Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

Best Stonefly Nymph Patterns

Choosing the best stonefly nymph patterns is trickier than subsurface choices for most aquatic insects. This is due to many factors, starting with many stonefly’s extended life cycles. Caddis, Midge, Cranefly and Mayfly life cycles take place over a single year. That’s important because, when imitating the nymphal /pupal forms of those species, all nymphs are the same size

This is not true of the stonefly. Some stoneflies have a one-year cycle, while others have a 2- or 3-year cycle. This is significant for the nymphing angler, explained using our premier stonefly hatch, the Salmon Fly.

Yellow Sally Nymph
Golden Stone Nymph

SIZE MATTERS, SORT OF

The Salmon Fly has a 3-year life cycle and when mature, nymphs are approximately 51-54mm long. Simple math tells us this. 3-year old Salmon Fly nymphs are 51-54mm, 2-year old Salmon Fly Nymphs are 34-36mm long, and 1-year old nymphs are 17-18mm long. Due to natural mortality, there are many more 1-year old nymphs than 3-year old nymphs.

Gestation periods vary, with smaller stones having a shorter gestation period. Nemouras and Yellow Sallies are on a 1 year cycle. Skwalas and mid-size Goldens have a 2 year cycle, while larger Goldens join the Salmon Fly in 3 year cycles. This is important when choosing the best stonefly nymph for species with multi year cycles- the nymphs work in 2 or 3 sizes. 

Perhaps more importantly, stonefly nymphs with multi-year cycles are available to the trout year round. The best stonefly nymph patterns don’t just work at hatch time, they work all year. Stonefly nymphs are big, with year round availability- no wonder these nymphs are so important in a trout’s diet.

Starting seasonally, the Nemoura is the first important stonefly to appear in Missoula. This little black stonefly is very prolific, and when the nymphs stage in the shallows prior to emergence, the trout know. Our best stonefly nymph patterns for the Nemoura is the French SR Bullet in Black, followed by the Black Widow Perdigon. Both nymphs do double duty as a Capnia nymph as well, if a warmer spring has got the trout moving early enough to feed when they emerge. 

The Skwala is the first larger stonefly to start moving in Missoula, and when the nymphs start to stage, trout move to the shallows to follow them. The Peacock Double Bead Stone, Olive Double Bead Stone and the 20 Incher all work very well throughout the spring.

When the Salmon Flies begin to emerge, our best stonefly nymphs are the Black Double Bead Stone, the Tungsten Black Stone and the classic Bitch Creek. Depending on water levels, these nymphs will need additional weight to get to the fish. Also, in faster water, a flash of orange will often trigger the fish. As rivers drop and clear, a subtler nymph is needed.

The Yellow Sallies are an incredibly prolific nymph, and trout key on them sub-surface due to quantity. The G Kes, Iron Sally Jig and the Biot Epoxy Jig. All are very effective late spring and early summer. Again, depending on water levels, you may need additional weight, though in higher water the larger Golden Stone nymphs may be more effective.

The Golden Stones are made up of many different species, explaining the size variation from 6-12. While called Goldens, the nymphs run more to tan and darker, making the Double Bead Hare’s Ear Nymph, 20 Incher and the Natural Zirdle Jig are very effective during the hatch. Make sure to carry size variation in these flies to cover the size the trout are focusing on.

Double Bead Hare's Ear

Double Bead Hare’s Ear

20 Incher

20 Incher

Natural Jig Zirdle

Zirdle Jig Natural

IT’S ABOUT TIME THESE GOT MENTIONED

The flies listed above are our best stonefly patterns that match a specific hatch, but day in and day out in Missoula, they might not be the best stonefly patterns. By sales in the shop, the Black/Brown TJ Hooker, the Jig Black/Brown Pat’s and the Brown Pat’s Rubberlegs are our best selling stonefly nymphs. These sell best in size 10-14

TJ Hooker Black/Brown

TJ Hooker

Jig Pats

Jig Pats

Pat's Rubberlegs

Pat’s Rubberlegs

These flies- call them nondescripts or generic-take fish at all times through the year. If you had to catch a fish, and we mean HAD TO catch a fish, these are the flies we choose. The best guides in Missoula agree- look in their nymph box and these are pretty much all you see. 

