Fly fishing. For the masses, just another form of fishing. But for those of us involved in it, it is so much more, it is a cunning game of chess and an intellectual battle of the body and mind. Man Vs Scaled beast.
Our weapon of choice? The rod of course. But, with so many great makes out there, which is the best rod for you? Some often say choosing a rod is much like a young wizard choosing their first wand, you don’t choose it – it chooses you.
You don’t want to choose a rod which will break under pressure, yet you don’t want a rod which may break your bank and possibly even your marriage.
Finding a rod which can cope with the demands of modern-day fly fishing from Lake to Sea for a reasonable spend is a fair old task. Which is why I decided to take it upon myself to find the best fly-fishing rods for under 500.
Before we get into the comparisons, let us first understand what makes a great rod and it isn’t always price related. Fly-fishing rods tend to take a lot more of a beating than most other types of rods. They need to be flexible, nimble and strong.
There are primarily 4 things you need to know about fly fishing rods; action, material, length and weight. The key points will now be explored below.
Buying a Flyfishing Rod | Key Points
The following points summarize what you should be aware of in order to make the most informed possible decision (and get the best possible value!) when buying your next fly rod.
Fly Rod ‘Action’
The word ‘action’ refers to the stiffness and flexibility a rod has. Action has three levels in fly-fishing and depending on how skilled of a fly-fisherman you are you will require a certain level of action.
Slow Rod Action – Slow action fly fishing rods are the most flexible type of rod. For most people, they are the perfect type of rod for a beginner. There flexibility allows them to easier control the imitation of a fly. On the downside though they are a bit more difficult to control on the back cast.
Medium Rod Action – Medium action fly fishing rods are right in the middle when it comes to the levels of stiffness and flexibility. They give more control in the cast than a fast action rod and also allow for a further cast than a slow action.
Fast Rod Action – Fast action or (tip flex) fly fishing rods and extremely stiff and allow for very little bending. This is great for long casting as you can generate more power. This is usually a rod you would be intrigued by once you have been fishing a while though.
Rod Length and Material
Fly fishing rod lengths typically vary from around 6 ft to 10 ft in length. Shorter rods are more likely to be used in small lakes or streams and are great for short casts. Longer rods are more suitable for large lake or sea fly fishing they allow for a longer casting distance.
An average rod length to get the best of both worlds is around 8ft. This will give you a taste of both worlds and is usually capable of handling small lake and large lake fly fishing.
Fly fishing rods are made from varying materials but the most stand-out at the cheaper end are;
1) Bamboo fly fishing rods
2) Fiberglass fly fishing rods
3) Graphite fly fishing rods
Bamboo fly fishing rods are almost nostalgic. They are more suited to experienced fisherman, even though they are a ‘slow action’ rod. They are heavier than graphite and fiberglass and take some effort to maintain.
With bamboo being a heavier rod, they are easier to cast in windier conditions. But they aren’t recommended to use in winter as colder weather conditions may make the tips of a bamboo rod more susceptible to breaking.
Bamboo rods require care in the form of ferrule waxing, refinishing and dry storing for optimal care and to extend their life length. More often than not you will see bamboo rods which are over 20+ year old for sale and are still going strong.
Fiberglass fly fishing rods are a cheap and durable option to get into fly fishing for most. Generally inexpensive and easy to maintain.
Anyone into fly fishing has probably heard tales from an old-timer about how they used to fish with glass rods. With thanks to the bamboo embargo in WW2 and the rising cost of bamboo glass rods made their debut and a strong one at that.
Most fly fishermen in their 60s or 70s won’t be shy of the name Fenwick.
Fiberglass rods behave in a similar ‘slow action’ way as bamboo rods but have a bit more snap about them. They are lighter than bamboo rods and probably will not do you any justice on a windy day. Fiberglass rods are durable and capable.
The best thing about fiberglass rods? The price! For a durable and capable rod, you can’t go wrong with a fiberglass fly fishing rod.
Graphite fly fishing rods are the new kid on the block. With graphite being a man-made material, the rods can come range from light to heavy. They are the most popular fishing rod material around right now and will likely continue to be.
They are the lightest of the three-rod materials and allow anglers to throw further and very accurate casts. Another great point about graphite rods is they are also the most sensitive of the three, meaning your hook rate may just go up!
To sum it all up;
Bamboo rods are the prime choice for fly fishing nostalgia. They have a deep flex and are very sensitive. But they are difficult to use in windy conditions and require major upkeep.
Fiberglass rods are pretty much bamboo rods but way more affordable. They have a greater level of durability and heavier glass rods can be used in windier conditions.
Graphite rods are the go-to choice for modern day anglers. Graphite fly rods are capable and durable of handling everything you throw at them. They are a ‘fast action’ rod and may be unsuitable for beginners. The price of graphite rods can get quite high.
Last but not least, we’ll move on to the fly rod and line weight.
Fly line weight
Fly rods are often numbered on a scale from 1-12 wt. The easiest way to understand the scale is this, the higher the number the heavier the fish the rod will be able to handle.
For example, a 3wt rod would be used to fish for small trout in smaller lakes. Whereas an 8wt rod would be suited to fishing for larger bass and even ocean or saltwater fishing.
Most general anglers will choose a rod between 5-7wt. This allows them to try for different fish without needing multiple rods. A rod of this size will allow you to fish for small fish, trout and some bass and other medium-size fish.
