Selecting a Fly Rod March 14 2015
A simple google search will turn up lots of articles about selecting an appropriate fly rod. If you're anything like us, eventually you came to the point where just one rod wouldn't do - and you've started to build your quiver. You select a different rod depending on the water you're fishing that day, and the conditions you'll be facing. Common variables to consider include line weight, length, 'rod action' or flex, and material. At Drifter, we focus on high performance trout rods, and so let's talk a little bit about how these variables play into our rod design.
Many will tell you that the ideal 'all around' line weight for trout is a #5. We tend to agree a 5 weight is a good robust option that is serviceable in a variety of conditions - you'll likely never find a trout fishing environment where a #5 is 'not enough rod'. But a five weight can be overkill when you venture into smaller streams or need to engage in short range tactics. Sometimes we'll have just a couple hours at the end of the work day where Clear Creek or Boulder Creek is a convenient local option. A two or three weight is ideal for the relatively shallow pocket water and 6"-12" fish we see in these streams. Over the years I've generally gone to lighter line weights - sometimes fishing a #3 on larger bodies of water like the Blue River or Upper Colorado for example. I like the light weight and nimble feel of fishing with smaller line weight - yet with the right material selection (we'll get to that later) can still get the performance needed to make longer casts and cut through wind. In general, I'd rather battle a fish on really light tackle than to overwhelm my catch with a heavier rod. With the Covert - we focussed on lighter line weights ranging #2-#5, which collectively handle about 90% of the trout fishing situations we encounter here in Colorado.
Length and line weight tend to go hand in hand. As discussed above, we generally cast smaller line weights such as a #2 or #3 shorter distances and on smaller streams. A 9' rod can be a handicap when making pinpoint short casts on this type of water - especially if there's overhanging tree branches and brush to contend with. At the same time, a 6' rod might not give you the length needed to mend line and manage drift, such as when reaching over a bit of fast current to allow drag-free drift in a slow pocket. We've found that 7'-8' offers a good compromise for small streams. It's not too much rod to cast in narrow confines, but offers excellent line control once you're fly is on the water. For medium to large bodies of water, a 8'-9' rod is still the standard of performance and we spec our #4 and #5 rods in this range of lengths.
Rod 'Action' or flex is a highly used differentiator for rods these days. 'Action' is a subjective term that equates with the rod's stiffness, and measures the speed at which the rod rebounds to the straight position after loading or unloading the line. Some rod manufacturers use 'flex' instead of action to describe the rod's stiffness, and at which point (tip, middle, or butt) is the rod's natural flex point (and how much does it flex). Someone could probably write a book about action vs. flex, and how they tie together, but the bottom line is they are subjective descriptors of stiffness and bending characteristics. Our experience is that most of the high performance trout rods on the market these days are trending towards fast or ultra fast action. The advantages of a stiff rod include the ability to cast longer distances, cut through strong winds, and have more line control once the fly is in the water - especially valuable for dedicated nymph fisherman. Disadvantages of a stiff rod may include loss of 'feel', difficulty loading and casting for short and medium distances, and challenges with dry fly presentation and preservation of light tippets when you have a strike. While 'fast action' sounds appealing, we generally find that a more flexible rod best meets our needs for trout fishing. A rod with a good flex profile will cast smoothly over a variety of distances, gives good feedback to the hand of the fisherman while the line is in the air, enables delicate fly presentations, and use of light tippets. Drifter's number one design characteristic is a subjective one - 'Fly Rods with Feel'. As a result, you'll see that we typically describe our rods as moderate or slow action, and mid or full flex. This means less stiffness, a smooth flex profile, and more feel.
In our design process, when we told folks about our desire to create highly responsive, slower action fly rods, many experts recommended fiberglass. Glass rods have made a real comeback in recent years, and there are a number of quality fiberglass focussed rod makers out there. A fiberglass rod can be a nice addition to your quiver. We stuck with graphite due to it's lighter weight, durability, and performance characteristics. Fiberglass gives a more traditional almost cane like feel. Graphite tends to load and perform better across a variety of conditions (alternating between short and long casts for example), and graphite tends to deliver more feedback from the line in the air (or the fish on the hook) to the hand of the fisherman. This is why we're using graphite at Drifter.
In the end - fly rod selection is subjective. There is no 'best or worst', 'right or wrong'. It's finding the rod that feels good when your line is in the air and a fish is on your hook. The rod you take out Tuesday to your local creek might be different from the one you use Saturday on Gold Medal water. Regardless of which one you choose, hopefully it contributes to many happy years on the river.