Has Distance Casting Hijacked Rod Design?

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It sure feels like we’ve all become too obsessed with distance. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Every time I visit a fly fishing trade show and walk by one of those 100′ casting ponds filled shoulder to shoulder with anglers all trying their best to land their fly on the far end of the casting pond, I ask myself, “is that really what the majority of anglers today think fly casting is all about”?

A part of me thinks we should shorten those casting ponds all together, and instead throw out a bunch of target rings at random distances starting out at 20 feet. Maybe that would paint a clearer picture of what fly casting is about and how a fly rods performance should be judged. Casting a 5wt and shooting backing through the tip of the rod is hard to do, and something to be proud of, but is it really what we find ourselves doing when we’re out on the water trout fishing?

Furthermore, have we all become so tunnel visioned that we feel it’s correct to judge a fly rods performance and craftsmanship based on how much fly line it can pick up and carry, and how far we can cast a fly with it? That’s not how I judge a fly rod. It’s about a fly rods ability to drop a dry fly perfectly into the feeding lane of a rising trout, it’s about effortlessly making a nice side-arm roll cast along the far bank under the overhanging foliage. It’s about having a rod in my hand that gives me the confidence to feel like I’m in complete control for the fishing situation at hand. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of watching the fly rod companies battle it out on who can design the next ultra-light fast action broom stick. I’m ready for them to start taking a serious look at other areas of fly casting and rod design other than distance.

Anyone feel the same way or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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40 thoughts on “Has Distance Casting Hijacked Rod Design?

  1. Amen brother. 100′ is an impressive feat but unlikely to be important except in isolated instances. Folks who’ve never used glass or one of the slow-action graphite originals – Fenwick HMG – would be surprised how accurate and pleasant they are to fish. An added bonus is that a 6″ wild brookie in a Smokey stream feels huge.

  2. Kent I agree 100%! These rod companies must know that fly rods are sold in fly shop parking lots! The other week my friend let my try his new fly rod that he just bought “that can cast the entire fly line, when test cast in the parking lot!”

    I found a good fish in some pocket water, but because of bank side trees/shrubs I needed to do a roll cast with only a bit of fly line out… tried and tried but couldn’t make the cast. I eventually moved close enough to dap the dry fly, but wound up spooking the fish.

    Fishing small tandem nymphs with an indication resulted in many more tangles as well, since I couldn’t throw open loops. These situations are what you should be thinking of when testing a new rod.

    I was wishing I had my old, medium action rod, by the end day, that is for sure.


  3. I could not agree with you more. My older, slower action sticks throw a more accurate cast, especially at shorter distances. Redfishing the marsh in Georgia, the casts are more often less than 30 or 35 feet and the faster rods do not perform as well at those distances. I would love to have a rod designed to cast an 8wt line with a weighted fly 40 feet with accuracy. Good post Kent.

    • Capt. Robert,

      Glad you liked the post. Your making me want to go Redfishing man 🙂 I was seeing spotted tails just then with you describing that most shots are closer than farther.

      Hope all is well.


  4. Count me in…since I’ve started euro nymphing, my tastes in rods has gone backwards. Favorite right now…10-4 Greys XF2…love it. I can feel everything I need to. Also, had a chance to pick up ONE of those famous rods for a deal, so I did…fished it 1 day…sold it the next…stiff as a 2 x 4.
    But, to each his own, right?
    Thanks as usual fellas

  5. Very well stated Kent. Just imagine if more rods were made for the way they will actually be used. How many people buy a $500 rod they tested in a parking lot to do what they saw at a trade show find out it doesn’t perform the way they need it to on the water. Personally I have never found the need to cast over a pod of feeding fish to try at one on the opposite bank. My feet or boat seem to get me into position much more effeciently.

    • Steve,

      “My feet or boat seem to get me into position much more efficiently”

      You’re spot on here, brother. So many anglers try to fish all the water from one spot by adjusting the casting distance. Angler position is King. Thanks for the comment.


