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Starting the Adventure, part 1 - Rods

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Charles Jardine
Learn how to fly fish with Charles Jardine

You have a yen to try it: or…. you have had an invitation to some smart place or to spend a weekend; or…. somewhere in your dim and distant past you remembered that you sort of enjoyed it. Anyway you cut it, and for whatever the reason, getting into the whole business of fly-fishing is about as uncomplicated as purchasing a property with a disputed boundary line; but more so.

The sucker punch in all this, is gear. Blimey! What a palaver and song and dance over basically what amounts to a flexible stick and some coloured tapered string like stuff - fly rod and line to us.

What do you really need? Now here I have to declare a serious bias. I love Hardy and Greys stuff. For the newcomer frankly, what Greys have to offer is exceptional quality and value for money - importantly what brands like this do is to also embody a sense of confidence - if something truly unfortunate happens there is an inbuilt guarantee - a contact of care if you like. This is very comforting when taking your first tentative steps into the fly-fishing world. You know that whatever you select is fit and dedicated to task.

A selection of rods awaits this trio of anglers but which will really suit them best?

Once you have decided on a personal price policy - and that is important - please set yourself an initial budget. Know what you can actually afford and do not be tempted to the soft-hard sell of the store, the allure of glossy catalogues and dizzy promises of fly casting heaven, distance, delicacy and legendary catches. Work, instead, religiously, within a price band. You will need other stuff too, remember. And there is the small matter of going fishing afterwards. It's not good having acquired all the gear only to find that there is far too little left in the metaphoric piggy bank to go fishing with. Well those are the initial pitfalls.

Next on the agenda is to establish what type of fly-fishing you are going to do. What is going to be the main area of interest when you actually do go fishing - will it be rivers small or large? Small still waters? Reservoirs? Loughs? What? This all polarises choice and will finesse your equipment into specific areas - but, and it is a big "but" - you might want the set up to work a little harder than embracing just one discipline. So now we are looking at the fly-fishing version of the family car - roomy enough to be practical, smart enough not to embarrass when one is on one's own - C'mon own up! Inside just about every car owner - as with fly fisher there is certain equipment envy. Horrid, but true in most instances.

So then, what are your choices?

There is certainly no shortage of choices!

This is basically CJ's Fly gear "ready-reckoner" - with a view to a bit of a compromise…. and as little bank side embarrassment as possible.

Firstly the fly Rod.

So then CJ's Rule of trout fishing thumb (if trout had them of course).

For small streams and little trout: a 7ft 6in to 8ft rod carrying a # 3 or 4 floating line is perfect - the problem is, that the options will remain in that area and there is little chance of it suiting other areas - unless one is either slightly eccentric (and believe me, I have known that to happen) or one goes fishing for dace and so on - which I have to tell you brings its own joy.

For bigger rivers and infrequent sorties on small still-water: 8ft 6in - 9ft #4 is just about ideal - again with a floating line.

Now for the journeymen - the rods that can, at a pinch, embrace and cope with a multiplicity of tasks.

A 9 ft #5. Great on the larger river -especially turning over bigger flies and a great deal of fun fishing the small still water and a first choice for many hunters of the larger fish in the clear waters like Avington and Dever. The reason is simple; the delivery of the fly is efficient, the hook holds are protected and, given modern technology, what a heavier #6 or #7 was doing distance wise years ago a #5 weight is doing today. So you can almost have your cake and eat it too with this design.

A 9ft #6 was, in years gone by, seen as the weapon of choice by many in the general sense - actually, I believe that the #5 has taken that all-embracing role over. But it remains a heavier option. But, rather than being a length and line weight that is a "jack of all trades" it is far more likely to be something that slips between the two areas - river and lake and not entirely a bridge that divides effectively.

9ft 6in #5 is just a great length for anyone wanting a bit of dry fly work and light nymph stuff on still-waters (and I am including reservoirs here) a pretty good stalking rod for small water leviathans and…at a pinch…a goodish nymph-cum-bugging (Czech and Polish styles) rod on rivers, both erring to the small side or large. So this is a rod to consider.

As would the same line weight, a #5, but in 10 ft - this is a perfect length for many wet fly (in the classic river sense) applications, a superb Czech nymphing rod - a good (strangely) dry fly rod on the larger river where line control is crucial, but a stunning dry and nymph fishing rod length on our still waters - especially if one is working from either a float tube or boat.

When fly fisher and fly rod match successfully, everything else works itself out.

The same length - 9ft 6in or 10ft - but in #6 weight is just a great all round length for many still-water applications other that the brutal hurling about of huge lengths of leader and vast concoctions of Fritz, flash and feathers. It is, simply, a superb bank fisher's rod for those who like light'ish line nymph and dry fly fishing from reservoirs. It will also, again with some compromise, deal with boat and float tubing applications, too. Also, it should not be forgotten it is a fair tool for dealing with large rivers and bigger, heavier flies …and I will type this softly so as not offend UK senses and sensibilities; streamer fishing on rivers…oooh the rumpus that creates! 

Now to the rods with a decided bias towards the larger water and distance and performance - also dealing with a wide variety of line densities; the epicentre of choice for the competition and informed reservoir fisher.
A 10ft # 7 is just a great all-round weapon. Now of course you might want the rather better casting attributes of a 9ft 6in design in the same weight - it is very odd how just that reduction of six inches makes such a huge difference in delivery and higher line speeds, but it is to do with the way in which the fly rod tip deflects through the overhead arc…and that ladies and gentleman, falls way outside of the remit of this article!
If I were to select one rod for a variety of large reservoir applications this would certainly be it. And a pretty useful sea trout fly rod, too.

Next link in the chain would be the same length but in a #8 line size which is often the preferred choice of many anglers fishing either the boat or bank on Midland still waters. It is a length that is a little on the heavy side for maximum enjoyment, having said that, there is many a time when the extra power of delivery has enabled very long leaders or big, bulky fry patterns to be placed in the feeding zones along our still-waters. It is though, for all that, a more specialised tool than once perceived to be. My choice would be the #7 over the #8.

There are many other permutations of course but these are the main protagonists.

But as yet, I have not even covered the area of rod action. A subject that divides opinion better than any sharp meat clever.
If you are new to the whole thing, go with an action described as middle-to-tip, this means that the rod flex's under the fly line's influence from the tip, reaching a little way down the blank (fly rod…!) and in so doing becomes imbued with energy that is, in turn, released on the forward movement. It is an action that is, whilst not benign, certainly forgiving and very user/angler friendly, Tip or fast actioned rods are for the anglers with experience and quick draw hands - who should not be reading this, but writing it instead. Avoid this action initially, it is, or rather demands, technique and expertise beyond that of the usual newcomer to the sport. It is utterly unforgiving. 

'For the newcomer, what Greys have to offer is exceptional quality and value for money'

Beyond any of my words or indeed anyone else's, trust your hands. In other words, go try the rod you think might work in the areas you want to embrace - better still try several…but don't overdo it. Rather like selecting perfume your wife on high days and holidays; try too many and your senses get confused perplexed and befuddled. Too, many fly rods do the same thing. Just try three at the most and go with what feels good, nearly irrespective of what expertise you may, or may not have. If your muscles and mind are in harmony you are almost there.

And on that note I will leave you, with fly line and reel choices - next time!


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