The Long Rod Saga

Kaj (Bushy) Busch goes long and light for Snowy Mountains trout

It’s no secret that Dave Longin and I have been using really long, light fly rods around the Snowy Mountains lakes for a few years (see FL#81). I guess these rods are a little different — well maybe a lot different — in that most folks just haven’t seen a 13½-footer designed to take a regular 5-weight fly line. Actually we have rods for WF#4 and WF#6 lines as well. The rods are the product of a very simple concept, and they perform in a very easy and simple way. It’s probably fair to assume that many anglers lump all long rods into a similar category and imagine they are used for Spey casting or designed with some form of weird line in mind. These particular rods are designed to cast stock-standard weight-forward fly lines, and we usually use a basic upright, or close to it, stroke. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t come up with some obscure type of cast and perform it with the rod if you wanted to. Reactions have been somewhat surprising. Most other fly fishers just think we are crazy, which is a fair call. After all, millions of trout have been successfully caught on rods around 9 feet long to suit these lines. This will continue to be the case and the rest of the world doesn’t really need 13½-foot 5-weight double-handed fly rods. We are not out to change the way anyone else fishes, and we are certainly not shooting any bullets at tackle companies selling shorter double handers or switch rods designed for other purposes. Most of the positive interest has come from anglers watching Dave on the lakes casting way too far with little effort and dragging way too many trout in to the bank. It surprises me that so many people do seem interested in something that’s so left field. HISTORY Perhaps a brief history of the rods might be in order. One night I was standing on an ocean wharf with a crazed fly fisher (Dave) and he was casting with a 14-foot double handed fly rod and working a huge iridescent fly for jewfish. Dave suggested that I have a cast with his outfit. I declined. I had long suspected that double handed fly rods were the work of the Devil and I really was a long way from being interested. Anyway, Dave made me cast the stupid double hander — I slid a bunch of line off the water — shot a bit more into the back-cast and felt the rod load up — and then a funny thing happened. And this is stone cold true. In between the rod loading up and then blasting some fearful amount of running line into the darkness I had a real Eureka moment. I handed the rod to Dave and said, “We need a rod that will do this with the same lines we use on our 9-foot trout rods — no trout will be safe.” After that, the project was fairly straightforward — sort of. I made fly rods from 10'6", right through to a whopping 17 feet long. To keep the story short — 10'6" was okay when casting single handed, but tiring to use on a long session, and at this length double handed casting doesn’t really work. Between 10'6" and 12 feet I could cast one handed, but it was a bit tiring — I could certainly cast double handed, but loading the rods properly with our light standard trout lines took too much concentration and effort. At 13 feet the magic started to happen — fairly slow, easy movements of both hands made casting easy and the increased tip speed generated by the extra length of the rod made the line really zing. I suppose this is just basic mathematics — if you look at a giant wind turbine, the bit near the centre is travelling quite slowly, but add a bit of length to the system and check the speed at the tip. Yep — it goes amazingly fast. Between 13 feet and 13'6" provides a good synergy between easy double handed casting and the right tip speed to cast a standard weight-forward line. This would probably be different for skandies and skagits and all the other trick lines on the planet, but for the standard, light, weight-forward lines I want to catch trout with, thirteen-six works brilliantly with the materials we have available for rod construction at present. The rods longer than 14 feet were interesting and I made some that cast like hell — caught plenty of fish on them too — but they were just too heavy and cumbersome to be worth fishing with in the long term. New materials might change my mind, but rods longer than 14 feet for light trout fishing just seemed a bit clumsy, even for someone with a warped brain, and any advantage gained by going over thirteen-six seemed pretty minimal to me. It took me about twelve months to make some good prototypes, which I would have been happy enough to keep fishing with, but Dave badgered me into going one step further and he pulled some strings to get a few blanks made to our recipe in a proper factory. These were pretty good and we are still using them. Okay, so now we had some 13'6" fly rods for casting light lines. Most fly fishers would be thinking — well, so what? Again, fair call, but there is a bit more to the story. ADVANTAGES We need to go back to the high wharf to really see why I got so excited about half a cast. Dave had already made a cast before he handed me the rod, so all I had to do was slide into the back cast and then let it rip. What got my attention was the fact that I had lifted the whole head out of the water without hitting the front of the pier, and then I had been able to get the back cast high enough to go over the top of the hand rail behind me on the other side of the wharf. This cast would have been impossible