Pat’s Rubberlegs and TJ Hookers are simple to tie, sink well, and easily customized to match any stonefly hatch across the country. Because they’re easy to tie in smaller sizes, unlike their more complicated cousins, they cover the immature nymphs extremely well. 

A VERY COMFORTING THOUGHT

When we said if you had to catch a fish, this is why. The Pat’s Rubberlegs and the TJ Hooker are NEVER the wrong fly to use wherever multi-year cycle stoneflies are found. Because stonefly nymphs are found every day of the year in edible sizes, they work year round. 

Edible size is defined this way, using the PMD as an example. There are always PMD Mayfly nymphs present in Missoula waters, as well as across the west. However, when an 8mm insect lays hundreds of eggs, when those eggs hatch, the nymphs aren’t a food source for the trout- they’re too small. So while they’re always in the water, at the start of their life cycle, they aren’t food for trout. They need time to grow to edible size.

This is in contrast to the Salmon Fly, Skwala and Golden Stone nymphs. They take 2 plus years to gestate, which means even after the hatch, there are edible nymphs available to trout. It’s like the San Juan Worm or a size 16 Pheasant Tail- at any given point in the year, these food forms are available to the trout. When you don’t know what’s going on, put on a TJ Hooker or a Pat’s until you do know what’s going on.

There’s a chance, with those two flies, you may not have to figure out what’s going on, as they will make enough happen to keep an angler happy on the water.

When you go to choose the best stonefly nymph patterns, the options are numerous. Choice can depend on size and weight- you can use a size 4 nymph under an indicator, but not in a Dry/Dropper rig. Are you looking for trout keying on a hatch, or are you searching with a food form available year round. Hatch matchers are often bigger, and better when more focused in size and color. Searching works better with a generic stonefly nymph. But when you’re on a western freestone river, the one thing we do know is you need an array of stonefly nymphs- not to bump up our sales, but because they work!

Loaded Large Fly Box

The Best Fly Boxes For Dry Flies

Because dry flies come in such a variety of sizes and styles, it’s difficult to put your finger on the perfect fly box.

Most mayflies and caddis are defined by hackle. The delicate feather fibers can be deformed if not stored correctly. Foam boxes can be a bit of a problem with certain styles of fly boxes for dry flies. Put simply, any fly with hackle that extends below the shank are difficult to store in foam.

That being said, there are foam boxes designed to accept dries with hackle below the shank. Some of the Cliff and Fulling Mills Boxes utilize strips of slit foam. When a dry is slid into a strip of foam, the hackle has more room to extend due to the open space between the slits. So classic dries like Orange Stimulator and Royal Wulff’s, as well as Stimulators, will travel well in a Cliff or Fulling Mill box.

The best way to carry perpendicularly hackled flies is in a compartment. The Missoulian Angler carries a multitude of compartment fly boxes for dry flies. The Umpqua Bug Lockers, Dewitt, Myran and the Meiho M Series are just a few. The Bug Lockers are polypropylene, come in multiple sizes and are color coded. Dewitt boxes are clear, with metal hinges, and are available in various sizes and compartment configuration. Not sure what the plastic is, but some of our employees have Dewitt boxes that are 40 years old and still working! The Myran 10 series boxes also have a metal hinge for durability, and might be the best box for small dries.

Montana dry flies can run big. Stoneflies and hoppers take up space, and require a big box to handle them. Foam and synthetics have taken over large fly design, and many bigger dries are perfectly suited for foam boxes. The Tacky El Pescador box is a great solution for big bugs, with it’s greater depth. The Fulling Mills Streamer box also doubles well as a big dry fly box, again with good depth for better storage.

When it comes to floating, the Cliff Bugger Box or Boat Box is a great solution for big dries. For smaller dries, the Meiho M Series is a guide favorite. The Meiho’s have removable dividers, allowing the angler to customize compartment size. The M Series comes in 2 depths, making access to smaller flies easier in the shallow box.

Dry flies are the trickiest flies to store correctly. Most anglers use a combination of foam and compartment boxes, keeping classically hackled flies in compartments while storing parachutes and foam flies in foam. There’s no doubt foam boxes provide unrivalled organization. With that organization, it’s easy to see where the holes in your arsenal lie, and make it easy to fill before the next outing.

Fall Fly Fishing Clark Fork River

Choosing The Best Fly Rod

I’ve been selling fly rods since 1985. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over that time period. Here’s what I think I’ve learned about helping anglers choose the best fly rod for their casting style.

