Over the last few years, here in North America, I have seen the number of anglers using two hand rods increase dramatically. Eight years ago I put down my single hand trout rod, except for dry fly presentation, in favor of a 10' 4" switch 5 weight. My thought was that learning how to use a switch rod would greatly advance my ability to swing streamers as well as high stick nymph with a dead drift. The advantage was clear to me and I didn't see another being used until last few year. Now the current momentum to Switch Rods is overwhelming and is a perfect example of an industry life preserver. One item that creates the cash flow necessary to keep a company current. Happens all the time in many different industries and in this case it is not a brilliant marketing scheme that is pushing the trend.. Though the old European art has endured, what I call the Wulffing factor, on this side of the pond, getting lighter and faster seems to be the trend. All my casting teaching also seems to be in relation to two hand and mostly how to get the most from the switch rod.
Certainly the Matapedia and it's big water and big fish in June requires something very different than Matane at the beginning of September. What you will find in Quebec though is that there are many of the locals using the same rod with the same line for both possibilities. Hardly any anglers will be found with a rod over nine feet long. Conversely, in the Pacific North West, most steelhead casters have moved into two hand rods. Switch rods of eleven feet and two handers in the thirteen to fourteen feet lengths. The understanding of what each style of rod and line offers is a key factor in making the best choice. And on the Western Rivers they understand that what is right for the Salmon might be something completely different for optimal swinging on the Clearwater. What the market brings to the table is as varied as the waters we fish.
Fast or Slow
The first criteria to consider is the composition of the rod blank. The number one question you must ask is what is the composition and design of the rod. Modern technologies have not changed the process used in creating a fly rod blank as much as what materials are used in the creation. The latest formation of Carbon Nano fiber is being grown in laboratories and spun into the basic thread. The concept is that if you can make a molecule into a thread and then weave the thread to cloth and impregnate that cloth by adding resin and then backing it for strength to cut it to shape and roll around a mandrill to be baked, sanded and finished you can make a fly rod blank of various flexibility determined by the density and hardness of the thread and bonding composites used. Make sense? To make a beautiful looking fly rod blank takes time, expertise and great imagination that is always looking to the future. If you are making blanks like last years models the market will leave you behind. This progression for better or not is the governing factor in the fly rod industry.
Back in the day, Alexander Grant used green heart wood that he spliced together to create the first two hand rods. His Scottish home river, the Spey, has the fastest descending current of all Highland rivers and the concept of standing high and dry on the bank required a long rod. Being able to lift, sweep and change directions for the forward stroke was made possible by using two hand rods of sixteen to twenty feet. Long casting was not the focus as the Laird of the Castle had the beat all to himself and the best pool with easy access was always his. The action of these rods was the farthest extent to slow as would be possible. The flex started at the tip top and extended right through the bottom grip. We call this full flex.
Today, the marketing trend has been to go faster and faster with rod action. This means that the rod flex is at the tip and not much farther down the blank. A great reason for this is that the line companies have changed the formula that dictates the weight of the front part of their lines. How does one company get you to think their line will cast farther? They put a little extra weight to the front of the line that makes the rod load more and we think it is better. They take turns adding weight until the rod maker must increase the stiffness of the blank to handle the extra weight of the line. Is a five weight still a five weight?
If winning a distance casting contest was the goal, I would use the advantage of the ultra fast rod. If winning an accuracy casting contest was the goal I would use a slower action rod.
Are we fishing or are we casting?
If fishing under most conditions and landing the fish is the goal the softer action wins hands down. Many Eastern anglers are enjoying light tippet nymph fishing for big trout and Great Lakes Steelhead. They don't understand why they are not landing any fish when the answer is right in their hands. Notice the the center pin anglers some time. They are using the same 3X fluorocarbon tippets yet land a high percentage of their takes. Again the answer is in their hands.
The key to fishing success starts with rod choice.
This is an option that will never be perfect. Just look at any of the major line companies catalog and it becomes self evident that the array is so varied that one line, or five lines, will never satisfy the ability that one rod offers. For most of us, we can get a feeling of general application by keeping a log of the fishing days we spend in any given year. If you can, right now, take a calendar and note each day you spent fishing. Try to analyze that day as to what the perfect condition would have been.
Monday, June 2, 6am-10am, cloudy, wind 10, air 50-60, water 47 medium flow, midge hatch, caddis hatch
Sunday, November 10, 8am-2pm, wind 4, bright sun, air 30-40,water 38 low flow, BWO hatch
Tuesday, January 1, 7am-11am, wind 9, partly cloudy, air 18-24, water 33 high flow, no hatch
In the three trout fishing examples above you could most likely need three different set ups from rod to line to leader to tippet to flies. If you really look at these examples what you will find is that all could be changed within each example more that once or twice during that outing. I fish many days with two or three rods at the ready. I know the conditions before I go to sleep the night before. I make my rod and line choices and do the set ups ahead of time. Right now I am working on January 1. I know that the forecast above is what I can expect. It makes my choice of rod and line very clear.
Long rod, light weight full flex no more than 4 weight, short head line for flipping weight and indicator.
Long Rod = Stay shallow and stay warm in cold air and water temperatures and still have line control.
Light Weight Full Flex = Water is crystal clear and extra light tippet with forgiveness is required. I am always looking for a trophy and want to have what is needed if it were to happen.
Short Head = Casting a short over sized head requires little inertia from the rod. The weight of the head that is easily loaded on the softer rod turns over the weights and you have only thin shooting line collecting ice in the guides. Cold weather fishing requires as little pulling line through the guides as possible due to ice build up.
I hope that what you will take away from this post is that any rod and line combination will only be perfect under a perfect condition for that combination. That there are infinite possible combinations that will be correct. These different situations can be but a short distance apart in any given water body. Having as many rod and line options and the understanding of what they do is important. Being willing to take the time to change to what is optimal has it's rewards. And thinking about and using this knowledge will enhance the presentation of a fly in the most pleasing way to the fish.
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