Friday, March 4, 2011

Best fly rod for the Driftless region

Someone searched the above title and my blog popped up.  I haven't really addressed this question and I love talking about fly rods so I thought I would give it a shot.

First off, fly rod choices are very personal.  Some people only fish bamboo others swear by fiber glass.  Graphite is the most popular choice today and is what most fly rods are made of.

The first important decision is fly rod weight, but that isn't the first question you should think about.  First off, how many rods are you going to buy?  One? Choice is made for you, get a five weight.  Two? For the driftless region I would get a 3wt and a five weight. Three? My first two were a 5 and a 3.  My third was a 6'6'' 3 wt fiberglass slow action rod I built for small stream dry fly fishing.  I love small streams and native fish so I went the small route.  A short about 7' 1wt or a 0wt would have also been a nice choice. I picked a short 3 because I already had a reel and line for it.  That saved me a hundred on line and a reel.  If you love catching big fish and do some warm water fishing (bass and pike etc.) I would get a 7 wt.  Great for steamers for trout and could toss a bass bug without a problem.  Think about an extra spool for the 7wt reel; you may want a shooting head for steelhead someday.  I picked odd numbers because my first rod was a 5.  A 4wt and 6 wt would also do well but for long term species flexibility I like the 3-5-7 range.  I use an 8' 3 wt nearly every time I go out fishing in the driftless region.  It's a Winston Ascent which is supposed to be fast action, but since it's a Winston it's a little softer and fishes nymphs and dries pretty well.

That brings me to the second most important choice.  Action.  Fast? Super fast? Slow? Medium? It's mostly a personal preference but certain actions fish different types of flies better.  A very fast action rod will generate very tight loops and demands a very well timed casting stroke (think Scott S4).  It's best for people who can cast better than me and fish dry flies more often than I do.  Medium fast action rods can still form a tight loop when fishing a single dry but can be cast a little slower to make bigger loops that are best for two fly rigs and indicator-nymph rigs.  Medium and slow action are for very relaxed casting strokes and delicate lay downs.  Think very slow sections of spring creeks with gin-clear water.  The Driftless region has more than its fair share of water like this, so a slower action rod would be nice sometimes.  Unless its windy.  Forget about casting a slow action rod in the wind.  Cutting wind takes tighter loops and a more powerful stroke which is not a slow/med action rod's forte. 

Next is length.  Is 9 feet too long for the spring creeks of the Driftless region?  Not really.  9 feet is a good fly rod length.  It may get tight is some spots but I like a 9' 5 wt over an 8' and I think it mends better than a 8'6".  For a 3 wt I like an 8 footer. It gets you into a light weight rod that is more fun with smaller fish and a little shorter for the tight brush and trees.  My go to rod (unless there is wind) is an 8' 3 wt.   4 wt? not sure, maybe split the difference at 8.5 feet. 

Now the tough one: cost.  Basically which brand is for you.  Fly rods fall into 3 main price categories: around $200, about $300-500 and above $600.  I have no data for this but considering the choices available in the $200 range I would say most people are buying in that range.  In the $200 range I love the Winston Passport.  The 5wt was ranked higher in a head to head test over a lot of really expensive rods. TFO makes some really nice rods in that range.  Echo also has some great $200 or under rods. I also like the St. Croix Imperial, which is a great rod for the money.  For the $300-500 range I wouldn't know.  I don't own a rod that nice. If I had to pick... I would go with the Winston GVX.  It has the same taper as the Winston Boron rods but is made with only graphite.  It is made in Twin Bridges, Montana with the same exacting standards and finish as the rods that are almost $300 more.  Other interesting rods in that category are the Sage VXP based on the super popular XP from a few years back ($500) and the Sage Flight $300. The Echo 3 also looks pretty sweet at $300.  Red truck is a new company that makes a pretty high finish and sweet rod for $300.  The Diesel has a aluminum tube with a bottle opener on it.  As far as I know, its the cheapest rod to offer an aluminum tube. The Orvis Hydros is also quite a lot of rod for the money at $500. It is made with the same technology as the Orvis Helios but without the $775 price tag.  Over 600?  Take your pick.  I can't imagine one of those rods being bad.  Just make sure you get the appropriate action for your casting stroke and fishing techniques. Many of those high priced rods are built as super fast action rocket ships for huge casts.  Not really necessary in the Driftless region.  You need a good all around rod since hatches can be more sporadic and less consistent out here compared to the west.

  If you are just starting out and think $200 for a rod is out of control, there are a few options that will get the job done.  Don't buy a kit rod that has everything in one box.  The line will be crap and it will cast limp noodle.  A rod will cost at least a $100.  Try the St. Croix Rio Santo, the Reddington Pursuit or the TFO series 1.  Find the cheapest reel you can, don't be above a Pflueger medalist ($23) and get a decent line (~$50).  So, for less than $175 you can get a serviceable outfit that will get you years of enjoyment.  If you are new to casting a fly rod and are getting a 5 wt only think about trying a line size up, so a 6 wt line for the 5 wt rod.  It will let you feel the rod loading a little more and make your timing better to start with.

I hope all this helps. I love writing about rods.  Maybe someday I'll try reels.


  1. Hey thanks for this review of good fly rods for the driftless region. I may have been the one who googled this for I've googled it on more than once in my hunt for a sweet all around light fly rod for the driftless. I have a 4wt. rod, but have struggled in deciding between a 2wt. and a 3wt. So many thoughts and so many rods. Still pondering.

  2. Nice, I would love a 2 wt. I guess, since I have a 3 a 2 would be what I would go for. Yeah, that's a tough choice. The 3 would be a little more versatile if conditions changed while you were out on the water but a two would give you a more significant difference between that and the 4. Either way, maybe think about the length and go shorter than the 4 so you can have a close quarters rod. The biggest thing I noticed when I got a small rod was that my reel was way too heavy and the balance point was way off. Just another thing to consider with a smaller rod. Good luck and tight lines!