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Using a Short Fly Rod

Short rods offer anglers all kinds of advantages when fishing around structure or in tight quarters

July 28, 2011
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short rods

short rods

Scott Sommerlatte

If you cast flies around docks, mangroves or marsh edges or from a kayak, you may want to reconsider that 9-foot fly-rod philosophy you’ve been wed to.

A shorter rod may be a better choice when you need in-close accuracy for casting to reds and bonefish on the flats or snook and striped bass around structure. Kayakers find that short rods make it easier to handle a fish at the endgame, when the angler’s arms seem too short to grab the leader. And casters with tender elbows appreciate the “light” feel of a shorter rod, which makes long fishing sessions less fatiguing and more comfortable.

Going Short
Rick Pope of Temple Fork Outfitters puts it this way: “You’re swinging a shorter lever, and the weight of the line mass is closer to you, so an 8-foot rod feels much lighter in the hand.” Most casters who try an 8-footer agree. They often describe the casting stroke as “quicker” but easily adjust after only a few casts. “Accuracy is improved with shorter rods because the rod tip is closer to your casting hand, a big advantage when shooting a fly under a dock or an overhanging mangrove,” says Pope.

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An 8-footer designed for an 8-weight feels more like a 6-weight, a feature that casters suffering from tendinitis appreciate. Many casters discover they have an easier time throwing a tight loop with a short rod. Shorter rods will not carry as much line in the air when repeatedly false-cast, but the loss of casting distance is minimized with a line with a short, aggressive taper of about 30 feet. Popular redfish lines, like the Royal Wulff Bermuda Triangle series or the Cortland Precision series, are great for short rods. The short tapers on these lines minimize the need for false casting, and they shoot exceptionally well, often with only one backcast.

Rod designer Jim Bartschi has had 8-foot rods in the Scott Fly Rod Co. lineup for many years and doesn’t find casting distance an issue. “Short rods are remarkably easy for most people to cast, and since a lot of fly-fishing does not require crazy distances, the average fly-angler can develop lots of line speed and throw tight loops with less effort,” he says.

The appeal of short rods continues to grow as more fly-fishers begin to appreciate their usefulness in special situations. “I call them utility rods,” says Geoff Samples of Ross Reels USA. “Our FlyStiks were designed for freshwater bass fishing tournaments, but they’ve developed a large saltwater following, especially with those who fish from boats. They’re fun to cast, and they don’t tire you out.” This is helpful for fly-rodders making repeated casts in a striped bass creek or while wading a grass flat for trout and reds for several hours.

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Firsthand Experience
My own experience with short rods began about three years ago. I quickly found that for short, quick casts to docks and bridges for summer stripers and winter snook, a short rod is the way to go. When fishing at night around bridge pilings, I can make repeated casts across the current to the abutments or dock pilings and to rips in front and on the backside of structure while an electric trolling motor stems the tide. Most casts required for this type of fishing are shorter than 50 feet, and 8-foot rods of any type are perfect tools for this. There’s a lot to be said for being able to cast quickly and accurately with minimal false casts.

Dialing down the number of false casts you use helps in surf-fishing when the sand berm is high behind you. When summer snook feed on glass minnows and sardines in the wash and fall stripers work the edge, foraging for sand eels, an 8-foot rod lets you continuously drop your fly right in the zone. If you’re standing about 20 feet away from the wash, retrieve 30- to 50-foot casts at a 45-degree angle to the beach to work the fly through the trough.

Stopping Power
Many first-timers are surprised at how much stopping power short rods have. This feature is incredibly valuable when you’re fishing for species such as snook, jacks or stripers around any kind of structure. Each manufacturer uses the latest technology to breathe that power into its rods. TFO uses S-glass for a strong butt for lifting and carbon-fiber blends for the middle and tip sections for fast recovery and casting qualities. “The rod is shorter,” says Pope, “so you can more quickly bring the fish-fighting power of the butt into play with a 15- to 20-degree rod angle to the fish. Nick Curcione worked with us on the Mini Magnums. He calls them stump pullers because they are so good at lifting and fighting fish.” Short-rod fans use that enhanced lifting power for deepwater stripers, little tunny, school tuna and dolphin.
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More Uses**
Short rods are also a good choice when you’re wading at night, when limited visibility makes short casts more practical. During nighttime hours, striped bass often take the fly within a few yards of the rod tip. When you’re prospecting for striped bass, it’s easy to work the fly at 30 and 40 feet, then extend the range to 50 and 60 feet before shuffling forward a bit to begin prospect-casting again. Keep the leader short, about 8 to 10 feet, a length that seems to turn over typical striped bass flies.

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Short fly rods aren’t a new idea for coastal fly-rodding, but they are gathering a growing regiment of fans. Saltwater fly pioneer Charles “Charlie” Waterman declared back in 1972 in Modern Fresh & Salt Water Fly Fishing that an 8- to 8½-foot rod “can do it all, and would take an 8-weight line.” Many of today’s saltwater fly-anglers are realizing that Waterman was right!

Manufacturer Model Website
Echo Edge series www.rajeffsports.com
G.Loomis ShoreStalker series www.gloomis.com
Redington Predator series www.redington.com
Ross Reels USA FlyStik series www.rossreels.com
Sage Bass series www.sageflyfish.com
Scott Fly Rod Co. S4S series www.scottflyrod.com
Temple Fork Outfitters Mini Magnum series www.templeforkflyrods.com
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