My Love-Hate Relationship

A light reel is a good thing, but one that’s too light can throw off the balance of a rod

By Rob Breeding

I have a very nice fly rod, one I long coveted, and finally added to the arsenal a few years back.

The stick in question is a 10-foot 4-weight that is marketed as a specialized nymphing rod. The idea is that the longer rod allows extra control when using short-line nymphing techniques such as high sticking. When nymphing I often have just a few feet of fly line beyond my rod tip, and there’s little or no casting involved. I follow my flies through a run with the rod tip, then pick up the line and with a form that is part roll cast, part fling, drop the flies back at the head of the run to repeat. That long rod helps me keep my fly line off the water, reducing drag.

It’s repetitive, but that’s the point, especially in winter when trout can be a little lethargic. You sometimes need to put the fly in front of a fish again and again, almost annoying it to strike.

But that extra length comes at a cost: weight. That longer rod is heavier than the 9-foot 5-weight that is my go-to rod for most river trout fishing. And I feel that weight if I’m on the water for extended periods.

That’s partially a result of the weight of the rod, but also the weight of the reel. I generally like as light a reel as I can afford on a given rod. With that 5-weight for instance, I use an especially light, undersized reel.

A light reel is a good thing, but one that’s too light can throw off the balance of a rod and make it seem heavy. It relates to the balance point, sometimes referred to as swing weight, of a rod and reel. Some rods are heavier near the tip — or in the case of my nymping rod, longer — and a larger reel moves the balance point where it needs to be.

With my fully lined reel mounted on the rod, I like that balance point to be just ahead of the grip. You can balance the rod on your index finger, try it. Eventually you’ll find the balance point, and if it’s significantly ahead of the grip, that rod is going to feel awkward to cast.

That’s been the case with that 10-footer, despite being a 4-weight. And while I’ve caught plenty of trout with that rod, my fishing buddy, The Professor, gets tired of me whining about it when we retire to the pub at the end of the day.

I dug it out again last week, putting a different reel on it to see if I could improve the balance. I was motivated by a nice fish I lost the day before on that much faster (read stiffer) 5-weight. The fish seemed spent so I applied a little extra pressure to bring it to the net. Just as I leaned in, the fish went the other way and my tippet snapped.

That 10-footer is a much softer rod. Heck, it flexes almost all the way down to the grip. So the next day I took it to the river in hopes it would protect the light tippets that produce more strikes.

It did, kind of. When I hooked a nice fish that noodle buffered every run the trout had to offer. Unfortunately, as I tried to ease the fish toward the net the rod just kept bending and the fish stayed out of reach. I finally horsed the trout close, but with that rod warped in the shape of a cursive C I had no control.

Then the fish made one last run, right between my legs. I could only watch as it looped the leader around my ankle and was gone.

Another round of purgatory may be in order for that 10-footer.