SMALL STREAM RODS
SMALL STREAM RODS
In the heart of Virginia we have near boundless opportunities for small stream fishing. Almost every stream you come across in our mountainous National Forests has native brook trout or a wild population of rainbow or brown trout. Because of the ample fishing opportunities and small streams, the question is often brought to us, “What rod should I use to fish small streams?” There are 3 things you need to think through to determine what is best for you: 1) rod weight 2) rod length, 3) fiberglass, graphite, or cane.
The rod “weight” is the first determining factor. The average rod most beginners have is a 5 weight. This number determines what size line pairs best with the rod, what flies will cast easiest with this rod, and ultimately what fish you can target effectively with this rod. The scale of rods goes from 0 - 15. Zero would be something like a wet noodle of a rod and fifteen would be for off-shore fishing. Now, think about the fish that inhabit your local small streams. Throughout most of VA, a 12” fish in a stream 6 foot across would be a monster and worthy of bragging rights.
This may not be true of some other streams across the West, however, most of the time your average small stream trout in VA will be anywhere from 6-7 inches. You don’t need an incredibly strong rod to wrangle with these peanuts. You want to find a balance where landing the fish is quick and easy, but you still get to experience some of the fight that we anglers day-dream about. Most common rod weights for small stream angling range from a 2-4 weight. And the most common would certainly be a 3 weight rod. These rods can cast a decent size dry fly well and have enough strength to land that 12” brook trout you may run into one day. For anglers that enjoy fishing a dry/dropper rig, I often recommend a 4 weight. This rod has a little more backbone, and the line will be able to accurately present a large dry fly and a heavy nymph at the same time. Of course, some 3 weights are capable of doing this, but a 4 weight definitely would have the upper hand.
Some anglers choose to go with a 0-2 weight rod. These rods are designed for casting smaller dry flies. If you only care about casting a single sz. 16 dry fly you can consider this, but within that thought process you also need to keep in mind these rods are not nearly as effective when there is any amount of wind. Because the line is so light, if there is any kind of wind, your fly will not travel to your desired location. I have had many personal frustrations with this using the 2 weight I once owned, and that is what led me to the 3 weight I use now. For a summary of rod weight, a 3 weight will be the most versatile rod for small stream angling that also allows you to enjoy the few second fight the small stream fish put up.
There are many different options when it comes to length of rod. Some companies even go so short as offering a 6’ rod, yet others go for as long as physically possible (Tenkara) - some of these rods can be over 12’ long. There are clear advantages to a longer rod. With a longer rod, you will be able to control your drift easier. There will be less fly line on the water, which means you won’t be able to effectively fish certain runs and pools. The disadvantage would be that some streams have so much brush it makes casting a longer rod very difficult. There are ways around this of course; things such as the bow and arrow cast can be incredibly helpful and eliminate frustration while out on the water (as long as you don’t hook yourself).
I’ve used 6’6” rods and I’ve fished Tenkara rods stretched out to 12 foot on the same piece of water, and I landed more fish with the longer rod. Your drift is undeniably better with a long rod. This means, your fly looks more realistic for longer when you use a longer rod. Of course, I’m not saying the only way to go is by using a Tenkara rod (though they have their place).
My recommendation would be to start on a 7’6” rod or longer. If you have difficulty casting this length of a rod you should learn a bow and arrow cast, choke up on the grip, or try to fish that pool from a different angle. This is a subject that is touchy. It must be said, you will develop a personal preference with your angling over time. You may disagree with my thoughts, but just know that my own preferences are for how I personally fish these small streams. I use a longer rod. 7’6” is as short as I go. 8’ or 8’6” is probably my favorite, but that’s me.
FIBERGLASS, GRAPHITE, or CANE
This will be a touchy subject. Until the 1970s the rods were made using fiberglass (or in some cases metal). They were heavy, felt somewhat like cane rods, and did the job asked of them. The introduction of graphite rods made things lighter and faster. Graphite rods load faster than fiberglass. This means you can make tighter loops and cast with less effort in the wind. Graphite became king. In the last 10 years there has been a resurgence of fiberglass rods. Manufacturers were able to make fiberglass lighter and cast easier than their grandfathers’. This has made choosing the perfect rod for you a little harder.
