S2:E24 Assessing Our Fly Fishing Gear

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing gear matters. It just does. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or the brand of choice of the fly fishing literati, but the right fly fishing gear can make a good trip great. In this episode, we discuss our fly fishing gear and how it performed during our most recent trip to Montana. Click now to listen to the episode.

Listen to our episode “Assessing Our Fly Fishing Gear”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What kind of fly fishing gear do you need next? How do you budget for new gear throughout the year?

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Three Half Truths about Fly Rods

Over the years, I have learned three truths about fly rods. These truths have become mantras. I stand by them and share them with new fly fishers. I also insist that these three truths are half-truths. Each has its exceptions:

You get what you pay for.

My family tires of my repeating this little proverb. I say it about everything from shoes to soap to SUVs: “You get what you pay for.” It’s true for fly rods as well. You generally get a higher quality and performance from an $800 rod than from a $400 rod. You can also feel the difference in quality between a $150 fly rod and a $400 rod.


There are exceptions. Sometimes the feel of a rod when you cast it trumps the difference in quality. A cheaper-but-quality rod may work as well or better for you than one which costs a couple more Benjamin Franklin bills. I may be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a $350 rod and a $600 rod if I did a double-blind test.

Also, there are cases when the extra $200 gets you a particular brand name and not necessarily more quality.

You don’t need more than one fly rod.

For trout, give me a nine-foot, six-weight rod, and I feel confident in just about any situation on the river. I’ve used my nine-foot, six-weight to catch selective rainbows in Nelson’s Spring Creek (in Montana’s Paradise Valley) on size 20 flies.

My son, Luke, even out-fished me a time or two on a small spring creek in Timber Coulee (in Wisconsin’s Driftless area) with a nine-foot, six-weight while I used the more appropriate eight-foot, four weight.

Yet there are times when you need more than one fly rod.

An eight-foot, four-weight might give you the only chance you have at the delicate cast required for a wary trout. Besides, this lighter weight rod makes a sixteen-inch rainbow feel like a twenty-inch rainbow.

Then there is the King salmon I hooked while fly fishing with a nine-foot, six-weight on the Willow River near Wasilla, Alaska. I thought I might defy conventional wisdom and have a chance at hauling in this monster. But I soon realized that I would break my rod if I tried to net it. I needed my eight weight to have a fighting chance.

Sure, you only need one rod. But there are times when you really do need to go a size up or down to get either distance or delicacy — not to mention the strength you need to haul in one of the big ones.

You don’t need to worry about breakage when your rod has a generous replacement policy

My two Orvis rods have 25-year guarantees. Orvis “will repair or replace it no matter what the reason. . . . Step on it, close the door on it, run over it with the car-it doesn’t matter, we’ll fix it.”

This is no lie. I’ve had my two rods fixed twice and replaced once. I stepped on one in the dark and broke a tip off of it a couple years later. Orvis even replaced another rod after I dropped the tip section in the Owyhee River and it drifted away!

My Winston rod has a lifetime guarantee, although it does not cover “lost rod sections, intentional breakage, misuse,” etc. But when accidents happen, you don’t have to kiss your $800 investment goodbye.

No need to worry, right?

Not so fast. You will be without your rod for a few weeks. Also, there is some money out of pocket. With Orvis, there is “a nominal handling charge,” which is now $60.

And you really should take care of your fly rod even if the manufacturer has a generous replacement policy. But then again, slamming your car door on it is not the end of the world when sixty bucks gets the world back to spinning happily on its axis.

S2:E13 Fly Fishing Gear We Use

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing gear is like candy. Or better than candy. There’s no joy like the permission one gives himself or herself to buy a new fly rod or reel, or purchase a new pair of waders. Click now to listen to “Fly Fishing Gear We Use.” In this episode, we discuss our fly rods, waders, vests, and nets.

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing Gear We Use” now

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What fly fishing gear do you recommend? What have you found works best for the rivers you fish?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

We’d love for you to rate our podcast on iTunes.

That helps fellow fly fishers decide whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Fly Fishing after Dark

A while ago, I wrote “Resisting the Urge to Fly Fish Until ‘Dark Thirty,'” a short post with the simple point that sometimes, it’s wise to to quit before dark. That’s sound advice. Sometimes.

