February 26th, 2001

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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How Many Fly Rods Do I Need?

Rick Rappe

(A)  If you know how many fly rods you have, then you don't have enough of them.

(B)  One. (Otherwise you can't go fishing.)

(C)  Somewhere between these extremes.

While I believe the answer is 'C,' at various times over the years I have fit into each of these categories. In the last few weeks I've sold a number of rods that were seldom if ever used, plus a few of the test/demo rods I've made up as a part of my rod business. And so after typing the title of this article, I stopped and counted the rods in the car, the garage, in the rack, in the rod cabinet and standing in corners. I came up with 30 plus one under construction and one on order. Allowing that I might have missed a couple, and there are a few where "clear title" between me, my wife and the kids isn't known; I still fall in the 'A' category.

But then, I am in the rod building business and have been a student of fly rod actions and technology for a long time, so I have an excuse.

If you are a skeet, trap or sporting clays shooter, you may have heard the old adage: "Beware the man with one gun, because he probably knows how to use it." I believe there is a corollary when it comes to fly rods.

There is a lot to be said positive about sticking with one rod and learning to use it well. There is also a lot not commonly said about just how versatile certain rods can be; particularly some graphite models. Two weeks ago I built a 9' rod from a blank cataloged as a medium action 3-4 wt. I was looking for a delicate nymph rod for those times such as very cold weather when my favored old bamboo rods are best left omeplace warm. (I'm not sure I entirely agree with my friend Ron Kusse who states that cane shouldn't be fished below 50 degrees . . .after all I do live in Minnesota. But I have fished when it was so cold that metal ferrules literally broke in half.)

Aside: The Minnesota dapping cast: Tie on a fly and then lay 20-30 ft. of line out on the snow. After a few minutes to freeze, then just pick up the stiff line and leader and poke the fly on the fish's nose. Don't even need a rod.

Sorry for the digression. Anyway, when I first took this rod out in the yard to test cast it, I put on a DT4 line. I was much impressed with the rod, not as the medium slow nymph rod I'd expected, but as a wonderfully responsive short to medium range rod for fine tippet fishing yet with a crisp medium fast action that will keep the back cast high and out of streamside brush. A few days later, I took a number of test rods to a casting session with some fly fishing friends. I had brought many lines and reels, but somehow messed up and when it came time to string up this rod, all I had to use was a Wulff 5/6wt. Triangle Taper line. The rod was glorious! It slowed down a small amount with the heavier line, but was still medium-medium fast, and I began to think my first casting session with a 4wt. was flawed because the rod performed so well.

Then yesterday, I took the rod fishing. I took a reel with a clear intermediate WF4 and a sink tip WFf4, and as a "just in case" also took the 5/6 Wulff. Knowing that when I finally slogged through knee deep snow I'd find the river gin clear and the overcast day would make the fish especially spooky, I strung up the clear WF4. Again the rod was great. It's length let me keep the casts out of the streamside tangles, it loaded well with the WF4, and pushed the fly with a 12 foot leader into a goodly breeze. I caught a few fish, none of bragging size, but it was also obvious that the rod had a power reserve in the butt sufficient to handle the big ones too.

A fisher with this wonderful rod could use any line from a DT3 for "fishing fine" through a WF6 for nymphs and bigger streamers, and would be well equipped for most ALL trout fishing with just a single rod.

Maybe this rod is "the exception that proves the rule," because in the main, I agree with writer John Gierach. In his book Fishing Bamboo he stated the problem with the all-around rod is that while it does a number of things well, it does no one thing to perfection.

While I could argue either side of that point of view, I also tend to agree with Mr. Gierach if for no other reason than my world would be less fun if I only had one rod.

I will reluctantly admit that if the only fly fishing I did was on smaller Midwest trout streams, two rods would suffice. I say that from experience because for nearly ten years that's exactly what I used. Two rods. One was a sweet 7 1/2 foot Granger Premier that has gone missing (I think stolen, but if some day I find it stuck somewhere that I put it for safekeeping and just can't remember; I'll be a happy man), and the other was a 9ft. 4wt. Orvis Zephyr which I called my long rod for casting short.

There was also a 5 year period when I owned a Northern lake cabin and did no trout fishing. Here again, two rods were all I needed. The Zephyr caught the Bluegills off my dock on small flies and poppers (sunfish don't grow too big as a rule in the far North) and an old 7wt. fiberglass blank I made up over 20 years ago (darn I forgot about that rod . . . count is 31 . . . no 32, I just remembered another one) caught everything else from Bass through Northern Pike.

So after all these words, what is my point and the answer to my question of how many are enough?

If you fish only one species, in the same places and conditions, one rod that is well suited is enough. For general trouting, two (a dry fly rod and an all arounder) is better. Three is better still by replacing the all arounder with a nymph rod and a bigger fish, longer range model. At four, I'd have a dry fly model for tiny midge flies and a focus on delicacy plus a bigger fly model. At five, the nymph rod would be augmented with a more powerful streamer model. Number six would be the big fly medium action Bass rod. Number seven would be a more powerful Steelhead getter. Eight would be a really long float tube or deep wading model, in a versatile 5 or 6wt. Nine would be a short trout rod for really tight conditions. Ten would be a backup to my favorite cane rods for cold weather. Eleven, if one of the others wasn't already a multi piece for air travel, would be just that. And the twelfth rod just because an even dozen seems better than eleven doesn't it? (A friend points out that his and my rod racks each hold 12 rods. Coincidence?)

I fish whenever I can, wherever I can, for whatever I can, although stream trout is my passion. I just gave serious thought to what rods I actually use regularly and would never part with unless it was to replace it with another similar function model. Guess what? The count was 12 rods.

But as Dennis Miller says at the end of one of his TV rants, "Of course that's just my opinion, I could be wrong." Rick Rappe


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