Golfers can carry to the course a bag of different clubs that are used for very specific shots and situations. If the golfer needs maximum distance off the tee, he has a specific club in his bag for that - a driver. Shorter distances? Finesse shots? Accuracy? Low or high trajectory? The golfer carries clubs designed specifically for each of these desired shot outcomes.
Savvy bass fishermen usually carry several rods on their boat for different types of casts to be made, lures used, or cover being fished. For a fisherman like myself, who prefers remote lakes with a small canoe and spinning rod or wading and fly-fishing rivers and streams, carrying several rods is obviously impractical. The rod choice must be made before your arrival at the water.
One can fantasize, however.
Imagine standing mid-river, turning to your "rod caddy" and saying, "See that large rainbow trout sipping midges on that far bank? How about handing me a medium-action, 9-foot, 5-weight rod to make this cast." Yes, golfers do indeed have it made.
When it comes to fly-fishing, specifically, it's important to use the right rod for the species of fish and the type of water you are fishing. If you are buying your first fly rod, these questions should be answered before dropping down your hard-earned cash on a new rig.
If you have determined that trout is your quarry of choice, your next consideration should be the type of water you plan to fish. If hiking to remote, backcountry streams is your cup of tea, then you'd better have a rod that is optimized for that type of water. These streams are usually draped by a canopy of rhododendron and mountain laurel, leaving little room for a backcast. A shorter rod, in the 7- to 8-foot range, might make those short, accurate casts easier to make.
Another consideration is the rod's "weight," which refers to the line that particular rod is designed to cast. These are designated in numbers from 0 to 15, with 0 being the lightest and 15 the heaviest. For the delicate presentations and small flies usually needed in small streams and creeks, a lighter line is preferred, with 2- to 4-weight being ideal.
Hikers and backpackers should also consider 4- or 5-piece rods that break down into shorter segments. These can fit comfortably into a backpack or small daypack, while the longer 2-piece rods must be carried by hand because they will stick too far out of the top of a pack.
For larger streams with plenty of open space for longer casts and backcasts, a longer rod is more efficient. A 9-foot rod keeps more line off the water for better line control and mending. It also makes longer casts easier. A line weight of 4 to 6 is preferred to the lighter lines, since the presentation does not always have to be as delicate, and there are more options for fly choices. A heavier line can cast heavier, weighted flies too - perfect for those situations that call for streamers or a brace of nymphs on these larger trout streams.
Fishing small ponds and lakes for bream and other panfish is great fun, particularly during this time of year. I've found a 9-foot, 6-weight rod is perfect for turning over those small, air-resistant balsa poppers, while still allowing those scrappy little fighters a chance to put a good bend in the rod.
For largemouth bass fishing, you need a rod that can cast heavy flies and has plenty of backbone to muscle the fish to the boat quickly. A rod nine feet or longer helps make longer casts and gives more leverage while fighting a heavy fish. A 7- or 8-weight rod will cast a deer-hair, top-water fly or a weighted Clouser minnow with ease while ably handling all but the largest of lunker bass.
With a little forethought, making the right rod choice can be quite easy. While I might envy golfers every once in a while, the envy is fleeting, and it doesn't run deep. I would rather be at my favorite bream pond with a fly rod and a box of poppers than on a golf course any day.