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 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.
Fly Rod Action Table
|Playing/Lifting Large Fish||Good||Med||Poor|
|Casting Large Flies||Good||Med||Poor|
|Casting Small Flies||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”.
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. If that includes a carry case, a fly box and some flies, so much the better.
So what you waitin’ for? Get geared up and Go Fish!