It would be interesting to know the number of customers we see come into the shop intent on doing something every one of us has done in the past-- otherwise known as purchase their first fly rod. It would also be interesting to know what percentage of these customers walk out of the shop, cheerfully grinning ear to ear toting a shiny new 5wt. And why wouldn’t this be the case? I’m confident not more standard industry advice exists than the fact that a 5wt is a great all around rod. I’d also guarantee on any given day more 5 weight rods are being fished across the state of Colorado (and any state with trout in it) than any other rod.
However, then comes the next step in any budding fly-fisher’s career where a little lightbulb goes off and it becomes decided that one fly rod alone won’t do. They need another. Once said realization becomes unarguable (it’s funny how easy it is in fly-fishing to convince yourself you need something) comes the question of what to get. Sure the possibility of upgrading to a better 5 weight will be where the search ends for some, however this typically isn’t the case because even an $800 5wt is going to feel like overkill on your high alpine backpacking trips, or post-work missions to Clear Creek.
Unless the majority of your fly-fishing takes place in a drift boat, my suggestion to the trout fisherman looking for their next rod is to get a 4 weight.
Here are 4 reasons why:
1. Smaller Waters- This is somewhat of a no-brainer but is still 100% fact. Any area of the country with trout streams is going to offer these in a variety of sizes….and there’s always going to be a lot more smaller versions than bigger ones. Whether it’s hiking to a high alpine lake or stream, exploring a spring creek where stealth is key, or any other situation where a 5wt seems a little much, a 4wt will offer better presentation and make considerably more sport out of the size of fish usually found in these smaller waters.
2. Versatility- Whether on a guide trip or during my personal fishing, I find myself carrying two rods more and more. In Colorado particularly, having a nymph rig on your 5 weight is going to produce fish 365 days a year without question. But as will be mentioned in point 3 below, nymphing isn’t the only way to catch a trout. Particularly during the warmer, buggier months of the year, I always have a 4 weight rigged with a dry fly alongside. From Blue Wings to PMD’s, Caddis to Hoppers, Stoneflies to Tricos, there’s always a good chance you will encounter a hatch that will turn the trout’s eyes skyward. Having a rod ready to take advantage of these opportunities will make you a much more efficient angler than having to cut off your nymph rig, possibly rebuilt your leader out and tie on a dry fly. Simply put, from the time runoff ends clear up to Fall, having a second rod rigged with a dry will without a doubt put a few more fish in the net for you. Moreover, most 4 weights can also throw a nymph rig quite capably. This will ensure your bases are covered in the event the dry/nymph setups need to turn into a nymph/streamer combo- as most 5weights can handle even a moderately sized streamer. Having two rigs ready to go at all times will allow you to show more flies to more fish, in a greater variety of ways. In my opinion, a 4 weight/5weight combo is the perfect approach to this scenario.
3. Dry Flies- I'll say with certainty, fishing a few nymphs below a thingamabobber is not the only way to catch a trout. Making it a point to step-up your dry fly game is going to make you a better caster, better in-tuned with the behavior of trout, and in general just make you a better, more well-rounded angler. I can promise that a good day of dry fly fishing is going to provide you with some on-water memories that watching a plastic bubble dart under the surface won’t hold a candle to. A 4wt rod will still be able to toss most hoppers around, but will make fishing the smaller stuff such as small parachutes, caddis, ants and stimulators much more fun….and that’s why we’re all out there in the first place isn’t it?
4. And finally, the 4th reason you need a 4 weight is a simple one. If you get a 4 weight rod you’re going to find a way to put it to use….and who knows where that adventure is going to take you.
Final thoughts on rod length- If you’ve got a 9’ 5wt and are particularly looking to battle that feeling of having ‘too much rod’ for the rivers you are fishing, get an 8 or 8.5 footer for your 4wt. You will be amazed how much going down one line weight, paired with shaving off 6” or 12” will feel so drastically different. Shorter rods are also more accurate than longer rods. This can pay dividends when trying to hit that basketball sized slick behind a rock in a brush choked blue line at 9000 feet. I’ve got a couple 4 weights but the one I find myself fishing the most is an 8’6” Winston BIII-LS. This rod is extremely versatile and has excelled in countless situations from throwing lightweight nymph rigs on the Fraser, to technical midge and baetis dries on the Bighorn, to tossing small Chubby Chernobyls on the Dream Stream.
So now that you’ve decided you really do need a 4 weight, here are 6 of my personal favorite 4’s, spread across 3 price points. All of these rods are offered in lengths less than 9 foot as well.