I approached from down river. Behind a mess of branches twisted next to a stump, a few trout were taking flies off the surface of the slow-moving Stanislaus River. It was an easy cast, but one that had to be precise. Sierra Nevada trout don’t like to see thick, green fly line three inches above their heads. No trout does for that matter. They’re looking for bugs not line. Casting fly line onto trout is like trying to sneak up on your sleeping sibling with bubble wrap taped to your feet.
I knew my leader was pretty short, but I casted anyway, trying to get the fly far enough in front of the trout to get him to strike, but not so far in front I revealed the leader was attached to the fly line, which ran down to a reel. To add a few more feet of leader would take a few minutes and I didn’t feel doing it yet.
My cast was too long and I saw a few fish dart around the pool with the splash of the thick fly line. Then I did what I should have. In the warm sun of the midday, I pulled the spool of nearly invisible tippet from my pocket and added distance between the caddis fly and my conspicuous lime-colored fly line.
The time between casts and the new presentation was just what I needed. One of the brook trout that had been nipping bugs off the surface took my fly and dove beneath the surface. The fight ended up being the least exhilarating part of the whole deal. With just the slightest lift of my arm, the fish came up out of the water because Reggie, my 5-weight fly rod, is a little overkill for such a small fish.
In the world of fly-fishing rod sizes are measured by “weights”. The higher the number, the stouter the rod – hook and line sizes work opposite. I own two 7-weight rods which are fine for steelhead and salmon back home that get up to 15 or so pounds. A 9-foot 5-weight is a versatile rod. Some say that it’s the only rod you need when starting out because it’s big enough to handle any trout and even smaller salmon if you play them right. I messed around with some sockeye and Dolly Varden over 20 inches on Reggie the 5-weight the past two summers. My buddy Steve likes his 4-weight for Alaska trout but moves up to his 8-weight when the steelies and salmon are on the menu.
With a smaller rod you might lose the ability to punch through wind to present your fly but the feel of the fight increases and “control” becomes less of what you’d describe yourself having when in a bigger fish. An example would be when I reeled up a 100-pound halibut on 30-pound test a few summers ago. We were mooching for salmon near the bottom when I hooked into that barn door. In no way did I think I was in control. I felt that the halibut had me more than I had it.
Fly rods that are smaller than a 4-weight are considered specialty rods which match water better. Some refer to it as fly-fishing’s “small ball”. Dialing everything – rod, reel, fly line and hooks, down to the minimum. Because where’s the fun in sending the business end of a No. 8 hook into the brain of a little rainbow that is so delicate you hardly know it’s on? In other words, why fish for 8-inch brookies or Golden trout with a 9-foot rod you brought in salmon with? Little creek, little trout, little rod, little fly. Right?
So with the money I’ve made freelance writing on the side this summer, I rewarded myself with a 7-foot 10-inch 1-weight rod that weighs less than two ounces. It will replace Reggie on trips to the smaller water in the Sierra and make those little 8-inch fish feel double that. In no way do I need a new fly rod, but such decisions are made in the name of having a passion.
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