Mountain streams, valley tailwaters, spring creeks, fast-moving freestones, crystal-clear alpine lakes—these are all common southwest Montana angling destinations. These waters require different angling skillsets, but as sure as Paul Maclean staying in Montana, one rod and one reel can master them all. Enter the 9-foot 5-weight rod, and a reel to match.
Born and bred in southwest Montana, Winston Rod Co. combined the best of old and new technologies to create the Winston Air 2, a good rod when only one will do. At $1,095, you’ll need to loosen the purse strings, but it’s versatile and is known to cover a lot of uses and last a long time.
Don’t stop reading yet. It isn’t required that you to break the bank. Our local fly shops carry plenty of great all-around rods for under $250, making it plenty possible for you to pay the rent. Some favorites are the Echo Boost, St. Croix Imperial, and Redington Classic Trout. Designed and made in the USA by passionate folks, the Orvis Recon is the ideal blend of technology and practicality. Its shadow green blank looks great while casting to rising trout on the Missouri, and its $549 price tag won’t force you to sleep in a tent on every road trip.
The Sage PULSE continues carrying the torch and reputation for the one of the industry’s greatest brands. What you get with the PULSE is a remarkably fast fly rod without the excess bulk. For the amount of technology and design packed into one rod, $475 is a steal.
If you really know what you want, but can’t find it in a single package, have one made especially for you, specifically for southwest Montana. At Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, anglers work with local rod-builders to have custom rods created for their particular pursuits. Prices start around $1,500, but if you take care, the prize will soon become your heirloom—these rods are magnificent.
The Bozeman Reel RS Series are made in Gallatin Valley, and you can tell by their design. They feature sealed bearings, sealed drag systems, interchangeable spools, and quick left- or right-hand retrieve change-over. At $195 a pop, the RS is money well spent.
Like the Winston Air 2, the Ross Evolution LTX proves a sequel can be better than the original. The LTX is lighter, more durable, and wields a much smoother drag than the original. Visit your favorite local fly shop and put this reel in your hands, it won’t take long to see the appeal. But be prepared to bring out the credit card—this guy checks in at $395.
Coming in at $259, the Lamson Guru Series, known for its light weight and big features, is a large-arbor real equally at home on the Paradise Valley spring creeks as it is backcountry fishing in Yellowstone National Park.
If you’re tight on cash (many anglers are), fret not, some great options exist under $150, and they’ve all been landing fish for decades. Check out the budget options from Orvis and Reddington, or give the Echo Bravo LT a whirl. At $119, it’s like discovering pre-cooked bacon for the first time.
Patrick Straub is a local fishing guide; visit him at dryflymontana.com.