There are three main materials for fly rods: split cane, glass-fibre and carbon fibre. Split cane, even though it is costly and rather heavy, has an enthusiastic following among stream and river anglers. Glass-fibre rods are now quite rare and virtually outdated.
Since its introduction in 1973, carbon fibre has revolutionized rod building. It is much stiffer and lighter than either split cane or glass-fibre. This means that a carbon blank can be much thinner than the alternatives, with more of a tip-action for distance casting. Other materials are often added to the carbon fibre, such as silicon carbide, kevlar and boron, which change the action of the finished rod.
Fly rods vary enormously in length -from a 6ft (1.8m) brook or small stream rod, through a 12ft (3.6m) loch style rod to a 18ft (5.5m) ‘dapping’ rod.
Just as a fly line is given an AFTMA rating according to the weight of the first 10.7m (35ft), so rods are rated by the line they are designed to cast. However, even rods of equal length with identical AFTMA ratings can feel quite different. This is because actions can vary. They range from allthrough to tip-action.
There are many options in material, length, action and style to catch trout. Here Bob Church looks at the batch of rods he keeps for his own use. They cover all aspects of fly fishing in the UK.
Small stream rods
Bob’s 6ft (1.8m) split cane rod is perfect with AFTMA 3 line. He uses it on small streams or chalk streams where long casting isn’t necessary and where the fish aren’t too big. The rod is a pleasure to use – and it can flip a tiny fly under an overhanging branch with great delicacy.
Short rods like this one are essential if you plan to fly fish streams with heavily overgrown banks where overhead casting might prove difficult. An allthrough action lets you feel the fight of a small brownie more than a tip-action rod. Bob also has a crisp tip-actioned 8ft (2.4m) cane rod for dry fly fishing on chalk streams where accuracy and power are vital.
A high modulus carbon rod of 8-9½ ft (2.4-2.9m) with a middle-to-tip action (AFTMA 4-6) is suitable for many river situations. It is ideal for roll casting on a river lined with trees and bushes. It casts weighted nymphs very well and is good for various wet fly styles. An excellent all-round rod, it can be used at a pinch in any circumstances you are likely to encounter on the river.
When chest wading, working your way upstream, it can also be useful to have a 10 Kaft (3.2m) rod with a soft, allthrough action. It is perfect for single Spey casting on wide rivers where there’s not enough room to use the overhead cast or when it’s necessary to handle long lines.
Small fishery scene
Generally, it’s not necessary to cast a long way on small still waters, but often you need a powerful rod to cast heavily weighted flies and to fight very large fish which may be well over 10lb (4.5kg).
A middle-to-tip action with plenty of power in the butt is the preferred rod for fishing small fisheries, and here the high modulus carbons dominate because they are light, stiff and reasonably priced. Bob recommends a rod of about 9-9/2ft (2.7-2.9m) – rated for AFTMA 5-8 line.
One of the most important aspects of reservoir rods is weight – the rod needs to be light enough so you aren’t worn out after a few casts. Buy a light carbon rod if you plan casting at full bore for a whole day. For large reservoirs you need several rods to cover every eventuality.
Fishing from the bank or in a boat at anchor early in the year, you need to be able to cast great distances. Length, power and a stiffish action are essential. To handle the shooting head lines and large lures so often used for this, Bob’ suggests you use a rod about 3-3.5m long with ratings ofAFTMA8or9.
Loch-style fishing (a team of three flies cast a fairly short distance and worked back to the drifting boat) is becoming more popular. Because distance casting is less important, an allthrough action is common on rods for this type of fishing.
Rods with a stiffened mid section and a soft tip are also gaming in popularity for fishing loch-style. They give you greater control over hooked fish, especially close to the boat. Whichever action you choose, the rod needs to be 11-12ft (3.4-3.6m) long, both to control the flies on the retrieve and to handle hooked fish.
You also need a long, powerful rod when using lead-core lines to fish at great depths. The rods need to be tremendously strong and stiff, quantities which tend to stifle the feel of a hooked fish. Nonetheless, they are essential for this style of fishing.
Finally there is the art of dapping, in which a very long rod – as much as 18ft (5.5m) long – is needed to dangle or dap a natural or artificial fly on the water surface. The use of a special ‘blowline’ allows you to control the fly accurately in front of a drifting boat. A long rod and a light to moderate breeze are essential to float the flies out to where they’re needed. Because this style does not involve casting, any long, light rod will do.
Right rod, right place
There are many different types of fly rod -each suitable for a particular fishing situation. You can’t cover every situation properly with just one rod. Whatever type of fishing you do – whether casting 30m (33yd) or 3m (10ft), playing double-figure rainbows or small wild brownies – you need a rod to suit. Carbon is by far the best general choice because it offers better casting potential, helps you strike more effectively – and even the cheaper ones are excellent value. ‘.