What is a 5 weight fly rod used for? All-Around Guide

If you have a growing curiosity about fly fishing and keep hearing the words ‘5 weight rod’, but don’t know what that means – well, here’s the answer.

A 5 weight fly fishing rod is a versatile rod suitable for catching freshwater fish like perch, trout, small bass and salmon. It is the most common fly fishing rod used in a variety of locations including streams, rivers and lakes by fly fishing anglers.

A fly rod is called a 5 weight, not because of the weight of the rod, but for the weight of the fly line recommended for use with this rod.

It is a good rod for beginners as it is not difficult to cast, and it has such a variety of uses.

In this article, we’ll look at what a 5 weight rod is used for, where, and the factors that affect your choice of rod.

What is a 5 weight fly rod used for?

A 5 weight fly fishing rod is a lightweight rod explicitly designed for casting light to moderate-weight fly fishing lures.

Fly fishing lures are artificial flies designed to trick a fish into thinking that the lure is food, such as an underwater insect. Often these are made out of materials like feathers, fabric and fur secured onto a small hook.

The rod combo (which includes a reel that holds the fishing line) accurately presents the fly to the intended location where a hungry fish can spot it, and gobble it down. That’s the goal!

For more detailed information on fly fishing rods please visit my article What’s a Fly Fishing Rod? – A Beginner’s Guide

A 5 weight fly fishing rod is a very popular choice for many freshwater anglers fishing for trout, small bass and salmon. But it is most popular for trout.

It can handle a wide variety of conditions and be used for different fish types and locations.

With a 5 weight rod, you can fish with wet flies and small streamers, nymph rigs and also dry flies.

Artificial flies vary in size and weight, making the 5 weight rod a good choice for smaller, lighter flies, but this can vary depending on your casting ability.

And while it may not be the most suitable for windy conditions, fishing in windy conditions can also be improved by correcting and adjusting your casting technique.

A 5 weight rod will cast from 10’ to 60’, with most fish caught in the 15′- 40′ ranges.

And you are not limited to small streams, big rivers, or lakes. The 5 weight rod is a multi-purpose rod that will take you to a lot of places.

It is the first rod beginners will often buy, and typically most experienced fly anglers will have a 5 weight fly rod in their selection of rods.

5 weight rods have multiple uses, so let’s explore what those are.

Where would you use a 5 weight fly rod?

A 5 weight fly rod is used on streams, rivers and lakes – where you are looking to catch medium-sized trout, bass and small salmon.  

You can fish from the riverbank, lake edge, or a boat.  

And often, you will find yourself wading into the water to cast to a spot upstream or on the other side of the river.

A 5 weight road will allow you to fish in a wide range of locations.  

However, you could be more limited if there is a fast current or clusters of very deep holes.

Larger rivers with deep holes need heavy flies to get down to where the fish sit.  Consequently, you would require a heavier line, therefore a heavier rod than the 5 weight.  

The fly line must be able to move the fly through the air in a controlled way.  An accurate cast of the appropriate length delicately delivers the fly to the right spot on the water without a great splash. (Unless you are bass fishing when splashing is allowed.)

A 5 weight rod will allow you to cast a good range of flies so that you can get in front of a good number of fish if you’re lucky. 

Here’s how to choose a fly rod for a woman with the differences explained.

Factors that Affect Your Choice of a 5 Weight Fly Rod

Type and size of fish

Weight #1 – #4Small fish, up to medium-sized trout
Weight #5 to #7General use for trout, small bass and salmon
Weight #8 to #9Bass, carp, steelhead and salmon
Weight #10 – #14Saltwater fish species
Rod weight to fish type

Location – whether stream, river or lake

For small streams where there is less room to cast and smaller fish, you can choose a shorter rod, but you may still use a 5 weight rod.

However, if the river or stream is small, the fish are likely smaller, which means you would use a lesser weight rod such as a #3 or #4 weight. 

You can use a 5 weight rod very effectively to fish through ripples and pools for larger rivers.  

You can also fish from the lake edge or from a drift boat on large water.

Size and type of fly

A 5 weight rod will assist you in casting a good range of dry flies, nymph rigs and streamers.  

However, if you attempt to cast a tiny dry fly on a heavy fly line, you will lose the ability to land the fly on the water without a splash. 

And if you put a massive streamer on a #4 fly line, you are likely to lose control, with a rapid loss of accuracy.

Small flies are the best cast on a lightweight line and rod.

Heavy, large flies are the best cast on a heavier weight line and rod. 

This is where fly fishing can get complicated, because you may want to cast a small dry fly to a good-sized trout.  Experience, skill and judgment are necessary.

Personal preference based on your casting technique

We all cast differently.  That’s despite receiving the same instructions.

The ability to cast a fly rod does not rely on strength, instead of on technique.

