Fly Rod vs Float Rod
By Nick Ohlrich

Taking advantage of an early morning bite during the fall on the Middle Kenai. © Nick Ohlrich

When fishing rainbows on the Middle Kenai, whether guiding or personal fishing, I always have both fly rods and float rods in the boat. To me they are tools, not a frame of mind, and I thoroughly enjoy catching fish on both. For the most part the setup is the same. Both have bobbers (I refuse to say “float” or “strike indicator”) and the same leader makeup. Both run great dead drifts and can effectively swing streamers. The casting and drag systems are incredibly different, but not overly complicated. So is one better than the other? In my opinion, no. Folks who couldn’t care less about flyfishing will crush it with a float rod, and for the purists, you, too, will prosper. The remainder of this blog will focus on the pros and cons of fly and float fishing for slab ‘bows on the Middle Kenai. 

“J,” the guide dog patiently coaching an angler with a fired-up June ‘bow caught while swinging a streamer on a float rod. © Nick Ohlrich

Float Rods (Dominator Sticks)

For those that harness the full power of the “Dominator Stick,” you will for surely see big Kenai ‘bows passing time in your net. The versatility and long-range sniper ability make this a go-to for all things rainbow trout on the Middle. When the water becomes clear and/or the trout become excessively skittish, the long-range casting power of a float rod is paramount. 

An up-close of my float-rod setup. © Nick Ohlrich

For the Middle Kenai, a 10-foot to 11-foot float rod is key as average leader length for this section of river is 10 feet to 13 feet. Casting this much leader with a short rod is incredibly hard; also, the long rod allows for easier line management when mending line on dead drifts or maintaining the right amount of downstream loop for swinging streamers. Main line is also key. We use P-Line 30-pound Hydrofloat. This line is mandatory for float fishing as it is designed to act like a floating fly line, allowing anglers to effectively mend and manage long drifts, and swing streamers.

I am currently using the G.Loomis STFR 1363 11’4” Medium float rod, Quantum Energy 40 spinning reel, 5/8-ounce Beau-Mac float and weight system, and P-Line Hydrofloat main line.

When fishing over salmon beds or main-channel drifts where being more than 15 feet from the boat will greatly reduce your catching, the float rod is a pain. The length of the rod with a long leader make short casts tough, especially for beginning anglers. When fishing tight to shore I also prefer a fly rod over the float rod, especially when I have anglers that are not super accurate with casting. If I give them a fly rod, casting 20 feet of fly line is easy for most folks to learn and I know exactly the distance they can cast, which lets me set up my drift much more effectively.

Bobber battle. In most situations float and fly rods produce the same results and can easily be fished at the same time in a boat. © Nick Ohlrich

Fly Rods (Hippie Sticks)

Is there any better sound than hearing fly line being ripped thru the water by a savage fish? Possible, but doubtful. Flyfishing is incredibly infectious and rewarding. Fly casting is almost as fun as fighting a fish, and the tug-of-war battle with a fly reel adds extra excitement and challenge to bringing in your target species. Many anglers are fly-or-die, and for good reason.

I prefer medium to medium-fast, 10-foot 8-weight fly rods for Middle ‘bows. The medium action is the best of both worlds, allowing for a slow and steady load when roll casting and enough power for punching heavy flies long distances. We cheat from time to time and water load our fly rods. This technique greatly reduces tangles with a long leader, bobber, and other trinkets, removes the need for false casting, and makes using a fly rod in strong wind enjoyable. 

I currently use Sage 99-series 8-weights and G.Loomis Native Run 10-foot, 8-weight fly rods with Sage reels, Airflo Nymph Taper fly lines, and Air-Lock strike indicators.

My two fly rods. I love them both. For me, a medium-action rod combines the best of roll casting and overhead casting. © Nick Ohlrich

The two situations where I will gladly lay down the fly rod and grab the float rod is in windy conditions, and clear water where needing to cast 50 feet from the boat is mandatory. I do enjoy throwing line, but once the luster wears off and fatigue sets in I’ll take the smarter, not harder route of the float rod.

Tying it Together

Catching fish is awesome and whichever tool you choose to get the job done is your choice. If all you need is one tool to get the job done that’s great; but having many tools gives you greater ability to be successful in almost any condition and will greatly increase your knowledge base and interactions with big ‘bows or your target species.



Nick Ohlrich is a contributing editor to Fish Alaska magazine and co-owner/guide at Alaska Drift Away Fishing. For more info check out our website at or call at us at 907-529-8776.