Short Sticks

Short Sticks
Short fly rods, like TFO’s 7 ½ foot TiCrX 6wt, can make tight accurate casts in close quarters.
Imagine taking your favorite 9-foot fly rod and snipping 18 inches off the tip. How do you think it would cast? And more importantly, why shorten it? In an effort to address the needs of anglers casting big flies around flooded timber, deadfalls, and the confines of the saltwater backcountry, several rod manufacturers are doing just that. But these rods are far more than just sawed off 9-footers. Modern materials and rod-building technology are infusing them with power and accuracy. The net result is an impressive selection of very short sticks that can be easily maneuvered around timber, beneath mangroves, and in cramped spaces.

Although they have been available for several years, I first had a chance to cast a selection of Temple Fork Outfitter's (TFO) short rods last fall at a fly tying show in Houston. TFO offers 7 foot models built on their popular TiCrX blanks. They currently manufacture these short rods in both 6wt. and 8wt. models. The fit and finish on the 7 footers identical to their big brothers. They are equipped with double up-locking real seats, good quality cork, large fighting butts, and oversized guides. They are good-looking fly rods sporting the familiar deep blue finish synonymous with the TiCrX line and they carry TFO's standard lifetime no-fault warranty.

As I looked at the rods I was skeptical about their potential. Why shorten by 18 inches an already very fast-action rod? How could the result be at all pleasing to cast? When it was my turn to cast I grabbed the 6 wt.. Much to my surprise, the short 6 wt. was a real pleasure. In fact, the more I cast it, the more I liked it. It was accurate, crisp, adequately forgiving, and altogether a delight. It had the power to lift and carry an impressive amount of line, but lacked the abrupt unforgiving feel I expected. It felt like an extension of my arm, and where I pointed the line went. I was spellbound and just kept punching casts around the parking lot with that nimble little rod until someone finally stepped in and informed me my turn was up. I relinquished the rod, but couldn't quit thinking about all the sneaky fish I could peg with it.

I procured both the 6wt. and 8wt. models shortly after the show, and have been fishing with them for about 4 months under a wide variety of conditions and venues in both fresh and salt water. Time will tell how the short design of these rods plays out, but I can share with you my observations to this point.

From the casting perspective, the accuracy and power of both the 6wt and the 8wt. rods has impressed me. They are capable. I have fished sinking lines and floating lines on each rod, and cast a wide variety of flies in windy and calm conditions. Floating lines felt like the best marriage for both rods, although each could handle heavier sinking lines with no problem. Both rods exhibited plenty of deep power to fight fish and neither had a wimpy feel when the heat was on. Each rod balanced well with comparatively light reels. In fact, the 6wt was rigged with a slick little machined TFO 310 and it felt like a nearly perfect match. Overall, in my hands the 6wt. is a cleaner smoother feeling fly rod, but that is purely a subjective observation. I like the 8wt., but I love the 6wt.

Immediately evident was how easy the rods were to handle in a boat or kayak. Knocking 18 inches off the customary 9-foot rod makes a huge difference in handling. When paddling through the marsh the 7 foot rod is a dream. Sticking out of a rod holder, it is less prone to snag on cordgrass or mangroves than a 9-footer. Placed down the center of the kayak in the "ready" position, it fits cleanly with nothing poking over the bow. The shorter length also makes that awkward side-saddle fish handling a bit easier too.

On the downside, if you struggle to cast a 9-foot rod from the seated position in a kayak, don't expect it to get any better with a shorter rod. It won't. One aspect of shorter rods I already knew, but was reminded of on several occasions is that a collapsing loop spells trouble, as does whacking water on your backcast. Short rods lack the stroke length to quickly recover flailing line. And yeswe all flail from time to time. Likewise, when casting in the wind or when trying to achieve distance, double hauling is mandatory. Maintaining tight loops and consistent line speed is critical to making accurate casts with these rods and this is something to consider before purchasing one. If you have a good core casting stroke, it is much less of an issue.

Perhaps a more important aspect to consider is practicality. In other words, "Is this rod the best fit for the type of fishing I do." If you cast primarily over open water from the bow of a flats boat, or fish mostly in the surf or on the jetties, forget it. Stick with the 9-footer. But, if your fishing consists of paddling or poling backcountry creeks and lakes where you punch tight casts in and around cordgrass and mangroves, these rods are ideal. And, if you pepper your saltwater fishing with occasional bass or river fishing trips, or maybe some carp fishing (it's OK to admit it), where your sticking flies under trees and around cover, you're in business. These rods do that very well, and trust me plucking a fish out of cover with one is pretty cool.

Overall I am impressed with both the 6wt. and 8wt. 7 foot TiCrX fly rods. I liked the feel of the 6wt. a bit more than the 8wt. Each rod excelled at what it was designed to do- punch flies into cover and maneuver casts in tight spaces. Neither rod was a good choice for wide open windswept casting. But they weren't designed for that. Both rods had plenty of backbone to pull stubborn fish out of cover and neither lacked power under pressure. The short design of these rods makes them easy to store and handle in a kayak, but it also limits the ability of the rod to recover uncontrolled line and it requires casters to double haul and have a solid confident casting stroke. Bottom line though is practicality. If you fish primarily tidal creeks and backcountry lakes, or you regularly maneuver and cast under or around cover, then I highly suggest you try one of these rods out. They could be a perfect fit.