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Originally fly rods were made of wood, preferably bamboo, and the purpose of the rod was to deliver an artificial fly lightly upon the surface of a stream in such a manner that it would float freely and deceive a trout into taking it for the real thing. Today's fly rod may be made of either glass or bamboo and its purpose is to deliver any one of a variety of concoctions designed to look like anything any fish might conceivably want to eat.
Fly rods are built according to specifications which will give suitable action for the job they are designed to do, and just as in golf a player picks up a different club for each special shot, so in fly fishing, the lie of the fish, or the nature of the fish, or the type of water being fished, determines the rod the angler chooses. There are fast action rods with the action extending only a few inches from the tip and there are medium action sticks where the action comes down to the middle of the rod. There are slow action rods where the entire stick works all the way down and into the grip. Each of these rods has a definite job to do. For instance, in general, small stream fishing calls for a 7 1/2-foot rod weighing 3I4 ounces, and an HER line with leader tapered down to 4X, 5X or 6X, while a larger stream is better fished with an 8-foot rod with probably an HDH line and leader tapered down to 3X or 4X. (For an explanation of HEH, HDH and other line diameter terms, see section on lines.) And, still generalizing, a dry fly calls for a stiff action rod while a wet fly or a streamer is better handled on a slower action stick.
The stiff action recommended for a dry fly rod means that the butt section is stiff and the action is limited almost entirely to the tip, reaching down only a few inches or at most to the middle of the rod. To look for this action, the angler should hold the grip firmly with both hands, extending the rod in front of him, parallel to the ground, and impart a sideways motion to the stick. He can then readily see where the action is, and how far it comes down the rod. Stiff action should be sought in every dry fly rod, whether it is a 7 1/2-footer for the average trout or an 8 1/2-footer for big brownies and rainbows, landlocked salmon or Atlantic salmon. The fast action of the tip will more readily deliver the false casts required to dry the surface fly, and will get it out there to drop on the dime size spots so often needed to make a fish take a dry.
The rod for use with wet flies should be slower than a dry fly stick because the angler must wait longer for the line to pull the heavier and bigger fly through its backward journey before the forward cast is made. The action should come well down into the butt as there is little need for more than one, or at most, two, false casts in this type of fishing. For the same reasons the wet fly action rod is also ideal for casting small streamers and bucktails and nymphs and weighted nymphs.
While there is, therefore, no ideal all purpose rod, if I had to choose one stick for all kinds of trout fishing, I would choose the slower action wet fly rod, a rod 8 feet in length and weighing 4 to 414 ounces. Equipped with an HDH line and a long leader from 10 to 14 feet in length, this rod can be used effectively for both wet and dry fly fishing. When casting a dry fly with such a rod, however, the angler must remember to wait for his backcast, giving the fluffy, light dry fly plenty of time to make its journey back, loop over and st:raighten out before he makes the forward thrust, or he will produce a flat forward cast that will tangle leader and fly in the line. The converse is true if a fast action dry fly rod is used for wet fly fishing. The size and weight of the fly on the light rod usually makes good timing difficult and results in a jerky and sloppy cast.
Fly fishing for bass calls for a special rod, one capable of handling a GBF or GAF line, which in turn is capable of carrying out the large hair, balsa or plastic bugs, the big streamers and bucktails or the spinner and fly combinations commonly used by bass fishermen.
For smallmouth in both rivers and lakes, the 8 I/2-foot, slow action stick with a GBF line does the trick; but when fishing for largemouth much larger bugs and flies are usually used, calling for a 9 or 9 1/2-foot, slow action rod with a GAF line. Especially in the brackish water, or large lakes that largemouth frequent, the bigger outfit makes for much easier casting and allows the angler to get the lure out with only one, or at most, two false casts. With a stiff action rod and these big, wind-resistant lures, it would be difficult to get distance without a great deal of false casting and the angler's arm would be worn out at the end of the day.
Generally speaking, fly rods for use in the salt are bigger than those used in fresh water. Along the ocean flats or bays and inlets where fly fishing is practiced, there is usually at least some wind, and to meet this contingency alone the g- or 9 1/2-foot slow action rod is way ahead of a shorter stick or a faster one, either of which would call for repeated false casts in order to get line out in the wind, especially with the large, wind-resistant flies used in the salt.
