Jeff Faulkner Presents: What Is Fly Rod Action?

Welcome to another installment of, Jeff Faulkner Presents, where we explore the exciting world of fly fishing topics and usually with some humor. In this blog post, we’re going to dive into a topic that every angler should be familiar with: fly rod action. If you’re new to the sport, or just looking to expand your knowledge, you may have heard this term thrown around, but aren’t exactly sure what it means. Fear not!  We’ll break down what fly rod action is, how it affects your casting and fishing experience, and the different types of fly rod action available on the market. So grab your favorite beverage, maybe a sandwich, sit back, and get ready to learn all about fly rod action!

There are generally three types of actions of fly rods: slow, medium, and fast. Each type of action has its benefits and drawbacks depending on the type of fishing and casting techniques used and quite honestly your personality.  

Let me break ‘em down: 

  1. Slow action fly rods: These are the most flexible and offer a gentle bend when casting. They are often used for small streams, delicate presentations, and smaller fish species. The benefits of slow action fly rods are that they are forgiving and provide a lot of feedback to the angler. However, they are not ideal for casting long distances or in windy conditions.
  2. Medium action fly rods: These offer a balance between flexibility and stiffness. They are versatile and can be used for a wide range of fishing situations, including larger streams and rivers, and casting larger flies. The benefits of medium action fly rods are that they are versatile and provide good accuracy and distance. However, they are not as forgiving as slow action rods.
  3. Fast action fly rods: These are the stiffest and provide the least amount of bend when casting. They are ideal for casting long distances and in windy conditions. They are often used for larger fish species and larger flies. The benefits of fast action fly rods are that they provide excellent power and speed, making them ideal for casting large flies and for fishing in windy conditions. However, they can be difficult to control and require more skill and experience to use effectively. Most anglers that I talk to or build rods for like that “rocketship fast” action.  

Not all rods are in those exact buckets, some fall in between. Prior to the late 1980s most rods were slower than not. This was in large part due to materials that rods were made of, typically rods made of fiberglass and bamboo are slower than not. As the popularity of fly angling for exotic species in far off places grew the gear needed to match. Yes, anglers like Ted Williams fished tarpon in the 1960s, but the popularity of large saltwater angling is bigger today than ever. This led to production of faster action rods that could throw large flies in lots of wind and throw them farther than ever. That coupled with improvements in technology made rods faster, lighter and more responsive.  

I enjoy throwing them all, but I usually base my rod preference for the day on my mood. Well that and the quarry. I won’t go too far into the weeds, but using a super slow action rod to throw streamers may lead to more frustration and pain than not.  

The action of the rod isn’t completely dictated by the material, but some materials lend themselves better to certain types of actions. For example, most fiberglass rods run slow. Some manufacturers have blends of fiberglass and graphite in order to achieve a unique action, but for the most part fiberglass is slow.  

I really enjoy fishing the slower action rods when fishing with dry flies because of the feel of the cast. The slower action sends more feedback and helps me to focus on the cast. As hokey as it may sound, it makes me feel more present when fishing. When I fish the faster action rods I tend to feel like I am forcing the cast, while that works in the wind and the distance, I personally find it to be less relaxing. That said, faster rods can throw tighter loops that can help you be more accurate. So it all really depends the conditions, what you are throwing and your mood. 

The most popular commercially available fly rod action is likely medium-fast action. This action provides a good balance of power, sensitivity, and versatility, making it suitable for a wide range of fishing situations and angling techniques. Medium-fast action rods bend more towards the middle, offering a mix of the flexibility found in medium action rods and the power and control found in fast action rods. 

Medium-fast action fly rods are popular because they can handle various fly sizes and line weights, making them suitable for targeting different fish species and adapting to changing conditions. They offer enough power for casting into the wind and achieving good distance while still providing a level of sensitivity that allows for detecting subtle strikes and casting delicate presentations. 

That being said, personal preferences and specific fishing situations may dictate the choice of rod action. Some anglers may prefer fast action rods for their power and tight loops, while others may opt for a medium or even slow action rod for a smoother, more traditional feel. It’s essential to choose a fly rod action that matches your casting style, skill level, and the type of fishing you plan to do. 

One of my favorite parts about fly fishing is that you don’t have to listen to me. You can go and try it all out for yourself and come up with a plan that works for you. Find a friend that has more rods than they do hands and ask them to cast the one they aren’t holding. You may just find an action that suits you. You can also stop by Fishwest and they will lace up a few rods for you to try out.