The Best Rod for Small Streams

July 4, 2024 By: Spencer Durrant

My local small streams finally opened up the past week or so, calming down from the runoff we had this year. They’re still high, and a bit tricky to wade, but it’s not impossible. And just as these small streams came into shape, I got a nice surprise in the mail.

I’d sent in a BIIIx 9′ 5-weight to Winston for repair in March, and it turned up just in time for some weekend fishing. Normally, I don’t use a 5-weight on my local streams in Wyoming, opting instead for a 9’9″ 3-weight. But I couldn’t resist fishing the BIIIx, which was the first nice rod I ever bought for myself.

I put the restored rod through its paces against feisty 10-inch rainbows, while throwing a cicada with a stonefly dropper. That’s all old hat for a 9′ 5-weight, and the BIIIx handled it flawlessly.

Then, on Sunday, I went to a stretch of the creek that’s known to have bigger fish – browns and rainbows in the 14-16 inch range, with a few 18-inchers showing up every year. Now, I primarily fish that 9’9″ 3-weight on this stream because of the extra reach it provides. That rod – a Hardy Ultralite LL – was designed for Euro nymphing, but it has the backbone and accuracy to deftly handle hopper-dropper rigs. I can reach across most of the stream with that Hardy, and even though it’s not fantastic in the wind, it’s just about the perfect tool for the job.

Instead of fishing that Hardy, however, I fished the Winston. I have an emotional attachment to that Winston (which isn’t something I’m sure I should admit on the internet, but here we are) and wanted to spend more time with it. After putting a handful of 15-inch browns in the net, I headed for home, thinking that perhaps my go-to small stream rig needed a reconfiguration. Was that 9’9″ 3-weight really the best tool for the job? Especially when the 9′ 5-weight Winston gave me more pulling power, putting fish in the net in less time?

Or was I splitting too many hairs, as us fly anglers are wont to do?

I’m a firm believer that most trout anglers don’t need anything other than a 9′ 5-weight. That rod handles the majority of trout fishing situations, and it’s only if you decide to specialize in something that you need a different rod. Even then, a good angler can make most rods work in any situation, within reason.

The best fly rod for small streams is the one you’re most comfortable with. The rod that you feel allows you to place your flies where you want them, to get fish quickly into the net, and that fits beneath the foliage. On my small streams, I’m lucky that I don’t have to deal with losing too many flies, so 9′ or longer rods are reasonable. That might not be the case for anglers elsewhere, though.

Stop worrying so much about if you have the “ideal” small stream setup, and focus more on whether your current rods can do the job for you. Chances are, they can.