Why would somebody use #10 rods for steelhead? I have talked with many manufacturers and they all say the same thing. The #10 rods are designed for very large (50#) Atlantic Salmon. Why on earth would you want to use one for 15# Steelhead?
Even though I've got 2 or 3 spey rods that have a 10, or better, designation they're "reserved" for the spring kings on the Rogue and/or chucking heavy Big Boy tips in deep or very fast water conditions. All of which occur around here at the same time.
Other than that the biggest rod I'd normally pull out would be the Sage 15' 9wt. This rod has the power to pull a tree out by it's roots.
We should hear a response from Kush on why he uses a 16'7" rod to fish for steelhead on the Thompson. It can be depth that Fred needs, and it can be distance, if you want to play the maximum number of fish.
When I select a rod for the day (or the run) I try to factor in the following factors:
1) The fly and line I will be using
2) The water I am fishing and when I am fishing it
3) The fish I am chasing
I list them in that order because I feel that is the order of importance. The answers to those questions will determine if I fish a 10, a 9, an 8 or maybe even a 7.
First off, if I am fishing heavy tips and big bushy flies or heavy tubes, I am limited in rod choice. A seven or an eight won't allow me to cast and fish like I would like. A good 9 weight will handle quite a bit but when the tips get too big (heavy and/or long), it becomes a chore to cast with a nine. Granted, a nine can be made to work especially if you are fishing a shorter bellied Skagit style line but even then work is the key term. A ten will easily handle these combinations.
Rod choice also is impacted by the water you are fishing. If you are fishing in December and January, fish are less likely to come up in the water column for an offering than in March and April. Add to this low, clear and cold conditions and you end up with many fish hunkered down in deep pools. To get to these fish you need to get down (see #1 above). Rivers on the edge of fishable due to freshet also sometiumes call for a 10. While it is true that fish will often hold on the shore in these conditions, it is also true that they will hold near structure and on seams in faster water than you would normally fish. Once again, the 10 comes in handy. It is not uncommon for me to fish a 10 quite a bit in June for this reason. Finally, river size is sometimes a factor. While I would not use a 10 on the Snake in most circumstances, I am more likely to go to a 10 on the Skagit than I am on the N. Stilly.
Which brings us to the fish. If the fish was the only factor, I would tend in most cases to agree with you that a ten can be overkill. Most cases but not all. I am sure the Thompson boys will chime in here. There are just some rivers where the fish should not be hooked on anything less than a solid 9 weight. The Thompson and Kispiox come to mind but even the Sauk, Skagit and occasionally even the Sky have fish that fit the bill. And then there is the health of the fish to worry about. While I can land a high teens fish on a seven weight, it is much quicker and far easier on the fish to do so on a 9 or 10. This becomes critical for summer run fish in higher water temps.
The last point I would bring up is that line designations for speys should not be equated with the same uses for single handed rods. I personally would never use a 10 weight single handed rod for steelhead and in fact, in most cases, think a 9 is overkill. A 10 spey has its uses for steelhead though.
Okay, here goes. The Thompson and a 10 wt - a no-brainer. The pools are large the currents heavy and the fish the strongest of all races. I have used a 7136 and caught fish in the "T", but with each one I felt a little guilty about undue stress on the fish - so I unduly stressed the rod! Occasionally I'll use a 14' #9 but I just don't feel I'm covering the water.
When we were designing the CND 16'7" Thompson Specialist the very first prototype that Nobuo made was fabulous. However, it was an ongoing point of disagreement with Nobuo. He said "it's a tournament rod" - meaning it was too stiff. We loved it, it launched casts like we hadn't seen since I broke my 18' Bruce & Walker! Nobuo on the other hand felt it too stiff to fight a fish.
He had designed his Japanese market rods with the Cherry Salmon in mind. The Cherry is normally a fairly small fish - 5-8lbs - and he wanted the fight to be fun, so the full flexing rods were all about that. While for us, the bottom line was "he who covers the most water hooks the most fish" - we wanted a casting tool - not a fighting tool.
While in the end Nobuo's rod designing genius managed to find the combinaton that met our casting/fishing demands and his fish-fighting sensibilities. The resulting Thompson Specialist remains a casting cannon and while it is still a formidible fish fighting tool - it also has some civilization to its power.
While there was a time when I shocked George Cook by suggesting that his 10151 was my "light rod" ( I was using the 18 footer regularly then) I was only fishing large rivers that contained large fish. Since then, my repertoire of rivers has expanded to include smaller waters and consequently the size of my rods have scaled down in equal measure. I have a number of 6 and 7 weight speyrods and I love using them - in the appropriate places.
To sum up my ramblings, I guess I'd have to say that the power of a rod for me is dictated mostly by the size of the runs I will be fishing - the size of the fish will be secondary. There is far more casting involved in steelheading than there is fish fighting, therefore, one must focus their assets in the places that they provide the maximum benefits. For me this is the rod.
Steelheading has been likened to hunting rather than fishing and for many the apex of the thrill - is the take. While I do like to touch my steelhead and sniff the wonderous aroma they leave on my flies, the fight is anti-climatic compared to the grab. As well, I am a proponent of getting them in and off on their way ASAP - a 10 wt will do that.
Sinktip and Kush pretty much summed up why a 10 or even an 11 wt 2-hander is used for steelhead.
When I went out looking for a powerful 2-hander 7 years ago, it was to fish the Skagit, Sauk, Skykomish, Hoh, Bogachiel, and Sol Duc, with the primary emphasis on the Skagit and Sauk (my home waters). I chose the T&T 1611 over the other rods I cast because it is a fast, powerful rod with a progressive action that would cast any tip I desired or any size fly I wished. The size of the Skagit was also a factor in this.
I use this rod for chum in November on the Skagit, chinook in June on the Skykomish and Hoh, steelhead from mid-November through April (and fish it like sinktip after a good freshet in May and June). And the Thompson during the years I get a chance to get away to fish it.
The large rods give you command of the water and let you land fish in less time than the smaller line wt. ones. In fact, the smallest 2-hander I fish for steelhead is a 13 ft. 8/9 precisely because it lets me land the fish more quickly than the lighter rods without abusing the rod.
This is just like using a 2,3 or 4 wt single-hander for fishing small flies or small streams; a 5,6, or 7 wt single-hander for large streams to large rivers or flies to about #6; or an 8 or 9 single-hander for bass, pike, large rivers, or large flies.
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