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Rethinking the 9 Foot 5 Weight

In March 2020, as the world shifted, I found my fishing year taking on a new form. I decided to delve deeply into European-style fishing techniques, including euro nymphing, loch-style tactics from the UK, and even trout spey. What struck me was the common thread among these techniques: the preference for longer rods, typically 10 feet or more. Initially, I assumed this preference was due to the need for longer reach in large rivers and lakes. However, a closer look revealed a more nuanced picture. Euronymphers, for instance, expertly navigate tight riffles and runs with their long 2 and 3-weight rods. This piqued my interest that there might be more to using longer rods than simply covering greater distances of water.

So, as a gear enthusiast, I felt compelled to experiment with these longer rods, even if it meant straying from my trusty 9-foot 5wt. Now, after years of testing, I can confidently say that I'm ready to bid farewell to the 9-footers. Here's what I discovered along the way.

One of my initial concerns was landing larger fish with longer rods. While I didn’t land any monsters exceeding 22 inches in my first year of experimentation, I did manage to handle numerous sizable rainbows. To my surprise, landing these fish was smoother than ever, with fewer break-offs. The longer, softer rod tip not only protected my tippet but also provided additional leverage against the fish's weight.

I fully embraced the euro nymphing approach, using jigged flies and specialty leaders. However, I also tested the rod's performance with indicators, split shot, and even dry flies. With an extra foot of length, I felt like I had grown taller, with a wider wingspan. Mending and reaching were easier, expanding my fishing zone significantly.

Moreover, contrary to popular belief, casting with longer rods is not a challenge for skilled casters. With the right line and leader, a capable caster can adjust their stroke for any application. I've witnessed individuals casting with nothing but their arms and a line, showing that adaptability is key. During one of my testing days, I stumbled upon a PMD hatch while euro nymphing and couldn’t resist the opportunity to fish a dry fly. Without changing anything but the fly, I was able to present delicate dry flies to rising trout successfully.

In Stillwater fishing, longer rods proved advantageous for casting from a seated position, whether in a boat or float tube. The added length helped ward off fatigue over long casting sessions. While landing fish required a longer-handled net, the trade-off was a greater reach, useful for guiding fish away from obstacles like anchors, motors, and deep weeds.

While longer rods have all kinds of applications, even on smaller waters, my exploration into trout spey highlighted the advantages of longer rods on larger rivers. For swinging flies, larger rods allow for wider swings, I couldn’t believe how much more water I could cover.  You don’t even need a fully specialized trout spey rod to reap the rewards, any longer rod will have similar advantages when swinging flies, at least compared to a traditional 9 foot 5 weight. 

There are even more applications that I have yet to explore, such as angling in high alpine lakes. Often these lakes don’t allow for room to back cast, so longer rods with enhanced abilities for roll-casting should provide anglers with additional reach, invaluable when trying to cast to trout rising just out of reach. 

What I find most intriguing about these longer rods is their prevalence in Europe. Fly fishing has a richer history in Europe, with a more established competitive scene. Competition, regardless of personal views, drives innovation. Only recently have rod companies begun adapting these rods for sale in North America, with new euro nymphing rods, 10-foot lake rods, and even trout-specific spey rods entering the market.

Each of these rods offers unique benefits to anglers, leading me to ponder whether the reign of the 9-foot 5wt is coming to an end.

What do you think?

Author Bio:

Andy Witt, scientist and angler obsessed with chasing and understanding all gamefish, writes on the intersection of science, conservation, and fly fishing for Due West Anglers, based out of Denver, CO. 

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