Choosing the Best Fly Rod for Saltwater
Update: Wow, I first published this post in 2018. Hard to believe it's now 2024. Lot of new fly rods out, lot of new fly lines too. Most of my advice is staying the same though, because it's still about finding the right rod for you.
Whether you are starting out from scratch or coming from years of freshwater fly fishing, selecting the right fly rod for saltwater is, first of all, a matter of what fish you want to catch and where you plan to go fishing the most. You don't need lots of fishing experience but it does help to think something like "I saw somebody catching an awesome tarpon, now I want to go catch those" and go from there.
If you don't know which fish species yet and you just want a great general-purpose rod to start with, get an 8 weight (usually abbreviated to "8wt"). That's going to cover you for a lot of different species and it's not as heavy as larger rods.
If you know you want to go to the Bahamas then you can probably bet you want a bonefish setup because that's usually what people go after there.
Do you want to stalk bonefish on the flats? Chase tarpon around little islands? Go after a sailfish offshore? Three very different rod and reel setups, not to mention line and flies.
Bonefish are one of the most popular fish to catch on a fly, and rightly so. They are fun to pursue and many times you can even do so on foot. Most experts would suggest either a 7 or 8 weight rod and reel combo spooled with a line like RIO Elite Bonefish or the equivalent from Scientific Anglers, and many companies actually make specific line for targeting bonefish to make your decision even easier. Really the hardest part with bonefish (and a few other species) is the never-ending debate over which flies work the best.