Rethinking the 9' 5wt Fly Rod

Fly fishing: Are longer rods going to replace the 9ft 5wt?

nymphing the South Platte at Deckers, Colorado
Is this 9 foot rod holding me back here? South Platte at Deckers, Colorado

March 2021

Following the events starting in March 2020, I quickly realized my fishing year would be different than normal. I capitalized by diving deep into learning more about European style fishing, including euronymphing, loch style tactics from the UK, and even trout spey. It didn’t take long to realize that while I could implement any of these styles with my normal western gear, yes the 9’ 5wt, the preferred rods in each discipline had a distinct similarity. All the rods were 10’ or longer. At first glance, the preference for longer rods seemed like a choice for large rivers and lakes. After a closer inspection, I realized that euronymphers pick apart riffles and runs in close quarters with long 2 and 3 weight rods, so it seemed like there was more here than just having a longer rod for larger water.

In true gear head fashion, I had to test some of this stuff out by fully committing to these longer rods and breaking away from my dear old friend, the 9’ 5wt. After a full year of testing, I’m comfortable ditching the 9 footers all together. Here's what I learned along the way.

My first concern was landing big fish on longer rods. Now I didn’t break past the 22” mark this year but I was able to wrangle plenty of large net-filling rainbows. To my amazement, landing these fish was a breeze and I broke off fewer fish than ever. The longer tip not only protected my tippet but also added an extra leverage advantage against the weight of the fish.

I fully embraced the euronymphing approach with jigged-flies and specialty leaders but couldn’t resist testing the rod performance with indicators/split shot, and even dry flies. With an extra foot of rod length at my disposal, I felt like I was a foot taller with a wider wingspan. Mending was easier, reaching was easier, and my fishing zone was larger. Those benefits speak for themselves.

Also, don’t tell me that you can’t cast with the longer rods. A capable caster can adjust their stroke for any application with the appropriate line and leader. I’ve seen videos of people casting with nothing but their arms and a line...they probably don’t complain about the “rod” flex of their arm. When you have to make it work you find a way to get good. One day during my testing I stumbled across a decent PMD hatch while strictly euronymphing and couldn’t resist the chance to fish a dry fly. Without changing anything but the fly I was able to adjust and present delicate dry flies to rising trout with plenty of success.

In the Stillwater scene, longer rods aided casting from a seated position, whether in the boat or float tube. Compared to the 9’ rods, the extra length wards off fatigue over a full day of casting. Landing fish did require a longer handled net, but the trade-off is again a further reach, helpful to guide fish away from anchors, oars, or motor-blades.

With trout spey, rod length does correspond better to river size. Big rods make for big swings which work best to cover lots of water. Admittedly this style is mostly niche, but any longer rod will boost your ability to form D-loops and to swing flies.
I see even more applications that I haven’t had the chance to test yet, like angling in high alpine lakes. I’d highly appreciate some extra reach when the rises in alpine lakes are just out of reach.

What I find most interesting about these longer rods is their prominence across the Atlantic. Not only is fly fishing much older in Europe, but also has a more established competitive scene. Let's put our thoughts about competition aside, nothing breeds innovation like competition. Only recently have rod companies adapted these types of rods for sale in North America, with recent pulses of new euronymphing rods, 10’ lake rods, even trout-specific spey rods.

Each rod offers all kinds of benefits to anglers, which makes me wonder if the reign of the 9' 5wt is coming to an end.

Interested? Check out these rods

Cortland 10.5' Nymph Fly rod

OPST Micro Skagit 10' Trout Spey Rod