New ultralight Fly rods
for under $200.00

article and images by Bill Byrd
written in 2003

updated in June 2006.

After receiving emails from numerous visitors to my website asking whether there are any good ultralight fly rods for under $200.00. The answer -- YES! By my personal definition, ultralight fly rods have the ability to properly load casting 3 weight to ought weight fly lines. That is Ought weight (as in you ought to go to the store, not zero weight - like you have ZERO weight) rods.

The purpose of this article is to focus on "affordable" ultralight rods, and to make you aware of these new rod choices. Keep in mind that the definition of "affordable" varies dramatically with one's thought processes and financial ability. This article is focused on rods under $200.00. I am not going to endorse any of these rods specifically, because you need to determine the rod or rods, plus reel and line that work for you. I will mention reels and lines briefly, but there is so much to tell about them that I won't try to address reels and lines in depth in this article. This article is intended you give you rod choices, and help YOU make better rod buying decisions based on your needs.

What is this weight rating about? The weight range in grains of the first 30 feet of line. Here's how it works according to ASA, the American Sportfishing Association:

Ought weight = 40 grains
One weight = 60 grains
Two weight = 80 grains
Three weight = 100 grains

According to the ASA definition, line weights can vary plus or minus 6 grains. A notable exception is the Sage SPL Ought weight rod which is designed to cast a 54 grain line. By the ASA definition the Sage SPL Ought weight is a light 1 weight. By the same definition, the Orvis Superfine 7'6" 2 piece 1 weight is a heavy 1 weight because it is designed to cast a 66 grain line, the top of the 1 weight line scale.

These grain and line weight labels are intended as a guide to define a rod's line casting abilities.

I contacted primary manufacturers making 1 weight to 3 weight fly rods in the "affordable" to "very affordable" range. Prices range from $59.00 to $195.00. I have been fishing and catching fish with these rods, and I am VERY impressed with the selection of lower priced ultralight rods available today! What I'm seeing suggests that anyone on any budget NOW has the opportunity to fish ultralights.

Some of you are experienced fly fishers, others of you are beginners. That is no problem because we were all beginners at some point! Lack of experience with fly fishing systems can make it difficult to pick the "right" rod when you are getting started, so getting good advice is IMPORTANT. This article will attempt to put many troublesome issues about selecting a good affordable ultralight rod in perspective.

Some background

When I began fly fishing in 1968, there were NO ultralights by today's standards, and the lightest rods were physically heavy, unsensitive fiberglass 4 weights. I still have all of my early rods, and get them out and cast them occasionally to remind me just how good fly fishing rods are today!!

By the early 1990s, I was fishing lighter and lighter fly tackle. I purchased a Cortland 2 piece 7 foot 3/4 rod for about $69.00 retail. At the time, it was my lightest fly rod. Being a 7 foot rod, its casting timing was a little tricky, and it didn't really cast a 3 weight line well, but I became comfortable with it and enjoyed some nice experiences with it. In the image right, I am holding a giant bass that I caught on my budget Cortland GRF 1000 rod. The bass garnered headlines and actually became a tippet class world record. My point is, it isn't necessarily how much you spend on a fly rod that makes it work! It is how well YOU learn to use IT that really matters! Either way, the fish don't care.

When I returned to fly fishing in the early 1990s, I investigated the modern selection of lighter rods, and I found a selection of real ultralights. 3 weight rods were abundant, and Orvis' Howard Steere and Jim Wests designed and built Superfine 2 and 1 weights (1 weight left) were readily available, though pricey. I spent the bucks, fished them a lot, and loved the rods. Then 15 years later in 1997, Sage's Jerry Siem designed the SPL series 3, 2, 1, and Ought weight rods. WOW! Now there were ultralights co-developed with their respective lines. For me Sage SPL/SLT UL rods set the benchmark! First the SPLs, then SLTs, and now TXLs which are the strongest and physically lightest ultralight rods available. With their co-designed lines, they cast effortlessly.

Top-of-the-line ultralights are still pricey, and you won't find a cheap OUGHT weight (image right) anywhere. However, these days you can select from a new generation of far less expensive, late technology 1 to 3 weight rods that will allow you to get involved with ultralight fly fishing on a budget.

