So, just how many fly rods do you need?

So, just how many fly rods do you need?
Harry Pippin and I had some banner days with carp on Prettyboy Reservoir using 8-weight fly tackle and hair and foam bugs. (Bill May photo)

I was standing in the fly fishing section of the venerable L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine, trying to gauge the action of an 8-weight fly rod when a man sidled up to me and whispered in a conspiratorial voice, "I've convinced my wife I need a rod in every weight made."

Then he disappeared.


"Fly rod nut," I said to myself.

Last fall, over 25 years later, I inventoried the rods in my basement and found fly rods in every weight from a 3-weight through a 13-weight, often with multiples for the same weight. There are several explanations for this situation: A. Karma. B. As flyfishing writer John Gierach observed, "For fly fishermen, "want" and "need" are synonymous." C. A recent scientific discovery emerged showing that graphite, glass or bamboo fly rods, when left alone in the dark, will breed in captivity.

In my mind the logical choice is "C."

With the help of eBay I have thinned my graphite forest considerably. But the question remains: How many fly rods does a serious fisherman in our area need? The real answer — admittedly a bit of a copout — is, "It all depends."

Fly fishing possibilities in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic area range from 5-inch brook trout to marlin and sharks weighing hundreds of pounds. Clearly this calls for a range of tackle. But let's see if we can whittle things down to a reasonable number. I suggest two rods, a 5-weight and an 8-weight, both 4-piece, 9-foot graphite rods, can meet 90 percent of likely fishing situations.

Fly rods are rated by the weight of the line they cast, the higher the number, the heavier the rod.

The rod serves two purposes, first to cast the line and the fly (and sometimes auxiliary items like split shot an indicators) and, second, to fight the fish. Graphite is the most versatile material for lightness, cost and performance. A good graphite rod can handle lines a full size or more than the line the rod is rated for. If you fly or take a fly rod aboard a boat (or are a bit of a klutz) the extra cost of a 4-piece rod is well worth it.

The 5-Weight Rod

This is the choice for trout, shad and a variety of panfish including bluegills and crappies. The basic line should be a quality floating, weight-forward line. (No they're not cheap but will last for years if properly cared for.) I've been using an Orvis line for years and like its combination of distance and delicate delivery. The cliché, largely true, is that the reel on a light fly rod serves mainly to hold the line and backing. A reel with a click and pawl drag and capacity for 50 to 100 yards of 20-pound Dacron backing will suffice, but it must take auxiliary spools.

This outfit will cast dry flies, wets, nymphs, small streamers and panfish poppers and can handle the added burdens of indicators and various types of small weights like split shots. Despite what you may have read elsewhere this outfit will also be perfectly adequate to the many new (not really) forms of nymphing such as Czech nymphing, high stick nymphing, bounce nymphing, etc.

The best line for hickory shad and for some forms of trout fishing with nymphs and streamers is a sinktip line. Teeny sinktip lines are a wonder to cast with; the 5-foot sinktip is often the best choice. However, clip-on lines made by Orvis, and probably other companies, that attach between the end of the floating line and the leader, can fill this niche need. The clip-ons typically come in 5-foot and 10-foot lengths and are easily added and removed using loop-to-loop attachments. A slight "hinging" can occur in the standard cast with these; slowing the backcast and forward cast and opening the loop slightly smooths out the cast.

In bigger, faster waters with bigger trout, such as one encounters in the West (or Western Maryland) you might consider two additional lines on separate spools. The first is a full sinking line of approximately 160 grains for fishing streamers. The second is a floating 6-weight line for fishing with big indicators and heavy shot for nymphing fast water. This line can also handle most bass flies for Potomac smallmouths.

A packaged 71/2-foot leader tapered to a 3x loop with a 2-to-6-foot tippet of 4X to 6X completes this rig.

The 8-Weight Rod


This rod is ideal for stripers, redfish, black drum, sea trout, flounder, largemouth and smallmouth bass, carp, catfish, snakeheads, pickerel, bluefish, pike, bonefish, big trout, salmon, small tarpon and can be used for panfish. Medium to medium/fast action is the most versatile, and high modulus graphite gives more power. The reel is critical for this rig; it should have a good, disc drag system, be capable of holding 150 or more yards of 20 to 30-pound Dacron backing, and have interchangeable spools. The basic line should be a weight forward 8-weight floater. An overloaded line of a 9 or 10 weight allow casting of extremely large, bushy surface bugs. A full sinking line of 250 to 350 grains will be the primary salt water line. I recommend Wulff floating lines and a Teeny T300 for the sinking line.

Leaders are critical, too. An 8 to 10-foot leader with a stout butt section allows smooth casting and turnover for weighted streamers, like Clouser minnow patterns, and big surface bugs. A good basic leader formula calls for a 4-foot section of 50-pound mono, then a 2-foot section of 40-pound, a 1-foot section of 30-pound, then a 2-foot tippet of 20-pound mono or fluorocarbon. Longer, finer leaders will be needed for bonefish, trout and some other species. A 4 to 5-foot section of 20 to 30-pound mono or fluorocarbon will suffice for sinking lines in most cases.

A basic selection of Clouser Minnow and Lefty's Deceiver patterns, poppers and hair bugs will meet a wide variety of fresh water and saltwater applications.

Bill May is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 or