First things first, “cast-ability” is so much more about the line than it is the rod. It’s very much like shooting rifles—it’s really all about the ammo. Yeah, it matters what kind of steel pipe you shoot a bullet through, but at the end of the day, the accuracy and distance factors are really about the bullet. It’s exactly the same when it comes to fly rods and fly lines. You can buy a fancy $1,200 fly rod that’s supposed to make you more accurate, add distance to your cast and all those other promises, but if you put a cheap fly line on that thing, your casts will still be underwhelming. Conversely, if you want to divorce yourself from your old fly rod, maybe you should try a new line first–$120 (or less) is an easier pill to swallow than most new fly rods.
Body: the body is the beefy, thickest, heaviest part of the line. Where it’s concentrated on the line is what differentiates most lines.
Climate: You might notice that fly line companies market products for species—bonefish, trout, redfish and so forth. A lot of that has less to do with the taper and the flies they’re meant to cast (though those things are certainly taken into account) and more to do with the weather and water temperatures. A coldwater line will be intentionally more supple with less memory. A line designed for hot climates will be stiffer and less malleable, with reason. If you take a bonefish line musky fishing in Canada, it will be stiff as hell, like shooting a corkscrew coil through a straw. And if you take a coldwater line to the flats, it will become a worthless, wet noodle.
Double-taper: this one is simple, think of an even bell-curve. The taper is the same on the front end and back end, and everything is concentrated in the middle. This is an old standard regarding fly lines, and it’s very practical—when one end gets chapped up or you cut it down by attaching many leaders with nail knots, you can flip it around, tie that beat-up back end to your backing and it’s like you have a new line. Double tapers (DT), admittedly, work best with slower or medium action rods. In fact, a DT is preferable for many of those rods. For example, we only fish double-tapers on bamboo rods, and they’re a really good match with fiberglass also. But, ultimately, it boils down to the flies you want to cast.
Front Body: this is where the line starts to taper down from its bulkiest to its thinnest–the transition zone. Again, how long or short the front body is can determine how the fly line turns over, depending on the weight of the fly, the length of the leader and other factors (weather, wind, precipitation etc.).
Front Taper: the front taper refers to how thin the fly line becomes and how abruptly. The notion is that to lay delicate casts on the water, you don’t want a heavy tip flopping down. But, to turn certain flies over, you still need a little weight and body near the leader. Ninety-nine percent of the differences between specialty fly lines revolves around the areas where the main body tapers into the front body, and into the front taper.
Memory: this applies to any fishing line, not just fly lines. In a nutshell, memory describes a line’s seeming willingness to go back to its original shape and form, no matter what you do to straighten it, pull on fish with it, or otherwise. Anglers should stretch any line before they fish, especially if it’s been coiled on a reel for a long time. When we say a line has a lot of memory, that means it’s difficult to fully straighten (not always a bad thing, see “climate”).
Running Line: the running line refers to the vast majority of uniform line that makes up a 90-or-100-foot fly line. It’s coated (not merely backing) and provides length, though it has almost nothing to do with casting performance, unless you’re shooting tons of fly line with long casts. It’s simply filler, taking up space on the reel, and sometimes letting you know how much line is out there when you’re fighting a fish.
Taper: the difference between gear fishing and fly fishing really boils down to one thing. When you cast a lure, the weight is concentrated in that lure, and the line is nearly weightless. Conversely, fly fishing (at least dry-fly fishing) really revolves around having the weight in the line itself, as the fly is nearly weightless, in order to make the cast. Where that weight is concentrated in a fly line is what “taper” is all about. Different tapers (weight concentrations) help you cast and deliver different flies of various weights and sizes more effectively. And different tapers are also engineered to work better with certain types of fly rods, which range from “fast-action” to “medium” to “slow.” When we’re talking about “taper,” all we’re really talking about is where, on the fly line, the thickest, heaviest part of the line is placed, and why it’s put there.
Weight-forward: as the name implies, the bulk of the weight is concentrated near the front section of the fly line (usually tapered down at the very tip). For most fly rods on the market today, considering most anglers’ casting abilities, a “WF” line is by far the most common and adopted taper. It helps you feel the rod load, shoot the line and help turn the leader over at the end of the cast, provided you stop the rod the correct way. Ninety-nine percent of the lines on fly reels today are weight-forward.
Braking: when we refer to the braking capability of a reel, we’re simply talking about how forcefully it can slow, or even stop, the rotation of the reel’s spool. Oftentimes, the first thing the average reel shopper does is tighten down the drag adjustment knob, to see just how hard it is to pull line off the reel. That may be fun, but it’s probably the most irrelevant true measure of how a reel will perform on the water.