My point in the post was that if you’ve already had a great day catching trout and you’re expected home at a reasonable time (a time determined in consultation with your spouse and/or children), then peel yourself away from the river. Head home. There’s no reason to be greedy and fish until dark to catch a few more.

However, you need to resist the urge to quit before “dark thirty” if the best fishing of the day typically occurs when the sun goes down and darkness prevails.

A few days ago, I fly fished with my son, Luke, and my brother, Dave, on the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, my flight to Denver was delayed, so we could not start fishing the first day until 7:00 p.m.

I figured we’d stop about 8:15 p.m. as the darkness began to settle in and head to the town of Estes Park to eat. But the brown trout in the Big Thompson convinced us otherwise. At about 8:15 p.m., they started rising. My brother Dave (pictured above) suggested that we keep fishing. Luke insisted on it. So we ended up fishing until 9:00 p.m. — well after dark. We caught trout after trout on a size #18 parachute Adams. Luke used a size #18 tan elk hair caddis with a black body and out-fished us all. We went back two more evenings, fished from 8:15 to 9:00 p.m., and caught quite a few nice-sized browns.

This experience provided some good reminders and a few lessons.

1. Browns like to feed in darkness.

This is common knowledge, but a good reminder: Brown trout come to life when the day is dying in the west.

Recently, I talked to the guides at the Old Au Sable Fly Shop in Grayling, Michigan, about booking a trip. They told me that their “day trips” in June and early July start at about 7:00 p.m. Then, they fish until midnight. That’s when the big browns come of their lairs to feed on the surface.

2. The white post on a tiny parachute Adams makes it stand out even in low light

If you’re afraid of not being able to see these tiny (size #18 or #20) flies, don’t be. You can see the white post easily enough as long as there is a little bit of light in the sky. The tan wing of an elk hair caddis is easy to spot too in waning light.

3. Assume that any rise in the vicinity of your fly is a strike.

Even after it was too dark to spot our flies as the floated down the current, we caught brown after brown simply by setting the hook any time we saw a fish rise where we thought our fly might be. I don’t have the scientific data to prove it, but I think we had fish on about three-quarters of the time we guessed and set the hook.

4. Go with shorter casts.

For one thing, it’s easier to see your fly and to control your line as the darkness takes over. Also, it will keep you from snagging a rock or a branch on the other side of the bank. The last thing you want to do is to tie a tiny fly onto your teeny tippet when it’s dark.

5. A flashlight can save the day, er, the night.

Some fly fishers will not have the common sense to practice my previous point. Uh, that would be me.

I saw a fish rise about an inch from the opposite bank. There was a branch a few inches above it, but I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, I snagged my fly on the branch and ended up losing it. Trying to thread a 6x tippet through the eyelet of a size #18 hook was nearly impossible. Neither the river nor the sky provided enough backlight.

Thankfully, the flashlight on my cell phone saved the night! It was a clumsy process, but I tied on a new fly in the darkness and ended up catching two more nice browns before we quit.

6. You can’t fish at night (or in the day time) if you forget your fly reel.

Yes, on our second night, I left my reel in another small pack I had used earlier in the day when we hiked to a high mountain lake. So I was relegated to spectator status. My fly fishing companions mumbled something about giving me a turn to use their fly rods if the fishing was good. But I guess it was too dark for them to see that they were catching a lot of trout. Or perhaps they thought it was too dark to risk transferring their fly rods from their hand to mine.

I won’t make that mistake again.

Fly Fishing Secrets at the River’s Edge

Like most fly fishers, I frequently find usable flies along the river’s edge. I spot most of them dangling from leaders wrapped around tree branches. A few are stuck in the tree branches themselves. Years of finding fly after fly along the river’s edge have provided me with a few fly fishing secrets.

Rather than turn these into a best-selling book and making a million bucks, I now share them with you in hopes these deep truths will improve your fly fishing experience:

1. Tree branches are the earth’s strongest magnetic force.

For years, I thought I was simply careless and not paying enough attention. “Rookie mistake,” I thought, after yet another errant back cast. But after seeing so many leaders wrapped around branches, it dawned on me that tree branches must have a Magnetic Force.

I am in need of a technology to de-magnetize my flies.

2. The Beadhead Prince Nymph is the fisher’s secret weapon.

Three out of every four flies I find at the river’s edge are Beadhead Prince Nymphs.

