Ultra-Lite … the Ultimate Experience
Truth” about the biggest Controversy
and the biggest Contradiction in Fly Fishing!!
In the mid 1990s, it
seemed that I was in the middle of constant debate with my son Todd who
guiding on the famous
San Juan River tail-water in New Mexico for some years. I was also in the
fly fishing business, running schools and advanced clinics on freestone
rivers and alpine creeks in Colorado. Todd routinely netted and
released big rainbows on 7 X tippets and an old flimsy 9 foot Orvis 3-wt.
“noodle-stick”… and did it quickly. He also kept telling me that I
needed a lighter rod—an idea that I thought was utter nonsense.
Besides, my rods were always the hottest tools out—according the fly
shops. But, I routinely lost flies and became extremely frustrated,
attempting to get big fish to the net on 7 X tippets and my fast action
6-wt. graphite rods. As a “less than great” fly caster, I liked the
stiffer fast-action rods and heavier weight-forward lines because I could
impress myself and others with my demonstrative casting prowess. I was
simply unaware that both my skills and my presumptions needed serious
After getting advice / aka
being “bothered” for years by my son, and losing perhaps a zillion trophy
trout and flies to “L-D-R s … the “big-ones-getting-away” issue became
“too much”! I reluctantly subordinated my ego in favor of logic, and
called the “pro”!
Thanks to Randy Swisher
at Sage Fly Rods & Reels, I was fortunately rescued from “my personal
problems and dilemma” by his suggesting a 279 LL Sage Ultra-Lite. Being
“rescued” is an understatement—this was a profound revelation! My first
26 inch Rainbow on this 7’- 9” 2-wt. changed my fly fishing opinions
forever! In a few
months, I was so addicted that I had Sage send me another one … so I could
share the ecstasy with “pros in the business” who were more open-minded
than I had been. They too, were totally amazed at the performance of
this light weight gadget. Numerous trophy trout later, I had become
“compulsive-obsessive”, and was obviously predestined to become the
“vanguard of Ultra-Lite”.
When the world entered the
“new millennium, so did I and Fly Fishing. Todd suggested that we embark
on a “preach and teach” tour, where we told “pros everywhere” about the
credulity of light weight fly rods. Besides, how could anyone come up with
a better excuse to fish many of the most publicized trophy trout waters in
America. Some manufacturers apparently thought we were “confused or
maybe whacko”. Some didn’t! Sage, Orvis, Thomas & Thomas, Lamson /
Waterworks, and Royal Wulff, provided us with their most incredibly
“State of the Art” tools-of-the-trade ... and the “Ultra-Lite Tour” was
Neither our “providers”,
nor we had any perception of the bizarre events, conclusions, and impact
that would unfold from this 2-year long ordeal! We targeted
big-fish-only on famous trophy waters, where the locals take pride in how
tough their fish are—you know … run faster, fight harder, and leap higher,
than any others. Our acts of taking monster trout, steelhead, and salmon
on their water on 0-1-2 wt. rods may not have upset the balance of nature,
but it caused innumerable guides and fly shop owners to go “ballistic”.
However, numerous other participating professionals who fished with us
on the Ultra-Lite Tour, or had experienced the undeniable wisdom of
“matching the rod to the tippet”, were quick to realize that fly fishing
should be about presentation and control—certainly not about egos, decades
of presumption and convention, or busting leaders and losing flies!
After hundreds of
trophy-class trout with some monsters to 28 inches, explosive Wild
Up-River Steelhead, too many dynamite thumb-busting “Silvers” right out of
the salt, and behemoth Up-River Chum Salmon—we had put the Ultra-Lite rods
“To the Test” beyond
anyone’s expectations, or ours!
As for the unrelenting
“nay-sayers” and “skeptics”, or if you catch most of your trout on 0-X
tippets and size 4 Wooly Bugger “lip-rippers” with 80 ft. casts into a 60
mph wind with an Eight-Weight broom stick, … it still won’t hurt you to
have at least one good “Ultra-Lite” experience in this lifetime.
Since probably 90% of all trout are caught on hook sizes 18 to 26, on 5,
6, or 7 X tippets, and on casts that originate at less than 40 ft. from
the rod tip … the logic of using big-fast-stiff fly rods for most trout
fishing is definitely in serious question! Also, the utility of
fast-action (stiff) traditional trout rods is being profoundly redirected
or even antiquated by numerous rod manufacturers. Almost one
hundred models of Ultra-Lites are now on the
market as of 2003.
Presumably, the Ultra-Lite tour has been significantly instrumental in
stirring up commotion and spreading the word—since the majority of these
new tools have “suddenly evolved” within the last two years.
Some rod manufacturers
have responded to our suggestions and perception of trends. Others still
seem to cling to the tradition that “one fly rod fits all”.
