While it's no easy task to wade through all the options available, here is our list of the 10 best fly fishing rods available. You can't go wrong with these rods.
Nerds of the subject can go on for hours about the relative merits of different rods. The question seems silly on its face. The best rod for what? And even if you agree on that, everyone's going to prefer a range of actions, handling, and aesthetics. Nevertheless, it's possible to find a few that truly do stand out from the rest of the pack.
The Payne 100
One thing I learned about fly rods watching my dad splinter his newly bought Orvis Battenkill is cane rods are a bit too fragile for me. Not so of the Payne 100, which has garnered a reputation as an "old reliable". That reputation holds up on multiple fronts. Many examples of this durable medium-action rod have survived to the present day, and collectors pay a premium for its easy-to-use, but precise dry fly casting.
Orvis Battenkill "Joe Brooks"
Luckily for him, dad managed to repair the Orvis rod. The so called "Joe Brooks" model is a bit of a misnomer. It picked up the name from the Orvis catalogue, which mentioned off-handedly it was a favorite of legendary fly-man Joe Brooks. The rod is prized for its slow action among its devotees.
Art Weiler Garrison 212
The Garrison 212 is a legend of American fly fishing. Most fly fisherman who get their hands on an original from the first half of the 20th century take an Indiana Jones attitude--"It belongs in a museum". Regardless of this reverence, the plans are widely available, and copied by amateurs and professional rodsmiths alike. Art Weiler's are widely regarded as the best, both in terms of overall quality and fidelity to the original.
G. Loomis IMX
Before this rod debuted graphite rods were, at best, a marketing ploy. The IMX made them the wave of the future. G. Loomis has continued the line to the present day, with new innovations coming out yearly.
G. Loomis NRX
Loomis built its reputation on rods that tossed out record-breaking casts, and the new NRX continues that tradition. This newer model grabbed everyone's attention when it won Yellowstone Angler's 2013 5-weight shootout.
Tom Morgan 8'6" 5-weight
Tom Morgan's most recent creation makes this list for proving Morgan can still innovate, despite years in the industry. The newest model features lighter guides, a minor revision that adds appreciable gains to accuracy and feel.
I think I'm with most people when I say Sage is a saltwater rod company, though they've made some fine trout rods. This new series builds on the Sage One to produce an even lighter, faster rod, with great accuracy over most of its range.
English rod makers are tragically underrepresented in America. Hardy has managed to stay in the game, and its Zenith line is turning a lot of heads. The rod's incredible performance--30% lighter and 60% stronger than other graphite rods--is attributed to Sintrix, a new silicon-doped graphite formula. Heavily marketed trademarks ignite my skepticism like nothing else, but every hand that's held one swears by the high performance of the Zenith.
With the resurgence of interest in bamboo fly fishing rods, it might not be absurd to talk about "classic" graphite models. Fans of the Winston IM-6 model point to its action, which is slowed-down and smoothed-out as compared to other graphites.
Powell LTT 5 piece
Reviewer's disclaimer before I continue: this is my first, and still favorite, fly rod. Powell's LTT series is well known and well liked for its light weight and light action. The five piece version was a one-off when they reintroduced the rod in 2000, not as popular as the three piece flagship model. My five piece 4-weight has let me duck out to local creeks all over the country, with everything I need fitting in a small backpack. Without this versatile little rod I'd have missed a lot of great fishing trips.
I might have cheated with that one.
If you dispute it, or any other rod that made the list, let us know in the comments.