Click-pawl: a click -pawl reel creates resistance by having a pin or pointed element (like a tooth) on the spool click against a ring of opposing teeth (like a simple gear) affixed to the reel frame. (Think of a roulette wheel.) A spring can be adjusted to add or relieve pressure and alter the drag. But as a rule of thumb, the range of difference between full pressure and light pressure is usually negligible. Anglers who appreciate click-pawls do so for their modest simplicity and often the unique sounds that result when a fish peels line from the reel.
Disc-drag: built with materials ranging from cork to Rulon, to other composite materials, a disc-drag system is basically like the braking system on a car wheel. The more friction it creates between the spool and frame, the more it slows the rotation of the reel.
Drag: this refers to the level of resistance against line being pulled off the reel. It’s a braking system. The “tighter” or more “cranked down” the drag, the harder it is to pull line off the reel. The “looser” or “eased up” the drag is, the easier line runs off the reel. You want the right balance for the right fish: e.g., a big, powerful fish will only break your leader or tippet if you have the drag cranked down all the way, and the tension becomes too great. Conversely, if you don’t have any drag, the reel could “free-spool” which leads to tangled messes. As a rule of thumb, the most-engineered reels have sensitive (adjustable on the fly), yet stable (you set it, it stays that way), drag systems that can handle a wide range of fish sizes and fishing conditions. That said, whether or not you need a sophisticated drag system for fish like trout is purely a matter of personal preference. Sometimes, less is more, the angler likes to fight the fish by feel and landing a fish without the aid of a fancy drag system is appreciated. We believe advanced drag systems pay off in saltwater fishing situations and somewhat (not always) less so on the average trout stream. Also, sophisticated drag systems tend to make the reel cost more, because the components required to build them into a reel are more expensive.
Frame: the frame is the solid housing that cradles the spool and attaches to the fly rod.
Large Arbor/Narrow Arbor: “arbor” refers to the width of the spool. A large (wider) arbor spool can typically hold more backing as well as fly line, and a narrow arbor reel tends to be “taller” in stature, so it collects more line with every revolution of the spool. A wide-arbor reel is more compact. You need to pay attention to how the line stacks on either kind of reel as you crank in line, but that’s probably more of a concern with narrow-arbor reels.
Palming: when you cup your off hand on the reel and use your own skin to pad and brake the spool as it turns. Easy to do on small trout, not so much on yellowfin tuna. The important thing to remember is that if the spool is fully encapsulated in a frame, you can’t palm the reel. If the edge of the spool is exposed, you can palm it, but a thinner spool wall will cut more like a circular saw–some reels are definitely more suited to palming. We’ll sometimes talk about the ability (or lack thereof) to palm a reel. That will matter to some, and be completely irrelevant to others.
Reel Seat: the reel seat is that “T” shaped thingy where the reel is actually attached to the locking mechanism of the fly rod. Reels where the reel seats are formed right into the frame (one piece) are preferred, because reels where the seat is pinned on (welded, otherwise affixed) have the potential of coming loose or breaking off. A loose reel seat makes the reel functionally worthless.
Sealed Drag: a sealed drag system means it’s fully encased in metal, impermeable to salt, grit, slime and other things. That’s usually a great thing, but if the drag does malfunction, you often can’t open it up and clean it/fix it yourself; you have to send the reel in for repair.
Spool: the spool is the part of the reel that holds the line and rotates. You can pop the spool off the frame, and some anglers like to have different lines on different spools, which they can swap on the frame, depending on the type of fishing (sinking lines, floating lines, etc.).
Start-up: this is the most important attribute of most reels. When the fish grabs your fly, and starts pulling away, how does the reel mete out the line? Is it smooth and consistent, or herky-jerky? Even subtle hitches and bumps are reasons to downgrade a reel when you’re assessing its real-world performance.
Tolerances: this refers to how tightly the spool and frame connect. Generally speaking, you want a reel with “tight” tolerances—you certainly don’t want a spool to wobble on the frame as it rotates, and you don’t want large gaps between the spool and frame because your line, leader or tippet can get stuck in those gaps, and dirt, slime and grit can more easily penetrate the reel.
Action: fly rods are often marketed as “fast,” “medium” or “slow” in terms of their actions. Generally speaking, a “fast-action” rod is stiffer, requiring a tad more energy to generate line speed, while a “medium-action” rod is designed more to accentuate casting stroke mechanics. You can cast a medium-action rod just as far as a fast rod, provided you are confident with your stroke. Fast rods, like oversized golf drivers or tennis racquets, are designed to help intermediate anglers generate greater distance. That’s not necessarily a trade-off–there are plenty of fast rods that also feature feel and control.
