Plenty goes into choosing correct rod

Paul Smith
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Last week I chatted about the evolution of fly rods from fibreglass to graphite. Today’s general consensus in the angling world is that graphite or carbon fibre is vastly more suited to the construction of fly fishing rods than is fibreglass.

That said, there is still a small niche market for fibreglass fly rods, a cult following of sorts. Some anglers prefer the slower action of fiberglass to the race car like performance of graphite.

A few years back, I bought a seven-foot-nine (2.4 m) 3wt rod from Great Bay Rods in New Hampshire. I wanted to experience first-hand what draws a few souls to fibreglass. The rod seemed light in hand and very well put together, nothing like the clunkers from the 1960s.

Obviously the builder paid attention to every tiny detail. The ferrule windings were flawless and the reel seat fitted immaculately. This was not your father’s department-store, mass-produced fibreglass rod.  

I took the rod trouting on a warm August evening when my favourite pond was still and silent. Only loons and ducks broke the tranquil silence. Trout formed dimples on the water’s glassy surface as they greedily slurped hatching caddis flies.

I selected a fuzzy looking Hare’s Ear Nymph and spit on the knot as I clinched it tight.  I didn’t need to cast far. The trout were no more than 20 feet from the rocky shoreline. Perched on a boulder, I made the first cast.

The rod action was tortoise slow,  as my brain fully expected, but after years of casting nothing but high modulus graphite, my built-in intuitive timing botched the cast.

It was like stepping out of a Porsche and driving a pickup. I deliberately slowed the pace and felt the rod load nicely. The line sprung forward and my fly landed gently on the still pond.

In an instant a plump mudtrout devoured my offering and bent the supple fishing pole right to the cork.

What a sweet treat I was enjoying. An 11-inch trout was buckling my rod and laying on me quite a battle.

So, that’s the beauty of these new generation fibreglass rods. You don’t have to journey to the wilds of Labrador or Russia’s Kola Peninsula to have your rod bent to the handle. All things are relative.

It takes a massive slab-sided salmon to flex a nine-foot 9wt stick of super duper graphite to the limit, but a pan trout can test the grit of a 3wt fibreglass pole.

Don’t get me wrong here. I love fast-action, state-of-the-art fly rods, but there remains room in my life for an evening in the slow lane.

Life slowed down as the sun set over the motionless treetops. My casting rhythm tuned to my surroundings and I soaked in the ambiance of sky, water, fibreglass and trout. I went home in the dark with a fine meal of delicious trout.

The moral of the story is that there is no one rod for all occasions, personalities, skill levels or budgets. First, the rod you take to the Humber River for powerful deep-bellied salmon will not prove very sporting for 10- inch brook trout in your secret backwoods gulley.

And vice versa, an Atlantic salmon would destroy a flimsy trout rod. Typical Newfoundland anglers need at least two rods, a lightweight for trout and a heavy duty for salmon. An 8 or 9wt is fine for salmon, while a 4wt is just about ideal for pan-sized trout.

For bigger brook trout, like those swimming the renowned lakes of Indian Bay and Labrador, a mid-weight outfit will fit the bill. Avalon Peninsula seatrout fall into the same category.  My preference for big trout is a 10-foot (3 m)  6wt.  

There’s still more to choosing a rod than matching it to the size of fish you’re tangling with. You will need to consider rod action. Rods are described as slow or fast and tip action versus full flex.

A slow rod is one that bends deeply as you pull on the line. Essentially it’s constructed of softer or lower modulus graphite, or maybe fibreglass. This means that as you back cast it will take longer for the rod to load for the forward cast. This sort of rod is far more forgiving to novice anglers and is much easier to cast. The downside is that it will not cast as far as a fast action rod.

Fast action rods are made from the highest modulus graphite and are quick to respond to the line’s weight. These rods are capable of 100-foot casts in skilled hands, but require very precise timing.

The window of opportunity to apply power between the back and forward cast is fleeting, and finding the sweet spot requires plenty of practice.

The best action for most people is middle of the road. These rods would be described as mid-flex or medium action. Tip flex is more or less another way of describing fast rods, and full flex or slow rods bend right to the cork on every cast. Like many things in life, the happy medium is often the best choice.

Big bucks

Fly rods can cost a lot of money. In my life, I’ve driven old pickups to fishing holes that were worth less than my fly-fishing outfit. I suppose that’s ridiculous, but I drove the same truck for 13 years and I’m very serious about fly fishing.

However, if you’re just starting out, don’t be tempted into buying an $800 fly rod thinking it’s a magic bullet to performing like Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It.”

Those top-dollar rods are extremely fast and temperamental. They demand precise timing and muscle memory that can only be achieved through years of practice and fishing. Medium action rods are both more affordable and less demanding.

There are great rods offered by all the major companies at reasonable prices. For between $200 and $400, you can get a fantastic rod, light years beyond the fibreglass rods available in the old days.

Check out Sage, Orvis, Loop, Guideline, Temple Forks, and Echo. They all have websites with tons of information about their gear and its suitability.

And if you’ve been fishing for decades, don’t mind spending the bucks and crave to experience the fastest and hottest fly rod on the planet, by all means go for it. I’d take a look at the brand new Loop Cross S1 series, Sage’s TCX line or maybe a Guideline LeCie.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at

every opportunity. He can be contacted


Organizations: Porsche

Geographic location: New Hampshire, Labrador, Russia Humber River Indian Bay

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Recent comments

    May 24, 2012 - 00:56

    good article

  • David
    May 13, 2012 - 09:23

    How sad that you can take something as immensely simple and pure as fishing (or golf) and turn it into a disappointing obsession and a financial burden. It is a poor carpenter that blames his tools.