How Important is Fly Rod Sensitivity?

So much of fly rod marketing revolves around "how far," "how fast," and "how light" that I think one of the more important performance factors--the feel--gets lost in the shuffle.

When it comes to selecting a rod, sensitivity is priority number one for a lot of the bass and walleye fishermen I know. And yes, some of the newer-generation fly rods (especially those meant for Euro-style nymphing) are designed to optimize feel, but I sometimes think the market has out-engineered itself. Some of the rod models from 15 or 20 years ago (or longer)--rods we'd call graphite classics now--do a pretty fine job of offering the whole performance package of distance, versatility, and feel. I'm talking about rods like the Winston IM6, the original G Series from Scott, the Loomis GLX, and the Sage 590 RPL. If you have one, keep it. If you can grab one on eBay, do it.

One of the misconceptions that many trout anglers have is feeling like they have to match the rod they use to the size of the fish they plan to catch. "Oh, if you're going to fish a river where there are 20-inch browns, you'll want to use a #6-weight or more." I've caught plenty of big browns in places like the Beaverhead River in Montana and the Delaware in New York/Pennsylvania on #3-weights. The rod you choose depends on the line you want to cast. The line you choose depends on the flies you want to throw. The flies you want to throw depend on the weather and water conditions. And that should depend (obviously) on what the fish are eating.

Sure, there is a point of diminishing returns when lightening up. I wouldn't necessarily go tarpon fishing with a #3-weight (actually, I did go tarpon fishing with a tenkara rod). So I'd propose to you that "over-gunning" your trout with a bigger line weight rod will cause you to lose MORE trout than being a little lighter on the rod side. Why? Because you can feel that fish's movements better during the fight with the lighter, more sensitive rod. And if you're only using 4-pound-test tippet, you might rather have the ability to sense what the fish is doing than have a big stick with backbone that ultimately won't do you much good.

In dry fly fishing, the sensitivity factor doesn't really matter until after the fight starts. It's all about the cast and the drift, so the new, fast rods offer great advantages in putting the bug in the money zone, no doubt. But the old school rods still hold their own--and then some--once the fight begins.