- Slow: fly rod recovers more slowly and flexes deeper towards the handle. Designed to “feel” the cast. More difficult to throw compact loops.
- Medium-slow: fly rod recovers slowly and flexes towards the mid-section. Designed for dry flies, more open-loop casts. Still challenging to throw compact loops.
- Medium: fly rod recovers at an average speed and flexes towards mid-section and tip (slightly). Designed with a forgiving rod action for multiple use cases. Great for beginners, casters requiring more open loops.
- Medium-fast: fly rod recovers at an above-average speed and flexes towards the high mid-section and tip. Designed for versatility, fishability. Can produce high line speeds, accuracy.
- Fast: fly rod recovers the fastest and flexes at the tip. Stiffer rod designed for expert casters, distance, accuracy.
Aesthetics: the pleasing visual effect or appearance of a fly rod. A completely subjective value (the aesthetic value), differing person-by-person, which matters the world to some, and not at all to others. Can be a deciding factor when it comes to sales and sentiment, but this has absolutely no bearing on the actual casting and fishing performance of a fly rod. The general aesthetic definition can be transposed to most, if not all, of our other product categories.
Components: things like stripping guides, the reel seat, the cork handle and so forth that go into making the finished product fly rod. Collectively, they’re pretty important, and not just from an aesthetic standpoint. The shape of the grip helps you feel the casting stroke, fight fish, etc., and the guides on the rod (the thingies the line goes through) can surely influence how well a line “shoots” and how durable (nobody wants a smashed guide) a rod is. High-end rods use high end components with good reason, but they cost more.
Flex: where the rod is designed to bend most, in order to offer different casting results. A “tip-flex” rod is mostly stiff throughout the length of the rod–the flex being in the tip area allows the caster to generate line speed through a powerful stroke, and then turn the leader over at the end of the cast. A “mid-flex” rod is designed to feel more of the line-load closer to the cork handle, and that generally means more feel and control. Tip flexes are generally for distance, cutting wind and high-line-speed situations, and mid-flexes (or even soft-flex) rods are designed for more feel in the grip, etc. Important to note that it’s also very much about the line you use with the rod. For example, a tip-flex, fast-action rod can be made a lot more responsive and roll-cast-ready with a front-end heavy fly line.
- Low-flex: fly rod has a slower action and flexes towards the handle. Designed for “feel,” open-loop casts.
- Mid-flex: fly rod has a medium action and flexes towards the handle and mid-section. Designed for “feel,” control.
- Tip-flex: fly rod is stiff and flexes at the tip. Allows casters to generate distance, high line speeds.
Recovery: what you should go into, if you spend several thousand dollars on a fly rod collection in any given year. Actually, “recovery” refers to the way a fly rod snaps back into form, in the context of forward and back action. As you make a cast, the rod theoretically starts “straight” (from a dead stop), and as you make the casting motion, the rod tip flexes back and forth as the line loads and travels. A really quick “recovery” means the rod snaps right back to form without much reverberation, while slower recovery means that the rod tip reverberates more.
- Slow: designed to feel the flex of the rod. For open-loops, roll casts, beginners.
- Medium: designed for an average recovery time and action. For versatility, varied casting techniques, fishability.
- Fast: designed to recover before the caster feels it register. For expert casters, distance, ability to cut through wind.
Resins: most graphite rods involve resins, which are natural or synthetic compounds, that, in layman’s terms, are the sauces that determine how a rod ultimately performs. Resins can affect the feel and casting action, and also the durability and break-resistance of a fly rod. Think of them like flour in a cake–an important base ingredient.
Taper: literally means what you think it does: going from “thick to thin.” Some rods, particularly bamboo rods will heavily factor the taper of the rod, as that pertains to where it flexes most, and thus determines its action, and ultimately the “feel” factor. For example, a “parabolic” tapered bamboo rod is actually a tad “thicker” through its mid-section, which affords both feel at the handle, and some flex at the tip. Much of the “secret sauce” science of developing rods of any kind, graphite, fiberglass, bamboo or otherwise, has been focused on landing on the ideal “taper.”
Tracking: the side-to side (left-right) wobble (or lack thereof) from the tip of the fly rod as you make casts. As you finish your casting stroke, some rods will track pure, straight in line with the stroke, while others might see the rod tip flex as much as a few inches to one side or another. This is an important factor when it comes to making accurate casts.
- Straight: highly accurate, inline with the tip.
- Wobble: less accurate, offline with the tip.