3 weight fly rod uses

3 Weight Fly Rod Uses – A Practical Guide

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Fly fishermen are known to obsess over equipment. They want the best waders, the coolest nets, the sleekest most waterproof packs. Their fly boxes are full of every insect, crustacean, and baitfish, all meticulously organized. Their clothing has enough SPF to reverse the effects of ultraviolet radiation.

And they love their fly rods.

Often times though, fly fishermen start their rod collections at a 5 weight and go up. The 5 weight is the most common and versatile fly rod, and going up from there can provide advantages in certain fishing situations.

But don’t be fooled, going down to smaller rods can be advantageous as well. And damn fun.

So, we’re going to talk 3 weight fly rod uses, and by the end I bet you’ll be heading down to your local fly shop to do a little shopping.

Table of Contents

Small stream fishing

The most common use for a 3 weight fly rod is fishing for trout in small streams.

These small streams are usually tight quarters- there are bushes, trees, logs, and boulders all crowding the water. With all of these obstacles behind and in front of you, long casts are often impossible.

3 weight fly rods will make fighting these fish feel like you’re fighting a 20-inch fish on your 5 weight.

In these situations you’ll be using roll casts, bow and arrow casts, high sticking, dapping, and any other method you can utilize to get your fly to the fish. These techniques don’t require heavy rod weights to make the casts. In fact, a 3 weight will be more efficient than a 5 or even a 4.

Furthermore, navigating around these cramped quarters is a struggle by itself. Having a big long rod will cause you more headaches as you try to keep it out of all the foliage. A shorter 3 weight will be less of a burden.

But the advantages of small stream fishing with a 3 weight don’t stop there.

Fish have a tendency to match the size of the water they’re living in. It is not always the case, but small streams tend to contain mostly small fish. In small trout streams that means that the fish will usually be between 6 and 14 inches.

In fact, a 3 weight will be more efficient than a 5 or even a 4.

3 weight fly rods will make fighting these fish feel like you’re fighting a 28-inch rainbow on your 5 weight. The rod will be bent over, the headshakes will send shockwaves down your arms, and you won’t be able to just horse the fish all the way in. You have to finesse it a bit. It’s more fun.

But if you do manage to hookup with a 28-inch ‘bow while you’re fishing with your 3 weight, you’ll still be able to land the fish safely. So don’t worry.

Backpacking fishing

3 weight fly rods also make the perfect rod for fishing during backpacking trips.

The first weekend I moved to Utah from Alabama I went on a backpacking trip in the Uintas Mountains. I wasn’t used to the altitude at all, so the 7 miles up to the meadow we planned on camping in was difficult enough on its own. When I strapped on my 50-pound pack, it made the trek nearly un-survivable.

But, I knew there were fish up there, so I packed my 5-weight and a few (too many) boxes of flies.  On the way up there, I dreaded every extra ounce I added to my back, and I held special disdain for the bulk and oversized rod case that I brought with me that didn’t even fit in my pack.

If I had done my research, I would’ve quickly realized that taking my heavy, long 5 weight was just adding unnecessary pain to my torture. A 6 piece 3 weight would’ve been perfect.

The perfect rod for flyfishing during backpacking trips is the Reddington Classic Trout Rod in the 6-piece, 8’ model. This rod is ultra lightweight, which is perfect both for hiking up with a heavy pack, and it breaks down into 6 pieces, making it easily packable into your bag that’s already stuffed with liquor and toilet paper.

Nymphing with 3 weight fly rods

If you’re new to fly fishing, that title may not surprise you. But if you’ve been around awhile, it may have you confused.

Why would anyone nymph with a 3 weight?

A 3 weight fly rod can be a killer for nymphing, especially high sticking, euro nymphing, and Czech nymphing. The lightweight of the rod makes holding it in the air for hours less stressful on your shoulders and also provides extra sensitivity. A subtle nymph take may not be felt with heavier rods, but with ultra-sensitive 3 weight fly rods, even a nibble feels like a hit.

One popular model is the Reddington Hydrogen & Trout Spey Fly Rod. It’s available in an 11 foot 3 weight that will make nymphing a dream and even give you something to work on your spey casting with. 

This rod is incredibly light weight, has a smooth medium action, and features a lifetime warranty.

Catching pan fish

3 weight fly rods aren’t relegated exclusively to cold water. If you do decide to purchase a 3 weight you can have a blast with it fishing for small bass, panfish, bream, sunfish, or whatever other term you use for these things where you’re from.

The 3 weight rod will be perfect for casting dry flies during summer mayfly hatches, or small poppers in early morning and evening hours. Casting it for hours won’t leave you sore the next day and if you manage to hook up with a big panfish on a 3 weight it’s going to feel like the fish of a lifetime.

3 weight fly rod uses – conclusion

The 3 weight fly rod isn’t the most common. It is often overlooked, avoided, and forgotten, but I hope you now see that this is wrong. There are plenty of uses for a 3 weight fly rod and it can even be the best rod choice in certain situations.

Let us know in the comments below if you found this article to be helpful for learning more about 3 weight fly rods!

And if share it with your fishing buddies- they need to learn more about 3 weights too.

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15 thoughts on “3 Weight Fly Rod Uses – A Practical Guide”

  1. Triberiua@triberius.net'

    I can’t agree enough with this article. I started with a 5 wt. added an 8 wt for Salmon and Steelhead but eventually realized I needed something more efficient for the tight area along many of the small trout streams and added a 3 wt. I have to admit the 5 wt hasn’t seen action in 2 years, and the 8 wt gets broken out 1-2 weeks a year, everything else my 3 wt Diamond Back View handles easily.

