Light Weight Fly Fishing Rods

I have often been asked “What fly fishing rod is Mr. Chung’s current favorite?,” on this blog. This will be the subject of an entire chapter in a soon-to-be released book that I am in the works of getting published publishing about Rim’s RS2 fly and his fishing methods. The short answers are that a Sage TXL 0710- #0 Line and the Sage LL 2-weight in 7’9”, are Rim Chung’s all-time favorites.  He also fancies several of the Winston rods, such as the Boron III and then Winston Air 8’6” both in 3 weight.  He also still often fishes the Winston Boron IIx (3 weight, 8’6″, 4 piece), as being a slightly different light-weight travel type rod which was a predecessor to the Winston Air.

Personally, while Rim will never claim to have a favorite rod, I love the Winston Air 8’6” 3 weight the most of the many rods of Rim’s that I have used and my all time second favorite is the Winston WT 9′ 3-weight rod.  I exclusively fish Rim’s methods of nymphing.  My wife and daughter like the SageLL 3 weight 8’9” rod, as it’s a little stiffer and easier to cast.  Not surprisingly, I later learned that the 389LL became legendary in mid-90s, which many dry fly anglers also bought based on Gary LaFontaine’s suggestion, which we were unaware of at the time our local shops offered them as the latest in the Sage line-up.  Rim owns a 289LL, as well as his beloved 279LL.

Asking him which is his favorite rod used to be an easier question for him to answer, with a few suggestions, but now the usual response is something along the lines of “Well, that is a lot like asking a man about his favorite woman when he has the pleasure of so many to choose from, as it becomes hard to compare.  One might be in love with each one for what it represents and offers, without comparison to the others.”


I’ll attempt to let you in on an advance glimpse behind the invisible veil to catching more fish with his ultra-light weight fly fishing methods here, as his method is the real secret, not just the gear or his flies, but having light weight gear is very important to the success of his method.

Mr. Chung has been fly fishing since the glass and bamboo rod era, when these rods were the only choices available to anglers. Many times, he has emphasized to me the importance he places on light weight equipment. And, he is not the only one to focus on this important aspect of nymph fishing, as light weight lines and tippet provide a lot of advantages to the nymph fisherman, and to use those properly, you need light rods and finely adjustable reels.

Oliver Kite put it well that “[s]triking and hooking depend partly on the suitability of the rod to initiate the strike, [and] the lightness of the line to enable it to be instantly effective.” He went on to point out that good quality tackle will make this rather difficult and exacting sport more enjoyable and easier in practice.

“So how does bamboo compare to the modern graphite rods?,” I often have asked Mr. Chung. With bamboo rods having been around since at least the 1860s, but long having been abandoned to synthetics such as fiberglass, and now graphite, it seemed to me that graphite rods were logically superior. Mr. Chung replied, “I had acquired a few glass rods and eleven bamboo rods for my personal use, and for nearly two decades I fished bamboo exclusively. Since those days, I have tried many dozen graphite rods of various makes, weights and lengths. I say this not to impress you, only to impress upon you the thought that I have given this subject over the years of my experimentation with rods.”

“But with the lighter weights of graphite compared to bamboo, why do you use such light weight graphite rods today?” I asked. He said, “It seems very logical to me to use a light weight rod, especially when you are using small flies and light tippets. As you know, I tie and use flies which are size 16 to 26. Size 18 to 24 naturals are usually common in most rivers I have fished from the East Coast, to Montana, Utah, Colorado, and even in Alaska, Canada, and Korea. This is especially true in tail-water fisheries which predominate in the Denver area, where I live and have fished most. These small flies dictate that you use 6X or 7X tippet. Upon the initial setting of the hook, I believe that your rod needs to cushion these delicate tippets. This means a delicate and sensitive rod has a strong advantage over a more powerful one.”

