Fly rod weight, what does it mean?
When I first started fly fishing, I didn’t know what weight meant on fly rods, or that there were different weight fly rods for me to choose from – I simply picked up whatever rod felt right from my dad’s collection and off I went.
Join me to learn how to pick and choose the right fly rod weights to make up a solid arsenal that matches different fly fishing techniques and the species of fish you want to target.
In this article...
What Is Fly Rod Weight?
Fly rod weight (wt) is a unit of measure given to fly rod sizes and describes the overall strength of the fly rod in your hand.
The smaller the number, the lighter and weaker the fly rod, and the higher the number, the heavier and stronger the rod.
Fly rod weight ranges from a 1 weight fly rod all the way up to a 16 wt, 1 being the lightest and weakest with most flex, and a 16 wt being the heaviest and strongest.
How do you know what weight your fly rod is?
All fly rods will have their WT marked on their spine. If you take any of your fly rods, or pick up a new fly rod in a shop and look above the handle on the bottom section there will be a number with wt next to it.
What Does the Weight Of A Fly Rod Mean?
Fly rod weight determines quite a few things when it comes to fly fishing but the two main things it lets fly fishers know are; the size of fish they can target with a specific fly rod weight, and the weight of the lines that will work with the rod.
Fly Rod Weight Vs Fly Line Weight
When fly fishing, you have to match your fly rod weight with the correct fly line weights, but why? – It’s all about casting performance.
To make long casts or accurate casts, your fly rod needs to be able to load with enough energy on your casting stroke in order to transfer said energy from the fly rod and into the fly line so it shoots into the direction you want.
By using the same fly line weight as your fly rod weight, you give the setup the perfect balance of distance and accuracy so you can load the rod with maximum efficiency for casting long distances or for short accuracy casts.
If your fly rod is an 8 weight rod and you put a 5 weight line on it, the fly line won’t be heavy enough to load the fly rod properly and you won’t be able to cast as far.
If your fly rod is a 3 weight and you put a 6 weight line on it, it will overload the rod and you’ll end up with terrible accuracy when casting.
Do you have to match the line weight with your rod weight?
Fly rod weight is a good indicator of what line weight to use for the best performance on your cast. But, you don’t have to follow it to the letter. You can go up or down a fly line weight from what the fly rods specify.
Going up a weight in fly line will load the rod more to help you cast further and punch into the wind.
Going down a fly line loads fly rods a bit less, giving you less energy to control for accuracy and delicate presentations of your flies.
A Fly Rods Weight Vs Your Target Species
Now that we know that weight is a sign of the strength of fly rods, it’s common sense that fly rods with a low WT number are for smaller species, and higher WT rods are for larger species.
This is because the stronger the rod the more power it has for fighting big fish and lifting them.
NOTEWhen fighting a 100lb tarpon, your rod needs to have enough lifting strength to get them to the boat.
Since there is a large range of rod WT’s let’s break it down into the details and categorize them between salt and freshwater fish.
When fly fishing in freshwater you are most likely to be using 1-9 wt rods as freshwater fish tend to be a bit smaller than their salty cousins.
When fishing for panfish or small trout, anglers should look from rods between a 1-3 weight. These are light, delicate, and will match the smaller streams these fish live in and the lighter flies they like to eat.
A 2wt fly rod is the ideal quiver for the small stream fishing enthusiast who does a great deal of angling with dry flies to small fish. Fishing with a great 2wt fly rod makes targeting and fighting smaller fish on the fly more fun compared to a 3wt.
Trout anglers love to use a 10 foot 3wt when targeting trout with nymphs as it gives them the delicacy and rod length needed to fish Euro-nymphing techniques with precision.
4-6 wt rods are the most common rods used in freshwater fly fishing. They are light enough for fishing on small streams and rivers and their medium size means they can handle larger fish like 2lb trout.
A 4 weight is the ideal size for dry fly fishing for trout and panfish or as an all-around rod for streams and rivers. It has enough strength for a solid 40-50 feet casting distance while being excellent for delicate fly presentations.
5 weight rods are the ideal all-around trout rod as a 5 weight has enough gusto to push 60 feet casts on lakes while being delicate enough for short and accurate casts on smaller waters.
TIPIf in doubt, grab a 9 foot 5 weight for all-around freshwater fishing.
A 6 weight is a bit heavy for a trout setup for use on rivers or streams but it works well on lakes as the extra strength means you can push your casts further, especially in windy conditions, with bigger flies and for bigger fish. They are perfect for small steelhead and bass.
7 – 9 wt rods are the top end of the freshwater spectrum and are ideal for anglers going after salmon, big bass, muskie, and pike.
They are stiff and don’t flex much which gives you enough strength to handle the dog fight a bass will give you and the runs of a 30lb salmon.
When fishing in saltwater, the creatures you’re after are generally much larger, faster, and more powerful than freshwater species and thus, you’ll need a heavier rod to manage them.
8-10 wt rods are the most commonly used rods in the salt. They are perfect for bonefish, snook, permit, stripers, triggerfish, and milkfish as they have enough strength to handle them and are not too heavy which allows for delicate presentations.
11-12 wt rods are used for the bigger creatures like 100lb tarpon, giant trevally, and sailfish. It takes a lot to make them flex which gives you the upper hand in the fight so you can stop and lift this big fish from the depths when you need to.
13 Wt and above
The chances of you holding a 13 wt or above, even in a shop, is unlikely.
NOTENot many manufacturers make them but you can find them online with companies like Sage and G Loomis.
These rods are made for the biggest monsters out there like marlin and bluefin tuna. They barely flex, are super heavy, and incredibly tiring, and hard to cast.
How To Pick The Right Fly Rod Weight
To pick the right weight rod you should match it to the size of the fishes you want to catch and where you’ll be fishing by following the descriptions above.
Smaller fishes in small waters need lighter rods, and bigger fishes in big waters need heavier ones.
By doing this you’ll be able to cast the right flies for your intended target, be able to present them well at the right distances and have a pole that can handle their strength, all of which are keys to being successful on the water.
Here’s a video to help you choose the right fly rod weight.
Does Rod Length Affect Wt?
No. Length is about technique and has nothing to do with the WT of your rod.
Most rods between 5 weight – 16 weight are 9 feet in length. The only time the length will change is in the 2-4wt category when rods can be longer than 9 foot – up to 10 feet or more for nymphing, or shorter down to 7.5 ft for dry fly fishing.
Do I need to match reel size with rod Wt?
Yes, reel size is important to balance the setup. If your reel is too heavy or too light, it’ll be hard to cast. Also, if the reel is too light then it might not hold enough line or have enough drag force to handle your intended target.
If you still don’t have a reel to match your fly rod, take a look at our best saltwater fly reels for the money here.
Pieces & Action
Fly rods can come in a range of actions from slow-fast action. This determines where the rod’s flex is and its casting ability but it’s not associated with Wt.
When it comes to pieces, you’re likely to have to choose between a 4 piece rod and a 2 piece. This is a sign of portability more than anything else, as a 4 piece is a lot easier to put in a bag for travel than a 2 piece, but it doesn’t affect your choice when it comes to Wt.
Keep this in mind when choosing fly rods for backpacking or traveling.
Thanks for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed it and learned everything you need about the weight of fly rods and how to pick the right rod for you.
With the knowledge you gained, you’ll never be wrong in purchasing a new fly rod or choosing a fly fishing pole for your kids for your next fishing adventure.
If you found the article useful, please share it around with your buddies and check out some of my other articles like this review about rod/reel combos. I also cover everything from fly rods to reels and even backpacks.