Most major rod
manufacturers have realized that the fly rod has two supreme purposes (at
least if catching trout is the objective): 1. fly presentation. 2.
tippet protection. Now, in the “new millennium”, fly fishing is entering
an era of heated debate and revolution, rapid evolution with new
technology, and an absolutely profound revelation for many! Countless
fly fishers have observed in near disbelief as they watch us put sizable
trout in the net in under 60 seconds on 0-wt. rods and
7 or 8 X tippets.
Is this what we are advocating? Positively not! What we are advocating
is an awareness of the capabilities of the Ultra-Lites when matched to the
correct tack and technique. And, it is a definite eye-opener for those
who have witnessed it.
Unlike Fly Fishing, most
major sporting industries (such as skiing, boarding, surfing,
sail-boarding, archery, and many others) have repeatedly undergone
tremendously impacting changes in the technology and subsequent utility of
their “tools”. After the first “crazed surfer” successfully ripped up a
60 foot wave face on Hawaii’s north shore with a wild ride on a stubby
little twin fin board … I don’t think the long-board onlookers thought of
it as a “toy” any longer. At that moment in surfing history the thoughts
were undoubtedly “How do I get one, and then how do I learn to ride it?”
Fly fishing technology is no different. The new “tools” both require and
invite new and different user methodology to gain “full advantage”, or
simply to be able to even effectively use the “new gadgets”.
methodology in most sports has been quick to follow new innovations!
Can you imagine the
“student-drop-out-ratios” and subsequent financial damage to the Ski
Industry if their instructional syllabi response to fat-skis and
snow-boards had not been immediate ! It is likewise critical, that the
Fly Fishing Industry realize that the new Ultra-Lite Rods, Larger Arbor
Reels, new Lines, and new generation Flourocarbon Tippets have mandated
new ways to use the stuff. This revolution in fly fishing has become a tremendous
opportunity for proFlyFishers
… as the first entity
to publicly: a. Acknowledge and Endorse the amazing “utility” of these
new tools. b. Develop Fly Casting and Tack Management school syllabi
that teach numerous non-conventional methods that profoundly enhances the
performance of the new gear and the fly fisher.
professionally in three sports other than fly fishing, I have witnessed
repeated evolutions in the construction and functionality of these various
sporting “tools”. Many of the changes have been dramatic! Naturally,
radical change incites major controversy and dissent. In Fly Fishing,
nothing seems to evokes more bristling emotion than someone’s being
challenged about the logic and practicality of their choice of fly rod
line weights! Discussions (the act of debating) fly rod selection
logic based on line-weight, can get downright nasty … as in getting
“thrown out of fly shops” or “escorted off their private water”!
The debate will
undoubtedly rage on and on, and for some strange reason, it won’t be as
“user friendly” as the mild mannered controversies that ensue in most
other recreational disciplines. Fly Fishers seem to be a rather
opinionated bunch … and the “fur will continue to fly” as they mix-it-up!
So … are the new Ultra-Lites
serious tools or are they just toys? Is Ultra-Lite fly fishing magic or
is it madness?
Whatever your position, or no matter how conventional your perceptions of
fly rod truths may be, don’t even bother to tell us that Ultra-Lite rods
are only appropriate for … as Todd would say, “dinky fish”.
Finally, I’ve developed a
more discretionary response when I elicit an Ultra-Lite disputation, from
the pros who feel Ultra-Lite Fly Rods have no place on “their water”.
When they tell me … “Our fish are going to “kick your ass and teach you a
thing or two!” … I’ve learned to respond with “Well great … I hope so!”.
Yep, and they were all
correct … the Ultra-Lite Tour was one “helluva” education … and what an
incredibly rewarding way to enter the 21st Century, and a
dynamic “new era” of fly fishing.
L. David Grooms - PFF
!! What we Learned on the Ultra-Lite Tour !!
If the “Truth is Bitter” … so
be it, because
the Five Stereotypic
Presumptions about Ultra-Lite Fly Rods proved to be
Best”, or “Complete Fallacies”!
Objections and the Truths about Ultra-Lite Fly Rods
You can’t cast far enough! Nonsense. Probably 99 percent of all
trout are caught off casts that originated at 40 feet or less. Experienced
fly fishers agree it is a rare situation where a long cast makes sense.
Drift and strike detection become increasingly difficult or impossible
with casts of 40 to 60 feet. And lining a bunch of fish is usually a bad
thing. Besides, light-weight rods will toss bugs 50 feet or more. The
misperception of the inability to cast far enough is entirely due to big,
fast-rod fly fisher conditioning where the loading is done mostly off the
tip. It is not uncommon to see an experienced fly caster make an
embarrassing 15-foot puddle-cast with their first Ultra-Lite attempt.
