Rod and Tippet Selection - Don't Give Fish Bad Blood

It's not about you.  It's about the fish

Small river, big gear.  Cheech fights a nice brown with a 5 wt and 2x tippet

One 4th of July I picked up two of my five brothers (No.  No sisters.  Yes. Crazy mom.) on the way to our favorite bass lake so we could avoid the craziness of parades, barbecues, and extremely overweight people wearing shorts that are a size too small...  (sorry for the visual, but it helps me get in the zone.)  We launched at first light, and we rode the glassy water until we got to the happy hunting ground of submerged reeds and weed lines.  That's where the bass lived. That's where we would throw large hollow bodied frog lures and hope they would get engulfed by the jaws of predatory largemouth.  I opened up the rod locker to find that I hadn't brought a single fly rod - but I
Frog Bass
wasn't shocked - I left them home on purpose.  A day on the lake throwing heathen gear with my bros was going to be a great time even if the fish didn't cooperate a lot.  One Brother saw that I had 12 baitcasters and two spinning rig set ups ready to fish, many of which were rigged with 2 to 65 pound braided line, and he was wondering why I needed such heavy gear to chase fish that were probably going to max out at 3 pounds.  I explained to him that each technique was optimized by a certain rod and reel setup, and that I could technically get by with one rod, but my effectiveness would go down substantially.  Even though a rod was rated "Heavy" and for 1/2 oz to 1 oz lures on 15 to 20 pound test, It was absolutely the best tool for the job for these 3 pound fish because the jig I was throwing was very heavy, and I was going to be flipping it into some heavy cover.  Luckily I didn't have to use that rod very much because the fish were absolutely crushing topwater frogs tied to 50 pound braided line all day.  The key to this situation is that I had the proper rods lined up for the proper technique that I was going to be using.  The fly rods stayed home partially because fly fishing with three people on a bass boat is a nightmare, but most importantly, they weren't the right tools for the job that day.  (And before you tell me that you can do anything with a fly rod that you can do with a baitcaster, number one - this isn't the article to have that debate, and number two - look up punching mats for bass.)

What's my point with all of this conventional gear talk?  My point is that you should choose the right tool for the job.  If you know that you are going to change the oil in your car, you wouldn't be grabbing a handsaw would you?  You wouldn't go in to the auto parts store and brag to your buddies that you proceeded to change your oil with a handsaw right? "Yup, it took me about 17 hours, but by damn, I got it done.  It takes years of experience to learn how to change your oil with a hand saw, but you'll learn."  In the conventional bass fishing world I really don't hear much bragging about landing fish with light lines and light rods, but I'm sure it exists.  In the fly fishing world, however, stories of over-fighting fish with light gear are told as if they are badge of honor and a qualification of skill.  Now here is my main point before people get bent out of shape. If you use gear that requires you to fight fish longer than needed, you are greatly increasing the chances of killing fish. I have had some very interesting conversations with people about this, and I have to qualify one instance where fishing a light rod with light line is still a good way to land fish quickly - tight line "Czech or Polish" nymphing.  The longer rods used in this technique (typically 10' to 11') have a bit more backbone than a rod of normal length, and they are made for bringing in fish quickly so they can be scored in a competition setting.  Tippet has come a long way in recent years too, and some of the 5x and 6x tippets are amazingly strong and abrasion resistant.  In addition to using these rods and tippet, they are usually fishing in pretty close proximity, so it's easier to control the fish.  I guess I just don't understand the guy who goes out purposefully undergunned so he can fish, as one of my old fishing partners put it, "So I can feel the fish."  He was notorious for over fighting fish due to his undergunned gear.
17" tiger trout.  6 wt rod and 3x tippet

Several recent conversations that I have had have led me to think about the process I go through when I pick equipment for a certain trip.  Below are some gear selection opinions from Cheech's tying dungeon: (Keep in mind that these are my opinions...  and even though I feel pretty strongly about this stuff, you are entitled to your opinions as well.)

I realize that this might be easier to do if you have several rods to choose from, so if you are limited to one or two rods, it might be a good idea to get something that could cover all of your bases moderately well.  Generally speaking, and from a trout perspective, a 9' 5 wt or a 9' 6 wt will do you just fine.  If you have a whole barrel full of rods, (#firstworldproblems) choosing a rod can get a bit more tricky. What are the factors that determine what rod to use?  Is it the fish that you are chasing? Is it the type of fly you are using? Is it the environment in which you will be fishing?  I say it's all three.

For me, I look at the flies that I will be throwing first.  If I'm going to be throwing double articulated meat, I might take along an 8 wt even if I'm only targeting trout up to 22".  The 8 wt will allow me to more comfortably cast the large streamer all day where a 5 or 6 weight might wear out my shoulder.  Also, if I'm going to go fish a small stream with a huge hopper, I might opt for a shorter 4 wt rod instead of a 3 or 2 wt because it will be easier for me to turn over a larger fly (especially if the wind picks up.)

