Fly Rods for Bike Touring
While we’ve been traveling, I’ve been doing a fair amount of fly fishing and have had a chance to evaluate a few different rods. I’ve been fishing with a Temple Fork Outfitters NXT 5/6wt rod, a LL Bean 5wt Travel Series rod and a Tenkara rod. The TFO is a common 4 piece rod design – I’m using it in this article to demonstrate the size of most rods and compare it to the size of travel specific rods.
Which is the perfect rod for bike touring? Read on and find out!
Bike touring requires an economy of space and weight. Here are photos comparing the pack sizes of the three rods mounted horizontally on the back of my Carradice. The 4 piece TFO is in the black case, the 8 piece LL Bean is in the maroon case and the Tenkara is in the cloth sack.
A few more photos, this time showing the unpackaged Tenkara rod.
LL Bean Travel Series Rod
The LL Bean Travel Series Rod is a fly rod that breaks down into 8 pieces. The pack size is surprisingly small and could easily fits under the flap of a Carradice saddle bag without sticking out into traffic. It is, however, a little too long to fit inside an Ortlieb pannier. The sample I got is a 5wt, something of a bit of an all rounder rod for small streams, rivers and some lake fishing. So far, on our one year bike trip around the US, the 5wt has covered most of the water we’ve encounter. It won’t do for fishing in salt, but for most freshwater bodies you encounter, you’ll be ok.
First off, the rod is a beauty to behold. Everything from the burgundy colored case, the wood spacer in the handle to the pleasing olive and tan tones of the rod. It would be a rod totally at place with your Rivendell inspired touring bike with cloth tape and shiny silver bits.
Beyond good looks, the LL Bean rod has some other nice functional touches.
With so many pieces to put together, its nice that the rod has these alignment markings to assist you in lining up the rod. One nice touch is that instead of just two dots, there is a vertical line to help you visually line the dots correctly. After about a half dozen times of assembling and disassembling the rod, it became second nature. So how does it fish? It casts pretty solidly in hand with no real noticeable difference from my 4 piece rod. It feels like a true 5wt and has a medium action to it. Not overly punch, but no slouch either and capable of delicate presentations.
So far I’ve caught only bluegill and crapie with the rod and it has handled those fish with ease. I’m waiting to test it out with some bass and some trout in the coming weeks.
Tenkara is a form of Japanese fly fishing that utilizes only a rod, a fixed amount of line and a fly. There is no reel, casting is a one handed affair without tricky line manipulations. It is SO easy and simple, that you think you couldn’t possibly catch fish with such minimal gear.
The folks at TenkaraUSA sent me their 13 foot AYU rod with a stiffness raiting of 6:4 to test out, as well as two types of leaders and some wet and dry flies. The flies came in small beautiful glass bottles with cork stoppers. Everything from TenkaraUSA is impeccably designed with a simple elegance – much like the style of fishing.
The motion is similar and yet a bit different from Western fly fishing. The basic mechanics are the same (you accelerate to a STOP to impart energy to the line), but the nature of the rod and line require a little relearning of the cast. After a few days on the water, I got the hung of it and could cast with relative accuracy.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the Tenkara setup is that it is fast to set up. I can spot a site to fish and have a fly in the water in about 5 minutes. I merely loop the leader to the end of the rod, tie on a fly and extend the rod out to its full length. That’s it! This makes it truly ideal for those rides that lend itself to spontaneous fishing. I got to test this out recently as rolled into Murfressboro, TN. We got on the greenway that led into town that ran along the Stones River. We were due for a break, so when we found the next shady spot with access to the water we pulled over for a break.
The area was fairly wooded with overhanging branches. There was evidence of previous fishing attempts hanging from the tree. I took note of this and decided to sidearm cast instead of overhead casting. In the half hour we were there, I caught about a half dozen fish – a mix of crapie and bluegill.
Which rod is for you?
These rods are both excellent performers and I’ve caught about the equal amount of fish with each. With either rod, you’ll get a piece of fishing equipment that is beautiful and functional. They do each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
LL Bean Travel Rod
-smallest pack size of the three rods
-beautiful build and casts like a “normal” rod
-can be fished in a wide variety waters
-long distance casting possible
-takes longer to set up
-lots of small pieces to break/lose
-have to periodically check alignment and tightness of segments
-lightning fast to deploy
-inexpensive compared to Western fly rod/reel/line kit
-easier to learn how to cast
-lots of control for tight spaces
-limited distance range
-have to use lighter tippets to protect the rod tip
-leaders hard to find in most fly shops
Which rod should you get? It really depends on the nature of your trip. If you’re going to fish in a lot of small streams, the Tenkara may be all you need. If you’re going to hit some lakes and go after some bigger fish, the LL Bean makes a great all rounder. If weight and simplicity are your priority, the Tenkara is a strong contender. If you want the flexibility of different lines, leaders and tippets – the LL Bean gives you access to all the typical fly fishing paraphernalia in a small package.
I’ve only taken the rods on the water a few times. I’ll post some long term impressions after a few weeks of fishing and will come up with a better idea of their best uses and limitations.