We scoured the internet, asked experts, and shuffled through the newest fly rods out there so you don’t have to. Behold, the best fly fishing rods of 2020.
A fly rod is a timeless piece of equipment. With simple care and safe storage, it can last a lifetime or more. Yet the technology keeps improving, rods are becoming more refined, and there’s always that one rod you’d like to add to your quiver.
Whether it’s expanding your current capabilities, buying a rod for that dream trip to the mountain rivers or the salt flats, or just leveling up to a nicer rig, we pulled together the top rods available in 2020 to consider. And not only that, but we’re also going to help you figure out what rod is best for you and the action you’re looking to pursue.
Most of these rods are higher-end choices. Looking for a budget fly fishing rod? Check out our article titled “The Best Fly Fishing Rods Under $150.”
Best Fly Rods of 2020
Best Overall: Scott Sector Series ($985)
The Sector Series offers strength and accuracy while being ultralight in hand. That’s thanks to a new carbon fiber technology called Scott’s Carbon Web, which is continuous-strand graphite.
This new composite reduces microfractures in the rod, allowing it to retain accuracy over time. And it’s quick and accurate, allowing for fast and easy pickup of the line while casting.
This technology isn’t just lip service. It earned the Sector Series Best Overall at the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show in October. And so far, consumers agree. The line of 18 different combos of length and weight has earned in-depth, detailed praise from Telluride Angler’s pro staff and Trident Fly Fishing.
These rods, while extremely high-priced, are the cream of the crop for saltwater over the gamut of angling scenarios.
Best Freshwater: Sage Trout LL ($800)
Wade-fishing streams and smaller rivers requires a different kind of finesse, and the Sage Trout LL leveled up that game this year with its Trout LL series. An extraordinarily nimble step forward, it’s the next iteration in Sage’s original and much-loved Light Line (LL) series.
The delicacy of short, quick casts lies in the flexible tip of this particular rod. The agile action allows for roll casting and effortless recasting without an unneeded backcast into the willows.
You won’t be making big, fast, 80-foot casts, but you’ll be pretty damn accurate up close. The Konnetic HD blanks provide a durable backbone against the elegant nature of this rod.
Best Do-It-All Series: G. Loomis NRX+ Series ($795-895)
G. Loomis’s NRX series covers a lot of bases. From flinging flies for bass to the salt and back to trout again, there are 20 individual models to pursue in this rod family alone. Overall, the series is built for fast action, feel, and finesse.
The biggest thing to note in the entirety of the series is the mega drop in weight. Loomis’ blank technology GL8 nets a 15% reduction in heft from its previous NRX offering.
Choose from the NRX+ LP, Freshwater, Saltwater, and Spey + Switch offerings. And check out this lights-out review from the folks at Yellowstone Angler, a renowned fly shop near the banks of the — you guessed it — mighty Yellowstone.
Best Spey: R.L. Winston Air TH ($1,250)
The new two-handed spey rod from the folks at R.L. Winston is designed for versatility while steelheading or chasing salmon. And the incorporated SuperSilica resin system and Boron III technology echo earlier sentiments of lightweight materials meeting both action and durability standards.
This rod took home Best of at the 2019 European Fishing Tackle Trade Exhibition. And steelhead experts in Oregon and Washington state have gone nuts for this setup, from the folks at Gorge Fly Shop in Hood River to the Spokane experts of Silver Bow Fly Shop.
Available in weights from 5 to 9 and lengths from 11’6″ to 14’6″, there’s a two-handed spey rod for a bevy of situations on the water in this collection.
Best Starter Package: Orvis Clearwater Package ($311-651)
Updated for 2020, the Orvis Clearwater setup is one of my favorites in my collection. It’s a high-performing, easy-on-your-wallet collection that covers so much ground, you might as well buy a few.
Plus, it’s just a great first rod for rookies. From freshwater to the brand’s big game and saltwater rods, switch and spey, and a collection of travel (six-piece!) rods, the Clearwater collection isn’t messing around.
I’m not the only angler who loves the new Clearwater. It won Yellowstone Anglers’ Best Inexpensive Power Rod in its Annual 5-Weight Shootout. I have to second that. This rod can swing.
You can buy the rods on their own, or Orvis sets up a nice package, which I highly recommend for folks just starting out. Also, these are backed by Orvis’ generous 25-year guarantee. If you like to break rods like I do, #worthit.
