Fly Rod Length: Does it Matter? – Easy Guide

Jeff
| Last Updated April 6, 2021

Fly rod length matters.

If you're fishing in a small creek with plenty of covers, you're going to want a shorter rod than if you're fishing in the open ocean. 

Knowing what bodies of water you're most likely to be fishing will help you determine what length of rod you need. Below, we'll go over these details at great length.

Fly Rod Terminology and Common Concepts

When someone enters the sport of fly fishing, they often find themselves lost in the jargon. Like any other sport, you'll find veterans of the hobby using terminology that may seem like a foreign language. 

Here, we'll discuss some terms to know when others are talking about fly fishing. 

What Does “Action” Mean on a Fly Rod?

The “action” of a fly rod refers to how much the fly rod can flex. If you can't remember anything else, try to retain that a fly rod's action is a measure of the flexibility in the fly rod. 

There are three types of action, fast-action (or flex-tip rods), medium-action (or mid-flex rods), and slow-action (or full-flex rods).

Photo credit: orvis.com

Fast Action or Tip-Flex Fly Rods

These are rods where the tip is slightly bent at the backcast end but the rod's rest is practically straight.

The stiffness of the rod adds more power to the cast. When fishing on windy days, this rod's stiffness makes for easier casting, since the rod is more powerful. All of this makes casting a fast-action rod less physically demanding. 

The rod's power might make it difficult for beginners to get the fly cast's feel, so it’s only recommended for advanced anglers.

Medium-Action or Mid-Flex Fly Rods

Medium-action fly rods are the most versatile currently on the market. This type of fly rod works well in a range of situations. The medium-action rod is easier to learn with than with a fast-action rod. 

It will begin to bend from about halfway down the rod on the backcast.

If a person will only have one fly rod to fish for multiple types of freshwater fish, the medium-action fly rod is probably the best choice.

Photo credit: ilovefishing.com.au

Slow-Action or Full-Flex Fly Rods

The most flexible fly rod is the slow-action rod. The rod will begin to bend on the backcast about a quarter down the rod, and the full backcast will arch into a full 90-degree angle.

The best scenario for a slow-action fly rod is when you’re fishing in small streams. The flexibility makes it easier to have a perfect presentation when casting. Anglers who mainly fish for small fish may consider going with a slow-action fly rod because smaller fish are more enjoyable to catch on a flexible fly rod.

What Does Power Mean on a Fly Rod?

Power typically refers to a rod's resistance to bending and is usually defined in a range, from ultra-light to extra-heavy. 

When trying to determine how powerful a rod you might need, it's best to consider the size of the fly you'll be casting. Determining this means knowing the type of species and size of fish you'll most likely be hunting.

What Does Weight Mean When Choosing a Fly Rod?

When choosing a fly rod, you'll see they're separated by a weight number typically represented as #wt, or 5wt, for example. A fly rod's weight is rated by the fly line's size that matches the design specifications for the rod.

Matching the rod and line weight is important for presenting the fly properly to coax a fish into attacking. It's normally acceptable to go up or down one fly-line size.

Does Fly Rod Length Really Matter?

The short answer to this question is, yes, it does matter. It depends on what bodies of water you'll be fishing in.

Photo credit: fishermanstips.com

It can also matter if you're using a float tube. A float-tube is an inner-tube floatation device that anglers use to float down rivers while fishing. 

If you intend to fish in larger bodies of water, then a 9-foot rod will be well suited. If you're fishing in the ocean after some saltwater specimens, then a larger 13 to 15-foot rod might be in order.

Common Fly Rod Lengths

There are many fly rods of varying lengths to choose from, but unless you have a specific need, it's best to stick with the more common sizes at first. 

Seven to Nine-Foot Fly Rods

The most common fly rods used, especially by beginners, are between seven to nine feet in length. Fledgling fishers most often use these rods' length because they're more forgiving while they’re learning to cast. 

Photo credit: outdoorempire.com

The nine-foot, five-weight fly rod is the most common amongst beginners seeking to learn to fly fish for trout.

