What Fly Rod Action is Best for Beginners? Fly Rod Action Explained

A person new to fly fishing will hear many references about the action of a fly rod.  Action may be described as very fast, fast, medium-fast, medium or slow (sometimes referred to as classic), but that doesn’t begin to explain why action is important or how different actions are better suited for different situations.

Simply stated, a fast action rod is stiffer than a slow action. A fast rod bends only about a third of the way to the tip, while a slow rod will bend almost all the way to the butt. An intermediate speed rod should bend about halfway. So, how does this affect casting or playing fish?

Fly Rod Action: The Facts

Fast Action Rods

  • Powerful rods
  • Very little flexibility; only tip of rod flexes
  • The rod loads and unloads faster
  • Generates fast line speed
  • Requires good timing and technique
  • Difficult at first for beginners

So, fast action rods are very powerful and load and unload the line quickly to generate fast line speeds. Loading the rod is simply applying pressure to make the rod bend. As the weight of the fly line is picked up by the fly rod, the rod bends and stores energy. As the rod unloads, that energy is released. Fast line speeds are needed for casting long distances or cast into the wind. A rod that generates fast line speeds requires good timing to cast properly, which means fast action rods are difficult for beginners to use, because everything happens fast.

Moderate Action Rods

  • Less powerful than fast action
  • More flexible than fast action
  • Intermediate Line Speed
  • The rod loads and unloads intermediate
  • More forgiving than a fast-action
  • Good choice for many waters and for beginners

Medium action rods are not as powerful as fast action rods and they load and unload more slowly. They are not able to generate lines speeds as fast as fast action rods, so they are not able to cast as far. But if line speeds are slower, the timing is more forgiving, which means medium action rods are easier for beginners to use.

Slow/Classic Action Rods

  • Very little power
  • Very flexible; entire shaft
  • Slow line speed
  • The rod loads and unloads slower
  • Very forgiving, easiest to control line and accuracy
  • Good for short, accurate and gentle casts for small rivers and streams

Slow or Classic action rods are not powerful at all and they load and unload slowly. They are good for delicate casts because they generate slow lines speeds. This makes them very forgiving and are easiest for beginners to use because it is easier to time the cast and to control the line.

There are very proficient fly casters that can do amazing things with just about any fly rod, but for the rest of us mere mortals, choosing the right fly rod action helps with certain tasks. The table below is a generalization of how different fly rod actions perform certain tasks.

Beginner Fly Rod and Fly Reel Combo

If you want to start fly fishing, at a minimum you need a fly rod, a reel, fly line, tippet and at least one fly. If you don’t have someone to help you get started, it might seem a little over-whelming, but you can figure this out. You will learn something new everyday that you fly fish, but it’s not rocket science and you can get started with the basics.

I suggest you start with a combo kit that’s not too expensive, but not too cheap. A good rod & reel combo with backing and fly line should cost between $100 – $200. Of course you could spend much more than that, but it’s not necessary to get started.

My personal everyday fly rod is a 6 wt. TFO fly rod with Lamson Konic II fly reel (that reel has been replaced by the Lamson Liquid).

I also have a 4 wt. Echo Carbon fly rod with a Lamson Guru Fly Reel that I use for fishing dry flies on smaller streams.
21 inch brown trout
For a serious beginner, I would recommend something like the Temple Fork NXT Fly Fishing Outfit which includes a 4 piece, 5/6 weight medium-fast action rod, a large arbor cast aluminum reel with a disc drag and interchangeable spool. It also comes with backing, weight forward floating fly line and leader and a carry case. Not a bad deal for less than $200. You will like the 4 piece rod for packing into lakes and streams and because it doesn’t need much space in the truck or car.

Another good choice would be the Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit which includes a 4 piece, 6 weight medium-fast fly rod, a large arbor reel, backing, fly line and leader all for less than $175.

Another good choice for a beginner combo is the Redington Crosswater 590 Fly Rod Outfit which includes a 4 piece, 6 weight medium action fly rod, a large arbor reel, backing, fly line, leader and a carry case all for less than $150.

For a budget minded starter kit, you might try the Wild Water Fly Fishing Complete Starter Package that includes a 4 piece slow action fly rod, an entry level large arbor reel with backing, fly line and leader. It also includes a fly box, some flies and a carry case.

You might be skeptical of a fly rod combo kit that included all these extras but costs less than $100, but this item has been reviewed almost 300 times and it gets 4.6 out of 5 stars.

So what you waitin’ for? Let’s get geared up and Go Fish!

Fly Rod Action Table

Fast Medium Slow
Long Casts Good   Med Poor
Windy Conditions Good   Med Poor
Playing/Lifting Large Fish Good   Med Poor
Quick Casts Good   Med Poor
Casting Large Flies Good   Med Poor
Line Control Poor   Med Good
Accurate Casting Poor   Med Good
Casting Small Flies Poor   Med Good
Delicate Presentation Poor   Med Good
Short Casts Poor   Med Good

As can be seen in the table above, Fast Action rods are best for making long casts with large flies in windy conditions. They are also best for fighting large fish. It makes sense that most Fly Rods rated larger than size 8 be Fast Action rods.

Medium action rods are not best at any task nor are they poor at any task, which makes them a good bet for beginners over a wide array of conditions.

Slow Action Rods are best at making short, delicate casts with very small flies, so this also makes perfect sense that most fly rods size 3 or smaller should be slow action rods.

Different fly rod manufactures may also attempt to describe the action of their rods in different ways. For example, Temple Fork Outfitters, uses their trademarked “Power Matrix” and Orvis uses a “Fly Rod Flex Index”.

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