When shopping for a new fly rod, what specifications are most important to you? Things like length, action, and line weight are just a few of the factors to consider, but what about the guides?
Besides the stripping guides, a fly rod will round out its guide train with either snake or single-foot guides. Snake guides are, of course, those guides with a more curvy, twisted style to them, while single foot guides are simply a standard round wire hoop. While snakes are the most common style, single-foot guides still see a fair amount of use by several manufacturers. Without doing an exhaustive search, just a few examples of companies off the top of my head using single-foot guides today include Fenwick, G. Loomis, Thomas & Thomas, Redington, and Douglas.
Let's go over a few differences of snake vs. single-foot guides then I'll share my quick personal thoughts on this matter...
Knots- In my experience, it seems that bulkier knots pass through snake guides just a little easier more consistently. Snake guides have more of an open design which is likely partially the reason, but the angle of the guide's wire may also have something to do with it. With a snake guide, the wire is angled which could allow a knot to slip over more easily, but with a single-foot guide the knot will contact the wire straight on which could make for more of a sticking point.
Extra Weight- Using single-foot guides is often viewed as a way to trim a bit of weight from a rod blank. While this may or not be true based on the size, thickness, and material of the guides being compared, the single-foot guide needs less material to secure it. Snake guides have two feet which both must be wrapped and epoxied to the blank, but single-foot guides only have one foot that must be affixed to the blank. Will this tiny weight savings even be detectable by the angler? I guess that depends, but if you want to build the absolute lightest rod possible, quality single-foot guides would be worth looking at.
Time Savings- Do you enjoy building your own rods? Relating to the above point, using single-foot guides should save time during the build process since less wrapping is required to attach these guides when compared to snakes.
Winter Fishing- I've never lived in a cold enough climate for this to be a problem, but snake guides are generally viewed as being better for winter fishing. Obviously, any guide can build up ice on their frames, but some anglers report that single-foot guides of a smaller diameter can be more susceptible to ice buildup since the hoop is not as open as a snake guide.
Casting Distance- Snake guides are basically open on the top side which means the fly line can more easily contact the blank during casting. On the other hand, single-foot guides feature a full circular ring which helps keep the fly line off the blank. Theoretically, it seems like single-foot guides may offer a wee bit more casting distance, but having used both guide styles for years I just can't see a noticeable difference either way.
Durability- The flat face and design of single-foot guides makes them more easy to hit against or catch on things and bend. I have never broken one, but I can see a possibility of breakage from harsh contact itself or even from weakening due to repeated re-bending of the guide back into position.
Which style of guides do I prefer for the fishing I do? I simply have no favorite. I certainly look at what guides a rod comes equipped with, but whether it uses snake or single-foot makes no difference to me personally at all. I like them both! Things like rod action, weight, looks, and grip style matter much more to me. There's currently rods on my rack with both styles of guides and they're all a joy to fish!
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