A number of readers have inquired as to the fly rods I fish with. Here are some of my choices, with a few notes appended. My rod collection reflects the demands of the various kinds of fishing that I do. In any given instance, I let the fishing dictate my choice of rod. I’m wedded to no particular brand nor any particular type of action. Naturally, not everyone shares this philosophy, and that’s okay. But I dislike accepting tradeoffs, being forced to fish a rod for any reason other than that it’s ideal for the type of fishing I’m doing. So again, the choices I make reflect this sentiment.
Fenwick World Class 9′ 3-weight
This graphite rod was designed by Jim Green and Paul Brown in the mid-1980’s for situations typically found on rivers like the Henry’s Fork: big fish, smallish flies, light tippets, open water, casting distances of 10-50 feet. I know of no other rod that possesses the in-close communication that this one does. Though its action is at great variance with modern rods, as a casting tool, line manipulator, and tippet protector, it’s as efficient as it gets. This rod was orphaned by Fenwick shortly after its introduction, so there aren’t a lot of them around. They’re treasured by the folks that own them. (Though the rod is labeled a 3-weight, I’ve always considered it a 4-weight, and that’s what I fish on it.) I use this rod for the majority of my fishing, which is largely comprised of small dry fly and nymph fishing (that is, fishing nymphs to sighted or rising fish). No comparable rod is being made today.
Leonard Golden Shadow 9′ 6-weight
An early graphite model, built in the 1970’s. To this day the Golden Shadow remains one of the most powerful, efficient rods ever designed. Because it’s a 6-weight, I primarily use it for fishing large dry flies like salmonflies and grasshoppers, especially when the wind is blowing. I’ll also put a 5-weight line on it for fishing lakes like Hebgen and Quake, and big rivers like the Henry’s Fork, where long casts with small dry flies are sometimes required. This is another rod that is hard to find today, but if you want to own a really well-designed rod, keep your eyes peeled. You might get lucky. The modern rod closest in design might be the Sage Circa 8’9″ 5-weight. Put a 6 on it and it won’t be far off.
Orvis Madison 7’6″ 6-weight
I started fly fishing in the late 1960’s, and consequently harbor a certain affection for bamboo. (But not at the expense of performance.) With respect to bamboo, Orvis is considered a production rod company. Because of that their rods are often looked at askance by today’s market. This is nice, because as I’ve written before, the only thing the market does is determine price, not value. Orvis made some fine rods in bamboo, and this model can still be found quite easily, at prices well below that of modern rods. Due to its full-flexing nature, this rod nowadays would be considered a 5-weight, even a 4-weight by some folks. Yet the designer had it right—it actually is a 6-weight. A powerful, efficient one that contributes heartily to the cast. It manipulates line well, and protects fine tippets too. I generally use it on smaller, more confined water, but wouldn’t shy from taking it most anywhere on a very windy day. Nothing like a 6-weight to slice through the strong winds we often face in this area.
Tim Anderson 8’6″ 4-weight
Tim Anderson is a bamboo rod builder from Lafayette, California. He is a meticulous and excellent craftsman, always experimenting with some aspect of rod building. This rod is designed to meet the needs of the Henry’s Fork and other waters with similar conditions, and is loosely based on GEM Skue’s “W.B.R.” rod taper. Though fairly long, it is hollow-built and therefore feels quite light in hand. Partly due to the bamboo and partly due to the taper, it possesses a great deal of self-weight momentum. That makes for very easy casting at any range between 10-60 feet. Like the other rods I’ve listed, it also manipulates line well and protects the finest of tippets. Tim is not selling his rods at this time, and I’m unaware of any similar rods being made.
Sage ZXL 9′ 5-weight
One of the best pure distance rods ever built. From 60-120 feet, it’s beyond compare. I do very little fishing that requires casts of those distances, but some of our lake fishing occasionally qualifies—Hebgen or Henry’s, for instance. Truth be told, I spend more time with this rod on the practice field than on the water, working on my distance casting skills. But whenever it is necessary to cast long or to generate the highest line speeds (fishing in big wind, for instance), it’s a fine choice. Sage no longer makes the ZXL series, but they can still be found by poking around the fly shops.
Orvis HLS 9′ 8-weight, 2-piece
My choice for bonefishing and other light saltwater use. Built in the early 90’s, this is an extremely powerful 8-weight which does not ask too much physically of the caster, unlike most modern 8-weights. It’s better beyond 50 feet than in closer, but that’s quite alright for bonefishing. This rod doesn’t have a clear parallel today; most 8-weights being made are much stiffer and far more physically demanding to cast.
Fenwick Iron Feather 16′ 11-weight
For a brief period in the late 1980’s, Fenwick toyed with the idea of making two-handed rods. This is one of their prototypes. It’s long and it’s powerful, a great combination for spey fishing. But it’s real beauty is the line control offered by the 16′ length. (I’m at a loss to explain why American rodmakers today are afraid to build rods equally long, or longer, when the line control they offer is so clearly superior to shorter rods.) I use this rod for fall fishing on the Madison, swinging big soft hackles and streamers. Several rod companies make 15′ rods that fish similarly to this one, save for the ability to manipulate the line after the cast.