I can conclude only that this is the most superior pattern to use and perhaps the only one I will ever need. At first, I wondered if this was a reasonable conclusion. Why trust the fly selection of a slacker who loses his fly in a Ponderosa Pine?

But then I remembered the Magnetic Force. The fly fishers who lost these flies were likely skilled, knowledgeable veterans who simply underestimated the dark Magnetic Force of the branches behind them.

3. Buying or tying flies is a waste of time.

No more twenty dollar bills devoted to buying a dozen flies! No more money spent on dubbing material, hooks, beadheads, biots, peacock herl, head cement, the latest vise, and a host of other gadgets.

Now I’m saving so much cash that I’m planning on buying another high end fly rod.

The only downside is that I spend more time inspecting tree branches than I do fly fishing. Hopefully, that will change as I build up my supply. But I keep losing these flies that I find due to those darn magnetic tree branches. I may have to invest a metal detector to locate lost flies before I buy another fly rod.

Oh yes, there is another downside to my decision to stop buying flies and using only what I find at the river’s edge.

Three-fourths of the flies in my box are now beadhead prince nymphs. They work great, but at times I long for a caddis fly — particularly when fishing the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch on the Yellowstone River in Montana. I lost my last caddis fly pattern a couple years ago. Actually, I found one earlier this year, but I lost it a week later. It’s lodged somewhere on a magnetic branch.

I wish all those fly fishers using beadhead prince nymphs would switch to caddis flies for awhile.

Three People to Trust When Buying Fly Fishing Products

fly rod hacks

In the (supposed) good old days, there was a wall between church and state. There was advertising. And there was content. And the lines between the two were clear.

An ad was an ad. And a rod review was a rod review.

You could trust that the opinion of the writer wasn’t tainted by the fact that he or she was being paid by the product under review.

When buying fly fishing products today, however, it’s hard to know which is church (helpful and truthful content) and which is state (ads or sponsorships). The lines are blurred, thanks to an explosion of fly fishing brands, and, of course, the Internet.

Whom can you trust when buying fly fishing products?

Just recently I saw two rod reviews in the Trout Unlimited magazine. One was for a Sage rod, the other was a rod-reel combination from Cabela’s.

I wondered, “Why those two rods? Why not a Loomis or a Winston or an Orvis? Does TU have a promotion agreement with Sage and Cabela’s?”

Granted, a print magazine has limited space, so TU can’t possibly publish reviews of all the rods in one edition. But when you read a review of a rod in an online magazine or web site, can you really trust that the reviewer is not being paid by the rod manufacturer? Or receiving a cut from all sales tracked from the review (affiliate sales)?

In today’s cluttered world of unlimited fly fishing products, it’s hard to trust that the information you are getting is authentic and truly unbiased. Of course, that begs the question, “What does it mean to be unbiased?” Nothing is truly free from bias. I know that.

But we fly fishers want truly helpful advice when buying fly fishing products. Consider who I think are the only three people you can trust:

The Gals/Guys at the Local Fly Shop

This includes, of course, the guides at the shop. Yes, if you are flying into an area that you have never fished before and you don’t know the fly shop personnel, then you may need to be more wary. I hate to admit this, but the more “corporate” the fly shop, the less I trust the advice from its staff.

But I love buying at local fly shops. They deserve our business. They are the experts in local waters. And it’s hard to go wrong when you get advice from the folks at the shop.

With rare exception, I’ve found the guides and owners at local fly shops to be a trusted source for product recommendations.

Of course, each shop carries certain brands and may be, for example, the exclusive Orvis or Patagonia dealer in the area. That’s especially true in a place like Bozeman, Montana, with a seemingly endless number of fly shops. So it makes sense that fly shop owners and guides will push their brands. But I’ve generally been impressed at their objectivity. Actually, I’m looking less for objectivity and more for someone who will say, “Given your level of experience, I recommend this. And for this reason.”

Last year, I was looking at a new pair of waders. I was discussing my options with a fly shop owner, and he steered me towards a better brand that was on sale – and that was less than the brand I was looking at.

Of course, my trust-o-meter just went up 10 points.

Your Fly Fishing Buddy

Referrals are how I buy most big ticket items in my life, including cars, fly rods, waders, and shotguns.

