Sometimes I think that the fly anglers favorite pastime is not catching fish, but arguing over equipment and only the topic of the best fly rod can lead to the most heated of debates.
Like most things, technology has improved fly rod design and functionality, while at the same time, making the water extremely murky.
For an angler with several years and fish under their belt looking for a new fly rod can be daunting. For a new angler, it is nearly impossible. We hope that with this article we can clear up the confusion just a bit.
Our #1 Pick: G. Loomis NRX LP
The NRX LP is an amazing all-round fly rod. Standing steady at the top of are list!
I am a believer in well-made fly rods even if I sometimes cringe at the price. For the most part, the saying you get what you pay for remains true for fly rods, but there are a few exceptions.
I only mention this to assure you that we will not just list the most expensive rods. While some of these rods are a little pricey, they are worth it. I believe in more than just some marketing teams statements. I believe in functionality and durability, and that’s what we will stick to in this article, and maybe a little bit of how good the rod looks.
Here we will look at a few of the best fly rods for trout. We recently looked at the best fly reels for trout, and we relegated that list to reels able to handle 5wt line. We will keep to the same outline and look at the best 5wt fly rods.
Fly Rod Anatomy^
There are quite a few parts that make up a fly rod and even more terms that deal with how a rod casts.
Before we jump into our list, we wanted to briefly go over some of these parts and terms so you can better understand our reviews.
If you don’t feel you need this crash course in fly rod anatomy jump ahead to our list.
Fly rods have come a long way from the initial days of bamboo being the material of choice. There are still master rod makers who make custom rods for bamboo, but these rods are unforgiving to a novice caster and even more experienced ones.
Modern rods are made from carbon fiber graphite material or fiberglass, and there is a difference between the two different major materials used.
Fiberglass rods often have slower action, we will get to that shortly, and are great for beginners who still have not mastered casting. They also provide delicate presentation and short range casting. Fiberglass rods take a bit longer to load than your high-quality graphite rods and are a little heavier.
Graphite changed the rod manufacturing process as lightweight rods could be constructed that still had incredible strength and durability. The actions of rods and the power could also be managed and manipulated more easily, and this has led to a boom in the variety of fly rods that are available as well as rods that are now specialized to certain types of fishing.
Fly rods also differ in their overall length from the butt to the tip. Higher weight fly rods are also longer to keep the rod balanced. Longer fly rods can cast heavier flies at greater distances as the length can generate more power.
Shorter rod lengths are mostly relegated for fly rods to be used in very small spring creeks or mountain streams that have a lot of brush and cover and casting long distances are not needed.
These are the small rings that run along your rod from just a few inches above the grip to the very tip of the rod. As the name implies, they guide the line from the reel up through the tip. There are several different types of guides, and the differences and preferences of anglers for each type varies.
Regarding competition, there may be some merit in discussing the differences, but for just going out and trying to catch trout I don’t think having snake guides over single-foot guides makes any difference in catching fish.
Do not buy a fly rod that does not have a high quality, dense cork grip. Cork not only stands up better to fishing conditions than other materials, but it is also very comfortable to your hand for extended periods of time.
There are several styles that are popular with fly rods. Before purchasing a rod, it is important to handle it and be sure your fishing grip pairs well with the rod.
This is the area directly below the rod grip and is the area that holds your reel in place. These seats are usually anodized aluminum, and some contain a wood insert that the majority of the reel seat rests on.
The hollow tubes of material that make up the majority of the rod are known as blanks. Most modern fly rods can be broken down into 3-4 pieces. The ends of these blanks that connect with each other are also known as ferrules.
The obvious duty of the fly rod is to produce enough force to cast the weighted fly line. Fly rods are designed to be able to cast certain weights of fly line effectively. The weight of a fly rod corresponds to the weight of line it can cast accurately and efficiently.
A 5wt rod can cast a 4-6wt line while a 7wt line can cast a 6-8wt line. This range of fly line is something I like to call the +/-1 rule. You can be comfortable going up or down one weight of fly line relative to your rod weight
Action and Power^
I will group these two terms together because they go hand in hand with how a fly rod will perform. There is no standard for either term, so they get tossed around by different manufacturers and anglers with sometimes confusing and conflicting differences in meaning.
The action refers to where the rod flexes along its length. Some rods may be stiff in the butt and mid section with a more flexible tip. In general slow action rods flex through the entire rod, medium action flexes in the mid section and tip, and fast action only flexes in the tip of the rod.
All types of actions have some pros and cons to them.
- Fast action: Can get a lot more distance on casts, but not very accurate at close range. Rod loads quickly and can be difficult to handle for novice anglers.
- Medium action: A great all around fly rod. Can handle longer casts, but also can get good accuracy and presentation at shorter distances. More forgiving for bad casting technique.
- Slow action: Excellent rods for small streams and very short casting distances that need extreme accuracy and delicate presentation. Very poor casting at longer distances. Also great for when using light tippets for small, finicky fish.
