Short Fly Rods: Improve Accuracy, Decrease Fatigue

By Mike Conner

Add short fly rods to your quiver.

short fly rods These three members of the “under nine” club are often on the author’s boat.

You’ve probably heard folks call fly rods buggy whips, right? Those folks probably don’t own a fly rod. Or you’ve heard what is my least favorite nickname—“the long rod.” Well, I hope you don’t work a fly rod like a whip, and some of the fly rods out there aren’t so long.

They can be pretty short in fact. And short can be better, in some situations. I fish a variety of short rods, from 7-foot to 8-foot, 4 inches. Though I won’t make recommendations here regarding manufacturer or rod series (but will mention G. Loomis and Echo) I will address the characteristics insofar as casting goes, suggest adjustments in your casting stroke, and reveal the ideal applications for the rods.

A 9-foot length is considered most practical for all-round Florida saltwater fly fishing. It’s also well-suited for bass bugging. A 9-foot rod helps you keep maximum line in the air for long casts. It helps you pick up an appreciable length of line off the water to recast. It also helps you keep a taut line well above “stickups” such as mangrove shoots on the shallows as you fight a fish. But it is not necessarily better for short- to medium-range casting, and can even be a hindrance in close quarters, such as a tree- or brush-lined pond, mangrove creek, and others. Also, you will discover that most short rods are terrific fighting rods—they are less parabolic if built correctly.

Although there are exceptions to the following generalities, the first thing you’ll notice is that a sub-9-footer feels stiff. Not nearly as much flex as the typical 9-footer. You’ll also be under the impression that it is light in the hand, termed “swing weight,” which makes perfect sense because there’s less blank and fewer guides. Upon casting, you may detect increased line speed over your typical 9-foot rods.

My charter customers, especially beginning fly casters, often feel wrist and forearm fatigue after casting the typical 9-foot, 8- or 9-weight rod, for even a short time. I almost always hand them a short rod to compare, and many prefer them, and some actually cast better from the outset. Most can’t achieve great distance anyway—which an experienced caster can achieve with a 9-foot rod—so the 8-foot to 8 1⁄2-footer is ideal.

short fly rods

Short Rod Places

Florida has lots of inshore “backcountry” with the coastal Everglades a prime example, where mostly short casts of 25 to 50 feet to tight cover are called for. I find short rods to be very accurate, and my favorite 7 1⁄2-foot and 8-foot rods allow me to cast tight loops, especially with the sub-9 foot leaders I like.

I often over-line the rods by one line size when casting my biggest, air-resistant poppers and streamers. Upon hooking up, I can muscle a tough fish from the cover very well with the stiffer, short rod. And once close to the boat, I can fight the fish with the butt, and not be as concerned about mistakenly “high-sticking” which with a more limber 9-footer can result in a snapped top section.

I prefer short rods when docklight fishing for snook and seatrout, or bridge fishing for snook and tarpon, too. When the tide is on the high side, there is a more narrow “window” between the planks and the water. With the shortest of my rods, I can better sidearm a tight loop under the dock. Plus, the casts are short, well under 50 feet, both at the docks or around the bridges where I fish. And in both scenarios, I can turn a good fish from the cover better with the stiff, short rod.

Casting Adjustment

Your timing will be out of whack when you first try a short flyrod. The usual “tug” of your line at the end
of the back cast is less perceptible. The rodtip bends less after the line straightens fully. If you have a fundamentally proper casting stroke, you may notice that as soon as your line and leader straighten on the forward cast, and you grasp the line with your line hand to stop the shoot of line, the fly may slap down on the water hard. That’s the result of increased line speed. Remedy this by slowing down your speed a bit, and applying less power as you push the rod forward.

To achieve the longest casts, the short rod will hinder you a bit. That can be countered by adding the double-haul to your cast. It will put a bit more bend in the tip section, and load the rod to the max for increased line speed. Distance will then come more easily. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine August 2016