Ultra-Lite casting is a simple matter of reprogramming timing, loading,
and hauling technique.
Light rods won’t throw
big flies! Of course they won’t throw big stuff as far as a heavy
line on a big rod will. The bigger question is just how far do you need
to cast? I believe a good caster can toss streamers 50 to 60 feet on
2-weights. Getting distance with big flies is not nearly as much problem
as throwing fist-size, fluffy indicators on a light line. However, big
indicators usually require big amounts of lead—which can make for
interesting casting. Small lines when coupled with refined loading and
shooting techniques can throw big lead and/or giant flies surprising
distances. Presenting large hopper patterns on a 0-weight rod to big,
smart trout is one of my favorite freestone river passions. Hook size is a
factor of greater importance. Strike setting streamer size hooks is best
done with heavy leaders and bigger rods.
rods can’t cast into the wind!
When the wind is trying to blow everything off the map, fooling big trout
in choppy water is one of my preferred fishing strategies. Of course, a
wind cutter line on a big rod will do better if you stubbornly throw the
thing head-on into the hurricane. But, the irony of this wind-casting
scenario is that I almost always seem to be able to use the wind to my
benefit. If the wind is strong enough, I may be able to cast into my
backing. The superior sectional density and small diameter of the Ultra-Lite
lines can be very effective in penetrating a strong gale. With long light
leaders and tiny flies, wind can do marvelous things for fly turnover and
tricky curve casts. The best thing I can say about wind is—love it, work
with it, and develop specific wind casting techniques to make it fun and
Ultra-Lite rods break too easy! Yep, just like Saltwater or Spey
rods. Drive the truck over them, point them north while the fish is going
south, flex them into some curvilinear configuration approaching 360
degrees, slam the SUV door on them—and they’ll break. Obviously you’ll
have to be more careful with light rods. Our Ultra-Lite Tour was for the
express purpose of ascertaining the true capabilities and limitations of
the light weights. Our extensive and brutal testing on the biggest fish we
could find, resulted in one broken 1-weight, which was admittedly due to
our curiosity about how much torture this rod could endure. The conclusion
was an incredible amount. But don’t try this at home and don’t abuse your
manufacturer’s warranty. Obviously, we were testing the flex limits, and
all things do seem to have their limits. Both of our 0-weights survived
over two hundred trout in the 18 to 28 inch class. The 1 and 2-weights
proved unbelievably tenacious on big trout, as well as Coho, Steelhead,
and Chum Salmon up to 25 pounds. We did in fact learn two vital techniques
to prevent fly rod breakage—which are taught in our “Tack Management”
Clinics. To reiterate what I stress to all students and fly fishers—fish
don’t break fly rods, but careless fly fishers do.
You’ll kill our fish! Rods of 4, 5, and 6-weights are probably to
blame for more tail-water trout mortality than bait fishermen and Ospreys
combined. I’ve routinely watched fly fishers laboriously struggle with 15
to 20 inch trout on 6X tippets because they have difficulty avoiding the
application of too much pressure and the risk of losing a nice fish to
break-off. My theories were recently discounted by a well-known fly fisher
and fly shop owner who said, “I can play a trout off a 6-weight rod and a
6X tippet with no problem. It is simply a matter of skill!” My response
was “Sure—right off the last two feet of your rod!” Ironically, this fly
shop does not promote either the use of light tippets, or fluorocarbon due
to their poor experiences with break-off problems.
Numerous sporting industries have experienced marked or revolutionary
change in product design and technique. Why should fly fishers be immune
to the benefits of technology and commensurate adaptation?
The dynamic flexation and dampening of Ultra-Lite rods is the antithesis
of the on/off static shock transmitted to tippets by bigger stiffer rods.
If Mother Nature had wanted us to use broomsticks for fly rods, she would
not have created bamboo. I do advocate a time and place for rod-weight
selection and the rod should be specifically indexed to the tippet. Has
our trout fishing logic been subliminally overridden with the need for
impressive demonstrative casting, or the presumption that one
fast-action-rod fits all? The bigger rods were never intended to be
paired with 6 or 7X tippets while fishing to trophy trout with small
flies. Since the fast action graphite invention, the fly-fishing industry,
in it’s ever evolving state, has been compelled to make some dramatic
And trout are getting smarter too. Manufacturers have given us the
application specific precise engineering of Ultra-Lite rods, which
achieve optimum efficiency in presentation and control with small flies
and light leaders—just as they have given us Spey rods, Bass rods, and
Saltwater rods. I readily accept the nostalgic joy of presenting a fly on
a vintage bamboo rod, but lets not get too sentimental about our
traditional stiff graphite sticks. Tippet manufactures and midge-fly-tiers
have long since reappropriated their utility. Big trout everywhere will
love you for your Ultra-Lite quick releases.
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