October 07, 2021
This article was originally titled "6- is the New 7-Weight" in the 2019 Gear Guide special publication of Fly Fisherman magazine.
I worked behind the counter in a fly shop for more than 25 years, and over that time I’ve seen countless developments in fly-fishing tackle. The biggest advances have been in the world of graphite fly rods. Heavy, clunky, whippy first-age graphite rods of the 1980s have evolved into lightweight, smooth-flexing modern rods made of premium-quality graphite and boron.
As rod manufacturers perfected their designs and their materials, the rods generally got lighter and/or stiffer and more capable of throwing heavier lines. When I started streamer fishing, a 7-weight was the tool of choice for throwing large streamer flies. At that time, 6-weights were too soft and light to throw heavier lines and streamer flies. I could have thrown an 8-weight, but they were heavy and tiring to cast.
Back then, a 7-weight was perfect. But because of changes in rod technology and design, 6- is the new 7-weight.
With modern streamer rods, a 6-weight today is much stiffer than even a decade ago, so they can handle heavier grain weights of lines for streamer fishing. They recover and snap back to the straight position far more efficiently, and they weigh less. These days, a 7-weight is just too much rod for streamer fishing.
Why is dropping down a rod weight an advantage? The answer is obvious: They weigh less. The difference is only fractions of an ounce in static weight, but when you tally the “swing weight” of the rod and the effort you put into casting, those fractions add up over the course of a day. And it is not only the rod weight you save. Lighter rods match up with lighter reels and lines.
In streamer fishing, the weight of a rod, reel, and line is more critical than in other types of fishing. Unlike with dry-fly fishing where you make long drag-free drifts, or with nymph fishing where you cast and carefully negotiate your flies along the bottom, streamer fishing normally requires much more casting. You might make five times as many casts in a day of streamer fishing than when dry-fly fishing or nymph fishing.
The best streamer anglers I know are relentless casters. Some cast from dawn to dusk and never miss prime-looking locations. To cast continuously like this takes endurance. And you can maintain this endurance for a longer period of time with a simple downsizing in the weight of your rod.
I prefer a medium-fast-action 6-weight, and avoid the super-fast-action rods. The thing with streamer fishing is that your casting distance often changes each and every cast. One cast goes long to reach the bank, then the next cast you shorten up to hit the tip of a sunken tree extending into the river.
You must be able to feel the rod load on both short casts and long casts. Some rods have such a stiff, fast action that average anglers can’t load on short casts, and their casting falls apart.
Today’s 6-weights have no problem chucking heavy trout streamers. It is rare that I don’t have a streamer weighted with a conehead or dumbbell eye. In Idaho we are allowed to fish multiple flies at one time—a tactic all streamer anglers should use when it’s legal.
When I fish multiple flies, I ease up on my casting stroke and open up my loop. This is a great trick that helps keep the flies from tangling, but very stiff rods are meant to throw tight loops. They can make it difficult to modify and open up your casting loop.
Fly Rod Tricks for Streamer Fishing
Although I sometimes streamer fish with a floating line, I most often use sinking lines. Sinking lines are heavier to cast and can be harder to lift from the water but you still don’t need that old 7-weight rod. Simply strip your line nearly all the way in—when you have about 12 feet out, make a short roll cast to bring the fly and the line to the surface, and then make an overhead cast.
Here’s a sneaky but effective trick: When you lift the rod to start your roll cast, hold the rod high for a few seconds and visually locate your streamer if you can.
I call this “the hang.” Fish cannot stand it when the fly rises from the depths, and this is often when they eat the fly. Use this rising motion to your advantage, and then give them a chance to eat the fly. It can be difficult to set the hook when your rod is in that position, but sometimes they do it themselves by grabbing the fly and returning quickly to the bottom.
Rod length is also an important consideration. I’m a 9-foot-rod guy for almost all my fishing, and this includes streamer fishing. Because I use 9-footers so often, I’m most proficient with them. My casting is accurate, and I can mend and maneuver my fly to entice a strike. But that doesn’t mean they are the best choice for everyone.
A 10-foot 7-weight is a big rod, but with a 6-weight, a 9'6" or 10' rod is not unreasonable. Longer rods add leverage and power for punching flies into the wind and they increase casting distances, especially if you are wading deep. They can also be handy for mending when you have out lots of line. Keep in mind, however, every additional 6 inches of rod length adds weight.
Casting Streamers on Windy Days
Dark cloudy and stormy days are often the best streamer days, and you’ll find that on those days, the wind often blows the hardest. Bad weather days in general are the best for streamer fishing, and I can count the calm Idaho summer afternoons on one hand.
My 6-weight performs in the wind effortlessly. You have to know how to cast effectively and you certainly need to perfect your double haul, but in most windy conditions, a 6-weight is a great tool for the job.
As you become a more capable streamer angler, you should expect bigger fish. Just putting in the time will eventually land your streamer in front of the noses of larger-than-normal trout. Luckily, most 6-weight rods are up for the battle.
To enjoy maximum success as a streamer angler, you must be persistent with your casting. A rod that’s less tiring to cast yet can handle the strains of bulky weighted flies and sinking fly lines is best, and these days that’s not generally a 7-weight rod. The new generation of 6-weight fly rods is up for the task.
And this slimming down in line weights is not just about streamer fishing for me. I used to fish salmonfly drys with my 6-weight, but due to exactly the same changes in rod design, materials, and weight, I now use a 5-weight for big salmonflies, and I use a 4-weight for most of my hopper fishing.
I recently landed a hefty permit on my 7-weight because the spooky fish made an unexpected appearance on a bonefish flat. You guessed it, I was using a 7-weight for bonefish rather than the old-school 8-weight we used to use years ago. Today’s fly rods do far more than they once did!
Jeff Currier is a guide in Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming, and hosts fly-fishing trips around the world. He has fished in 58 countries and caught over 375 fish species on the fly.