I am not like my brother-in-law, who makes my eyes bleed when I think about how much time he spends researching his future purchases. I don’t have the patience. When he conducted a thorough investigation of mini-vans back in 2004 – and purchased a Honda Odyssey – I purchased one as well a few years later.

Why re-invent the research wheel?

It seems next to impossible to conduct a thorough investigation of every product. There’s too many products in the market. Take fly rods, example. Unless you have a year-and-a-half to fish a full day with each rod, how could you possibly select the right rod that works for you?

And even if I were to fly fish one day with every possible rod, I would never be able to make a fully informed, rational selection, much less remember how the first rod felt after trying out the other twenty rods.

If you fly fish with some folks, then ask for their recommendations. See if they will let you try out one of their rods (a risky request, I realize). At minimum, you should try out the rod you plan to purchase at the local fly shop. However, I have not found taking only a few casts at a fly shop all that helpful. I really need to fish with the rod for a couple hours.

That’s not always possible, though.

You. Yourself. Yes, You.

Don’t get caught up in the branding hype of fly fishing brands. Just because a piece of equipment or tackle is not the “top of the line” (as declared by some fly fishing personality or brand) doesn’t mean it’s not the best for you. The stories that brands tell about their products are silly. It’s just a product. It won’t save your soul or help you catch bigger fish. Truly.

The question is, “So does it truly work for you with the budget you have?”

I tend to buy higher-end fly fishing products when it comes to wading boots and fly rods. I start with more expensive products.

But not other gear. For other gear, I tend to look for value – best quality at the lowest price.

I recently selected a Sage One fly rod because the line was being discontinued, and the price was right. I like a good sale. I have now fly fished with the rod for several months, and I feel great about my decision. Somehow, I still seem to catch fish, even though I don’t have one of the more expensive brands.

Buying Fly Fishing Products

No person has unlimited time to research and try out every brand when purchasing equipment. And if you do, you truly have too much time on your hands. I’d rather spend my time fly fishing. You may have the personality for eternally investigating products, but I don’t.

In the final analysis, if you are agonizing between this brand of waders or the next, give it a rest. Ask around, take into account your budget, and then just buy the waders!

And head out to the river as fast as you can.

Episode 48: Fly Fishing Brands and Your Next Purchase

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing brands are everywhere: Sage, Winston, Orvis, Patagonia, Temple Fork Outfitters, Fishpond, Simms, Loomis, and many more. It’s a noisy, cluttered marketplace. It’s hard to make a rational decision. When selecting a fly fishing rod or waders or a sling pack, how do you make the best decision for you? In this episode, we help fly fishers understand how fly fishing brands position their gear and how to make better decisions on your next purchase.

Listen to Episode 48: Fly Fishing Brands and Your Next Purchase

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

When it comes time to buy new gear, how do you go about making your decision? Which brands do you prefer – and why?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

2 Beginner Fly Fisher Mistakes When Fighting a Fish

I am haunted by a trout that got away. It happened on a spring day on Montana’s Madison River.

I had recently purchased a new fly rod—my first high quality rod. On my third cast of the day, my strike indicator disappeared, and a battle began. For a few seconds, the trout darted back and forth in the current. Then, it decided to run down river. The screeching sound mesmerized me as the fleeing fish stripped line off the reel.

“This is cool,” I thought.

But it wasn’t cool. I simply couldn’t slow down the fleeing fish. I pulled back on my rod, but the fish didn’t slow down. So I began to chase it. I held my rod high and ran down the river—well, as fast as a fly fisher wearing chest waders can safely “run” in knee deep water.

Then it happened. Suddenly the trout darted around a big boulder near the river’s edge, and my fly rod stopped quivering. The fly line went limp. The trout was gone, and so was my adrenaline rush. When I saw that the last two feet of my leader were missing, I realized that it had snapped off on the boulder as the trout swam around it.

Normally, I don’t brood over fish I lose. But I haven’t been able to erase this one from my memory.

One reason is the fish’s size. I never saw it, but it felt like the 20-inch rainbows I caught in this same stretch in the following years. Also, it would have been the first large fish I landed using my new fly rod.

