Fly rod weight. We all have wondered what those cryptic numbers mean.
When I first wore my fly fishing vest and joined the ranks of new anglers starting 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.
As I developed my skills and got inspired by my favorite fly fishing quotes, I learned the nuance of picking the right fly rod weight. It can make or break your fishing game.
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.
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 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 fish size they can target with a specific fly rod weight, and the fly line weight 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, just like the ones I reviewed here, and you put a 5 weight fly 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 fly line weight on it, it will overload the rod and you’ll end up with terrible accuracy when casting.
You must also take into consideration if you are gonna put a fishing line backing into your fly fishing rig. If you don’t know what a fly line backing is, check out this review.
Do you have to match the line weight with your rod weight?
Fly rod weight is a good indicator of what fly 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 carrying a heavy fly, 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 trout fishing or catching panfish, fly 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 average trout with nymphs as it gives them the delicacy and fly rod length needed to fish Euro-nymphing techniques with precision. If you are looking for a fly rod of this weight, check out this review of the best 3 weight fly rod.
4-6 wt rods are the most common rods used in freshwater fly fishing. They are light enough for small fish in small streams and smaller rivers and their medium size means they can handle big trout and other larger fish.
A 4 weight is the ideal size for dry fly fishing for small 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.
A 5 weight fly rod is the ideal all-around trout rod as a 5 weight fly rod has enough gusto to push 60 feet or sometimes longer casts on lakes while being delicate enough for short and accurate casts on smaller waters.
If you’re targeting trout, be sure to check out this guide on how to catch trout. Gathering information about your target will surely give you the upper hand.
TIPIf in doubt, grab a 9 foot 5 weight for all-around freshwater fishing.
A 6 weight fly rods are a bit heavy for a trout setup for use on rivers or streams but they work well on lakes as the extra strength means you can push your casts further, especially in windy conditions, with large flies and for bigger fish. They are perfect to fight fish like small steelhead and for bass fishing.
7 – 9 wt rods are the top end of the freshwater spectrum and are ideal for many anglers going after large fish such as salmon, big bass, muskie, and pike.
They are stiff and have little tip flex which gives you enough strength to handle the dog fight a bass will give you and the runs of a 30lb salmon. If you’re looking for the best bass fishing fly rods to give you an edge, you can find them here.
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 commonly used rods by most anglers in the salt. They are perfect for bonefish, snook, permit, stripers, triggerfish, false albacore, 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. If you want to catch tarpons, take a look at these fly rods for tarpon.
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 heavier 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 where longer rods can be more than 9 feet – up to 10 feet or more fly rods for nymphing, or shorter rods 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 fly 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 fishing fly reels for the money here.
Pieces & Action
Fly rods range from a variety of actions from a slow action rod to fast action rods. The fly rod action determines where the rod flexes 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 pretty forgiving to put in a bag for travel than a two piece rod, 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 what’s a good starting point 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 to the great outdoors.
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 or this review of the best fly rod under 200. I also cover everything from fly rods to reels and even backpacks.