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A Piece of the Action

Place Your Bets On The TL Johnson 7-Foot 4-Weight Glass

By Jim Stuard


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What does the term ‘Soft Action’ mean to you? To a gambler, it may mean that it’s an event where the betting isn’t fast and furious. In keyboard synthesizers, manufacturers labor to great lengths to make the mechanics (actions) for their electric pianos ‘soft’ enough to be considered more piano-like. Well, when it comes to fly rods, ‘soft action’ is a term that has a few adjectives attached to it. To the fast-action fly rod crowd, it’s anathema to their pursuits. They’re not happy till they can boom out 70’ arrow straight casts into a stiff breeze with no jostling of the fly. To an old timer who’s been fishing through the last three decades; ‘soft action’ brings a wistful look into their eyes and they get the uncontrollable urge to start rummaging through their old gear. My personal preference for rod actions is more medium, in nature. I don’t particularly have to bust out long casts and, when I do, it’s usually bigger gear that has no problem doing so. I’m talking about 8-weights on the Ohio River or flinging bass bugs into heavy cover. I don’t go bone fishing in the Bahamas and it’s probably going to be a while before I even get to think about fishing the sprawling western rivers of our great country. One thing I do need to mention is that I’ve been in close proximity to Joe Cornwall and his predilection toward slower rods. His fiberglass ‘jones’ is well known to readers of Fly Fish Ohio and, for that matter, the rest of the world.


When Joe asked me to review Terry Johnson’s fiberglass 4wt, I approached it with a little trepidation. My preconceived notions were that it would be too soft to push anything but the smallest flies on any but the stillest days. Boy was I wrong about that. After ogling the expertly finished wrapping work and the very nice all cork reel seat, I clamped on a reel and went to work. Joe had initially given me a 4wt double taper line to work with and to be honest; I wasn’t comfortable with double taper lines. They’re difficult for me to shoot and I really wanted to see how this rod would perform under some more extreme conditions. I gave up the double-taper for one of the new weight-forward, Lefty Kreh lines from Scientific Anglers. It probably overloads the rod a bit but the rod didn’t seem to care. The first thing I noticed about this glass rod was how well it behaved. At 7’ long, I expected it to be too soft to shoot any kind of distance but after some preliminary testing in my back yard, I came to the conclusion that this was a serious contender. I own a 6’-9” graphite 4wt that can shoot line as accurately as if it had a gun sight. What I expected to sacrifice for ‘feel’ and a soft landing, for my flies, was a ‘crispness’, of the cast that gave the rod some authority. While I wasn’t rolling incredibly tight loops with the Johnson rod, I became quite accurate with it. I was easily as accurate as with my shorter graphite rod. The real test was to fish the thing and see how it performed on the water.


A trip to a local tailwater was just the trick to see how this baby performed. I took it to the Brookville Lake tailwater. What I quickly found out was that, while the rod is probably not designed for high stick nymphing, it performed without a hitch. I was able to get off clean casts with a double-fly weighted rig and mend it into some tricky pocket water. The fish weren’t cooperating that day, but it wasn’t because of faulty casting. I felt like I could make that rod do anything I wanted it to do. After about an hour of indicator nymphing, I put on a parachute-Adams to do some searching and I’d finally found where this rod excelled. On medium sized to smaller rivers, this rod can’t be beat. It’s got just the right amount of feel and just the right amount of muscle to push a cast into the 60’ range. That was far more than I needed on this little tail water. I could put the fly wherever I wanted it, with very little effort. I totally understand using shorter rods now. They have an accuracy that belies their diminutive size.


This was a ‘glass’ rod that cast differently than any other glass rod I’ve ever fished. There was no tip wobble to foil a good cast.  It was almost hard to throw a tailing loop.  The diminutive rod shoots line like a target gun and, in the hands of a more competent caster than me, it could easily be persuaded into doing tricks.  We're talking tea-cup landings.


I recently took the rod on a trip to the Cumberland River; a sprawling tailwater that demands good distance casting. I can bang out some pretty long throws with my longer, faster graphite 4- weights.  This was where the TL Johnson showed its only limitation. I just couldn’t control a cast farther out than 50 to 60 feet. While that‘s probably fine for rivers like Brookville and the Mad (more creeks than rivers), the Cumberland is closer to a big western river.  That said, I could simply sneak up on the fish and make up for the shortcomings in control at a distance. I can’t wait to take this rod up to the Au Sable River, in Michigan and unleash it on the sun-crazed brookies found there.


At just under $400, I’d say this is a great all-around small stream rod for the angler who wants serious feel for the fish.  Trout, panfish or smallmouth, if you're casting flies from size 26 to 8 at distances from a rod length to 50-feet you need to cast this stick.  You may find, as I did, that you’ll enjoy the benefits of a shorter rod with traditional fiberglass action and dependability without sacrificing the ability to bang out a lengthy cast. Highly recommended. 


[Editor's Note:  You can learn more about the TL Johnson Rod Company at their web site.  Fly Fish Ohio reviewed the TL Johnson 8-foot 5-weight and interviewed Terry Johnson in this article.]

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