Test: Hardy Ultralite LL fly rod | Outbreak Magazine

Hardy has revamped their entire rod line for 2020, replacing almost everything they were offering in 2019. Among the most anticipated new offerings is the Hardy Ultralite LL rod. It’s the same rod that Hardy’s chief 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 for what the Ultralite LL was designed for. It is an incredibly light and sensitive stick designed to handle fish large and small.

But it’s not just a rod for Euro anglers. The Ultralite LL is the first rod specific to Europe that I have fished which is exceptional both in tight nymph and conventional fly fishing.

What works

Euro tailor-made

The Ultralite LL is almost everything I would want my ideal Euro rod to be. It’s light and responsive to the most subtle bounces and grips, yet surprisingly responsive and with a spine stiff enough to bring the hook home when a trout eats. This rod allows me to feel my Euro rig better than other heavier Euro rods that I have fished recently. Tippet protection is exceptional. Whether you’re dry-fishing or euro-nymph fishing, the tip is soft enough that you don’t have to worry about breaking a fish, as long as you’re not trying to ride a horse in a rainbow. – 20 inch sky by 7x.

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


One of the reasons I haven’t had as many Euro-nymphs as some of my fishing friends is that I feel like this is too restrictive a style of fishing for me. If I’m the Madison’s nymph, but a surprise BWO outbreak in the afternoon starts to appear, the ability to immediately switch to drying is something I love about my traditional fly rods.

And so far I haven’t fished a European nymph rod that can do both adequately.

The Ultralite LL, however, surprised me.

After a morning throwing streamers down the Green River in Utah with a different stick, I pulled out the 9’9 “3wtHardy Ultralite LL. My buddy Ryan and I found a rising fish pod nibbling on a decent BWO hatch.

I attached a long leader, an oversized size 22 fin, and started throwing. The Ultralite LL was different when used as a dry fly rod, but not in a bad way. Once I understood its rhythm, I pulled a plaster cast over the feeding fish. A trout ate my worn wing on the first throw, and I spent the rest of the afternoon scooping up fish with sniper-like accuracy. And I’m not an expert pitcher either, but Ultralite LL made it easy for me.

Then the opposite of it, I was pupating with Ultralite LL on a local freestone stream here in Utah. I had caught a few cutthroats before, but came to a large pool begging to be fished with streamers. So, I cut off my Euro leader, strapped to a size 6 white rabbit leech, and lobbed it over there. The cast was neither graceful nor pretty, but for a long 3wt rod I was blown away. And like on the Green, I hooked a fish on the first throw.

Ultralite LL definitely excels as a nymph rod. That’s what it was designed to do, after all. But it’s more than just good enough with drys and streamers – it’s surprisingly effective. With dry flies in particular, the Ultralite LL is a pleasure to fish.


Euro rods must be lighter than normal rods, due to the way they are fished. The Ultralite LL comes in eight different configurations, and none of them weighs more than 3.6 ounces. the 9’9 “3wt 3oz clocks on point.

These rods are really light in the hand. They’re easy to hold when you reach for nymphs drifting through a seam across the river, or when you decide to switch things up and fish for a streamer.


The Ultralite LL, even in the 3wt I tested, has surprisingly powerful in the lower sections of the blank. I was able to hook, fight and land big trout at different distances and in a lot of fast current. I wouldn’t expect a 3wt to have as much power to turn fish as this rod, but finding out was a pleasant surprise.


Hardy made what I think was a bold move by including male tips on the Ultralite LL. The idea behind the plain end ferrules is to provide a smoother transition between the rod sections, creating a more sensitive rod than a rod with sleeve ferrules. This is obviously a necessity of the Euro-rod design, and I could feel this heightened sensitivity not only as the nymphs bounced along the bottom, but even when I was throwing dry flies.

Made with Hardy’s usual attention to detail, the Ultralite LL is, to me, one of the finest rods the company has ever built. The cork is top notch and I love the sleek bronze hardware on the reel seat. While I would love a wooden reel seat insert, the carbon fiber one definitely reduces the weight.

The remainder of the blank is a beautiful unsanded bronze that looks beautiful in direct sunlight. The blank is capped with single black nickel foot guides and a single Ceracoil stripping guide. Luckily Hardy hasn’t given up on hooking the Ultralite LL, a trend in American rod design that is driving me nuts.

What does not work

Swing weight

I’m 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 European capabilities, be prepared for some weight. Personally I don’t know how you could build such a long and light rod without having a serious swing weight, and what you get from the Ultralite LL is not that great. It is however worth noting if you think you will be using this rod for a good deal of dry fly fishing.

Ferrule plugs

Personally, I love that Hardy built this rod with male tips and they provide tip caps to keep dirt from entering the female ends of the tips. But, I can see how some anglers may not like remembering to put the three little plugs in their pocket on the sock of the rod. It’s a small thing, and one that doesn’t affect the performance of the rod at all, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Last word

The Ultralite LL is one of the best fly rods I’ve ever fished, and stands above anything I’ve ever fished from Hardy. It’s light, responsive, responsive, and incredibly versatile. It catches Euro rigs at a championship level, but turns around and throws dry flies or streamers with no problem. While the swing weight is a bit on the high side, there’s nothing else to really hit the Ultralite LL. It’s just a fantastic rod, and one that Hardy should keep in his lineup for years to come.


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