“But what about the traditional thought that you need a rod with enough ‘backbone’ to play the fish?” “A light weight rod is also more sensitive in your hand. That sensitivity makes the whole experience of playing a trout more enjoyable. With the lighter line it is easier to control the line and the fish itself. This is especially true when it is big fish which are running up or down stream. It is easier to pick up sixty feet of line, when the line itself weighs half as much, due to its smaller diameter. The weight of sixty feet of five weight line could be too much to quickly lift in stronger currents. Even if you were able to do so over conflicting currents, the force required will be enough to break off most fish caught on 6X tippet. Remember, the line is like a chain, If forced, it will break at its weakest link. This is the tippet or the fly. The rod and the fly line are generally incapable of being broken on trout — even a two weight rod and a zero weight line on a thirty inch brown.”

I reflected that Mr. Chung was not the first to advocate light rods, as I was to able to confirm later in my research, but for some reason light rods have never completely become in favor. I continued the discussion with Mr. Chung by asking, “With a two weight rod don’t you find it hard to cast far enough?” “As the small flies dictate that you use fine tippets, I do not see any good reason when fishing for trout to use a rod heavier than a three weight. The primary argument that I have heard in favor of heavier rods, such as the ever-popular five weight, is the ability to cast in windy situations. Let’s be honest. There has been a recent trend in America, and for that matter throughout Europe, to cast further and further. Most casts for trout are under forty feet.

Rarely is there a need to cast sixty feet of line, particularly in nymphing. Even if you can easily cast sixty feet, you will not be able to control the line properly in rocky streams such as ours in Colorado. Further, your reaction time might be impaired such that you will encounter difficulties in hooking the fish. A two weight rod will cast adequately even in high winds, at those practical distances. If the wind is preventing a cast at those distances, most likely the angler will be thinking about heading home anyway, because it could be too windy to be comfortable enough to enjoy fishing.” “What’s wrong with my five-weight rod for nymph fishing? The salesman at the fly shop said it was a good general purpose rod. He said it was the best all around rod.”

“The only reason that I can think of for using a five-weight rod for trout is for heavier dry flies or streamers. When you have a large wind-resistant fly you need heavier leaders, tippet and line to properly turn over the fly. It is the same argument for using nine-weight rods for the extremely heavy bonefish flies. Therefore, it probably is a good all around choice if you are going to fish all different methods. But for nymphing, it is tantamount to using a driver on the putting green. Apply the same logic that you need a five weight to turn over 2x tippet and a weighted woolly bugger, only makes sense when you are using size 16 to 26 flies and 5X to 7X tippets. The lighter line will also create less drag on the fly itself. Therefore, less weight is necessary to keep the fly at a natural drift. The logic of ever using a five weight for nymphing, fails to register with me. Critically analyze this for yourself and see if you agree.”

I asked, “So if you are going to master nymph fishing, the lighter line rod is essential?”

“As you know by now, I have never been one to place an emphasis on the equipment itself. The technique is of paramount concern. But, the lighter rod and line is akin to having a fine sports car. If you learn how to drive it well, it may be safe to drive it at high speeds where permitted, in tight corners and for all driving situations. Yet, the reverse may be true for the four wheel drive pick-up with its ability to go anywhere. If I only drove paved roads and mostly freeways in Los Angeles, I would never see the need for a four wheel drive vehicle. To me, purchasing a five weight rod for nymph fishing for trout would be akin to buying a four wheel drive pick-up truck in Los Angeles. You just cannot rationalize it as being the best choice for the situation at hand.” “Well, if I were to get the perfect rod for nymphing, what should I buy?” I asked. “I believe you should choose the best rod you can afford. You generally get what you pay for when it comes to a fine piece of equipment.”

“That’s what my father-in-law always says about guns, horses and women,” I replied and we shared a laugh.

