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?


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.


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.

Trico Nymph

Small Nymphs For Trout

There’s a small but dedicated cadre of nymph fishermen who go small all the time. It seems contra-indicated in Missoula, where you’re surrounded by Salmon Fly, Golden Stone and Skwala nymphs, but we’ve seen the proof, and tiny nymphs work in Missoula. We’re talking about size 18 and smaller, mostly used on a standard nymph rig. They can be used on a euronymph rig, but you’ll need to take extra steps in rigging to get the smaller flies deep enough quickly enough.

We understand the conundrum. You’re standing on the bank of a river that’s 80’ wide. It takes some mental gymnastics to convince yourself that any trout would be looking for food that small. It’s also easy to fall into the mindset of even if the trout are eating them, how are they going to find something 5mm long in such a huge area. But it makes sense to go tiny more often then most of us do, and this is why.

Midges are one of the most prolific insects in any body of water. In Missoula rivers, we tend to focus on them in Winter, when they continue to hatch, and are eaten by the trout on the surface. But the next time you’re on the water in Spring, Fall or Summer, look for midges flying. You’ll find them. The fish don’t care (see Skwala, Salmon and Golden!) but the insects are out and moving. This means the Midge larva are available to trout 365 days a year. Consistent food will find consistent feeders.

There is also a constant supply of tiny mayfly nymphs year round as well. When a mayfly lays its eggs, it lays anywhere from 100-500. When they hatch, they are close to microscopic, and of little value to the fish. But there are a lot of them. With some growth, they hit a size 22 and the fish begin to take notice. This is an extremely plentiful food source, and as mayflies hatch from Spring to Fall, this underwater cycle goes on for 9 months as well. Add caddis larva and stoneflies to that same cycle as well, and the trout has a myriad food supply if they can find the correct lie.

The last factor comes into play when you’re fishing hard fished water. When a stream is seeing a lot of anglers, and the fish are getting hooked frequently, they rapidly learn larger food forms are dangerous to their health! Think about the Yellow Breeches in PA, the Farmington in CT and the San Juan or Green River out west. These rivers see 100’s of anglers every day. These highly educated fish have seen it all, and a larger fly simply doesn’t look natural to these fish any longer. But a tiny fly, by definition, has less going on. They’re easier to imitate, and they look more realistic to the trout. When you’re struggling to find a place to access the water due to pressure, you might use your down time to rig tiny for more success.

Tiny nymphs take the same care in rigging as tiny dries. You have to go to light tippet, 5X and thinner. The thinner tippet allows the fly to behave in a more natural way, as well as allowing these lighter flies to sink faster. This is also the place where your microshot comes into play. This type of fishing is way too subtle for a B or BB size lead weight- you need to get your tiny weight out, and rig accordingly. The large lead is simply too dramatic with a smaller fly, dragging the nymph in an unrealistic way along the bottom. Because the rig is so lightweight, scale your indicator down as well. You don’t need a ¾” inch Thing-A-Ma-Bobber to hold these flies up, and on hard fished waters a smaller, lighter indicator is so much less intrusive.

Depth control is crucial with tiny nymphs. While a trout may roam 2-3 feet to take a Salmon Fly nymph, they’re not going to move far to take a 5mm insect. You need to put these flies directly in front of the trout, or they’re not going to eat them. The energy expenditure is too great for the calories taken in. “Foam is Home” is never so important as when fishing tiny. The foam you see on the surface tells you where the currents are coming together in the river, which in turn tells you where the majority of food will be. Get your indicator in the foam line and let it ride.

Classic depth of your nymph is 1.5 times the depth of the water. But when going tiny, use a bit more length from your indicator. Tiny flies don’t sink all that rapidly, even with microshot, so they don’t stretch out tippet as well as a larger fly does. The extra length allows the fly to reach the depth needed to take fish. The only time this might not apply is if you’re using a small perdigon in your rig. Perdigons, with their tungsten bead and coated bodies, sink very rapidly. With a perdigon, you may be able to run less length from your indicator because the sink rate is so much greater. As a rule, tiny flies will require tiny adjustments to your leader to be effective.

