Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What is Action in Fly Rods?

Last time we talked about fly rods, various weights of rods and their purposes. Differences in fly rods go much further than the weights of the rods. Price is certainly a consideration, but the one that gives fits to fly rodders is the action.

An article in Fly Rod and Reel magazine a couple of years ago claimed that, " ... a six weight rod is a six weight rod, they are all the same." All six weight rods cast a six weight line, beyond that - WRONG. Absolutely false!

An accepted definition of Action is defined as the relative resistance to bending as you move down the length of a particular fly rod. Fast Action rods tend to resist bending sooner than Slow Action rods. Thus Slow Action rods tend to be more "whippy" and will not cast as far as Fast action rods will cast. Fast Action rods tend to generate higher line speeds which make them easier to cast into the wind and for longer distances. Between the two extremes, there are Moderate Action rods. You need to cast any rod to determine if the Action suits your style of casting.

We need a little history to make sense of fly rod actions. The first so-called fly rods were wood, and pretty crude. Fly lines were braided horse hair, not very effective either. Eventually rods evolved to cane, then split cane into intricately designed casting tools. Works of art - then and now.

Split bamboo was the ultimate fly rod. My grandfather had a steel, hexagon telescopic fly rod. It was heavy and the state of the art in non-bamboo rods. I learned fly casting on that rod.

During World War II, many new products hit the market. Fiberglass was one of them. So was PVC. Dacron and Nylon came out of the war effort too. Lots of innovations that ended up in the fly fishing world.

Fiberglass fabric was wrapped on a wood rod. Epoxy finished and the fiberglass rod was on the market. When the inventors figured out how to do away with the wood center the first hollow rods were born.

Considering the choices available at the time, either split bamboo or steel, the fiberglass rods were designed to copy bamboo. Fake bamboo rods. With a similar action ... as close as possible. Cane fly rods have a soft to moderate action. Some fiberglass rods were very soft, (we call them "noodley") the longer the rod, the more noodley it became.

Follow through a couple more decades into the space age and we find the fly rod industry taking advantage of new technology again. This time it is graphite and boron. Almost any material can be formed into threads of some sort. Once it's thread, it can be woven into fabric ... just like fiberglass which appeared in drapes, patching material for cars and boats - and flyrods. Boron was tried and rejected because it was considerably heavier than graphite without additional strength.

Here comes the catch. Those companies who had been making fiberglass rods had everything set up to make those rods to imitate or at least be similar to bamboo. Now there is a new material. What will happen?

Most companies had their machinery, mandrills (steel forms the fabric is wrapped on to make the blanks,) and their reputations established. If you bought one of their rods you knew by reputation how the rod would feel.

Some companies replaced part of the threads in the fabric with graphite. That made the rods lighter, but only slightly changed the action.

New companies had the option to make the same slow or medium action rods already on the market - or to do something entirely different. That's where faster action rods started.

Fast rods that are lighter in your hand, use more of the tip to propel the line, and (if cast correctly) do the work for you. One of the major advantages in fast rods is the person casting it does less work. So you aren't as tired as quickly.

Fast rods are primarily designed with the butt and middle sections built to play the fish, the top one third to cast the line. That does make the tip section (which is tiny compared to rods just a few years ago) vulnerable to breakage if the rod is used incorrectly when playing or landing a fish.

Bottom line? What do you want to fish for? Under what conditions? What can you afford? If you are casting well enough to get the fly where you want it most of the time, you also probably have developed a style - a method that is comfortable for you.

From one who has been fishing for some years, a word of encouragement. There is no such thing as a bad graphite fly rod. All of us would have thought we had gone to heaven if we had been offered any of the rods on the market today 25 years ago. The fly rod industry has made giant leaps improving our sport.

Match the action of the rod, and the price, to what works for you. Final word of wisdom: Don't ever buy a rod you have not cast.