with a standard length single-handed rod. My mistake in the early days was that I had only ever cast double-handers on a flat paddock where a shorter rod is just as good. I thought our new rods would be pretty good when wading, to keep the line above rocks, thistles, high grass and bushes — and they were good. Pretty soon we just forgot that the rods were long and we used them from our boats; for fishing 20-foot leaders with three #16 midge pupae; for fishing single #20 dry midge patterns on 3 lb tippets; and, shock horror, we used them for polaroiding. Sorry to sound like Johny Appleseed — but that is just what happened. Are we nuts? Probably — but we have never caught as many fish as we do now, or had as much fun doing it. Oh, yeah — I have since been told by several anglers that it is impossible to net a trout when fishing with a 13'6" rod from a boat! Luckily Dave and I didn’t know this. The long rods do not have magic powers and they will not cast further than the short ones — what they will do is deliver a decent long cast very easily and with a minimum of false casts. The rods are ideal for casting very long leaders with multiple flies, and you just don’t hook obstacles of any kind on the back cast. The things just keep on bending when you hook a fish, and you have to do something outrageous to break a light tippet. Fishing at short ranges is easy, although there are times when you have to take a step backwards in order to ‘dabble’ the fly in front of a really close fish. Having your flies whistling past your head about four feet higher than normal is also a good thing — no more sticking a streamer into your ear or hitting yourself with a tungsten bead if the wind direction is a bit dodgy. Mending line is dead easy and striking a fish on a dry fly at the end of a long cast is definitely easier with the long rod. Fly fishing in theory is always easy, but things are different when you are actually trying to do it for real. If you are fishing midges in spring at Eucumbene — for sure, the wind will be blowing over your right shoulder, you will be wading deep to get past the thistle line, and there will be a steep thistle-studded bank behind you. All you need to do is cast 70 feet to that bunch of rising fish you can see, and unroll a long leader with three flies on it. Can you do it? You probably could if you had a crazy long, light double hander. And you would do it by rolling the head out of the water and firing the whole shebang out there in one go — with no false casts! DISADVANTAGES Surely there must be some disadvantages to such long mad rods, and there are some things that are really annoying. The worst of them is getting a tip-wrap just before you get started on a cast. I think this probably happens a bit more frequently with a long rod, and because thirteen-six is sooo long, you just have to put the reel end on the ground and walk all the way to the tip to untangle things. If you are fishing from a boat and the rod is longer than the boat, this can be both annoying and comical at the same time. After a while you just learn to keep a bit of pressure on the leader and try not to wobble the rod around too much when you are not actually fishing. I once busted a foot off the tip of one of my rods by horsing a big rainbow up the bank. I got a bit carried away and high-sticked the rod once too often. The remedy to that was simple enough: now I just lay the rod over and make sure the butt is never more than 90 degrees from the tip. I still horse them up the bank — I am just a bit smarter about it now. Dragging the fish close to a boat for netting requires a bit of high-sticking, but so far we haven’t managed to break a rod doing it. I suppose that the length gives us so many advantages that we have learned to live with any problems. If the rods didn’t perform they would be long gone by now and in the dump bin with all the other items on the Dave and Bushy hit list of failed leader materials, reels, floatants, nets, lines, waders, vests and hooks. Lots of things are gone — the long rods are still here. NOT SO WEIRD You can probably see now that the rods aren’t actually all that weird — just long — but if you happen to see one in the flesh a couple of things might look a bit strange. The first guide sits snugly at the front of the fore grip. Traditional double handers use heavy fat lines and they take a bit of holding before you shoot line. The lines we use on our rods are thin and light and you can hold them with one finger when loading the rod. With the stripper guide placed low on the rod next to the grip you can always find the line with one finger, even if it escapes in mid cast. Trapping the line against the cork makes holding the line easy and shooting-distance is not affected by the positioning. The other thing that looks a bit strange is the position of the reel. Heavy double handers need big heavy reels and the best place for them is low on the rod. We only need standard light fly reels, and putting them a bit higher up just works better. I guess this little story has just been an attempt to tell it like it is. A couple of old farts using weird gear is not going to change the world of fly- fishing, and that’s just not on our agenda anyway. Don’t be alarmed, the fly-fishing police will not pass a law that makes long silly rods compulsory any time soon. And in our defence, fly fishing was already pretty weird before we made the rods longer and even wobblier — if that is even a word!

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