The Advantages of Going Light

Sean Visintainer - 07/22/16

Fly Fishing Small Streams.

Go big... another time

It's late summer, water is low and clear, the fish have seen a zillion bugs both artificial and real. Anglers talk about down sizing tippet and lengthening leaders during these conditions, but what about dropping rod weights? 5 and 6 weight rods are the universal go-to trout sticks in the west and a 5wt is fairly light to begin with, but sometimes it's just too much rod for a delicate presentation on skinny water.

Lighter weight rods can have substantial advantages during the late summer months for a few reasons. Let's discuss the merits of 3 and 4 weight rods during low water trout fishing conditions.


  • Delicate presentation - This is the biggest and most obvious. Smaller line diameter settles more delicately on the water. Well that is of course if you present them with a little finesse. Smack any line against the surface of the water and watch the trout scatter faster than a speeding bullet! The thin diameter line of a 3 or 4wt will present with less disturbance on the surface of the water.
  • Short Range Cast - The water levels are low, rivers are not as broad, currents not as swift, you tend to be fishing headwaters and smaller streams, long cast are not the norm. Accurate, short cast will pick off fish sitting in specific buckets and slots. Lightweight rods play well with the sub 40' cast, this where most fish are caught anyways! They tend to load easier with less line out which in turn translates to more feel at these tight ranges.
  • Small flies, Smaller rods - 5 and 6wt rods can throw a myriad of patterns. 3 and 4wt rods don't usually have lots of backbone to play in the big leagues of flies making them a natural fit for the small flies of summer. Want your size 18 caddis or pmd to lay down on the water like a natural? Lighter rods have the finesse without the clunkiness of the heavier rod line weights to allow the fly to settle down more naturally.
  • Protect light tippets - Summer conditions often call for finer diameter tippets. Lighter rods naturally have more flex and are more forgiving on lighter strength leaders. More shock absorption means you break off less fish.
  • Small Rod, Big Fun - Summer time isn't always primetime for Big Walter to eagerly attack your fly. He's got a Ph D in entomology and tends to found sulking on the river bottom in hard to reach areas. Now on the other hand, his eager younger cousins are always ready to play ball and are very happy to eat flies all day - every day. They may be small, but what they lack in size and power they make up for in willingness to eat in the bright sunshine. Fighting fish on lightweight fly rods like 2, 3, and 4 weights is just plain fun.


Most of the disadvantages are pretty obvious after reviewing the list of advantages above. Below is the list of what I would consider disadvantages. Remember though, the idea behind this article is why lighter line weights excel in low summertime flows. But just so you are aware of all the pros and cons the quick disadvantage list reads....

  • Wind
  • Really big, heavy flies
  • Big dry / dropper combos
  • Big Fish
  • Heavy Currents

If you are a trout angler who enjoys the art of tactfully presenting their fly, consider adding a lighter rod to your quiver for those dogs days of summer when presentation matters the most.