Trust Me, It’s the Rod – Guest Post by Flatswalker

This is a guest post by Davin over at Flatswalker.  When I spouted off about “It’s the reel” he replied. I thought you all might like a little more light shed on his views (as I did). Tomorrow, I’ll reply with my own thoughts (here is that post).  But for today…

TRUST ME, IT’S THE ROD

I’m a tackle snob. I try not to be, but there it is. I might not own the best gear, but I think I do. I have a penchant for ultra-light, yet sturdy tackle, and generally believe in “Final Decisions”—that is, spending time and (often good) money to buy something once, and own it pretty much for life.†

However, in my line of work I do get to cast a lot of rods in a lot of price ranges. I also get to watch folks compare their rods and mine. My conclusion: Rods matter. I’ll go farther and say it’s about the most important decision you can make before embarking on a bonefishing trip.

We tend to fall back on habit when our brains shut off at the sight of a tailing bonefish (or when the guide starts yelling cast now, cast now, 40 feet!) Then we revert to our default cast—the cast we’ve practiced most and is the most natural for us, regardless of the rod in hand. If you’ve chosen your rod correctly then you’re in great shape when you have to rely on instinct.

When you don’t have a lot of time, you need to feel the rod.

Here’s The Problem: most of us don’t chose our rods correctly, especially for salt water. Our choices are usually based on arbitrary criteria like affordability, or “Orvis is for posers” or “my buddy/the fly-shop guy/Andy Mills says these rods are awesome and he knows way more than me” or (worst of all) how far we can cast the rod.

The critical factor in choosing a rod is how you cast. Is your casting stroke short, long, relaxed, fast? Can you double haul? Do you have great timing instead? These are actually the first questions you need to ask when selecting a rod. How far you can cast it will have next-to-nothing to do with how it actually fishes. Trust me.

In fact, I’d say that needing to distance cast is a relatively narrow niche in saltwater fishing—especially sight fishing. Generally  you’re called upon to reach that redfish at 40 feet, or that bonefish at 50. Maybe you need a longer string for spooky permit, but you’ll likely be using a 10-weight at that point so 60 feet shouldn’t be too much trouble. Any farther than that and—for sight fishing—you’re into the realms of fantasy. Even if you can bomb it out there to 80 feet—unlikely—you probably won’t be accurate enough to put the fly where it needs to be to feed the fish.

Ok, there are some aspects of bonefishing that might be obvious but I should have listed at the outset.

  1. First, you need to see the fish. This will usually happen between 25 and 80 feet. Any farther and you probably won’t be able to see it—bonefish being relatively small, excellently camouflaged fish in a giant ocean. Any closer and you’ve probably already spooked it.
  2. The fish has to see your fly. Hail-Mary cast in the general direction won’t get it done. You’ve got to place the fly deliberately where the fish can see it without spooking it so that you can…
  3. Feed the fish. This is the bottom line. If you can’t reach the fish before it gets too close, or put the fly where the fish can see it, then you won’t feed it.

That is what this is all about and my experience with rods is that most have holes in their performance. This is particularly true with the new generation of fast-action sticks, the true rocket launchers that make us feel like we can reach any fish on the horizon.

Here’s the straight skinny: ultra-fast rods are the worst rods for bonefishing. I say this for both the expensive and inexpensive sticks. If you can’t feel a rod with less than 30 feet of line out the tip, you’ll miss most bonefish. Bonefishing happens between 30-50 feet. That’s pretty close, and they’re usually moving toward you. You have very little time to get the fly out and feed the fish. If you’ve got to make half-dozen false casts just to load the rod, that fish will be inside 30 feet by then and you’re done. Game over. Redo from start. What you really need is a rod that allows you to cast to that sweet spot in 1-2 false casts. You should not be struggling to feel the rod, and you should be able to accurately present the fly inside 30 feet.

