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Fly fishing for trout has become an industry all its own, with specialty fly rods designed for very specific tasks—I’m looking at you, Euro-nymphers. But for general trout fishing, where anglers might need to dredge deep with a nymph, throw a sizable streamer, or deliver a spot-on dry-fly cast, all in the same outing, a dependable fly rod that can do a little bit of everything is a vital implement.
Let’s face it, when most of us hit the river, we don’t want to be burdened by a quiver of fly rods. Instead, you’re probably better off with a jack-of-all-trades fly rod. To narrow down your options, I compiled a list of the best trout fly rods that excel no matter what method you need to use.
- Best Entry Level: Orvis Clearwater
- Best Budget: Redington Field Kit
- Best Casting: Sage R8 Core
- Best All-around: Orvis Helios 3D
Best Entry Level: Orvis Clearwater
Why It Made the Cut
This long-time Orvis is a proven rod, and its latest iteration is one of the best fly rods for beginners on a tight budget.
- Full black nickel aluminum reel seats
- Includes gray rod tube
- Black chrome blanks
- 25-year guarantee
- 9-foot, 4-weight model allows for multiple uses
- Alignment dots allow for easy streamside assembly
- Probably not the best for experienced anglers who need more rod speed
The Orvis Clearwater 9-foot, 4-weight fly rod is a legacy product in the Orvis fly rod family. For many longtime anglers, earlier versions of the Clearwater were very likely the first premium fly rod they ever purchased. It has a stellar reputation as a brand, and Orvis stands behind the product with its patented 25-year guarantee, which gives new anglers a bit of confidence in their investment.
The latest version features a medium-fast action and typical Orvis hardware quality, even for an entry-level fly rod. The Clearwater is a solid fly rod that will help new anglers get a feel for the craft, and perform under varying circumstances. When they graduate to more sophisticated fly rods, the Clearwater will still occupy a corner of the closet and it’ll be a good backup rod for years to come.
Best Budget: Redington Field Kit
Why It Made the Cut
The Redington Field kit is a good all-in-one choice for more casual anglers who might go fishing a couple of times a year and don’t want to spend a small fortune on a fly rod.
- 9-foot, 5-weight rod
- Medium-fast action
- Includes a rod, reel, fly line, backing, a leader, and a case
- Anodized aluminum reel seat
- Convenient ready-to-fish package
- Entry-level price
- Alignment dots
- Can be stored with the reel attached
- A bit bulky
- Moderate speed might take some getting used to
The Redington Field Kit in the 9-foot, 5-weight model is an everyman fly rod. It’s not going to knock your socks off when it comes to casting, but for casual anglers who likely don’t possess—or at least don’t practice—more advanced fly fishing techniques, the rod is a good choice. It’s affordable, convenient, and easy to assemble, which means anglers can literally use it right out of the box.
This isn’t Redington’s first foray into the kit approach to fly fishing. The sister company to Sage and RIO has been the Farbank brand’s budget line for a long time, but don’t let that modest price tag fool you. I’ve fished a lot of Redington products over the years, and very rarely am I disappointed.
Best Casting: Sage R8 Core
Why It Made the Cut
The Sage R8 Core is a trout fly rod specifically designed for the experienced fly caster who uses a variety of techniques to put flies in front of trout. The 9-foot, 4-weight model boasts a faster action than others in its class, making it easy to switch over from dry-fly casting to streamer fishing, and its length is good for intimate high-stick nymphing.
- Rod Weights: 3-9-weight
- Rod Lengths: 8-foot, 6-inch to 10-foot
- Includes black rod bag
- Anodized aluminum up-locking reel seat
- Silver Pine blank color
- Faster than other rods tested
- Obvious backbone
- Cast recovery is almost non-existent
- Super expensive
The Sage R8 Core fly rod is one for the pros —or skilled anglers who have the savvy to get the most out of this rod. The 9-foot, 4-weight version is ideal for typical trout water, and its speed and recovery make it a great fly rod for those who have mastered the casts needed to pull trout from various lies on trout water.
I appreciate the light weight coupled with an impressive backbone. With this rod you’ll find yourself confidently performing reach casts to lengthen your drift. Or when you’re streamer fishing, you can cast outsized flies that aren’t considered the norm for a 4-weight.