The slow action is also of prime importance because salt water fish are continually on the move, not feeding on a station as are trout, and the angler must flip the fly out fast to an oncomer before it sees him and flushes. In many cases salt water fishing calls for split-second action-the faster the fly is delivered, the more likely it will get a hit. A big, slow-action rod will get the line out with a single false cast, while a shorter, stiffer rod will take several.
In my opinion the 9 1/2-foot stick has it over the 9-footer for salt water casting because it can do everything the shorter one can, and can do a couple of them better. It enables the caster to keep his backcast high, and lets him impart better action to the fly, which is important in the salt; and it also enables him to keep the fly high in the water when fishing the shallows, so that it will not sink and catch on underwater growth.
However, a 9-foot rod with slow action will also handle the GAF line which is best suited to ocean fishing.
There are some 10-foot rods which have suitable slow action for salt water fly fishing, but in general the manufacturers have made them too heavy and too stiff, under the mistaken impression that this is what is needed for bonefish and other denizens of the salt shallows. These, and a few 91/2-footers with the same stiff action and weighing as much as 8 1/2 to 11 1/2 ounces require a 3A or 4A line to bring out what little action there is in the sticks and the whole outfit is much too heavy and stiff for fast and accurate casting. The same end result is achieved with some short and extremely stiff special tarpon rods which have been shown occasionally.
The only place I have seen really big rods give creditable performance is on some Atlantic salmon rivers, and even for this fish the trend has been more and more toward the smaller rod classifications until today on most North American rivers anglers are using 8I- and 9-foot rods and enjoying their fishing just that much more. However, in some of the big waters of the Norwegian rivers, which produce the largest Atlantic salmon in the world, there is definitely a place for the big, two-handed rods.
I arrived at the Aaroy River in northern Norway equipped with a 9-foot rod and was startled when my host, Andre de Ganay, produced a 16-footer. But when we reached the river I saw why that greater length was needed.
In the first place, when fishing for Atlantic salmon it is necessary to put the fly over their position in the stream in just the right way, so that they see the fly right, or they will not take. This particular river was only a mile long, dropping with great speed to the fiord below. There was more fast water in it than in any salmon river I had previously fished. I soon discovered that with the extra length of his rod, especially when standing on the casting platforms with which the river was lined, Andre could cast and hold his line up clear of the near fast water, while mine, even though I mended it carefully, would nearly always be swept quickly down and away, so that the fly never got near the salmon, which were lying just beyond the near current.
With the long rod it was also possible to manipulate the line and hold it high while the fly floated very nicely over the fish. And of course, with the long rod it was also possible to cast much farther with the very heavy flies also required by that heavy water.
So there is no doubt as to the efficiency of the extra big rods in such specialized cases. But on smooth stretches of salmon water, the 8 1/2- to 9 1/2-foot rods undoubtedly allow for more delicate casting and have plenty of backbone to fight any Atlantic salmon you are likely to encounter. The 8 1/2-footer equipped with a GBG or GBF line and a I4-foot leader serves for dry fly work and the g- or 9 1/2-footer equipped with a GAF, for streamers and wet flies.
At the other end of the rod gamut are what I call "trick rods" or "stunt rods," sticks that are less than 7 feet in length, which are amusing in the hands of an expert but are not practical tools for the average fly man. The 7 1/2-foot rod, even, is very limited. Expertly handled, it works well on very small water, in tight places where dense underbrush and trees make trouble for the caster. But it must be lined accordingly, with an HEH line, to bring out the action of the rod.
But fly fishing is for pleasure and underpowered fly rods just do not fit into the picture. It's tough enough to get out far even with an 8-foot, 4-ounce rod and an HDH line, so why make it more difficult by trying to do the same thing with a fancy stick? No matter what he may read about two- and three-ounce rods, when he goes out to try to fish one, the angler soon discovers that it's not in the books-certainly not in this one.
