Wiggling tells you nothing
So, you’re in the fly shop, and you want to buy a fly rod. Are you going to wiggle the rod? If you are, be prepared to feel like a standup comedian who bombed. You cannot determine the action of any fishing rod by wiggling it, at any acceleration. You can even have Olympic wiggling skills, but you’re just an idiot with a stick in hand.
The only way to get a read on the action of a fly rod, having only a fly rod and being indoors without the benefit of casting a rigged system, is to hold the rod in two hands (rod butt and cork handle) and have the rod anchored to your hip. From that position, make quick, short thrusts to the left and right. If you watch where the rod bends deepest, voilà, you found out what the action of that particular rod is. Think of your indoor trial as one step toward elimination or approval and take it from there.
Knowing a fly rod’s action will not tell you how you will like it when it’s rigged or when the whistle blows, and it’s game on. To get up close and personal with the fly rod you didn’t wiggle but liked because you knew what you were doing, you need to test drive it at the fly shop.
You can’t do what you need to do at a big box store, listening to bloviating bloggers, or by reading SMS-slick marketing campaign text.
As to having a balanced system; many opine it’s an oversold concern
My 10-weight fly rod has a 12-weight rated reel on it – no possible shortage of 30-pound test backing. Tarpon, ocean size jacks, and spinner sharks have big, diesel engines. My 5-weight rod has a 4-weight rated reel. No trout has tested it’s spooled limits.
From these “unbalanced systems,” my physical suffering seems to stay concentrated in my right knee, which my cat tells me has nothing to do with my “system.”
What is balanced anyway?
“A fly rod and reel outfit that is not correctly balanced can have some serious adverse effects on your ability to make accurate casts over long periods.
For instance, a fly reel that is too heavy for the fly rod with which it is paired will cause the outfit to feel butt heavy. This causes the caster to use more energy than necessary to start and stop the rod at the beginning and end of the casting stroke.
This will cause you to overshoot or undershoot your target, resulting in wasted time and energy while you wait for the fly to drift to a safe place for pick up before you have to cast again.” – Bill Bernhard
A touch of common sense?
My first 10-weight was a Sage RPL (the 1990s) – an early rendition of graphite. By today’s standards it was a flagpole. I paired it with a Tibor Billy Pate Tarpon Reel. I do not recall thinking it was or was not balanced. The combo had a happy camper at the handle end for nearly a decade until Eastern Airlines sent it to coordinates unknown.
Balance is dependent on where and how you grip that handle
The quest for the Sword of Godric Gryffindor (Harry Potter) in the fly rod business is lighter and lighter, and reels have followed that same quest.
A lopsided reel set up can and will tax you, but its evidence will come as the day wears on. However, if you’re tearing up about it while pitching a rod built to catch stocked rainbows, please take your tissues and leave the room.
If you are persnickety about balance an easy way to test it being wrong “for you” would be to hold as you would when casting, but loosely. If it dips quickly downward, you reel is too light, and so on.
That said, it’s how you hold the rod when casting. A forward handle grip feels different than a mid-handle grip, and if you use Joe Mahler’s grip as shown it’s an altogether new ballgame.