Balance: Rod - Reel - Line
Once again, the general rule to follow is: match fly rod weight with fly line weight, with fly reel weight. If this is so simple, then why do I see so many anglers with un-balanced outfits?
Avoid the follow mistakes while in a store shopping for a rod, reel, line outfit:
- Most anglers will pick up a rod, without a spooled reel on it, and wiggle and flex it. Then they'll say things like, "I like the action." Folks, sorry to say, this does very little and some would say, absolutely nothing. The only way you can effectively determine how a rod will feel and flex, is to attach an appropriately weighted reel and line, and then cast it on a lawn, or better yet, on the water. By casting a rod, you'll feel the rod's action and determine if the action is best suited for the conditions you'll be fishing; and also match the action of the rod to your preferred casting stroke (i.e. tight loops vs. open loops). You'll also have the best chance to determine the balance of the outfit. However, a problem associated with this process is that many stores will attach a fly reel and fly line that is not properly balanced for the rod. In fact, many stores will put on a low-cost heavier reel and cheap line because they really don't like folks test driving expensive light weight reels. Bottom line, if you plan to fish with this outfit for many years, if not a lifetime, you should test your rod with a balanced rod-reel-line set-up. PS. I let all my students test my personal fly rods. It gives them a chance to feel what perfect balance is all about. The feedback from students is nothing less than amazement (they all want to buy my set-ups).
- After the beginner angler has flexed the rod while in the store, he/she will then review potential reel choices. Most people will make their choice based on the retailers suggestions and their budget. Chances are, the conversation will be dominated by the strength of the drag system and the features of large arbor spools. Another note worthy comment, even if you wanted something different, these days, most stores only carry large arbor reels. Here's the truth, when trying to achieve a balanced outfit, the drag strength and the arbor size, has very little to do with it (especially with rods 1wt-6wt). Instead, focus on the weight of the reel, the quality of the parts (screws, plastic vs. metals, etc), and the ease of use (easy turning knobs, easy changing spare spools, etc). For example: I have used rods and reels, that would be considered heavy by today's standards, that were perfectly balanced, and caused no casting fatigue. On the other hand, I have used super light weight rods, with modern large arbor (heavier) reels that were not balanced well (caution: with poor casting mechanics, this may cause casting fatigue, and even injury).
- You have picked out your rod, then your reel, and now it's time to buy fly line. For some folks, this is when sticker shock sets in. As a result, most people end up buying the cheapest line possible. I would strongly recommend reversing the process entirely. In other words, buy the highest quality line possible. But, before buying your line, focus on the water that you'll be fishing, and any factors that would lead you one way or another (WF vs. DT, Floating vs Sinking, etc). By doing so, you'll simultaneously determine the weight of both the fly line and fly rod (and, possibly the action of the fly rod). Once you have picked out your fly line, you now have the ability to selectively choose which rod and reel are weighted properly to give you the desired feel and balance. Be vigilant about achieving balance because, for example, a 5wt rod and a 5wt reel, although suggested by the manufacture to match properly, may not achieve perfect balance. Even complete rod-reel-line outfits marketed and sold by top manufacturer's, may not achieve optimal balance. In the end, if you can place one or two fingers at or near the end of the cork grip (away from the reel), and achieve a level rod, then your entire outfit should be balanced.
- I use light weight click-pawl reels on rods 1-6wt (no drags). I believe the need for a drag system on these reels is absolutely unnecessary. On rods 6wt-10wt, I use mid-arbor reels because I am not convinced the function/performance and the extra $ for large arbor reels is necessary.
- I generally pick the lightest reel and size it one size down. For example: On a 9ft 5wt rod, I will use a 4wt reel. I will then add 6wt line to this set up. Due the larger diameter of the 6wt line and the smaller arbor of the 4wt reel, I will need to add less backing than the manufacturer's recommended guidelines. With my method, to achieve perfect balance, it may take several attempts of spooling and un-spooling line. For me, achieving perfect balance is worth the extra time and effort.