Before you protest, think this through. Your rod is roughly ten feet long, so is your leader. That means with only five feet of fly line out the rod you’ve got close to 25 feet. How many rods do you think allow you to feel five feet of fly line? ‡

See what I mean? Too far is rarely a problem. What is a problem is accuracy, and that means casting the right rod for you, first of all, and then considering the conditions you’ll be fishing in. We’re talking bonefishing here, and that means breeze—8-18 knots all the time—and the varying distances depending on if you’re wading or being poled. For wading practice 30-50 foot casts, with a few shots inside or outside. If you’re on a skiff then 40-60 feet. Flies will be relatively small and light—generally #6-#2 hooks with medium bead-chain to medium lead eyes for weight. The perfect bonefish rod will allow you to easily load the rod in close and still reach the medium distances of 50-60 feet in these conditions. It is a lot to ask of a rod, so take your time and choose wisely.

 

The rod, the reel AND the beer. Perfect.

†Obviously, not every purchase falls into this category. Beer, bread, and boxer shorts, for instance, seem like ongoing investments… at least for the foreseeable future.
‡ Plenty; they’re called 3-weights.

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13 comments

  1. One method for quick casting at distance is the long pick-up which works best with a fast action rod. As you start your backcast, begin your haul at the moment the fly leaves the water. Then with one back cast you can re-position the fly in front of the moving fish. Very quick, very accurate.

  2. Lawrence Snyder

    And that’s why many flat’s fishermen opt to overline their rods. I believe that line selection finetunes a rod. Shorter, compact heads help load fast rods much quicker while longer heads offer stealth, accuracy and distance in calm days. My very stiff x-tra fast rod is loaded with a compact and heavy F/I line (the kind that is half a weight heavier than advertised) while my softer, mid fast rod is loaded with a true wt line class line with a long head. They have different purposes. One for really windy days and the other for calm days.

  3. Interesting. I agree on many points, Davin:
    - each angler needs to match the rod to their casting style. In today’s modern world, it’s hard to find a ‘bad’ rod. It’s all about finding the rod that matches your stroke.
    - most modern rods are way too stiff, requiring too much line to be out before the rod loads.
    - the modern, stiff rods have created bad casters. It’s become all about making that long cast. Accuracy, timing, etc, not so much. Someone who can cast a ‘slow’ rod can pretty easily adapt to a fast rod. In contrast, someone who typically casts a fast rod has a hard time adjusting to a slow rod – they just aren’t able to wait for the rod to load. This observation comes from many hours on the square end of the boat.

    I disagree a bit about distance, however. Although most shots are less than 50 feet, I’ve been in many situations where a long shot is required, usually with tailing bonefish.

    RE other comments:
    - in my view, if a rod has to be overlined, then it’s really not properly labeled. An 8wt rod that casts best with a 9wt line is really a 9wt rod.
    Ask Chico Fernandez about his favorite rod for redfish – it’s a soft (slow) rod, perfect for soft presentations and the distances typically cast for redfish. And outside of the windiest conditions, the same holds for bonefish, especially tailing fish in calm water.

  4. I agree 150% my choice med-fast for bonefishing here.

  5. I agree. I have always thought that rods and casting style needed to be matched properly, also considering casting distances, fly size, and probable wind conditions.

    I do think that Orvis is for posers, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a great Orvis rod out for me, I just don’t want one.

    I agree, but disagree about line vs. sizing. Since the rod and line companies will not get together and agree, I will do it myself.

    Excuse the digression, and read up on this concept:

    http://www.common-cents.info/caq.htm.

    Bjorn,

    Good invite, even if he completely disagrees with your recent post about the reel being more important that the rod. I did too… :D

    If you can’t “feed the fish” you cares if you have a gold plated anti-reverse mortgage payment reel or line on the deck and leather glove in your line hand.

    Again good invite, good post!

    Take Care,

    Andrew

  6. Doug Jeffries

    A well thought out, well presented analysis. Not that it matters one fiddler crab fart but I agree with it. In particular the part about ‘instinct’.

