Ideal size/weight for a shallow-water fly rod?

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Todd in Biloxi, MS, who asks: “John, what’s the best size/weight for an all-around (shallow) saltwater fly rod?”

fishon.jpgThere are several schools of thought here, but the common answer is “An 8 weight”, since that size rod seems to split the difference between an outfit that’s strong enough to pitch heavier flies, light enough to cast all day and stiff enough to handle explosive runs by game fish such as snook, redfish, big sea trout and small tarpon. But there’s been a trend the past five years or so toward lighter outfits — 6 and 7-weight rods, to be precise. My latest fly rod is a sweet little 6 weight. It loads beautifully and is noticeably easier to cast than my 8 and 9-weight rods. I haven’t used it much and it hasn’t been tested on a large fish yet, admittedly. But I’m confident it’ll hold up fine, provided I don’t hook an over-sized fish near cover. How do I know? Because I’ve caught scores of snook on a little 4-weight rod — the same stick I use to catch rainbows and brookies on my occasional trips up north. While you don’t want to go under-gunned for a variety of reasons, the argument could be made that an 8 weight is overkill for the average shallow-water game fish. So…if you already have experience casting to, hooking and fighting fish, consider a stiff 7 or even 6-weight rod. A notable caveat: if you’ll be fishing a lot of open, windy water, an 8 or even 9-weight rod makes it easier to push flies into a stiff breeze.

I’d be interested in any feedback related to this topic. What size fly rod do you use in the shallow salt? Be sure to note the species you normally target and the conditions you frequently face.

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4 Responses to “Ideal size/weight for a shallow-water fly rod?”

  1. Andrew says:

    Personally I prefer an 8 weight for confidence in fighting big fish.

  2. snook says:

    Andrew, it’s tough to argue with that logic. Bigger rods do offer an advantage when trying to turn larger fish, especially near structure. Of course, rod flex must be factored in: some blanks are noodly by design, some are stiff.

  3. Jeff says:

    The Mississippi marsh reds that we target seem to average about 20″ so a 6 weight seems ideal. The problem comes when they get close to the boat and are still “green”. Redfish seem to know that running under your boat is their best defense and you will catch Hell trying to horse them out with a 6 weight. Its fun no matter who wins.

  4. snook says:

    Jeff, I once had a big redfish run under the boat in a last attempt to get away, leading the tip of my rod into the trolling motor. The blades literally shredded the rod. So yes, point(s) taken. Six weights work well, but some extra heft helps when you need to control a good fish.