Is a 4 Weight the New 5 Weight? by Jason Renfro

Late summer in Southwest Montana promises Tricos and the last few weeks of good hopper fishing.  The crowds are still present in some watersheds while others begin to see a respite from the height of the season.  2016 has been exceptionally kind to me as an angler as I find myself in Montana for the second time with one more visit planned before year end.  Those Montana trout had thus far been accommodating and plentiful, even if I have yet to return home with a hero shot of a salmon-sized brown or story of gargantuan fish of questionable authenticity.  I did however return with a familiar appreciation for God’s creation and an ever growing longing to be where it feels most genuine to me.

As a self-admitted fly rod junkie I brought a somewhat absurd number of 3, 4 and 5 weights on my visits. As the days went on a trend began to appear.  With the exception of specific small stream fishing, I found a 4 weight in my hand nearly every day.  Thus arose a thought, “Is the 4 weight the new standard for all around trout fishing?”  For many years the 6 weight rod was perhaps the most popular go to trout rod, with the 9 foot 5 weight being the current standard.  Today many anglers reach for a 6 weight only for streamers, heavy sinking lines, and larger wind resistant flies.

In thinking back to my last 5 years of fishing I realized I can’t recall the last time I fished a 6 weight single handed rod.  I reach for a 5 weight only when I expect the same conditions or requirements previously mentioned as 6 weight material.  All other times I find a 4 weight in my hand.  A moderate action 4 weight has served me well for dry flies size 8 and smaller, nymph fishing those same sized flies and streamer fishing all but the most absurdly sized offerings.  Am I alone?  Is this a result of advances in rod material and design?  Are rods just too fast these days? Or are they just that good?

I’m not sure of the answer to the first question but I can offer my thoughts on the latter two.  There are some very sweet, soulful and capable 4 weights being made with today’s materials and with an ever-increasing refinement.  Rods relying on artful design and recovery speed for a capability not historically found in a 4 weight rod are now becoming the norm for high-end offerings. That said, true greatness lies in subtle detail.  There is no shortage of inappropriately or carelessly designed trout rods on the market.  With the reality of distances at which trout are most often caught, rods that don’t provide feel and load at 20 feet or so are simply not good trout rods.  Too often our judgement before purchase is reliant on overly esoteric analysis, or on so called “shootouts,” that are tainted by subjective opinion, personal relationships, and business interests. (Unless, of course, you fish mostly with monster indicators; then you can use any old stick to do the job, like maybe a spinning rod.)

Before I go so far as to offend the masses, I think I’ll grab my “Burkie” 489-4 DAL and go fishing...