A Guide To Fly Rod Guides

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By Louis Cahill

The guides on your fly rod have a lot to do with how it performs.

I was building bamboo fly rods and making my own guides when I first became aware of the many guide options and their effect on fly rod performance. Up to that point I think I took rod guides for granted, as I think many anglers do. Rod designers spend a good bit of time on guides and their placement and while you can cast a rod and catch fish with just about any guides, they have a real impact on how the rod performs.

Guides serve two basic functions. They transition the fly line from its unorganized state into a controlled state during the cast. The guides also serve to distribute the force applied to the line along the blank, during both the cast and the fighting of fish. All fly rods, with the notable exception of tenkara rods, have three types of guides. Each of these guides is designed for a specific purpose and the parameters of that design effect how the rod performs.

Three types of guides

Stripping guides are the large guides found closest to the reel. They are usually constructed with a large ring, often having some type of insert, soldered into a sturdy base. These guides are designed to handle the energy of the stiff butt section of the fly rod. Saltwater rods usually have two stripping guides to match their powerful blanks and deliver maximum pressure during the fight. The inserts found in stripping guides are designed to reduce friction, as the line is often coming across these guides at an acute angle. They are most often a polished ceramic but materials vary, including agate and colored glass in some high end rods. It’s never a good idea to hook your fly in these inserts and it can cause them to crack, reducing their performance and damaging your fly line.

Snake guides are, most often, the twisted wire guides that are most numerous on your fly rod. These simple but effective guides are designed to distribute force along the rod blank without adding a lot of weight or catching line. They are generally made of stainless steel or titanium. Some rods have single foot guides rather than traditional twisted guides. These guides are lighter weight and produce a faster action in an ultra-light carbon fiber rod. It’s not much weight, but with today’s carbon fiber, there is a difference. The down side to these guides is that they are not as sturdy and can catch loops of line. It’s unlikely that this will happen during casting but can happen in the excitement following a hook up. If you are producing loops inside your guides while casting, you have bigger problems. See a casting instructor.

Tip-tops are the guides fitted to the tip of the rod. It’s easy to take these little guides for granted but they are especially important. They add weight and transfer force at the most delicate part of the rod. This means that if there is a problem with the tip-top, it’s very unforgiving.

Guide size

The most influential aspect of guides, at least on casting performance, is their size. A larger guide will

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Keep Your Rod Tip Off the Water for Longer Drag-Free Drifts

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Are you finding yourself struggling to get long drag-free drifts on the water?

If the answer is yes, you may be holding your rod tip too close to the water during your drifts. When your rod tip is positioned too low, you’re putting unnecessary fly line on the water that you in turn have to manage in order to maintain a drag-free drift. As soon as this unwanted fly line hits the waters surface, it’s immediately subjected to the surrounding currents. Depending on how fast the current is at your feet, the less time it will take for it to be pulled downstream and begin effecting your drift. Eventually all the slack will be pulled out in your fly line and your drag-free drift will be compromised. There’s of course a happy medium though, on rod tip position. Too high, and anglers will find it difficult to effectively mend and set the hook. I generally tell my clients to keep their rod tip at least three feet off the water’s surface.

Here’s a simple drill to help you understand and visualize how improper rod tip position on the water can negatively effect and decrease the length of your drag-free drift. Lay out a nice 30+ foot cast on the water. Make sure you stop your rod tip high above the water (a good 4 feet). Watch your drift for a few seconds, and then

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Trash On The Flats

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I was in the Bahamas last month for a little DIY bonefishing. I love DIY trips. They have a whole different vibe from a guided lodge experience. I’m sure I miss some opportunities fishing without a guide. I may not catch as many fish, or as big a fish but I fish at my own pace and am a whole lot more relaxed. I appreciate a guide who works their ass off for me but it’s nice to just walk the flats, sometimes with my wife who doesn’t fish, and just explore.

This last trip was one of those and it allowed me to do something I really enjoy. Catching a few saltwater trash fish. On a guided trip there is always this pressure to stay on task and boat as many, or as big a specimen of what ever the target species may be. I’m generally curious about all kinds of fish and when I see something different, well, I just want to put a hook in it.
Some guys get really serious about it. They wouldn’t consider casting to a barracuda, for example. I think anyone who doesn’t enjoy catching a cuda on the fly is seriously missing something awesome. I get the whole idea of sticking to the program, and nobody loves catching bonefish more than me, but at some point

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Fish Boy Is Sorry

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A quick heads up, this story contains some adult language and ideas.

