The Perfect Small Stream Fly Rod

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Fly fishing for native trout on a small stream in the back county can lead to one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. Getting off the beaten path to find finicky fish in untouched waters is what the pioneers of the sport truly intended. On the other hand, some small streams are just off the roadway but are just as willing, or unwilling, to give up their inhabitants to the skilled angler. The proper clothing, flies and equipment can help you make the absolute most of your adventure. The fly rod may be the most important aspect of your small stream set up.

One question that I often hear is, “what is the perfect small stream fly rod”. Well, allow me to clear this up right now… there is no perfect small stream fly rod. There, now you have it. I should stop here and leave it at that, but you know that I won’t.

Be careful, there are many self proclaimed fly fishing experts that are all too eager to give their opinion on the ideal rod for the smaller streams. Don’t be too hasty to accept their remarks as gospel and run out and buy a rod simply base on their opinions. I wish I could give you a cut and dried, etched in stone, answer and identify the specific rod that would be perfect for any small stream you may encounter in your fly fishing lifetime… but I can’t do that. Neither can anyone else.

Most folks simply do not realize the factors involved in making a small stream rod selection. There are several things to carefully ponder before dropping the bucks for a new rod. That’s exactly what we’re going to do here. We’ll discuss several important rod and stream factors that govern a small stream rod selection. After arming yourself with the proper information, it is you who will end up making the ultimate decision as to which rod is best for you.

What’s a Small Stream?

First things first… we probably need to identify exactly what constitutes a small stream. So, what type of water will you be fishing? Is it a small stream, a spring creek or a narrow river? Are all three of these really the same thing? All fly fishers are not on the same page here.

OK, look up “small stream” in the dictionary. What do you find? Nothing, right? There is no formal definition of this term. I know what I mean when I say “small stream”. But do you see in your mind the same thing that I see? Maybe, maybe not.

The Cimarron River in, New Mexico is no doubt a narrow river but don’t let the word “river” fool you. It consists mostly of small stream attributes. Most of the public water is lined with willows, cottonwoods and alders and provides anglers with undercut banks, riffles, runs, bend pools and pocket water. I fish this river as a small stream. The St. Vrain River in Colorado is another great example. There is no place on its banks where you can’t comfortably roll cast to the other side. When the water is clear, there is no place where you can’t see the bottom. On the other hand, Young’s Creek in Montana is about the same size and in some areas it is much wider than many stretches of the Cimarron and St. Vrain Rivers. I fish all three basically the same way.

Let’s just say that a small stream is one that you can cast across easily just about anywhere on it, that you can wade, often cross in hip boots, that is way too small for boats, and has most of its structure exposed to view. Also, most importantly, we’ll assume it has trout in it.

Back to the Rods

So now, what about the rod and stream factors? I will break things down by discussing each factor. As you study ProstaStream these bits of information, you should begin to develop a picture, in your mind, of what type of small stream fishing you’ll be doing and what rod you’ll be needing. You may find that, for you, one rod simply won’t get the job done. You may discover that you need two or more rods to satisfy your small stream desires. How bad could that be? You have now given yourself an excuse, and hopefully permission, to buy more rods.

Our rod selection factors include weight, length, action, material, sections, color and several stream characteristics. We must also spend a little time on fly lines because this may also impact our rod choice. Also, there is no need to get fancy with a small stream rod. Terms such as modulus, IM whatever, titanium, and other high-tech sounding terms frequently make their way into the fly rod shopping process. The good news is that these are things that should not worry you during you selection process. You don’t need the X15 Super Modulated Ballistic Fly Rod designed to cast a quarter mile on any small stream. Let’s just keep it simple.

Rod Weight

Anything from a 0wt to 5wt will work well depending on the situation. The ultimate choice of the rod weight has a lot to do with the size fish you’ll be after. Many small streams only support small trout. Some streams, of course, have larger fish. I’ve caught some healthy 16 inchers in streams, like Bear Creek in Southwest Colorado, which you can almost jump across. Generally though, you’re probably looking at catching fish from 6 to 10 inches. You’ll get an occasional 12 incher and several Jack Fish. Oh… what’s a Jack Fish you ask? These are the fish, generally called fry, that are so small that when you set the hook you jack them up out of the water and they sail back over your head.

So, the fight of a small fish feels better to the angler if they’re using a lightweight fly rod such as a 2 wt. The 16 inchers will feel great on a 2 wt rod also but there are some distinct disadvantages with this scenario. One is that by the time you get the big fish landed, it may be exhausted to the point of no return and may soon die after its release. If you’re going to eat it then that is really mute point. Secondly, you run the risk of breaking your rod from the strain. If you’re deep in the wilderness fishing a delightful little stream, the last thing you need is for your stick to break.

Another thing to consider is hook set. The lighter weight flimsy fly rods offer you little help in setting the hook. I have a 1wt rod that is a joy to use. The problem is that I lose a good amount of fish within two seconds of the hook set (or lack there of). If you’re using this type of rod you had best make sure your fly hooks are debarbed and honed needle sharp. I can use my 2wt with little problems of getting the hook set properly.

I am a 2 and 3wt fan when it comes to small stream rods. I like the lightweight feel of these rods. I like to feel the fish fight. For me, there lighter weight rods allows me to present a fly more delicately. The play in the rods offers me some leader protection on days when I must use very fine tippets. Unfortunately, I don’t catch many behemoths on the small streams that I frequent, so over fighting the fish is usually not a problem.

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