My opinion doesn’t mean a @#?*>^%$ thing when it comes to your rod choice. I like the rods I like because of the way I cast.

I’ve been teaching fly casting since 1988. Unless your body shape resembles mine (and all gods help you if it does), I’ve learned your cast won’t look the same as mine, no matter how long you practice. The cast works around your body. It’s like batting stances. All those different stances made it to the majors. Batting stances follow fundamental tenets, but vary all over the map, and they’re all pros. Like a batting stance, casting is based around your body’s strengths and weaknesses, which might not be the same as mine.

My casting style comes from body shape, strengths and weaknesses, and practice. It’s not yours, it’s mine. Yours can come close, but won’t be exact. That’s important to know when you go to choose the best fly rod for your casting style.

That’s why my opinion doesn’t mean a thing. Unless you cast the way I do, my rod choices may not be yours.

If you go somewhere to buy a rod and they don’t have try lines, meaning you can’t cast the rod before you buy it, go somewhere where they will let you cast the rod.

I’ve seen it all. How anglers try to figure out how a rod will cast without casting it. Oscillations per minute under pressure. Got that one from Ted Williams. Pressing the rod against the ceiling and judging from the resistance how it will cast. Same as pressing it against the floor. The violent wiggle. The gentle wiggle. The intensely scrutinized, synchronized with the elbow and wrist wiggle. None of it means a damn thing. You have no idea how that rod will cast till you put a line on it. Don’t buy a rod without casting it or there’s no way you’ll get a fly rod that fits.

Never listen to the salesperson if they give you casting advice when buying a fly rod. Yes, the salesperson is trying to help. Yes, what the salesperson says is very likely useful AT THAT MOMENT, but how much are you going to actually retain, how much will you change?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been guilty of this. Wanting to help, but really causing more problems. Adding my 2 cents as the customer strays further and further away from choosing the best fly rod for their casting style..

When I teach casting, I have a method and style I ascribe to. If I’m blabbing about it while you’re test casting a rod, it might mean you have issues with your casting. Or, I may have cast the rod you’re looking at and thrown it 90 feet, and you want to know how I did that. Answer to that- I practiced. But whatever I say, whatever I show you, is going to alter your cast at the moment, very likely into a casting style I favor, which will lead you to buy a rod in the casting style I favor. Which may not be your style in the real world. It’s not my rod, it’s your rod. Don’t change your casting style when buying a rod.

If, after you’ve made your rod choice, you ask for advice, I’ll gladly give it. Having seen your style and what you chose for a rod, I’ll give the best advice I can. But not until you’ve made a decision.

So, what do you look for when buying a fly rod? What’s the most important thing to watch to get a fly rod that fits?

THE BACK CAST. SAY IT AGAIN, THE BACK CAST

When I’m selling a rod, the only thing I look at is the back cast. I do that because I know the last time the buyer looked at their back cast was the last time they practiced casting.

When was the last time you practiced casting?

That’s what I thought.

If you’re buying a rod and know enough to cast and compare, then you’re at least an intermediate caster. This is my definition of an intermediate caster. The front cast is basically functional to good, but the back cast looks like the Shadow Casting poster, with swirls of line in all sorts of shapes and designs.

Basically, the back cast is no damn good. And a good back cast is the foundation for a good cast. But people find ways to make that silliness behind them work. If the front cast is landing OK, then it’s all good.

When a potential buyer is comparing rods, I don’t watch the cast, I watch the back cast. Which rod provides the caster with the best shaped back cast? The front is going to be OK- that’s the definition of an intermediate caster. Which rod throws the most natural back cast, which forms the best loop. That’s the rod to choose, the fly rod that casts best on the back cast.

It’s this simple. Since most casters don’t pay attention to their back cast, the rod that throws the best back cast is the rod that naturally fits the casters stroke. I don’t care how far the rod throws, I don’t care which rod the caster prefers, I watch the back cast and recommend the rod that throws the best back cast. That’s the key to getting the best fly rod for your casting style.

That’s the secret. The cats out of the bag. Now, how does a rod shopper avoid the Hawthorne Effect?

That’s also a simple fix. Stretch a little line out, and cast a bit further, or try to cast a shorter……….

Wait, are you wondering what the Hawthorne Effect is? It’s the effect the observer has on the observed. Because now the caster knows their back cast is being analyzed, they will try and change it.

