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What better way to review the lightest fly fishing rod in its class than to take it backpacking? The Redington Hydrogen fly rod is that fly fishing rod. At just 2.5 ounces, the 9-foot, 5-weight version is crazy light.
Of course, just because a fly rod is a half-ounce lighter than other good fly rods doesn’t automatically make it better. If you pair a light fly rod with a heavy reel, for instance, you will mitigate the benefits of casting a lighter rod all day long.
Enter the Redington ZERO fly reel. The ZERO reel is, as you might expect, quite possibly the lightest reel in its class. Redington certainly makes that claim, and at just 3 ounces in the 4/5 line weight size, it’s definitely lighter than most everything else.
The two together feel pretty amazing.
Redington Hydrogen Fly Rod Review: Fit and Finish
The Redington Hydrogen fly rod is a sweet looking rod, using a dark gray matte finish for flash reduction. Flash, it turns out, may or may not be important depending on the type of fishing you do. In clear water where you’re stalking wary trout, a sunlight flash off your rod could spook the fish of a lifetime. But maybe not. I do know that I’ve spooked fish while standing still, sometimes while hiding behind trees or bushes. Maybe my rod gave me up, hard to say. Either way, the matte finish is a bit different than most shiny finishes on quality rods, and if you like understated design, the Hydrogen delivers.
To shave a few extra slivers of weight, Redington uses single-foot line guides. To save even more weight, Redington skipped a traditional wood or fancy reel seat insert, opting to skeletonize it and show off the base of the rod blank.
The half-wells premium cork handle is great, and the wrapping and epoxy were all done with care. The fit and finish isn’t as awe-inspiring as you might see on rods that cost twice as much, but it’s very good.
Overall, the Redington Hydrogen is a pleasing rod to hold and to look at.
A 9′ 5-weight rod is pretty much the standard all-around trout rod configuration. This size and weight usually has enough backbone to toss streamers and hoppers as well as dial it back and cast a tiny size 20 midge with reasonable care. The Redington Hydrogen is no exception.
When it comes to casting, every rod behaves a bit differently based on the type of fly line, reel weight, casting style, and distance. For most people, what you really need is a good fly rod. The very best fly rod in the world? Doesn’t matter for the 99% of us whose skills will never utilize the extra 10% a truly great fly rod can deliver. Heck, I see more guys fail to hook fish when they cast as far as they can already. Why? It’s hard to lift all that line off the water to set the hook at the right time with the right amount of force. Most fly fishers are better off wading closer to fish than trying to place a little dry fly at the very end of their abilities.
What’s this mean? Everyone’s experience will vary. In my experience, here’s what I liked about the Hydrogen: Its medium-fast action was far more pleasant than I was expecting. In addition, while perched on a boulder, I was able to cast large grasshopper patterns far out into a high mountain lake and get them in front of cruising trout. Considering that one 20-inch plus bruiser ate a piece of bark as I was assembling the Hydrogen while perched upon said boulder, I thought I was going to hook into him. But no. My hoppers, beetles, ants, and a caddis were all inspected and rejected.
However, the Hydrogen was nimble enough to let me lift a lot of fly line off the water and redirect it in one casting motion to put it in front of a cruising trout. In this situation, you want a rod with enough backbone to help you change directions and add distance all in one quick cast — and the Hydrogen delivered. I usually take a much smaller 7.5′ 3-weight fly rod backpacking, but on this occasion, I was glad to have the 5w Hydrogen.
Redington Hydrogen Fly Rod Review: Fighting Fish
The first trout I hooked on the Hydrogen was a fat 18-incher that took off past some underwater limbs on a submerged log. Not good. The only way I was going to get that fish turned around was to wade into the water to change my angle — and then hope I could convince the feisty rainbow to come on back.
It worked. Sure, my pants were wet, but that was a small price to pay for such a sweet fish. The Hydrogen felt solid and smooth throughout the fight. As for the ZERO reel, I must admit I love the sound of the click drag as the fish took off on each of several runs.
There is more, though. Remember the monster cruisers I mentioned above? Five times these big trout inspected and rejected my flies, then, one afternoon, I spotted one cruising a brushy and treed shoreline in a foot of water, just a foot or so off the bank. I frantically tried to get a fast flick cast together, but I realized that I had no time to make it happen in the small opening before me. I stepped back and quickly and quietly moved down the shoreline about 30 feet until I found another opening. I hid behind a small tree and flick-casted a cricket pattern with an ant dropper a couple of feet off shore.
And waited. A few seconds seemed like a minute. Had the fish turned around? Heard my footsteps and spooked? Finally I saw it through the branches and brush, cruising slowly. It spotted my fly from four feet away and accelerated . . . patience, wait for it, and bam, she took it. The surface exploded on the hookset, then the click drag on the ZERO reel started screaming as she took off for deep water.
I had to direct her out from under yet another submerged log, but the Hydrogen seemed to have the right amount of strength and finesse to get the job done without snapping my tippet. I didn’t have my trusty Measure Net with me — backpacking light, remember — so I had to get her in and landed by hand. Again, the Hydrogen gave me plenty of confidence as I brought the heavy trout to my bare hand.
How long? I held the fish next to the rod and made a mental note to check the length back at camp with a Leatherman multi-tool. And? 21-inches at least, probably longer laid out straight or in a Measure Net.
But 21 inches does this fish an injustice. She was massive, fat, healthy — a torpedo of rainbow trout awesomeness. I thought the 18-incher I first caught on this trip was a big fish, but this one was easily twice the size of the 18-incher in weight and girth. I shouted for my buddies to come take some pictures, but I was too far away for them to hear me. So I had to make do with my iPhone with a waterproof case in bright sun, trying to control a beast of a fish and snap a few photos, too.
So what’s the bottom line? The Redington Hydrogen is the lightest fly rod in its class, but it’s also beefy enough to handle monster trout with ease. As a casting tool, it’s plenty good enough to handle wind, big flies, and quick little flip casts to shore-cruising trout — where, no doubt, the matte finish helps keep things stealthy. At approximately $299, it’s a mid-priced rod that outperforms its sticker price, looks good, and will get the job done for the vast majority of trout fishing most fly fishers will encounter. Perfect for fly fishers who want to go light.
Oh, one more thing: In addition to standard, typical all-around trout fishing rod lengths and weights — which is what I recommend for all new fly fishers — Redington makes three “Euro-nymph” models for more specialized fly fishers. They are longer at 10′ or 11′ and have softer tips.