The Pros and Cons of a Longer Fly Rod

by | Nov 24, 2020 | 36 comments

The fly fishing industry changes and grows. Advancing techniques and angler trends encourage companies to adapt and build new gear that suits those needs. Improvements in materials, like high modulus graphite, allow for the building of fly rods that were not possible a few years ago.

In my own decades of angling, average fly rods have gotten lighter and longer. Aside from our preferences for fast or flexy, anglers now have fly rod choices of eleven feet or more. These extra-long rods are now reasonable options for trout fishing. But years ago, a rod that long was unwieldy. It was too heavy and too flexible at the tip. Driven by the popularity of euro nymphing and tight line techniques, extra-long rods are offered in two through five weight options. Ten footers are now quite standard. And many of them are excellent tools that fish well. Most of the two weights that I handle are built with a stiff enough butt section to handle the largest trout you’re likely to encounter, and the long rods in four and five weights are light enough to cast all day. It’s a good time to be alive.

In short, we’re in the golden age of fly rods. And if you want something extra long in your hands, you have many viable options.

However, just because you can buy a great rod that’s ten-and-a-half or eleven feet long doesn’t mean that you should. I’ve had friends who bought a long rod and have regretted their decision immediately. Likewise, I’ve met anglers who wish they’d chosen a longer rod.

So if you’re thinking about a new fly rod (and who isn’t), it’s helpful to understand the upside and downside of that extra length. Whether your intentions for the new rod are tight line tactics, streamers, dries, or a versatile tool that can easily tackle all of these, the advantages and disadvantages of extra length in a fly rod are important to understand.

Let’s talk about it . . .

The Good Stuff

There’s really one reason to buy a longer rod. Every viable advantage boils down to extra reach. Longer rods allow us to hold more line off the water. And whether that’s a fly line or a Mono Rig, keeping material off the water allows for more contact and more control over our flies.

Remember, anything that touches the water drags. And anything that goes under the water drags even more. So if your goal is a dead drift, above or below the surface, the extra reach that a longer rod provides is always welcome.

Understand that an extra foot of fly rod allows us to reach further than just twelve inches. When you do the geometry, an extra foot of fly rod provides about three feet of extra reach at thirty feet. Devin Olsen did the math on this a few years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite head-scratching facts.

So, it’s the reach. That’s the benefit of a longer rod. And there really is no other reason that doesn’t come down to the distance gained by fishing a longer rod. It’s easier to pick up a dry line for the next cast, because of the extra reach. It’s easier to unbutton snagged nymphs, because of the extra reach. And it’s easier to guide our flies downstream with that extra reach.

Some argue that a longer rod protects light tippets. And that’s fair, but many shorter rods are also made with soft tips for protecting light tippets. That’s been done for decades.

Keeping line off the water with the extra reach is helpful for drifting nymphs and dries, but it isn’t as important with streamers, because we aren’t concerned with a dead drift (usually). And it may not be so beneficial when using tactics that employ a lot of mending. In both of these situations, it might be helpful to have the rod tip closer to us and have that tip be a little more responsive.

Let’s get to that next . . .

Photo by Bill Dell

The Not So Good Stuff

While I listed just one main advantage of a longer rod (more reach), I’m about to list numerous disadvantages of extra rod length. But none of these downsides necessarily outweighs the upside of the extra reach gained with a long rod. Not at all. Because keeping line off the water is a very big deal.

Ideally, each angler finds her own points of compromise. Most of us want a rod that’s as long as possible but still short enough to mitigate the following disadvantages.

Less Accurate

Shorter rods are more accurate. That’s a tough one to admit or even understand for some people, but it’s true. I know — you’re deadly accurate with your favorite fly rod. Right? If you’ve learned the nuances of your favorite tool, and your technique is solid, then you likely have the necessary accuracy. But you’d be even more accurate with a shorter rod.

With the tip of the fly rod further from your hand, that tip is more difficult to control. And where the tip goes, so goes the line, leader and fly.

