Many people believe that it costs an arm and a leg to get into fly fishing. While it is true that high-quality rods and reels are expensive, you do not need to purchase costly gear to catch fish. If you are starting, I would advise against a costly purchase until you are sure you enjoy fly-fishing and learn to cast. A good starting point is to choose a rod for around $200 to practice and learn with.
Based on performance and quality, the best saltwater fly rods under $200 are:
Each of these rods are great starter rods and have surprisingly good action and build quality. When making a rod selection, it is essential to know how the rod will perform in different situations. Below I will detail the performance of each rod along with qualities such as craftsmanship so that you can make an informed decision.
Cost vs. Quality considerations
High-end fly rods will not only be vastly more expensive, but they will also be of better quality and perform better. While you do get what you pay for, it is possible to purchase an affordable rod that also performs well. Just because a rod is “cheap” does not mean it will not work. I have personally landed tons of fish on affordable rods. Where quality will vastly differ is in the components used to build lower-end model rods and the action of the rod blanks themselves.
Can less expensive rods handle big fish?
If you have ever watched old fly-fishing films or tv shows, you have probably laughed at the equipment they used. From throwing bamboo poles to soft fiberglass rods, the technology was vastly lacking. These limitations did not stop anglers from catching large fish, and the truth of the matter is that even the lowest-end fly rod today is far superior to the quality of years ago. Fighting and landing large fish is more about the angler’s skill level than the equipment they use. Any of these 3 rods under $200 will have the ability to land large fish.
Can $200 fly rods actually have good quality?
As mentioned above, you can expect to give up some quality as you move down in price point. The rod blank will be of lower quality at a sub $200 price tag, causing the rods to tend to have much slower action. As a beginner, this is hardly noticeable, and even though these rods are not the highest quality, they are still built exceptionally well.
The most significant differences between high-end and low-end rods are:
- The quality of the guides used.
- The durability of the cork.
- The construction of the reel seat.
If you can move up your price point to the $300 range, the quality of the rod will be much better. For a breakdown of recommended rods under $300, check out Best Saltwater Fly Rod Under $300: 3 Killer Rods Tested and Reviewed.
Matching rod action to your casting style
Rod action will vary between slow and fast. A slow-action rod will take a slower casting motion and more finesse to load the rod. On the contrary, a fast-action rod will load quicker and handle a powerful casting stroke much better.
Matching the rod’s action to your casting style is one of the most important aspects of fly fishing. If you are a slow, smooth caster, who prefers to let the rod do all of the work, you will be better suited for a slower action rod.
The powerful caster who prefers to drive the rod’s action will be better suited for a fast rod. Keep in mind; faster action rods are less forgiving than slow action rods when it comes to mistimed casts. Generally, faster rods are used by seasoned fly-fishermen. The main benefit of fast action rods is the ability to load the rod quicker, which is highly beneficial when casting in windy conditions.
Consequences of mismatching casting style and rod action
An angler with a powerful cast will tend to overpower a slower rod causing the loop to fall apart. In comparison, a slower caster will tend to wait too long for a faster rod to load. This will cause large loops in the fly line, prohibiting you from carrying large amounts of line.
Being aware of the type of caster you are will keep you from making a bad purchase. For more information on fast vs. slow action rods, check out my article Why do fishing rods bend?
Recommendations based on rod action
Best fast action saltwater fly rod under $200
Of the 3 rods suggested above, the Redington VICE has the fastest action and is the most suitable for the power caster. Considering the sub $200 price point, the rod is comparable in action to higher-end rod models. The Redington VICE performed well in windy environments and is suitable for more experienced anglers looking for a budget rod or possibly a backup.
Best slow action saltwater fly rod under $200
For the slower finesse caster, the ECHO ION XL is a solid rod. The ECHO ION XL has a lot of feel and is designed for soft casters who wait on the cast. Similar to all slow-action rods, this rod can be overpowered if cast too aggressively. Waiting on your cast and allowing the rod to do the work will make casting the ECHO ION XL smooth and accurate. The rod fishes well on calm days where there is the ability to take long-distance shots at fish patiently.
Best medium-fast action saltwater fly rod under $300
Medium action rods are ideal for the beginner who still needs to learn the mechanics of the cast while still allowing them to feel the ability of a faster rod. The Temple Fork Professional II fly rod does just that. This rod casts exceptionally well as long as you wait a little longer on the cast. I was pleasantly surprised by how well this $199 rod cast.
Best rods considering casting distance
Distance is critical when targeting spooky fish or when casting at quick-moving species. Although long-distance is important, the majority of fly casts to fish are at short distances.
