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Anatomy of a Fly Fisherman Part 1: The Fly Rod

I'm excited to write for this website, mostly because fly fishing is one of my greatest passions. No arm-twisting involved (I don't make it a point to argue with Navy SEALs). And partly because the fly fisherman community doesn’t open itself up to new members easily. Many, including myself, learned to fly fish by having the skill passed down from generation to generation. Of course, in this case it’s usually learning via fire hose, if you will. More often than not people that come into the sport later in life end up frustrated, confused, and even disgusted when trying to learn from those of us who’ve grown up throwing flys. While this “fire hose” method works for some novices, it can create a lot of irritation.

More often than not I find myself on the water with two different types of people. The first group watches me do it and wants to learn right away. The second group is usually friends I’ve convinced to learn so that they will accompany me on trips. Very rarely, do I find myself out with other authorities of the skill, except my father who also happens to be my mentor. By far the first group is the most fun to introduce to the sport, once I’ve shown them a few basic techniques they usually take off right away. The second on the other hand takes a little coercion and sweet-talking but they usually wind up enjoying themselves. My father, on the other hand, joins with a simple invite and the promise of a few cold ones.

In this article I'm going to discuss the basics of fly rods so that you can go into that local fly shop or sporting goods store with a clearer idea of what you need to get underway. All of this, of course, depends on the fish you’re after and the type of water you’re setting out for. I will compare these two aspects and explain what I use, which should help you feel confident you're on target with your chosen setup and particular goals.

It's important to purchase the best you can afford as you begin to hone your skills and technique. Less expensive rod and reel combos will serve you well in the beginning, but higher quality equipment is a better value in the long run and will ease frustration.

You will want a "balanced outfit," as rods and fly line are designed to match each other, for example, a 6-weight (6wt.) rod is made for 6wt. line and so on. The larger the weight of the rod the stiffer and heavier it will be. A 5-6wt. rod is the usual choice for beginners because it has the ability to cast small flies delicately and cast large flies to targets at further distances. Fly rods come in weights ranging from 1-8 and I encourage you to experiment with lighter or heavier rods as you become more familiar and specialized in your fishing, so that you can find the best fit for you, and the different ways you choose to challenge yourself. Weights can be found above the cork handle on the rod itself. Most are two-piece rods that come apart in the middle. I use a 6wt. rod, but also have a four-piece pack rod I carry when venturing deeper into the backcountry.

Rod length is also important these vary between 6-13ft. When fishing small brush lined mountain streams a 6-8ft. rod may be more suited to your needs since tighter areas demand a more compact setup. If fishing large open rivers and pools, however, a 9ft. rod makes more sense, because the longer it is the better your reach and line control will be. My 6wt. two-piece is a 9ft rod because I like the challenge of casting in demanding conditions and I’ve found that it's a good fit for me.

With these basics begin to explore confidently the varieties of rods available, as well as the mechanics behind equipment you may already have. There’s a lot but really, despite what some may say, it just boils down to what you want to get out of it. From here we will build onto the rod by discussing the perfect reel to match.

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Tight Lines, Friends!

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