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.

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I have 14 or 15 fly rods now, but my personal fly rod and one I use regularly in our guiding business is a 6 wt. TFO fly rod with Lamson Konic II fly reel (that reel is not longer made and 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!

I recommend These Combo Fly Rod Kit for Beginners

They won’t kill your budget, but will be fly rods you can use the rest of your life

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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  1. Peter deakin says

    Very good info should be helpful for any own. Learners and those with reasonable experience.

  2. Louis Steff says

    Looking for a shorter fly rod to fish very small trout streams with live bait. Had previously used a bass action 8 foot fly rod to fish for small mouth bass in small to medium streams we used live hellgramites for bait exclusively. Info on loading and unloading i did not know was very interesting. We always felt that the presentation of the live bait to the fish on a long leader gave as close as possible to a natural presentation to fool the bass. I never got into using any type of flies. I was taught to “read ” the water in order to properly present the live bait.

    • Yes, you probably want a 7½ or 8 ft rod; with 3 or 4 wt line. These are some good examples of quality rods that are reasonably priced.

      Echo 7½ ft 3 wt
      Echo 8 ft 4 wt
      Redington 7½ ft 3 wt
      Redington 8 ft 4 wt

      Casting is tough on small streams, if you don’t already know it, you will want to learn the bow & arrow cast.

      Years ago, I did some “stealth fishing” on small streams with a collapsible fishing rod. Sometimes I fished without a reel, just tied the line to the handle and ran it through the guides.

      Useful for poking through the bushes and dropping into pools. The rig (Without reel) could bow and arrow cast a short distance if I only used a short line, but could not cast well to pools in the open like a fly rod.

      If using line much longer than rod (6 ft), had to hold extra line under my hand on the to handle so I could bow an arrow cast.

  3. I was given an Orvice Silver brook rod that is 81/2 foot, but does not Indicate what weight it is. Is there a way to tell?

    • Does the rod have Orvis written on it? How about the word Excel? Is there a serial number? I found a 2015 Dennett catalogue (a UK company). They make both spinning and fly rods under the name Silverbrook. They do not mention an 8½ foot rod, but do have a 9 foot carbon rod (3 piece) that is a 5/6 wt with serial number AD-SE0956.
      Is it a new rod or an old rod?

  4. Joel Marshall says

    Yes, orvis is on it and the best I can determine is that it has a serial number of either 1322 or 1822.

    • Joel, I can’t find any more info on that fly rod. There is nothing on the internet about Orvis and Silverbrook. I asked my fishing buddy, who sold sporting goods for many years. We think you have an antique fly rod. The only way to find out the weight is to take it to an experienced fisherman and let him feel it and compare to other fly rods of similar weight. I assume you don’t have a reel?

  5. Joel Marshall says

    Thank you for your research, I was talking to someone who teaches fly fishing and makes custom rods and I will have him look at it. If this is an antique I would love to have the reel that dates this rod. The one I have makes it look too modern.

  6. The happy wanderer says

    Great explanation! Trying to get my wife into fly fishing and she is just asking too many questions:)

  7. Heather C. Davis says

    Hey, I am a new visitor in your site. You have amazing content published in your website about Fly Rod Action for Beginners. I have read this content. I think, this is a great guide at this time. Thank you for sharing with us.

  8. Mark Deveraux says

    What type of indicator do you use for the Provo River bounce rig?

Comments, Opinions, Questions?