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A few words on fly rod action

May 23, 2011
Author: Admin

All fly rods are not created equal

Match the action of a fly rod to your particular fishing style and master the art of the greatest sport on earth

When it comes to mastering the art of fly fishing, one of the most important aspects to consider is the action of the fly rod you are using. Drawing from the expertise of Fly Anglers Online (, here’s a guide to what fly rod action is really all about.

The prevailing thought in the fly-fishing world that even among rods at different price points, a six-weight rod is a six-weight rod and they all act the same. This is, experts say, simply not true. The devil is in the details, and the details are in the rod action.

An accepted definition of “rod action” is defined as the relative resistance to bending as you move down the length of a particular fly rod. Fast action rods tend to resist bending sooner than slow action rods. Thus slow action rods tend to be more "whippy" and generally will not cast as far as fast action rods. Fast action rods tend to generate higher line speeds, which make them easier to cast into the wind and for longer distances, but they require more effort on the part of the caster than slow action rods . Between the two extremes, there are medium action rods. You need to cast a rod to determine if the action suits your casting style.

The first so-called fly rods were wood, and pretty crude. Fly lines were braided horse hair, not very effective either. Eventually rod builders started using cane, and then split cane, and rods evolved into intricately designed casting tools. Works of art - then and now.

Split bamboo was the ultimate fly rod for many generations, but in the 1940's many new products hit the market, fiberglass being one of them. PVC, Dacron and Nylon, which came out the war effort, were also applied to fly-fishing gear.

Fiberglass fabric was wrapped on a wood rod, finished with an epoxy coating, and pushed to market. But when the inventors figured out how to do away with the wood center the first hollow rods were born. Considering the choices available at the time, split bamboo or steel, the fiberglass rods were a boon. They had similar action to cane, slow to medium – essentially designed to emulate bamboo, but at a significantly lower cost. Like “fake” bamboo rods.

As the space race took hold, the fly-fishing industry was again waiting in the wings. They took advantage of even more advanced materials, including graphite and boron, to build rods. By weaving threads of those materials into fabric - just like fiberglass which comes raw in drapes oft used as patching material for cars and boats – and then rolling it across metal rods which were later removed, graphite and boron became the de-facto standard for fly-fishing rods. Both materials allowed for thinner rod walls without compromising strength, and eventual action could be precisely controlled via how much fabric was rolled across the length of the rod.

Most companies had their machinery, mandrills (steel forms the fabric is wrapped on to make the blanks,) and their reputations established. If you bought one of their rods you already had an inclination as to how the rod would feel. Rods kept getting lighter, but with only very slight changes to the the action. Meanwhile, more progressive manufacturers headed down an entirely new track, building rods specifically to launch flies into the next county. And that is how fast action fly rods were born.

Fast action rods often feel lighter in your hand, and they use more of the tip to propel the line. It's work, but if they are cast correctly will accomplish much of the work for you. Fast rods are primarily designed with the butt and middle sections built to play the fish, the top one third to cast the line. That does make the tip section (which is tiny compared to rods just a few years ago) vulnerable to breakage if the rod is used incorrectly when playing or landing a fish.

Bottom line? What do you want to fish for? Under what conditions? What can you afford? If you are casting well enough to get the fly where you want it most of the time, you also probably have developed a style - a method that is comfortable for you.

There is no such thing as a bad graphite fly rod. All of us would have thought we had gone to heaven if we had been offered any of the rods on the market today 25 years ago. The fly rod industry has made giant leaps improving our sport. Match the action of the rod, and the price, to what works for you.

Final word of wisdom: Don't ever buy a rod you have not cast.

Now that you understand a little more about fly rod action (and the manufacturing processes behind it), you’re ready to go where the real action is: out on the stream.

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