    1. Tim@flyrods.com'

      Ha, that’s awesome. Yeah, I find myself using smaller rods more and more often. Partly to avoid the crowds, I fish smaller water quite often. Thanks for the comment!

  2. mjolnir1981@gmail.com'

    If you practice catch and release, do you have to be more careful with ultralight rods? I’ve read that the build up of lactic acid in fish during a prolonged fight can be detrimental to their health? I think that catching blue gill and crappie with a 3-weight would be a blast though!

    1. Tim@flyrods.com'

      Hi John,
      Yes, good point. Taking too long to land a fish can be too hard on it to survive. Ideally the tippet you use is strong enough to bring in the fish in a reasonable amount of time. The rod will be bent in half on larger fish, but if you’re running 6x tippet (or even 7x, depending on the size of the fish) it’ll hold. You just won’t quite have the power to really guide a fish larger than a couple pounds. Sometimes I’ll give them a rest if they seem tired and aren’t close to being landed yet. Also, this is where a long handled net can come in handy, helps with landing stubborn or strong fish on a lighter set up. Lastly, fighting a trout too long in higher temps can be hard in it, as they aren’t getting as much oxygen as they need in warmer water. Something to consider. But if all things are normal, a 3wt is a blast! I catch most of my brook trout on a 2wt actually, and have landed 18 in browns in short order. Thanks for the comment!

  3. nfbrough@gmail.com'
    Neil Brough

    Great articles yeah I’m new to fly fishing as I mainly softbait and spin , so wanted to get into tight line nymphing . After researching for some time looking at #3or #4 can’t wait . Cheers Neil

    1. Tim@flyrods.com'

      Hi Neil, Awesome! I think you’ll really enjoy it. I think a 3 or 4 weight rod is a great place to start if you’re chasing trout with tight line style nymphing, and I’ll be surprised if you’re not completely addicted after catching a couple that way. Best of luck in the learning process! Thanks for the comment.

  4. Gillum14@gmail.com'

    Similar to GCronk I started with a 5wt for trout and small LM bass. Purchased and 8wt for stripers and carp and couldn’t stop myself from buying a 3wt for small stream fishing and panfish. My 3wt is my most used rod in my quiver throughout the year. Yea, I have more rods, a 4wt when the hatch is on the larger rivers here in CT. However, my 3wt is always in my car rigged and ready.

    1. Tim@flyrods.com'

      Nice Gillum! Thanks for the comment. Yeah, it’s funny, but once you get to know a lightweight rod it often becomes your go-to. Which 3wt do you have?

      1. gillum14@gmail.com'

        7.5’- 3 wt Orvis Helios 3F. I fished a bunch of rods and ultimately opted to splurge after trying it out about a year ago.

        1. Tim@flyrods.com'

          Oh sweet. Yeah, that’s a great rod.

  5. I recently decided to move down from a 5 weight for my estuary/harbour fishing as most fish are under 4-5 lbs. My outfit was an 8ft 3wt with graphite composite fly reel to minimise saltwater corrosion risk. One of the best fishing tackle decisions I’ve ever made – the average fish are much more fun on the lighter outfit. And I’ve been out in 15-20 knot winds and was still catching fish so don’t believe the urban myth that 3 weight is only good for calm conditions. In fact the 3 weight is now my first outfit of choice and the 5 weight is gathering dust.

    1. Tim@flyrods.com'

      That’s awesome Mark! Thanks for the comment. I really like the graphite composite reel idea for the saltwater, I haven’t used one of those but it makes a lot of sense. I used a 3 weight to fish sea run cutthroat trout in western Canada years ago, but was always worried about my reel (rinsed it religiously). It’s true though, even with a little lighter tackle it’s possible to cast in most conditions still, especially if you have a decent rod.

  6. Slapshot1166@msn.com'

    I had been using the same 5wt Sage my father gave me 35 years ago until last weekend. I bought an Orvis Clearwater 7.5′ 3wt a couple of Thursdays ago. After fishing with it twice in a weeks time in owning it, I’m wondering what took me so long. I might sneak it on to the Platte soon, just to see what a larger trout will feel like, and then back to my smaller streams. I found this article while trying to figure out how large of a fish I could catch. I don’t think I’ll take it to the Dream Stream, but most other places, it’ll get a chance. I love that it breaks down small enough to fit in my trunk. Have fly rod, will fish.

  7. I got my 3 weight last year for saltwater outings in the local estuaries and harbour. It has radically improved my enjoyment after years of using 7 weights (which was considered light by other saltwater fly fishers). I have fished it in 15-20 knot winds and still been able to get 30-40 feet of line out and catch fish. Better fishers than me have landed 4-5 pound Kahawai and even Eagle rays on their outfits, and with 3 lb tippets! Have a look at what these guys are doing regularly to see “UL” doesnot mean ultra limited.

  8. jsdaviso@gmail.com'

    My 386-4 Sage VXP is my go-to trout single hander. I live on Vancouver Island and the trout here are usually less than 20″ in a regular trout fishing situation. I dry fly fish with that rod, and when I can’t I usually use my 3113-4 Redington Trout Spey. I find that a fast action 3 weight loads up well close with a heavier line (I have three, 3wt Rio double taper for lake fishing/long casting, 4wt Rio Gold for close in, 3wt Rio SIngle Hand Spey for all around river fishing) and yet has the backbone for larger fish than you’d expect. These days with high quality fast action blanks a 4wt rod is probably the new 5wt.

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