The 10' 5wt Rod vs. the 9' 5wt Rod

Written by the living legend himself - @njpehl - Nathaniel Pehl

These days, there is no shortage of options when it comes to fly rods. As the sport has grown over the years, new technology and innovation has found its way into how we toss a bug in our rivers and lakes.  

With rods vastly varying in length, line weight and even in the way you cast, it can be daunting when figuring out just which one is perfect for the circumstances you fish.  Living firmly in the center of what many consider to be a fly-fishing mecca (aka, southwest Montana), a 5wt is the flag-bearer for versatility.  It has enough backbone to fish the bigger rivers (like the Missouri and Yellowstone), yet not feel overkill when you hop on the Gallatin or any of the myriad of small creeks. My first fly rod 15 years ago was a 9ft 5wt, and it continues to be a stalwart on my fishy adventures around the region. 
However, a few years back, I had a friend who tried putting his fly rod into my rod rack and it didn't fit quite correctly.  After trying unsuccessfully to jam it in at different angles, I finally inquired, "is this fly rod longer than it's supposed to be!?"
Bemused, he replied, "no - it's a 10 footer!"
That sparked a long conversation comparing the advantages of the 9ft 5wt vs. the 10ft 5wt, and subsequently, adding one to my own arsenal.  Now several years into fishing both, I feel as though I've learned when each can be used advantageously. 
As aforementioned, the 9ft 5wt is an incredibly versatile rod that I've used everywhere from throwing streamers on the Missouri, to fishing poppers on lakes in South Dakota, to fishing some of the small mountain creeks in central Montana.  It just never really feels out of place.  It's ability to present a small dry fly to finnicky trout on the Henry's Fork is really no different than throwing a zonker for bass against the bullrushes of a stock pond.  Having something that well-rounded allows one to enjoy the sport without having to spend a fortune on different setups.  It really is a must-have in my opinion, and I would bet that many of you reading this already own one or two (if not, get one!)!
So, what's with the extra foot of the 10ft 5wt?  Why bother having that?  Well, very good question!
I'll admit - after playing fly rod Tetris trying to get it into the rack, I was skeptical.  However, it didn't take very long before I could see the benefits.  In fact, it was most noticeable to me when using it for nymphing.
Studies suggest that a trout's diet consists of 90% subsurface food sources (this number will vary dependent on species, of course), so while I love throwing dry flies, I do spend a fair amount of time nymphing and actually trying to catch fish (smiley face inserted here). With that in mind, I have found the 10ft 5wt does a fantastic job of picking up the line effectively for a back or forward mend (line management!).  I seem to get longer and more drag free drifts when using the 10-footer, especially on farther casts and presentations.  
One more mea culpa here - I struggled casting the longer rod at first.  My cast tempo/rhythm had been honed in on 9ft rods for over a decade, and my casts were initially sloppy and inaccurate.  It took a little practice to amend my cadence to the slower pace the 10ft 5wt required, but once I became proficient, it was an excellent and useful addition to my fly rod inventory.   It should be noted here that I have started people out with the 10ft 5wt, and they took to it just as fast as people took to the shorter rod, somewhat confirming my belief that it was just my years of repetition on traditional length rods that prevented me from having more immediate success.
Whether you are looking to buy your first fly rod or your 10th fly rod, I always feel like either of these two are great options.  They both serve so many different purposes, and in my opinion, should be in the fleet of every fly-fisherperson!









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