By Zach Lazzari | Photos by Ryan McSparran
Fly rod actions are often misunderstood and understated when rods are sold through retail outlets. Obviously, a few great fly shops exist and they will take the time to walk an angler through the actions and options but many will simply suggest a medium-fast rod as a safe bet and drive the purchase.
In many cases, the medium-fast action rod is the best bet. But it’s worth understanding other actions and options, in case there is another perfect fit for your fly fishing purposes.
Slow action rods appeal to a very specific crowd. I would categorize fiberglass rods into the slow flex class as well. A slow action has little to no spine and it loads through the entire rod. You aren’t double hauling and slinging 80-ft casts here. It’s a more elongated motion with a longer pause on each end to load the rod and lay out a cast.
Slow actions are deliberate and are most often used for dry fly fishing to trout. They can crossover to plenty of other species, but the flex is almost custom made for small dry flies and delicate casts over selective trout. That’s not to say big fish are out of the question. In fact, the rods are great for absorbing the weight of a big fish on small hooks and light class tippets. You get more bend and give against a big fish. If you fish spring creeks, tailwaters and stillwaters where small bugs and picky fish are the norm, a slow or full flex rod is a joy to fish.
You don’t see a ton of medium specific action rods. Many are lumped into a slow-medium action rating by manufacturers and that does make sense. The medium action is similar in function to the slow action rod. It’s not loading fast but it has a little more punch and versatility than a true slow action stick. If you want a lower rod without dropping the spine completely, look for a medium action rating.
The Medium-Fast Standard
The medium-fast action rating makes up the bulk of fly rods today. It really is the most versatile action available and it serves every skill level well. The rod is a little more forgiving to beginner casters than a fast action that requires precision control. It still has the spine to launch bigger flies with a single or double haul and it casts everything from a tiny dry fly to big streamer without any ill effect.
In terms of a general action to do everything, you want a medium-fast rod for utility purposes. I do a ton of fishing for numerous species with a medium fast 6-weight. It’s caught panfish, trout, pike, steelhead, salmon and bass on a host of flies. Fish ranging from 10-inches to 15-pounds have held up fine on my medium-fast 6-weight.
Fast Actions for Specific Purposes
The fast action rod is less forgiving but many casters adapt quickly. You have less margin for error on the loading time but the rod can handle distance, wind and big flies better than any other action. Saltwater anglers default to fast action rods. Dedicated streamer fisherman on trout waters should be using them more as well. It’s an easier delivery on heavy streamers. Same goes for pike, musky and bass. Steelhead and salmon fisherman tend to go fast action on single hand fly rods as well. When you need to deliver big bugs, long casts and fight through the elements, a fast action rod is your best bet.