In a small stream environment you are often making short 10’ - 15’ casts. With this amount of line out, you need a rod that will load with very little line out of the guides. With a 7.5 ft. leader and a 10 foot cast you only need 2.5 feet of fly line to land on your target. This means you need a rod that will cast with very little effort. Short, very tight casts are where fiberglass/ cane have a slight advantage. This being said, as soon as you start to stretch out past that 15’ marker, graphite takes over again. There are some pools that I fish that are easily 30’ wide and several feet deep. When a fish actually east at this distance it requires a great deal of energy to set the hook, which is something graphite is better suited for. With these different aspects revealed, your rod material choice is a matter of preference. You want to get the rod that will work best in the situations you put yourself in. For example, I don’t mind throwing nymphs or small streamers, so I use graphite rods 80% of the time.
I use fiberglass rods when I want to strictly fish dry flies in medium to tight cover. FIBERGLASS TIP: There are different levels of bend in a fiberglass rod. I don’t recommend getting fiberglass rods that feel like rubber bands; they may seem cool in the fly shop, but on the water they will frustrate you. Rods that bend too much won’t have the force to set the hook, and do a poor job of keeping fly line off the water. Keep in mind, if you want to make your graphite rod cast short distances you can always over-line your rod.
Selecting a small stream rod is a personal decision. I can tell you what my favorite is, and how I fish, but that doesn’t mean what I like is what you will like. My personal recommendation for the beginner would be to get a 7’6” 3 weight rod such as the Thomas and Thomas Zone or if your a little tighter on your budget the TFO Signature 2. Pair it with an SA Trout Line and you will be a happy camper. If you’re on the hunt for a fiberglass rod the Thomas and Thomas Lotic is my favorite one we sell.
Now, don’t think that your 9 foot 5 weight intro rod won’t work. You can certainly make do with it for a time, but if you are serious about wanting to catch small stream trout you will want to get a shorter/light weight rod. It will make the fight more enjoyable, casting more accurate, and easier while you hike through our beautiful mountains.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO START FLY FISHING?
Here's the question: What do you really need to start fly fishing?
Let me start by saying this, fly fishing is often misrepresented as being an elite sport only the rich and snobby can participate in. This may have been true in days gone by, but in 2018 it's open to all! The equipment used to fly fish is widely available and affordable, there are plenty of people willing to teach you, and lots of water to explore!
This list is created for the complete beginner. The person who has nothing, but wants to dabble in this wonderful "mystical" activity.
Keep in mind, this is my own personal list. As well, I will exclude how much you should pay for items. Some may choose to spend a few hundred bucks to get a good fly rod to start; others have to spend much less. When it all comes down to it - it's really all about what you want, and what you can afford.
Here's all you need to begin:
1 - Fly Rod
There are two ways you can come at the fly rod. First, you can purchase a kit that has everything you need in it. Kits include the rod, reel, fly line, and often a leader. This is a good option when budget is in mind. Purchasing a kit typically will save you a few bucks, and if you ave no one to assist you in your shopping that's a safe choice.
The other option is to look for a specific rod model that fits your style of fishing. Every part of the country is different, everyone has different goals for intended species. The most common question we ask when you're shopping for a first rod is, "What do you want to fish for 80% of the time?" The answer to this question will help determine what rod you should look for.
- If you're answer is, bass. You will want a larger rod, one designed to throw big flies, sinking lines, and tackle big fish. In that instance you would be searching for a rod in the 6-8 weight range. Typically, those rods are 9' long.
- If you say you want to catch small stream brook trout then you will be wanting a 2-4 weight rod. These rods are typically shorter in the 7'6" range give or take a foot.
If you just are trying to catch anything you come across as best as possible, we'd recommend the typical 9' 5 weight. This rod is sort of the "jack-of-all-trades."
In Lynchburg, Virginia where we live I tell most people you can do 80% of your fishing here with 2 rods. A 3 or 4 weight will cover you for a vast majority of the trout fishing opportunities (and panfish), and a 6-8 weight rod will cover you for the varying kinds of bass in our area: smallmouth, largemouth, striper, and white bass.
