Review: Hardy Ultralite LL fly rod

Is the new Euro-focused Ultralite LL also one of the best all-around performers Hardy has ever made?
Hardly Ultralite LL fly rod
Photo: Spencer Durrant

Hardy has revamped its entire rod lineup for 2020, replacing nearly everything they offered in 2019. Among the most anticipated new offerings is the Hardy Ultralite LL rod. This is the same rod that Hardy’s head designer Howard Croston used to win the 2020 FIPS World Championship. Euro-nymphing is the name of the game in the World Championships, and that’s exactly what the Ultralite LL was designed for. It’s an outrageously light, sensitive stick built to handle fish big and small.

But it’s not just a rod for Euro nymphing anglers. The Ultralite LL is the first Euro-specific rod I’ve fished that’s outstanding at both tight-line nymphing and conventional fly fishing.

What Works

Euro Tailored

The Ultralite LL is almost everything I'd want my ideal Euro rod to be. It's light and sensitive to the most subtle of bounces and takes, yet surprisingly responsive and with a stiff enough spine to drive the hook home when a trout eats. This rod allows me to feel my Euro rig much better than other, heavier Euro rods I've fished recently. Tippet protection is outstanding. Whether you're fishing dries or Euro-nymphing, the tip is supple enough that you shouldn't have to worry about breaking any fish off, provided you're not trying to horse in a 20-inch rainbow on 7x.

Above all, the Ultralite LL feels strategically built for Euro-nymphing, which is good, because that's exactly why the folks at Hardy built it.

Versatility

One of the reasons I haven’t Euro-nymphed as much as some of my fishing buddies is that I feel like it’s too limiting a style of fishing for me. If I’m nymphing the Madison, but a surprise afternoon hatch of BWOs starts popping, the ability to switch to dries immediately is something I love about my traditional fly rods.

And up until now, I haven’t fished a Euro-nymphing rod that could adequately do both.

The Ultralite LL, though, surprised me.

After a morning of throwing streamers on the Green River in Utah with a different stick, I busted out the 9’9” 3wtHardy Ultralite LL. My buddy Ryan and I found a pod of rising fish that were snacking on a decent BWO hatch.

I tied on a long leader, a size 22 spent-wing, and started casting. The Ultralite LL felt different when used as a dry-fly rod, but not in a bad way. Once I got the hang of its rhythm, I shot a cast to the feeding fish. A trout ate my spent-wing on the first cast, and I passed the rest of the afternoon picking fish off with what felt like sniper-like precision. And I’m no expert caster, either, but the Ultralite LL made things easy for me.

Then, on the complete opposite side of things, I was nymphing with the Ultralite LL on a local freestone stream here in Utah. I’d caught a few cutthroat already, but I came to a big pool that was just begging to be fished with streamers. So, I cut off my Euro leader, tied on a size 6 white bunny leech, and lobbed it out there. The cast wasn’t gracious, or pretty, but for a long 3wt rod, I was blown away. And just like on the Green, I hooked a fish on the first cast.

The Ultralite LL definitely excels as a nymphing rod. That’s what it was designed to do, after all. But it’s more than just adequate with dries and streamers — it’s surprisingly effective. With dry flies especially, the Ultralite LL is a pleasure to fish.

Weight

Euro rods have to be lighter than normal rods, by virtue of how they’re fished. The Ultralite LL is available in eight different configurations, and none of them weigh more than 3.6 ounces. the 9’9” 3wt clocks in at 3 ounces on the dot.

These rods really do feel that light in-hand. They’re effortless to hold when you’re reaching to drift nymphs through a seam on the far side of the river, or when you decide to switch things up and fish a streamer.

Power

The Ultralite LL, even in the 3wt I tested, has a surprising amount of power in the lower sections of the blank. I was able to hook, fight, and land big trout at various distances, and in plenty of swift current. I wouldn’t expect a 3wt to have as much power to turn fish as this rod does, but finding that out was a pleasant surprise.

Design

Hardy made what I think is a bold move by including spigot ferrules on the Ultralite LL. The idea behind spigot ferrules is to provide a more seamless transition between rod sections, creating a rod that’s more sensitive than one with sleeve-over ferrules. That’s obviously a necessity of Euro-rod design, and I could feel that increased sensitivity not just when bouncing nymphs along the bottom, but even when throwing dry flies.

Crafted with Hardy’s usual attention to detail, the Ultralite LL is, to me, one of the most beautiful rods the company has ever built. The cork is top-notch, and I love the sleek, bronze reel seat hardware. While I’d love a wood reel seat insert, the carbon fiber one definitely cuts down on weight.

The rest of the blank is a gorgeous unsanded bronze that looks beautiful in direct sunlight. The blank is capped with black nickel single-foot guides, and a single Ceracoil stripping guide. Thankfully, Hardy didn’t ditch the hook keeper on the Ultralite LL, a trend in American rod design that’s driving me nuts.

What Doesn’t Work

Swing Weight

This is me getting into the weeds a bit, but if you plan on using the 9’9” 3wt as a dry fly rod in addition to its Euro capabilities, be prepared for some swing weight. Personally, I don’t know how you could build a rod this long and light without having some serious swing weight, and what you get out of the Ultralite LL isn’t terrible. It is, though, worth noting if you think you’ll use this rod for a fair amount of dry fly fishing.

Ferrule Plugs

Personally, I love that Hardy built this rod with spigot ferrules, and that they provide ferrule plugs to keep dirt out of the female ends of the ferrules. But, I can see how some anglers may not like remembering to put the three small plugs in their pouch on the rod sock. This is a tiny thing, and one that doesn’t impact the performance of the rod at all, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Final Word

The Ultralite LL is one of the best fly rods I’ve ever fished, and stands head-and-shoulders above anything I’ve ever fished from Hardy. It’s light, responsive, sensitive, and incredibly versatile. It fishes Euro rigs at a championship level, but turns right around and throws dry flies or streamers without a problem. While the swing weight is a bit much, there’s nothing else to really knock the Ultralite LL for. It’s just a fantastic rod, and one that Hardy should keep in their lineup for years to come.

BUY THE HARDY ULTRALITE LL FLY ROD

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