We get a lot of phone calls and emails about what type of rod to use when fishing for trout here in Montana. If you're an experienced angler and you're adding to your quiver or you're a beginner who's about to fall down the rabbit hole, there's always questions about the type of rod you should be using. Rod choice depends on where you're fishing, what kind of fish you're targeting, and what style of fishing you're going to be doing.
Here in Ennis, Montana, on the Madison River, we use a lot of single-hand rods that usually have no fighting butt and are lighter rods. It's a trout river and we're in trout country here. We use a lot of 4-7WTs on the Madison.
Other Rod Types to Know About
Spey/Micro-Spey: There's also what's known as the spey game, which is a two-hander rod and usually anywhere from 11 feet to 15 feet. Usually targeting salmon and steelhead in a coastal region. There is a big uptick in micro spey around here for trout spey, which is 3-5WT and 10.5 to 12 feet in length.
T&T Exocett Fly Rod
Saltwater Rods: Then there's the big game rod for saltwater, usually targeting the Grand Slam species: tarpon, permit, bonefish and snook. In this category you're dealing with anywhere from a 7WT to a 12 or 13WT. These rods will typically have a big fighting butt, allowing you to really pivot off of your hip when you're trying to land that hundred-pound tarpon in the Keys.
Okay, Back to Trout Rods
Here in the Western U.S. we typically deal with the freshwater trout, single-hand rods. There's three different kinds of action that you can deal with that the brands label. On the Madison, it's basically two. It's either a drift boat rod or a wade-walking rod.
When you'll want fast action: With the drift boat rod, you're going to want a real fast action rod so you can pick up, hit the next hole, take your fly up, move it to where you want it. Cast a little bit of line, shorten up a little line. That goes into something like this Scott Radian, the Thomas and Thomas Avantt, and the Sage X.
Scott Radian Fly Rod
When you'll want slow action: A slow action rod is the way to go if you're going the wade-walking route. That is for spring creeks, or maybe you're stalking trout that are surfacing and you'll want more of a light presentation rod. From there you dive into the 4 and 5WTs with a little bit slower action.
When you'll want medium action: The medium actions are usually a pretty good all-arounder entry-level rod, and if you throw a good line on it, you can usually get a lot done with it. You'll be able to go from streamers to dry flies to nymphs with that.
Rods for the Madison River
On the Madison, we usually fish a four, five, six and seven-weight rod. A four-weight is primarily a dry fly rod for us, throwing caddis, PMDs, yellow sally, and other similar dries. The five-weight is more of a dry fly rod, maybe a light nymph setup; small ball, we call it here.
The all-around rod for the Madison is the 6WT. It allows you to do everything: dry flies, big nymph setup, double nymphs with split shot and a bobber, and big streamers.
The seven-weights have made an impact the last couple years. They usually have a fighting butt on them and allow you to throw a sink leader or a sink tip with a big articulated streamer. A good 7WT will allow you to throw that all day and not feel like your arm's going to fall off.
Rod Length - Shorties or the Long Game?
One of the other questions we get is length of rod. 9ft rods are the most commonly made rods out there and many come strictly as nine footers.
As you move up or down in size, you'll want to consider where you'll be fishing. If it's a smaller creek fishing dries, you'll steer towards a 3WT 7.5ft, where you're bow shooting at little brookies.
We've also seen a massive uptake in longer rods: 9.5 and 10-foot rods. The 10-foot rod is a great nymph rod that's a European style nymphing rod. These have grown in popularity on drift boats, where guys and gals can reach another extra foot and high stick it around rocks while they're floating.
If it was me, I would go with a fast action 9ft 6WT rod. Allows you to cast through the wind and throughout multiple applications. Montana is windy, has big rivers and diverse territory to cover.