There are certainly other places in VA to fish, and we offer those rods as well that are specialized such as: Musky fishing, Euro-nymphing, Saltwater, etc. However, most people in our area, when just starting out don't opt for those unless they are positive that's all they want to do.
All fly rods are not created equal. There is not a rod that you use for small stream trout that you would also want to fish for carp or largemouth bass with. So, figure out what you want to fish for, where you want to fish for them and get a rod to match that fishing environment.
For now, you can email me if you have questions!
2 - Fly Reel
You have grandpa's old fly rod and your trying to find a reel? Well, one of the interesting things about fly fishing is, for most trout and smaller fish, the reel is often minimally used other than holding the line. Regarding that old reel, as long as it holds line, rotates easily without any glitches, and fits on your rod, it should work.
If you are looking to purchase a reel, there are many different models and kinds. If all you ever fish for is native brook trout or cutthroat trout that only grow about 10 inches, you will not need a massive, strong, expensive reel. On the other hand, if you want to try carp or steelhead fishing with a fly rod, I would spend more to get a reel that has a solid drag system that can slow down these beasts.
Reels typically are classified by weight just like rods and fly lines. You can match your fly reel with the weight of the rod and the line, but it is not a necessity. To be honest, I use a 5-6 weight fly reel on my 4 weight so that my fly line has a little less memory, it balances the rod a way I like, and I can reel in line a little quicker when needed.
If you plan on fishing saltwater you will want to purchase a reel designed for saltwater species (these are typically larger, won't rust, and have a large drag system to stop big fish).
3 - Fly Line
Fly line is not like traditional fishing line. The fly line is what everything is dependent on. Without it, casting a tiny little hook with some fuzz on it will not be possible, especially throwing it 70 feet! For this reason, fly line is very important. If there was a place you could skimp, I would not do it here. Most fly lines of good quality will range from $45 to $130.
Fly lines are made for different purposes. Some float, some sink a little, some sink a lot. If you are just beginning, a floating line is what you will probably want.
Fly lines are named by "weight." You will want to match your fly line weight with the weight of your fly rod. For example, if you have a 4 weight rod you will want to find a 4 weight line, an 8 weight rod an 8 weight line, so on and so forth.
If you have an old fly line you want to use check it over to ensure it has no cracks, bulges, or other visible wear on it. If none of those things are seen your fly line, it should be all right to use. If you don't know what weight the line is try casting it on several different rods to see which one it best casts on. Most fly shops or good fishing buddies will allow you to do this.
A good fly line, that is properly maintained, should last you approximately 400 hours of use according to the fly line rep I heard speak. If you fish a whole lot, the fly line may only last a year. If you only fish once or twice a year it could last you the rest of your life (depending on your age)!
Buy a nice line and keep good care of it.
4 - Leader
This is a transitional piece of monofilament (fishing line) that goes from your fly line to the fly. Typically, it is thicker and stronger towards the fly line, it then tapers down to being thin on the other end. A leader is a necessity. It keeps distance between your fly and the fly line, and helps remove excess power so your flies don't slap the surface of the water with great force every cast spooking fish. For trout and smaller fish, a generic leader is a 9ft. 4x leader. If you want to fish for bass I would get a 9ft. 12 lb. leader.
Connect your leader to the fly line either by using a nail knot or by using the loop on the end of the leader and the end of the fly line (this will depend on where you got your fly line from). Here is one of the best videos I have found to show you how to do this. Once you connect the leader to the fly line you can attach the fly using a simple knot and begin fishing!
5 - Nippers
This is a fancy word used simply to say that you need something to cut the leader with when you tie on a fly. This can be an old pair of scissors, nail clippers, a knife, or what most people get to eventually - a pair of nippers.
6 - Hemostats
Another big fancy word for pliers. Pliers are incredibly helpful for several reasons 1) when a fish takes a fly and it goes down in his gullet a bit to far, 2) pinching barbs down, 3) crimping split shot (if you ever wind up needing that), 4) getting a fly unstuck from your hat, etc... Typically, the best ones are very thin and when closed grip well. My favorite are the ones in the link here - they are strong, grip the fly well, and also have a section that serves as scissors so I don't need nippers. On the day the fish inhales the fly you will be glad you brought them with you!
