Should I get an 8 weight fly rod? Is an 8 weight fly rod right for my needs?
In fly fishing, 5 weight and 8 weight rods are the two most commonly-recommended rod sizes: the 5 for lighter freshwater, the 8 for heavy freshwater and a lot of saltwater fishing. If you can only have a single fly rod to cover the heavier end of things, the 8 is often a good pick. I've always owned a handful of heavier rods, yet I have largely ignored 8 weights in my 20+ years of fly fishing. That might seem a little weird despite that sizes' popularity, but read on to hear me out...
First, what can an 8 weight fly rod be used for?
If you happen to also be a conventional bass angler like myself, the 8 weight is like the equivalent of a medium-heavy casting rod—it might not be the very best for everything, but its power and capability gives it a lot of versatility to be at least pretty good for many situations. These rods can handle all kinds of lines, wind, and flies ranging up to larger patterns like bass bugs and saltwater streamers. The amount of power in an 8 weight also means it can take on some bigger, stronger species, yet more average-sized specimens remain enjoyable because it's not too much rod.
Target species for an 8 weight includes juvenile tarpon, bass, stripers, bonefish, smaller salmon, big trout, steelhead, carp, redfish, and snook...in addition to many others.
Gee, the 8 weight sounds pretty good, huh? It is, but here's my thinking as to why I've mostly preferred owning a 7 and 9 weight instead...
7 weights are simply a little more fun to cast and fight fish with. You might not think just going down one line weight makes a sizable difference, but I sure notice it in terms of weight and feel. I've always enjoyed fishing light tackle and tend to gravitate to a lower line weight if I can comfortably get away with it. This is a special line weight to me and a good quality 7 weight rod is a blast to use!
A 7 weight comes close to the capability of an 8 weight, but with the added bonus of being able to make slightly softer presentations and protect lighter tippets even better. This can be a really big deal at times, such as when sight-fishing in shallow water under calmer conditions when you need every advantage possible.
The 9 weight can really come in handy when it's windy and is a favorite windy day rod of many flats anglers. When I'm saltwater or bass fishing and the wind is strong enough to make me shy away from the 7, I want a rod that can really cut through it and get the job done with authority. For me, that's a 9. Although I prefer tackle that's on the lighter side for most species, when it's windy out I care more about simply presenting the fly comfortably and efficiently. Typically, fish are less spooky when the wind has the water ruffled up anyway, so in that regard a heavier line weight isn't such a big deal.
An 8 weight is a good "do all" size for heavier freshwater into saltwater, but a 7 weight does a solid job of performing general work within that realm while a 9 weight covers the heavier side of things. If needed, the 9 will handle big baitfish flies, heavy patterns, deep-sinking lines, and bulky poppers even better than an 8 weight will, especially if dealing with wind on top of it all. Despite the power, a 9 still remains a relatively easy rod to cast and fish all day, but it's at about the top of the range as far as heavy freshwater and all-around saltwater rods go. Once you hit 10 weight and higher, you start getting into rods geared more for just targeting truly big fish; musky, adult tarpon, offshore species, and the like.
The extreme popularity of the 8 weight will likely hold steady forever. This is a great rod size for many heavier applications and folks have good reason to love the 8 weight for that reason. However, just because it's viewed as one of the big "standard" rod sizes doesn't mean it is always a necessary or ideal choice for everyone. Maybe a 7 would be better for you....or a 9...or both? Perhaps you might even prefer to really dial things in and get a 7, 8, and 9! A lot of variables such as budget, how and where you fish, along with sheer personal preference come into play when choosing a rod, but I hope I've at least given you some alternative points to consider.
Here's a general idea of some applications for both rod sizes...
7 Weight- bass fishing in open water to moderate cover; steelhead; streamer fishing for big trout; typical fishing for snook, redfish, sea trout, and bonefish; lighter-duty striper fishing; baby tarpon; carp; smaller salmon
9 Weight- bass fishing with large flies and/or around thick cover; big salmon and steelhead; big snook and redfish; smaller tarpon; permit; big bonefish; jacks; false albacore; barracuda; general striper fishing; overcoming windy conditions
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