Here’s something else I’ve learned. The lack of attention by most anglers on the back cast has ingrained some pretty interesting habits. Most casters couldn’t break those dubious habits for a $1000 bet. (I’ve done enough teaching to be comfortable in that statement!) All I have to do is change the casting from something comfortable, where a caster can focus on their back cast (Hawthorne Effect) to an uncomfortable cast. So I ask the test caster to add some line, or shorten the line, or turn and cast into the wind. I make them do something a bit uncomfortable.

Boom!

The back cast is right back to where it was when you started casting and didn’t know I was watching. Change focus, add difficulty, and the habits come back. Hawthorne is alleviated!

Test casters look at me, staring behind them, and wonder what I’m doing. I’m watching the part they’re not, and making my assessment. While I have a vested interest in the customer buying a fly rod from me, I don’t have a vested interest in what rod it is. Whether I like it or not is completely irrelevant. It’s not my rod. I’m looking for the rod that fits the casting style of the person casting.

The back cast tells me which rod that is.

Use Technology To Boost Your Casting

As an aside, when the concept of a video camera was new I was teaching casting in New Hampshire. We rented a VCR camera for the Intermediate class, and taped the students. Every single student, over the course of the 3 years we ran the class, was stunned at how crappy their back cast was. How close it came to the ground, how mis-shapen it was, how slowly it moved. Every single student. They didn’t choose the best fly rod for their casting style.

It’s tough to make something good happen in front when you have dog poo behind you.

However, you can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s a problem. So get your phone out and have someone video your cast. What’s your final goal? If you were being videoed from just above your head, a watcher couldn’t tell which direction you were casting. Another way to say it- the back cast is a mirror image of the front cast. Click here to find out how to set up the perfect practice area.

When I get a customer whose back cast is a mirror image of the front cast, I just shut up and get different rods as they ask. Or if I see something in their cast, I may recommend a rod they hadn’t thought of. But when the back cast matches the front cast, I don’t really do all that much other than string up rods.

Who knew, when buying a fly rod, that the most important thing to look for is the one thing most anglers pay no attention to. It took a long time to figure

this out, and I stand by this method of rod assessment. It makes for happy customers; it makes it easy to choose the best fly rod for YOUR casting style.

Missoula Fly Fishing

Smart Wet Wading

When the weather gets hot, a lot of anglers ditch the waders in favor of comfort. It doesn’t matter how breathable waders are, in 90 degree weather, any extra layer adds a lot of warmth. When the waders come off for comfort, you’ll need to have the proper equipment for a full days fishing when wet wading

Ask any Sergeant about the most important piece of equipment they own, and they’ll tell you about footwear. When your feet are sore or blistered, the rest of the day gets that much longer. Being smart about your footwear when wet wading keeps your feet, and therefore your fishing, in shape.

Wet Wading Footwear

The easiest solution for wet waders is to use neoprene booties. Designed to mimic the neoprene sock found on breathable waders, the neoprene booties allow an angler to use their wading boots. Most anglers are comfortable with wading boots, and the thick neoprene sock allows an angler to wear the footwear they already own.

There are a couple of disadvantages to neoprene socks. When worn in a boat, neoprene socks get really hot. Additionally, neoprene socks allow water to enter. When your feet aren’t immersed in the river, the water trapped in the neoprene sock gets very warm. It’s like a petri dish around your feet, and you run the risk of a serious case of athlete’s foot. When you use a neoprene sock, it works better in a wet wading situation, not as much in a boat.

Many of the best guides in Missoula Montana wear sandals when they’re rowing. Keen and Chacos tend to be the favored footwear in a boat. So much cooler, and so much more comfortable.

When you wear sandals, MAKE SURE you put sunscreen on your feet! Crafty anglers apply waterproof sunscreen before putting on the sandals. Rub the sunscreen between your toes, and make sure you get complete coverage. Sunburn on your feet is sneaky. Because you’re getting in and out of the water, your feet feel cool. But the sun is baking them, and like Sarge said, keep your feet in good shape. Sunscreen is critical for comfortable sandal wear for wet wading.

Sandals have other issues as well when wet wading fly fishing. In low gradient rivers, like the Clark Fork and Bitterroot river near Missoula, sandals are easily worn for wet wading. In higher gradient rivers, like Rock Creek and the Blackfoot, sandals can be a bit more problematic. High gradient rivers have very little scree and cobble- most of the rocks lining the bottom are bowling ball sized or larger. Runoff moves the smaller strata, leaving the big rocks.