“This is an area where you should not skimp,” Mr. Chung frankly stated. “I also own a few bamboo rods which are very beautiful, but not practical compared to today’s graphite. Therefore, I generally dismiss them for the practical angler with today’s choices in rods. As for my favorites, I have settled on a very light, seven foot nine inch, two-weight rod and a zero-weight seven-foot ten-inch three-piece rod. There are many fine manufacturers of graphite rods these days. Many manufacturers produce light rods which may be a good choice for the purpose of nymph fishing. Generally, I prefer two and three weight rods with a finer action. A nine foot long rod would be easier to cast and manage than a shorter rod. Perhaps a nine foot rod would be best for nymphing, as it allows you to reach further over conflicting currents. However, I began my serious fishing with a six foot rod, so a seven foot nine or ten inch rod is still manageable for me and I somewhat prefer the lighter weight of the shorter rods. Given that the weight of a nine foot rod would necessarily be heavier to maintain the same action, the longer reach may be a negligible advantage. The choice of a rod could be a purely personal decision. Cast several rods, or better yet fish them for a day, and choose for yourself.”

I asked, “Well, about those new four-piece or five-piece two weight rods then?” “As for the number of sections in a rod, I believe that less is generally more. Meaning, that one should ask whether the additional ferrules were added to increase the performance of the rod. I think all would agree that they were not placed there for performance, but for the ability to make the rod fit in a smaller case. This lends me to believe that less ferrules adds up to better performance and fewer dead spots which result in the dampening of the rod’s action. However, the new Winston five piece rods seem to have a very good action, so maybe that is changing as well. If it were my only rod, I would definitely seek a two piece rod.”  It also translates to less weight in less sections.

“But having a good light rod alone will not make you a better fisherman. I once went up to the Cheeseman Canyon section of the South Platte to fish with a friend. Upon arriving I discovered that I had my reel in my jacket, but I had left my rod at home. Rather than try to persuade my friend to drive me all the way back, I suggested that he fish and that I would just watch and enjoy the day. With my reel in my pocket and his rod in his hand, we made the twenty-minute hike into canyon. While walking down the path along the river, I stepped on a pine cone. I picked it up and felt its weight. I was thinking that if I had enough weight to the line, I might be able to cast it by hand. I thought perhaps a pine cone would provide enough weight. My friend looked strangely at me, as I stuck the pine cone in my pocket. He didn’t ask why, perhaps wondering what the china man was going to eat that pine cone with for lunch. As he began fishing downstream, I sat on a rock and spotted a few fish. I hooked the pine cone to the leader, in the same way a bobber or strike indicator is now attached. I tied on an RS2 to the end of the line. I swung the line with the skill of a cowboy twirling a lasso, and chucked it about twenty-five feet out from the rock. I could see a fish move and I pulled on the line. To my amazement, a nice sixteen inch fish was pulling at the other end. As my friend approached to see what the hell was going on, I managed to land the fish, using only the reel, in about five minutes. I grasped the fish by the tail and raised it to the laughter of my friend.”


More on lines, flies and methods to come soon… please feel free to sign up now for the email feed on the bar to the right for more information on the articles, the dedicated website and book to follow.

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13 Replies to “Light Weight Fly Fishing Rods”

  1. When you say that one of Mr. Chung’s preferred rods is a Sage TZX, do you mean a TXL?

    And, btw, thank you so much for this website. It’s a treasure trove of information and inspiration.

    1. Sorry that was a typo, we have it fixed now. Rim’s current favorite is the Sage TZL 0710- #0 Line and his former favorite was the Sage LL 2-weight in 7’9”. I’d say he has personally owned well over 30 graphite rods from many manufacturers in the past thirty years, since they came on the scence replacing his bamboo nymphing rods. All of them have gone through meticulous testing, analysis and criticism, in actual nymph fishing. So the selection of these favorites is not a rash consideration, but one of elimination of most, if not all, other possibilities. Then again, it is one that in the end comes down to personal taste, so how can this point be argued?