7 - Flies
Just a few simple flies will do the trick. I am hesitant to share exact patterns because the best patterns for my area may not be the best in your area. What you need to keep in mind is, you don't need thousands of flies to start. A handful of a local recommendation will do. You don't even really need to know the names of the fly patterns, you just need something to put on your leader to cast to fish.
If you would like to have a basic fly box - feel free to send me an email. Let me know what you wish to fish for, where and when you want to fish for them, and what type of gear you have (if any). I can do some research to recommend several flies for you. If you want me to tie the flies for you, I can even provide you with a filled fly box (prices vary).
8 - Fish
Practicing in an open field is good, but eventually you will want to catch some fish - I mean isn't that what fly fishing is all about? If you are just beginning I would recommend trying to find easy species of fish to target. Trout are fun to catch, but they can be difficult to begin on. I originally started fly fishing by fishing with poppers for panfish in a local pond. There's plenty of places to fish around us if we are willing to drive a few minutes and cast to different species other than just trout.
Once you get all your gear together get out there and find some fish!
originally published - July 29, 2018
When it comes to human aesthetic we love contrast. Wood grain floors contrasted with all white walls, black and white checkered tiles, etc. Contrast helps us see things more clearly and makes objects pop. When something is all one color it, in many minds, is drab, dull, boring, and unpleasing (picture an all-white psychiatric ward room). I think fish are similar. They love contrast.
Popular Fly Patterns: When you think about many popular patterns they all have aspects of contrast. For example, the white goose biot sitting on top of a Prince Nymph, the orangish/ yellow jungle cock eye that sits on the cheeks of spey flies, the red thorax contrasting the dark body of a Royal Coachman, the dark turkey wing case on a Hare's Ear Nymph, not to mention the modern inclusion of “hot spots” on almost all competition flies.
Scientific/ Biological Aspects
I don’t know specifically why fish love contrast. I scoured the internet to find some sort of biological reference point to unlock and reveal the scientific aspects to contrast and fish, but came up empty handed. I didn't have the resources or time to completely study the eye and it's ability to perceive objects, depth, etc. on fish either so I'll have to go with my gut and some logic on this one.
I think some of the biggest factors are, contrast makes the fly stand out more opposed to the usual sticks, leaves, moss chunks, and other debris that float down river. This contrast allows fish to target the fly easier. Now, maybe it’s something else completely - if you know tell me! The bottom line is, contrast works.
Ways to Incorporate Contrast in Fly Patterns:
Two Tone Materials
What I’m talking about here isn’t exactly only ultra bright colors. With contrast oftentimes just using a dark colored material on the top and a light on the bottom will do. It’s a natural color scheme that mimics most every baitfish and insect that exists. Olive over white, black over grey, orange over yellow, all sorts of combinations will do!
Hot Spots (Collars and Tags)
Competitive fly angling has pushed fly fishing, specifically nymphing techniques, into a new era. It really has emphasized and showcased the importance of hot spots. A hot spot is essentially ultra-bright colors somewhere on the fly typically the "collar" or the tail of the fly. There's a reason why these professional anglers do this - hot spots catch fish - simple as that.
Eyes, Cones, and Beads
Nowadays, you can find all sorts of unique things to put on your flies, from double pupil dumbbell eyes to blaze orange slotted tungsten beads. The “head game” options anymore are near endless. Think about it - from the whole gambit of Fly Men Fishing Companies product line, to the new product from companies like FireHole Outdoors and their matte bead lineup most of this stuff was just a dream 30 years ago. You're bound to find whatever you can dream up if you search through a few catalogs.
Rubber Legs (Black and Orange, Pink and Orange, Brown and Green, etc.)
This is a super simple way to put contrast in your fly pattern. You can add legs in recipes that didn’t previously call for them, a Hare’s Ear Nymph or Stimulator, come to mind. You can use rubber legs as a hot spot (using bright colors), or just a way to include additional contrast into flies from streamers to dries (in dark colors too)! Try all sorts of differing colors to see what works best for you!
