The Best Specialty Fly Rods

Fly fishing rods all share one trait: They are designed to throw a weighted line carrying a lightweight artificial fly out to where fish feed. The way the rod accomplishes that, though, varies greatly. And the target end-use of the rod plays a huge role in that variety of design. Still, we find that most rods fall into two general categories, and it is these categories we consider when we evaluate fly fishing rods: Fly Rods for Trout Fishing and Specialty Fly Rods.

Specialty fishing rods cover a broad category that encompasses everything from two-handed spey rods, to delicate dry fly wands. The category also includes things like dedicated saltwater rods and simplistic tenkara rods.

Two-handed spey and switch rods represent one of the fastest growing segments of the fly fishing market – and cover a large part of the specialty fly rods category . The two-handed casting stroke allows anglers to throw long casts with little to no back-casting clearance. Switch rods typically range in length from 10 feet to 12 feet, while spey rods can be 11 to 15 feet in length. Both rod types require two hands to cast, and a specialty line designed specifically for the unique casting strokes needed for these long, powerful rods.

Another set of specialty fly rods, saltwater rods tend to be designed 6-weight to 12-weight lines and built to handle the stress of the corrosive environments of briny waters. Salt rods usually feature rust-resistant line guides and reel seats, and stiff butts and mid-sections to help fight powerful ocean-based fish.

On the other end of the special spectrum, slow-action dry fly rods toss lightweight lines — 3- and 4-weights being most common, though some featherweight rods will go down to 1-weight lines. Those rods deliver those line lights gently so anglers can present delicate dry flies to easily spooked fish. In specialty dry fly rods, distance performance takes a firm back seat to accuracy and feel in our ratings.

For the ultimate in specialty fly rods, we look at Tenkara fishing. These unique rod designs date back thousands of years, prior to the advent of reels. For tenkara rods, the focus is on strength and flexibility. In tenkara fishing, the fixed-length line is tied directly to the tip of the long (up to 14 feet) rod. The rods must have the strength to cast that fixed line, as well as the sensitivity to feel the ‘take’ when a fish hits the fly.

Despite the impressive breadth of the specialty fly rod category, the market for these rods is remarkable shallow — though most rod designs fall into the category, less than half of all rod sales from this pool. As a result, these designs are updated far less frequently than those in the trout rod category, and new designs here typically evolve out of the work done on trout rod designs.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Sage SALT 890-4
95
Best in Class
2016
Weight 8
Fit in Hand / Grip 9
Casting Distance 10
Casting Accuracy 9
Versatility 9
10

Good versatility

Excellent casting distance & accuracy

Sensitive feel on ‘take’

Made in the USA

Pricy

Heavy swing & total weight

MSRP
$850.00
BEST DEAL
$475.00
Orvis Recon 908-4
90
Weight 8
Fit in Hand / Grip 9
Casting Distance 10
Casting Accuracy 7
Versatility 8
8

Good versatility

Good ‘strike’ sensitive in tip

Moderately priced

Made in the USA

Average casting distance

Felt ‘butt heavy’

Not as accurate

MSRP
$425.00
BEST DEAL
$450.00
Orvis Superfine Glass
87
Best in Class
2014
Weight 6
Fit in Hand / Grip 9
Casting Distance 8
Casting Accuracy 9
Versatility 8
Value 7

Shorter rod length works well on small streams with brushy banks

Stiff butt section helps work big fish caught on light tippets

Good casting accuracy within 40-foot range

Soft presentations possible within 30-35 feet

Good price-to-performance ratio

Made in USA

Soft presentation not as easy to achieve as some of the other rods in this class

Fiberglass rod weighs a bit more than graphite rods

Casting distance compromised by shorter rod length

MSRP
$395.00
BEST DEAL
$424.95
Scott Meridian MS908-4
86
Weight 8
Fit in Hand / Grip 8
Casting Distance 10
Casting Accuracy 9
Versatility 4
7

Excellent casting distance

Great power in windy conditions

Good accuracy at longer distances

Made in the USA

Can be difficult to cast

Heavy swing-weight

Highest price

MSRP
$865.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
G.Loomis PRO4x 1088-4 Saltwater
86
Weight 8
Fit in Hand / Grip 8
Casting Distance 8
Casting Accuracy 8
Versatility 9
5

Versatile

Good accuracy

Better than average distance

Reasonable price

Made in the USA

Lacked power to combat windy conditions

Felt soft when tied into big fish

Less sensitive in feeling the strike

MSRP
$360.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Redington Butter Stick
85
Weight 6
Fit in Hand / Grip 8
Casting Distance 7
Casting Accuracy 8
Versatility 7
Value 9

Beautiful butter-colored rod

Capable of delicate presentations of small, medium and large dry flies

Can be used effectively to fish nymphs or double-fly rigs

One of the least expensive rods in the class

Limited casting range

Not made in the USA

Slightly heavier than graphite rods in this class

MSRP
$249.95
BEST DEAL
$199.96
Redington Predator 890-4
83
Weight 8
Fit in Hand / Grip 8
Casting Distance 6
Casting Accuracy 7
Versatility 7
7

Great price

Good fighting action

Accurate casting

Great feel in hand

Modest casting distance

Modest tip sensitivity on ‘set’

One of the heaviest rods in class

Not made in the USA

MSRP
$280.00
BEST DEAL
$279.95
Sage Circa
77
Weight 8
Fit in Hand / Grip 7
Casting Distance 7
Casting Accuracy 10
Versatility 3
Value 2

Slim rod blank is stunning in design and form

Soft, accurate fly presentation

Good reach/distance for a slow-action 4-wt

Lightweight

Made in the USA

Most expensive rod in the class

Least versatility in the class

Longer length can be a hindrance on small streams/brushy back-casting range

MSRP
$775.00
BEST DEAL
$425.00
Orvis Superfine Touch
76
Weight 7
Fit in Hand / Grip 8
Casting Distance 6
Casting Accuracy 7
Versatility 2
Value 6

Full flex design allows to very soft presentation

Stiffer near-grip lower butt section helps bring in larger, hard-fighting fish

Easy to achieve accurate casts at mid-range (up to 35–40 feet)

Made in the USA

Not suitable for anything but shorter, gentle casts

Lacks versatility

Relatively expensive

MSRP
$495.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
LL Bean Pocket Water
71
Weight 5
Fit in Hand / Grip 4
Casting Distance 5
Casting Accuracy 3
Versatility 6
Value 8

Least expensive in the class

Medium action better matches the normal casting stroke of most anglers

Stiffer medium-action rod allows helps control bigger, heavier flies

Faster action taper means less precise presentations of small flies

Somewhat heavy for its size

Accuracy is sacrificed for added power

Not made in the USA

MSRP
$205.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Sage SALT 890-4

The Sage SALT is the brand’s premiere saltwater rod and it represents the brand well. The Salt throws a lot of line with minimal effort, and it throw it accurately. The Salt benefits from the Konnetic composite technology developed for Sage’s other premium rod series (the ONE and the Method). That Konnetic composite material provides great longitudinal strength, with minimal vibration during the ‘swing’, which results in good power and accuracy. But it carries a hefty price tag for that advanced technology. 

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Redington Butter Stick

Redington’s Butter Stick was dubbed the “rod with the most appropriate name” by our team. The rich yellow Butter Stick features a slick, smooth casting action and, thanks to its soft tip flex, a soft presentation on the water. The rod sports enough stiffness in the butt section to be able to step-up and perform if pressed into service as a nymphing rod when the need arises. That puts it ahead of all the graphite models in this class in terms of total functionality.

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