Sunday’s Classic / Who Says You Should Only Fish Short Fly Rods On Small Streams

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10 Foot fly rods may become the next big thing. Photo By: Louis Cahill

My good friend Dave Grossman decided to trade in his 9 foot boat rods for 10 footers this year. So far, this fishing season he claims the extra foot of graphite has been working wonders for his clients on the water. Dave says, “I find that the ten foot fly rods make it much easier for my clients to mend their fly line, especially when they need to mend a lot of line. That translates into them consistently getting longer drag-free drifts. The longer rods shine when we need to high-stick across multiple currents, and they also allow my novice clients to squeak out a little more distance in their casts.”

After hearing those positive comments from Dave, I decided to give them a shot with my own clients, but I’d take it a step further. Instead of just incorporating them on float trips on the big rivers, I’d experiment using them on small to mid-size streams. The first trip out was a real eye opener and success with the ten foot fly rod on one of my 30′-40′ wide trout streams. To my amazement, the longer rod outperformed my standard 8 1/2-9 foot fly rods in almost all fishing scenarios in my clients hands. The only area the ten foot rod underperformed, were spots where the stream narrowed drastically or when it was really tight and cramped. The surprising thing about that, is it actually happened a lot less than I thought it would, and when it did, I’d just handed over the shorter rod I was carrying to my client. The key was positioning my angler in the correct spot, reminding him he had a longer rod in his hand, and then choosing the appropriate fly cast to present our flies.

I continued the experiment for several more guide trips, and it quickly became apparent, that all the fly fishing literature I’d previously read about matching the length of your rod to the size stream you were fishing, was actually just one way of looking at it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years with fly fishing, it’s that there’s almost always multiple options (types of casts, types of rigs, types of gear, ect.) that are feasible for anglers to use when fishing any given situation. Most of the time we end up going with the status quo, which is the obvious and most popular method for the fly fishing situation at hand. Sometimes, however, if we’re not afraid to think outside of the box, and open to use an unorthodox approach, it has the potential to end up performing even better for us on the water.

benefits That I noticed with my clients when I put a longer fly rod in their hands.

– Ten foot fast action rods usually have a slightly softer tip, perfect for setting the hooks and fighting big fish on light tippet and small flies. My clients broke off less and landed more fish.

– In many cases, ten foot rods can make it easier for anglers to land big fish solo, because they have more rod to help them bring the fish in closer to net.

– You can often be stealthier with a longer rod because you can position yourself farther away from the fish without jeopardizing your presentation and drag-free drift.

– If a fish takes off down river or upstream of you, the longer rod can help maintain a sufficient angle on the fish, minimizing the chances of the hook dislodging.

Are there some small streams where fly fishing with a ten foot rod won’t be feasible? Yes, there are lots, but the point of this post was to demonstrate you shouldn’t automatically think just because you’re fishing a small stream that you need to grab your short 6′-8′ fly rod. If you fish with friends like I do most of the time on small streams, it can really be an asset for the team if you pack different length rods. Since it’s typically best to fish one angler at a time so you don’t spook fish, you’ll usually only have one rod fishing at a time, and that will allow you to choose the best rod for the location your targeting.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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16 thoughts on “Sunday’s Classic / Who Says You Should Only Fish Short Fly Rods On Small Streams

  1. Hey kent, that’s some game changing knowledge.
    Great Lakes steelheaders have found out the same thing and that is one reason switch rods are becoming more popular. Small stream, big rod..seems paradoxical but when an angler sees the significant advantages of this, t’s not hard to conform. I know you mentioned a soft tip but your friend from T&T rods was talking about a stiffer tip to not inhibit casting. Interesting either way! Thanks.

  2. Thinking outside the box is one of the great experiences of fly fishing. I like experimenting. I trust the reliability of the wisdom guides have imparted to me over the years, but I have also found my own way on gear selection, fly selection, presentation, action of the fly, etc., mixing in stuff I learned in saltwater flats fishing, some of which actually works. It’s sort of like hitting in baseball: a standard stance and swing are reliable, but in the end those who rise to the top have their own nuanced approach to achieve reliable success. Some fishermen are .250 hitters using solid advice and technique, which is pretty good. To strive for a .375 average, it takes more than just doing what somebody told you when you were learning. It takes adjustments, some of which are less conventional. And sometimes it helps to have a hitting coach (guide) to get you in the groove.

    One other point: Those who think fly fishing is about being able to technically cast well are missing 85-90% of the solution to success. Just my opinion.

    • I agree with your last comment. I preface this with the fact that I believe that casting IS important, however, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. I know some great anglers, who can’t reliably cast over 40ft, but they don’t have to. They will out fish you, and me, 4-1.

  3. Ten foot rods have become a staple for me, and I use them 90% of the time on smaller waters, some only as wide as the rod. I started out just using them on bigger water when fishing competitions when I first started competing. My ten foot rods are now the first rods I grab when I’m gathering my gear, and the 9ft rods go as backups. The reach and the stealth a 10ft (or longer) rod gives you are the main factors for me choosing them over nine footers. Not to mention the tippet saving capabilities and fighting leverage they give you. Couple a ten foot rod with a long monofilament leader, keeping the fly line off the water, and you’ve got yourself a pretty sweet setup. I thought the same way when I first saw others fishing longer rods on smaller streams. I’ve always gone with the school of thought, “small stream, small rod”. But now it’s just common practice, and just about the only time I use my smaller rods is when I’m on my favorite brookie stream. Great topic Kent.