Fly Fishing Begins With Well-chosen Equipment

Those who have been fly fishing for a several years probably have several rods for different purposes. Each rod is designed for a purpose - to cast a particular weight line. Why? Let's start with how rods are defined. The size number of the fly rod is directly tied to the size or number of the fly line intended to be cast. The numbers and sizes work like shoe sizes.
A 3-weight rod will ideally cast a 3-weight line. An 8-weight rod will ideally cast an 8-weight line. The bigger the number, the larger the rod and the heavier the line the rod will cast.
Keep in mind, you do not cast the fly rod. You cast the fly line. A fly rod is simply a lever or extension of your arm. It is possible to cast a fly line without any rod at all, but not for very long. Fly rods are actually machines or tools that allow you to cast the fly line very comfortably even when casting big rods on saltwater for extended periods of time.

Matching Rod and Line Weight
to Fly Size

Rod/Line Weight


Fly Size Range

1/0 - 12
2/0 - 10
3/0 - 8
4/0 - 6
6/0 - 4

The fly goes along for the ride. When the fly is too heavy for the line, the line sags and the cast doesn't make it. The size of the fly you want to use determines the size of the line that will properly cast it.
Does that mean you need a different rod for every size fly you use? No. There are differences of opinion of course, but if you want a rod primarily for fishing streams and ponds, a 5-weight rod and line will do. If you are a bit more sophisticated and are going to fish gin-clear spring creeks with tiny, dry flies, a 3-weight rod and line would produce a more delicate presentation.
Fishing for salt water fish off of ocean beaches requires a much larger fly, longer casts and a rod that will handle a minimum of 7- or 8-weight lines.
But this is only part of the story. Each rod manufacturer has their own idea of what makes a good fly rod. If you cast a dozen or more fly rods, each the same 'weight' and each with identical fly lines, you will make a huge discovery. Next time, we will talk about the action of fly rods — or, "Are all fly rods of the same weight the same?"

Fly fishing

Fly fishing is an angling method in which an artificial "fly" is used to catch fish. The fly is casted using a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted line. Casting a nearly weightless fly or "lure" requires casting techniques significantly different from other forms of casting. Fly fishermen use hand tied flies that resemble natural invertebrates, other food organisms, or "lures" to provoke the fish to strike(bite at the lure).

Fly fishing can be done in fresh or salt water. North Americans usually distinguish freshwater fishing between cold-water species (trout, salmon, steelhead) and warm-water species, notably bass. In Britain, where natural water temperatures vary less, the distinction is between game fishing for trout and salmon versus coarse fishing for other species. Techniques for fly fishing differ with habitat (lakes and ponds, small streams, large rivers, bays and estuaries, and open ocean.)

Author Izaak Walton called fly fishing "The Contemplative Man's Recreation".

Main overview

In fly fishing, fish are caught by using artificial flies that are cast with a fly rod and a fly line. The fly line (today, almost always coated with plastic) is heavy enough to send the fly to the target. The main difference between fly fishing and spin or bait fishing is that in fly fishing the weight of the line carries the hook through the air, whereas in spin and bait fishing the weight of the lure or sinker at the end of the monofilament or braided line gives casting distance. Artificial flies are of several types; some imitating an insect (either flying or swimming), others a bait fish or crustacean, others attractors are known to attract fish although they look like nothing in nature. Flies can be made either to float or sink, and range in size from a few millimeters to 30 cm long; most are between 1 and 5 cm.

Artificial flies are made by fastening hair, fur, feathers, or other materials, both natural and synthetic, onto a hook. The first flies were tied with natural materials, but synthetic materials are now popular and prevalent. Flies are tied in sizes, colors and patterns to match local terrestrial and aquatic insects, baitfish, or other prey attractive to the target fish species.

Fish species

Fly fishing is most renowned as a method for catching trout, grayling and salmon, but it is also used for a wide variety of species including pike, bass, panfish, and carp, as well as marine species, such as redfish, snook, tarpon, bonefish and striped bass. Many fly anglers catch unintended species such as chub, bream and rudd while fishing for 'main target' species such as trout. A growing population of anglers attempt to catch as many different species as possible with the fly. With the advancement of technology and development of stronger rods and reels, larger predatory saltwater species such as wahoo, tuna, marlin and sharks have become target species on fly. Realistically any fish can be targeted and captured on fly as long as the main food source is effectively replicated by the fly itself and suitable gear is used.