I can't tell you how many times people come up to us while we're in the Sage booth at Fly Fishing Shows and ask the question, "I'm just getting started in fly fishing. What should be my first rod?"
Of course at the shows, we have 90 rods on display representing at least 9 different "families" of rods, so I can imagine how intimidating this is for a brand new fly fisherman. But, actually the answer is not that difficult with the proper explanation.
There are many words used to describe the action of a fly rod. In layman's terms, what we are talking about is how little or how much the rods bends or flexes at the end of the casting stroke. In the industry we call this rod load. A stiffer rod bends less, thus making it a fast rod. Because it doesn't bend a lot, it generates fast line speed which can be very advantageous in some fishing situations, but this feature does not make it a good choice to use when learning to cast.
On the other hand, a soft rod bends more. This rod will protect lighter tippets and will give you a lighter, softer presentation on the water. But, like the fast rod it will not be a good rod to learn with because it takes a long time to recover from the bend or flex and your timing will suffer.
So, the perfect rod is somewhere in between, or what we call a medium-fast rod. If the caster can feel the line load the rod it will you establish the timing and rhythm of the cast. This is the first step to beginning to feel comfortable with fly casting.
The length and line weight is also a consideration. It's easy to think that a shorter rod will be an easier rod to start with, but that's not true. The most popular lengths rod for learning to cast is also the most popular lengths sold for general all around fishing and and that is 9'. That said, I must admit that I like an 8-1/2 ft. too only because it's a
little lighter and not as tiring for a new caster, but either is a good length to start with and a useful length to use when fishing.
You will need to choose a line weight as well. This is the number assigned to the fly line which must match up with the rod. Rod manufacturers make this easy for us by putting the preferred line size on the rod blank usually close to the handle. If you look on the rod it will say something like, "9' #5 line". It it telling you the length of the rod and the line size that works best on the rod.
Line sizes range from 000 to 16 weight or from very very light to very heavy. If you're going to fish for trout and panfish though a line size of 4-5-6 should be your choice, and a 5 is my favorite to use when teaching someone to cast.
Therefore my favorite rods for teaching are medium-fast rods, either 8-1/2 or 9 feet in length for a #5 line.
If you were to ask me for a recommendation, I would suggest a Sage Vantage rod.
The Vantage is a medium fast fly rod and one that I particularly like and use in casting clinics. It's medium priced (in the range of beginner rods) and is available in 2 or 4 piece. It's also available as an outfit (rod, reel & line outfit).
An 8-1/2', #5 line, 2-piece, Vantage is $225. The 9' #5, 4 piece rod is $250 and the same rod in the outfit is $495, and includes a good reel and line.
For more information visit Sage, or visit your local Sage dealer.