Text and images by Craig Smith
A 9 foot 5 weight fly rod is the most common first fly rod purchase made by anglers getting into fly fishing. That is because fly fishing is still primarily thought of as a trout fishing technique by non-fly anglers. But for most of the world, nation, and even San Diego County, trout are not nearby or only available in small numbers for a few months of the year. Here in the San Diego area, when we take into account both freshwater and saltwater species, there are dozens more species available the fly angler. Even in freshwater, there are at least seven other species present in greater numbers and availability that will take the fly: largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, redear sunfish, common carp, catfish, bullhead. Many burgeoning fly rodders visit Stroud Tackle looking for their first fly rod and want to fish both fresh and saltwater. So, what do we recommend as choice for best single all-around rod fly rod choice for the San Diego County area? Our suggestion is a 9 foot 7 weight rod.
The San Diego area is a great place to go fishing regardless of the type of gear used. We have numerous fresh and saltwater venues close by. It is even possible to fish both fresh and saltwater in the same day. Swimming in our local waters is a large variety of fish species that will take a fly using a variety of techniques. Those species come in a wide range of sizes but most that we catch will weigh less than 10 pounds. Let us start by looking at the freshwater scene.
So, what about trout? The majority of local trout that anglers pursue are hatchery fish that are stocked our local lakes. Most of the trout stocks occur from November through April and the fish range in size from 8 or 9 inches to over 10 lbs. With a 7 weight rod you can fish with floating, intermediate, sink tip and sinking lines with nymphs, streamers and dry flies. The 7 weight will feel like a heavy rod for the smaller fish but it can handle the biggest stocked trout. When it gets windy like it often does on our local lakes, the heavier line used with a 7 weight will help many casters deal with the breeze. If you are pursuing those small wild fish that still exist in a few remote mountain creeks the 9 foot 7 weight rod will be longer and heavier than you want, but it will cover most local trout fishing situations in lakes.
The local freshwater fish commonly available year-round are largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and carp. With a 7 weight rod you can cast any fly that you would use for bluegill, crappie, and carp as well as many smaller to medium sized flies used for bass. The 7 weight rod has enough backbone to deal with the largest local bluegill and crappie, which can reach sizes in excess of two pounds, yet is not so heavy that it overpowers and deadens the fight of smaller fish. It might feel like too much rod when catching small bluegill, but remember, we are selecting a “do all” rod. When casting large wind resistant deer hair bugs, poppers, or streamers for bass, a regular 7 weight line can be a little light for easy casting of bulky air resistant flies or heavily weighted closer minnow. But you don’t need to get a heavier rod. Instead use a heavier line. A 7 weight rod will easily handle standard weight forward 8 or 9 weight line for casting most of the distances we toss bugs for bass. Or you can go with one of the many specialty lines that are made for long distance casting or for carrying bigger flies. Two popular series of floating lines are the Rio Outbound Short and Scientific Anglers Titan Taper lines. Both of these line series are two to two and a half weights heavier than the AFMA line rating standard. For sinking lines, match the rod with a 250 grain sinking integrated taper line like a Rio Striper or Scientific Anglers Sonar line. Or, alternatively, select a Rio Outbound Short or Sonar Titan taper rated with the matching line weight (7wt in this case) with the desired sink rate. In other parts of California, we have fished for and caught double digit size striped bass with a 7 weight rod matched with a 250 grain fast sinking integrated shooting taper line to cast 5” long weighted flies like Clouser Minnows. So a seven weight rod is certainly capable of subduing most largemouth bass and carp that you will run across.
When we move from freshwater to the salt, the 7 weight is perfect for the surf zone. While I typically fish a 6 weight rod in the surf, I often use a 7 weight, especially when the wind or the surf is up. It is not so heavy and stiff that you can’t feel the fight of a smaller perch but it still has enough backbone to deal with a 5 pound corbina, a 30 inch halibut, or even a 36 inch shovelnose guitar fish. Paired with a 250 grain integrated shooting taper line it will cast any fly you would use in the surf.
If we move back into the bays, the 7 weight is again a great all-around rod. I usually use 6 weight rods in the bays but I always have a 7 weight rod along. Depending on the water depth, current speed, and wind, I match it with a floating, intermediate, sink tip, or 250 grain integrated shooting taper. I have also used 8 and 9 weight rods in the bays but find the 7 weight less tiring to cast all morning and it will handle any fly I want to toss. It will also tame most of the fish commonly caught in the bays including 10 pound halibut and even 15 pound bat rays. It is a perfect match for spotted bay bass, yellowfin croaker, mackerel, bonito, shortfin corvina, bonefish and other species found in the bay. The only time I have ever felt that I didn’t have enough rod in the bays with a 7 weight is when I have hooked some large bat rays, but then even a 10 or 12 weight is not enough for some of the big rays.
If we move outside the bays and surf zone for some inshore saltwater angling, we find that a 7 weight starts feel a bit under-gunned as fish get bigger and faster. When you get to the kelp beds and beyond, heavier rods in the 8 to 10 weight range are usually better options. However, you can still get by with a 7 weight for mackerel, bonito, and calico bass if that is your only option and you rarely get outside the bays. If you are fishing tight to the kelp it might be tough to stop a calico bass headed back into cover with a 7 weight rod, but if you are in more open water it will still handle a 5 pound calico or a 5 pound bonito if you make sure you use the butt section to fight the fish and not the top half of the rod. I have even brought a few firecracker yellowtail to the net with a 7 weight. Rigged with the same lines you would use in the bay, you can cast batifish patterns used for inshore fishing. If you are casting crease flies or poppers for bonito or calico bass on the surface I do recommend going up to a WF-8-F line or use something like a 7 weight Rio Outbound Short or Scientific Anglers Titan Taper line.
What about offshore? You really need to think about something heavier when you get off shore. Is it is possible to bring to the boat bonito and skipjack tuna in the 5 to 10 pound sizes as these fish don't go deep but it is a lot more work than I want to invest time in. A 5 to 10 pound yellowfin tuna or yellowtail will get you into a vertical slug fest that a 7wt just isn't suited for.
There is not a single length and weight fly rod that is ideal for every local fly angling situation. I have a couple of dozen that I use. I could narrow that down to about four rods from 3 weight to 10 weight that match well to most of our local opportunities. But if I were limited to just one rod here in our home waters it would be the 9 foot 7 weight. I would certainly be making some compromises compared to an ideal rod for some fishing conditions and fish. The rod may feel too heavy for smaller fish and too light for bigger fish. But it will work well and be a perfect match for the majority of local angling situations when paired with the right line. If I were going to limit myself to just freshwater, or just saltwater I would make a different choice for a single rod. However, if limited to a single rod that will work for most our local fishing, both salt and fresh, my choice is the 7 weight.