Trouts Journal

What’s With The Numbers?

Ivan Orsic / Aug 27, 2015

And no, I’m not talking about the numbers of fish you claim to have caught on the river. What I’m talking about is with gear and flies, and how the majority of it (particularly many of the items you’ll soon acquire in the process of learning to fly-fish) all seem to have a number attached to it. As you might be aware- and if you aren’t, you are now- we offer free classes throughout the month geared specifically towards the beginning angler where we do our best to de-mystify the process of becoming a self-sufficient fly angler. These classes (titled Orvis 101) cover all the basic terminology associated with fly-fishing, along with brief discussions on flies, leader/tippet, and then we practice tying our knots. However, it doesn’t take long -more like about 2 minutes into the class- until some numbers start to get thrown around. There’s always a fair bit of Q&A involved around this and it got me thinking that surely my customers in these classes aren’t the only ones who’ve experienced similar confusion. The good news is with a little clarification, the ‘numbers’ side of this shouldn’t be anything that causes your heart rate to climb.

We’ll tackle this by breaking down what all beginning fly-anglers typically purchase when getting started: fly rods/fly lines/fly reels/leader/tippet/flies.

Fly Rods- Starting from the top here, fly rods are always referred to on a number system followed by the word “weight”- typically abbreviated “wt.”. Aside from tippet/leader (which we’ll discuss later) this will be as common of a term as you’ll hear in fly-fishing. “Oh I’m using my 3-weight while hiking up to an alpine lake”, “Man, that 6-weight is perfect for throwing streamers”. You get the idea. In simplest terms, most fly rods on the market today range from a 0-weight up to a 16-weight. The smaller the number, the lighter duty the rod is. The bigger the number, the heavier duty. 0 through 3 weight rods are most popular for smaller waters with smaller fish. 4-6 weight rods are the most popular fly rods for the majority of trout fishing situations you will encounter- with a 5-weight being the universally agreed upon “all-around” fly rod. Simply put, if you’re starting out fly-fishing and want to catch some trout, get a 5- weight. 6-9 weight rods are going to be most popular for your larger species of fish and/or larger bodies of water. These rods also work great for lighter duty saltwater scenarios. If you’re going fishing for bonefish, pike, bass, salmon, snook, baby tarpon, steelhead or carp (amongst many, many others) you’ll most likely be toting along a rod between a 6-9wt. Moving on, 10-12 weight rods are going to be your all-around heavy duty fly rods- large tarpon, amberjack, striped bass, musky, sharks and large salmon are all going to be perfectly matched for a rod in this weight range. Lastly, rods in the 12-16 weight are going to be used for blue-water/open ocean conditions and will be ideal for targeting billfish, large sharks, and tuna. In summary, when it comes to fly rods, just remember the bigger the number (weight) the bigger/stronger the fish you’re going after is going to be.

Fly Lines- Fly lines also come on a very standardized ‘weight’ system that goes perfectly in line with the fly rod that will be casting them. I.e.- a 3 weight fly line goes with a 3 weight fly rod, a 6 weight line with a 6 weight rod, and so forth. While we could go into a whole discussion on fly-lines (and perhaps someday we will), for the basis of starting out and just wondering how this all works, just know that the number on your fly rod needs to match the number on your fly line.

Fly Reels- I’m not going to get into a big discussion here on the number system associated with fly reels because unlike fly lines and fly rods, there is no universal standard to go off. Some companies call their different sized reels a “1”, “1.5”, “2” etc, some call them a “3/4”, “5/6”, etc and some make it even more confusing than this. The good news is, it’s our job here at the shop to tell you what sized fly reel you need to match up with your fly rod and that’s all you need to worry about when starting out. If you’re the type though that needs to do the research yourself, all major fly reel manufacturers are going to have a chart on their website telling you what size fly rod their respective reels are designed to match up with.

Now that we’ve covered the fly rod/fly line/fly reel topic, it’s time to move on to the last number system we need to discuss- and the one that seems to give beginners the most confusion in my opinion- Leader and Tippet.

Remember how with fly rods/fly lines the bigger the number equaled the heavier duty it is? Well, when it comes to leader and tippet, the exact opposite is true. The bigger the number when discussing leader/tippet is going to equal a lighter pound test, a.k.a lighter duty. You’ll also notice that leader/tippet does not use the term ‘weight’ – as we saw with fly rods/lines- but rather, each number is going to have an “X” that follows it. (side note: this is pronounced “X” and not “times”) Leaders and tippet are most commonly seen in size 0X down to 7X . 0X is equivalent to about 13lbs and when we need to go stronger than this, manufacturers go away from the ‘X’ system and just start printing the diameter of the line and the pound test on the label- but this is nothing we need to be concerned about at this point. Afterall, we’re trying to keep things simple here and 0X-7X is going to get you through almost any fishing situation you’re likely to encounter when learning the ropes of this sport. Lastly, if you’re planning on doing some trout fishing in the state of Colorado, 4X or 5X (avg. 5-7lb) is going to get you through the majority of fishing conditions you’ll find.

Finally we’re down to the last part- Flies. All fly patterns also follow a universally accepted sizing system and just like with leader and tippet, the bigger the number, the smaller the size. Most flies you see for trout fishing range in size from 2 to 24 and it really is as easy as knowing that a size 8 fly is bigger than a size 20 fly.

In summary, the ‘numbers’ side of fly-fishing shouldn’t be anything that causes new anglers confusion. As long as you remember that the bigger the number on a fly rod/fly line is going to equal “heavier duty”, and the bigger the number on leader/tippet/flies is going to equal “lighter duty/smaller” you should be good to go!

Interested in starting to fly-fish yourself? Sign up for one of our Orvis 101 classes! These classes are offered on Wednesday evenings and are mindfully built for the beginning angler. Each class will feature both classroom instruction where we cover basic terminology, fly selection and knots, followed by heading outdoors for some casting instruction. Give us a call or swing by the shop today to get signed up! 303-733-1434

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