Select the right fly system for yourself
on the water.

article and images by Bill Byrd

Although I fish rods as heavy as my 9 foot 10-weight, I LOVE to catch fish with ultralight fly tackle. I began fishing ultralights several years ago, and I have had an INCREDIBLE time fishing for many species with them. The image upper right is from a great high country western trip. I spent a day catching cutthroats and cuttbows up to 16 inches on Ought and 2 weight rods. It is a time I'll never forget!

For me selecting the right fly tackle was a difficult process until I built an experience base. Fly shop personnel didn't much want to discuss rods under a 4 weight, and I wanted lighter rods for better stealth and enjoyment. I conducted my own research, but it was expensive. I could cast fly rods in fly shop parking lots, but I had to buy rods to be able to try them out on the water with fish. That can lead to expensive mistakes. Essentially that is still the problem one encounters when buying a fly rod.

When you pick up a fly rod and false cast it without line, you can see some flex characteristics, but without a line you can't really see and feel what the rod is trying to do. Without the rod, reel, and line in hand you have no real idea how that fly fishing system is going to feel fishing it for hours on the water. Unless you try out a rod with good line, plus the right reel and in fishing conditions, you won't know whether this fly system is going to produce that feeling YOU WANT from your gear while fishing for your favorite species. If it doesn't feel pleasing to you, you've made a bad investment!

When I first re-entered fly fishing in the late 1980s, I went to a local fly shop for advice on a fly rod. They recommended and sold me a medium/fast action 9 foot 7 weight rod! OH BOY! According to them "It will allow you to fish for bluegills, bass, trout, and even large rivers in the west." When I went to catch half pound bluegills, 1 pound trout, and 1 pound bass, that really was a complete mismatch for the local fish. It was like fishing a crane. It took me 5 minutes to see the folly in that advice. Then I went back and bought an 8 1/2 foot Orvis far and fine 5 weight. That rod was better, but wasn't what I wanted. Next I bought an inexpensive 7 foot 3 weight, which was MUCH BETTER, but still heavier than I wanted. Then came the Orvis 7 foot 9 inch Superfine 2 weight. I knew I had the fly system that I wanted. Shortly after that I was fishing an Orvis Superfine 1 weight and couldn't put it down. I had more fun with that rod, and couldn't wait to get to the water.

With typical "party line" advice, it took me three rod purchases to find fly tackle with the feel that I wanted. That may have benefitted the fly shop with sales revenue, but it wasted a lot of my time and money. I later sold that 9 foot 7 weight fly rod for half of what I paid for it, just to get rid of it. I've kept all of the others.

I didn't have the opportunity to use multiple fly systems on the water in real fishing situations before making my buying decisions. I made mistakes, and wasted time and money, but I learned from it.

How can you prevent
making a bad buying decision?

I recently heard from an Atlantan named Dennis who decided that he wanted to learn to fly fish. He enrolled in a 3 day fly fishing school conducted in north Georgia. For three days he was taught how to cast using a traditional beginner's fly rod -- a 9 foot 6 weight rod provided to students by the instructor. Even though the rod was long and heavy Dennis learned how to cast, and given the number of hours he's spent with a fly rod, he casts well enough to catch fish! At the school, never was there any mention of even the POSSIBILITY of fishing with a lighter fly rod.

When Dennis completed the course, the instructor suggested that he buy a 9 foot 6 weight fly system to catch the species available in this area. He set out on his quest to find the "right rod."

By chance while searching the internet for a fishing book, he ended up at my website. Dennis noticed the many articles on my site about not only matching the hatch, but also matching the tackle to the fish for maximum enjoyment.

He emailed me and booked a trip to go to the water and try out some lighter than 6 weight fly tackle in real conditions with fish.

On this trip, I carried a 9 foot 6 weight, a 9 foot 4 weight, an 8 1/2 foot 3 weight, and an 8 foot 2 weight. Dennis began fishing the 9 foot 6 weight and set it down in about 5 casts. Then he switched to the 9 foot 4 weight and said "this is better, but I want to try something lighter." I handed him the 8 1/2 foot 3 weight, and a smile started to appear -- "this is more like it." After a few casts, he wanted to try the 2 weight I'd brought and a few casts later, he really thought that felt good.

Understand, Dennis was fresh out of fly fishing school. He'd never picked up a 3 or 2 weight, and he was casting them well enough to fish and catch plenty of fish on his first attempt. It WILL take years to become accomplished with any fly fishing system, but he was functional and catching fish. So much for the notion that it takes years of experience to be able to fish ultralight fly rods. The 6 and 4 weights were set aside. We just spent the rest of the trip catching fish on light rods, and had a good time.

One of the first things Dennis noted was that he could FEEL fish striking the fly. Then he could really feel the fight on the way back to the boat. He was feeling the sensations of the act of catching fish. That was what he missed on the 6 or 4 weight.

At this point, HE had been put in a position to decide what suited HIM best. He had invested in the trip, but had not made a bad buying decision. We left the water that day and he knew that he either wanted a 3 or 2 weight.

Over a month later we returned to the water. This time I had a better selection of good medium priced rods (see my article good fly rods under $200.00) for Dennis to fish. After casting 5 rods in my front yard to narrow the selection down, on the water we fished 3 different rods and he selected the rod he feels is perfect for him. He chose an 8 foot medium action two weight. This rod will fish well for many years. It will cast a WF1F Sage Quiet taper line for the lightest presentation, or a standard DT2F or a WF2F line for a fuller rod load. It is physically light and very responsive. It has plenty of backbone for the species he seeks. The rod retails for $159.00 with rod sock, good rod tube, and lifetime warranty.

Dennis has learned much about fly fishing in this post school fishing environment. I'm confident that since he has begun with the right rod, he'll enjoy fly fishing into the future for many years. If he needs a heavier rod, he knows how to choose one that will feel right and handle the job.

I have feeling that as he gets more involved in fly fishing, there will be a 3 weight and probably a 1 weight in Dennis' fly rod selection. That group of rods will cover the lightest presentations for average to medium trout, the sunfishes including the average largemouth black bass, the smallmouth cousins, and other species that inhabit local streams, lakes, and ponds.

A Method that WORKS!

To really understand what rod/line you want, you need to be able to cast and fish your prospective rods/lines on the water. You need to compare them side by side, and fish by fish.

If you're trying to make a buying decision about a rod, narrow the selection down and hit the water.

If you have questions about ultralight fly fishing or buying equipment or supplies, and run into problems at fly shops, email me, and I'll connect you with retail ultralight fly fishers who will help take care of your light/UL tackle desires. Your desire to find tackle and supplies that suit YOU is encouraged at this website.