What Length Fly Rod is Best?
What fly rod length should I get?
There is a lot that goes into choosing a proper fly rod. Line weight, rod action, components, aesthetics, and of course length are all key points that a consumer must make note of. As far as length goes, the 9 foot fly rod is the most common and widely-available on the market. This size offers the angler ample distance, line control, and castability while still being able to pack down into a tube that allows for easy transport.
Although it's often tough to go wrong with the standard 9 footer, other lengths can offer distinct advantages. For this reason, manufacturers sell rods which can be as short as around 5 feet long all the way up to gargantuan sticks which can span 15 feet! Some folks may choose an alternate length out of absolute necessity while others might just want to gain a small edge, but regardless of reason it's good to become familiar with the advantages provided by fly rods that are on the shorter and longer sides of 9 feet.
Shorter Fly Rods
*Common shorter rod applications: trout on smaller waters, bass, panfish, offshore saltwater, casting in tight to mangrove shorelines for snook, redfish, and small tarpon
Ease of Travel- Shorter rods are easier to get around with both on and off the water. These can be excellent options for all-around travelling or attaching to/carrying inside of a pack while hiking when even a slightly-shorter rod tube can make a big difference.
Small Waters, BIG Brush- Rods in this category are top choices for anglers fishing small streams that have a lot of thick brush lining the banks. A more compact rod makes it much easier to pick your way through dense vegetation when trying to find that small opening to access the water. While fishing, the short rod is also more nimble which allows for close, quick, more controlled casts and hook sets when surrounded by foliage. I've been in situations like this where a standard 9-footer started to feel clumsy rather quickly!
Accuracy- Just like with a conventional fishing rod, a short fly rod excels at accuracy. There's less rod to move around, the blank recovers faster in comparison to a similar longer one, and it's easier to precisely control the tip and direct it exactly at the intended target. These rods are also great for slipping casts between and underneath overhanging brush. Much shorter rods can almost feel like an extension of your arm so to speak, which in turn gives them more of a pinpoint casting ability.
Lifting Power- This especially applies to offshore saltwater fly anglers, but a short rod is awesome for battling big fish in deep water. Compact rods of higher line weights can be difficult to find, but a prime example includes the (now-discontinued) G. Loomis ShortStix series, one of which I reviewed here. The G. Loomis CrossCurrent 15 weight and several Scott Sector fly rods are other slightly-longer (but still under 9 foot) options that come to mind. Any shortened rod allows for better leverage and makes it easier to short pump and pull on a strong fish.
Lightweight- Take two rods that are different lengths, but are otherwise identical...which do you think will be lighter? A shorter rod is lighter because it requires less material. This also helps the rod feel more balanced since there's less weight out in front of the handle. In addition, a much shorter rod will be noticeably thinner towards the butt section which also shaves added weight. For the ultimate lightweight stream combo, try a short graphite rod with a click pawl reel!
Easier to Land Fish- Some anglers can experience trouble trying to bring a caught fish to hand or net. The length of typical fly rods keeps both the fish and leader pretty far away from you, thus making either one a little more challenging to reach. Aside from beaching a fish (not always possible or recommended), there's certainly a knack to landing your catch while still keeping it fully in the water. The shorter the fly rod the closer the fish and leader are to you. This means the rod won't have to be angled back so far to get your hand or a net on that prized catch.
Longer Fly Rods
*Common longer rod applications: big water trout, salmon, steelhead, fishing from float tubes/kick boats, surf fishing, euro nymphing, spey/switch casting
Elevating the Cast- Adding length to a rod helps to elevate the front and back cast. This keeps the fly further away from you while it's whizzing back and forth, but it also makes it easier to keep the back cast over obstacles like brush or a tall riverbank. Float tubers and kick boaters are known to love long fly rods—especially 10 footers. This is due to the very low seating position when fishing from one of these craft. That longer rod keeps the front and back cast higher off the water's surface.
Distance- Long rods can really let an angler reach distant spots. Have you ever seen an experienced angler casting a spey or switch fly rod? These long rods are capable of amazing distances that no typical fly rod can touch, but even a longer single-hand rod can pick up long lengths of line and really bomb the fly out there. Salmon and steelhead anglers out west are particularly fond of rods 10-feet and longer for covering large expanses of big rivers.
Line Control- For the ultimate line control both near and far, pick a lengthier rod. You'll have the advantage of being able to make big mends, move more line around, and more easily reach past obstacles that are in your way. Reach is of supreme importance to the Czech nymphing crowd, as this technique is best performed using a long rod of about 10–11 feet long.
Long Leaders- A long rod is far better than a short one for long leaders. It makes these leaders easier to cast, and (depending on leader length) also makes it easier to keep the entire leader outside of the guides.
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