Earlier this week my buddy Luke posted an interesting article on his own blog over at The Young Man and the Stream, a bit of thought experiment about choosing which of his fly rods were essential to his angling. He made some good points regarding the propensity for the fly fishing industry to be incredibly gear-addictive (and rightfully so, since we all have to make a buck) and reignited for me my interested in writing on this very topic.
I’m not going to take the personal approach that he has, but rather give my thoughts on how to best exploit the adaptability of fly rods across a wide variety of fish species and situations. I wouldn’t call myself a “gearhead” in the truest sense of the word. I appreciate when new stuff comes to market, I like to play around with it, and occasionally, when want or necessity demands it, I’ll buy something new-and-improved (which I recently did, purchasing a new 5-weight Recon to replace my eight-year-old mainstay, the St. Croix Premier). Rather, I’m more of a “junk-ie”, in the sense I like to collect rods not so much for their technical ability for for aesthetic or novelty reasons. I have over a dozen rods, but I only fish 2-3 on the regular basis.
So do as I say and not as I do when I say this: you don’t need a lot of rods to have fun. You probably only need two, max. You likely only need one for 75% of the fishing situations that you, personally (depending upon where your interests lie) will find yourself in. Everything after that is a bonus.
But let’s suppose for a moment that you are the kind of angler that wants to chase everything that swims in freshwater. It’s not too unusual; I know many anglers who will chase bluegill-to-trout-to-smallmouth-to-pike-to-steelhead over the course of a season. For these nutjobs (of whom I am a proud member) usually one rod won’t cut it. The question then becomes Which series of rods best covers the types of situations in which an angler will find him/herself?
This question has no right answer, except for the answer that you find makes the most sense for you. It is debated in fly shops, at TU meetings, around the campfire after a couple of beers, and the only question in which rod manufacturers will answer in unison with “You need one of every size!” Here then, are my thoughts from the minimalist to the true gearhead and everything in between.
The One Rod
Novice fly anglers are sometimes overwhelmed by the rod options available to them, so the quickest way to whittle the selection down is to ask What do you intend to fish? Around these parts the answer is as large in scope as it is universal in response: “Well, definitely trout… but also panfish… and some bass… and at least one a year I go with my buddies to the Boundary Waters for pike… and I’m thinking of steelheading for the first time this year… so which rod should I get?”
For the true minimalist an 8-weight rod is the only way to go. It’s not ideal, but think about it: it will handle bass, pike, steelhead, and carp with ease. It won’t be a lot of fun but it can be used for panfish and trout in a pinch. Luke mentions how he has used his own Cabela’s CGR 7/8 weight for all of the above, and notes “I could [emphasis his] probably use this rod all season long”.
If the apocalypse were to occur tomorrow and I only had time to grab one rod, it would be an 8-weight. For non-apocalyptic situations I would prefer a little more versatility.
At the bare minimum you need two rods to cover all situations: a 5-weight and an 8-weight. It’s the most cost-effective yet versatile solution for fly fishing.
I don’t think there’s a really great way to build a rod stable with only three rods. The best solution in my mind would be a 3-6-9-weight series, but you’re coupling a decent panfish-trout rod (3-weight) with two rods that have more limited versatility (6- and 9-weight).
Get your mind outta that gutter… I’m talking rods here. For a while I’ve considered a four-rod stable as the most versatile possibility without going overboard with gear (of course, many would argue that four rods is already beyond overboard). 3-5-7-9-weight would be my ideal setup, 2-4-6-8 being the other possibility, but then you lose some ability to tackle big muskie at the high end.
Beyond four rods you’re getting into “fly obsessed” territory. Rods for dry fly fishing, nymphing, small springs creeks and wide-open freestone streams… you can easily get carried away with all of the options out there. Don’t forget where you came from, grasshopper… most of us probably started with one rod and had a helluva fun with it.
Where do I fall on this spectrum? I may be a “junk-ie”, but most of the rods I’ve bought were just for fun without much thought to using them on a regular basis. More often than not I use two rods for 90% of the fishing I do throughout the season: a 5-weight and an 8-weight. They handle my two main targets- trout and bass- with ease but are perfectly capable of working nearly any freshwater species (even smaller muskies on Lake Wingra). By sticking with just two rods I can spend the money on higher-quality gear without having to break the bank.
Wherever you end up on this list, just remember: fly fishing isn’t about the gear, it’s about the fish.