Select a Fly Fishing Rod for a Woman – Differences Explained

The physical differences between men and women translate into making a few critical choices when selecting your first fly fishing rod.

But when you are joining a traditionally male sport, there are some key differences to think about before spending your money. 

As a beginner fly fishing newbie, It can be daunting to select the right gear.  

While having the best gear isn’t critical for starting the sport, knowing a few basics will make a steep learning curve into a fun adventure.

So here are the must-have considerations when choosing your first fly rod. 

What to consider when selecting a Fly Fishing Rod

We’ll start by learning about the key aspects of a rod, and then I’ll show how they translate into the choices you make.  

Rods come in different sizes and weights.  Let’s start by looking at rod weight.

Here's my all-round guide to choosing a fly rod for trout.

Why does the rod weight matter?

At a macro level, the rod weight (which falls between 2 and 12) relates to the rod’s capacity to handle certain-sized fish. 

The number actually references the weight of the fly line recommended to match to that rod.  

And a fly line’s weight is measured by the weight in grams of the first 30 feet of the fly line. 

Complicated? Yes. But in essense – the larger the number, the heavier fish it can handle.

What size rod is right? 

Size refers to the length of the fly fishing rod.  

Rods vary from 8 feet (used in streams and small rivers) to 14 feet in length (used for saltwater fly fishing). 

The longer the rod, the further it will cast when matched to the correct line. 

If you fish regularly in small streams, then an 8” rod could be perfect.  

You will also likely catch smaller fish in small streams, and a lightweight, shorter rod is perfect for landing such fish.  There is a lot of fun to be had in these types of conditions. 

However, the most popular length is 9 feet, which provides good casting properties for most rivers and lakes, but isn’t too cumbersome.

Saltwater fly fishing rods are usually 10’ or longer, as you are in open water with few hazards to get in the way of a long cast. 

Here's my post on What's a 5 weight rod is used for. 

Don’t be tempted to buy a long rod, thinking you will cast further.

You may be tempted to buy a longer rod. However, it is not the length that will determine how well you cast. Itis more about technique.  

A good casting teacher, and practice on the grass, is a great way to improve your skills. 

As you get more comfortable, your time on the water will be much more enjoyable – and successful. 

Check out my article on How to practice your casting.

And then, there’s the rod’s action

And then there is another factor you might start to notice.   Fast, medium-fast or slow action rods

Fast and medium-fast action rods are stiffer and bend nearer to the rod tip, meaning you can achieve faster line speed resulting in longer distances, but this type of rod requires more power.  

Medium action rods bend most about one-third the way down the rod.  They are easier to cast,  allow for more accuracy and are more forgiving. 

Most beginner rod and reel combinations are medium-action rods and are well priced. 

Which fly fishing rod is right for you?

To make a decision, you will need to know which rod is suited to the rivers and fishing conditions where you will be fishing. 

You are likely to need a #5 weight rod for smaller rivers that are home to smaller fish.  

And if you are going to salmon or steelhead, you might get up to an #8 weight.

Many experts I have spoken to recommend a 9 foot #5 weight rod to start.  This setup will fit most of the situations you will encounter in your first few seasons. 

What will make you a better fly fishing angler?

So if it’s not the weight, the length, or the rod action that matters, then what will make you a better angler?  

Simply, it’s your casting technique and line handling on the water. 

It’s learning the basics from others and then putting them into practice.  

That’s a big part of the attraction of fly fishing for me.  There is a lot to learn, and I don’t believe that will ever stop. 

Where to get advice on which fly fishing rod is right for you

Join your local fishing club, or talk to the people in the local tackle shop.   Many of the fly fishers I’ve met are happy to help with advice and support.  

I’ve even received unsolicited advice when practicing my casting down at my local park . 

Or online, you will find sites like United Women on the Fly and Women’s FlyFishing who provide lots of resources and information.  

Do you need a different rod because you are a woman?

Men and women will generally use the same rod, as it is the use, not the user, that determines the right rod. 

Though if you are a smaller physical build, you may choose a lower weight medium-action rod, as it will feel lighter and less tiring when using over a long period. 

Here’s a full beginner’s guide I’ve written on fly fishing rods

In reality, gear varies between brands and models.  One brand’s #5 weight line might be the same as another manufacturer’s #6 weight line. 

If you get a chance, try out other people’s rods to see how they feel.

What about the rod grip?

There is one area where size does matter when it comes to fishing rods.  

A man’s hand is on average ½ inch longer than a woman’s.  And more than an inch greater in circumference.  

Rod grips come in differing circumferences.  As a woman with smaller hands, this can make a big difference.  

A fly fishing rod usually has a cork grip, and since a lot of work is done when casting is managed through the grip, then the size and shape of the grip can have a significant impact.

When casting a fly line, you control the rod and line via the grip.  

The tension in the line as you backcast is felt through the grip.  

Also, the ‘snap’ that ends both the back and the forward cast is achieved by squeezing the grip.  

The forces of the rod are felt through the cork, allowing you to feel the line both in the air and in the water.  

Grips come in different shapes

I prefer a rod called Full Wells grip, which means it has a lip where I place my thumb.  

As a woman over 60, my hands are slowly developing arthritis, and having a well-supported position for my thumb makes a big difference in how I hold and use the rod and reduces the fatigue in my hand.

fly rod grips
Here’s three different types of grips.

Controlling your cast is about having the correct grip – one that is not too large, too small, too short or the wrong shape. 

Importantly, having a comfortable grip will also allow you to fish for longer without getting fatigued. 

Check out the manufacturer’s specifications when choosing a rod to see if they make a rod for women, which is likely to have a grip with a smaller circumference.

Or test some fly rods in your local tackle shop, or try your friend’s rod.  

Check that your fingers almost touch, but do not dig into your palm when holding the grip. 

For a detailed explanation, here’s an article on how to make a custom grip.

And for full details on how to measure your hand and select an appropriate grip, go to this article on  Fly Angler’s OnLine or here.

What type of rod do I use?

As a woman over 60 years old, I prefer to use a lighter-weight rod, which I sometimes match with a heavier-weight line.

However, the impact of a lighter-weight rod has an effect when catching larger fish.  

It can take longer to land the fish, which means the fish has a greater chance of not recovering when released.  

Or I could break the tip of your rod when landing a large fish or not using the best rod handling and fish landing skills. 

But lighter rods and lines are more difficult to cast in windy conditions. And are less effective at casting larger or heavy flies. 

This stuff can be complicated, but the best thing to do when you are starting is to get some inexpensive gear and use it for a time.  

Once you have mastered the basics and improved your skills, you will be ready to look at more expensive rods, reels and lines. At that point you will know more about what works best for your technique. 

And that’s when you will notice the difference between an average rod and a great rod.  

In the meantime, get out there with some inexpensive gear, and have fun!