In my years of fly fishing in California, I’ve frequently heard anglers say that there isn’t really any fly fishing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many anglers commit to trout or steelheading (generally 5+ hours away), and there are few who are willing to take on the surf. In fact, the Bay Area is surrounded by water and fish, but the demands of fly fishing the San Francisco Bay or the Central California Coast are often so high that anglers are more willing to occasionally trek to the trout and steelhead waters rather than more frequently tackle the nearby waters of the Pacific.
In my first tenure of living in the area, the surf was too daunting. In my current residency, the potential drives me to take on this challenge as much as I can. However, the challenges of understanding the waters, tides, species, and locations and managing the physical demands of fly fishing the surf can be a bit to take on. With that, I see my experience of fly fishing the surf as broken down into two eras: the pre-switch rod era and the present, more productive and more manageable stage.
For some time, my weapon of choice was a nine foot 8-weight saltwater rod. Line selection ranged from heavy-headed coldwater saltwater lines to shootingheads – all posing a range of deficiencies – from line management to wind to fatigue. It quickly became evident that many problems would be solved by a Spey or switch rod, and after considering a number of options, I added two Sage switch rods to the surf quiver.
My two go-to rods for stripers in the surf are the Sage ONE 8116-4 and the Sage METHOD 9119-4. The Sage ONE is an 11’6″ 8-weight two-handed gem that handles the surf beautifully. Lined with a 9-weight RIO Switch Chucker line, the rod is fast and stiff but with plenty of feel. When it comes to rod action and performance, a stiff, fast rod is key. The surf often requires relentless casting – usually into the wind – with heavy lines and big flies. The fast, two-handed rod makes big long casts easier and cuts down on fatigue tremendously. And as soon as that line hits the water, you must navigate a barrage of currents and waves that constantly threaten the movement of your fly. For all of these challenges, the ONE performs perfectly.
So why have the METHOD? There is some debate over whether an 8-weight or 9-weight is best for stripers. For me, the METHOD is number two in the surf quiver, but when the winds kick up, the surf is big, or I add a sinking head or decide to throw big flies, the METHOD becomes number one. The METHOD is an 11’9″ 9-weight that does not mess around. This rod is about as fast and stiff as it gets, and when I need to go big when mother nature is going big, this rod gets it done.
In a recent article on FlyTalk, Kirk Deeter pointed out that Louis Cahill (of Gink & Gasoline) recently found in a conversation with Sage rod designer, Jerry Siem, that Siem’s consideration with rods is matching your rod to fly size. For some, many of Sage’s faster rods are too fast. But when big flies come into the mix, those rods become a different tool altogether. For me, this is how the METHOD comes to fit perfectly into the Dynamic Duo.
In the end, it all comes down to preference. When considering rods, some argued that a Spey was the inevitable end to the search for the perfect rod, and others on the West Coast were Beulah loyalists. For me, the ONE and the METHOD fit my needs perfectly and will be my companions for the long-term. The surf brings challenges. These rods meet them.