll have no issues pulling it in.
Likewise, if you hook into a 5 lb black bass, the 5-weight will withstand the amount of fight the creature will give without concentrating on line tension, bending your rod to the breaking point. By the way, if you hook into a 5 lb black bass with a fly rod, you'll instantly understand why Captain Ahab pursued Moby Dick till it killed him.
Some 5-weights are also able to handle small saltwater fish, which adds to the 5-weights’ versatility. These abilities add to why it's best for beginners because it can be used in a more extensive range of water body types.
What About a 6-Weight Fly Rod?
With a 6-weight fly rod, you're beginning to leave the small trout streams behind and entering the realm of larger bodies of water, like large rivers and ponds. The 6 is still capable of bringing in the smaller fish, but it’ll be less exciting than on a 4- or 5-weight. However, if you're headed in search of largemouth bass or striper, then the 6-weight might be the right choice.
That's not to say a 6-weight can't be used in smaller streams at all, but it’ll take a better casting technique to present the fly in a manner a smaller fish will approach.
The 6-weight, however, is better designed for those larger rivers that house bigger fish. If you live in an area that has less trout and more large species like carp or peacock bass, a 6-weight might be the rod of choice,
The reason lies in the way these species fight. A 3-4 lb carp is going to feel like a 12 lb trout. So you want a rod that will not only support the weight of the struggle but also aid the angler in the fight. The rod has a stiffer construction that puts less strain on the angler's wrist and thus reduces the rate of fatigue in the wrist and forearm.
6-weights are relatively common with anglers fishing the waters of places like Texas. There are few places where trout are found, so most fly fishers hunt for larger fish species. So if you live in a region similar to this, then the 6-weight might be a fair consideration versus a 4-weight. (Editor’s note: I live in Texas, and a 6-weight is what I started fly fishing with.)
When and Why Would I Use a 4-Weight Fly Rod?
A 4-weight fly rod is always good to have in an arsenal of rods because it's best suited for those smaller streams that make up most backcountry waters. If you're often out for a hike or long walk and want a fly rod to take with you if you see a stream, the 4 is the right choice.
Most of the fish in those streams will be of a smaller variety, and while you could use a 5-weight, the 4-weight will be considerably more fun. Also, the 4-weight tends to be more accurate when casting. So, if you're already fishing a small stream, placing the fly in the right spot is more important.
If you know you're going fishing for trout, the 4-weight is about that species' perfect size. Some anglers might even say the 4 is too big for trout, and they're not entirely wrong. The 4-weight is generally thought of as the high side of trout rods.
When and Why Would I Use a 5-Weight Fly Rod?
The 5-weight fly rod is the best fly rod for beginners, hands down because it's versatile. It can be used for everything from trout fishing to saltwater fishing. It has a stronger design, which allows it to be used in several different water bodies.
It's the more common rod size for beginners, and it can normally be found for a lower cost. This is an excellent attribute for beginners who aren't sure if they'll want to continue fly fishing after their first experience. For most anyone, the worst thing is tossing several hundred dollars at something then only using it once.
This being said, a new fly angler should expect to spend about $100 on a 5-weight fly rod. The 5-weight is forgiving on new fly casters; it's the best choice when entering the craft. The 5-weight doesn't lose its purpose after a fly angler becomes more seasoned. Most veteran anglers will have an arsenal of fly rods, and in that arsenal, it’s almost guaranteed a 5-weight will be present.
When deciding whether to purchase a 4-weight or 5-weight, it's vital to consider what your primary fishing style will be. Are you going to be fishing small streams for smaller trout or larger streams for fish like bass? Knowing the answer to this question will aid in making your decision.
These fly rod types are excellent choices; however, they do have specific things they are better at than their counterpart.
People Also Ask
Fly fishing is more complicated than other types of fishing. So much so that those who partake in the craft are often referred to as "scientific anglers." Thus, there are always a plethora of questions, so we have done our best to include some of the most popular questions with their answers below.
Can You Use 5-Weight Line on a 4-Weight Rod?
Yes, it's perfectly acceptable to go up or down a size in line than what your rod weight is. However, it's recommended by some that an angler not go up or down more than two weight sizes.
How Far Can You Cast a 5-Weight Fly Rod?
The average casting distance of a 5-weight fly rod is between 15 and 40 feet. Some anglers will brag about being able to cast much further. However, remember the purpose of fishing is to catch fish. When you start trying to force a cast out farther, you'll sacrifice presentation, which will drastically affect how many fish find your fly appealing.
Can You Use a 6-Weight Line on a 5-Weight Rod?
Yes, again, loading your reel with a line size that’s up to two sizes larger or smaller won’t affect the rod's ability. Many anglers will have different reels loaded with varying sizes of the line to facilitate different line sizes and types.
How Heavy of Fish Can I Catch on a 5-Weight Fly Rod?
Most 5-weight fly rods can handle large bass species well. There are stories of fly fishers pulling up to 5 lbs and some rarer stories of 8 lbs. In general, fly rod weights are best thought of in species of fish rather than exact poundage.
How Heavy of Fish Can I Catch With a 4 Weight Rod?
It's best to think of what size fish a rod can handle by considering what species the rod is best suited to. In the case of the 4-weight, the best species are anything from small panfish to an average trout and bass.