While bamboo is the traditional material of fly rods and to my mind still produces the only satisfactory true dry fly stick, nevertheless glass is taking over the market. There is still considerable variance in the construction of glass rods, to the extent that one 8-foot stick may need a GAF line to bring out its action while another of the same make would call for an HDH. But manufacturers of glass rods are coming fast with improvements, especially in the longer sticks, so that in the 8I2- and 9-foot rods the feel of the action is very close to that of bamboo. And it is reasonably safe to say that if you bought an 8 1/2-foot glass rod in any tackle store in the country, you could match it properly with a GBF line, while with the 9-footer, a GAF would bring out the proper action. Most of the shorter sticks, however, still leave much to be desired. Generally they are too powerful and therefore require a too-heavy line for small stream or otherwise delicate fly work. And until this factor is conquered, bamboo will continue to be the choice of those who want a good dry fly action or otherwise small rod.
While there are many excellent three piece rods on the market, the two piece stick has certain advantages which count enough in the long run that experienced fishermen are turning ever more to the two piecer.
The three piece rod utilizes more ferrules than the two piece rod, which makes it heavier, and that is a point where weight is measured in ounces. And each ferrule contributes just a little toward a jerkier action than that which is obtained by the uninterrupted length of cane or glass, as the case may be. To carry this theory to its ultimate, a one piece rod would be best-and it would-but even the small rod, say a seven footer, would require such a long carrying case as to make it unwieldy for traveling. Therefore the two piece rod that offers as many of the advantages of a single piece stick as possible, and breaks down into convenient length for packing, is the ideal solution.
Aside from a good strong case to protect them in transit or when stored in cupboards, fly rods, whether bamboo or glass, require very little care. It is best to wash them off with fresh water after use in the salt and it always pays to dry them before storing after use. The guides should be cleaned out after fishing, too, as grease adheres to them from the line, gathers dirt and then moves back onto the line, making it heavy and causing it to sink. Guides should also be checked regularly for wear as they become damaged from the line shooting through, and a worn guide can ruin the finish on a line in a hurry.
Most standard trout reels are large enough to hold only the fly line, with no room for backing. These small reels are good enough for most trout fishing but where the angler may tie into a long-running fish or a heavy fish in heavy water, he can be a very busy man chasing the trout along the stream to prevent it taking all his line and snapping it at the reel core or straightening the hook of the fly. For this reason, if the prospective buyer expects to find such fish, he will be well advised to purchase a slightly larger reel-of which there are many on the market-with capacity for 150 feet of 12-pound test nylon squidding line backing, as well as the fly line.
Thus, the automatic reels are suitable for average trout and for all the bass and pan fish, but they do not have sufficient capacity for use on long runners. And in the salt there would also be the danger of the mechanism rusting and freezing.
For salmon and steelhead, both long-running fish, and for the salt water species, where again the fish are long-distance racers, the reel should be large enough to take the big fly lines such as the GAF and G2AE, plus 200 yards or more of 14-pound test nylon squidding line backing. These reels range in price from $20.00 to $100.00 and if price is not the main object, then by all means the angler should buy the most expensive reel of those suitable for the fishing he plans to do, just as he would purchase the best of any engineered product.
In this regard, there are a few multiple action reels on the market of high quality and in the high price brackets. The multiple action brings the line in faster, but most fishing contests stipulate "single action reel" and it is well to keep this in mind when purchasing a new reel.
Whatever the choice, a good, dependable drag is important, even with fish that do not run, because sooner or later every fisherman yanks line from the reel, for one reason or anotherand the spool overspins and he winds up with a tangle that tests his temper. The new Johnson magnetic fly reel, just appearing on the market, is one that combines the essentials. The reel has a pre-set drag built around a magnetic core. The drag is sufficiently strong to slow down almost any fly rod fish, as well as to prevent overspinning.
Like rods, reels require very minor care to keep them in good order. If used in salt water, the reel should be wiped with a cloth which has been dampened in fresh water, and occasionally every reel should be taken apart and the inner parts checked and greased or oiled as necessary.
Aside from a little protection against bumps and falls while being carried, this is all the care necessary for most fly reels.