However, if you're learning to fly fish in areas of the world where trout aren't the game, but larger species are, then a nine-foot six to eight weight might be best.

Still, if you're going to try your hand at the float-tube fishing, a longer rod is better. Beginners shouldn't travel much longer than 10-feet until they get a good grasp on casting a fly rod.

Still, if trees usually surround you when fishing springwater streams you can practically hop across, then a seven to eight-foot, three to four-weight rod will probably be ideal. The eight-foot, four-weight is generally used in these applications because it gives better accuracy at close range and is shorter to help mitigate getting tangled in the trees. 

Also, the eight-foot, 4wt fly rod is still universal enough to be used in more open waters to pursue larger fish. If the nine-foot, 5wt was your first purchase and you're looking to add another fly rod setup to your arsenal, this might be an excellent tool to have in your bag.

Nine to 11-Foot Fly Rods

If you're going to try the float tube, most anglers will recommend a 10-foot rod because you're going to be sitting closer to the water's surface. Having that extra foot will help with casting and mending the line once your fly is on the water.

Other reasons for longer rods are fishing in larger bodies of water that require better casting distance. Also, in those larger bodies of water lurk bigger fish, so the longer rods will give you more leverage while trying to fight these large leviathans. 

12 to 15-Foot Fly Rods

These are the top-end fly rods as far as length is concerned. These rods are most commonly used for saltwater fishing while chasing the large game. They're pretty tricky to cast, so aren’t recommended for beginners. 

However, if you're a deep-sea angler looking to increase the thrill of landing that huge tuna, then looking into a fly rod of these lengths is something you didn't even know you needed.

What Length of Fly Rod Do I Need?

Determining the proper rod length comes down to answering a pretty basic question: what bodies of water will you likely be fishing in the most?

The larger the fish, the larger the rod should be. But, this doesn't mean if you fish with a 10-foot rod, you're going to catch a massive fish out of that five-foot-wide stream running through your neighborhood. 

If you're going to be fishing a larger body of water, that’s typically known for holding larger fish, then a larger rod should be your choice. 

What is the Best Fly Rod Length for a Beginner?

The most recommended fly rod length for a beginner is a nine-foot fly rod. Depending on the rod's weight, you're going to have a much easier time bringing in the type of fish you're hunting. 

The nine-foot rod also is better for beginners because its length is most forgiving while you’re learning to cast. Once the fly is on the water, the nine-foot rod also is great for learning to mend your line as your fly travels downstream.

What Length Fly Rod for Small Streams?

The most common fly rod for small streams will be somewhere between a seven to eight-foot fly rod. This rod's length offers the most accuracy at close range, and the shorter rod will make catching the small fish that lurk in these types of waters more enjoyable. 

The most common fly rod will be a three or four-weight fly rod, ranging between seven to eight feet in length.

Pros of Long Fly Rods

Still a little foggy on whether you need a short or long fly rod? Below, we're going to go through some of the pros of having a longer fly rod.

Photo credit: bendbulletin.com

Great for Bigger Water Bodies

Because the rod is longer, it allows the angler to cast the fly farther. The ability to cast farther is a great asset to have when fishing in large rivers, like those of Montana.

Better for Larger Fish Species

A bigger pole is ideal for catching your larger fish species like bass, salmon, or saltwater types. The length will give the angler more leverage when fighting the beast on the line.

Cons of Long Fly Rods

Below we'll cover a couple of the most prominent shortcomings of longer fly rods.

Not Great for Limited Casting Areas

The longer the rod, the more room you'll need to cast the fly out. If you're fishing an area surrounded by trees or with steep banks, you're going to find yourself in a mess. There are plenty of fly fishers with stories of losing a prized fly they tied because it got caught in a tree. 

Hard to Cast Accurately

As the rod length increases, your ability to accurately cast your fly will diminish. Once a person breaks the 10-foot mark, this becomes more apparent.

Pros of Short Fly Rods

Like the long fly rods, the short fly rods have their good points also. Let's take a look at some of these. 

