Although lighter nymphing rods (like a 10’ 3 weight) are becoming more popular, I still receive comments from folks telling me how unethical it is to play bigger trout with such a light rod tip. Their rational is lighter rods, like a 3 weight, lack the backbone to quickly land a big fish. I appreciate their comments since they believe the approach I’m advocating today would further stress out a fish. And I felt this way for years while growing up in central PA, the Capitol of snide remarks about light rods. If it wasn’t a heavier five weight, it didn’t “belong.”
My beliefs changed when, at a Trout Unlimited meeting, I met Floyd Frank. Floyd was one of my early casting mentors and a man who was willing to “constructively” call one to task. He was speaking, for an entire hour, about how to play a fish. I couldn’t imagine anyone speaking that long on a subject that should have taken fifteen minutes, tops, but Floyd taught at the Joan Wulff Fly Fishing School and studied under the legend Lee Wulff, so I listened (an underrated practice for anyone who wants to get better at anything). It was the one of the best lessons I ever got.
Floyd believed that the angler has two levers to work with while playing a fish:
1) The limper and less powerful tip section of the rod for cushioning powerful runs or head shakes with lighter tippet.
2) The stouter and more powerful butt section of the rod was used to apply the greatest amount of force.
Floyd emphasized the greater the bend in the rod -the less power the angler was applying to the fish. This sounds counter intuitive, but as the bend in the rod increases, the angler is actually applying LESS force on the fish. Instead, the bend, not the angler, is fighting the fish. When an angler lifts the rod tip vertical and a full bend occurs, only a small percentage of the potential fish playing energy is actually applied.
Now take a common, softer action, 10’ 3 weight nymphing rod with that same vertical position (i.e. high rod tip position with full flex). The rod, because it’s softer and lighter, has less lifting power when it goes into a full bend. The full bend may be necessary at the end of the fight when the fish is brought to the net, but it offers little advantage when the angler applies force to increase fatigue on the fish. If the angler using a 10’ 3 weight rod applies nothing but the softer tip to play the fish, it’s going to take longer to tire that fish than it would with a stouter 5 or 6 weight rod.
However, the thick butt sections of most modern nymphing rods mimic a 5 or 6 weight rod. The thicker butt sections, a product of more modern taper design, offer the angler another, more powerful, gear with which to play fish. By changing the tip position from vertical to somewhat side angle-the angler goes from applying ounces to pounds of pressure. The key is tip-position. Side angles bring the butt section into play.
I no longer have issues with fishing a longer, lighter weight nymphing rod for large trout on big waters. The rod’s butt section slows down and fatigues the trout and the tip section cushions the shock of a powerful run and assists with bringing a fish to the net. So please remember when fishing with a longer and lighter rod, you can downshift (lower in the butt section) and apply greater force to tire out a trout before attempting raise the rod tip and bring the fish to the net. And, just as important- we can enjoy the pleasure or tactical advantages of light tackle while playing fish in a more ethical manner.
Floyd was extremely tough on me during our few lessons together, but I now realize that was his way of saying, “I care.” Now, in keeping with the lessons Floyd unselfishly taught me, I care, too. Thank you, Floyd!
Floyd’s Book “Fish On” is a great resource for anyone wanting to read about improving their fish fighting skills.