Yet the main reason I am still haunted by this trout that got away is due to the beginner fly fisher mistakes I made that day with my fly rod. To be sure, the drag on my reel wasn’t set properly. And I’m sure I made other mistakes. But the two that cost me a better chance at landing the trout were related to the way I handled my rod.

Both are common mistakes made by beginners when trying to land a fish.

Mistake #1 – Pointing the rod straight up

I know where I got the idea to point my rod tip to the sky, straight up in the air at a ninety degree angle to the water’s surface. I learned it from the artwork of fly fishers landing fish. In each print, the fly fishers had their fly rods pointing to the sky so they could get the fish close to their nets. They had sufficiently tired the fish, making it ready for landing.

However, this technique does not work for fighting a fish. In fact, it might result in a broken rod tip.

Holding a rod straight up in the air when fighting a fish puts the pressure on the tip section. You do this only if you want to ease up on the tension against which the fish is fighting or to get it close to your landing net. Otherwise, you lower your tip at about a 45-degree angle with the ground during the battle. This transfers the pressure to the middle of the rod. It makes the fish work harder and tire more quickly as it pulls against the rod’s strong mid-section.

But there was a second mistake I made that day.

Mistake #2 – Pulling the fish up instead of sideways

Along with making the fish fight against the mid-section of your fly rod, you want to use side pressure. That is, you want to pull the fish from side to side rather than directly towards you. It is the side to side pressure which works against a fish’s muscles and tires it out.

Now your tippet must be heavy enough, and your knots tied correctly. But if you meet both conditions, you can wrestle aggressively with the largest trout and tire it out quickly enough for the fish to remain healthy when released.

If I had avoided these two beginner fly fisher mistakes on the Madison River that day, I might have landed a big trout rather than trying to chase after it.

But there’s something cathartic about confession.

Now that I’ve detailed my blunder, maybe I can forget about my mistakes. It’s better to be haunted by waters (a la Norman Maclean) rather than by the one that got away.

3 Truths about the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch

One of the more fabled insect hatches on the great western rivers is the Mother’s Day caddis hatch.

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it on both the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers in Montana. There have been some magical moments. At times, the water seemed to boil with rising trout, and they were eager to attack the elk hair caddis fly I was casting. Yet I’ve had some frustrating moments, too.

Here are three things you need to know about the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch if you’re hoping to fish it with success:

1. Mother’s Day will be too late.

Don’t circle Mother’s Day on your calendar and expect to have a banner day. Most years, you will be better off taking your mom to dinner because you’ll be a couple weeks too late.

The problem is not a lack of bugs.

I remember an evening in early May when our family was sitting outside on my parents’ lawn, about two hundred yards from the bank of the Yellowstone River. We had to go inside because the air was so thick with caddis flies that we could hardly open our mouths for fear of ingesting them. But there was no reason to grab my fly rod and head for the river. The spring runoff was in full force. The Yellowstone had turned into an angry torrent of chocolate milk.

Some years, the runoff begins before the caddis hatch in full force and the fishing is stellar. Honestly, the best you can usually hope for is a about a five- to seven-day window in late April. As fun as it is to fish the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, I would not recommend planning a trip to Montana in late April, unless you are prepared to fish the spring creeks. All it takes is a warm day or two to get the snow melting and the river churning.

2. You will have a hard time seeing your fly.

It’s a thrill to see so many caddis on the water and the trout going crazy. But it’s frustrating, too.

Your offering is just one of a smorgasbord of options. Even if a trout rises to your fly, how will you know it? It can be maddening to try to identify your fly as it floats float down a run where dozens of other caddis are fluttering on the surface.

One solution: If you tie your own flies, tie a strip of colorful fiber on the top of your elk hair caddis fly. Lay it on top of the elk hair. Personally, I like to use a strip of red Antron body wool. If you don’t tie flies, you might find a fly tyer who will do this for you — even to flies that have already been tied. I’ve even thought about applying some model paint to the top of the elk hair. I have no idea, though, how this experiment would work.

There is another option, and that’s the third thing you need to know.

3. You may have better success under the surface.

Fishing beneath the surface works before the hatch is going hard, and it’s effective even when the hatch is at its peak. Before the hatch starts in earnest, I like to use a beadhead red fox squirrel nymph and then add a beadhead caddis pupa as a dropper.

