A True Saltwater 5-Weight
Fishing pressure across the world has increased all around the world; my playground in Central Florida is no different. With the invention of lighter, faster, shallow draw boats, tackle that can cast farther than it used to, and the addition of artificial lures that look, smell and taste just like the real thing, fish have become increasingly wary. Combine increased wariness with the lower and clearer water that occurs in winter time, and fly fishing for trout and redfish can become quite the challenge. We have spent the last few years adapting our tackle and techniques to meet the challenge.
In the beginning, we lengthened our leaders. Fly fishers went from the standard 9 foot leader to 10 foot leaders, then 11 foot leaders, and we routinely cast 12 to 15 foot leaders now. The idea was to lengthen the distance from the tip of the fly line to the fly and hopefully reduce the impact of an 8-weight or 9-weight fly line landing on the water. It worked for a few years, but the fish adapted.
The next step we took was to begin using different fly lines. We left the traditional colored lines behind and began using clear fly lines or fly lines with clear tips. Again, it reduced the visibility of the fly line and even if it landed close to them, there wasn't anything colored to spook them. While this worked for a while, the fly lines themselves had some issues. Many of the clear fly lines didn't last, their coatings separated from the cores, and there were some other issues as well. Clear fly lines also made it difficult to judge distances while casting to fish on the shorelines or under mangroves. Over time, the fish also began to recognize the sound of the fly line landing on the water, even without a colored line, as a threat; not to mention clear fly lines still cast a shadow which also spooked them.
Our next step was to change the rods we were using. When I started fly fishing in saltwater, just over 31 years ago, the suggested rods were 8 or 9 weight fly rods. It was believed the rods could cast the longer distances, despite windy conditions, turn over larger flies, and enable the angler to battle the harder fighting, and often larger saltwater fish being targeted. As rods improved and materials allowed for lighter, stiffer, faster fly rods, the rods of choice dropped to 7-weight fly rods. I still utilize these rods for a lot of fly fishing; in fact, the 7-weight fly rod is my go to rod for the majority of my fly fishing. However, chasing redfish and seatrout, on the flats, during the low, clear water of winter causes me to lighten my rod even more. During this time, the 6-weight fly rod has been my rod of choice. The new 6-weight saltwater rods are capable of casting long distances into even the most fierce winds, they turn over the smaller flies used during this time and can handle fighting any fish you hook on them. 6-weight fly rods have been great over the last couple of years.
Well, leave it to the fish to learn and adapt! The last two days found me on the water with my mentor and great friend, Flip Pallot. We were fishing his new Hell's Bay Eldora and chasing redfish in some ultra shallow, clear water. We found plenty of fish and began offering flies. The water was clear and shallow enough that we could see the fishes' reactions with every presentation. It didn't take long before we realized they were reacting when the fly line would land on the water; even with 12 foot leaders. Several fish, that had been hunting along the shoreline, became visibly nervous when a fly was placed out in front of them. No, they didn't react if you led them by more than four or five feet, but that wasn't possible most of the time, because their movements were very erratic while hunting. So, flies had to be placed closer. We had success, but it was limited compared to the number of fish we were seeing.
On day two we decided to try a new rod. We broke out our TFO Axiom II-X 5-weight fly rods. These are true saltwater 5-weight rods, with very fast actions, full well grips, and a butt section that allows you to apply maximum pressure. What can I say but, "WOW!" The rods surpassed our expectations. They are capable of casting long distances, into the wind, with sniper-like accuracy. The presentation is like a snowflake falling to the water, landing with the utmost delicacy. The rod is still capable of casting medium sized flies, and those with lead eyes. The change in rods worked well. We could make casts close to fish, without them showing any signs of behavior change, and were rewarded with some incredible eats. We caught several redfish, in various conditions, and the rod handled them all. The largest fish we hooked and landed was a 27" fat redfish. By utilizing proper rod positioning during the fight, we still landed the fish in less than 5 minutes.
There was no doubt that the new Axiom II-X 5-weight is a great addition to the arsenal. While I would not recommend it for summertime fishing, it is great for conditions like we have now. Check out the video for a little of the testing action.