This chunk was even a challenge on a 7 wt
The next thing I consider is the type of fish that I'm chasing.  If I know that I'm chasing large stillwater cutthroat up to potentially 10 pounds, I'm not going to bring a 4 wt even though my go to fly for them is a small low fat minnow.  I usually string up my 7 wt with about 15 pound fluorocarbon tippet, not because I need it to cast the fly, but I need it to fight the potentially large fish.   If I'm going to go fish for bluegill, I know that there is no fish in the lake that is too much of a match for the trusty 3 wt, so I'll take it.  This being said, there have been many bluegill trips when the wind picked up and I ended up tying my bluegill flies on to the 7 wt I was using for bass.

Finally, I'll consider the environment that I'll be fishing.  If I'm going to be casting into the wind from a drift boat all day, I'll probably go with a heavier rod like a 5 or 6 wt even if the day involves casting small dry flies to rising fish.  A 4 wt is my preferred dry fly rod weight, but sometimes the wind can turn a 4 wt day into a 6 wt day.  Another thing to consider is obstacles in the water.  Curtis is notorious for breaking out his 9 wt while chasing bass because he might have to dig one out of the slop and salad.  A 6 wt doesn't do so well on salad duty.

I use the term "tippet" loosely because it can mean anything from 50 pound power pro braid (Curtis is guilty of this one) to good ol' Stren.  The point is that, like choosing a rod, you should consider flies, fish, and environment to make a decision on tippet.

The fly that you are going to fish has a big impact on the tippet that you should be using.  One time I had tied a bunch of hoppers for a guy who was going to use them on his local small stream full of eager brookies.  He messaged me to tell me that my hoppers were twisting up his line a lot and that he wasn't satisfied.  When I found out that he was using 6X tippet on a size 4 hopper, I explained to him how a 3x or 4x tippet would be a better choice.  Not because of the gnarly 10" brookies that he was catching, but because of the big foam fly that chews up small tippet like Curtis on a plate of corn bread.  This is only one example, but many times we just think about the size of fish we are targeting to make a tippet choice.  For the most part, micro tippet + big flies = twisted tippet and many swear words.

As I stated before, this is probably the most popular factor for choosing tippet, but one that I use very little.  I like to fish the heaviest line I can get away with, and I have been guilty of fishing 0x fluorocarbon for 16" demon eyed fighting rainbow trout on my favorite stillwater.  Why? Because I keeping  all of the fish you catch.  Landing a fish on extremely light tippet and an extremely light rod is certainly doable, but it is also a good way to kill them if it requires you to fight them for a long time.  I'll say it again If you use gear that requires you to fight fish longer than needed, you are greatly increasing the chances of killing fish.   Here is a simple breakdown of  fish, lactic acid, and bad blood.  When fish struggle they use muscles and tissue -> muscles and tissue use oxygen to operate -> once the oxygen is gone, lactic acid builds up -> lactic acid is toxic to fish -> once the lactic acid builds up, it is released into the blood -> fish need good blood to live -> lactic acid in the blood makes it bad -> as Taylor Swift reminds us, "now we've got bad blood" -> some bad blood can turn into good blood again -> some bad blood can kill a fish hours, or even days, after being caught -> over fighting of fish results in bad blood -> don't give fish bad blood.  This can also be said for fighting fish in general...  Get them in quickly regardless of your rod and tippet!  Don't be the guy who takes 8 minutes to land a 14" fish on his 6 wt indicator rig just so people know that he hooked up...  Yeah, I've seen that guy a time or two.
This fish was landed and released quickly with 3x tippet
can.  In regards to light tippet, just because I'm fishing in a creek where a 3 pound fish is a trophy, it doesn't mean that I should only fish 3 pound test.   There is also the mentality that some people like the challenge of landing a fish a very light rod and on tippet rated much lighter than the size of the fish they are pursuing.  This actually isn't a problem... If you are

Are you fishing a crystal clear spring creek where the fish scatter if a caddis fly so much as farts?  This might be a good reason to use lighter tippet... OR it might be a good opportunity to work on your fish stalking game and casting presentation.  The difference in diameter from 8x to 6x is very minimal, but the strength difference is substantial, so maybe challenge yourself to be able to catch the same fish with slightly bigger tippet.  I'm not against targeting big fish with light tippet - as long as you are disciplined enough to break a it off if you are fighting it too much.  I have seen large fish eat tiny midges presented on tiny line that can be landed quickly.  They are typically on heavily pressured water and kind of know the drill so they don't fight much and hold still while you release them.  Other environmental factors for tippet selection are underwater snags, tree branches that like to catch flies, etc.  It's not fun to snap off flies on a snag just because you are set on using light line.

This whole post was spurred by some interesting conversations that I have had this week, and I just want to point out that I own 2 wts and 3wts that I LOVE to fish.  I have spools of 6x and 7x, and I'm not saying that I never use them.  I just wanted to point out that you should use gear that allows you to land fish quickly and responsibly.  If you target fish with gear that purposefully extends the fight of a fish, you are basically poisoning that fish (see bad blood.)  I also realize that if we cared that much about fish, we wouldn't deceive fish with fake food, and then torture them by shoving needle sharp shards of metal through their mouths.  I get it, we all injure fish, and it's the nature of our sport!  Lets just be more ethical in our fish injuring practices by using the appropriate gear.