This isn’t cutting edge technology, but rather simple observations of something very basic. Including contrast into your fly tying may help you catch more fish! As well, there are cases where using contrasting colors creates an even better imitation of the natural species such as flies mimicking baitfish, stoneflies, caddis, etc. The bottom line is, you should start including contrast in your flies the next time behind your vise!
EVERY THREAD WRAP COUNTS
originally published - July 11, 2017
The greatest artists utilize every brush stroke to ensure that every time they touch their masterpiece a purpose lies behind their movement. They create paintings that look almost lifelike because they have mastered the basics and now allow no room for sloppy, careless mistakes, and when a mistake occurs part of their learning has been to incorporate the mistake seamlessly into the masterpiece.
If a careless artist filled his "masterpiece" with sloppy strokes and half-hearted swipes the beauty that could be fades. Masterpieces don't happen on accident. Perfect flies don't happen on accident either. If you're not after perfect flies, but just "okay" quality that catch fish - that's cool. However, good flies can be made even better with just one simple mindset:
Every Wrap Counts.
Every time your thread lays down on the hook make sure there's a purpose behind it. I find myself questioning every time I put thread down - "Did I have to do that?" Clearly, that can be a nagging thought to always have running through your brain, but it does prove helpful. You eventually realize that every time you wrap thread around the hook it matters.
This is incredibly helpful on both small and slim patterns such as spinners or midges, and learning and practicing every wrap counts also helps on giant musky size flies!
Why? Well, in learning and applying every wrap counts there are three benefits I see:
1) Cuts down the time it makes to tie the fly. Most people want less time tying and more time fishing. So when it comes to how much time we are putting into particular patterns... don't worry about putting 30 wraps down on a piece of flash or hackle if it only requires 5 to secure it properly. Every wrap counts teaches us how to apply the minimal amount of wrappings to securely attach a material.
*Warning* Never sacrifice quality for time! Quality always trumps time. After all, if you can tie a parachute Adams in 2 minutes, but it falls apart after 2 fish you have to go behind the vise again for another Adams! Which means more time behind the vice. In the long run quality always beats whipping out flies as fast as possible.
However, if it makes no difference if I wrap over a material 6 times or 600 times it only makes sense to do 6 wraps, right? Time saved by getting it right the first time = more time fishing, or tying more patterns, and less broken/ mangled flies.
2) Creates a deeper understanding of the material you are using. The better you understand your materials the more efficiently you can use them, and the better your flies will be. Ask yourself, How many wraps does it take to secure a classic pheasant tail's tail? How many wraps does it take to put on a parachute post? How many wraps does it take to seat deer hair in a bass popper? You won't know until you try it right?
3) Creates better looking flies. It's absolutely true that we want to fish with flies that look good. And if you ask any nearly any fly tier if they would like to make their flies more attractive to the human eye they would (probably) all say yes - so utilize this technique - every wrap matters! This will effect how you finish each fly, how the wings are separated, how neat your buck tail is tied in, if the turkey biot will wrap naturally like an actual insect. Really everything is effected with this mindset!
One of the reasons why this mindset helps is we learn to correct mistakes.
Correcting Mistakes. Let me share two truths, every wrap counts and everyone makes mistakes. Because everyone makes mistakes, learning to correct mistakes is a game changer. If you make a tail crooked and you can undue it just by removing the thread wrap you just made - do it! If you can hide all of that buck tail by adding a few more wraps - do it! If you pinch down your hackle with the thread- fix it! Do the fish care? Probably not, but if you never pick that fly out of your box because it looks like belly button lint poorly attached to a hook you've wasted your time!
Always correct mistakes. It's a lot more efficient to just undue the wrap and spend the time getting it just right rather than breezing past the glaring problem.
Everyone makes mistakes, but what separates the okay from the great often comes down to who corrects their mistakes and who takes their time to do it right the first time? Start out making each fly as best as you can. Utilize every wrap that you make and think about what you are doing. When you screw up - fix it. It seems contradictory to say - you will save time by spending more time, however, that's exactly right here. You won't be cranking out 40 flies per hour maybe only 4, but you will be able to use those flies longer, and eventually you will know your pattern so well you might be able to get 10 or 20 per hour. And they will be ones your not afraid to show the world.
Next time you find yourself behind the vise remember this, every wrap counts.