This is very much a personal thing, as one fly rod will not suit everyone.
The first and most obvious consideration is budget – how much you want to spend on a rod – and this is often misconstrued by many fly fishermen. A more expensive rod won’t necessarily make you a better caster. If your casting is a bit “rusty” or could do with some “polishing up” then it is better to spend less on a rod and spend the difference on some professional casting lessons with an approved instructor.
You then need to take in to account the type and style of fly fishing you will be doing.
If it is predominately small river work then a slower action rod will perform best at shorter distances. We would generally call this a middle or “through-action” rod. Larger rivers and small stillwaters will generally require a slightly longer rod, with a faster, middle or middle-to-tip action. Large stillwaters and reservoirs, where distance casting is often required, will require longer rods, with a fast, middle-to-tip or tip action. A fast action rod will allow the caster to generate the higher line speed in the air and tighter line loops required for maximum casting distance. Bear in mind, however, that the faster the action of a rod, the more “timing critical” it becomes to cast, which requires more advanced casting skills.
Boat fishing also makes up a lot of the stillwater fishing activity. Here a longer rod is advantageous and again, actions are critical, as you will generally need to have a slower action. Distance casting is not as necessary, but lighter, more precise presentation is of greater importance.
Single-handed fly rods
Also take into account the rod action as detailed above, which is an indication of the way the rod flexes in response to both casting and playing a fish. A fast action rod can generate the high line speeds required for extreme distance casting, allowing a talented caster to have great line and loop control. The faster tip “recovery” will not “bounce” the line when distance casting, sending “ripples” down the line and upsetting the line’s progress through the air. Be aware, however, that the stiffer tips are less flexible than softer rods and can sometimes “bounce” fish off the hook, so more care is needed when playing a fish.
A less able caster may however find it hard to get the timing of the cast correct with a fast action rod, and may be more comfortable with a rod having a more moderate action. Fast action rods are also favored particularly by saltwater fly fishers as they will frequently have to contend with strong winds.
For general small river and stillwater trout fishing, it is better to choose a rod with a middle-to-tip action, which are less demanding to cast and better for roll casting and fishing at short range.
Double-handed fly rods
Very often, newcomers to salmon fishing assume that a double handed rod is always required – it is not. There are many situations on smaller rivers, fishing for sea trout or grilse – where a single-handed rod of, say 10ft #7 Wt., is more than adequate.
As you move up to slightly larger rivers however, you are frequently in between the need for a single-handed rod, or a full, double-handed Spey rod. This is exactly why Switch rods were developed on the North West coasts of USA and Canada. A Switch rod is light enough to use single-handed, but where required, can be used two-handed, for greater distance and control, or where bankside vegetation requires a Spey casting style.
As you move onto larger, more powerful rivers however, double-handers come into their own where you need to lift longer lengths of line, control and mend the line as it crosses the current and frequently fish with larger, heavier flies. Over the past few years, as carbon technology has improved, we have seen the length of two-handed salmon rods reduce, as greater power can now be achieved with shorter, lighter rods. We therefore now only make the two most popular models, the 13ft #8/9 and the 14ft #9/10, which are more than adequate for most salmon fishing situations.
This has in part been due to the vast improvements that have been made in Salmon Spey fly lines in all their various forms, allowing easy distance casting and control with minimal effort.
Again, fly line consideration and fishing location are critical and if traveling, then a multi-piece rod, like the 6-pce Spectre Salmon or the 5-pce Spectre Switch, may well be a more convenient option than their 4-pce predecessors.