I received this email from Youngki Min:
“I bought a rod weighs around 2.9 ounce and it is 9 foot 6 wt rod. Do you think that I need to get reel that balances the rod? People do not agree about this issue. Among reels designed for 6 wt, their physical weights of reels seem vary. Some of them are about 5.8 ounce and some of them are close to 4.2 ounce. Some people told me that I need to get a reel whose weight is 1.5 times of the swing weight of the rod, which means that you add 0.3 ounce, about which I do not know why they add 0.3. But I guess 0.3 accounts for the weight of the line. According to that suggestion, I need to get a reel whose weight is about 4.65 ounce. What do you think? If this is a common question, perhaps you can address this in your blog.”
So, yes, I will address it here.
The concept of balance in the rod/reel/line system has long been a confusing one among fly fishers. The word, “balance,” suggests that there is some point along the length of the rod (with reel and line attached) where a fulcrum can be established that places an equal weight of the rod/reel/line system on either side of the fulcrum. That is to say, that the rod assumes the position of a perfectly balanced teeter totter. Yes, and then what? Why is that necessary, and what does it do for the angler? Is a perfectly balanced teeter-totter rod more or less efficient as a casting/fishing tool? If so, then how does one achieve such balance, and where should the best balance point be? And is having a perfectly balanced teeter totter of a rod what “rod balance” is really all about? All these questions need to be answered before there’s any rationale for acquiring a reel (loaded with line) that will produce a perfectly teeter-totter-balanced rod at some point along its length.
My first encounter with the concept of the teeter-totter balance of the rod/reel/and line came when I was about 15. I had built my first rod on a Shakespeare “Wonder Rod” blank. The white, fiberglass blank had not been sanded and still sported its “taping marks,” making the winding of the variegated thread wrap a tough one for a first rod. It was a lusty rod, to say the least, but it was my rod and I fished it proudly. Then one day an older fly fisher that I met said the rod needed to balance with the reel such that when I held onto the grip, the rod would perform the teeter totter balancing act over my index finger (using a thumb-on-top grip). At that time I had a Model 1494 Pflueger reel, and he showed me how to take off the plate holding the spool release and fill the core of the spool with bird shot until such a balance was achieved.
Certainly sounded reasonable to me—especially since this guy was a whiz with bucktails, consistently taking fish that made my friend and I green with envy. So, I “balanced” my outfit. Boy was that sucker heavy! But it was balanced, and I could consider myself a real fly fisher. Trouble was, the ”balanced” outfit didn’t help me catch one more trout (even when I used the same bucktails as the older fly guy). Not only did I not catch any more fish, but lifting all that weight got to be a real pain in the a . . (that’s arm). So I took all the shot out of my reel and started to look a bit more askance at the “advise” of older fly fishers. Maybe these guys that caught more trout really didn’t understand everything about fly fishing.
Then one day I had another thought that clinched the deal. If my rod were perfectly balanced at exactly the correct point when all the line was on the reel, wouldn’t that point change if I pulled line off to cast. If only took a couple of seconds to determine, that yes, in fact, it did change. Toss that adage out! Then, one day I was ran across a story on R.W. Crompton’s “casting machine.” It literally would fly cast. When the machine held the rod at the teeter-totter balancing point with reel attached, the machine could cast further when the reel was subsequently removed than when the reel was left attached. No reel equals a longer cast regardless of where the rod is held. Crompton even developed a reel that attached to his belt so he could fish without the reel on the rod. A bit bizarre, but it made him happy.
So, finding the teeter-totter balancing point is of obviously no value to casting. On might think that it would be of slight value when fishing because the rod would be neither tip heavy nor butt heavy when held horizontally in the hand. However, in real life fishing, it makes no difference at all. The rod is moved, fished sometimes with the tip up, sometimes with the tip down, and always with the drag of the line against the tip. Just use the reel that has the capacity to hold the line and sufficient backing, has a serviceable and adequate drag, but far above everything else is s-m-o-o-t-h. A rough turning reel is no better that winding the line around tin can or coke bottle.
“Balancing” the rod/reel/line system means to use a line appropriate to the design of the rod and the fishing situation, coupled with a good reel and sufficient backing. Balance has to do both with casting and with playing the fish. In casting, the line flexes the rod. Grossly overflexing or grossly underflexing the rod by using too heavy or too light a line, respectively, will cause the rod to perform at less than an optimal level. Likewise, using a rod that is not strong enough to handle the fish with aplomb is not wise, unless one has exquisite fish fighting skills. For example using a 1-weight to play a 135-pound tarpon would be an exercise in futility.
I also advise trying a rod with several different line weights at distances that you normally fish before deciding what line to put on a rod. I regularly “underline” rods when I’m casting consistently long or tossing shot and big flies at distance. I “overline” my rods when consistently working short or using extra long leaders, tossing shot and weight nymphs at very close range, etc.