Tips & Tactics #23 – How long is your rod?

A fellow asked me how long my rod was. What he really wanted to know is what rod should he buy.

When I started surfing in 1962, a 9 foot 6 inch board was the standard. Then they made them wider and longer, evolving to large noses, skinny tails and a longer skeg. (Anybody out there remember the Dewey Weber Performer?) Boards grew to 10 and 11 feet before they developed better foam. With the lighter and more dense foam a smaller board could float you, so everything went small and smaller, down to micro. One skeg went to three and cutting waves up replaced long graceful nose rides. Today they use all sorts of boards depending on what they want to accomplish and fly rods are similar in that regard.

Long Boarding in the 60's
Long Boarding in the 60’s


Photo by Lloyd Sagendorph
Photo by Lloyd Sagendorph

So as a new trout fisher which fly rod should you buy?

With fly rods, like surf boards, length tends to beget function.  Modern materials enable manufacturers to make rods in many different lengths. An 11 foot rod in a light weight can help a nympher cover more water with more control while a short rod would be fun for catching small upstream Brookies. The Spey and Switch rods as well as some Tenkura rods are long. Lee Wulff loved a short rod. Don Miller in his book Dapping suggests a 16 foot rod!

Like golf clubs, different rods are made to do different work, but unlike golf you seldom see a fellow on the stream with 9 rods slung over his shoulder. We tend to pick a rod and go fishing.

(When in a drift boat it is often helpful to have a few rods of different configurations rigged to meet varying circumstances during the day or a wading fisher may have a few different rods in the car, but generally he picks one and makes it do what it needs to do.)

I tell new fly fishers to get a 9 foot graphite rod, in a 5 weight. I believe this is the universal trout rod. You can do most anything you need to do to catch a Trout with a rod like this. A fiberglass version may help those on a budget as will a pre-owned rod.

Disclaimer – I am no expert – just a fisherman. Here are a couple of other things to consider when buying a rod:

·       Weight, in terms of how much the rod actually weighs, is important. You don’t want one that feels like a log in your hand.

·       The line weight should match the rod’s line capacity – it is usually written on the rod. Some rods may have a range of weights – like a 4-5.  This indicates you can try to use either weight line and see how you like it. The truth is you can put a 4 wt. line on a 5 wt. rod and visa versa.  It will cast, but differently.  You get to decide which you like better. I have met a few folks at our annual casting clinic who had outfits with heavy, stiff rods and very light line.  It makes casting difficult.  If you match the rod and line you will have an easier time of it.

·       Reels should not be too heavy either.  They need to be large enough to hold the line/backing and you should be able to balance the rigged rod with one finger on the rod in front of the grip. Look for a large arbor reel – the guy in the fly shop will explain. Drag is important, again, ask about it.

·       Grips are made of cork and they come in a variety of designs – cigar shaped, wells and half wells are common and there are more. The choice is personal. Try a few and see what fits. Like most things in life once you choose one you will learn to be comfortable with it.  Be wary of fly rods that have grips made of other materials.

·       Flex is another consideration and for starters a medium tip flex would be my choice but test a few different flex’s and see what works for you. Stiff flex will power the line for distance and wind; soft flex will enable delicate presentations.

·       The hardware comes in “degrees of decorative” but do check the reel seat to make sure it holds the reel securely with no wobble. Also the number of guides on the rod is important – too few can make line management difficult. An inexpensive rod should have as many guides as the most expensive.

rods - mayfly guide - france

How much should you spend? Here is the thing – you can catch a fish, even cast a line, with most any rod. In today’s market the performance difference between a $100 rod and a $250 rod can be significant, in my opinion. However the incremental improvement from $250 to $750 is nominal, especially for someone who has not yet honed their casting skills.

Please – if you can – go to a fly shop for your rod rather than a catalog or big box store. They will ask you what you will be fishing for and where, show you a variety of rods, and let you cast them before you buy. They may even have a pre-owned one at a great price.

Brands. A new fisher should consider popular brands that specialize in fly rods as a guideline. Be careful of some well-known (but now generic) fishing brands that will stick their name on anything to make a buck. Most quality manufacturers, if not all, will offer a range of price points. Try to buy in the middle, if you can. Keep in mind that my first rod was a fiberglass 8.5 foot 6 wt. that cost well under $100 in today’s dollars. So don’t let the high cost of some rods keep you from getting on the water.

Here is one more point – My friend likes to fish freshwater and salt. He wants to buy one rod to do both. Not going to work. Trout rods range between a 2 weight on the extreme small side and 7 wt. on the heavy. 4-5 wt. is in the middle. A Striper or False Albacore rod is going to be an 8-9 wt. and Tarpon rod could be a 12 wt.

Rich Cosgrove’s 1st Albie

For more on how to catch a Trout and the equipment you will need click here.

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