How Fly Rod Action Affects Performance

The concept of fly rod ‘action’ is a tricky one for the uninitiated. But it is crucial to gain an understanding of what is meant when someone tells you he has a ‘fast action’ or ‘medium action’ fly rod.

When I talk about fly rod action, I mean the way the rod responds over its entire length by the pressure put on it from the fly line running through it. Basically, the stiffer the rod, the faster its action. And accordingly, the faster the action of the rod, the greater the casting distance it will afford to the angler.

A very stiff rod will be able to handle larger amounts of fly line, and thus allow the angler to make longer casts. A medium or slow action rod – which is ‘floppier’ than a fast action rod – will handle only so much line, and if the angler tries to push the rod into casting more line than it’s capable of handling, the rod’s action will fail and the fly line will crumple into a pathetic heap on the water.

An Unsuccessful Cast

An Unsuccessful Cast

You might now be wondering why anyone would buy a medium action fly rod!

Well, the fact is that a medium action fly rod will beautifully cast a shorter amount of line, without requiring the angler to put a big effort into the cast. A fast action rod will not flex much at all until it is loaded up with a large amount of fly line. Thus to cast a short amount of line on a fast action rod, the angler has to do all the work.

But a medium action rod with greater flexibility will load up nicely with only a small amount of line, and thus the angler won’t be required to push the rod so much to get the fly onto the water. So if you know that in an average day’s fishing you’re not going to need to make any particularly long casts, a medium action rod is perfect, because it will achieve short casts well and won’t take much effort to operate.

Fly Rod Action isn’t Related to Weight or Length

The action of a fly rod is not related to its weight or length. Take, for example, the Sage XP fly rod – Sage makes both an 8’6” and a 9’ version of this rod, and it comes in a variety of different weights. You can buy a 4 weight Sage XP if you want to – or you can buy a Sage XP for casting 8 weight fly lines. But the Sage XP is always a medium action rod. It will start to flex nicely under the load of only a short length of fly line.

However, the XP’s cousin – the Sage RXP – is, by contrast, a fast action rod. It is stiffer than the XP and will therefore start to perform well only under the load of a larger amount of fly line. Of course the RXP is also available in different lengths and weights.

Which Fly Rod Action is Best for Beginners?

I believe that a beginner fly angler should go for a medium action rod. Fast action rods are really for the expert who wants to make long casts without losing too much accuracy. Beginner anglers should concentrate on casting only short distances. If you are a beginner and you try to cast big distances, you are bound to end up with nothing but frustrating tangles and false starts. A medium action rod is by far the best one to learn on.

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