In today's budget rods the materials may not be so fancy, and the technology may be slightly different, but the warranties are generally good, and these rods cast and fish well. They may be viable alternatives to the expensive top rods, or as an entry level rod to get you ultralighting. A rod in your hand on the water is worth several in someone's catalog.

The Challenge

The main challenge today is to overcome the party line that suggests that all fly fishers should begin on 9 foot long 6 weight fly rods. Then we need to match fly fishers of all experience groups with balanced fly tackle which THEY enjoy, but doesn't overpower the fish species readily available to them. To do this with quality equipment priced affordably is even better. Now we have ultralight fly tackle to satisfy all of these needs.

Before writing this article I heard from a new local Atlanta fly fisher who had been through a local fly shop's beginning fly fishing course. After 3 days, he was casting a fly rod. At the school, his only choice was a 6 weight fly rod. He wanted to be able to fish for local bass and bluegills, and learn to catch 'Hooch trout. He discovered that casting the 6 weight 9 foot outfit for very long actually made his arm and shoulder sore.

He was running a search on the web and ended up at my website. He began reading my articles about using lighter tackle for the average fish found in our area. He emailed me and we chatted, then he booked me for an afternoon to fish several different rods/lines. This gave him some experience to help him decide what weight rod HE preferred for our local fish. His selection was NOT a 6 weight 9 foot rod!!

After 4 hours of fishing, first a 9 foot 6 weight for about 5 minutes, then the balance of the trip fishing a 4, 3, and 2 weight, he noted "my arm and shoulders don't hurt. This is a lot of fun!" Based on what felt "good" to him casting, catching and playing local fish, an 8 foot 2 weight medium action rod will be his fly rod of choice.

The myriad choices available to us today in rods, reels, and lines are wonderful if you have an expanded experience base. If you are a beginner, the choices can be bewildering! Good help at fly shops is hard to get, because of the prejudices against starting fly fishers on light tackle. Most shop personnel have never fished ultralight tackle. Many don't know what feel they would want in an ultralight fly system. So it is IMPOSSIBLE for them to know exactly what YOU really want to feel in your ultralight rod/line as you fish. You have to determine that.

According to rod designer Jerry Siem: "Many fly fishers suffer from nine foot five weight syndrome. A lot of fly fishers fish with a nine foot, five weight rod, which has been such a standard for trout fishing. I felt that we could introduce a rod that would bring a new level of pleasure, and stimulate the growth of the sport. With what we can do with graphite rods, with leaders and tippets getting finer and flies becoming smaller, I think you can have a lot of fun, and land even big fish with these lighter outfits." In many cases, the "party line" still dictates 6 weights for beginners.

Matching a line to a rod to produce the feel YOU want when YOU fish is the most important issue. This feel is totally subjective, and YOU have to decide what that feel is. If you don't enjoy the FEEL of your tackle, you won't get the full enjoyment from ultralight fly fishing. Fishing for most bluegills and available bass with a 6 weight outfit won't give you the FEEL you're looking for. Fishing for those same fish with a 1 to 3 weight will make it a joy to fish!!

Matching your tackle to the average fish's size/weight is important for maximum fun and preserving the fish if you catch and release. When you fish, you want to feel the fish and see your rod bend! For half to 1 pound bluegills, 10 inch trout, and the average 1 to 1.5 pound bass, a 1 to 3 weight fishing system is plenty strong, and lets you ENJOY catching those fish. Once you become experienced with ultralight rods, you can land even large fish quickly and release them unharmed.

Trying to select a fly fishing system by casting a rod/reel in a parking lot with worn out line is NOT the way to make a good selection. It is only a start. To really know, YOU MUST FISH A ROD TO REALLY KNOW IT! That means you need to get on the water and fish multiple rods/lines. Most fly shops don't have water nearby to test fish outfits. Most assume the right choice for the beginner is a 5 or 6 weight in an 8 to 9 foot rod. Lighter rods are scoffed at. The party line dictates heavier rods that are assumed "easier to cast" for the inexperienced. Sadly, these heavy rods aren't easier to learn to cast on, and aren't fun to catch the average fish on. In addition, heavy rods will physically wear the fly fisher out and can even cause orthopedic problems.

