Is the 5 Weight Fly Rod the Best All Around?

Kirk Deeter recently posed a question which took me by surprise. On a Trout Unlimited blog, he asked: “Will the 5-weight always rule trout fishing?”

My surprise came from my assumption that the most popular all-around fly rod for trout fishing was a nine-foot, 6-weight.

Whenever Trout Unlimited offered a nine-foot, 5-weight for anglers who purchased a lifetime membership, I figured it was because they got a great deal from Sage or Winston. Surely those companies saw that 6-weights were selling like crazy and that they had a large leftover inventory of 5-weights.

It turns out that I was wrong.

5 Weight Fly Rod of Choice

TU offers nine-foot, 5-weight rods because they are the rods of choice. Deeter wonders if 4-weights might take over if technology can make them “beefier” or if 6-weights might one day rule if it gets “lighter.” Then he says: “For now, I just don’t see the 5-weight ever being supplanted as the world’s No. 1 fly rod.”

All of this makes me wonder: is the best all-around fly rod for trout fishing a nine-foot, 5 weight? Or a nine-foot, 6-weight?

I really don’t feel like arguing about this until I’m blue or red in the face. It reminds me a bit of those arguments over whether a .270 or a 30.06 is the best caliber for a deer rifle. One is more flat-shooting, the other packs more wallop. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is a hunter’s ability to shoot steady and straight.

So whether a 5-weight or a 6-weight is the “best” all-around fly rod depends on you. Which one feels best and works best for you?

What Are You Slinging?

Jerry Siem, a rod designer for Sage, says that the choice is all about the size of flies you intend to fish. Kirk Deeter concludes: “Nothing really compares to the 5-weight when it comes to throwing either size 18 BWO dry flies or size 10 woolly buggers.”

However, after years of fly fishing big western rivers like the Yellowstone and the Missouri, I’m partial to a 6-weight. I suspect that’s why a lot of fly shops in the west suggest them to first-time buyers.

I follow the reasoning of the late Tom Morgan, the owner of the Winston Rod Company from 1973 to 1991. He preferred the 6-weight for handling wind (plenty of that in the west) and for making longer casts. He liked the delicacy of the 5-weight, but felt it was too delicate to be the right choice for an all-around rod—especially on the big rivers in Montana.

Personally, if I want more delicate, I drop down to a 4-weight.

This introduces another consideration: If you use multiple rods, do you want to go with even sizes (4, 6, 8) or odd sizes (3, 5, 7)? I like to go on the heavier side. By the way, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to own both a 5-weight and a 6-weight unless you have an abundance of disposable income or you are that good to appreciate the fine shade of difference.

How, then, should you determine what is the right size for your all-around, go-to fly rod?

Waters and Wind

First, consider what size of water you will be fishing and how much wind you will encounter. Trying to decide based on fly size is, in my opinion, a bit more difficult.

Second, get some help from the guides at a fly shop. You might want to talk to more than one guide to listen for recurring themes in their advice.

Third, and perhaps most important, try casting both a 5-weight and a 6-weight. Choose the one that feels best to you.

My brother, Dave, recently invested in a high-quality fly rod for his “go-to, all-around” rod. He asked me my recommendation. I strongly suggested he get a nine-foot, 6-weight. But instead of listening to his older (and wiser!) brother, he dissed my advice! He tried both a 5-weight and a 6-weight. The 5-weight felt better to him.

I am happy to report that my brother and I still speak to each other. Do we argue about whether a 5-weight or a 6-weight is best? No. We are too busy catching fish.

Unless you’re one of those people who has to be right about everything, get used to the idea that ideal rod-weight is in the eye of the beholder—or actually, in the feel of the fly-caster. Anglers — from novice state to expert stage — will continue to debate the merits of 5-weight versus a 6-weight.

The good news is that you won’t go wrong with either one.

15 Replies to “Is the 5 Weight Fly Rod the Best All Around?”

  1. Hey Guys,
    Great blog post. I myself prefer a 9′ 5wt. I use a 10′ 5wt for nymphing and a 8′ 5wt for smaller mountain streams. The 5wt rod has a great feel to it. If it is windy I just double haul when I’m casting. One thing we can agree on is, it’s all a matter of what feels good to you. What feels and casts great for me may not be the same for you. I highly recommend casting multiple rods when purchasing your next rod. A good fly shop will let you cast as many rods for as long as you want. If they don’t then don’t buy a rod from them. Get out there and enjoy some fall fishing.

