Some Rods I Use
A number of readers have inquired as to what 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 a 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.
Montana Brothers 9′ 4-weight
Montana Brothers is a new (2021) rod company based in Bozeman, Montana. It’s owned by two former colleagues of mine from Blue Ribbon Flies, Doug and Dan Daufel. Their long interest in developing fly rods culminated in 2021 with the release of their first two rods, both 9′ 4-weights. The 904L model is very full-flexing, the 904 somewhat stiffer. I own and fish both but much prefer the 904, using that model for 90% of my 4-weight fishing. The impetus behind these rods was to improve upon the 1980s Fenwick World Class 9′ 2 and 3-weight rods. (Those were wonderful rods that collected a cult-like following among hardcore anglers when first introduced; I was among their ardent fans.) Montana Brothers has succeeded in improving on the Fenwick’s, and both rods are a delight to fish. I choose the 904 for most of my fishing because the range of it’s sweet spot (30-45 feet) is a bit longer than the 904L’s (10-35 feet). For the bulk of the fishing I’m doing these days, that makes for a better fit.
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 use it primarily for fishing large dry flies like salmonflies and grasshoppers, especially when the wind is blowing. I’ll 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 line 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 rod 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 Montana.
Tim Anderson 8’6″ 4-weight
Tim Anderson is a bamboo rod builder from Lafayette, California. He’s 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 G.E.M. 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 smooth 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 does not sell his rods, 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 internet.
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.