It’s beautiful to watch an expert fly anger make a long cast of a tiny fly with a high-speed line from a 9’ length of carbon fiber. 

When the fly is cast correctly, it creates graceful loops that allow the angler to make a delicate presentation of the fly at the perfect distance with pinpoint accuracy.

Learning to cast is an essential skill for beginners.  The best way to learn quickly is to practice this skill on a grassed area so that when you get on the water, you’ve developed some muscle memory.

Here’s a piece of advice on how to create a practice leader for learning to cast.

Whether you are a big guy or a petite woman, the 5 weight fly rod is a great fly fishing setup for improving your skills.  

The ultimate reason for having the right gear, and the correct technique, is to catch more fish.  The 5 weight rod will be great for 80% of the conditions you will encounter. 

There are some downsides, so here are the pros and cons.

Pros & Cons of a 5 weight fly rod


Can be used in a wide range of situations.

Manageable for beginners learning to cast.

Will catch a variety of fish types and sizes.

Can be used with different types of lines and rigs.


Less manageable in windy conditions.

Not practical for casting large, heavy flies.

Unsuitable for big fish – trout, steelhead and salmon.

May be too big for small creeks or steams.

Choice of line to use on a 5 weight rod

A #5 weight line is usually paired with a #5 weight line.

A cast combines the weight of the line (with leader and fly) together with the caster’s technique.  This action loads the rod, which is the essential element of casting.  

That means sufficient energy is provided to drive the line through the rod loops, out into the air, to cast the fly.

However, the option is to go up a size, or down a line size, to suit your casting technique. And potentially to achieve a longer or more accurate cast.

The practice of putting on a larger or smaller fly line is called underlining and overlining. 

Here’s an excellent article on the pros and cons of underlining or overlining by Katie Burgert, who also runs the Fish Untamed podcast.

Interestingly, underlining a rod can provide more distance. It seems odd, but the lighter line will allow you to carry more length of line without overtaxing the rod.

Line choice will depend on the nature of the water, the size of fish, the wind conditions and your casting technique.

Fly line types

Floating linesFloating lines are used with dry flies and nymphing, but can be used in almost any circumstance when paired with a sinking tip.
Sinking linesSinking lines are generally used with wet flies. But also for nymphing, especially in calmer waters.
Floating line with sinking tipThese can be useful for nymphing and also with wet flies and streamers.
Shooting-head lineThe line’s main weight is in the first few feet, making it easier to cast over long distances.  The disadvantage is a lack of accuracy.
Types of fly lines and uses

NB. Fast sinking lines have the advantage of getting the fly down deep quickly because fish feed nearer to the bottom of the water column where the current is less.

As I indicated, matching a fly line to a fly rod is about choosing one of the same weight.  But there are options.

It is reported that many line manufacturers overweight their lines, making them easier to cast.  So you could already be using a heavier weight line than recommended for your rod.

Matching a reel to a 5 weight fly rod

Like matching a fly line, matching your reel to the line and rod is also a good idea. 

The ultimate fly rod combo consists of Fly Line Weight = Fly Rod Weight = Fly Reel Weight

But, it doesn’t always have to be this exact. 

My 5 weight rod has a 5/ 6 weight reel, with a 5 weight sink tip line.  

I also have a 3/ 4 reel for my 5 weight floating line.  A lighter, smaller reel reduces the overall weight of the rod set up, making it less tiring to cast for longer. 

This aspect is all very subjective and can seem very complicated.

But to keep it simple, there is good reason to buy a 5 weight rod, and match it to a 5 weight reel and 5 weight line.

5 Weight Fly Rod Comparisons & Shootout Results

If you are looking to purchase a new 5 weight fly rod, there are hundreds of options.  

It can be difficult to understand your best option, including things like what difference a fast action, medium-fast action, medium action or slow action rod will make.  

For some in-depth assistance, check out some of the really great ‘shootout’ tests that the fly fishing experts have done.  

For example, here’s a truly comprehensive shootout analysis from Yellowstone Angler.

A 5 weight rod is a great choice for a fly fishing beginner

A 5 weight fly rod:

  • has the flexibility to cast a range of flies
  • can be used in a wide range of locations
  • will handle landing fish of varied sizes and weights
  • Is lightweight but responsive for those learning to cast

A 5 weight rod will help you develop your fly fishing skills so that when you move onto bigger fish like steelhead, you will have the necessary skills and techniques. 

Once you have mastered some skills and hopefully caught a few fish, you can upgrade to a new expensive rod.  At this point, you may notice the difference between the various options. 

But until you’ve mastered a range of fly fishing skills, purchasing the best rod you can afford on your budget is a great place to start.

Fun Fact
You can use your 5 weight rod to fish for bass.  But since bass flies tend to be large and heavy, making them wind-resistant, it may not be your best rod choice.  In this situation, you might be better off trying out a 6 or 7 weight rod.