Jan 18, 2016

Soft Rods and Light Lines

Winter Brownie

Soft Rods and Light Lines a 2 part series.

Part 1: The rods

I have always had an affinity for soft, smooth fly rods, rods and lines that were a joy to cast, that kept you from being in a hurry and that often resulted in fish. For me, fly fishing started on a whippy fiberglass rod, a Daiwa I think, and a Martin reel handed down from my dad. I really began to learn how to cast on that rod, and maybe that feel has stuck with me till today.

Winter Trout'in
The modern fly fishing world is full of catch phrases like “high tech, high modulus, fast action, ultimate performance” etc, etc… which is all fine and good, but is that always what you really want in a trout rod? I tend to think not. Many would argue with me, which is fine, to each their own, but give me a medium to soft rod, an appropriately weighted line and put me on an intimate trout stream and I am in heaven! Not only will you be able to make nice, delicate presentations, but you will fight fish in a much more enjoyable way and lose less fish! Soft rods have all the give you need to keep fished hooked and to protect the lightest of tippets. OK, you probably have heard all of that. Here is where I deviate from the standard soft rod talk; I like medium to soft rods for everything, including streamers. You will have to adjust your cast, get the right line, but in the end you will have a rod that you can do it all with. A nice medium 5 or 6wt will allow you to fish with anything. Throw a size 4 streamer in the morning, nymph during the day, and get the midges out there delicately in the evening.

In the shop we often talk about rods that we would never part with, that we would be buried with, rods that have soul and that speak to us. I have 5-6 trout rods that certainly fall into that category, and you guessed it, they are all medium action graphite, glass or bamboo rods, and most have the name “Winston” on them.

If you have never fished a softer rod, you owe it to yourself to try one. I recommend you start with glass, as it is the most easily accessible and the easiest on the wallet. The revamped Fenwick Fen Glass rods, which we just received in the shop, blew all of us away. These are by far the lightest and most balanced glass rods on our rack, and just a joy to cast. Built on the newest S-Glass technology, they have a rod for every scenario; the lineup amazingly includes 3 to 8wts! Grab the 3wt for a high mountain stream or take the 8 out for steelhead or bass. Whatever you do, take a dip back into simpler times with a modern glass rod!

If you are having a hard time adjusting your cast or transitioning from fast rods, the Winston Boron III-LS, G Loomis NRX LP, Sage Circa and Scott G2 rods are perfect for you. You are still going to get that classic smooth feel, but with modern light graphite and exceptional performance. All of these rods have a reserve of power for when you need it, and with the Winston, a boron flavored butt section is to thank for that. These rods are awesome, and really what any “modern” trout-oriented fly rod should be like. We definitely have more people choose trout rods like these over faster rods after casting them side by side.

Now let’s say you have tried all of that, or you want to connect to a time before high tech. Enter cane. Rod tapers so well known they are named after their creators: Leonard, Payne, Garrison and Powell to name a few. Rod shops and builders as famous as coliseums and Greek gods: Winston, Orvis, Thomas & Thomas, Morgan, Brackett and Oyster. A historically designed taper and well-crafted bamboo rod is the closest feeling I have had to pure fly fishing joy. They cast like an extension of your body and they absolutely come alive when you hook a fish. Even a little 10 incher will give you a rush. You will find yourself giggling like a school girl when you fish cane. This grass, and yes bamboo is a grass, the best of which grows in only one region of Asia and given the name Tonkin, has the perfect attributes for a fly rod: strength, flexibility and quick recovery. Do yourself a favor and see what the fuss is all about. You only live once!

Most bamboo rods require patience to acquire and often involve wait lists. I waited 3 years for my first… That’s why we at the Gorge Fly Shop keep some on hand, just to fulfill your cane desire. The Winston shop has carried on the tradition of building beautiful and smooth casting bamboo passed down through many generations of world class rod builders and innovators. Check out our current selection here of R.L.Winston Bamboo. We can all relate to the impulse buy, especially for something as far fetched as a bamboo fly rod, so we decided to keep some on hand to help you get your fix. If you are looking for the ultimate gift for the fly fisher in your life or for the person that has it all, a Winston bamboo is it.