I have taught several fly fishers to cast. If they haven't already been led to believe they HAVE to begin with a 9 foot 6 weight rod, I handed them a 4 or 3 weight and they cast away. Many were catching fish within the hour. They were having so much fun, they didn't know they weren't supposed to be fishing that 4 or 3 weight. I didn't tell them. When they moved to a 2 or 1 weight, it was a revelation for them. Moving to a 3 weight or lighter rod meant their fatigue was gone and the fun was on. What more can one ask from fly fishing?

I have found that all rods including ultralights can vary as much as a full line weight or more up or down from what they are rated. It doesn't matter whether they are inexpensive or expensive. What is the impact? When you are using the line weight number for reference, it can mislead you. If you're experienced and know the nuances of rod evaluation, and matching a line to get your desired results, it takes thought. If you aren't very experienced, evaluating rods can be a nightmare. In other words, your favorite 1 weight may be a true 1 and a half weight, or 2 weight. A new 3 weight may be a true 4 weight. By true, I mean it takes a 4 weight line to get the rod to load and give you the FEEL you want.

It is things like non uniform rod weight ratings that drives some fly fishers to distraction. There are ways to handle the situation. If you pick up a rod and cast it, but with 20 feet of fly line out it doesn't feel like the line is loading the rod, go up in line weight. If you started with a 3 weight rated rod and a DT3F line, and the line doesn't feel like it is loading the rod, substitute a WF3F line. Usually this increase in line weight and weight forward line configuration will cure the problem. One other issue is that a rod/line will feel different when you pick up your line on water as compared to asphalt or grass, because there is much more drag in the water. This is another good reason to test fish rods/lines before buying.

Conversely, if you cast a line on your 3 weight which tries to crush the rod when you lift 20 to 30 feet of line, go down in line weight. As in the example above, shift back to a DT3F. If that is still too heavy, a WF2F may be in order. Line weight, rating, and taper will also vary by manufacturer and by line design.

Much is said about ferrules, the joints that connect each section of your rod. There are basically two types of ferrules: Butt over tip ferrules as in the image right, and spigot ferrules as in the image left. I have never heard anyone make a clear, scientific, definitive case for selecting one ferrule style over the other. So far as I know, both work well! Winston Rod Company has used spigot ferrules as long as I've been aware of them. Other manufacturers feature rods with either or both styles of ferrules.

A selection of Today's Under $200.00 UL Rods

Cabela's offers at least 7 ultralight rod choices priced below $200.00. I received an email from a frequent visitor to my website telling me about the Cabela's Clear Creek 7 foot, 2 section 1 weight IM6 graphite rod for $99.99. My initial reaction was "Oh yeah, right! A 1 weight for under $200.00."

Over the years I've found that most inexpensive rods and some expensive rods actually are at least a line weight heavier than rated. Not this one! I fished my new Cabela's model CC701 - 7 foot 1 weight loaded with Sage Quiet Taper WF1F line on a Lamson 1 reel with a size 14 water spider. After catching and releasing a bunch of fat bluegills, many like the one right, I was a believer! This rod comes in a nice rod tube with rod sock for 99.99, and these rod lines are covered by Cabela's standard blanket 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. The 2 weight version model CC702, and 3 weight version model CC703 are 2 section 7 footers, and are $99.99.

I fished a Cabela's Prestige model 763 combo pricing in at $59.99 to cover the least expensive 3 weight rod possibilities. It came with a Prestige reel, WF3F line, and backing, cast its WF3F line well, and showed good sensitivity. Call for more info and to order. For full information contact Cabela's at 800-237-4444 or click on Cabela's on line.

Orvis's Howard Steere and Jim West actually created the first ultralight fly rods in the early 1980s, and Orvis manufactures several 3 to 1 weight rods, but most of their ultralight rods choices are over $200.00. However, you can actually buy an Orvis 3 weight 8 foot two section Clearwater Classic rod packed in nice rod sock and protective rod case with full lifetime warranty for $175.00.

