As you begin your journey into the world of saltwater fly-fishing, you will quickly learn how expensive the sport can be. High-end rod and reel set-ups can run you north of $1500. This can make the barrier of entry difficult, but keep in mind it does not have to be. If you are new to fly-fishing, I would advise not breaking the bank on your first rod until you are sure you are passionate about it. In this article, I’ll reveal what I believe are 3 of the best saltwater fly rods under $300.
Based on performance and quality, the best saltwater fly rods under $300 are:
- TFO BVK Series
- DOUGLAS LRS F10904
- ECHO BOOST SALT 9′
Each of these rods are a great value based on the performance they offer. Before you rush out and purchase one, you’ll want to make sure it is the right fit for your style and the type of fishing you do. Below I will detail the pros and cons of each rod using common metrics to help you make an informed purchase. I also hope to alleviate some commonly exaggerated misconceptions around the relationship between equipment spend and results.
Cost vs quality considerations
In any hobby, there is always a question as to whether spending large sums of money will yield better performance. Fishing is no different. If you do your homework, fly-fishing can be affordable while still allowing you to achieve your goals. In reality, 90% of success on the water has to do with angler abilities vs the equipment being used.
Will cheaper rods handle big fish?
A common misconception is that you need an expensive rod to handle big fish. While the build quality of higher end models is better, I assure you big fish can be caught on affordable rods. This has more to do with how you fight the fish than the rod itself.
Will a $300 fly rod have good quality?
While it’s true that you get what you pay for, the quality differences are not as different as you think. Many lower end rods use the same rod blanks among their lower end and higher end models.
The main differences are in the bells and whistles such as guide quality, cork, and reel seats. Don’t get me wrong, cork and guides are very important, but the rod blank is what makes the rod cast how it does.
Matching the Rod Action to your cast
Knowing your casting style is the most important factor when selecting a rod. Getting this part right will save you a lot of time, money and frustration.
Some casters use less power in their arm and allow the rod to do most of the work. Slower action rods work best for these types of casters. The exaggerated bend of the rod allows the rod to load with little effort. Patience is key with this type of casting, as the slower action will require waiting longer before changing directions of your cast. Slow action rods are most suitable for novice fly-fishermen as the rod is more forgiving to mistimed casts.
Power casting Rod Action requirements
In contrast, a power caster’s casting motion is far quicker and uses more power of the arm. Many times, power casting is developed from fly-fishing in regions with a lot of wind or throwing larger flies more frequently. The power caster will require a rod action that is faster, allowing them to change directions of the cast quicker.
Fast action rods will bend less, allowing a quicker load. As you become a more competent caster, the tendency is to move toward faster action rods. This is because of the ability to make quicker, longer casts with a fast action rod. The downside to a faster action rod is there is less room for error in the casting motion.
Consequences of mismatching casting style and Rod Action
A power caster, who throws a slower rod, will tend to overpower the cast causing the loop to fall apart. A slower caster, throwing a fast rod, will tend to wait to long for the rod to load. This will cause the loop to become bigger, killing a lot of your distance.
Knowing where you fall in this spectrum will keep you from making a regretful 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 $300
Of the 3 rods suggested above, the TFO BVK Series is the fastest rod with the most power. Surprisingly, the action of this sub $300 rod rivals that of the highest end rods on the market. If you are a more experienced caster looking for a rod on a budget, the TFO BVK cannot be beaten. The power of this rod makes it easy to punch into the wind when fishing for species such as bonefish or spooky redfish.
Best slow action saltwater fly rod under $300
On the slower end of the spectrum is the ECHO BOOST SALT 9′. This is a very smooth rod and is great for anglers who use a lot of feel when casting. The rod can be overpowered if casted with too much power, but if you wait and let the rod do the work, it casts effortlessly. This is a great rod for making long casts on calm days or if you intend to blind cast. Echo labels this rod as fast, however after casting this rod, I feel it falls more in the medium fast range.
Best medium-fast action saltwater fly rod under $300
The DOUGLAS LRS F10904 is specifically a 10WT model. It is designed for fishing larger species, which we will discuss later in this article. Naturally, bigger rods tend to be a little stiffer, but when compared to other 10 weight rods, it falls in the medium-fast category. This is a great rod for the smooth and power caster who requires backbone at a cheaper price.
Best rods considering casting distance
Everyone is a sucker for distance. The ability to make long casts is a common boasting point of fly casters. Keep in mind however; a lot of fishing applications require short accurate cast’s vs dumping the entire fly line.