  6. Not to change subjects, but one other trend in the industry is for longer fly rods, which is fine, but reels also keep getting lighter. I bought a longer 4 wt rod last year and wound up swapping a new light reel for my friends older, heavier Ross Gunnison 2. Made for nice balanced outfit, with the newer reel, it was real tip heavy. You can start to feel the extra fatigue after a day of high sticking. A balanced outfit feels much smoother to cast as well. I know a few steelhead fisherman adding weight to their reels to balance things out.


  7. Greg,
    I did the same thing when I started euro nymphing. Another solution is to use a larger sized reel, say a 7/8 reel on a 5 wt. I see a lot of comp anglers doing this very thing…balances the rod…and larger reel means larger arbor. One other cheap alternative is to buy a 5/8″ rubber leg tip from a hardware store…slides on easy, protects the end cap, and you can add weight inside it.


  8. I find it a bit ironic that these “super” rods, once unleashed, wouldn’t have the stones to do a proper mend.

    I’m still rockin’ a 15 year old Scott G while it seems like everyone around me is after the next latest and greatest. Is it me or are the rod makers taking a cue from the ski industry? – tweak it, give it a pretty paint job, slap a 7 Benny price tag on it…and do it again year after year. The silver lining is that the softer action rods end up lower end and more affordable.

    • Wyatt, I have a buddy that has the 9′ 4wt Scott G, that is a sweet stick. I have a similar action Diamondback Classic Western. I keep trying the new offerings but haven’t found anything I like better.


  9. YES! I love the line throwing abilities of a fast action rod as much as the next guy but I think the lower modulus graphite used in slower action rods is actually stronger (less brittle) than the high modulus graphite. Not only that but it seems fish handling capabilities has not been prioritized in rod design– I’d personally like to see a rod specifically designed to help keep large tailwater trout attached to that #22 midge…

    great post.


  10. I think there is a revolution coming. I read an Interview the other day from Carl McNeil whose from NZ and is creating a new line of Rods and feels that most rods arnt addressing the needs of fisherman. In NZ for the Big Browns he said you need a rod that has the backbone to land the fish (6Wt) and make 25-30 ft casts and have the fly land with he softness of a 4wt rod. To me that sounds like a Rod that you need most anywhere for standard trout fishing.

  11. Too many of the clients in my boat show up with the stiffest rods……and then they feel like shit cause they just bought it and it sucks at casting 20 feet. I think that fly shops and rod companies, should demo rods, much like the ski industry does, and then allow the angler a day or two on the water to fish said rod, before they put down the bills.

    I fish Scott’s G Series, the old Winston IM6 in 5 and 6 wts and Freestone Flyrods. Freestone, who makes makes one hell of rod (soft and sweet, picks up 50 feet or 10 and casts like a dream at any distance), but they are a bit on the pricey side ($1250). That said, there are lots of anglers out there who have bought 3-5 rods that they end up hating, thus wasting alot more of their hard earned dollars. If these anglers could have demoed a rod first, they would have saved some money in the long run.

    • Thanks for the heads up on Freestone – I’m ignert and don’t get out much.

      I’m with you on the demo bit. Why not? What would it hurt? Might be the wake up call they need to get back on track.

      I can’t figure out what demographic they’re really targeting with the fast rods anyway. I can see comp fishers that need quick strike reaction but that’s about it.

  12. I fish a 389 Sage LL, 4711 Sage LL, 472 Sage LL, 7 1/2′ 3 wt Winston WT, 8′ 4 wt WT, and a Thomas and Thomas LPS 9′ 4wt. The stiffest rod I own (for trout) is a T & T Herizon 5 wt…..

    so, yah, I agree

    The big sticks are for the salt

  13. I agree with you 100%. I spend much of my fishing time in a boat casting to within inches of the shore or open spaces along the edge of lily pads, or structure that pierces the surface. Most of my casts are 30 to 40 feet and it is much more important for me to place my fly as close to these fish holding spots as I can. I have found the difference between ‘fish-on’ and a fruitless cast is measured in inches.

