Casting a fly rod is a pretty simple matter of physics once you get the hang of things and know what a well presented fly and line looks like in the air and on the water, but it can be a physical workout if you’re not used to the exercise or have equipment that isn’t moderately light or well-balanced in the hand. We strive very hard to come up with outfits that “just feel right” the moment you pick it up and anglers definitely appreciate the extra effort once he/she is on the water swinging it back and forth a couple hundred times in a morning. But what makes a well-balanced combination?
I’m first going to compare throwing a fly rod to shooting a shotgun on the trap or skeet range and shooting geese, as opposed to a field gun for grouse and quail. I know it may seem a bit strange to look at it this way but you’ll get the connection if you hang in there for a few paragraphs. Shooting shotguns is all about acquiring the target, mounting the gun smoothly, starting and maintaining a smooth swing while pulling the trigger and passing through the target without pause. Any hitch in that process will cause problems for sure. So what does a gun’s balance have to do with that process and how is that compared to a fly rod?
Trap shooters and goose hunters traditionally shoot long barrel shotguns (up to 32 inches) because maintaining a smooth swing through the target during the shot is more important than overall gun weight. A longer barrel can make the gun feel a bit front heavy but that ensures that the gun remains in motion once the swing has started. Conversely, a true field gun will have somewhat shorter barrels (26 to 28 inches) and lighter stocks because the quickness (the amount of time needed to acquire the target and mount the gun) needs to be emphasized more than maintaining a lengthy swing on birds or targets flying a somewhat predictable path at a steady speed. Flushing birds need to be acquired quickly and shot before getting out of range or ducking behind cover, thus requiring a light, fast-pointing shotgun.
Fly rod balance can be equally important to the angler but it’s more a matter of angler “feel” and how hard it is to control the rod’s path through the air once in motion. Front heavy or butt heavy rods can cause fatigue, unnecessary torqueing or twisting, and a sluggish or listless sensation for the angler. A perfectly balanced rod and reel combo feels light in the hand, accurate, responsive, and is generally a pleasure to throw all day.
So how do you put together a properly balanced outfit? Thankfully, the reel manufacturers think about this issue when they develop their products and a recent test session wherein I weighed a large number of our most popular reels in six and eight weight models, proved that they’re all pretty similar given the specific line weight they were designed for. There was only a .5 to 1.0 ounce difference between fifteen different 5/6 weight models. There was a much greater variation in fourteen 7/8 weight models with the lightest being 5.5 oz. and the heaviest being 10.0 oz. Much of that difference can be attributed to drag design or the fact that the reel was intended to cover three different rod sizes (7/8/9) instead of the usual two (7/8). I guess this means that balancing a number six rod is easier, given the similarities in reel weights, than a number eight.
The rods themselves can vary greatly in physical weight but many times it’s a question of how the weight is distributed rather than the actual total. Some rods are tip heavy and would require a heavier reel to balance out properly, while others are butt heavy and would benefit from a lighter reel to avoid feeling like you’ve got a brick hanging from the handle. You just have to test fit a variety of reels to find the one that gives the proper balance for your needs.
Keep in mind also that the rod’s length will affect its balance as will the addition of backing and line. Short rods have a center of gravity different than standard or long ones so there are instances we’d sell the customer a reel one size smaller than normal to keep the proper balance. Of course we have to watch the amount of backing going on the reel at this point, but that’s not normally a problem given the rod’s intended purpose. Short bass rods and ultralight outfits are the most obvious examples of combinations where we need to ensure a compatible match up.
The rod and reel combination pictured above is one of my personal favorites and it fits my hand so well that it seems like Sage called for my input before designing it . The balance is exactly where I like it and because of that, I can cast all day, put the fly right where I want it, and easily become "one" with the rod. There's nothing like having a piece of equipment that matches you perfectly so spend a little time building your next outfit. Pay attention to the balance and how it's going to affect your fishing performance and how much you enjoy waving that stick around. You'll be glad you did.
Brian “Beastman” Eastman