8 of the Best Fly Fishing Rods in 2018 – Reviews & Comparison

Today we are looking at fly rods in hopes of singling out 10 of the best fly fishing rods. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get experienced fly fisherman to agree about the best of anything, and that is without taking into account intended fishing styles and conditions. So we settled with picking out a selection of good rods and trying to offer some useful advice for fly fisherman from beginner to master. It is a great time to pick up a new rod as manufacturers are really pushing forward with exotic materials and innovative technologies, resulting in great rods at very affordable prices.

Basics for Beginners 

Experts, skip to the reviews. Beginners, you do not need a $700 fly rod. That kind of price will ruin the fun before it starts. But be careful about rods at the very low end as well if you plan on fishing real trout streams. Look for a rod in the mid-price range. You will be satisfied with the performance, can use it for years, and keep it for a backup when you do upgrade.

Go for a medium action rod in 8.5 to 9 feet of length for versatility and ease of learning. A 5-weight rod is a good all-arounder, but make sure to match rod weight with line weight and reel weight. Remember the formula: fly rod weight = fly line weight = fly reel weight. For the brand new fly fisherman starting from zero, a quality fly rod combo kit like the Orvis Clearwater is an excellent choice. That way you get set up for one easy price and significant savings without a lot of decision-making to do.

With introductions out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the best fly fishing rods from across the price range.

8 Best Fly Fishing Rods - Comparisons

8 Best Fly Fishing Rods - Reviews 

1. Sage Fly Fishing X Series 376-4 7ft 6in 3wt Fly Rod

Sage Fly Fishing X Series 376-4 7ft 6in 3wt Fly Rod

Fly rod legend Sage has renamed its top-of-the-line fly rods from One to X but kept the high-end build and distance capability the One was known for. These beautiful rods are handcrafted on Bainbridge Island Washington and feature cork fore and rear grips, Fuji ceramic stripper guides and hard chromed snake guides and tip-top, a black anodized aluminum up-locking reel seat with a vera-wood insert, all mounted on a completely re-done fast action blank. The blank is designed with Sage KonneticHD Technology to produce a rod that generates tight, efficient loops and pulls more power out of the lower section of the rod.

The X Series 3wt we tried is surprisingly controllable and forgiving for such a powerful rod. Nearly all wobble and side-to-side movement is eliminated, and it is extremely accurate at long distances, even in the hands of newer fisherman. If there is any downside to the X other than the high price point, it comes when trying to lay a soft presentation on smaller water. Even though this is a short rod built for small streams, it is very easy to overshoot until you get a feel for the rod.

What we liked

  • Crisp, powerful feel
  • Accurate

What we didn't like

  • High-price point

2. G Loomis NRX Lite Presentation 1043-4 8ft 8in 3wt Fly Rod

G Loomis NRX Lite Presentation 1043-4 8ft 8in 3wt Fly Rod

Another high-end legend, G Loomis fly rods are known for record-breaking casting distance and high-quality build backed by a life-time warranty to the original registered owner. The 3-weight rod in our test earned top marks for a small-stream, ultra-light rod. In expert hands, the NRX lite can lay out a tiny dry fly on the finest tippet with pin-point precision. It’s a medium-action rod with a soft taper, a classic dense cork grip, and a choice of matte black or evergreen color schemes. The reel seat is skeletonized aluminum with a graphite insert. Two unbreakable recoil stripping guides are followed by nickel/titanium one-foot flexible snake guides. These guides are expensive but worth it for the strength and weight savings.

On the cast, the NRX feels feather-light in the hand, loads easily, and releases smoothly for straight tracking. For working spooky fish in clear water, this is the rod you need. At close- and mid-range, it is deadly accurate, but it can also drop a shot on a 10-inch target at 45 feet if you are up to it. One top of the light-weight and high-performance, the NRX still has the guts to handle large fish with ease. It’s our top choice for a high-end light rod.

What we liked

  • Excellent build quality
  • Precision feel and accuracy

What we didn't like

  • Rod sections are not plugged
  • High price point

3. Sage Pulse 596-4 9ft 6in 5wt Fly Rod

Sage Pulse 596-4 9ft 6in 5wt Fly Rod

We wanted to test a long, fast-action big river rod. The Sage Pulse fits the bill perfectly and comes with all the quality and performance characteristics fishermen expect from Sage. The Pulse is a graphite rod with a full-wells cork handle, an up-locking reel seat built on a beautiful polished rosewood insert, and Fuji ceramic stripper guides. The details on this handmade rod are excellent. When mounted with a balanced line and reel package, the Pulse gives a feel of power and controllability that few rods can match.

The Pulse was a rod we just wanted to take out on some big, open water and work out. Once we got it powered up to use the length to advantage, it was easy to get a big wet fly nearly 100 feet out there. The rod has great backbone and durability as well, and even though it is a specialized trout rod, it would be fun to take to a pond for some bass fishing, or even some light inshore salt water use. If you plan on primarily being on big rivers or still water and can make the investment, get one of these rods.

What we liked

  • Super powerful
  • Very balanced feel

What we didn't like

  • Will take some practice for beginners
  • High price point

4. Orvis Clearwater 905-4 9ft 5wt Fly Rod Outfit

The Clearwater complete 5wt outfit is our top choice for a first fly rod. It’s a rod, reel, and line combo that comes at a good price point and brings quality that will satisfy for years beyond the beginner stages. The Clearwater is not the usual cheap, mushy rod found in a bargain rod/reel set up. It has a balanced, crisp feel with a medium-fast action that can be dialed back to drift a dry fly onto smooth water, or powered up to throw a heavy wet fly or weighted nymph a long distance.

