Friday, January 22, 2016

Rod Design, Line Evolution, and Fishing at a Distance

Gink and Gasoline recently shared a post entitled "Has Distance Casting Hijacked Rod Design?" GnK alum Kent Klewein argues, correctly I believe, that it has. Go on and read it and then come back.

This discussion got even more interesting when no less an icon than Kelly Galloup posted a follow up video to YouTube about the effects of evolving rod development (skewed toward distance casting) on fly line design. Go ahead and watch it.

My friend Brett Watson makes another point- that with the increasing specialization in fly fishing, fly  rod design is starting to cater to all those specific needs. The rod you use to swing for steelhead is completely different than a rod you would use to Czech nymph. Nymphing, streamer fishing, throwing bass poppers, musky flies (and doing figure eights), dry flies, indicator fishing for steelhead all require different rods and matching lines. In fact Brett say's he's starting to consider buying specific rods for specific RIVERS.

small streams call for lighter gear, more delicate presentations
I don't believe this is as crazy as it sounds. He mentions looking for a rod for a small brook trout stream in Northern Michigan. In this case you know the size of the fish (8-12"), the length of your casts (15-30') and the size of your flies. He wants a 3 weight fiberglass rod, which I believe is perfect. That is, of course, if he picks the perfect blank and builder.

I started out in fly fishing like most of you- making a five weight work for everything. Dry flies for trout, small streamers, nymphing, and even trying to throw bass bugs, and streamers for small pike.

Once I started mousing for browns at night the need for another rod became imperative. The five weight simply would not turn over the big flies we were casting, and trying to contain a big angry brown in the darkness and the confines of a small woody stream was almost impossible. I was still trying do as much fishing as possible with as few rods as possible, so I bought an 8 weight.

big rods+big flies= big fish

The eight weight accomplished a lot of goals. It was more than adequate for turning over mice and handling big browns. It made a good steelhead stick. I also needed it to cast long distances in high wind for carp on the flats, so I bought a Temple Fork Outfitters TiCRX. Not perfect for all those hats, but it definitely handled them all adequately, especially the flats fishing.

The flats fishing is a special situation. I'm casting to carp at distances of 25 to 80 feet. The TiCRX handled it with panache, and it especially handles a sixty foot cast into a brisk wind easily. Provided you have the right line.

When I started flats fishing all I had was a steelhead nymph/indicator line, which I made work despite its shortcomings and actually landed my first carp on it. But the line wasn't perfect as I was to find out.

the flats give you room to air out a fly line

first carp on the flats. 8 wt shown is some off brand

My friend Tom Hazelton gave me a prototype fly line designed by Bruce Chard. I believe it's the Mastery Grand Slam line by SA.  I'm not trying to sell you something, just relate a story. Anyhow, this line punches wind like you wouldn't believe and makes those 80 foot shots possible. Truth be told I've caught most of my fish at less than 50 feet, but I have caught a few at that extreme end. Forty feet is probably the average shot at carp there however.

The only situation in which I ever regularly cast over 70 feet is when fishing for muskie. We're throwing 11 weight rods typically with 450 grain sink tips. The flies are huge, but the line is so heavy that it just whips the whole thing out there. On a couple days when Tom and I were really on our game we were regularly making accurate casts over 100 feet and fishing them. As I recall the fish pictured below came on a cast in the 70-80 foot range. For reference, the line is 95 feet long, our leaders were about 6 feet long, and our casts ranged from having 3-4 turns of line left on the reel, to casting a few feet of our backing. While we were making accurate casts to specific spots, this was hardly sight fishing to specific fish. It was more of an attempt to cover as much water as possible with the least amount of casting, and it was very effective.

covering water is key in muskie fishing. Long casts help expedite the search

All this brings me back to the gist of the Gink and Gasoline post and Kelley Galloup's video- that distance casting is over-rated.

I've caught a handful of fish at over 50 feet, but those shots and situations are so rare as to make them the exception rather than the rule. Except for a handful of streams like the Au Sable, Michigan streams are quite small and shots over 30 feet are rare. Also due to their nature, very few stretches offer a uniform flow across a big enough area to get a good drift out of a long cast. In 90% of situations, stealth and good presentation are far more important than distance casting. You often only get one or two shots and you need them to count. In the isolated situations in which distance casting is needed, then modern rod designs really shine provided you can load and release them properly.

I don't know that I've added much to this discussion, except to say that when you're rod shopping, being able to load the rod and then cast accurately is far more important than how far you can cast it. The bottom line is match a good rod and line to the water and fish you're after and focus on your stealth and presentation skills.

Mike Schmidt lays out a pretty cast on the Au Sable


  1. My early go to rod was a 9' 6wt. That's what I was told was the do all rod. But for the type of fishing I do, a 71/2' 4wt suits my needs. Even on bigger rivers I only fish an 8 1/2 with a 5 or 6. I figure if I accidentally catch a big fish it will be fun losing it.

    1. Perhaps I'll be happier when I reach that point, instead of making it all so darn complicated.

  2. I'm a simple guy. Rods are expensive and should cast the recommended line weight easily. I'm not buying assorted $70 lines to try on a rod. I pay attention to claimed rod action and put a good 6wt line on a good 6wt rod and live with it. Ditto for my other rods. It's workin' for me. To me, overlining is kinda like buying a new truck and 2 weeks later have the dealer tell me it would perform much better if I'd buy bigger tires than recommended.

    1. Excellent point. I do buy specific lines, such as indicator lines for steelhead, but I also make sure I'm going to get full use out of them. The only real "specialty" line I have is the flats line, and it turned out to be a good call.

  3. Jason
    I started out much like yourself with a 2 pc 5 wt and eventually got an 8 wt Sage for salmon, carp and pike. When fishing my home waters I'd be riding a mountain bike and carrying the 2 pc became such a hassle and eventually got rid of it. I love the Sage but using it in the spring for crappies is just stupid overkill so I recently picked up a 7.5 ft glass 3wt. I haven't had a chance to use it on the water yet but from the test in the yard I know it's going to be a lot of fun. You could be like a tournament bass angler with a dozen rods ready for action or wade through the mass of choices and find whats right for you.

    1. Good insights and thanks for commenting. My rod quiver has grown considerably, but I mostly use a 5 wt TFO and 8 wt Echo for everything. I also like and use my 5/6 glass Eagle Claw a lot.