Movements Amplified

The small movements we make with our rod hand — the slight twists and pushes of the wrist — are amplified through the length of the rod. And when the energy of those motions reaches the tip, the short, crisp motion we made with our casting hand results in a much larger movement at the tip.

You can demonstrate this easily with a visible test. Stand in casting position, and move the rod-hand just one foot through its casting V. Now look up and watch the rod tip. It moves a lot more than twelve inches. Doesn’t it? And the longer the rod, the greater is that distance.

So our rod hand movements are amplified with longer rods. That’s not always a bad thing. But for the discussion of accuracy, shorter rods lend you more.

Photo by Austin Dando

Rod Recovery Takes Longer

Fly rods are designed to flex and recover to a resting state. The best rods flex in all the right ways and then crisply return to straight, where they’re ready to flex again. That’s rod recovery, and it’s the number one difference that I see in high-end rods vs low-end options.

READ: Troutbitten | Thoughts on Rod Tip Recovery

Longer rods take longer to recover because, well . . . there’s more rod that has to stop moving. And in my experience, you’ll pay a lot to find an extra-long rod that recovers fast enough to be any good.

Rod recovery is also a big factor in the casting accuracy for any style of fly.

And it’s even more critical while tight line nymphing. When we are in contact with the nymph, then everything our rod tip does is transmitted to the fly. At the end of our tight line cast, the nymph enters the water, and we gain contact with the fly. If it takes a few seconds for the rod tip to stop bouncing and fully recover, then that’s three seconds of wasted drift (possibly more, if the trout are picky enough to reject the fly at distance).

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Line Nymphing — Drift With A Stable Sighter

Some of the worst rods on the market are cheaper offerings in the long range of ten or eleven feet or more. The soft tips on these rods take forever to recover, and they are whippy, flexy sticks, good only for lobbing and not casting.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Casing the Mono Rig — It’s Casting, Not Lobbing

In the Trees

This disadvantage is probably obvious. But if not, a broken rod tip thwacked on a tree limb will make it so. I’ve ruined a few days this way for myself.

Long rods can be difficult to cast in tight cover. When I blue-line the backcountry, mountain streams, I prefer to fish dry flies. And my choice for thick cover is a seven-and-a-half or an eight-foot rod. If I do plan for underwater presentations in the mountains, I usually choose an eight-and-a-half or nine-foot option, for the extra reach and added ability to keep line off the water.

If you know where your rod tip is, you can cast any length of rod in any cover. But that’s overstating the point. The reality is, in a mountain-laurel-choked brookie stream, swing distance for a fly rod is at a premium. And long rods can be a liability. Even on my home stream in the valley, which averages fifty to sixty feet across and is bordered by trees for most of its length, I prefer a rod slightly less than ten feet.

Jammed Up

Casting a long rod in tight cover can be uncomfortable. And you might have to force your elbow tight to the body to get the rod tip in the right place.

Likewise, when fishing streamers, extra-long rods can be a liability. With streamers, we use the rod tip to lead the line and the fly on a path. With the rod tip further away, our options for the fly’s path are more limited.

Imagine this: Cast up and across-stream to the bank. Now try to lead the streamer directly back to you. If the rod is eleven feet, then holding the rod to your right makes the fly track eleven feet to the right instead of back to your position. But if the rod is eight feet, then the fly tracks three feet closer to you. Extending this principle into real-world fishing quickly reveals the handicap of a longer rod for streamers.

Of course, for many anglers, a long rod is just part of their streamer fishing style. And any tool used well can be the perfect match. But when I’m fishing longer rods with streamers, I feel jammed up too often. My angles are too wide, and I want quicker, tighter control over the path of my fly through the water.

Photo by Austin Dando

Load Time and Loss of Power

Long rods generally take longer to load on the backcast than their shorter brothers. Likewise, some power is lost with the extra length. Now, of course, you will find examples where one company’s eleven-foot three weight loads faster and is more powerful than the next company’s ten-foot three weight. But usually, longer roads have longer load times, and they feel less powerful.

For a good comparison, take one company’s nine-foot four weight for a spin, and then try the same company’s rod in a ten footer. The difference is noticeable, and the contrast grows larger in rods over ten feet.