Some may be asking why you don’t take a fast sinking fly like a wire worm or Pat’s Rubberlegs and attach it above the smaller fly to get it to sink more rapidly. This technique certainly works in less pressured water, where fish are less apt to shy from a larger bug. But in those high pressure situations, a larger bug may serve to drive the fish away. Also, at least in Montana, the maximum legal number of flies that can be used is two. We prefer to have two effective bugs if we can, so the larger bug is less useful in those situations. Go with two effective bugs, not a single fly and what’s essentially weight.

When you’ve found a likely spot, don’t be in a hurry to move. This is delicate nymphing, and not easy to control because of the light weight. Drag, any drag at all, will keep these flies from sinking. So you might want to make more than a few passes where you think the fish are. Not every presentation is perfect. Allow some wiggle room to make sure your fly is getting to the fish in a natural way, It won’t happen every cast, so make sure you make enough casts that it does actually happen! Drag is the enemy at all times, but its affects are magnified with lighter flies and longer leaders.

It’s so easy to fall into the thought pattern of big flies taking big fish. Which is true in so many times and in so many places. But while it’s a good thought, it’s not the only way to think about what will take trout. Trout are always on the lookout for a consistent food source, and tiny nymphs are there all the time. A constant stream of small food is as good as minimal stream of large food, from a caloric standpoint. If you can broaden your nymph selection to cover the tiny flies that are so abundant in the river, you’re going to find yourself getting into more trout. Plus, think how much fun you’ll have learning that when on a big river, the tiny flies are as effective, if not more so than those size 4 Double Bead Stones!

Buying Your Second Fly Rod

You did it. You bought your first fly rod. You stumbled and suffered through the steep learning curve, and you stuck to it. All the knots that failed, all the flies that mysteriously flew off after someone shot a pistol behind you, those days are past…. mostly. You’ve done some very foolish things, most prominent being borrowing a buddy’s rod. And now you have it. Rod envy. We know, it starts small, but then it begins to build and build. There comes a time when you say to yourself, my best fly fishing in Missoula is only going to be found with a new fly rod. One that I want, and depending on how you roll, is SO much better than your buddy’s!

This is all good. Starter rods have definite limitations, and you’re starting to find them. It means you’re growing as an angler, acquiring new skills to be more effective. You know the old rod works, it simply no longer enhances your experience. The die is cast. You’re on the hunt for a new magic wand. That old 5 wt is being relegated to the back of the closet, or a niece. That’s not clear yet. What is clear is it’s time to make the move.

As you go for rod two, you should be aware that there are so many rod manufacturers out there making high quality rods. They all cast really well. In fact, if you spend over $100, it’s very difficult to find a lousy rod in this day and age- a far cry from 35 years ago when most rods weren’t even decent tent poles! That’s a comforting thought, that you can’t really screw this up too badly.

You’ve done research and know that some rods are fast action (don’t bend as deeply, return to straight more rapidly) and some are slow (flex deeply, takes longer to return to straight). Each rod has it’s advantages and disadvantages. That’s a completely different subject. This is not about why you want fast or slow.. This is about you. Because, truth be told, you don’t actually need a fly rod, you just want one. This is about finding what you want.

Now you’re on safari, searching for the elusive white tiger that will transform your time on the water. Your first move is to set a budget. This very important, and not as much for monetary reasons, though those certainly matter! When buying a car, you don’t go test drive Cadillacs, Mercedes and Ferraris, all while really contemplating buying a Ford or a Subaru. Because when you go to drive the car you’re going to buy, you’re going to think it’s terrible. And we know for a fact its not. But in comparison, its not in the same league, and therefore feels lesser. This applies to fly rods as well.

