My steelhead beginnings were reasonably simple. I started out with a 9 foot 9 weight fiberglass rod, a click and pawl reel, and a Hi-D shooting head bolted on to monofilament shooting line with a clinch knot. Depth was achieved by angle of cast and weight of fly, control of the swing was non-existent as the line and fly were at the mercy of the current. This was cast and chance fishing of the highest order.
As time went by, it became obvious that this system worked well in certain water types and failed miserably in others. Fascinated by the shooting head profiles in Trey Combs 1976 book Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies I started building my own lines in order to properly fish a wider array of the situations that I encountered. Little did I realize that this would heavily influence my decisions when I first picked up a two handed rod some years later.
Today, we have a multitude of lines to choose from and tips to put on them, and I am often asked as to which is the best tip(s) to use. Simple question, complicated answer.
I’ll start with the idea that we match the belly of the head to the rod, and the tip to the fishing conditions. But, it is very important to consider the carrying capacity of the belly of the line. To simplify, I don’t want to attach a tip that is overly heavy for the line to cast easily. As an example, many of the rods that I use in the summer and fall like belly weights in the 325-375 grain range, as a consequence I prefer to use MOW light or mediums, 10 foot density compensated tips 75-95 grains or 15 foot DC tips under 150 grains. It is also important to factor in payload. Just as we don’t want to overload the line with a too heavy of tip, taking into account the fly to be fished helps with tip selection. Don’t expect clean casting results when exceeding the ability of the tip to provide turnover. That double plume marabou that is almost impossible to cast? Take off the T-8 and try it on something with more mass. Also, bear in mind that this is a two-sided coin. I dislike using lighter weight tips with heavy lines, and with few exceptions, I generally avoid small lighter flies with heavier tips. The reason is too much force causing interesting casting developments due to extreme and rapid dispersal of energy.
Is it possible to cast and fish a misbalanced belly, tip, fly combination? Sure it is. But does it detract from casting effectiveness and efficiency? You bet. I can’t emphasize the importance of the cast enough, as it is the delivery system that defines and allows all of the other important events of the swing to take place. Take a look at the consistently successful steelhead anglers and you’ll find a common theme. Great casters, with spot on, dialed to the extreme systems.
Fortunately, RIO’s website has the appropriate belly weight corresponding MOW tip recommendations that help to determine a proper balanced selection (See page 9). By utilizing the grain charts it is also easier to make a correct decision when selecting either the 10 or 15 foot DC tips.
Now that we have successfully combined the appropriate line and tip recipe it’s time to discuss the fishier aspects of the various tips available. Stay tuned for part two…