While the action refers to where on the rod flexion occurs, power refers to the amount of weight needed to cause the rod to bend. Rods with high power are stiffer even in regions where the rod flexes.
Higher power rods are generally better for throwing heavy lines and lures and also fighting larger fish.
Lower power rods are for lighter flies and have more feel in the rod which is needed when doing more finesse fishing.
If you are a golfer you have heard of this term before. Without going into the physics behind the term, the swing weight refers to how heavy the rod feels when casting. The best way to test this is to hold your rod out horizontal and flick your wrist back and forth. You can feel the rod get heavier as is bends and flexes in your hand if the rod has a heavy swing weight.
Rods with low swing weight feel like weightless when casting and can be cast all day with almost no fatigue if the proper form is right. Rods with heavier swing weights can be fatiguing when casting for extended periods as the rod does not absorb all of the force caused by loading the rod with the line.
So, now that you have the basics of a fly rod let’s jump into our list for the best fly rods trout. I want to reiterate that the majority of these reviews focus on the 5wt models, but most are available in a wide range of weights.
The 7 Best 5wt Fly Rods for Trout^
G. Loomis NRX LP^
The NRX “Lite Presentation” is an outstanding 5wt that handles and loads well from short to long casts. The 5wt is 9’ long and weighs in at a little over 3oz.
G. Loomis NRX LP
The NRX LP is an amazing all-round rod. Topping our fly rod list!
This rod has a soft rod tip that makes it excellent at casting accurately and easily at distances within 30’. While you might be more interested in rods that can make longer casts, 5wts that cast well at shorter distances comes in handy when you find yourself in areas where delicate and short presentations are needed.
The soft tip also allows harder hook sets with a less chance of breaking off when using lighter tippets and provides excellent sensitivity. You can feel the slightest take of a fly with this rod.
The rod also performs well at medium to longer cast distances. At mid range casts, the fly rod performs as well as any other on the list. At long range, over 55′, the NRX begins to fall off slightly. The moderate action has a little more trouble picking up a lot of extra line as well as keeping a tight loop while in the wind at this range although the amount of power in the rod given its soft tip is quite impressive.
It has a high quality, one-handed cork grip that is 6.75” long in a western style grip. The rod is available in both a black and green finishes with both using two “unbreakable” stripping guides along with aluminum/titanium single foot guides along the rest of the rod’s length. The reel seat is matching graphite with an uplocking system.
This rod has a retail price around $750, so it is one of the more expensive rods on our list, but would most likely be labeled as the best fly rod on our list. All around, it is without a doubt the most versatile fly rod we have selected.
Any other fly rod that was sold at this price and I would tell you to stay as far away from it as possible. At under $100 retail price I would normally say this rod is only going to provide frustration on the river, and I would be way of base concerning the Echo Base.
The biggest concern that anglers have with the Echo Base is the high swing weight. Compared to the more expensive rods on the list, this is the major difference between them and the Echo Base. Casting at longer distances for extended periods of time with this rod can lead to a little arm fatigue.
As far as the rod’s performance goes, it is incredible how such an inexpensive rod stacks up to the more pricey models. It doesn’t top the list for casting accuracy and ease in short, mid, or long range but it is ranked high in each class. It’s action and power also give it a wide range of fishing methods from small dry flies to nymphing, to tossing larger streamer patterns.
The Echo Base comes in 4 separate pieces and uses a half wells design for the cork grip with a black anodized reel seat. The rod contains one SiC stripper guide with the rest being your basic chrome snake guides. The quality of graphite material used in this rod is not as high as the more expensive rods on the list, but for the price, it is not something to be overly concerned with.
St. Croix Legend Elite^
The 5wt models of the St. Croix Legend Elite come in a 9’ and 8.6’ versions. These rods are fast action and great for picking up line and getting it back out quickly.
These are extremely light rods with a weight of 2.8oz for either length model. Although light, the Legend Elite is a powerful rod that can cast accurately at increased distances. Compared to other rods on the list, the Legend Elite lacks some sensitivity and accuracy at shorter distances but makes up for it with high power.
St. Croix Legend Elite
A very light rod with precise casting. Awesome for longer casts in larger rivers!
The butt and mid section of this rod are extremely stiff, but the tip is slightly softer. While its accuracy at shorter casts is not up to par with several other rods on this list, the Legend Elite can still get the job done at short range and keeps some sense of sensitivity.
The swing weight of this rod is a little heavier than other rods listed, but still not enough to cause noticeable fatigue when on extended fishing trips.
For larger rivers and fighting larger fish, the St. Croix Legend Elite is an excellent fly rod. The fast action is also excellent for dealing with windy conditions.
The reel seat is an extremely durable gold anodized aluminum with a beautiful maple insert. They also feature a high quality, western style cork grip. The 5wt models of this rod come with chrome single-foot guides along with a single Alconite (SiC) stripper guide.
