Fly-fishing Essentials

Rods & Reels

Fishing Equipment

This is the reason you're going out there, right? So you need to be as judicious about what fishing equipment you bring as you are with the backpacking items. I always inspect my gear before packing. I look for nicks and cuts in my fly-line. I check the reel to make sure it functions smoothly. I give the rods the once-over to ensure guides are unbroken and smooth, and that the blank has no cracks. Here's what you should think about:


What kind of rod should you bring? Notice I didn't say"rods." There is no need to haul around a closetful of rods just because backcountry fishing has slightly different outfit requirements. No one rod is going to fit every situation, but in general, a longer rod will cover most conditions — an 8- to 9-foot rod in a 4 or 5 weight; either a two-piece or multipiece. I like the extra length an 8 1/2- or 9-foot rod gives me, since so much of backcountry stream fishing involves dapping the fly while hiding behind brush or trees. A longer rod gives you better line control, longer reach, and is better for nymph fishing. A longer rod also roll casts easier and loads well.

For fishing most high lakes, a nine-foot, 6 weight rod is the best outfit. Though a shorter 4, 5, or 6 weight travel rod will work fine, a longer rod is better for the longer casts sometimes required when angling on remote lakes. A longer rod loads well and is best for taking line off the water, especially when casting from a float tube.

Some fly-fishers use travel rods, which come in three or more pieces for compact packing. They used to feel like casting with a CB antenna, but they have come a long way since then. They are no longer whippy and no longer turn at the ferrules. Also, the manufacturers have managed to impart touch and softer action to these put-together rods. Travel rods pack down to less than thirty-two inches in most cases, fit in protective rod tubes, and are perfect for carrying on planes and strapping onto your backpack.

But don't get pigeon-holed into bringing the latest, four-piece, seven-foot, 3-weight, space-age material pack rod if buying one doesn't fit your budget or your style. To be sure, a travel rod that packs down to twenty-seven inches has its place for many backpacking anglers, but just as many prefer a two-piece that fits into a fifty-inch rod tube, which can be used as a walking or wading staff.

What about a short or light rod? Many anglers swear by their shorter rods (six-and-a-half to seven feet), and some have gone to the lightweight rods of 3, 2, and even 1 weight. A shorter rod is great for tight loops and casting into impossible lies. If conditions are windy or you need to cast big, bushy flies, a heavier line can be loaded on. In many cases, they cast better with the heavier line. However, unless you are a superb caster, you'd be better off avoiding these rods. But if a shorter, smaller rod fits your needs and feels comfortable, you'll fish better.


Reels are not as important in the backcountry since you will probably not go into the backing very often (though I hope you do). What you do want in a reel is dependability. Nothing ruins a trip quicker than a jammed or broken reel.

There are a number of lightweight, serviceable, inexpensive models on the market today. A single-action reel is all you will need. I would spend a little extra money to get a mid-priced model that doesn't have plastic inner works, but don't blow your entire budget on a reel that stands a good chance of getting banged around in the backcountry.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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