Versatile or Specialized?

I choose versatile fly rods because I’m a versatile angler. Fish what works and be ready for anything — that’s a Troutbitten theme. It’s impractical to carry multiple rods every day, so my favorite tools are the ones that perform many tasks well.

READ: Troutbitten | Use a Versatile and General  Fly Rod

There’s a compromise, of course. And my own point of compromise leans toward tight line, Mono Rig, nymphing tactics, because that’s what I spend much of my time doing. But my favorite rods are also ready to cast small dries, big nymphs, indicator setups, and streamers large or small.

For me, anything longer than ten feet is too limiting for streamers, and I don’t like the way ten-plus feet of a fly rod loads with an attached indy. All of these rods can perform the necessary functions, but how well do they do it? How long does it take for the rod to recover, so it’s ready to make the next quick movement? Honestly, I feel handicapped with a specialized rod on the river.

On the other hand, I have friends who spend all their river time just tight lining nymphs. And they have no interest in streamers or dries. So a specialized rod of eleven feet makes sense to them. (I still prefer the crisp action of a shorter rod.)

It’s a personal choice. So consider your goals, understand the pros and cons of a longer rod, and then find your point of compromise. Have fun out there.

READ: Troutbitten | Tag | Fly Rods

You?

Fly rods are such an individual decision that I, and the Troutbitten readers, would love to hear your thoughts and preferences. Why do you like or dislike the length of your rod? Please share in the comments section below.

Fish hard, friends.

** For a list of my favorite fly rods, visit the Recommended Gear page here on Troutbitten. **

** Find all articles about Fly Rods HERE **

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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36 Comments

  1. I’ve fiddled with several longer rods, none of them very expensive.

    I don’t much like the first generation Cortland competition (10.5 foot 3 weight). Good for tight-lining and little else, in my experience.

    I have a TFO 10 foot 5 weight I bought used. Kind of clunky and works better with a 6 weight line.

    Shu Fly 10 foot 4 weight was the go-to for a couple of years. I can switch from tight-line to dries or whatever with no problems.

    Last two seasons the go-to has been the Echo Shadow II, which I got with the competition kit. I haven’t used the latter much — the two extra pieces of rod (six inches) are often superfluous to my needs, and the weights are more than I want to deal with most of the time. I like the fighting butt though.

    In its standard configuration the Shadow II (10 feet 3 weight) works best for me with a WF4 line. To minimize the amount of stuff carried, I usually deploy a Cortland euro leader for the tight-lining. (This is very similar to the tight-line leader recipe George Daniels recommends, but negates the necessity of buying several spools of various stuff.) If I want to switch over to dries or whatever, it’s easy to remove and wrap up on a foam spool.

    I’ve become accustomed to 10 feet for larger water, and when I dust off a nine-footer it feels abbreviated. Like I lost a section or something.

    I use a Lamson Liquid 1.5 on the Echo by the way.

    Reply
    • Had a Shadow2,which while was an improvement over Cabela rod has now been replaced by local rod Woodstream,almost half the weight and very sensitive. Went to 3# and handles buggers and tiny nymphs alike. But can tell you this,Shadow2 takes a lot of punishment,and Echo had replaced broken sections in 2 weeks

      Reply
  2. “The rod you’ll own….next” I switched from the 10’8 3 to the 10′ 3 and couldn’t agree more with all of the points you mention Dom.

    Reply
    • My two long rods are a 10’ 4 wt Loomis NRX+ and the Zephrus Ultralite 9’9” 4 wt. The Hardy is far more useful except for in high winds and on lakes (I’m in Wyoming). My big question is whether the new Hardy is something I should consider since I already have the one before it. My guess is that mine is a bit slower action so better for mono rigs and not as good when I switch to dries. Any thoughts about whether the new one is worth it considering that I have the model before that?

      Reply
      • Hi Don. I’m very familiar with both of those Hardy models. They are all wonderful rods, and the current Ultralite LL, 9’9″ is my favorite. To answer your question, I would loe the rod you have, and I wouldn’t think about changing.