Most wet wading is controlled, but not all! It only takes once- having your foot slip off the top of a rock, and wedging your sandaled foot between two stones. Wading boots have a rigid toe box, ankle support and padding. When you wedge between rocks wearing sandals, you run a good chance of scraping your foot or jamming a toe. Wedge a wading boot, and the problems are minimized.

Low gradient rivers have their own issues. The cobble and scree that provides easier wading also suspends and enter into the sandal. Sandals without a toe cap are easy to sluice out when you get pebbles between your foot and the sandal. Sandals with a toe cap provide additional protection when wading, but at least once a day you’re going to end up sitting down and rinsing the gravel out. Wearing socks helps a bit with that, but nothing stops scree from getting into a wet wading sandal and rubbing against your feet. Socks also help block the sun and minimize sunburn.

Please, no mid calf black socks with sandals.

Once you feel the freedom of wet wading, it starts to become a habit, and you try to extend the wet wading season. As you do this, remember the first thing you learned as a young adult- warm beer is cheaper than cold beer, and the fastest way to get your beer cold is put it in ice water. When you’re wet wading in colder weather or colder water, the river is pulling the heat out of your body. It’s easy to get a lot colder than you think you are.

Surprisingly, there are advantages. Most of the time, if you find yourself wading waist deep, you’re standing where the fish were before you got there. Cold weather/water wet wading keeps you shallower and spooking fewer fish.

Plan Ahead

But you need to plan ahead. If the day calls for one fleece layer, wear two if you’re wet wading. You need to keep your core warm, and the additional layer(s) will pay dividends over the course of the day.

Make sure to get out of the water once in a while, even if the fishing is good. Depending on how cold the weather is, once you get cold, it’s tough to get warm again. It’s a lot easier to stay warm than get warm again.

Take this from a life long wet wader- after the fishing day is done, moisturize your feet and lower legs. No, we’re not going to recommend a specific lotion- just get one and rub it on. Constant immersion in water drains the skin of moisture, so you need to replenish it.

A down side to wet wading is the wear and tear on your lower body. When you’re wearing waders, you don’t really care about walking through mild brambles and bracken along the river. About 5 hours into a wet wading day, those thorns and prickers really start to hurt. Take a page from New Zealand guides. They wet wade, but wear a pair of running tights under their shorts. The skin tight fabric doesn’t impede water flow like quick dry pants or waders, so there’s less pressure on your legs. It also protects your legs from most of the thorns and plant life along the edge of the stream.

A big upside to wet wading is you can never go in above your waders. When crossing a river, or wading deep, you’re always worried about flooding your waders with water and being damp for the rest of the day. Hey, you’re already wet, so it makes no difference. You never have to feel the trickle of a new leak in your waders, as the water seeps down the back of your leg.

It pays to wear quick drying clothing, including your underwear. Yes, we’re talking about underwear- no snickering. Cotton may be comfortable when dry, but once it’s wet, it get clammy, uncomfortable, binding and can be a bit rashy. If you plan to seriously wet wade, spring for a pair of quick dry undies, it will make the day a lot more comfortable.

Wet wading is a truly freeing experience on the water. So much more comfortable in hot weather, and if you plan correctly, you can wet wade in conditions that might not be perfect. Getting the proper footwear and clothing is imperative for a comfortable experience. Grab your fanny or sling pack and hit the water, you’ll be amazed at how much cooler, comfortable and free you feel on the water.

Fly Rods 101

Yes, the fly rod did begin as a stick. It was a well chosen stick, flexible with butt strength, but that didn’t stop it from being a stick. What passed for line was tied to the end, and off they went. By the late 1400’s, rods were still being built from sticks, but separate stick sections were spliced together, in order to get the action required. The tip came from the center of a tree, for flexibility. They could be anywhere from 10-15 feet long, and were heavy. The line was still tied to the tip.

Rods continued this way until the arrival of Tonkin cane from China. While Tonkin was initially used in its hollow state, craftsmen soon discovered the culms could be split, and the first rods that could actually cast were born. Split cane forced the development of longer lines, reel seats and reels, more permanent handles, ferrules and guides. It was the first modern fly rod. The cane could be planed or sawn to create specific, reproducible tapers and opened up many new vistas for fly fishing.

