Three Keys to Selecting a Fly Rod and Reel Combo
Choose the best fly rod and reel for the species you want to catch and the type of water you plan to fish.
Fly fishing has been called the contemplative recreation. But if you’re a beginner and fishing with the wrong rod, reel, and flies, the only thing you’ll be contemplating is walking back to the car. That’s because fly-fishing gear varies widely in both size and intended use. Try fishing a quiet trout stream with fly tackle that’s appropriate for a big bass lake or a saltwater flat, and you’ll do nothing but scare the fish and frustrate yourself.
That’s why it’s so important to choose the right fly rod and reel for where you’ll be fishing, and for what species. Fly rod and reel combos are a good choice, because the rod, reel, and line are perfectly matched, taking all the guesswork out of finding the right ones yourself. Here’s a quick guide to fly rod and reel combinations to help you.
Most fly fishing for trout is done in streams, small rivers, ponds, and small lakes. These tend to have clear waters, where trout feed on insects and other natural forage. That necessitates fly line that meets two criteria: It must be light enough to cast comfortably in small spaces, and it must be the right size for casting small flies that imitate the insects that trout feed on. That most often means a 4, 5, or 6-weight rod. Rod weight actually refers to the weight of the line that the rod is designed for, which ranges from rod weights one to 14. Anglers use 4-weight rods for small waters, flies, and trout. Those who fish bigger waters use a 5- or a 6-weight rod.
Fortunately, rods of a specific weight will handle line one step heavier or one step lighter, which makes a 5-weight trout combo the perfect choice. There’s no need to buy a whole new rod for fishing bigger or smaller waters—only a new line. Most fly rod and reel combos come with line already on the reel.
If you (or the angler for whom you’re buying the rod) is just starting to fly fish for trout, a fly rod and reel combo that also includes a selection of flies, leaders, and other tackle offers a chance for a head start.
One big difference between fly fishing for trout and fly fishing for bass is the size of the fly at the end of the line. Bass, even small ones, generally feed on larger forage than do trout. Stream trout typically key on insects and other small creatures. Bass eat insects too, but they usually focus on minnows, crayfish, frogs, and other larger forage. That’s why a heavier rod, reel, and line is necessary, with a 7-weight being the best all-around bass fly rod weight. That also allows the angler to move up or down one weight to fish bigger or smaller waters, or for bigger or smaller fish. Again, those who are just starting out fly fishing for bass can take a lot of the guesswork out of buying gear by getting a fly rod combo that comes with flies that are sized for and designed to catch bass.
There are two truths about saltwater fly fishing. First, saltwater can be tough on gear, so it’s important to buy tackle designed for use in the salt. Second, the sizes of the fish vary widely. That said, most anglers who are shopping for a saltwater fly and reel combo are going to go after inshore fish—bluefish, striped bass, sea trout, redfish—instead of big offshore fish such as mahi and marlin. That makes an 8- or 9-weight fly rod and reel combo the perfect choice. Go with an 8-weight for fishing calm waters with smaller flies, and a 9-weight for water with strong currents and tides.
Although you can use the same weight fly rod combo for a lot of saltwater different species, the forage for those species often differs. If you’re fishing for stripers and bluefish, you’ll have to get flies designed specifically to attract those species, which are different from flies designed to catch redfish and seatrout.