Written by: Tim Linehan
If you only want to bring one rod on your upcoming trip to the Rocky Mountains the first thing to consider is what time of year you’ll be traveling.
During the early season in the Rockies, water conditions and weather can vary greatly from day to day, so versatility is most important when you’re considering rod weight. For this reason alone, a relatively stiff 6-weight is your best bet and will cover all bases and handle most techniques from deep-water nymphing with weight and indicators to streamers or early season dry-fly fishing. And it’s not uncommon to employ several techniques throughout the day.
For instance, yesterday I was guiding on the Clark Fork here in Montana. My guests and I shoved off around 9:30 a.m. into gray skies and drizzle. Both anglers had 6-weight rods, and we rigged them with two nymphs, two split shot, and big indicators. The breeze was up but the 6-weights handled the gear and conditions well. We pinned a bunch of nice trout by working buckets and foamy seams, but by about 2 o’clock something had changed and the action slowed. We decided to re-rig with streamers and 5-foot sinking tips. The versatility of the 6-weights made the change very do-able, and before long we were sticking fish again. Surely we would have made do with any rods, but having 6-weights was perfect for the early season conditions.
If you’re gearing up for a summer trip to the Rockies, a fast-action 5-weight is ideal. Since a fast-action rod is designed to be stiffer from the butt of the rod to the tip, it will provide enough backbone to manage the summer breezes here in the West. It will also be the right tool for most applications and techniques, as well. During July and August dry-fly fishing is the name of the game, and a dry fly with a small nymph dropper is often the rig du jour. It’s not necessary to have a stout 6-weight, since the flies are generally smaller and the terminal tackle lighter.
techniques you’ll be using, and the weather conditions.
Last season, I gave some advice to a young couple who were planning on car camping and fishing across Montana. Traveling light was a priority. I told them that fast-action 5-weights would be perfect for most situations they would face from Yellowstone to the Kootenai. And indeed they had done perfectly well finessing long leaders and tiny midges on the Paradise Valley spring creeks, double nymph rigs with small bead heads and indicators on the Bitterroot and were now prepared to fish a single X-Caddis all day on the Kootenai with a bit of a breeze as well. They both insisted that the fast action 5-weights were perfect, and they never felt like they needed a bigger rod for the summer season.
If you’re planning a fall trip to the West, it might prove more important to consider the destination and techniques you might be using instead of the actual conditions. Fall can be more or less like spring. The weather can be unpredictable and conditions and techniques can vary. A fast-action 5-weight will be perfect for hoppers and droppers but might leave you feeling slightly under-gunned if you’re banging streamers on the banks trying to pull big brown dogs off the porch. To that end, it might be wise to be better safe than sorry. So, for my money, the 6-weight is the rod for the fall too.
If you only want to bring one rod on your next Western fishing adventure, consider either a fast-action 5- or 6-weight rod. And by keeping in mind the season you’ll be fishing, the possible changing conditions and techniques, and the destination, you will be surprised at how versatile one rod can actually be.
Tim Linehan is the owner of Linehan Outfitting Co. on the Kootenai River in Troy, Montana.