Easy to Cast in Tight Spots

A shorter rod comes in handy in those tight spots with lots of obstacles. If you're fishing in some backwater creeks in Texas, where pecan trees like to grow, then a shorter rod is ideal. 

Better for Smaller Fish

In those tiny streams, smaller fish are most common. Having a shorter rod can make catching these types of fish more fun. Also, they offer a lower profile, which helps prevent spooking fish.

Photo credit: baetisandstones.com

Cons of Short Fly Rods

Short rods do have their drawbacks. We'll take a look at some down below. 

Harder to Get Distance

While a shorter rod is excellent for tight spots, you'll have difficulty casting them out as far when you try them in the larger bodies of water. 

Can Be Difficult for Beginners

The shorter rods that are less than seven-feet can be difficult for beginners who are still learning. The main reason is that there’s less rod-tip movement, which prevents the rod from aiding the new fly caster.

Other Considerations Besides Rod Length

Choosing the right rod length is an important consideration, but other aspects of your fly fishing setup are too, including:

  1. Size of fly most used

  2. Weight of fly line

  3. Weight of fly rod

Size of the Fly Most Used

Everything in the fly fishing setup revolves around delivering the chosen fly to a designated area. 

Knowing what type of fish is in your area will help determine what it typically preys upon, determining what size and type of fly to use. Fly fishers refer to this as "matching the hatch." See what's flying in the air, then try to match the size, color, and type to a fly in your box. Matching the hatch is particularly important for the timid trout, who'll refuse to hit anything that isn't perfect.

Weight of Fly Line

After you match the hatch, the next thing to consider is the weight of the fly line. When choosing an excellent fly line, two things need to be at the forefront of your mind. 

First, what size fly am I most likely going to be using? 

Second, what type of fish am I most likely going to be hunting? Answering the second will usually help answer the first, but not always. 

Photo credit: ginkandgasoline.com

The fly line's weight matters because, if it's too large, it'll make the fly hit the water too hard and scare the fish. It could also make that dainty little mayfly sink under the water instead of resting on top. 

The weight of the fly line also matters when considering the next portion of the setup.

Weight of Fly Rod

The weight of the fly rod should match the weight of the fly line. Ensuring all the numbers match between them will increase your chances of properly presenting the fly in the right manner. 

So, if you're using a nine-foot, 5wt fly rod, you should have a 5wt fly line as well. 

Having a matching setup, along with a fly that matches the hatch, will increase your odds of landing that perfect fish.

Conclusion

Knowing what you're fishing for and where is critical to understanding what type of fly fishing setup you'll need. 

Once you know those answers, additional ones will begin to flow like honey, and you'll be on your way to landing the sea monster swimming in your dreams.

People Also Ask

Here are some questions regarding fly rod length:

Is a Longer Fly Rod Better?

Longer fly rods are better for some situations. Suppose you're fishing around a lot of low-hanging trees. They wouldn’t be ideal then.

But if you're standing in the middle of a large river with plenty of room and water, then a longer rod will be better.

Are Shorter Fly Rods More Accurate?

Shorter fly rods are more accurate in the short-range. If you're fishing in a smaller stream where placement is critical, then a shorter fly rod is best.

However, keep in mind that the fly cast's accuracy is dependent mainly on the person using the fly rod. So while a shorter fly rod is typically more accurate, that doesn't mean a beginner will be able to pick up a shorter fly rod thrive.

Is There an Average Length of Fly Rod That Will Work for Anyone?

The consensus amongst most veteran fly fishers that is a nine-footer is about perfect for most scenarios. It's what most beginners start with, and it's versatile. Even if you're not sure what you might catch, it'll generally handle the job.

Does My Height Matter When Choosing a Fly Rod?

No, your height when choosing a fly rod doesn't matter. The rod length and weight work with the weight of the line. 

They're built to work in concert with each other to present a fly in the right way. Fly fishing is an equal opportunity sport. This means it'll drive you insane regardless of height, weight, or any other personal features.

Jeff

My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at admin@biggamelogic.com. Read more about Big Game Logic.