The tiny 6’ #3 Butter Stick is bent double and shaking right through the cork and up my arm as four pounds of narky New Zealand brown trout makes another lunges up the tiny stream.
A six-foot, three-weight glass rod is a small stream rod for small fish, right? New Zealand is all big, frothy rivers full of huge fish, right? Butter melts, right? Well, as it happens it’s no on all points.
Early in the 2013 season, Andrew Bell and I were driving somewhere, anywhere other than our base at Gore where the Mataura river was running high, dirty and un-fishable, when we pulled over near a small bridge to dig out some more chocolate and possibly have another nip of scotch. Naturally, we had a look at the small, ditch-like stream and naturally, this being New Zealand, there were rising trout. Lots of them. Where were we going again?
The fish were very small by NZ standards and barely made three pounds, but they were eating like the Fat Controller and… well, you know what happens next.
On this trip I’d packed a pair of fast Sage TCX 5 weights in nine- and ten-foot lengths to cover everything from the small water to pounding the big stuff with heavy nymphs in high winds. Just before we left however, Peter Morse had dropped by with a pair of Redington Butter Stick glass rods in three- and five-weight and, with a wink, suggested they might be kind of fun.
Not being very good at arguing fishing with Peter, I threw them in the kit, figuring they might get a run if we found some small water worth fishing in the early season high flows.
Well, I can’t really say anything about the five-weight, because once Andrew got it in his mitts he didn’t let go, but the three is another story and standing on that bridge, it was screaming at me for a run.
Compared to a modern, mid- or even slow-action graphite rod, the Butter Stick is heavier and slower in the hand (though only two ounces in actual weight) and misses out on some distance, but is very, very forgiving as you would expect from glass and always fun.
The flex is incredible and you feel everything in the cast from its tip to your elbow. In close, with just a few feet of line out, I doubt many rods could touch this one for chucking out a double-fly rig with a plop, or a tiny dry with barley a whisper. The very short rod length takes distance on the one hand, but slaps you with great accuracy with the other, and once you get a feel for it, landing a fly on a dime is easier than finding real men in an all-men’s soccer team.
My first cast, with a small Wyatt’s deer hair emerger is flicked out thirty feet on a long light 5x tippet and almost immediately smacked. With the 9’ TCX 5 weight I’ve been fishing, I would have had to be careful on the strike not to ping the fish on the light tippet, but the little Butter Stick absorbs the hit with an easy, endless bend and it’s fish on.
Compared to playing the fish on a fast five, the rod is, of course, a noodle, but it’s soon obvious that snapping the tippet is highly unlikely and the fish is quickly brought to hand.
That first fish—probably two and a half pounds—is the first of many that day and any plans for the day afterwards are quickly forgotten.
On the second day, after a lucky chat with a landowner at the shops we’re granted access to a section of the creek further downstream and find almost spring creek-like conditions and bigger fish in great numbers. By being a little sneaky, it’s pretty easy to get into the rods sweet spot for distance between twenty and thirty feet and land flies where they need to be without spooking the fish and the day that follows will live long in my memory as one of the best thanks to perfect conditions, great fish and a magic little glass twig.
In hindsight, I might say the short three-weight Butter Stick is a little light for most New Zealand waters and this tiny creek is an early season fluke. Maybe the five-weight, or even a four would be a better bet? That said, since then I’ve virtually stolen the rod from Peter and it’s proven an absolute gem in small Australian streams.
Of course, glass is nothing new, but over the last few years it’s made a solid come-back in fly fishing thanks to a dedicated group of custom rod builders, some great new product from the big manufacturers and a vast and varied group of fanatical users. The best place to see what’s going on in the world of custom and factory glass rods is The fiberglass manifesto blog.
Butter Sticks are available from a 6’2 two-weight through to an 8’ five-weight and cost around $390 in Australia and $249 US.
My current favourite line on the Butter Stick in the Rio Perception in WF#3.