Part 2: The lines

We live in a remarkable time as fly fishers. Fly line design has gotten to the point where you can find the perfect line for any rod and any application. The downside is that the number of choices can become daunting. I will try my best to keep it simple when it comes to lines for medium to soft trout rods. For the past few years it has been a pretty simple equation for me. If you had a medium to soft 8’6” or longer rod, go with the RIO Trout LT in a WF (weight forward), and if you had a shorter rod go with the DT (double taper). These lines are appropriately weighted for softer rods, have a nice long taper that casts beautifully, and they roll cast well in tight quarters, especially the DT. Don’t be fooled though, you can easily chuck a big bugger or sculpin with these lines! But the real beauty of this line is in accurate, delicate presentations; from dry flies to small streamers.

RIO LightLine
I was very excited to hear that Rio was releasing another line choice in the soft rod game; the LightLine. This line is perfectly weighted to load medium to soft rods from graphite to cane. I have had a chance to fish the DT (Double Taper) version on my glass, classic Winston graphite and Sweetgrass bamboo and let me say it is phenomenal. The taper is built to traditional standards of weight and length; these rods were often built around the limited availability of lines at the time. The line lands so softly that the fly can make a bigger splash than the line. It floats down at the end of your forward stroke like a feather. The DT in particular is a wonderful line to roll cast with too. DT lines have fallen from the limelight as fast modern graphite has become the norm, but make no mistake, they are wonderful to cast. The extended rear taper helps you keep your casts subtle and helps load the rod for a roll cast at any reasonable distance.

If you have a medium-soft rod (and you should) and live anywhere near small streams and spring creeks, from the Northeast limestones, Driftless spring creeks, or high mountain streams of the West you need to try this line. The taper has enough weight in the front to quickly load your rod for casting in tight quarters. It will seriously load up with 10ft of line out or even less. If you are familiar with the old Sage quiet taper lines, then you will dig this one. I would have loved to have this line as I cut my teeth learning the myriad of spring creeks in the SW Wisconsin and NE Iowa; that’s for sure!

With ice on the guides!

My final words on these lines, both the Rio Trout LT and the Light Line, and soft rods in general are this: slow down… Take your time; get in a rhythm with the creek, your rod and the fish. Relax your tempo, take a chill pill, take a step back and remember why you enjoy fly fishing in the first place.

Ryan Van Duzor
Gorge Fly Shop | Product Specialist

"Fly Fish the World with Us"


  1. Ryan - “The Driftless” in Minnesota is currently the closest thing I have to “home waters” for trout. I never, ever expected to see the region mentioned on this blog. Very Cool! But, it’s TOTAL unfair to include a photo of that little creek flowing beside a limestone wall AND a giant silver steelie in the same post.

    Thanks for writing about softer rods. I spent last year learning to cast left-handed instead of right, and found that a guide’s softer rod was helpful in getting the feel of things. That event started a whole obsessive/compulsive episode with “moderate actions”… Gratuitous link, http://fading-angler.blogspot.com/2015/09/headhunter-or-headcase.html

    To keep things reasonable, I ended up with a Redington Butter Stick in 4 wt with the Rio Trout LT you mentioned. Sadly, I was so focused on my new left-handed efforts that I haven’t used this new rig much, other than casting for lawn trout. I might have to try heading down to the Root River or one of the little spring creek tributaries this weekend if the temps creep back up into the 20’s.

    If you ever find yourself back in Driftless country, let me know. Maybe we can chat about those steelhead you folks have out there. Someday…


    1. Thanks for the note, sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Have fun in the Driftless this spring!

  2. I have to agree with you on cane rods. I now rebuild and restore them and find it is all that I want to fish. I find that they are very comfortable to use too. ( easier on my shoulder too)

  3. Ryan - would you recommend a DT or WF on a Redington Butterstick?

    1. Hey Brian, I would definitely go with the DT. I think you will find that it smooths out your short casts and will roll cast much better. Plus you can flip it when you wear one side out!

  4. very nice article i appreciate it fenwick fly rods every people to very help full to users :)


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