Knowing what type of fish you plan to target and the environment they live in will help you determine whether a long cast is needed or if a short quick shot will be more common. For example, if you fish for bonefish that tend to be spooky, then a rod that casts better at long distances is more beneficial. In my home waters, where redfish are the primary target, short quick casts are most typical as the fish will pop up out of nowhere, often feet away.
Where possible, it is best to select a rod that does both well. The rod may not be the best in each category but will perform well in both situations.
Best long casting saltwater fly rod under $200
In the long cast category, the Redington VICE is the best option. The faster action and stiffer backbone of the rod allow it to load quickly and shoot a considerable amount of line. For the cost of this rod, I was impressed with its ability to make long accurate casts. This rod is very stiff, making it easy to shoot considerable amounts of line.
The Temple Fork Professional II is the runner-up in the distance category. The rod was very smooth when cast and was capable of shooting 80+ feet as long as you waited an extra second on the backcast. This rod did take longer to get loaded, but with ample time to set up on fish, this rod is capable of plenty of distance.
The slow action of the ECHO ION XL made this rod more difficult to reach greater distances. Therefore I would place it in third place in the distance category. Admittedly, I am more of a power caster, and consequently, this rod did not match my casting style. A slow finesse cater may have better results with distance. I found it difficult to reach 70+ feet with accuracy.
Best short casting saltwater fly rod under $200
To test short-distance castability, I cast at various targets within 20 feet. The goal was to reach each target accurately with minimal false casts (ideally just one).
At shorter distances, the most accurate rod was the Temple Fork Professional II. I hit the varying short distance targets accurately, and the rod loaded well with minimal false casts. This is a great entry-level rod for fishing close quarters.
To my surprise, the ECHO ION XL was also very accurate at shorter distances. I did not expect this as it is the slower of the three rods; however, it had a terrific load at the shorter distances as long as I was conscious not to cast too fast. I would put this rod at a close second.
Before the testing, I would have thought the Redington VICE would be the best in this category. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Although it was accurate at 30-40ft, it did not perform well at close distances. The feel of the rod seemed to disappear when trying quick short shots, and the accuracy suffered. The rod was too stiff to be accurate at a close distance. This places this rod in a distant third for close quarters casting.
Highlighting the strengths
Best use of the Redington VICE
As mentioned, this rod performed great when making long-distance casts. If I were fishing for bonefish, permit, or even small tarpon, this would be my rod of choice. These species reside in tropical climates that are often windy, and therefore the rod’s fast action is the best of the three. I would feel confident in putting this rod to the test on larger species as well. However, currently, the largest rod size available is a 9wt. The rod did not perform well at shorter distances. Therefore, if fishing for species such as redfish where the casts are shorter, I would not recommend this rod.
Where the ECHO ION XL shines
The ECHO ION XL is a great beginner’s rod. The slow action of the rod will allow novice anglers to learn the mechanics of rod load and how important letting the rod do the work is. This rod can handle smaller saltwater species such as redfish, trout, bonefish, and snook. I would not feel confident in using this rod for larger gamefish such as tarpon.
The rod performed well at shorter distances and when there was ample time to make a cast to a fish. I would recommend this rod for a calm morning chasing fish on flats.
When the Temple Fork Professional II is the best option
I would consider the Temple Fork Professional II to be the most versatile rod of the three reviewed. This rod will be capable of landing most saltwater species and will perform the best in varying applications. This is an excellent rod for fishing flats, back-country creeks, or working dock lines.
Best all-around saltwater fly rod under $200
Of the three rods reviewed, the best build quality goes to the ECHO ION XL. The cork quality of this rod was by far the best, and the black anodized reel seat feels solid. The rod has a great look and feel to it as well.
Like most TFO fly rod models, the Temple Fork Professional II lacks in the build quality department. There are no fancy bells and whistles on this rod, but what you do get is a great casting rod at an affordable price. This is the best overall rod under $200 when it comes to performing well in multiple situations. My biggest concern regarding all TFO rods is the poor quality of cork. Consider wrapping the cork handle with tennis racquet tape to protect the cork. Over time the TFO cork handles tend to pit severely.
The Redington VICE is the best choice for the power caster needing long-distance casts. The build components of the rod are also quite nice. Redington uses all anodized components, which hold up well in salt applications. Additionally, the cork felt like it was of good quality.
No matter your price point, there is a fly rod for you. Although lower-priced rods are not the same quality as higher-end models, they can land most saltwater fish.
If you are new to fly fishing, I would highly recommend starting with a lower-level rod until you have mastered the basic mechanics of casting. You want to be sure this is a sport you wish to continue to pursue before spending $800 on a rod.
The most important aspect of selecting a rod is not price. It is matching your rod to your casting style. The best advice is to try casting the rod at a local fly shop before making a blind purchase. Often the rod you think will be best may not be what you thought it was.
For under $200, each of the three reviewed rods are well worth the money and are more than capable of catching fish.