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Ultralight Fly Fishing Gear: No Longer a Novelty

I’ve always enjoyed fishing small streams. Along with so many other anglers, the intimacy of little creeks is enticing for so many reasons: the remote locations they are often found in, the solitude that they afford, and quite frequently, the wild trout that they contain.

The trout are, of course, the focus. But unlike larger river systems, a trophy isn’t necessarily measured in inches. Without a doubt small stream anglers have no problem catching big fish. Yet these ecosystems aren’t known for, or aren’t even capable of, growing and sustaining large trout. Fly fishers plot courses on the small blue lines that crisscross topographic maps for more than quantity. For many, the experience is the motivating factor.

As in any other fly fishing destination, there are certain distinctives in technique, approach, and gear choice. Waders are often eschewed for sandals. A tool and gadget-laden vest is replaced by a box of flies in a shirt pocket. And the rod, reel, and line used on the larger freestone rivers get exchanged for something lighter, smaller, and more delicate.

There was a time when 3-weight rods were considered “too small” for reasonable fishing use. Rods in weights lighter than that weren’t taken seriously by the majority of anglers. Whippy actions and dangerously thin diameters in the tip didn’t help sell consumers on casting these rods in the applications that they were intended for.

In my years working in the industry, writing, and just fly fishing, I’ve heard plenty of comments on using ultralight fly fishing gear. “A novelty.” “Gimmicky.” “Just for fun.” While I do agree that it is very fun, modern ultralight tackle are far from novelty items. The technology used in feather light rods like the Douglas Outdoors Upstream series is cutting-edge: responsive, durable, and sensitive.

This past week I took the Douglas Upstream 2-weight out for brook trout. The graphite rod is an eight-foot that weighs in at less than an ounce and a half. There are a few spring-fed creeks about half an hour from my home that support wild reproducing trout populations. The fish aren’t large, but they are beautiful and opportunistic. The streams are small, but allow room for casting. It was the perfect place to try this style of fly fishing.

Having not fished anything less than a 3-weight rod in over ten years, I didn’t know quite what to expect when I rigged up the Upstream. How would it cast a long leader? Would it be able to handle anything more than a midge? Could I “slow down” my casting stroke to accommodate the traditional action?

Perhaps even more important than matching components for a fast-action rod, finding the right line for a light rod is essential for loading and accuracy. I’d spooled my 2 ¾” Douglas Argus click-check reel up with the Royal Wulff Triangle Taper 2-weight line. Numerous fiberglass and bamboo aficionados I spoke with recommended this weight forward Triangle Taper for a rod with a fuller flex profile.

I was more than pleasantly surprised with the Upstream. Those first few minutes on the water impressed me, as I was able to put the small, size 18 parachute Adams precisely and delicately wherever I wanted to. The Wulff line definitely fit the rod perfectly. I could feel the blank flexing, and was easily able to find the measured and gentle casting stroke necessary to create tight loops. Casting was natural and enjoyable.

But perhaps the most telling and significant gauge for the legitimacy of the Upstream as a serious fly rod was the fact that I “forgot” I was using it. After taking some time to deliberately focus on how the rod performed, I slipped into full-on fishing mode. I threw larger dries, some nymphs, and even a couple of different dropper rigs. The fact that I was using a practically weightless rod didn’t cross my mind. I was thinking about where the brook trout would be, concentrating on being stealthy, and how good it was to be out on the water. I was fishing.

To some extent, social media is a barometer as to what kind of opportunities fly fishers are seeking out. Along with massive steelhead, heavy carp, and long-jawed browns, small stream trout make up a significant portion of photos people are posting online. The market is also responding. Wading boots and shoes are being built off of hiking boot platforms. Packs capable of backcountry trips are becoming commonplace. There is an audience for more ultralight fly fishing gear.

Heading out for a day’s fishing, anglers know if they are going to be primarily targeting these feisty, smaller fish. Having a rod, reel, and line that matches the water and the quarry only makes sense. Gear has been produced to meet the needs of anglers facing these conditions with the same level of research and design that goes into rods that can throw 90 feet on the bonefish flats. And consequently, these ultralight rods can cast further and handle much larger fish than their predecessors ever could.

As fly fishing grows, and more individuals seek out fresh and different ways to pursue fish, the industry responds with equipment that meets those new needs. Douglas Outdoors, a company born on the banks of the Salmon River near Pulaski, New York, is known for creating rods capable of fighting the strong kings and cohos that run up from Lake Ontario. The Upstream Series demonstrates that Douglas is aware of their customers’ desire to have appropriate gear for their particular circumstances.

Another New York company like Royal Wulff is carrying on the heritage of fly casting experts Lee and Joan Wulff by producing lines that facilitate better casting with traditional rod tapers. Again, 90 feet isn’t often the measure of a good cast. For presentations at 20 feet, an entirely different design is needed. Sometimes thinking ahead in the industry means looking to the past.

With the legions of fly fishers that stalk wary trout in small spring creeks or climb high into the mountains to catch a few native fish, having a growing segment of the industry catering to their needs is far from a gimmick. Just like anglers don’t need to compromise with drags that are insufficient to handle blazing permit runs or rods that can’t throw a big bass bug into the wind, fly fishers on small streams don’t have to use gear that is overkill for their purposes.

Fly fishing in the headwaters is enough for some anglers, and is a peaceful reprieve for those that are otherwise chasing fish in bigger environments. Having a rod, a reel, and some line that suits that purpose is possible with gear like the Douglas Upstream, the Argus, and the Wulff Triangle Taper. Lightweight components can make the fishing more enjoyable and accessible, and consequently they only add to that experience that draws us to remote places filled with wild trout.

The Upstream Series of fly rods come in weights 2-4. The rods, the Argus reels, and their full line of other fishing gear can be viewed at Douglas Outdoors’ website.

Information about the Triangle Taper and Royal Wulff’s other innovative fly lines can be found on their website.

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