        One point: slower action is not necessarily best for Mono Rigs. Its all in how you cast. Many anglers lob these mono rigs. I advise against that all the time, for many reasons.

        https://troutbitten.com/2019/07/07/fly-fishing-the-mono-rig-its-casting-not-lobbing/

        And for casting these rigs, I do not like slower action. I’d say my favorite is medium-fast, leaning toward the fast side. There are many reasons for that. I like power and turnover.

        Cheers.
        Dom

        Reply
  3. This article is a great learning resource for all anglers. I would add that whether it’s a nine or ten foot rod, they tend to be more versatile than the manufacturers specify. For example, I use a 9′ 5 weight Sage Mod. It was specifically made for dry fly fishing, but with the mid-flex action it’s wonderful for throwing streamers with sink tips (it’s had no problem with any of Galloup’s patterns) or nymphing with a suspender. Additionally, I use a Sage ESN, and while wonderful to tightline, it’s quite serviceable throwing reasonable streamers on a mono rig, or even find dries. I would really stress that all anglers really put the rod through its paces and experiment with different techniques and styles. You might be pleasantly surprised!

    Reply
    • “I would add that whether it’s a nine or ten foot rod, they tend to be more versatile than the manufacturers specify.”

      That is SO true. Again, these days, it seems that the companies want to pigeon hole these rods into doing just one thing. Instead, the selling point, just a few years ago was versatility. Truth is, I’ve never found a good tight line rod that did not cast dries beautifully. Likewise, I fished tight line, Mono Rigs at distance for five years on a 8.5 foot 5 weight. It was great. Most of these rods can do everything, UNTIL . . . they get too long. Then, as written in the article above, they start to suffer as an all around tool, in my opinion.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  4. I have a 10’6” nymphing rod and one point of note is trudging that thing through mountain laurel is a painful process. As you noted, I bought it to keep line off water which it does effectively, but is much more difficult for casting.

    Reply
  5. Have a 7ft 5wt and a 10ft 5wt. 7ft for small tight streams. 10ft for larger streams and fishing from my kayak.

    Reply
  6. I started experimenting with longer rods after reading some of your material several years back. Before that, I was a die hard 9′ 6wt guy, and had several of them with different actions that I would choose from. After much trial and error, I now use a 10′ 5wt H3F with the mono rig, as well as a 9’6″ 5wt Sage Pulse. I tend to fish a fair amount of weight so I prefer a 5 over a 4, and I consider a 5 weight fly line to be the most versatile for trout fishing, so I always have a WF5F spooled up under my mono rig, just in case. I’ve spent many days tightlining from dawn till dusk with that 10′ #5 and never felt like I needed something longer or lighter, although a 4 would be nice for some of the stuff I fish in the summer. If I know I’m going to be fishing more streamers with the mono rig on a certain day, I do prefer the slightly shorter, and stiffer Sage for that. Both those rods can do everything I need for my typical trout fishing.

    Reply
  7. I had a few euro specific 10 and 10.5 footers. I settled on a Hardy 10′ 4wt as my versatile solution. Sure there are days when I carry two rods (an 8’5″ 4wt for dries) but normally just one. Dry fly with fly line is great, and helps keep line off the water. Slow down and relax, the rod can cast. My third use is single hand spey with a DT6F line and some sinking leaders for streamers. This is for swinging wet flies and streamers and is very deadly.

    Reply
    • “Slow down and relax, the rod can cast.”

      That’s an excellent point. Relax, and let the rod do the work. That doesn’t mean to take the speed out. But keep the speed short, between two points, with crisp stops. I always tell people that if you can hear the rod WHOOOSH through the air, you’re working way to hard. Cast the tip.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  8. Jeez Dom, now you got me thinking. I just purchased an Echo Shadow X 10’6″ 3 wt that I haven’t used yet. Now I’m wondering if I would be better off with the 10′?