  14. Kent – Bark away!!!! Many of my good friends that I fish with all the time, and other guides in my neck of the woods (WNY) all fish medium action rods or slower. In my book they are far superior rods when dealing with just about every fishing situation.In fact most fly fishermen that fish for trout, and other species, only really need to cast out to about 30 feet. And if you know how to cast, you can make even a slow action rod reach well past that. For me, the fast action rods are a specialized tool used for certain conditions, yet all the rod companies seem to think that they need to build every rod for that one time you may need to cast 60+ feet. Saltwater is a different story. Great post!!!!

  15. No love for the faster action rods……For me, they all have their place. I would take a Scott G/G2 for throwing little flies to sipping trout all day long. Down south though, I need a rod that will throw a dry fly pretty well, but I also want a rod that will chuck lead/bobber, a small streamer, and be able to handle some wind. If I only want to carry ONE rod, a faster action rod fits that bill better for me.

  16. Softer action rods for roll casting, delicate dry fly presentation and most important of all in a river -accuracy. These rods are not designed for 100′ casts. However, distance does really matter in the salt. So different strokes, for different folks and rather depends on where you are fishing!

  17. I’ve been talking and writing about this for years. I’m not the only one, either. Glad to see you picking up the banner and joining the protest. A good trout rod is NOT a fast action fly rod…period. The lack of slow to true medium action rods that are accurate and sensitive is why many discriminating and skilled trout anglers have had to go to bamboo, Hexagraph, or fiberglass in recent years. The carbon fiber “round rod” makers abandoned the REAL trout rod in favor of distance casting years ago. Fly casting is about putting a fly where you want it with finesse, and stream fishing is as much or more about drift control as it is about casting. Then there is hook-setting and playing fish on those brooksticks to content with, too!

  18. So we agree about what distances trout fishing is usually done at, and what casting qualities a trout rod needs. Well, isn’t that what the new Sage Circe is intended for? (I’m going by reviews only; I haven’t had a chance to cast one.) The secondary market has a good supply of medium action (+-) rods like Scott G, Sage LL, earlier Winston and J. Kennedy Fisher graphite, and others. Get out of the parking lots and go shopping online.

  19. I think you’re on exactly the right path here…I’ve only been at the whole fly fishing thing a few years, and I can throw a fly a stupid – frequently useless – distance.

    What I need to focus on is rods that’ll deliver a fly at 1 yards, or 20…max.

    Most NW WI streams simply don’t allow you any distance greater than that, and short finessed casts are the name of the game rather than being able to hit the moon from your back porch.

    I have a little 7 ft. 3 wt. that I bought to throw small streamers in our local water. and it really gets the job done for that…I’d love to get my hands on a rod that’d deliver a dry at that distance as well…..

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  22. Great post and I believe the ayes have it. Being relatively new to the sport (almost three years), I couldn’t agree more. Not to mention the 100′ or bust mentality is somewhat intimidating to a newbie who thinks it should be about presentation, soft landings that don’t spook fish.

  23. Obviously rod companies are not started up to let you keep using that old and slow(er) rods. Rod companies want to sell you another rod every year. They do this by giving folks the ‘feel good factor’: “look guys, I can cast a darn lot further with this new rod!”.

    Most of the ‘feel good-ers’ are people who only fish a week in a year. That’s the folks rod companies will sell more rods than anyone else!

    Obviously you can’t fish effectively at 80+ feet distance. But again, I see 95% or more fishermen false casting a lot whole day long. Seems like that’s all they do! 🙂

  24. I just cast the 590-4 Sage One this evening.
    It’s a true casting machine: stiff.
    Sure, you can cast a mile, but it really comes alive after 25-30 feet.
    Dunno, but this isn’t a rod for fishing anything smaller than the mighty Missouri.

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