Our Three Star thread on Eastern - Western Rods was fun and enlightening. I believe we established that optimal rods for a given environment and style of fly fishing may be made anywhere and the fundamental variables are the rods' designer and technology in concert with Nature's diversity of stream characteristics. Unresolved, perhaps indefinitely, is the question of rod action and, personal preferences taking a second seat, can flex profile be qualified as advantageous or not on a given category of trout stream? Being the shortest days of the year, with the cold weather upon us and brown trout eggs in the gravel, most of us are not trout fishing now and we can discuss this issue on our Forum as a form of sublimation.
So lets start with a moderate size creek like the Willowemoc or upper Farmington in the East and many of the Yellowstone Park streams like the Firehole or Slough Creek in the West where 50' is the longest cast you would ever make and 20 to 35' the most common distances. We are most likely to fish surface floating flies though a single nymph, pupa or small streamer is possible. A big fish is surely possible, who among us does not start each day astream with a fantasy about that, but, realistically, a 12" beautifully colored fish is very satisfying. So, deep slow flexing, progressively tapered or fast action, which offers the combination of accuracy, delicacy and sensitivity needed on a smaller river and modest sized fish? Oh, and I get to go first.
Many streams of this size have bank-side vegetation and some overhanging trees but these streams mostly can be waded so I don't need a diminutive 6 1/2' rod to poke through the Mountain Laurels with but neither will a rod of 9' or more offer any advantage and longer, say 10', might be a hindrance. So I will select an 8 to 8 1/2' rod. I want authoritative control over my line for the variety of presentation types I will strive to execute so I will forgo very light-weight lines like #2 or 3, however, because of relatively short distance requirements both of casting and downstream reach and feed presentations, I don't need a lot of line mass either so I will select 4-weight with a #5 being a distant second choice. A rod of this size is not going to be heavy but the weight range from cane to glass to old graphite to the newest lightest ever graphite is relatively significant and though I am going to select the current low mass, lightweight graphite it is not entirely about weight. It is about sensitivity. Line feel is critical to me. During casting, I feel if I am getting my timing just right or if I am inadvertently asymmetrical in my fore and back cast or introducing slack with poor line hand management and, on water, I hope subtle rod tip manipulations will translate directly to correctly shaped current counteracting mends. I want to feel the line more than the rod; I call this line communication and the lower mass, lighter, better tracking and quicker tip recovery the rod features the more transparent this dialog with the line will be. So I do not want a rod that takes its time loading down into the cork grip because I then feel the rod more than the line nor do I want a saltwater fast rod whose tip is about distance casting without collapse rather than sensitivity to the mend, drift, take and feel of our 12" spotted beauty zipping this way and, oh no, not that way, lets gently steer you away from that dead fall alder.
So I want a slender, thin walled low mass rod with light swing weight that has a gentle but responsive tip that will not collapse but recover quick and true supported by a mid section to keep that tip under control and generate good line speed with some degree of stiffening in the butt, not only for reserve power when occasionally needed but to progressively limit the flexural profile to what is required for accurate, enjoyable casting while preserving the rod shaft's sensitivity to the feel of the fly line outside the tip top. The first graphite rod I ever had was an 8 1/2' built in the late 1970's on a J Kennedy Fisher blank for such streams and, more than a dozen such rods latter, I am currently fishing a Hardy Zenith 8 1/2'/#4 which is remarkably light, has an astonishingly flexible and sensitive tip that fibrillates not at all, all the transparency of line feel I could ask for and enough butt to cast with authority longer than I have thus far needed to.
I'm a cane junkie and made a 7'11" based on the Letort 40 (4wt) just for those types of streams. I increased the swell to add a bit of "pep" to the butt but like the softer tip for dries and I feel gives me an advantage when swinging soft hackle flies in the film. I suppose you could call it a progressive taper by today's standards but cane does have a slower feel to it due to their mass. Its what I would choose for the Gardner, Slough, Willowemoc Beaver Kill or say the Musconetcong, Flatbrook, Big Spring, Spring Creek, Fishing Creek, any of the mid range Freestone or Spring creeks. For me its good all around'er, maybe not too good for nymphing but I'd rather swing a softie if I can't get them to rise to the dry. Its definitely not the choice rod for streamers over a #8 in my book either.
I dont have your experience on famous waters (ive fished a few but not as many as you) but im familiar with most of the waters and conditions your talking about. for me its easy my 9ft 4 wt scott g2. second choice 8 1/2 4wt zxl . if i really needed to because of the wind my 9ft 5wt g2 but only if truly necessary.
dpreller, My thinking is the out-your-back-door creek may be every bit as fine a place as a famous name stream but I have to use recognizable names for breadth of understanding and, further, I am confident your Scott G and smaller Sage would be a fine brace of rods on any small river. All the rods mentioned so far from yours to a fully handcrafted cane are great choices. What I am hoping to hear more about is WHY. Besides what rods you like, what characteristics of their taper, line weight and performance attributes make them your choice for the type of fishing described either by me or your experience with these types of streams.
Sage 376-4 ZXL with SA Mastery trout stalker , just a fantastic dry fly rod that can handle a little Breeze. Hanging a little dropper of a Adams or EHC is no problem. More medium action delivers flies softly, protects tippets and 8" Brookies are a blast on it.
Second choice comes out if the wind is howling or if it is hopper / dropper time of year. Sage TXL 4710-3. Handles wind and bigger flies like a dream, but with the SA Mastery trout stalker can throw a 20BWO very delicately as well. A little faster than the ZXL but still extremely sensitive tip and protects tippet very well.
Unresolved, perhaps indefinitely, is the question of rod action and, personal preferences taking a second seat, can flex profile be qualified as advantageous or not on a given category of trout stream?
I fished the Firehole in Sept. The wading was easy and there were no casting obstructions. My partner and I both fished 3wts. His was 7'6" (a nice Loomis) and I fished a 8'6" Redington CT. We traded rods there for a while just for kicks.
His Loomis was both shorter and "faster" or at least more of a tip flex than my rod. Both fished very well after 5 minutes to adjust your stroke a little. I found I could present a #16 caddis as well with either and mend well enough too...My only concern with the shorter/faster rod was that I broke off a fish on the hookest once and I seldom do that anymore. (might have been 6x but I think 5)
The 4 wt in either rod would have also been a good pick, especially if you ran into a fish with some heft...but there was light current and no wood for the fish to run into. I thought I could reasonably land a sizeable fish with my 3.
Geez...not sure if this is the kind of answer you're looking for...I clearly prefer the action of the CT over a faster rod (personal preference) but think either can be used successfully...
The previous thread and this one, can and will make for interesting, sometimes heated conversation, but can also confuse the heck out of someone just starting out, 'fast tapers, short tapers, thin or thick wall, fiberglass or carbon fiber scrim, long or short rods, fast and slow action', etc, etc, etc...
IMHO, one should know what they like in a rod for a given situation, learn the rods abilities and limitations, and simply go fishing.
We're not reinventing the wheel here or splitting Atoms, just trying to get a fish to take our fly, so why over complicate something that's suppose to be fun?