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Ultra-Lite … the Ultimate Experience

The “Bitter 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 had been 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 re-examination.


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 born.


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”.


Instructional 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. 


Having taught 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 either

 “Half-Truths at Best”, or “Complete Fallacies”!


The 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.

Light rods can’t cast into the wind!  Really?  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 effective.


 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 changes.


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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