An 8wt would be a good starting point. I find my 6wt is limited in the size flies it will cast - especially if there's any wind to deal with. I'd say get the 8wt first and plan on adding a 6wt later.
Hey Wabi, nice to see a familiar face I should add that I have a 5/6 wt setup, its an old beginner Pflueger/Shakespeare walmart special, but I got some Sage Performance WF6F line to put on it which should dramatically improve its performance until I am able to afford a new combo. I'm not made of money yet, but I'm working on it!
Its just odd, most locals I talk to recommend a 6 wt, but I am strangely attracted to the 8. I am completely confident in my ability to fight a larger fish on a smaller rod, and I am hesitant to get a rod that takes the fun out of the fight. What do you guys think the biggest flies you can cast on a 6 wt are?
I have a bunch of olive wooly buggers tied, next up will be some white/chartreuse clousers, and then maybe some gartside hackle streamers or puglisi style baitfish streamers for those hybrids.
People will tell you they can cast monster flies on their 5 or 6 weight because it is somewhat dependent upon casting skill....and people like to BS a lot .
I double haul fairly well and consider myself at least an "average" caster, and I rarely enjoy tossing poppers larger than #6 and lead-weighted bulky flies larger than a #2 or 4 depending upon the actual fly on my 6 weight. My usual fly sizes used on my 6 weight are between #8-14. A good double haul and opening the loop helps, but big flies are no fun to me....so if you want to throw bigger poppers and such, go for the 8 weight and save yourself the trouble.
To me, this is almost entire a "fly line mass needed to carry flies in the air" issue, not a "I need a tougher stick to fight the fish" issue.
I usually limit the 6wt to size 8 or smaller, especially with a heavily weighted fly like a Clouser. If I'm going to use size 4 or larger Clousers (I seldom tie a size 6 so I skipped from 8 to 4) I'll grab the 8wt, or 8wt (spey rating) switch rod if I'm using a sink tip line.
An 8 weight rod seems about perfect to me. I mostly use a 7 weight rod because that was what I first bought. However tossing large flies and wind resistant bugs is a lot of work. I stuck to my one rod weight for over 35 years and have caught a lot of fish. Small flies on very long leaders for big brook trout on calm lakes and big whitefish in rivers....no problem. It takes stealth and absolute silence to ease up near enough to them to make a nice long cast but it works marvelously with the 7 weight.
Not long ago, I won a very nice 9 weight but I haven't used it yet but watch out next year. No bass of any kind where I live but there are lots of pike, landlocked salmon and even walleye.
Since you will be targeting small mouth bass almost exclusively.....yes....the 8 weight seems very nice in my book.
For the smallies around here a 19 incher would be almost unheard of so a 5-6 wt works fine but I use an 8wt mainly because I'm throwing giant bugs and such. And there is a good chance you can catch something big like a 50ish inch pike in the same fishery.
Plus where I catch bass the most it's pretty weedy, I don't want to fight them out of the weeds with a rod that's too light.
Most of the smallmouth waters around me are clear and gravelly lakes that don't have a lot of thick vegetation. If I'm wading and looking for distance, I'll use a 10' 6 wt rod and #6-#12 woolly buggers. I usually use unweighted flies; using sinking or sink-tip lines to bring the fly into the feeding zone.
In general, my bass fishing (small and largemouth) consists of any one of my 7 wt glass rods. For thicker vegetation, larger flies, or extreme winds I'm not opposed to using 8, 9, or 10 wt.
So, it's my opinion that an 8 wt is not too much rod for smallmouth. I say, use what you have and don't feel obligated to purchase another rod...unless you want to.
Use your 8wt and gear toward big smallies both with tackle and mindset. Believe me, hook onto a 5lb small mouth and that 8wt will feel like your best friend. And the fast current of New River to that here,,and that's jest about right. And here,,there is always the muskie, walleye, striper, fat largemouth or sometimes even a freight train of a catfish that might jump ya fly. Not to mention them huge ol' carp !
Right now I'm fishing a BVK 5wt with a 6wt line but I do feel the situation is gonna come along were I'm gonna feel 'too light in the butt' for what I hook onto in the river.
Now, small mouth in my fav creek here, I use my 4wt as I have little worry of hooking anything bigger and the creek smallies run on the 'less than 3lb' size,,with most of them being just fun fish in the 12 to 14" range.
I always go lighter on rod weights. I'd rather feel the fish I catch than catch a few more and think they were snagged logs.
I tend to agree with this when spin fishing, but not fly fishing for bass. Bass flies can be huge, and the 8 weight does the job better than lighter lines (won't even use the term "rods" since the rod isn't really the important bit) -- no comparison.
I use a 6 weight diamondback rod for all freshwater myself. Before I got that rod I used an orvis silverlabel 5 wt.
In my opinion, casting flies oversized to your rod/line actually improves your casting technique. Over time you learn what the most effective motions and subtle techniques are to get every last measure of performance out of your rod.
I throw 1/0 and 2/0 poppers, big fluffy mice, weighted crayfish, and big streamers with my 6wt because I've gotten used to hauling them out there.
I would definitely not be opposed to a little more rod/line weight to cast even farther, but unintentional panfish are so common when fishing for bass, and an 8 weight would be like an Olympic strongman walking an angry Chihuahua. That's where I think the 7 wt is perfect for anyone looking for a good compromise between fish play and cast length.