Best All-Around: Orvis Helios 3D
Why It Made the Cut
The Orvis Helios 3D is the latest iteration of the wildly popular Helios line, but this one gives experienced anglers a bit more distance without compromising on accuracy.
- Matte midnight blank
- Aluminum rod tube
- SiC/titanium stripping guides
- Anodized aluminum reel seat with carbon insert
- Various weights and lengths
- Virtually no casting recovery
- Sturdy, forgiving blank
- Great pickup power
- Alignment dots
- Not the prettiest rod around
The Orvis Helios 3D fly rod is a product for serious anglers who can appreciate the subtle assets it offers, like astounding pickup power and the ability to delicately target the most difficult lies for trout. This is a rod for fishing. Yes, it’s a great casting rod, too, but as I tested it on the water, I found myself focusing more on the actual fishing and less on the casting mechanics. That was a refreshing change to the generally utilitarian approach I use when testing gear. Couple Orvis’ 25-year guarantee and this rod’s versatility, and the steep price tag doesn’t seem so steep at all.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Fly Rod for Trout
Buying an all-around fly rod for trout amounts to an investment in your fly fishing. Ask yourself a few questions before you drop $1,000 on a new fly rod. Consider how often you fish, your angling acumen, and what you want to accomplish on the trout stream when you fish. Are you a beginner, or have you been fly fishing for decades? What conditions will you come up against on your typical trout water? Will you need to buy other gear like fly fishing waders or a vest? What kind of trout fishing do you like to do most?
All fly rods are not created equal. If you’re a beginner, there’s no reason for you to rush out and buy the best trout fly rods, particularly when you won’t be able to get the most out of the premium products. Instead, a good starter rod or a beginner kit should be on your shopping list. Hone your skills first, and when you outgrow the affordable option, you’ll be ready to drop some serious Benjamins on a premium fly rod.
Again, a lot depends on the angler. But a high-end premium fly rod, like those tested here really can help seasoned fly casters up their game on the performance end. New anglers call for a more basic implement. For experienced anglers who can perform a variety of casts that typical trout water calls for, a fly rod built to handle those demands really can make a day spent fishing for trout more fruitful.
Q: What’s the right weight for trout fly rods?
Fly rods for trout come in many lengths and weights, but, generally speaking, a 9-foot, 4- to 5-weight fly rod is ideal for trout under most circumstances.
Q: How much does a fly rod for trout cost?
Fly rods for trout can cost as little as $100 or as much as $1,000 or more, depending on the brand, quality, and performance. One simple rule of thumb you should consider when shopping for a fly rod for trout is that you get what you pay for. Also, consider your skill level. New anglers won’t enjoy the benefits of premium fly rods. They just don’t have the experience or skill level to do so yet. Hone your skills with more basic rods and graduate to rods that can help you improve your casting and accuracy.
Q: What size flies should you use for trout?
Fly selection plays an important role when you’re fishing for trout. For the most part, fly size should be dictated by the size of the natural insects found in and around trout streams. This, of course, depends on the season, the weather, and the conditions. That being said, most trout flies are smaller than flies used for other fish, like bass and panfish, or even pike. Basic trout mayfly patterns usually range from size 10 to size 18, while stonefly and grasshopper patterns might be bigger, such as size 6 to size 8. Sometimes, conditions call for smaller or larger flies. During the fall, when brown trout are in aggressive pre-spawn mode, larger streamers as big as size 2 or 4 are often used. At the same time, during a Blue-winged Olive hatch on a blustery October day, anglers might use a size 20 imitation to match the hatch.
Fly fishing for trout can be as difficult or as simple as you make it. But under typical circumstances, anglers will be better served by the best trout fly rods that give them the ability to use different fly-fishing methods while performing on a generally even keel.
I tested the four fly rods above on a very typical trout stream in eastern Idaho under walk-and-wade circumstances. To test the rods, I rated them on everything from rod speed, recovery, and weight, to casting comfort and performance for more advanced tactics, like high-stick nymphing and reach casts. I arrived at my conclusions after fishing the rods for the same amount of time over similar water conditions.