First Fly Rods

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My First Fly Rod Photo by Louis Cahill

My First Fly Rod Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

What should your first fly rod be? Does it matter?

My first fly rod was a 9′ 7 weight bamboo given to me by my grandfather. Not some cherished family heirloom or finely tooled work of art. It was a piece of shit with half the cork missing, ferrules that spun like a dervish and a paper clip for a stripping guide. I’m not kidding, an actual paper clip.

I loved my grandfather but I’m well acquainted with his pragmatic nature and creative problem solving. I’m sure he was headed to the garbage can with the old rod when I happened along with some annoying question, and my career as a fly angler was set in motion by way of shutting me up so he could get back to whatever he was doing. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. It turned out to be one of the greatest gifts I was ever given and I still have it.

That busted old rod sent me down a path which lead to some casting skills I’m proud of, as well as some bad habits. I’m happy with where I landed but it’s not the path I’d set you on if you asked me, “What should my first fly rod be?” You can learn to cast a fly with anything, but having the right rod for a beginner does make a huge difference.

Hold your horses. I’m going to talk about money in a minute and it’s not all bad news.

The most important thing for a beginning fly caster is to feel the load of the rod. It’s a hundred times harder to learn tempo and a good smooth casting stroke if you can’t feel the rod load. Beginners struggling with the wrong rod will create all kinds of problems for themselves by trying to compensate for the lack of feel. This is how tailing loops, creep and whip-cracking are born.

It boils down to this. Flailing away with a rod you can’t feel reinforces bad habits and adds years to your learning curve.

The two biggest roadblocks for the beginning fly caster are poor choice of rods and lack of practice. You can pretend I typed that twice. It’s that important. The two feed on each other. A rod with no feel causes frustration in the caster and a frustrated caster does not practice. Five years later you are not far from where you started. Sound familiar?

Most beginning fly anglers do not want to spend a lot of money on a rod. That’s perfectly legitimate. Rod companies are very aware of the fact and there is a big market in low priced rods for beginners. The problem is that they fit the beginner’s budget but not their needs. Most of them are Asian-made with very fast action. Some of them are really good rods that just are not right for beginners. I’ll give you two examples.

The Echo Edge and Redinton Voyant. I own and love both of these rods. They are both rods that end up in the hands of a lot of beginners. They are both way too fast for a beginning caster. It’s like teaching your teenager to drive in an Indy Car. It’s going to cause more problems than it solves. The good news is that both of those companies make perfect first fly rods for under $200. So what does the beginner need?

To start with you need two rods, not one.

RS21ECHOMPR_lg_535x535Stop cursing. This is going to cost you a whopping $39 extra. As I have said more times than I can count, the key to being a great caster is practice. Not fishing but practice. Buy yourself an Echo Micro Practice Rod for $39 and cast it every day. I have one that I use to teach new casters before I ever put a real rod in their hand. It’s the best teaching and practice tool I have ever found. Even if you don’t have the cash for a real rod, I’d suggest you buy one of these and get started. It will make a huge difference when you get to the water.

For your “other rod,” the one you’re going to fish, I have two recommendations.

The first is fiberglass.

Nothing has the feel of fiberglass. A fiberglass rod will almost automatically teach you timing and finesse. They are a joy to cast, a blast to fight fish on and a whole lot tougher than a graphite rod, which is nice for the uninitiated too.

The slower tempo of a glass rod will help you focus on fundamentals and develop natural timing. This is where my grandfather did me right with the old bamboo which has a feel much like glass. Just like musicians learn challenging pieces by playing them slowly with a focus on fundamentals, then increasing the speed, a caster who learns on a slow rod will have solid technique which they can carry over to faster rods.

RSF21ECHGLRD_lg_535x535Here’s the part you’re going to like. Fiberglass rods are far less expensive than graphite. As I said, Echo and Redington both make glass rods under $200 that are great for beginners. You can step up to the head of the class with an Orvis Superfine Glass rod, one of the very best on the market for $395 or an exquisite Scott F2 for $645 if you really get hooked.