Best Budget: WETFLY Nitrolite Tactical Pro Rod Series ($200)
The folks at WETFLY aim to make fly fishing an affordable sport, and through that, the brand has created a line that matches functionality to frugality. Its new Nitrolite Tactical Pro Rod Series is made from multilayer-wrapped carbon fiber to cut weight while retaining strength.
It has a five-star rating on the full Nitrolite package on Amazon. And with high ratings on a ton of WETFLY’s other products, including its previous Nitrogen rod series, I’d expect to see that stay stable.
Available in five 9′ weights from 4-8 and a 3/4-weight 10’5” nymphing rig, it covers a lot of the basics. And that’s just what it intends to do.
Best Midlevel Rod: Fenwick Streamflex & Streamflex Plus ($230-285)
In looking for the best midlevel rod, the Streamflex Plus just kept coming up.
“It’s a great rod for the price point. You get quality material and a bit more power and versatility than the [budget model Fenwick] AETOS,” Yellowstone Angler guide Chloe Nostrant told us. “Plus, it’s superlight in hand and casts well at most distances.”
And here’s the kicker: Open up the butt of the Streamflex Plus rod, and you’ll find a fifth 6-inch piece to add on should you want to switch over to a nymphing setup. The only problem is that the rod is so well-loved and sold out everywhere. But Fenwick expects to have this model available by June 1, 2020.
The action across the board is medium-fast, with the High Modulus 3M Powerlux 1000 Carbon Blank material providing a strong yet responsive backbone for accuracy. The Streamflex is available in 14 options, and the Plus has three to choose from.
Best Tenkara: Tenkara Co. Beartooth ($150-170)
A Kickstarter runaway victory, Tenkara Co.‘s new Beartooth rod is tiny. It collapses down to 14 inches from 10 feet — 14 inches, y’all!
If you’re unfamiliar with Tenkara, it’s a Japanese style of fly fishing that tends toward extreme minimalism. But even amidst the pared-down business of it all, you can certainly still catch fish.
All you need to Tenkara is a rod, a line, and a fly. So if you’re looking to shave ounces and still have a fish-catcher in the backcountry, the new Beartooth is worth a try.
This is a brand-new offering in 2020, and the Kickstarter recently finished, so the big reviews aren’t out quite yet.
How to Choose a Fly Rod
Choosing a fly rod really comes down to three components: where you’re fishing, what you’re fishing for, and what flies you’ll be tying to the end of the rod. Rods are broken down mainly into length and weight, but the third component you’ll hear experts talk about is the rod’s action.
What Is Action?
Typically, a rod will be fast, medium, or slow action. This delineates the amount of flexion versus stiffness in the rod. A slow-action rod is more flexible throughout to allow for short, accurate casts. A medium (or moderate) action will be stiffer throughout but still allow for a modicum of flex for accuracy, offering a meeting point between stiffness and agility.
And a fast-action rod has a minute amount of flexion, allowing for a stiff backbone to set against a powerful fish or cut through the wind with speed and power.
Length and Weight
Figuring out the right rod weight for your target fish species is generally pretty simple. The smaller the fish, the lower the weight. And depending on where you’re fishing, a shorter rod might be desirable.
A typical wade-and-walk, small-stream, slow-action rod might be a 7’6″ 3-weight rod. A more compact length and light weight combined is great for casting small flies in a small stream surrounded by brush or trees that can snag your fly on a backcast.
The classic fly rod that most people will have in their setup is a medium-action 9′ 5-weight. Living in Montana, I can’t seem to have too many of these. I can catch little brookies in the high alpine or decent rainbows in bigger water, no problem. The medium action allows for accuracy in tight spots and stiffness with bigger fish on the line.
This also works well for bass, although a lot of people will go a little heavier for these tough-fighting fish. Popular bass rods tend to range from about 5 to 7 weight.
If I asked my pals in Washington what they throw for steelhead, they’d tell me a 9’6″ 7-weight rod is the most versatile. But if they were to be spey casting, they’d go for a 13′ 7- or 8-weight rod. Anglers will go back and forth on whether they want medium-fast action or fast action in a steelhead rod, but the bigger the fish, the more backbone you’ll need.
And, of course, rod weight can go way up in the saltwater world, where fish like tarpon and marlin call for super-stout rods in the 10- to 16-weight range!
The final thing to consider is packability. If you plan on traveling a ton, you’ll want to look at a four-piece rod or something that can be easily thrown into a pack or carried onto a plane. If you’re planning on fishing close to home, a two-piece can work just fine.
Rods all come in varying lengths and weights. If I were you, I wouldn’t take their designation of freshwater or salt too closely to heart. Most rods are able to perform in multiple scenarios.