Understanding fly rod actions & fly line combinations

The Complete Fly Fisherman|February/March 2020

Understanding fly rod actions & fly line combinations
Contributor Anton hartman says that understanding what a fly line is designed to do will make a big difference to your success rate on the water.
Anton hartman

Knowing which line to buy for your new rod is something most anglers have struggled with for many years. You walk into a shop and see 30 different fly lines and you don’t really know what to look for. The assistant sells you the most popular line and you put it onto your reel, only to find that it doesn’t feel as if it’s loading your rod correctly. I’ve been experimenting with virtually all the line tapers available on the market for the past ten years and in doing so I’ve come to realise that the line weight written on a rod or a line can very often become the biggest problem anglers face on the water. Understanding what each line is designed to do, combined with identifying your casting ability, will make a big difference to your success rate on the water. You will find that experimenting with different line weights and tapers might make your rod come alive and make your fishing a much more pleasant experience.

My aim in this article is to help explain the different actions in modern fly rods and fly line weights and tapers, so that when next you enter the fly shop, you have a better knowledge of the relationship between the rod and line.


If we take a brand like Sage that has 10 to 15 models in its range of fly rods, then there must be a reason for so many different rod actions. Each is designed for a specific application to make it easier for the angler, but combining the rod of choice with the incorrect line is the biggest problem most anglers struggle with. To make it simple, we can describe a specific rod action as the speed at which a rod will load and unload. Most anglers don’t like an ultra-fast rod because the speed at which it loads and unloads is too quick for the average angler and they struggle with their timing. A slower-action rod is often more popular because it is more forgiving as it gives a bigger window of timing, and makes anglers feel they are loading the rod better. The downside to this is that if your tracking (moving the rod tip in a straight line) is not great, you will lose quite a lot of distance and accuracy as there is more movement on the rod tip from side to side because it is slower. You will also open the loop of the fly line, which will create more air resistance. Windy conditions will expose this problem even more. Having someone assess your casting ability and then give you advice on what will work for you is paramount.

Taking two totally different 5-wt rod tapers like the Sage Igniter and the Sage Circa is a good example. If we could cast them not knowing which is which, most anglers would think that the Igniter 5-wt feels like a 6- or even a 7-wt rod, and would probably enjoy the rod more if they paired it with a 7-wt line because of their inability to load the rod properly on the 5-wt line. The Circa would probably feel like a faster 3- or 4-wt rod to most. Even though the rod designer has assigned a 5-wt to both these rods, they are very different rods made for very different applications.


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February/March 2020