There was a time when most anglers carried a cane rod, eight to nine feet long, with a reel filled with six-pound test. In the 1950’s fiberglass became popular, particularly with anglers on a budget, as these rods could be mass produced – cane rods were still mostly built one at a time. In the 70’s and early 80’s, graphite (and boron for a time) became the new miracle fiber. Some traditionalist scoffed, but the graphite fly rod was ingrained in the fiber of fly fishing forever.
Today, cane rods are primarily used by traditionalists. Since cane rods are still, for the most part, produced one at a time, the prices are fairly expensive, with most new rods running $500 and up. Fiberglass fly rods are still popular with anglers, particularly those who prefer more moderate action rods. Small streams and very soft presentations are the most popular uses for fiberglass.
Graphite, by far, is the most popular rod making material today. Even most of the less expensive rods are better than the best rods of only a decade or two ago. They are available in a wide range of weights, lengths, actions, and price ranges, allowing the fly fisher a nearly endless number of choices. Graphite is also much lighter than a cane or fiberglass rod of the same size.
Trout rods generally fall between a two and seven-weight and are six to ten feet in length. Rods under eight feet are usually used on small streams where casting room is at a minimum. Rods over nine feet are commonly used in high stick nymphing, as well as lake fishing. The two and three-weights are best for smaller streams with relatively small trout. Rods at six-weight and above are most popular when fishing large flies for large trout on large rivers or lakes.
On the smaller streams of the East, the average trout rod is an eight to eight-and-a-half foot, four to five-weight. In the West, where the rivers and fish are larger, the nine-foot, five-weight is much more popular. The heavier lines also cast better in the seemingly non-stop wind found in the Rockies. Of course, there are some large rivers that hold large trout in the East and some small creeks in the West where a foot-long trout is a whopper, which will change the best rod for the situation.
Rod actions are characterized by the amount and location of flex in the blank.
Fast action rods flex mostly in the tip section during the casting stroke. Fast rods, as a rule, cast farther with a tighter loop than more moderate actions. This is because a faster rod takes less time to straighten after being flexed during the casting stroke. Fast rods provide more power to fight large fish in snag-infested waters. Fast action rods do have drawbacks. They tend to be more sensitive to angler error during casting and when hooking and landing fish. Because they recover so quickly, fast rods are more likely to break fine tippets or straighten small hooks. Some anglers complain that a fast rod feels stiff, but others feel this is the best rod for an experienced caster.
Moderate action rods flex nearly to the grip. They also tend to cast smooth and present flies delicately, particularly at close range. These rods protect fine tippets and small hooks well and are an excellent choice for large fish on light tackle. These rods flex nicely when fighting a smallish trout, providing more enjoyment from less than lunkers.
Moderate-fast action rods are a compromise between the two. Generally speaking, most rods fall into this category and are best for an “all around” rod. Moderate-fast rods blend the good points of both fast and moderate rods into one package. A moderate-fast is usually the best “first rod” for the novice angler.