The Best Fly-Rod Action for Small-Stream Trout Fishing

Fast rod. Slow rod. So which fly-rod action is better for small-stream trout fishing? You'd think this might be a simple question, but it's not.

First off, for small-stream trout fishing, I'm talking about fly rods ranging from around 6 to 7.5 feet long. Such rods are commonly made in line weights from two up through five or six. Graphite, fiberglass, and even bamboo are all pretty acceptable in this size range because shorter rod lengths at least partly negate the lighter weight advantage that graphite gives in larger rods.

I've heard many authorities over the years wax rhapsodic over slower-actioned small-stream rods. They say delicacy is paramount, with the soft presentation allowed by a slower rod being ideal. Such rods almost by definition will be throwing a slightly wider, more open casting loop than faster-actioned rods.

That actually works pretty well on something like a meadow creek with few obstacles and generally unlimited backcast room. But for tumbling mountain creeks where I'm trying to hit a small pocket between rocks or to dart a tight cast under a branch, I'd much rather be able to throw a tight, fast loop in casting. That means a faster-action small rod instead of a slower one.

So there's the conundrum in which conventional wisdom isn't necessarily the best choice. One solution is to use the same rod with two different line weights. Using a line one size lighter than the rod rating should effectively speed up the rod by requiring a faster, more forceful casting stroke to work the rod--throwing tighter loops as a result. The recommended line size, meanwhile, adds more weight to the casting cycle, better flexing the rod with a slower stroke. That means slightly wider loops and--maybe--a little more delicacy. I say maybe because delicacy depends as much or more on the caster than it does on the rod itself.

But conversely, maybe you want a heavier-than-rated line. That's because a lot of creek-type fly-casting is a short range deal. Often no more than 20 feet. For example, by putting a 5-weight line on your 4-weight-rated 7-foot rod, there enough line weight in the air at 20 feet to fully load the rod. At 30 feet, however, the full weight of the heavier line would be in the air and your little 4-weight would probably feel overloaded.

So as with so much of all fishing, the answer in this case is "It depends...."


CC Image courtesy of kasperbs on Flickr