If you enter a shop and say you want to cast rods, you might end up with a $1200 rod in your hand. And yes, it will be phenomenal. And then every rod you look at after won’t be up to snuff. Set a budget and stick to it. If you have an unlimited budget, our address is 802 S. Higgins!! We’ve been in business for over 30 years and we know some things about tackle. Once you hit a certain point, and for rods its about $300, to get 10% better it costs 50% more. That seems to be a pretty good rule of thumb. Here’s another thought about buying fly rods. The longer it takes to find a fly rod, the more you’re going to spend. The longer you spend looking at fly rods, the more satisfied you’ll be down the road. It’s a trade-off.

We’ve seen this done as well at our Missoula fly shop. A customer is looking for a new fly rod, and has the old standard, a 9’ 5wt. They come into the shop looking to upgrade, but they’re not comfortable about duplicating. They’re thinking about spending $500 or more on a 7 ½” 3wt, or a 9 ½’ 7wt. Both those rods are more specialty sticks when it comes to Montana trout fishing. Why would you spend so much money on an ancillary fly rod, and have your main rod be a less effective tool. Get ready to purchase pretty much the same thing you’ve already got, because it’s your go-to rod. Put your money where you’re going to use it most. It’s why your niece is getting the old one!

When you bought your first rod, you probably had no idea what you were buying. You bought something inexpensive, in case you didn’t like it. You trusted the people who sold it to you, and it worked. You might not have even put it together. This time is different. This time you know what you want. And if you don’t know, you’re going to find out. The only way to find out how a fly rod feels is to cast it. Shaking a fly rod doesn’t get it done. You need to put a line on it and go cast it. That’s the only way to know how its going to perform. If the fly shop doesn’t have a line for you to use, bring your old one.

We’ve seen this happen when traveling or just in other shops. A customer walks in and says they want to buy a fly rod. The salesperson says I know exactly the rod you want, and starts his spiel. Beware! You’re buying this rod because you want to, not because you have to. Sure, the salesperson might be right. But probably not. They haven’t seen you cast, so how can they make a recommendation?  Everyone at the MAngler has their favorite rod, and at some point it’s going to be in your hand. But we’re doing more than handing you rods and saying how good it is. We’re watching you cast, we’re watching your loop, and comparing distance to the other rods you’ve tried. This next bit sounds rude, but it’s not. We don’t care what rod you buy. Our only vested interest is you buy it from us, and you’re happy with your purchase. Many times we sell rods we’re personally not enamored of. Why? Because the customer casts it better than our favorite. We’re not buying the rod, you are! So we watch you cast, and then start matching rods to your preference.

Your Mom always says, don’t fall for the first pretty face that comes by. The same applies to fly rods. Even if the first rod feels like magic in your hands, go cast more. Sure, that rod might be the one, but you’ve got to check. Don’t be swayed by some slick talking salesman or a discount. Do your due diligence. The rod will be there when you go back. And if it’s not, they can order another one! The last thing you want to do is buy the first rod you cast, and then later cast a buddy’s you like much better. That will haunt you every time you use your rod, and the haunting will go up in proportion to how much you spent!

Because you’re doing this to make yourself happy. Its not a chore to go and cast a bunch of rods, it’s a privilege. Go out and enjoy the experience. Have a great time casting each rod. Every time you pick up a new stick, you learn more about your casting. You find out more about likes and dislikes. You hone in on your happy place, and crystalize in your mind exactly what you’re looking for. Because the goal is to find a rod that makes you go “Ooooohhh” every time you fish it. You want a rod that makes you smile when it comes out of the tube, that fills you with confidence every time you take it out to play. Because if it doesn’t, then what’s the point? You have a rod that works- this is about a rod that makes you smile. It will take a little time and a little effort. Trust us, it’s worth it. Having that magic wand, the rod that does it all for you, is such a good feeling on the water. It’s worth the time and effort to make your second rod exactly what you want.