Part VI: Fly Fishing for beginners – Meet the cast: Fast, Medium, Slow actions

Posted by Christopher Paine on

As we are still on the topic of rods. One of the most misunderstood function of a rod is its action. The action is how flexible the rod is or how much it bends. Three basic types are slow, medium and fast.

Slow Action: Rod will flex or bend through its whole length from handle to tip.

Medium Action: Top half of the rod bends.

Fast Action: The tip only will bend, or top third when casting.

Each action has a different feel and will impact the cast and fighting the fish. A slow action you use less strength which feels softer on the cast. The slow action is not well match to larger fish which fight longer and harder. A one weight to four weight, work well for panfish and trout under 14 inches.

Medium action is great for beginners because as they learn they will experiment with different styles and easier to cast. Like a six and seven weight rod in the eight to nine foot range. Great for most trout and medium size bass.

Fast action has good casting ability which creates a lot of line speed, which you can cover more water with accuracy. Tight casting loops are essential for distance and the fast action is just the ticket. This action has a little more backbone or stiffness to help fight larger fish. Use a fast action nine weight for most saltwater or large pike fishing rods. This is a recommendation not written in stone. When using large flies for stripers fishing or pike, you need a longer pause to manage the heavier flies. This just lets the line tighten on the cast to allow for more flex during the forward casting motion.

Here are some guidelines for choosing you first rod. They will multiple quickly over time…

Brook Trout

Fishing for brookies can be challenging at times. The small brooks and streams that hold these fish are surrounded by trees and plant life. Many time you don’t even need to cast just hold the rod over the brook and dangle the fly in the water works well. Some anglers us a bow and arrow type cast, by holding the fly back and bending the rod, will release the fly to shoot out into the brook. I have even broken my two piece rod down and casted with the four and half foot upper rod. So there are many tricks to fishing for trout in a tight spot and you can master these with experience.

Old saying for dry fly fishing is to use fast action rod and slow for wet flies which will explain in a few more blog posts. I like the opposite using the fast action rod for tight loops for casting dry flies works for me. Setting the hook with a fast action rod with light weight tippet which you can break off. When fishing with nymph you need the sensitive of a fast action rod to feel the takes. I recommend a longer fast action rod for trout, a 8’-6” four weight is a great choice and use a 8’ six weight if you need a stiffer rod for bigger trout.

Pike, bass, and saltwater

Fishing flies has a lot to do with line speed, how fast the line moves through a cast. Which does not mean arm speed, whipping your arm through the air. With the added weight of the fly and the extra line in the air all adds to the weight of the cast and effort. With all that extra weight it will take a lot more false casting (is when you whip the fly forward and backward through the air, which is every cast) to get the fly out any kind of distance. You need to kind of the opposite when casting large flies, which is to slow down. Let the back cast load up or flex the rod more which will mean less effort through the cast. This will mean less false casting and longer casts. A eight or nine weight, nine foot rod is a good choice for these larger fish and flies. If you are strong a nine and one half foot  rod would help keep the backcast aloft better when wading in deep water.

Heavy saltwater

The big guns you will need ten to fourteen weight rods with a real stiff backbone. The bigger the fish the heavier the rod.


There are no rules of thumb for matching the rod to the fish, but this cheat sheet may help you decide. And of course ask the fishing department or online store for their advice if they have one:

1 – 4 weight        small streams and creaks              Trout, bluegill and crappie

5 – 7 weight       Rivers, lakes, large ponds              Larger trout, bass, small saltwater fish

8 -9 weight         Big rivers, lakes, saltwater            Pike, big bass, steelhead, salmon, bonefish, stripers

10 – 12  weight  Surf, open waters, flats                  Stripped bass, bluefish, tarpon

12 – 14  weight  Deeper, open water, flats             Big tarpon, shark, bluefish

Two piece rods

Years ago two piece rod were the way to go. Now with the advancement of graphite three and four piece are more common and are great to break down for travel. You don’t lose hardly any strength with the multi piece rods, and they do cast well.

You can always go to your local fly shop and ask to  test drive a rod. Which helps with more experience to determine the rod that you like. But you will also come away with some good tips and maybe a few lessons for free if you not ready to buy. Tight lines…




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