Yes, some cane rods re worth $1,000’s of dollars. 99.9% are not. Valuable cane rods were hand planed to within 1/1000” tolerance. The vast majority of cane rods were cut with a saw, with much less accuracy. When AFTMA set the standard for fly line weights (Fly Line), they created a deflection chart to help anglers identify the proper new line weight for their rod. Utilizing a wall mounted reel foot and a known weight, the rod was mounted on the reel foot, and the weight clipped to the tip top. The rod would deflect, and the tip would land within a region on the chart, giving a line weight for the rod. The first diagram shows a deflection chart, the second shows a rod deflecting to a 5 weight line.

Cane was the best and preferred material for rod building until 1945 when technology developed before and during the war effort found its way to fly fishing. While fiberglass was introduced earlier as a solid blank, modern rod building began in ‘45 with the advent of the initial hollow fiberglass fly rod. For the first time, rods were tubular, and manufacturers had to develop brand new criteria for building and controlling action and taper.

There are two variables in rod design, the materials resistance to bending, described in terms of modulus in millions, and the diameter of the hollow tube. Fiberglass is a very low modulus material, meaning it has very little resistance to bending. Fiberglass itself is a very flexible material. Diameter is best understood this way. If you took a 9’ long, 1/16 inch steel pipe and shook it, it would bend quite readily. Take that same piece of steel and hammer it out to a 4” diameter, and it would lose most of its flexibility. Now the design conundrum comes in. How much material is needed, and at what diameter is it needed.

The manufacturing process of hollow fly rods evolved this way. The mandrel- a solid rod varying in diameter along the length- is milled, and used to control the inside diameter of the rod. The fiberglass scrim (sheet of fiberglass) is also cut in a taper as well, and then coated with resin or adhesive. The scrim/adhesive is wrapped around the mandrel, then rolled on a rod rolling machine under a lot of pressure to compress, shape and complete the process.

The diagram above is a simplification of the scrim/mandrel interaction. Notice there is less scrim at the top than the bottom, matching to the thinner tip of the mandrel. Less material over a thinner diameter provides flexibility, needed at the tip. As the diameter expands and more material is added, the rod gets stiffer as it goes to the butt section. How the rod will flex- deeply, or very little- is defined by this combination of diameter and material.

The above diagram is a simplification of flex patterns of fly rods. In the terminology of fly fishing- slow action, medium and fast action. There are variations and combinations of this found in every manufacturer of rods in the past and today. It’s important to know about action, so you can decide which action is best for you and your casting. YOUR CASTING. It doesn’t make any difference what anyone else thinks is a good action, if you don’t like it it’s not correct for you. This applies to the oldest cane rods and fiberglass as much as the most modern graphite fly rod available.

In 1973, the Orvis Company introduced the first graphite fly rod, and changed the face of fly fishing. Graphite has a much higher modulus than fiberglass, meaning it’s a stiffer material. Since its advent in the 70’s, graphite technology has continued to advance, and modulus has increased. If I remember correctly, the first graphite rods were about a 25 modulus. Now manufacturers are using graphite with modulus of over 80. This has provided such a wide range of actions, rod weights and strength, along with durability, as to be almost unrecognizable from its origins.

Due to the weight of cane and fiberglass, rods were shorter in their initial design. The modern graphite fly rod can vary in length from 6-15 feet in length, with the industry standard being 9’. Shorter rods are often used on smaller waters, while the longer rods are used to enhance mending and distance, as well as specific casting styles like spey casting. The longer rods often require two hands from the angler, and can attain tremendous distance when casting. Rods are designated by line weight, length and number of pieces. The industry standard for trout today is a 9’, 5 wt, 4-piece fly rod.

Graphite has opened up whole new vistas of fly fishing. 10-15 weight rods are now light enough to be castable, opening up the salt in ways not contemplated previously. Graphite ferrules are so smooth that 4-8 piece rods are not only available, but excellent casting tools. This changed the way we travel with fly rods, as well as opening up the back country and making bicycling with a fly rod much safer.