    Reply
    • Duane. If you are like me, you might wonder if you made the right choice, whether you keep the 10.5′, or exchange it for a 10′ rod. The only way to know is to fish it, and see how it works for you. If it doesn’t, then you will know for sure, and can trade for a 10′. Don’t let Dom put doubts in your head. I think what he says about recovery and accuracy, etc. are true, but I think the differences between a 10 and 10.5 are probably too subtle for most of us to notice, especially within the same model. I have the 11′ shadow x and the recovery seems good to me. If there are accuracy problems, it’s not the rod’s fault. Anyway, I have learned to take the “experts” advice with a grain of salt. They all catch a lot of fish using different rods in different lengths casting their own go to “confidence” flies.

      Reply
      • Right on. I mostly agree with Harold. Remember, what you lose in a specialized rod is versatility. That’s the main point. The 11 footer Harold has probably recovers quite well under tight line nymphing situations, but it likely struggles a bit under heavier setups like suspender rigs or with streamers.

        For the record, I don’t think the differences are too subtle for most of us to notice. I hand many of my guided guests different rods throughout the day, and they all remark on the differences of each rod. You notice these differences instantly. That’s the truth. Fly rods are more different than they are the same. I didn’t really understand this or realize this until I had a lot of different rods in my hands. Every day, I cast the the client’s rods as some point too. There’s a lot of great options on the market.

        Cheers.
        Dom

        Reply
        • Thanks Dom. I have fished dry flies, small dry/dropper and nymphs with a mono line and tenkara fluoro level line with no problems on the 11′ rod. I haven’t fished streamers yet, but I think it will be fine with bead head style streamers fished Euro style, but not ideal, I know. I do plan on getting a 10.5′ echo shadow x next spring, because I think it will be a better all round rod. I glad I can have more than one length rod, but I think if I could have only one rod for all round Euro style fishing, I would go with a 10.5 footer. I don’t think I would see much drop off in recovery and accuracy compared to a 10′ rod in the same make and model, such as an echo shadow x. And I think the extra length would outweigh any disadvantages. But this is a non-pro talking. Thanks for your feed back.

          Reply
  9. I have never had lots of money to put toward fishing, with that being said versatility has become a must with all things fly fishing for me. About 9-10 months ago I purchased a TFO lefty kreh signature 2 in 9′ 6wt. This rod allows me to fish all different kinds of flies, in all different kinds of scenarios and waters for all different species of fish. I can switch from streamers, to nymphs to dries without any problem and the rod is stiff enough to rightline but the tip is flexible enough I can cast all but the lightest of dries just using my monorig and packing extra punch into the cast. This rod is also brutally tough and has been dropped, whacked into trees and thrown to avoid further catastrophe and still is kicking with only scratches for scars. All for $125. Very impressed with this rods versatility.

    Reply
  10. Dom, as always thanks for the insightful articles. I still consider myself a novice fly fisherman although I do own more rods than I should. After fishing with you two summers ago, and given my favorite stream is primarily a nymph stream, nymphing is my go-to setup. I’m still learning. Recently I got the recon 2020 10 foot 3 weight and love the feel. It’s got an equivalent to a 5 weight butt section with a very sensitive tip. I’ve hooked into some personal best fish with this rod. Sorry now off the soap box. Given my current experience I really enjoy fishing various rods and exploring their possibilities. For the recon rod I tried out throwing dry flies with it successfully up to 15 or 20 feet; enough distance for me. Perhaps I’m sacrificing versatility but do enjoy the experience of fishing various rods and experimenting what capabilities they have.

    Reply
  11. I love reading people’s thoughts on rods and love nymphing, so this story is especially enjoyable. When I first started nymphing, it was with an 8’ 3wt bamboo rod I made, using a 90year old medalist and the “mono rig” (sort of)….not as long as today’s leaders but very long back then. Today I fish a couple 8’ish Sage LL’s and my favorite 3100 ESN. Your synopsis of length and casting is spot on. Even though that ESN is literally welded to my hand most of the season, I just don’t have the total control of accuracy like the shorter rods offer. And while I can still fish a nymph up close with the 8’er, it just works so much better with 10’ of graphite.
    Great read as always Dom.