  4. I think this is why a lot of fishermen are becoming such big fans of Tenkara these days. On all but the very smallest streams I prefer a longer rod and even on very smalls streams I’ll still use the longest rod I can get away with. On tiny brookie streams that a lot of people would fish a 6.5′ or 7′ rod, I prefer at least an 8′ rod. That extra reach is generally worth the tradeoff in tougher casting under the canopy.

  5. I love the switch rod for Great Lakes steelheading and agree that a longer rod is a better fish catching tool, even for small brook trout streams. But man, I love casting a 8′ – 8.5′ 4 wt for small stream trout. Just seems to be a sweet spot for me, I love the low swing weight. I have a 10′ 4 wt, that catches more fish, for all the reasons outlined above, but I guess I prefer to give up some fish for some of that sweet “feel.”

  6. Hi Kent:

    I’ll add a bit more “old fart” experience to the equation. I fish a lot of different waters here in OR. I have a garage full of all kinds of fly rods, but the majority of the time I use a 12′ 6″ 5 wt. spey rod on “smaller” streams and a 14′ 8 wt. spey rod on larger streams.

    The length of these rods bear out the truth of everything you said about the length advantage, the greater mending ability, etc., etc. The added advantage of the spey rod is not having to be so concerned about the back cast as compared to a single handed rod when in tight quarters AND I spend a lot less time stripping in running line to prepare for the next cast. My fly spends the maximum time in the water.

    Granted, the spey rod isn’t a “go to” for using dry flies, but it can be done. I find that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. May not be “the fit” for everybody, but it sure works for me !!


  7. 10′ 4wt and 10′ 3wt are what I use. I mainly euro nymph a majority of the time and I find I can get into pretty tight places with a 10 footer. I agree with all the above in this post as there are a lot of advantages with a longer rod especially in the world of nymphing. Great post! God Bless

  8. I too have been a fan of the longer rods for the past few years. I have to agree with Jeff’s sentiment about the ease of roll casts in tight spots. Stream fishing in much of Vancouver Island means you’re backed up into the trees without back cast room much of the time. I have a 10’6″ 4 wt switch. While I’ve more or less abandoned it for beach fishing for sea-runs, it’s indispensable for chronimid fishing with long leaders or if you’re fishing from a pontoon boat. Getting that line an extra foot above the water from a sitting position or casting long complicated indicator rigs, it can really makes a difference.


  9. Almost two years ago I made the switch over to fishing predominately 10ft rods. The advantages of them were obvious since that first time fishing them. True there are some disadvantages of the long rod, but unless on the smallest of streams they often excel over other rods. The times I have found a stream to “cramped” for the ten foot rods simply meant a need to change how I use the rod. (water haul instead of roll cast, dapping the fly, etc)

    The leverage that comes from a mere foot of rod makes a noticeable difference. For years I fished the go to rod for many trout anglers the classic 9ft 5wt rod. The switch to a ten foot rod saw me using a 5wt as well. With a ten foot rod though there is an ability to use a lighter rod weight but maintain the same leverage ability. The rod that others and myself use a lot is a 10ft 3wt. The misconception would be that with such a light rod you won’t have the leverage on large fish. With a good fish fighting style though it is fairly easy to quite literally haul large fish through the water. The past two months alone I have done that with a 24in and a 28in.

    If anyone out there is unsure if they would like the longer rod. My advice would be find a friend that has a 10ft rod and try it out. It can take your fishing to a whole different level.

  10. Thank You…Thank You…thank you!

    I no longer do but worked in a Orvis shop in Austin which is pretty close to a “top 100 trout stream” (wink wink) I’d have better luck selling a 1wt to a dude going on a Tarpon trip than I would talking someone into a 10′ 3,4,5wt rod for Nymphing our tail waters.

    My 10′ 3wt has become my favorite little water trout rod.

    Great article,


  11. I disagree with the notion that fish are easier to land with the longer rod — I find fish much easier to grab when using a shorter rod like a 7’6″ one than a 9′ or longer rod. I like a lot of other aspects of long rods similar to what you’ve discussed, but landing fish isn’t one of them.

    Also — a longer rod provides you the angler less leverage in fighting a fish (i.e. it takes more effort on your part to apply pressure to the fish). This is simple physics — not my opinion.


  12. I’ll take the love for ten footers even a little further; my fishing buddies and me swear by a ten foot bonefishing rod. When we go bonefishing it’s all ten foot Sage XP’s in the rental car. We love it for.bonefishing. The casting is really nice. Fighting a fish goes well. Except for the landing, indeed. But we like it most for short casts and controlling of long leaders.

  13. I primarly use a 10 4wt. It has inproved my hooks ups a tone. It has also allowed me to develop “feel”. If nohting else I have learned to feel the bottom and a strike much more effectivley using a longer rod with a soft tip. I prefer feel over a sighter anyday!


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