Every year come December, I start getting asked what would be the “best” fly rod to give as a gift for Christmas.
After explaining that it depends on the size and species of fish an angler will be pursuing, the size and type of flies they will be casting, and the size of the waters they will be fishing? I then ask if the intended recipient prefers to fish lakes or streams, from a boat, from shore, will they be after big fish or small fish? There are a number of questions, I tell them, that first need to be answered.
In general, longer rods are better for larger waters, shorter rods for smaller waters. Rods of the same length can be designed to cast lighter or heavier lines. But not both. A rod with a three-weight designation is designed specifically to cast a three-weight line. Just as an eight-weight rod is for an eight weight line. A three- or four-weight rod is more appropriate for catching smaller fish such as small rainbow or cutthroat trout in small streams, while a six-weight rod would be required to handle larger rainbows in lakes and rivers. And an eight- or nine-weight would be needed for fish such as salmon and steelhead, and so on. There are an endless number of rods designed to cast different line weights on different types of water for different species of fish. That is why it is important to determine, beforehand, what kind of fishing someone will be doing.
Today’s modern graphite rods are lighter, stronger, easier to cast and much more sensitive. Just remember, there is little sport in catching 12- to 14-inch rainbows on an eight-weight. And, you will only be stressing and harming the fish if you end up overplaying a five-pound rainbow on a three-weight rod. The thing is to choose a rod that will allow the angler to play a fish, control it and bring it in as quickly as possible so that it can be released back into the water.
In past years I have always said there is no one rod that will allow you to fish all waters and situations. I have then gone on to extol the virtues of a nine-foot, six weight, with a moderate to fast action. This is adequate for most Interior lakes and streams. It will allow an angler to cast large caddis flies a fair distance in windy conditions, while still allowing them to present small dry flies to cautious fish feeding on the surface.
I tell people that, before spending money, it only makes sense to ask questions – talk to anglers who have fished the waters the recipient of the rod will be fishing – talk to sales people at fly shops. Just as different rods have different casting characteristics, different anglers have different casting strokes and different capabilities. If possible, try a rod out before buying it. Better yet, have the recipient try it out, even though that will take all the surprise out of your gift.
I also say that in the long run, you will discover it is better to invest money in one good rod right from the beginning. Good quality rods come with good warranties. We all make mistakes with our gear. And it can be comforting to know an expensive rod will be replaced by the manufacturer if damaged.
I do have to admit that this past year I spent most of my time casting an eight-and-a-half foot three-weight. I was fishing waters where there were a lot of 10- and 12-inch trout. They were small but feisty. I started casting the three weight and never looked back. I could have fished other waters with bigger fish, but I simply had too much fun catching smaller – and more often than not plentiful – fish on the lighter rod.
The trick is to ask the right questions and get answers before spending your hard earned money on a fly rod as a gift. In the end, if you are satisfied with your purchase, the recipient of your gift will most likely also be just as satisfied – but I sure did have fun fishing with that three weight.