Option two is tenkara

xito_main_small.jpg.pagespeed.ic.cW-vt1u13sI have seen this work. I have a good friend who is a beginner with one of those Redington Voyants. Again, a rod I love but tough on a beginner. It got him all worked up for the first year and a half. Then he discovered tenkara. The tenkara rod gave him his confidence back. It helped him develop his timing and now he’s a much better cast with either his Tenkara USA Ito or his Voyant, which he now calls, “my reel rod.”

Talk about affordable! You can buy a tenkara rod for as little as $139 and you don’t need a reel or expensive line to go with it. It’s a great way to get started in fly fishing and learn to catch fish without a lot of cash or frustration. Tenkara is cool.

One more thing!

Whatever rod you choose, get yourself a good line. You can make a great rod cast like dirt by putting a cheap line on it. Do yourself a favor and get something nice, if only for your self-esteem. In the case of tenkara, I recommend the furled line over the level line. It casts much more like a “reel rod.”

I hope this helps you get on the right track to becoming a great angler. Fly fishing is a wonderful pursuit with the power to change lives. Don’t let the wrong rod keep you from all of the fun.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “First Fly Rods

  1. My first rod was an Eagle Claw fiberglass 7-weight, plfueger reel and a cracked green fly line. Literally found in an outhouse. The leader was straight mono I somehow tied to the fly line yet the knot so big I couldn’t get it through the tip top so at the end of the day I just cut it at the fly line to reel up. I caught plenty of fish with it, and still have the plfueger rigged up with one of my lake lines.

    However, after watching people struggle with poorly assembled outfits like mine and then grabbing a properly balanced rod, reel and line and seeing their casting improve I just have to add that it’s not about individual rods, reels and lines but the sum of the parts. A beginner should never buy these separate unless they are being helped my a professional. Sure, this is a hobby and no it’s not going to end the world but if you’re a beginner please go to a fly shop or trusted web resource and ask for an outfit. You don’t need a budget combo but a well balanced outfit for your intended style of fishing. Stay away from ebay, bro deals and the like as the lightest, best rod in the wrong hands or with the wrong fly line is like putting walmart tires on a ferrari.

    • I fished that same rig, but with a brand new 7wt double taper line and is was a great first outfit. Frankly I’m surprised that with the conversation leading straight to fiberglass that the Eagle Claws weren’t mentioned. They are perfect for a beginner on a budget and with the right line, are a darn decent rod that you can beat the snot out of and not cry too hard if you do happen to break it.

  2. I agree, very quality post. So often I hear folks talk about rods for beginners and immediately recommend spending $300-400 to get something better to learn on. I think that alone makes a lot of people avoid purchasing their own setup.

    I fished for 5+ years for trout using only a 9′ 5 wt St. Croix Rio Santo. Not the best rod ever, not the worst. I learned to cast pretty well with it and caught lots of fish. I never thought that rod hindered my learning and it retails for $110. I often recommend this rod to beginners. Plus, unlike a lot of other rods in the same price range, it’s made in the USA…Wisconsin to be exact!

  3. I love this. The first rod I casted was a piece. An AFI split cane with Winding that unravelled further with every cast. From there a Martin glass rod that cast like a broomstick paired with a pflueger medalist. I tied yarn to the midsection on off water days because there was no such thing as a practice rod. Looked dumb but loved every minute. Still have emerged both and one day I’ll make that shitty AFI a regular again, because.

  4. My first rod was a 7 weight 9′ fiberglass made by True Temper. I kid you not, a rod made by a shovel company. It had a down locking reel seat with no fighting butt. It was equiped with a cheap dual clicker cortland reel. I learned to fly fish on steelhead. The cork seemed to spin on the blank when ever it felt like it. It was interesting to say the least.

    I still have that rod. I am considering modding it into a switch rod.

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