A few years ago, I picked up several 16-inch rainbows in the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley on beadhead fox squirrel nymphs about a week before the hatch kicked into gear. When the hatch is at its peak, I will fish with an elk hair caddis on the surface and then drop a LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupa which will float in the film, just below the surface.

You’ll be surprised how many trout you will catch on the dropper.

It’s a small window every year when the caddis are on the water and the water conditions are right for fly fishing. Some years, the window doesn’t open at all. But when it does, you can have quite a day. You’ll have caddis crawling all over your clothes and your glasses. You might even coax some trout to take your imitation.

And then the fun begins.

Before You Buy Your First Fly Rod

If you’re new to fly fishing, purchasing your first fly rod can be as bewildering as buying a car. There are so many variables to consider.

Besides, if you ask five friends for advice, you may get eight different opinions. It’s easy to get frustrated. Or even to feel stupid. Don’t. Selecting a fly rod should not resemble choosing a health care plan.

This should be fun!

Making some key decisions before you start shopping, though, will help you make an informed, confident purchase. It will also keep the fun in the process. So here are the decisions you need to make.

Price Range

How much do you want to spend?

If you’ve never fly fished before, a starter rod in the $100-150 range will serve you well. Less is more.

If you’ve fly fished enough to know that you really want to pursue this, then I’d suggest spending a bit more — perhaps in the $300-600 range. Buy a fly rod you will still enjoy using in two or three decades.

I purchased a Winston rod (see below) a few years ago, intending to use it for life. I paid good money for it (although the price I paid then looks quite reasonable now). I don’t regret the decision. At some point, you’ll want to buy your “fly rod for life” (unless, of course, there is a significant breakthrough in technology). If you’re ready to do so, then get a higher-end rod which fits your budget. But if you’re still experimenting, spend less.

Note: The mid- to high-end rods typically have a 25-year or lifetime guarantee. This means you can get your rod repaired for about 10% of its cost if you step on it in the dark and snap it in two (which I’ve done).

Brand Preference

I apologize in advance for leaving out some fine manufacturers. But here are some options:

On the lower end of the price range, some good options include Redington, Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO), St. Croix, and Cabela’s. For mid-range to high-end rods (in quality and price), I’m a big fan of Orvis. Sage makes a fine rod, too, and I was all set to purchase one until I picked up a Winston Boron IIx which was made in Montana. Loomis is another fine choice, as is Scott.

Don’t fret over the difference between a high-end Orvis or Sage or Winston. Choose the one that feels right.

Rod Size

If you’re fly fishing for trout in the big western rivers like the Yellowstone or Bighorn, a nine-foot, six-weight will be a good all-around rod. It’s big enough to handle streamers and make long casts in windy conditions. Some swear by a nine-foot, five-weight. That’s fine.

To me, it’s like the difference between using a 30.06 or a .280 Remington for deer. Either will do the job. If you’re fly fishing the spring creeks of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, an eight and a half foot, four weight will be more appropriate. It’s a bit lighter and more delicate for those smaller streams which require more gentle casts.

Some fly fishers swear by an eight-foot rod for smaller stream fishing. One question to ask is, “Where will I be fishing most often?” If “smaller spring creeks” is the answer, then go with a smaller rod size.

Type of Action

A mid-flex or a medium action is the place to start.

This designation means that the rod flexes or bends in the middle when you cast your line. This makes it versatile (good in most conditions) and forgiving (not too temperamental). A tip-flex or fast action rod bends closer to the tip. The stiffness of this action gives you more power — especially on windy days. It is better for longer casts, but beginners sometimes struggle to get a feel for it. A full flex, or slow action rod, is easy to cast. But it’s better for short distances. You’ll have to work harder to get the line out on long casts. It’s like pedaling in gear 3 on a ten-speed bike as opposed to gear 9.

The pedaling is easier, but it takes a lot more effort.

If you can make (or at least think about) these decisions ahead of time, you’ll be in a better position to make a choice when you enter your local fly shop.

Yes, unless you’re an expert, buy your rod at a local shop.

You can often try casting different rods to see which one works best — and you’ll get a little bit of help with your casting, too. The guys and gals at your local fly shop will also help you choose the right reel and the right line to go with your rod (yes, more decisions).

Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the purchase. I guarantee that buying your first fly rod will be more fun than buying a garbage disposal or a pair of dress shoes.