Depending on where and what you fish for, will determine how much distance will be required. Ideally, the rod would perform well in both short and long distances. In reality, this is rarely the case.
I personally tested all 3 of these rods for both long short casting distances. Here are the results, and my personal recommendations:
Best long casting saltwater fly rod under $300
For longer casts, the ECHO BOOST SALT 9′ wins this category. Although it is a slower rod, it is surprisingly easy to reach long distances. I have fished this rod multiple times for redfish in my local area. When I was able to properly set up on fish, without making a rushed cast, this rod was able to reach fish at long distances.
The TFO BVK Series is a close second on distance. In fact, for the power caster, the BVK will most likely be a longer casting rod. This will be especially true when casting into the wind. One of the first rods I ever owned was a TFO BVK 7wt. At the time being a beginner, it didn’t cast that well. I still own this rod and fish it from time to time. As I have become a quicker, more powerful caster, I see the full capabilities of this rod. For the price, there is no better rod for power casters.
The DOUGLAS LRS F10904 was significantly more difficult to make long distance casts. For some reason, the rod just didn’t load well enough to really launch the line. I would place this rod in a distant third for the ability to make longer casts.
Best short casting fly rod under $300
For close quarters casting where short, accurate casts are needed, the TFO BVK Series outperformed. I was able to hit my target within a dinner plate range with minimal false casts. This rod is extremely accurate at shorter distances.
Surprisingly the DOUGLAS LRS F10904 was also very impressive at shorter distances. Throwing large flies quickly and accurately was no problem with this rod. This rod will perform well when fishing for quick rolling tarpon or other blitzing species.
As expected, the ECHO BOOST SALT 9′ performed the worst in this category. The slow action of this rod makes it difficult to load quickly causing it to be less accurate at shorter distances. I was able to hit my targets but my reaction time was slower. This would not be a great rod if fishing areas where fish will pop up next to the boat.
Examining the strengths of all 3 rods
Best use of the TFO BVK Series
As mentioned, one of my first fly rods was a TFO BVK 7wt. I caught numerous large redfish on this rod. I also caught my very first bonefish on this rod. The TFO BVK Series is capable of catching you species such as Jacks, redfish, bonefish, permit, and false albacore. The best models of the TFO BVK are going to be the 6-9wt.
Where I feel this rod lacks is in the 10-12wt. When using TFO’s larger weights in the BVK series, I didn’t feel that the rod had sufficient backbone to handle species such as tarpon.
Where the DOUGLAS LRS F10904 shines
In this area, I would recommend the DOUGLAS LRS F10904. For a 10wt under $300, it was extremely strong and presented big flies well.
If you are looking for an affordable rod in the 10wt class, this one takes the cake.
When the ECHO BOOST SALT 9’ is the best option
The ECHO BOOST SALT 9′ will handle the same species recommended for the BVK series, just not as well. If you are looking to target larger gamefish, I would put this one at the bottom of the list.
The best models of the ECHO BOOST are going to be 6-8wt.
Best all around saltwater fly rod under $300
Of the three rods reviewed, the overall best quality goes to the ECHO BOOST SALT 9′. The quality of the cork on this rod is exceptional for the price and the black anodized reel seat feels solid. Additionally, the full-titanium guides are comparable to many higher-priced rods.
The TFO BVK Series leaves a lot to be desired in quality areas. Although this rod has the best blank of the three rods, the component quality is lacking. The cork is not very durable and will crack and split of time and use.
Although the reel seat is made of carbon fiber, the reel up lock mechanism feels cheap and will often become difficult to unscrew. In recent years, TFO has changed the guides to their new tactical series. Although this is a considerable improvement, they are still not as nice as the ECHO BOOST SALT.
The DOUGLAS LRS F10904 has a quality rod finish and carbon fiber reel seat. The up lock mechanism is nice and durable. The best component of this rod is the cork. The cork used by Douglas is the best of the three.
You do not need to spend a ton of money to be successful at fly-fishing. You do, however, need to research carefully when trying to save money in this hobby. In this article I covered what are, in my opinion, the 3 best saltwater fly rods under 300. We took into consideration action, casting distance, and each of the rods’ strengths. Taking this approach when selecting equipment will save you tons of money over the long run.
Many manufacturers are creating more and more affordable options when it comes to rods. Although you may sacrifice some build quality, the castability of a lower-end model can be just as good. At the end of the day, it does not matter if your rod is worth $300 or $900, as long as you catch some fish!