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The Right Running Guides for Your Fly Rod

Learn why both snake guides and single foot guides are great, but why one might be just right for the next custom fly rod you build.

The Right Running Guides for Your Fly Rod

Arguments can be made for both snake guides and single foot guides, but it’s performance that matters.

Snake guides or single foot? What’s your preference, and why?  Learn the reasons why both are great, but one might be just right for the next custom fly rod you build!

Performance Matters

There are so many benefits to building your own custom rod, but perhaps the most important is that you can choose the exact components you need for a specific purpose. Being able to customize the performance characteristics of your custom fishing rod is a huge advantage on the water, and one of the primary reasons anglers start building custom rods in the first place!

Beyond the intricate ferrule wrap, a colorful rod blank, and the titanium reel seat with a gorgeous rosewood insert, what matters most is how the rod feels in your hand and how it performs for you, cast after cast. And this is what custom rod building is all about.

Running Guides that Make Sense For You

The debate over snake guides versus single foot guides is a longstanding one, with advocates on both sides. Arguments can be made for both, but at the end of the day, it’s performance that matters.

Casting Distance Myth?

You just want to get the fly to where the fish are, right?  And the more distance, the more opportunity to reach your target fish.  So, casting distance is of prime importance to fly anglers.

Some fly guys swear that the double foot construction of snake guides puts increased pressure on the fly blank, leading to less flexibility and therefore, less distance. This is more myth than fact. While there are twice as many guide feet on the blank, there’s no empirical data that suggest a difference in rod flexibility.

Most anglers don’t want to hear this, but fly casting distance is mostly determined by practice and technique, not by whether you have snake or single foot guides.

The Right Running Guides for Your Fly Rod

A Weighty Decision

Another contention against snake guides is that their double-foot configuration increases the weight of the fly rod, both in the component material as well as the added thread and epoxy required to secure them.

While this is absolutely true (physics is physics), the weight difference is so minimal that it would be difficult to argue a demonstrable change in performance and feel.  A more pertinent argument to rod builders would be whether they want to double the number of guide feet they need to wrap and epoxy!

Snagging Fly Line Loops

It’s imperative for fly line, as well as the knots or loops that come along with it, pass through the guides smoothly.  Connection loops are common, especially on two-handed fly rods, and each one must pass through effortlessly in order to complete a successful cast.  When the fly line transfers from the stripper guide to the running guides, you need to avoid loops snagging or catching along the way.

The inner diameter of single foot guides increases the opportunity for larger loops to snag.  So, in these circumstances, snake guides offer more clearance for passing knots and loops, and less opportunity for snagging.

The Right Running Guides for Your Fly Rod

Cold Facts

That classic image of an autumn fly fisherman casting for rainbow trout in a mountain brook, adorned in waders, flannel shirt, and vest, is something of legend. However, one of great things about fly fishing is that it can be enjoyed by so many people, in so many different circumstances and locations. Whether casting for bonefish in Biscayne Bay, chasing redfish tails in the Louisiana flats, or targeting northern pike along the Yukon River, fly fishing offers so much for so many.


Winter fly fishing for anglers in northern states can be a great treat, provided you’ve geared up with the proper layers, waders, gloves, and hats. When the temperatures fall below freezing, the conditions can be just right for trout, pike, and musky.  But the winter weather also means that your guides may begin to feel the effects of the cold.

Ice build-up on your running guides is no fun, and it will surely happen to both single foot and snake guides, alike. However, with their smaller inner diameter, single foot guides tend to feel the effect of the cold sooner and more often than snake guides – and can cause your fly line to freeze up. Snake guides can have ice buildup too, but with their unique shape, they will rarely freeze up your line.  Plus, clearing ice off of snake guides is a lot easier and quicker than with single foot guides.  So if you’re planning on building your next fly rod for winter fishing, snake guides are probably your best bet.

Personal Preference Prevails

Ultimately, most anglers (and most rod builders), choose their fly running guides based on personal preference.  Some like the classic look of snake guides, something very specific to fly rods.  Others feel comfortable with a more traditional guide train that single foot guides provide. Most important to your next custom fly rod build is what gives you the most comfort and confidence when throwing flies.  There are definitely some benefits to each, although the tangible impact on performance is debatable, except in the specific circumstances mentioned above. So get ready to build your next fly rod, and pick the guides that work for you. Either way, you can’t go wrong!

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