The rods come in a four-piece set with a retail price for the St. Croix Legend Elite 5wt running around $450.
The Orvis Recon is a fast action 5wt fly rod. Orvis does make a slightly more expensive rod in the Orvis H2, but the performance of the Recon closely matches the H2 in casting at medium to long distances and is nearly half the price of the H2 landing itself on this list.
Middle of the pack in terms of price. Still a fantastic well-performing rod!
This fly rod is fast action with quite a bit of power while retaining a soft enough tip for not a total loss in sensitivity. Regarding power vs. delicacy, this Recon skews towards power, but you should have no problem casting to skittish trout at closer ranges.
It’s a great versatile fly rod that could be used for nymphing, throwing streamers, and decent dry fly presentation. The tip is a little stiff, so the sensitivity of this rod is not as great as say the NRX.
The rod blank is a nice olive color with darker olive guide wraps. It also utilizes a western style cork grip along with an anodized aluminum uplock reel seat with a finished wood insert. The rod utilizes a single SiC stripping guide along with chrome snake guides for up the length of the rod.
The Hardy Wraith can be classified as an ultra-fast action rod. Its ability to pick up large amounts of line and load quickly are unrivaled on this list. The problem is with this action and high power; you lose a lot of feel in the rod and sacrifice accuracy at shorter distances.
Amazing rod that excells above the rest in long distance precision. Best in it’s niche.
If you are looking for a good 5wt rod to fish streamers or cast at the far end of the spectrum distance wise, the Hardy Wraith is your rod. I can’t stress enough how incredible this rod is at cutting through high winds and placing your fly on a dime 60’ across the river.
The wraith can pick up 50’ feet of line and load in almost no time and with minimal effort. It is also one of the better performers at mid range casting accuracy (30-50ft). The drawback is it’s performance at short range casting or casting where a delicate presentation is needed.
The Wraith is an extremely light 5wt weighing in at 2.9oz. The lightness is attributed to the SINTRIX material used by Hardy in constructing their rod blanks as wells as the extremely lightweight titanium guides.
The Wraith utilizes reverse half well cork grips along with a double uplocking anodized real seat with a finished wood insert. My one issue with this rod is the price. The Hardy Wraith retails at above $800. For a specialized long distance and streamer rod, it is well worth the price and probably the best in it’s class, but if you’re looking for something more versatile this rod is not for you.
The Sage MOD is a moderate action rod with a length of 9’ and a weight of approximately 2.5oz making it the lightest 5wt on this list. It is a little softer in the power department and has great sensitivity. It does not handle as well at increased distances as other rods such as the Wraith and Legend Elite but excels in the midrange.
Extremely versatile rod. Performs on the top of this list with only NRX LP ahead of it.
Its mid-distance casting is excellent, and its short casting is just short of being one of the best in this category. The tip is just a little too stiff to provide top class presentation for those delicate flies.
This rod is one of the most appealing rods visually and still retains the great craftsmanship associated with Sage fly rods. The light olive coloring, snub-nosed half well grip and zebra wood insert with black anodized real seat makes this rod stand out compared to other fly rods. Yes, functionality is more important but look good, feel good, fish good has always been a motto of mine.
The Sage MOD is an all around great trout fly rod. It falls just a little short of the best rods in the casting department but is a great selection for a multipurpose trout rod. The retail price of this rod goes for around $850, but besides the NRX LP, this is the best all-purpose fly rod for trout on our list.
For any beginner, we would recommend a medium action fly rod. It still provides a good presentation and also decent casting distance. Medium action rods are also more forgiving for mistimed casts which are a normal occurrence for the novice angler.
Just starting of with fly fishing? This rod is definitely what you want to look at!
It also makes our list as the best beginner fly rod because of a retail price below $200. For an angler not quite ready to jump fully on into the fly angling game this price is not going to break the bank.
The Orvis Clearwater is available in both 8.6’ and 9’ length models with weights of 3oz and 3.25oz respectively. The rod has a reverse half well cork grip with a beautiful anodized olive aluminum and dual up locking real seat to match the olive rod blank and darker olive wrappings. The rod has a single stripping guide along with chrome snake guides.
Look, this is not the greatest rod for superior casting and presentation, but that’s not the reason it was put on this list. For someone looking to get into fly fishing, the Clearwater can make any cast you might need on the water and performs like a real fly rod and not like some wet noodle most beginners mistake for a fly rod at their local convenience stores.
While we discussed seven excellent fly rods that will serve you well on the water, it’s important to remember that this is only skimming the surface of the number of great fly rods that are being made and available to you.
It’s hard to go wrong with any of these rods, but it is also impossible to tell you that any specific one is the perfect match for you. The only way to know for sure is to get a feel for your preferences and to handle as many fly rods as possible.
We hope that this article has not only given you a great list to start your path to purchasing a fly rod but also made the anatomy and terminology of fly rods a little clearer.