    Reply
  12. When I stumbled on The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks back in 2016, I had a Loomis XLS 9′ 3wt gathering cobwebs back in the corner, and I thought, why not? I’m still happily using that rod. There are times when I think that another foot would be nice when I can see the math out on the water, but, shoot, I like that rod.

    Reply
  13. I found a nice deal on a TFO drift a couple years ago on eBay new for $250. Don’t get to dry fly it much, but the 9’4 to 12’3 versatility works for me and minimized additional rod purchase. Especially nice after selling a couple older rods to buy it. Dom, the tip on “cast the tip” is tip top!
    Thanks

    Reply
  14. Your points on long (11 plus feet…) rods are just the same ones I have learned a hard way in practice. Years ago I bought 11’3 for tight line nymphing based on recommendations for ‘big and deep rivers’ and failed miserably. For the obvious reasons you clearly pointed out in article ‘the feel’ was just awful, resulting loss of confidence, one broken tip, missed bites… In more skillful hands and with better eleven footer, maybe…. in my case surely not. Nowadays my sweet spot for tight line nymphing is both sides of 10′ depending on water type etc. for some other techniques my rods are now from 8,8′ to 10’2″ 99% of my fly fishing.

    Reply
  15. I started fly fishing in the 70’s when short fiberglass rods were in vogue. PA fly fishing legend Ed Shenk was a big advocate of fishing shorter rods. I used to own a Fenwick fiberglass 6 foot 5 weight that I loved for small streams with lots of overhead cover. I sold it on eBay several years ago for $150. bucks (about 3 times what I paid for it!)

    On larger streams I like my 9 ft. 5 weight because of it’s versatility. Yesterday I started swinging streamers and ended throwing #24 midges on the Tulpehocken. I caught trout on both setups. On my homewater, Valley Creek, I prefer my 7 foot 4 weight. Both rods are Orvis Clearwaters – an excellent rod and an outstanding value, in my opinion. I recently tried a bamboo rod (Orvis midge-nymph from the 70’s) and couldn’t cast accurately with it due to the soft, slow action. Definitely an acquired taste. My go to reels are Redington Rise for larger, heavier rods and Orvis Battenkills (older ones made in England, not the new ones made in China). Good reels at a fair price.

    Reply
  16. Thanks Dom for the advice about sticking with my older Zephrus Ultralite rather than replacing with the new one. As you say, I have been quite happy with it both for mono rigs and dry fly traditional casting.

    I’m originally from suburban Pittsburgh (Plum Borough) and a Penn State grad. When I fished your wonderful waters in the 60s and 70s I was a fan of the six foot Fenwick glass rod mentioned by the previous poster. I still think about a sort of bucket trip back to fish Big Fishing, Penn’s, Spring Creek and others when this Covid junk is over. If I can plan ahead I hope to set up a couple walk-wade guided trips with you.

    Best wishes and enjoy your Thanksgiving.

    Don

    Reply
  17. This year I purchased a 6’6” 3 at bamboo rod. It has become my go-to rod for small streams. The accuracy is amazing. I had been using a 9’ 5 at rod for all my fishing for the past 20 years or so. I usually use soft hackle wets and the shorter rod lets me put the fly on target. Love Troutbitten.

    Reply
  18. I just wanted to complement you on the recent article on fly rods. I am currently in the market for a new rod, and honestly I had no idea which fly rod I should purchase.
    This article answered many of my questions on what rod is best for my type of fly fishing. I also wanted to note how the additional comments from fellow anglers is a tremendous help in making my choice. Look forward to each article.
    thanks

    Reply
  19. Dear Dom,
    One more negative foot long rods. I have an 11foot 4 weight. Recently was nymphing on my home stream, the Esopus in NY, a fairly deep average depth swift river. So long tippet under water to reach the strike zone. I was using an Scrambled egg pattern With a size 16 pheasant tail. I was surprised at the resistance of the egg pattern. The tip flex of the longer rod just wouldn’t allow for a crisp set. Never had that problem with typical nymphs like a prince or stone fly. Convinced I lost more than one. Am I imagining this?
    Joe C

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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