How Long is Your Fly Rod? January 24 2016

Many a lady or gentleman will tell you size doesn’t matter, and in most walks of life, perhaps this is the case. But when it comes to fly rods, we believe that length does make a difference.

The 9 foot 5 weight is the current standard in trout rods. It’s the most commonly sold rod size on the market. But you’ll find rods in all different lengths from 6’-12’ these days, and especially as you go up or down in line weight you’ll tend to see length stray from the 9 foot standard. So why vary rod length and what’s the tradeoff between short and long?  

The primary advantage of a shorter rod, is that it feels lighter, and is easier to cast. In actuality, reducing rod length by 6” probably only saves you a fraction of an ounce in real weight. But the casting mechanics become more straight forward because the tip of the rod travels a shorter distance – a shorter arc, vs. a longer rod. It’s because a shorter rod feels lighter, that most fiberglass and bamboo rods have gravitated to the under 8’ range. Generally rods made of these heavier materials can be casted more easily and efficiently in shorter lengths. Even with modern light materials such as carbon graphite, you’ll often see rods shorter than the 9’ standard, as even a reduction to 8’6” can substantially change the feel of the cast. Also, on smaller streams and creeks, you’re often casting shorter distances and contending with more growth alongside and overhanging the river. So in these cases, a shorter rod can be a distinct advantage.

Longer rods have the advantage of improved line control. Especially when nymphing, a drag free drift and quick set are the keys to catching fish. A longer rod enables the user to reach over fast currents to avoid drag on the line, and also allows for a shorter amount of line between rod tip and hook. All of this equates to better control, more realistic presentation, and more efficient hook-ups.  

The new trend, is for nymphing rods in the 10’ range or longer. At last month’s ‘Fly Fishing Show’ in Denver, we had several customer inquire about a 10’ 3 weight, and in fact we do custom build rods to this specification. Tenkara rods have also aided in the long rod revolution. Jack Bombardier, a guide at Confluence Casting, often puts a Tenkara rod into the hands of his customers during Colorado River float trips. According to Jack, his newbies wielding a fully extended Tenkara often out-catch the experienced anglers in the boat, simply due to the enhanced line control and efficiency with which they set the hook.

So what’s the answer then? Long, short, or the standard 9 foot 5 weight? At Drifter, we believe you need to pick the right line weight and length for the water you fish. Our 5 weight rod does indeed come in the standard 9’ length. We typically fish this rod on bigger water holding bigger fish.   The longer casting arc doesn’t pose a problem on these waters, and we appreciate the 9’ length for line management. Our 4 weight drops down to an 8’6”. We think a 4 weight is probably the most versatile size for a trout rod, capable on eastern spring creeks and Rocky Mountain rivers alike. Reducing the length 6” makes for a more nimble cast – easy to appreciate when dry fly fishing. At the same time, you aren’t giving up much compared to a 9’ when it comes to line control, and so this rod still works great when you set up a nymph rig. If forced to choose the best option for a one trout rod quiver, we’d choose the 8’6” 4 weight.

Our 3 and 2 weight rods at 8’ and 7’6” are a bit longer than most rod makers spec for these line weights. It’s typical to see 2 and 3 weights in the 6’-7’ range. We find that the extra length is very advantageous for line management given the numerous micro-currents present on smaller streams. Still, at 7’6” and 8’, we’re able to make precision short casts while avoiding brush and overgrowth, and with carbon graphite construction can still punch the line out with ease while fishing alpine lakes or a glassy stream in an open meadow.