The ‘wt’ scale represents the thickness and weight of the fly-fishing line that the rod will be able to handle. You definitely want to make sure that you match your fly rods weight to your fly line weight.
Using a 9wt fly line on a 3wt rod is a big NO! The rod wouldn’t be able to support the thick line.
You will find when deciding on the best fly-fishing rod for you, that a lot of rods are sold in bundles. This makes it easier to buy and gets you out the store and to the lake quicker than the flick of a trout’s tail.
So now that we understand what makes a great rod. Let us compare and find the best fly-fishing rods for under £$500
Best Flyfishing Rods under 500
Best Lake Flyfishing Rod
There is no surprise to many that Tail water comes top of the table. This rod is an affordable and impeccable piece of kit. Available in three different weights this rod is suitable for amateurs and as a backup for seasoned pro’s
- High-quality cork handle
- Extremely comfortable use
- Natural dark color
- Suitable for beginners and pro’s
- Comes in three weights 3/5/8wt
- Comes with a four-segment carry tube for each rod section
- 9ft rod
The Tailwater Toccoa fly fishing rod is a travel-ready fly fishers dream. It is a ‘fast action’ rod and suitable for longer casts. It is a heavier rod and is suitable for windier conditions as well as feisty fish. It is constructed from IM8 carbon fiber and has been designed for maximum sensitivity as well as durability.
The rod is easy to assemble thanks to alignment dots for quick, no messing setup. Tailwater actively encourages you to test this rod against more expensive brands.
The carry case has four individual segments for each section of your rod and also has a handy shoulder strap. Unfortunately, your reel and flies won’t fit in this shoulder bag.
Tailwater also offers a five-year warranty on this rod.
It is hard to find cons when it comes to such a great brand of fly-fishing rods. What I would say is try it out first then decide. This is one of the highest rated fly-fishing rods in the USA and what is even greater is the five-year warranty.
Almost all reviews which aren’t 5 stars are from people who haven’t actually tried the rod yet but are already impressed with its looks and feels.
Best Big River Fly Fishing Rod
Fenwick has outdone themselves with this fly fishing rod. As far as affordability and quality go this rod is a combination as much of a match as fish and chips. This rod will put a smile on the face of any angler. Not quite a high-end rod but then again it doesn’t come with a high-end price tag.
- Fast action blank for performance and recovery
- 4 sectioned rod with easy assembly
- AAA grade cork handle
- Cloth covered rod tube and bag included
- Available in various weights and lengths
The AETOS rod by Fenwick’s has been receiving rave reviews. Not only is the build quality high, but the performance is also top notch too! This rod has a great swing weight and is more than a pleasure to cast.
The Fenwick’s AETOS is considered one of the best all-around rods on a budget at the moment and has appeared in many fishing review magazines for all the right reasons.
It has been reported a few times that the dots for assembling the rod are slightly out of line. Not really a major issue as you will still be able to fit in straight with an extra 3 seconds of alignment time.
Best Small River Fly Rod
Okuma is a Chinese rod make. It is highly rated for small river fly fishing and rightly so it should. The Okuma rod varies from 7ft to 9ft in length and has been highly rated for its accuracy in casting. Perfect for small river and trout fishing.
- Lightweight graphite construction
- 2-piece rod
- Titanium oxide stripper guide
- Stainless steel snakes guide
- Rosewood reel seat
- Cloth carry case
Unlike our last two models, the Okuma crisium fly fishing rod doesn’t come with a carry case or tube. But I wouldn’t let that put you off. This very light and easy to cast fly rod is absolutely perfect for small river fishing.
This rod will allow you to cast accurately and with the cork handle, comfortably. It is quite clear for all to see that you will not be disappointed with the Okuma crisium graphite rod.
The only issues which seem to arise are those associated with them being a Chinese manufacturer. If you buy from a reputable US or UK based store you will be fine as they will handle your warranty and replacement.
Best Sea / Saltwater fly rod
Suitable for fresh and salt water the Orvis Clearwater fly rod is a game changer when it comes to fly fishing. The Orvis clear water casts with power and precision and can handle windier conditions.
- Comes complete with reel
- Four-piece rod
- Comes with carrying case
- 25-year guarantee
- Chrome snake and stripping guide
A big name in the fly-fishing game It is no surprise that Orvis take the helm when it comes to the best Saltwater fly rod. The latest clear water series have received a cosmetic uplift as well as a complete performance overhaul.
This rod performs amazingly in various conditions and can handle the most demanding of fish. It is suitable for fresh water and salt water fishing.
At the moment the latest revamped models of the Clearwater rod series are still being put through their paces but it seems promising.
Best Reservoir Fly Fishing Rod
Reservoirs are a great place to catch some relaxing and quite fishing time. In the UK especially many of the reservoirs are filled with trout, perch, eels, and pike.
The Redington classic trout fly rod is the perfect rod for handling such fish and the reservoir. The Redington classic was actually made for the trout angler it provides ‘moderate action’ and is lightweight to reduce fatigue.
- Dark clay brown blank with matching rosewood seat
- Custom machine reeled seat components
- Alignment dots for easy setup
- Comes with nylon rod tube with individual segments for each section of the rod
- Lifetime warranty
- Comes in varying sizes
Overall the Redington is a perfect and affordable small lake and reservoir fly-fishing rod. The only issue arising is that rarely the rod may arrive damaged or your reel may not fight tightly.