How to Create the Perfectly Balanced Fly Rod and Reel Outfit
One of the questions we get most often from customers interested in purchasing an outfit is how a reel will “balance” a rod. This is your ultimate guide to figuring out exactly what the weight of your next reel should be.
What is “Balance”?
Before we dive into how to balance a rod, we need to make sure that we’re all on the same page as far as what balance actually is. We like to think about balance like a see-saw, where the rod tip is at one end and the reel is at the other. Your finger or hand is the fulcrum in the middle. When the outfit is parallel to the ground, it’s said to be in “balance”. An outfit that is balanced toward the reel will have a fulcrum that is closer to the reel and an outfit that has a fulcrum toward the tip will be balanced toward the tip. Unfortunately, things start to get a little more complicated after this.
How to Balance Your Outfit
Put your finger on the rod where you like to hold it, add your perspective reel, and see if it’s roughly parallel to the ground. Now, pull some line through the tip of the rod. Has anything changed? Your reel just got lighter and your rod tip got heavier. Therein lies the problem. The line that we have out of the tip is variable, especially when casting. Since there’s no way to have a fixed weight on the tip, you’ll constantly be “out of balance”.
OK, I Get It, Now What?
If you’ve never picked up an outfit where you thought the reel was too heavy or too light, buy your favorite reel rated for the same line weight as your rod (ie put a 5-weight reel on a 5-weight rod) and don’t worry about it. There are few new reels that you can purchase from a fly shop that will be drastically poor choices on any rod manufactured in the last 5 years.
If you fit into the latter category and/or would like to tweak your setup a bit, keep reading, but please understand that this is going to be a personal decision that’s unique to you and not a generally accepted universal truth.
Tip #1: Go Lighter
While I’ve just explained that there’s no right answer to balancing your outfit, there are certainly many wrong ones. Putting a Hatch 12 Plus on your 7’ 3wt glass rod would be a very bad decision (if it would even fit). Getting a lighter reel has one very significant advantage in that it lowers the swing weight of your outfit, and we think that’s a very good thing. Lower swing weight is so important that people have even made systems to enable you to cast without a reel entirely (https://rexfly.com/rexfly-casting-system).
Tip #2: Every Ounce Changes Your Balance Point by About One Inch
This is a rule of thumb that applies to modern lightweight rods in roughly 9’ lengths. Add an ounce to your reel, the fulcrum will move roughly an inch toward the reel. Subtract an inch and the opposite happens. It’s not an exact science, just something to think about as you add or subtract weight from your reel.
Tip #3: Think About How You Fish
If you accept that balance makes absolutely no difference when casting, it *can* make a difference when you’re fishing. Consider this: you’re stripping a streamer but your rod tip is way up in the air. This would make for a very strange, jerky action – not to mention pulling your fly off the bottom. Most of our fishing occurs with the tip of the rod pointed toward the water. That’s especially true in saltwater and streamer fishing. Lighter reels will keep your rod tip pointed toward the water with less effort.
There is one notable exception to our assertion that balance doesn’t matter, and that’s very long rods and *especially* euro nymphing rods. Euro nymphing and high sticking often occur with the rod tip very high off the water. If your reel is too light, you’ll either be fighting to keep that tip up or you’ll have to find another way to change the balance, like placing the fighting butt on your forearm. Many rod manufacturers have solved this issue by using super-lightweight materials and downlocking reel seats, but it’s not universal. Our rule of thumb for euro nymphing is to avoid ultralight reels and go up a reel size (if you have a 3wt rod, get the next full size up reel, usually a 5/6).
If you want the ultimate in weight and balance adjustability, Sage has created a reel with adjustable weight inserts that will definitely solve your balance woes.
Still not sure? Here are a few more articles that talk about how to balance your outfit:
How to Balance A Fly Rod - Swift Fly Fishing
Balancing a Fly Rod and Reel - Demystifly
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