Graphite also revolutionized the action of fly rods. While modulus can be described as resistance to bending, another description is a more rapid return to straight. This has opened up amazing new avenues of action. As modulus increases, we are leaving simple fly rod actions as shown in the flex pattern diagram and getting into more complex actions. With high modulus graphite, manufacturers can create a deep flexing, relatively fast action fly rod. The higher mod graphite returns to straight more rapidly- so even with a traditional “medium” flex action, the graphite itself is faster. The rod returns to straight faster, creating a relatively fast medium flex rod. This type of compound taper was unachievable without graphite.

As tapers expanded with higher modulus, manufacturers continued to refine their tapers in lower modulus rods as well. Lower modulus graphite is less expensive to use, and as mandrels pay for themselves the creation of high quality, less expensive rods has become the norm, not the exception. With such a disparity in price in rods, even from the same manufacturer, what makes a rod more expensive?

As previously stated, the higher the graphite’s modulus, the more expensive it is. Component quality can vary. Some reel seats are Nickel Silver with exotic wood inserts, some are aluminum. Cork handle quality, rod tube and sock style and other costs vary. The time of build comes into play, with guide style and finish coats adding to costs. But the real cost of a fly rod is unseen.

When I toured the Sage Rod factory, I was amazed at how many pieces I saw broken in the short time I spent in the construction room. They had a machine for crushing unsuitable blank pieces. Look at the diagrams below.

While the rods in the first diagram are both 5 weights, they are going to cast significantly differently. It’s consistency that creates the greatest cost in fly rod manufacture. The second diagram shows how most fly rods are deflected by the manufacturer. There are incremental zones the rod must fall into to become a fly rod. The wider those zones, the more pieces can be used. The narrower the increments, the more consistent the action, and the more pieces are unusable. Once rolled, the graphite can’t be reused. It’s a dead loss, and needs to be paid for. It’s the most expensive part of high end fly rods, the pieces that don’t work and end up crushed and useless in a trash can.

To sum things up, if you buy a rod from a known fly rod manufacturer, it’s almost impossible to find a bad one. It might not be magic, but it won’t be awful. After A River Runs Through It, fly rod manufacturing, graphite construction and taper design went through the roof. Increased sales provided more funding for R&D, with fly rod actions improving exponentially. They continue to improve on a yearly basis. In 1985, when I started selling fly rods, I could say if you don’t spend $400 on a fly rod, it really won’t be any good. Now, it’s a bald faced lie to say if you don’t spend $1200 on a fly rod, it really won’t be any good. We sell fly rods for $89 that outperform any rod available in 1985. We are living in the golden age of fly rod design. Rest easy in your rod selection- it’s all good.

Ron Beck Fly Fishing Missoula

10 Reasons To Use A Long Fly Rod

The industry standard length rod is 9’, with a 9’ 5 wt. being the most popular rod in the world. Does it work? Of course it does! When the top rod designers in the world compete for market share in the most sold rod, it’s a guarantee you’re getting their best work! But maybe not the most effective and efficient tool for the job.

The long rod has fought an uphill battle since rods went from solid wood and Greenheart to split bamboo. Dame Juliana’s 15 foot and longer rods allowed early anglers to control line and fly, but as split cane replaced solid wood, rods got shorter to conserve weight and allow single handed use. The long rod has been trying to find its way back since about 1880.

Fiberglass didn’t bring the long rod back- the combination of weight and butt diameter didn’t lend itself to the long rod . When graphite appeared in 1973, rod rolling machines were incapable of consistently creating a straight tip on a 10’, 2-piece rod.

It’s a new millennium, and graphite construction has changed. The two-piece rod has pretty much gone the way of the coelacanth (thought to be extinct but still sighted), and it’s easy to roll pieces for 4-piece 10 foot rods and longer. The technology has caught up with the product, but anglers are lagging behind!

So without further ado, we present the Missoulian Angler’s Top Ten Reason For Using A Longer Fly Rod!

1. Distance

Straight physics says a longer lever is a more powerful lever. With a longer rod, you generate more energy and cast further. While distance might not be critical to a lot of trout fishing, the ability to add power definitely allows you to fight the wind with more authority. More power = more distance = better in the wind. Streamer fishermen need distance at times, as do still water anglers. The roll cast is much more powerful with a longer rod- ask any Spey fisherman. Get a power boost with a longer rod wherever and however you fish.

