The saying goes, less is more. And in the realm of fly fishing, that is a hard concept to grasp. Most fly rods have a standard length of 9’ and occasionally 8’-6.” Smaller weight fly rods (0-3 weights) that are used for small dry flies in creeks occasionally are shorter than 8’, but by and large the standard is 9’. So why would you go shorter, especially at higher weights (7 to 10).
The answer is simple, less is more!
I was first introduced to a sub-8’ fly rod when I was in college. I was working at an outdoor store, and kayak fishing was all the rave. In an effort to capitalize on a new trending market, fly rod builders began to develop short fly rods in the 7, 8 and 9 weight size. The designs of the rods were pretty standard; they were much shorter than a standard fly rod, and as such were also stiffer, with very fast tip sections that could achieve blistering line speed, with just one or two false casts and a strong double haul. The thought was that fly fishing, especially for bass species, could now compete in the same circles as conventional tackle and conventional tournaments. These rods were to be marketed to kayak anglers, tournament anglers, and weekend warrior bass fisherman. At the time, there was a regulation set by Bass tournaments that no rods, longer than 8’ may be fished in a tournament. Creating a rod that was 8 feet or less, now allowed fly fishing tackle to be a part of these big tournaments.
Bass fishing in tournaments with fly tackle did not take off like the market hoped, but they were not manufactured in vain. Bass fishing using a fly rod is still growing in popularity, thanks to these innovations, but they didn’t stop with bass. Sub-8’ fly rods opened up new pathways for fly fishing, including targeting Redfish, Snook, Tarpon, and even Golden Dorado. These short rods are easy to travel with, great for small boats, and can allow a fly angler to make “pitch” style casts to hard-to-reach pockets of water, not previously achieved by longer rods.
I hope by now you are at least intrigued by fly rods, 8-foot or shorter. I am going to share a few of my favorites, but I encourage you to test one out at your local fly shop before you make a purchase.
St. Croix Mojo Bass
This rod holds a special place in my heart, as it is the first set up that opened my eyes to fly fishing for species other than trout. This rod is available at most Bass Pro Shops, retails under $150.00, and is a cross between a 7- and an 8- weight rod. It is a 7’-11” two-piece rod, with a purple blank, and a cork grip and fighting butt. My favorite detail on this rod is the double hook keeper at the base of the blank. It seems like a small detail, but when fishing larger topwater flies, like frogs and poppers, having a hook keeper like this makes storing the rod in the boat, kayak or in your hand easy and safe. I recommend over lining this rod a half size or using a shorter but larger front tapered fly line, like a Scientific Angler Bass Bug or Rio Outbound Short.
Redington Predator 7’-10” – 8 Weight
This Predator rod has all the same perks of all the other models: it’s a stiff, fast action rod, with tons of backbone. This rod is a little overpowering for bass fishing, but works great for striped bass, redfish, snook and baby tarpon. This is my go-to rod for fishing dock lights or throwing large flies in tight quarters. It handles large floating lines and intermediate or sink tips with ease. Of all the rods listed, I believe this rod performs best in windy conditions. All though not ideal, the line speed needed to cut through a 20-mph wind can be achieved with this rod. This rod comes in a 4-piece and has an anodized reel seat that can handle saltwater corrosion. This is a great rod for making casts into redfish tailing in the grass. I recommend using a fly line like a Scientific Angler Grand Slam, or Rio Big Nasty/Predator floating line or multi-sink tip.
Sage Bass II – 290 Smallmouth
This rod is as much a work of art, as a fly fishing tool. The blank is lime green and red, with a unique shimmering red reel seat. The rod has since been discontinued (and replaced by the Sage Payload), but it still comes with its unique fly line and travel case. Four new models were released: Bluegill 230, Smallmouth 290, Largemouth 330, & Peacock 390. The rod is 7’-11,” is lightweight, and has a very fast action. This rod was not released per the standard weight classification, but rather by the recommended grain weight of fly line to be utilized. I have the Smallmouth 290, which is roughly a 6/7 weight rod in this classification. This rod is awesome for casting gamechangers, large streamers, poppers and frogs. It would also be a perfect rod for targeting tarpon and snook in thick mangroves, where a pitch cast would need to be made under overhanging mangrove branches. I have this rod set up with Rio’s Smallmouth bass fly line, and I will attach a sinking leader as needed.
Echo B.A.G. Quickshot
As great as modern graphite rods are, the feel of a fiberglass rod cannot be replicated. Fiberglass rods flex deep into the blank, a caster can feel the rod load with each back cast, and the image of a rod bent over itself towards a fish is unbeatable. The ECHO B.A.G. Quickshot has all the wonderful features of a fiberglass rod without the compromise of speed. This rod is 8’ long and has a bright blue blank. I have a 7 weight model that I use for bass, smallmouth, seatrout, and redfish. The rod is also unique in look and feel. It is a great second rod, especially if you are fishing with a new fly angler, as the rod provides a lot of feedback while casting, and it is much lighter than standard graphite rods. The rod performs well in light wind, and is great for soft presentations at closer distances. It’s great too for top water flies, like poppers or large hoppers, but does not carry larger streamers long distances. I like to throw a Rio Grande floating line or Scientific Anglers Mastery MPX for freshwater, and the Airflow Forge Salt or Rio Redfish XP for saltwater.
My hope is that you have enough general knowledge about sub-9’ fly rods that you can confidently go to a fly shop and try casting one in the parking lot, or borrow a fishing buddy’s. Like all fly fishing gear, these rods are tools with specific applications that can increase one’s chance of success on the water. Get a short rod, practice some side-arm casts, and connect with some fish in those beautiful, hard-to-reach places!
Wishing you tight loops and tight lines on some short rods!