    Most of us aren’t going to have one rod for bonefish and another for permit and another for muttons and another just in case that little pod of tarpon happen to show up. We may have one or two rods rigged up and we may be able to adjust leader length and fly weight before we change flats but many times we’re forced into a situation of casting at a fish with whatever we have in our hand at the time. And I refuse to toss a perfectly good beer at a bonefish so sometimes I just have to watch them swim away. But I digress and confuse myself….

    Where was I…oh, that means you have to be able to make several kinds of presentations with whatever rod, leader, and fly set up you have on. There’s not alot of time to think it all through – the fish’s behavior, direction its swimming, wind direction, water depth and clarity, type of bottom, boat drift and speed, the weight of the fly you have on. Maybe there’s some mensa types who can process all those variables and come up with a viable solution before the fish is gone but I sure cannot. Feel and instinctual ability very much come into play in those situations – some people call it ‘fishiness’. In my experience, the most successful flyfishers have practiced enough and been exposed to enough situations that their autopilot has those casts in their memory. Personally, my autopilot keeps getting interrupted thinking about my fishing buddy back there drinking more than his share of the beer.

  7. So what’s the rod in the bottom pic? Looks to me like a Winston. I know the reel is a Lamson, I have the same one. The beer looks good too.

  8. bonefishbjorn

    Of course, I’ll reply tomorrow with my “It’s the reel” bit.

    In the meantime… Orvis puts out some good gear. Just say’n.

    There is no shortage of good gear out there.

    Glad folks are enjoying the conversation.

  9. Steve (and for those who care at all), well spotted. The rod in the pic is the best bonefish rod made, period: a RL Winston 9’6″ #8 BIIx. You can cast just the leader or pick it up and bomb out 80 feet, no worries… all in a couple false casts. I’d call it a fast action since it delivers line at high speed, but it doesn’t *feel* like it. Is it worth the scratch? It is to me.

    Aaron, good to hear from you on this. Like that you agree and (for the record) I also think that you often (more often if you’re in a skiff) need to cast distances to feed fish. I guess I was making the point that most rods could do that, but what they were missing was the all important “sweet spot” at about 40-50 feet where you’ll see (and therefore feed) most of your bonefish. Of course, if you can see fish farther and can reach them you’ll feed more at that distance. Most of my guests can’t do either, so we end up feeding a lot of fish VERY close. It’s like if you fish a Gotcha 90% of the time, you’ll catch 90% of your bonefish on Gotchas. Go figure.

    Anyways, thanks everyone for chiming in. Glad this sparked some convo and can’t wait for Bjorn’s reposte.

  10. Davin, good observations throughout. Great story – good read. Interestingly, we’ve (Fly Life Magazine.com) hi-jacked several rods from willing manufacturers (have to return them) and are in the process of testing the rods now. So far, they’ve been pitched here in Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, and on Long Island Sound. Upcoming trips to the Keys and possibly The Bahamas later in the summer (guides there we know). We’ve enlisted some pretty good casters / fly fishermen; all salty types that have never been affiliated with a rod company.

    So far the results or opines regarding the rods actions have been remarkably similar with less agreement on stiffness.

    Skip Clement, publisher

  11. I would suggest that many of our encounters happen at VERY close range- inside 30 feet. Quick accurate casts, lear tip lines, short stout leaders and improv casting skills separate the men from the boys in Hawaii. BonefishHawaii.com

  12. [...] Ebanks and Bjorn Stromsness go head to head on what’s more important in saltwater fishing: the rod, or the [...]

  13. I have to concur that it’s the rod, and the main point that I like to emphasize is that a 9.5′ rod is a huge advantage while wading because it will aerialize the line so much more quickly when you need a quick shot. I also like a fairly fast rod with a soft tip that will load up close mated up with a Wulff Bermuda Triangle which has a 30′ head.
    JC

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