2. Longer Leaders, Thinner Leaders

With additional power in casting, longer leaders with finer tippet are now more easily handled. When you think of a leader as an energy conduit, (Leaders) then more power from the rod handles a longer, thinner leader. Since Charles Cotton in the 1600’s, fine and far off has been the mantra. The longer rod makes that happen, providing more space between line and leader. With less chance of lining the fish, and better drift on lighter tippet, the long rod enhances your presentation.

3. Faster line pick-up

The longer rod requires a bigger, heavier reel to correctly balance the rod. With a bigger reel comes a larger diameter, which means faster line pick-up. When you hook the fish of the day, getting the trout on the reel is the fastest way to control. Larger diameter means faster to the reel. A 10’ 4 wt. rod might use a reel designed for a 6-8 weight rod, depending on the weight. When you get a longer rod, make sure to get a reel that balances. The longer length creates a heavier swing weight, and balance becomes more critical to comfortable, all day casting.

4. Mending


This is the most important reason for owning a long rod. With the tall stick, your ability to mend expands exponentially. It’s not an extra foot of mending capability, it’s an additional 8-10 feet of mending capability. Since mending is essential to success, and a longer rod accentuates your ability to mend, there is NO REASON to trust the crucial aspect of mending to a short stick. Once again, physics shows you how much more effective a longer rod is. The longer rod also extends your reach casts, adding additional float to your drift. In every aspect of mending, on water and aerial, a longer rod outperforms its shorter counterpart.

5. Line Control

Along with better mending, long rods provide better line control. Line control begins with casting distances that are short enough to maintain contact with the fly. As we’ve said, the longer rod handles more line, allowing a longer cast to be fully under the anglers control. Another aspect of line control is removing drag by keeping the line off the water. Longer rods keep more line off the water, eliminating drag. While this is important for classic angling, it’s critical for…

6. Euro Nymphing

Mending and line control are essential to Euronymphing. Euronymping success is predicated on complete line control. It’s why the best Euronymphers use the longest rod they can comfortably handle. The longer rod creates more separation from angler and fish, adhering to the fine and far off mantra. It allows micro control over the fly line at distance. The people who are the most effective at taking fish, the anglers who must control their fly line, use a long rod for its effectiveness. Maybe you should think about taking advantage of an extra foot or more in your fishing.

7. Dapping

The gentle art of dapping has been somewhat supplanted by the upswing in Tenkara, but it’s still highly effective taking trout out of tight, tight lies. Dapping keeps everything off the water but the fly, and is often used in small streams or places a cast can’t be made. The longer rod keeps you further from the action, which is further from spooking the quarry. Dapping can be utilized on large rivers as well as small streams. Find yourself above an eddy with rising trout, and dapping will get you a drift not found by traditional casting.

8. Use A Lighter Line Weight

After 30 years of using nothing shorter than 10’ rods for trout fishing, I can say from experience that pretty much anything a 9’ 5wt. rod can do, a 10” 4wt. rod can do. The mechanical advantages of the long rod allow a lighter line to do more, making it equivalent to a line size higher in a shorter rod. When dry fly fishing technical water (think Clark Fork River and Bitterroot River after July 15), and you have a tool that allows you to use a lighter line to accomplish the same tasks. The drop rule applies to all long rods. A 10’, 5wt. matches a 9’ 6wt, and a 10’ 3wt. handles the tasks of a 9’, 4wt. With a longer rod, you’ve just gotten a bit finer in the fine and far off game.

9. Versatility

Whether you toss dry flies, throw nymphs, huck streamers or straight Euronymph, a longer rod helps you do it better. Every technique of fly fishing is enhanced with a longer rod. Magnify distance, mending and line control at any situation, and you find you’re a more versatile angler on the water. You get places others can’t get to, or control drag in spots where others can’t. With a long rod, the river just got smaller, and you just opened up new opportunities. That’s versatility.

10. Annoy Your Friends with Your Ability To Catch Fish

When you grab the long rod, your effectiveness on the water rises exponentially, just like your ability to mend, ability to cast farther, ability to handle smaller tippet and ability to control your line. That’s a long list of upgrades, without even practicing! Imagine how much more you’ll want to fish when you’re catching more.

The Missoulian Angler has the largest selection of long rods in town. With 10’ and longer from Douglas, Winston, OPST and Echo, we’ve got you covered from standard trout to Euronymphing right through mini skagit. We cover 2 wt through 6 wt, at many price points, and have the rod you need when you’re ready to heed physics and take the mechanical advantage to the water.