  2. Not to be a pain, but it’s TXL, not TZL, correct?

    Also, there’s a new TXL, a TXL-F. Do you or Rim have any experience with that?

    1. Sorry, spell check kept changing the acronym when I posted it. Yes, it’s the TXL, which was the original 3-piece, 7’10”, in 0-weight. Rim also has a TXL-4 (and the 4 stands for four piece, versus the original which was 3-piece). The TXL-4 is an all together different rod, with different action, and is much stiffer (heavier and probably should be rated at least 1-2 weights more than they mark them), as compared to the TXL. The TXL can be found on eBay and some shops are still liquidating them online. Pick one up, you won’t regret it.

  3. Have you noticed any increased fish mortality from using lighter rods and does it take longer to net the fish verses a heavier rod?

    1. None and no, within reason, but that’s why we have several different rod weights to pick from given the conditions. The stiffness of the rod also makes a difference, and every rod is different in that regard, hence the experimentation with different brands, lengths and actions, for which Rim and I have similar but slightly different preferences based upon a particular river’s fish and conditions.

  4. Best I can tell this subject hasn’t been updated since before 2012. Now it’s 2016. Has Rim bought in to the longer, lighter rods of the Euro-nymphers? And lines?

    1. This site is up to date. And, no, while Rim has tried many lines and rods (in fact he worked part-time in a fly shop for several years of his retirement for something to do), but he remains confident in the ones I have described.

  5. It’s nice to see updates on your site. Your work is always appreciated. Following up on John’s question above, how do Rim and you feel about the style of nymphing practiced by competitive anglers, or Euro-nymphing (presumably because it is the most effective way to catch fish)? Specifically, how do you feel about fishing with essentially no fly line, using a long leader instead (i.e., a mono rig), and employing small nymphs tied with tungsten beads?

    1. Rim has commented on a few occasions that it offers no advantages to his method, having fished next to many International nymph fishing competitions (by chance on public water), although the use of light lines, long leaders, and no indicator (well sort of, they still have their version of a sighted, indicator, or often many of them) are similar. The need to change the fly to add or subtract weight to the rig is also a serious disadvantage in fishing different lies of a stretch, versus the modable putty on the line, which is instantly adaptable.

  6. That’s very interesting. Thanks to you and Rim, I have had great success through the years fishing his method. However, what I see as a legitimate argument from the Euro, comp, anglers is that they try to maintain tight contact with their (weighted) nymphs. I believe that Rim’s method probably results in a more natural drift, but with the weight so far above the flies, the cost of that drift is that contact is compromised. At least that is how I see it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


    1. I haven’t discussed your reply with Rim, but from my perspective after considering it thoroughly and having fished next to competitive Euro nymphing anglers, his method still has an advantage of being able to do what they do, and being able to do what they cannot do with their rigs. If you have “tight contact with the nymphs” it means then you are imparting either some drag or some pull (action) on the flies. All of these methods work at times (i.e., Leisenring lift, Sawyer’s induced take action on the Killer Bug, Joe Brooks’ swimming nymphs, etc.), and are used at times by Rim, but generally speaking having a natural drift is going to result in more takes. There are times where the fish definately take on the rise at the end of the drift usually during a heavy hatch. There are other times where you can induce a fish to take, if you have one close by and well spotted that is otherwise letting the nymph pass by.

      The argument against using a strike indicator to float the fly at a certain depth, which by definition will mean that the flies are floating at a different speed than the rest of the line above the indicator, as the surface doesn’t move at the same speed as the flies at depth, also applies to your example of “tight contact with a weighted nymph.” There is little chance you will be fishing with no drag. In short, there are times when you want a tighter line, such as when you are fishing a short line cast to close fish and there are other times where you want more slack, such as longer casts against varying current speeds.

      If they were catching more fish with the Euro rigs, I would have been the first to switch to them. But as Rim would say, try them and see what works for you, there is no wrong way, as ultimately fishing should be done in whatever way what brings you the most joy.

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