The Best Rod Ever

David Anderson sizes up his small-stream fly rod collection

I can’t remember when or why President Obama suggested “we need to avoid circular firing squads,” but it’s a quote that often rings between my ears when I’m asked — frequently — to recommend the best fly rod for small streams. Really, it’s an impossible question that ignores all the variables like stream size, fish size, fly size and ego size, and despite years of trial and error, I can’t even answer for myself. That said, and with fear of acute lead poisoning foremost in my mind, and hoping my wife never sees it, I will put forward the following list of my own rods and why they should be on any shortlist for best ever small-stream fly rod. DON’T ARGUE While as little as a decade ago I might have actually directly answered by categorically stating my now 30-year-old Scott G series 7'6" 2-weight — my first twig rod — was the best, it’s now been twice superseded by the G2 and the new G series — oddly not called the G3. This retro-done-right revelation is my first choice for no agenda flicking in almost any small stream in fine weather. With single dry flies up to size 12 or light nymph and indicator rigs on shorter tippets it is accuracy and happiness defined. As much as I love the original, the replacement is absolutely a better rod thanks to the best in modern graphite and my new yardstick for feel in light line rods. I also have the bigger, slightly beefier though equally sweet brother in the Scott G 8'4" 3-weight. This has replaced longer 2-weights in my collection for meadow streams and fishing light lines on larger streams and even proper rivers. The main reason being that the 3-weight line will hold up the large hoppers of late autumn or the heavier nymphs of early spring far more easily than any 2-weight, yet still maintain the intimacy of a light rod and line. I like to think of it as the ‘big twig’ and find it the best choice for quick pick-up-and-lay-down casts in the 30- to 50-foot range over open water. Really, only high head-winds give it any grief. In 3-weights, all-rounders and probably my most likely ‘if you could only have one rod for any water for the rest of your days’ rod is the very punchy little 7'6" Sage X 3-weight. No, I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners because, though forgiving for its speed, it’s still a very fast little stick and to get the most out of it in-tight or at ranges that would embarrass most other rods this size, requires above basic casting skill and a level of concentration not required in the slow lane. That said, it effortlessly goes from accurate confined-space flicking to banging out 70- or 80-foot casts to the head of the pool above the pool in front of you with a single haul. Wind? Who cares, it’s simply not an issue. I closed out my final trips of last season fishing miniature Tongariro nymph and glo-bug rigs on fairly long tippets across small, open water where most casts were beyond 50 feet, and I really enjoyed the way this little weapon turned everything over with line speed more like a 5-weight. As much as I love Sage’s fast rods, and have for years used them almost exclusively in 5-weight and above, I’ve also always enjoyed their slower models and my now long-gone 7'9" Circa 3-weight remains the rod (right after the 9' 4-weight) I most regret trading in to get my mitts on the next latest and greatest. It really was that good. Hopefully, however, the crying will have stopped by the time you read this because after trying the new ‘Trout LL’ in 9' 5-weight (reviewed in this issue) through the off-season, I ordered the 3-weight straight away and look forward to keeping its beautiful action bent and busy around Northeast Victoria through the remainder of summer. GLASS AND A HALF I love glass fly rods. I love the way they euphorically go about the business of being almost as efficient as graphite, and the way they slow a cast down to the point where it defies gravity. I love the way the whole day slows down when fishing them. Unfortunately, I’ve also found anything much over 7 feet is really starting to fall down, and I’ve even cast a couple of rods in the 8- to 9-foot range (in higher line weights) that left me swearing like Gordon Ramsey at a plate of overcooked noodles. Sure, it’s all personal preference, and I love swearing, but for me the sweet spot has always been around 7-foot for a 3-weight, whether it’s one of the brilliant slower blanks like a Kabuto on a custom build or any of the now three generations of Scott F series rods. All have felt like the best option. Or, at least that was the case until I tried the new Scott F 5'8" 3-weight and had to rearrange my opinions on very short fly rods. It’s the fly fishing equivalent of that one fast and hard working little dude on a basketball team, getting the job done despite giving a foot and a half away to all the giants around him. Like longer glass blanks, this one has a lot of feel, but there’s more line speed and the most direct connection between hand and rod tip of any of my rods, past or present. It’s also WAY better than a normal glass rod if the wind kicks up, and effortlessly and thoughtlessly accurate in the tightest creeks imaginable. If it has a weak point over its bigger brothers, it’s that it takes a minute to dial into the rhythm of the action to get the most out of it. Once you get there though… CHEAP AS CHIPS At this point, I should point out that if you find all these options seismically expensive, for around $400 you can take the king of the Koreans, a Vision Onki 3-weight onto any creek and be comfortable in the knowledge that only your casting ability, and not the rod, is holding you back. Also, for around half that price, I’ve tried a couple of Airflo 3-weights that are probably keeping a few marketing people from other rod brands up at night, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one for beginners or as a budget option to get the kids started in fly. And finally, in the cheap as chips glass rod category, I will say that if the quality of a day on the creek was measured solely in pounds of brown trout landed, my best day ever on a small stream anywhere was in a little known South Island ditch with the humble little 6'6" 3-weight Redington Butter Stick. The way a 4-pounder bends it in half and right up through your elbow is bargain basement bliss. LINES Of course, all this talk of rods would be pointless without matching up lines, and I use two more than anything else. They are the WF RIO Perception with the low stretch ‘In Touch’ core which seems to level all the little rods out by rounding the hard corners off the fast ones and adding distance to the slow ones without over-lining them; and my new-this-season WF Scientific Anglers ‘Amplitude’ MPX. It’s as slippery as they come and fair hammers its entire 90-foot length through the guides on the fast little Sage X. As these lines don’t come in 2-weight or below, I use a RIO double taper ‘LL’ line on both the original and new Scott G’s STOP PRESS And finally, in the rods I really want to try but haven’t got my hands on yet category — I’ve just been sent a new Orvis Helios 3 in the mid length 8'4" 3-weight. (There’s also a twiggier 7'6" and a mine-is-bigger-than-yours 10'6".) If they’re even close to as light in the hand and accurate as the 5-weight I briefly cast at last years IFTD show in Orlando, it could be very special indeed. Expect a full review soon!

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