The Clearwater is a forgiving rod, and while it does not offer the same performance as the best high-end rods, it can still hit with good accuracy at short distances, or throw out across the river once you learn to work it. We liked the quality touches like the woven graphite reel seat insert, the sturdy double-foot guides that can take the mistakes a beginner might make, and the sleek finish. The Orvis 25-year no-questions asked free repair program is a big plus. 

What we liked

  • Quality setup at a good price
  • Versatile
  • Great warranty

What we didn't like

  • Reel is a bit wobbly in the seat
  • Tip is too soft

5. Echo Carbon XL 9ft 5wt Fly Rod

The Echo Carbon XL offers anglers a forgiving medium-fast action and very light weight at a value price point. The entire Echo line is known for quality at reasonable prices, and the Carbon XL holds that reputation up well. We did not find the prefect finish quality that is present on the high-end rods, but the few small imperfections, like a bit of extra epoxy clinging to a guide and a scratch here and there, were easy to deal with.

This rod performs like a far more expensive fly rod, and we were not disappointed with either distance or accuracy. It is not difficult to hit 75 feet and land a presentation within a couple feet of the target. The action is very controllable, making for a versatile rod that can handle a wide range of situations. We like the beefy two-piece reel seat clamp, and the entire build has a sturdy feel to it. This is a good multi-species rod that is one of the best performers in its price range.

What we liked

  • Value for the money
  • All-around performance

What we didn't like

  • Finish imperfections
  • Reel seat may not hold some reels

6. Wild Water Deluxe 9ft 5wt Fly Rod Complete Starter Package

Wild Water Deluxe 9ft 5wt Fly Rod Complete Starter Package

A full starter package is a good way to get out on the water in one quick move. The Wild Water Deluxe Complete Starter Package balances a nice selection of gear with a reasonable level of quality and value pricing. The rod is based on a 9ft 5wt IM8 graphite slow-action blank. It features a ceramic-lined stripper guide, stainless-steel single foot snake guides, an aluminum reel seat with double lock rings, and a 7” cork grip. The set comes with a diecast aluminum reel with stainless steel internals and a quick-release spool preloaded with 20-pound backing and 5-weight floating line. You also get a fly box and 18 flies, forceps, a line nipper, two retractable leashes, spare leaders and tippet material, a case, and a rod sock.

The Wild Water kit is our call for the absolute beginner who wants to get started with minimal investment. You get everything needed to start catching fish. The rod is on the soft side, but it handles well enough to let a beginner get the basics mastered. Accuracy is fine on short casts, but suffered a bit when we tried to really power some casts out there. That is where the softness induces some wobble that throws things off. But this kit will get you off to a good start and leave you with a decent backup rod.

What we liked

  • Fair quality for the price
  • All the small accessories included
  • Get fishing immediately

What we didn't like

  • Action is too soft
  • Reel tends to rub

7. Tailwater Outfitters Toccoa IM8 Graphite 8ft 4in 3wt Fly Rod

Tailwater Outfitters Toccoa IM8 Graphite 8ft 4in 3wt Fly Rod

The Tailwater Toccoa makes a good backup rod or a non-specialized all-around rod for catching panfish one day and throwing flies on a trout pond the next. The 8’4” 3wt rod we tested handles surprisingly well for the price. It has good backbone and a crisp action, features usually missing at this price point. Listed as a fast-action rod, the Toccoa works more like a medium in a more expensive rod.

Build quality is acceptable for the price. The half-well cork handle is comfortable. The machined aluminum reel seat works well if you really crank the lock rings down. The reel felt a little flimsy in the mount until we put an extra turn on the rings with pliers. The stripping guides have ceramic liners and the shooting guides are chromed steel. They are not ultra-light guides but should give years of serviceable performance. The Toccoa comes with a rod tube for transport and is a good value for the money.

What we liked

  • Good handling for a budget rod
  • Sturdy build
  • Case included

What we didn't like

  • Reel mount does not clamp tightly
  • Tip is fragile

8. Eagle Claw Featherlight 6ft 6in 5wt Fly Rod

We checked out the Eagle Claw Featherlight because of the brand’s classic reputation and the rod’s almost unbelievably low price. This is an all-fiberglass rod, so the action feels mushy next to the modern fast-action graphites. On the upside, fiberglass is nearly unbreakable. If you are looking for a kid’s rod, or fishing mostly bass and panfish but want to occasionally try some fly casting, the Featherlight is a good choice.

If you know Eagle Claw rods, you will recognize the bright yellow color scheme on the Featherlight. It has an old-school look to it, and the cork grip, cherry wood reel seat insert, and gold single-footed guides complete the vintage feel. With a heavy line on board, the rod is actually fun to cast. We put on a small rubber worm set up with a tiny split shot and could really send it. For fishing large wet flies on streams where working your way through heavy brush is an issue, this rod actually makes a good choice. The Featherlight is our low-cost leader, and is a nice rod just to keep behind the seat of the truck.

What we liked

  • Super-cheap
  • Fun for mixed species fishing

What we didn't like

  • Heavy
  • Mushy uniform action

A Fly Rod for Every Fisherman 

One thing we were happy to find in our search for the best fly fishing rods was variety. Where fly fishing was once a specialized sport for purists, manufacturers are now offering rods across a full range of price points. Quality build and decent performance extend down into the value price range, opening the door for beginners to learn fly casting without the frustration that many lower-priced rods used to generate with their mushy, weak actions. Now is a great time to find the best fly fishing rod for your budget, experience level, and home waters.

David Valle
 

I started this blog to provide advanced material, guiding you towards a better and more comfortable fishing experience. I deliver more than fishing gear guides, and motivate people to hit the water!

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