I was fishing a little mountain lake with my buddy Dan when he told me, “the last time I fished this place I was on a date”. “Why the hell did you bring a date up here”, I asked. “Well”, he said, “things were getting kind of serious and I thought I should show her what she was signing up for”. “So you took her fishing”? I laughed, “you should have locked her in your apartment and disappeared for three days, then showed back up stinking and drunk, that’s what she’s signing up for”!

Fly fishing has developed it’s own culture and it’s own code of misconduct. It reorients priorities and skews a person’s perspective of what “normal people” will tolerate. For some guys it’s like Mardi Gras. A fishing trip is an excuse to blow off the steam they build up at work or home and then they’re back to normal. For others it becomes a life style choice. For some an occupation. Living with a fisherman has got to be tough. I know my wife puts up with a lot from me and, to her credit, does it cheerfully. However, if you talk to any hard core angler it’s not uncommon to find a long list of ex-wives and girlfriends who just couldn’t, or wouldn’t take it anymore. Fishing, like any other addiction, complicates relationships.

Many of my best friends have made big life decisions base purely on fishing. Uprooted their families and moved across country without jobs or left their families alone for months at a time to guide in some far flung location. I have a friend who commutes over fifteen-hundred miles between his family and the water he guides year round. I know guys who have walked away from homes and given them up to foreclosure to be on the water they feel called to fish.

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Fly Fishing with Stealth – 8 Common Mistakes

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How often to you think anglers miss opportunities catching trout because of the lack of stealth? The more educated trout populations are in a stream, river or lake you’re fly fishing, the more important it is for fly anglers to mimic the way a hunter stalks game in the field. I estimate that I give away upwards of 50% of my trout catching opportunities due to my lack of stealth. Below are 8 common mistakes fly anglers make on the water that blow their cover and success.

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Accidental Fishing, Keep Your Gear Close

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I’m a firm believer in a well laid plan, so why has some of my best fishing been an accident?

I guess it all started because I have a weak bladder. Anyone who has been on a road trip with me can tell you that. Be prepared to make frequent stops. As much as I try, those stops don’t always coincide with gas stations and rest areas. It was on one of these unscheduled pit stops that I noticed a small stream in the North Carolina mountains. The sound of running water always helps to get the plumbing moving, but this water deserved closer inspection.

I tromped back to the car for a 3 weight and within a couple of minutes I was catching wild brook trout fifty feet from the road. The little stream was lousy with them and there were no trails, beat down banks or any other sign of human traffic. Wild brook trout were thriving there in spitting distance of the highway with no one the wiser. I caught eight or ten and was back on the road without ever knowing the name of the stream.

A couple of years later I was in Colorado when nature called. This roadside bano took me in sight of a small mountain lake. I couldn’t help but notice a cutthroat about sixteen inches cruising the bank. I zipped and trotted back to the car for a different rod. A single cast was all it took. The optimistic cuttie swam right over and ate my hopper. Nothing breaks up a road trip like an unexpected fish.

All of my accidental fishing isn’t related to public urination.

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3 Fly Fishing Situations When I Will Stop My Streamer During the Retrieve

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Warning: The fly fishing advice you’re about to read may go against your present beliefs. There’s a good chance you’ll feel inclined to tell me I’m nuts for recommending it. That’s totally cool, I just ask that you read what I’ve written, before you make the decision to set me straight.


I agree with this advice 95% of the time because most prey when threatened by a predator, will swim as hard and fast as possible to escape being eaten. That being said, I’ve been on the water many times when the constant-strip retrieve, or even the speed-up retrieve with my streamer, has failed to get me the hook up from a following fish. It was only when I thought outside the box, and found the courage to go against the popular view that streamers should always be kept moving when a fish is tracking, that I found myself with a bent rod.

