Fly rods that we use today have really come a long way from the long, heavy rods of the 1800’s. Men crafted the first rods from ash, hickory or other heartwoods because of their superior strength. The only problem with this technique was the weight of the rods. In the 1850’s a group of American rodbuilders began to experiment with thin strips of bamboo glued together to form a single blank. These rods were very strong & also very flexible. Another key advantage is that they were considerably lighter than the previous rods. Unfortunatley these bamboo rods did require a bit of extra care. They required revarnishing and they also had to be stored carefully so they would not warp.
Because of these issues Fiberglass rods were introduced around 1945. These rods were a lot cheaper, more durable, and were very easy to mass produce.The original fiberglass rods had problems with rigidity and unpredictable casting dynamics. However, in a few years, rodmakers developed a tapered steel form & wrapped fiberglass around it. This improved the rod considerably. In 1960 aerospace engineers had a breakthrough development when they introduced graphite. The graphite rods are lighter and thinner than the bamboo rods and can produce higher line speeds for longer casts. Graphite has eventually replaced most all the fiberglass or glass rods. Over 95% of all rods built today are graphite. Bamboo rods are still custom made in limited numbers and are still the “premium” rods that rod makers sell.
A fly rod selection is definitley a personal choice. You will need to hold the rod in your hand to check the feel of it. The grip will be important to the size of your hand, and your comfort level. You will need to consider where you will do a majority of your fly fishing. If you plan to spend more time on small rivers, possibly under a lot of trees, etc..then you need to consider a shorter, lighter weight rod. For general dry-fly fishing you could consider a 4-5 weight rod. If you are planning on a lot of lake, or large river fishing, you could choose a longer 8 1/2 foot, 5 weight rod. Because you will have more leverage, the longer rods will enable you to do better casting into the wind.
The best advice when purchasing a fly fishing rod is to go to a reputable Outfitter Store, or sporting goods Store & actually try out a fly rod. Many places will actually take you out to a lake or stream and have you practice casting with a few of the different rods you like. This is much better than trying to pick out your fly rod in the store with recommendations from a salesperson.