Friday, July 6, 2012

Favorite Smallmouth Bass Fly Rod

The Perfect Stick
People often ask me "What is your favorite smallmouth rig?"  I usually try to avoid the topic because my interests are vastly different than most of the other fisherman I know (we'll discuss that later).  If I had to answer the question I would probably respond with something like "Any rig you can afford to use" because if you drop big bucks on a rig and can't afford to fish well....that is crazy.

I was taught to fly fish by my Uncle Joe, perhaps the worlds greatest fisherman/sportsman.  I fished for years with Uncle Joe and never looked at the name on the rod I used.  We spent entire days on Sugar Creek in Indiana and I can honestly say I had no idea what line weight we used? me the name on a fly rod, reel, line, hook etc is all a little silly.  Don't get me wrong, I'm human too - I like good stuff, but it is not critical to me.

What Weight is Perfect
If you are going to pick out a favorite rod you have to start with the perfect overall line weight for the species you are after.  The type of water you fish, wind conditions, fly sizes etc. are all factors when choosing a line weight, but many agree that the ideal line weight for smallmouth bass is a 7wt. 

First off, a 7wt is a nice weight to lug around all day, avoiding arm fatigue is always a good thing.  I can toss a large popper as well as a beefy streamer with this weight rod.  If paired with the right line a 7 weight can punch through wind, but if cast correctly it can quietly lay out a bug without a splash.  The 7 weight is the perfect balance between brute force and finesse....and it give you options to toss top water poppers or streamers.

Smallmouth legend Tim Holschlag had this to say about the 7 weight:
"What if a person wants to fish different types of water, but can only afford one good rod?  That's simple--get a 7-weight, 9 1/2', medium-stiff, medium-fast action good quality rod.  7-weights may be out of style right now, but they're still the best all-purpose smallmouth rods available.  Over the course of a year, I probably use a 7-weight more than any other type of rod."
I agree with Tim completely, but I tend to deviate from his recommendation for medium-stiff and medium-fast action rods.  Who am I to contradict Tim Holschlag, a guy that fishes more in one year than I have fished in my lifetime.  Good thing all of this is personal preference!  I also don't care much for 9'+ rods either....let's talk a bit about fly rod lengths next.

Rod Length and Action
Many, many guys like longer rods for smallmouth fishing.  I happen to have more moderate tastes when it comes to action and fly rod length.  I understand that a longer rod allows you to set the hook better as well as aide in casting, but for me it is all about fatigue.  I owned a 9' rod and after a long day fishing my arm hurt!  The dang thing was a beast to manage, so for me I settled on a 8-8 1/2' rod for general purpose smallmouthing.

As far as action, I prefer a slower, full-flexing rod.  Slow action comes from from fiberglass, NOT graphite!  There, I let my secret out of the bag!  I like fiberglass better than graphite.  More about my ideal fly rod(s) next!

The Smallmouth Fly Box Favorite Fly Rod
If you nailed me down and asked the dreaded "favorite rod"question I would have to say my personal favorite rod is a vintage Fenwick Feralite that was given to me by Fly Box Hero, Dick Gross.  The fact that Dick gave me the rod makes it priceless, but sentimental reasons aside it is a damn good rod!  Many of you may believe that the newest Sage or Orvis rig is the holy grail.  To each his own, but I am partial to "vintage" fiberglass rods.  The reason is simple...the rods are slower.  The slow action reminds me of those wonderful days with Uncle Joe.  Before graphite, fiberglass was king----to some of us it still is the all supreme ruler of the fly rod universe.  Let's look at a few of my all time favorite fly rod manufacturers.

Fenwick Feralite
Here is a picture of a Fenwick Feralite, manufactured anywhere from 1972-1988, this rod is still an absolute gem to spend the day with.  I have many of these rods and will continue to collect them if I find a deal.  The trout wieners are starting to buy them all up on Ebay (paying top dollar), so I have resorted to flea markets and garage sales for my collection.

Another favorite rod is the Browning Silaflex.  Silaflex rods have quite the history-going back to the 1950's , but they are fantastic fly rods even today.  The rod in this picture has a slow action compared to today's "better" rods, but that slowness is its saving grace.  Remember the tale of the tortoise and the hare?

Browning Silaflex
The only beef people have with Silaflex fly rods is their large cigar shaped grip.  I have never had a problem with them, but if you have small hands you might want to look into something else.

Contemporary Rod of Choice
I just got done telling you that I am partial to fiberglass rods, but there is one contemporary, graphite rod I own, it is the Ross Flystik.  The Ross FlyStik was a recommendation from fly fishing great Joe Cornwall.  This rod is nice because it is a 4 piecer which makes it more portable than my vintage glass rods.  The rods themselves are absolute cannons!  I own both the 6 and 8 weight models and they can launch big bugs.  At 7' 11" they are a tad short for wading, but they are a fine choice for fishing out of a canoe.

The Ross Flystik
 I had a trout snob make a comment the Ross Flystik is ugly because it is minty green in color.  I personally like the color, but I am a bass guy.  Paint job aside, this rod is light and powerful able to whup any smallmouth, pike or catfish you would tangle with on the river.

One Last Category
For years I would only grab an 8-8 1/2' rod when wading the river, never would be caught with anything under 8 feet.  I ran across a rod builder online that changed my whole outlook on fly rod lengths.  Andy Manchester, the Old Yankee Rodsmith himself sold me a 6' canoe cannon a few years back.  I purchased the rod because of an article I read about Lee and Joan Wulff and their passion for catching big fish on shorter rods (6') and small flies.  The article was great and I was sold on giving it a try.

Old Yankee Rodsmith's 6' Canoe Cannon
This was my first 6' rod and I love it!  This rod is a 1 piecer, so transporting can be a challenge, but the fuss is worth it!  I can toss foam poppers all day and streamers are a snap.

My second 6' rod is another Old Yankee Rodsmith gem we call the Orange Crush.  Unlike the Canoe Cannon this one is considered a boron fly rod.  Boron is another great choice for the slow experience, but this one can deliver the goods!

Old Yankee Rodsmith's Orange Crush and Frieda
I have landed many big fish on slower and shorter fly rods, so get out there and figure what YOU like, NOT what the industry tells you to like.  You might surprise yourself and like something vintage!

Pure Vintage...A 1970 Fenwick and Western Auto Parts Reel in Action


  1. Good Post---I agree the 7 wt would be a good choice for 2 lb plus smallies, but the 6 wt fast action would be my choice, because of lightness. I am an avid believer in fishing as light as I can get. Thanks for sharing

  2. Like your site. Liked this article probably most of all though. My favorite probably WOULD be a Fenwick too, except I don't yet have one. I DO have a 7 and 1/2 foot Garcia Conolon "Dry Fly" model in 7wt. that I absolutely love casting (and playing fish on). I bought it a couple of years ago on ebay for $30 - it still had the plastic on the grip when I go it so it was essentially a 30 year old "new" rod. I also have a Wright McGill 4 piece packrod (the really old fiberglass one) that I liked before I got the Conolon. It is semi-retired now but still ready to go at a moment's notice. I also got a Flystik 8wt for Christmas this past year. We have been covered with snow most of this winter but I did get to lawn cast it for several minutes a week ago and I think I will really enjoy it.

    Lastly, I have a reel that looks like the one in your last photo. The red body/plain aluminum spool one. Mine is a JC Higgins that looks almost new but the clicker doesn't work :(

    Anyway, thanks for letting me admire your stuff! LOL

    Jay in Indiana