With most things in fly fishing, there’s always exceptions to the rule. No matter how rare the exception may come up, a fly fisherman should always be willing to experiment when traditional tactics aren’t producing. If I told you that you were going to be streamer fishing a river where there were lots of injured and dying baitfish, would you still believe that a constant retrieve with a streamer would be your best tactic? What about if you were fly fishing trout water that had huge populations of sculpins or I said you were going to be fly fishing on a lake for largemouth bass, with water temperatures in the high forties? These are just a few fly fishing situations when I’ve found that a stop-and-go retrieve with a streamer can produce better than a constant retrieve, when fish are tracking but not eating. Below are three situations when killing your streamer retrieve, could prove to be your golden ticket.

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Public Lands Photo Essay

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See all 12 photos

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave this last year, you know that there is a real and present danger facing our American public lands. A group of short sighted law makers would like to sell of your American birthright, or deed it over to states to sell if for them.

I’ve been fortunate to see several dozen countries in my life, and to fish many of them. I can tell you this with complete certainty. Our public lands are unique and precious. They are what, for sportsmen and women at least, set us apart from much of the rest of the world. I say this, not boastfully, but with great fear. We are on the verge of losing the very thing that makes the country great.

I could write a couple of thousand words about this issue, but I have chosen instead to show you exactly whats at risk. Here are a few photos I’ve taken while fishing some of our great public lands. You will recognize many of these places. Although all of our public lands are not so famous, they are equally precious. I encourage you to remember this when choosing the representatives who speak for you.

Please consider signing the Sportsmen’s Access Petition. For each person who does a message is sent to their representatives in congress. Make your voice heard.

If you’re interested, heres Adventure journal’s list of the 20 lawmakers hell-bent on selling your public lands. One of them may represent you…or not.


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Better Fly Rod Grip For Better Casting: Video

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The grip is the most fundamental part of your fly cast.

When I’m helping someone with their casting, their grip is always the first thing I look at. The grip is so basic that many anglers never take time to learn it. A bad grip has effects that ripple out through your casting. Even if you have a good grip, you may be using it wrong. It’s more common than you’d think. In fact, I struggled with it myself for years.

Don’t let your grip slow you down. Take some time to learn the best way to hold the rod and work on it when you practice your casting. It will pay you back in more fish.


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Learn How To Row, Row, Row A Drift Boat!

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I have to say, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I have zero experience behind the sticks of a drift boat.


It’s been nineteen years since I picked up my first fly rod and laid out an ugly cast across Fightingtown Creek, and in nearly two decades I’ve never learned how to row a drift boat. It almost seems sacrilegious to think about it. I’ve been in my fair share of drift boats and rafts along the way, but mainly as a guest or client, so it’s never really been expected of me to take my turn on the oars. I’ve also never owned my own boat or raft so learning to row has never been a necessity. Put my ass in a john boat on a farm pond and I’m good to go, but I’d fare better dropped off in Germany looking for a pair of left-handed chopsticks than rowing a boat down a western river! And we haven’t even thrown fishermen in the boat yet!

On our recent venture to the South Holston River, Louis and Chase Pritchett of American Made Flies were determined to take on the undeniable liability of teaching me how to row down a damn river in the G&G Adipose Flow.

On the second day, during some of the prettiest snow I’ve seen in a long time, we stopped to release a feisty brown trout near the bank. The plan was to fish a particular section of the bank and once we were done, then it would be my turn to get on the oars. A little catch, photo, and release and it was time to shuffle around the Flow so that I could take my place in the middle seat. As intimidating as it was being on a boat that A) isn’t mine and B) with two other anglers and friends that know what they are doing when it comes to drift boats, it was only a few minutes into my maiden voyage that I began to feel how the boat responded to different strokes with the oars, and different currents. Yes, there were some trials and tribulations. Mistakes were made, but It was a great experience. I had two great friends that were patient, and gave me several tips and constructive feedback on how to correct my mistakes. It was a truly awesome day. I was by no means what you would call “proficient” with those oars when my time was done, but I sure do feel more confident in stepping up and getting on the sticks next time around. It’s just one of those things you have to just go and do, and learn from experience. I honestly didn’t put a bend in my rod that day. Those browns weren’t diggin’ what I was throwing down that day, but it didn’t even matter. I could have rowed that boat all day. It was one of those days on the water I’ll never forget.


Don’t Crash The Boat – This one is important and Numero Uno and pretty obvious! Chances are you will

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