    1. Good thoughts, Glen. I agree … only buy from shops which let you try casting rods before purchasing one. Dave and I are headed to Montana in October to get in some good fall fishing. We hope your fall is great as always, too.

  2. Way back when I started fly fishing, the 6 weight was the go to rod. I even have my dad’s 1950 Shakespeare 6 weight Wonderrod. It’s what I grew up with, so that’s what I have stuck with.

    1. Good point, Roger. We often stick with what whatever we’ve used as we’re growing up. I, too, was introduced to 6 weights–probably due to fishing in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and that was the “go to.”

  3. My opinion. The size and weight of the fly line is determined by the fish your after. A 6wt 9 Ft rod is overkill for 6 to 12 inch Brook Trout. Also to large for most pan fish . That size of a rod might be ok for small bass and 18 inch Browns or Rainbows . I guess for windy areas and chucking streamers as well. The late Lee Wulff was know for landing 20 plus pound Atlantic Salmon with a 5 wt 7 Ft rod . Incredible considering what anglers use today . I guess everyone has thier own opinion I say match your rod to your needs and what you feel comfortable with .

    1. Thanks, David, for checking in. Lee Wulff was an amazing fly fisher! And you’re absolutely right … match your rod to your needs and with what you feel comfortable.

    1. Haha … yes, living on the edge! It is interesting that I’ve gravitated to a 6 weight as my “go to” since I tend to like light stuff. I fished ultralight spinning rods when I was a kid, and I’ve always used a lighter caliber rifle for elk hunting than some of my friends. Then again, I use my 4 wt. as much as my 6 wt.

  4. Here on the Northeast Coast many of the streams are small and I prefer a short (6-7ft) 4wt or 5wt for those waters. I actually do have both (the 5wt was a gift). The 4 wt is 6 and a half feet so I use it for really tight quarters. I use the 7 and a half foot 5wt for some what wider streams. However, my goto rod is a 9 and a half foot 6wt. I do a lot of still water fishing and I can hook any anything from stocked brookies to pickerel or northern pike. If I am fishing estuaries, I could hook into a striped bass so I really want a good all around rod that can place an #18 dry fly where I want it and handle a hefty fish if I get one. To me that’s a 9.5 foot 6wt.

    1. Great perspective, Richard. It’s helpful to hear from someone in the northeast since so much of what shapes us has been fly fishing in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. It sounds like you have alot of great options–places and species of fish.

  5. The best fly rod is the one you have with you on the water!

    As for all around, I’d say the 5wt is certainly the most versatile in terms of being able to cover many different scenarios. I primarily fish small streams, so my standard setup is an 8ft, 4wt. I also have an 8ft, 5wt as it fits better into the scenario of capable on a small stream, but beefy enough to step up just a bit when needed.

    1. Thanks, Cory. That’s a great point … the best fly rod is the one you have with you on the water! Rod length would be another good topic. Yes, and 8 ft is ideal for small streams. I use an 8 and half 4 wt, but it gets double use–small streams and even on larger rivers when I’m dry fly fishing tiny flies.

  6. I followed the advice of a Guide pal and found an 8 1/2’ 4wt Winston BIIX. It’s my all time favorite but no good for indicator rigs or some dry/dropper setups because the loops it throws are too tight and the bottom fly wraps. Fortunately, I’m an average caster, so unintended “open loops” are not a problem…

  7. When the major fly fishing rod companies came out with “0” weight rods, I had to laugh. Running into a guy fishing with one west of the Rockies, I asked him what one day of the year was best for that rod. First, there is no such thing as a “0” weight rod. Secondly, there is almost always some form of wind even when not negligible. I always recommend that a person should define somewhat the waters he or she is likely to b fishing the most. If not sure, a 5 weight is a good choice for an “all around” rod for fishing in most waters. I have several shorter rods in differing weight. I tricked out an LL 7′, 4 weight that has become my most favorite. In 1995 no one manufactured a rod for my needs. I wanted a very flexible tip section and a strong butt section that will turn a large trout in small streams. I beefed up the Sage LL with a graphite rod sleeved inside the lower section, leaving the tip as is. It suits my style and needs. Stealth, position, and accuracy. Wristing is a major part of my game.

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