I wanted to build a moderate action 7-8 ft small stream graphite fly rod. I needed it to have a mid-flex action with enough backbone to handle medium-sized trout without stressing the fish too much. I chose one of the St. Croix SCIII blanks I had in the shop, awaiting a custom build. These are well-made US blanks, and for graphite, it’s certainly the best moderate action fly rod I’ve fished in the 3-weight category. It’s light – what you would expect in a 3-weight – smooth and easy loading, a quality needed around here for roll-casting from a low position to spooky fish holding in the shadows of overhanging brush. But how is it for playing fish? It’s about as fun as graphite can be.
When friend Bob Gartner, author and Fort Belvoir program lead for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing invited me to join him for a day of fishing at Rose River Farm, it was the opportunity to stream test the SCIII. The Rose River falls from the western slope of Shenandoah National Park and flows east through the scenic foothills, farms and ranches of Virginia’s Piedmont. Conceived by Douglas Dear, Rose River Farm offers an uncrowded fly fishing experience for up to five anglers per day. The scenery is spectacular and the habitat is well suited to the brookies, browns and rainbows it holds – some wild, some holdovers, some more recently stocked. With ample aquatic and terrestrial bugs, these fish can be selective when they need to be.
The water was low and gin clear when we arrived with air temps reaching in the high eighties by mid-day. With these conditions, the fish spooked easily, but despite that, we each managed more than eight or so, all hard fighting rainbows in the 15-17 inch range. I fished size 12 streamers with 9 foot leaders (5x tippet), sizes 12 and 14 Pass Lake Wet Flies, various soft hackles, small ants, and size 12 unweighted pheasant bodied Teeny Nymphs, all with 9-10 ft leaders with 5x and 6x tippet. I fished other patterns, but these were the ones producing takes and landing fish.
So how did the SCIII do? I’ve fished a few factory St. Croix rods, and they are fine rods at a good price point. But a good custom build can elevate these blanks to higher class with a little fine tuning, upgraded guides, custom turned cork grip, and a few other rodmith tricks. It fished great, loading with ease on short roll casts, smooth and with accuracy. Frankly, it was equally smooth with every cast and aerial mend I threw, with plenty of power to cast long, something I wasn’t expecting. I brought a 5-weight but never used it – just couldn’t put the SCIII down.
What impresses me with this rod is the range of line weights it’ll carry. Like many “small stream” 3- weight rods, they are classified one weight heavier than their effective rod number. In other words, they load effectively with 30ft of 2wt fly line, or about 80 grains. In order to load the rod effectively with less line out on smaller streams though, they need a heavier fly line. With the SCIII that equates to about 25 feet of 3wt line, and 20 feet of 4 weight. It handled over-lining with 4 weight fly line equally well, and I wouldn’t hesitate to line up accordingly to compensate for heavier flies and wind, or just for the hell of it. This rod is a gun, but with enough flex to protect light tippets. You won’t horse in a 17-inch fish on 6x tippet, you’ll have to play them a bit, but that’s what you get with a 3 weight.
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