I fished my new Orvis Clearwater Classic true 3 weight with spigot ferrule and fancy uplocking reel seat (above right), and found it to be a nice all around rod. It has the backbone for heavier subsurface flies and presentations yet is light enough for dry flies. This model is the only Orvis UL rod currently available for under $200.

In addition, the Howard Steere - Jim West developed traditional Orvis Superfine ultralights are on sale at just over the $200.00 price range of this article complete with rod sock, rod tube, and 25 year warranty. You can buy a piece of ultralight fly fishing history and some really fun rods until the stock is gone. They are being replaced by an updated family of Superfine rods.

To get full details on this 3 weight rod, or for order information, contact Orvis. Just click on Orvis on line.

Redington was purchased by Sage just before this article was written, and re-located to Washington State. Contact Redington at their new home in Washington or see your local Redington dealer.

Redington offers 11 ultralight models from 7 to 9 feet in length with a lifetime warranty and pricing under $200.00. I fished the Redington model CRS2 8022, an 8 foot 2 section for 2 weight line, and the Redington Crosswater 763/4, a two section 7 foot rod for 3/4 line. My casting and fishing tests found both rods to be right on the mark for their rated line weight. Priced at $159.00 the CRS2 8022 cast a Sage QTII WF2F line beautifully, and priced at $59.00 the CW 763/4 cast a WF3F line just fine. The Crosswater CW 763/4 has a slightly faster action. I fished both on open water and a small stream and found both did a very nice job casting into tight spots.

Contact your local Redington dealer, or call 866-498-7243 for product, warranty, repair and all other information. For about a month, please try to be patient while dealing with Redington during their settling in period.

St. Croix offers your choice of four Avid series ultralight fly rods in 3 weights from 6 feet to 9 feet.

I have cast and fished their only 2 weight rod, an Avid 7 foot 2 section (AF762) priced $170.00, plus the Avid 8 foot 2 section 3 weight AF803 rod. The 2 weight rod will handle a WF1F line for light loading or WF2F line if you like a heavier rod load. The 8 foot 3 weight will handle a WF2F for light load or a WF3F line for a heavier load. Both rods came in nice rod tubes, and featured single foot line guides.

St. Croix also offers an Imperial 7 foot 3 weight for $140.00. The image above right is of an Avid 4 section rod. For product information the St. Croix toll free number is 800-826-7042. Go to the St. Croix website for dealers.

Temple Fork - Lefty Kreh is very involved with this new rod company based in Texas committed to building affordable high performance fly rods. I have fished the Temple Fork Western 8 foot 3 piece 2 weight, and 8 foot 3 weight 4 section Western IM6 graphite rods and found them to be very light physically and smooth casting rods. Both were cast with Orvis 2 and 3 weight Wonderlines. Both rods are medium action, and they loaded and cast effortlessly. Both rods feature spigot ferrules like some of the top dollar fly rods. At $139.95 these rods impressed me as very good values, and both models carry a lifetime warranty.

According to the manufacturer, these Western Series rods are now Lefty Kreh signature rods called Professionals. The price on the 2 and 3 weight in this new series of rods is $139.00.

I like the Temple Fork rods. At the time I first wrote this article, TFO rods came packaged in clear plastic tubes with a rod sock, but the plstic tubes are NOT intended as rod cases, they are strictly for shipping. The base price is lower than the other comparable rods, but to have a rod tube to protect your rod, you'd have to add about $20.00 to the $139.00 price, bringing the total price for comparison to $160.00. A full selection of rod cases is available.

Series 1 Temple Fork rods are available in UL weights starting at $89.95 from Temple Fork Rods - click on Temple Fork rods on line. Shipping is available worldwide.

In June 2006 I had to return my 3 section 8 foot 2 weight rod for a rod tip replacement or exchange. Temple Fork's service was VERY good. They turned my rod around in no time flat!

I don't suggest that this article covers every single 3 and 2 weight rod under $200.00 that is being made. It covers most rods from manufacturers committed to building good quality rods at a lower, affordable price. Hopefully, you will find the information above helpful in selecting new or additional rods. I have been favorably impressed with ALL of the rods I've fished. The really good news is -- Once you can decide what you want, it is available at an affordable price!!

-- Bill Byrd.