How to choose a fly rod.
This article is written for those fishermen who are genuinely interested in looking for a new fly rod to fish with. The goal of this article is basically to dispel 3 myths about fly rods.
1. The more expensive rods don't catch more fish. So don't think that because you are paying more for a rod, you will catch more.
2. The more expensive rods are not necessarily more expensive to build. The increased price is often just to fund the extensive marketing and propaganda campaigns that rod makers undertake to convince you that their product is better.
3. If an "expert" says that a rod is great and will suit you, generally it is not true.
A fly rod is a tool. And a tool is procured to perform a task. So the first thing that the fly fisherman has to decide is what task is the rod supposed to perform?
This is such a basic question that most people don't ask it. Think about how many people buy a rod. They go to a fly shop and start looking at rods. They pick them up in the shop and wiggle them. Maybe they can tell it is stiff or soft, that the rod had its flex in the tip, or maybe in the middle. But so what? Its meaningless unless you really know what you are looking for. The rod doesn't even have a line on it.
OK. So the next step is you ask whether you can cast it. If there is a place to cast - usually the parking lot - that is your destination. So then what? Generally you get in the parking lot and heave on the rod for a while until your arms get sore. What does it prove? Little. Maybe it feels nice. Maybe it doesn't. But that may have just as much to do with the line which has been put on the rod as it does with the rod itself. How many people will try and find out what the line is on the demo rod. Is it the same line you will use yourself? And anyway. How do you fish? If you spend most of your time highsticking catching fish 20 - 30ft from your body, why do you want to know if the rod feels good casting 80ft? Do you want a rod for highsticking nymphing, or are you looking for a streamer rod? They won't perform both tasks beyond a minimal level of adequacy.
So what next? Maybe the shop will let you take a demo rod out on the river and fish with it the way you normally want to fish. Now that's a smart idea!! Away from the salesman, the pressure and the unreal circumstances. Maybe you want a rod which will work better when presenting a dry fly. Maybe you want a rod which will comfortably throw the streamers you want. Maybe you want a longer rod for highsticking but you want it a little lighter because you find you can't fish for as long as you used to. Maybe you want to get some better shots because you are saltwater flats after redfish. Maybe you want a rod which will rollcast better when hunting steelhead. Who knows? Only you do. And unless you have a chance to test a rod in real conditions, you are not really going to know.
So the very first question you should ask yourself, is whether you can get to test drive the rod in circumstances where you will have enough information to allow you to make an informed decision in deciding to purchase a tool which will enable you to perform the task you want to carry out.
Now lets dispel a few myths.
Myth 1. An expensive rod won't necessarily catch more fish.
Why is it necessary to identify this condition? If one thinks about it, one would assume that it is obviously silly. But it reveals a deeper and more serious question. Why are you fishing? Is it really to catch fish or for some other reason? I'll give an example. Why do people bother to fish bamboo? Bamboo rods are expensive. There is probably 100 hours labor in each really well made bamboo rod. So just do the math and consider what you would want to be paid for an hours skilled labor. And will a bamboo rod catch "more fish". Obviously not.
So it maybe that you have an affinity with a characteristic which is not solely about catching fish. Rather there is some other aspect of the sport to which you are attracted. From a personal perspective, I prefer to fish dry flies all year. It doesn't matter if I catch a fish or not. I just prefer it. It won't stop me nymphing if I am in a situation with new water and that is the only way to catch them. But it is just a personal preference. And generally I use a glass rod. Actually it is the Hardy stream which is a 7' #3 90% glass, 10% graphite. But it just suits where I fish. But I will also use a bamboo rod a great friend of mine made for me as well as a short graphite rod where the glass is too light. But my style won't suit 95% of fishermen. So what I like is irrelevant to most people.
So ask yourself whether you just want to catch fish or satisfy some other urge. If you just want to catch fish, the relevance of the rod should be dictated solely by reference to that metric. Cost should generally be irrelevant.
Myth 2: Rods are not more expensive because they are more expensive to make.
This is a hard concept to understand for some. Generally we are taught that the more expensive an item is, the better it must be. Sometimes that is true. In other cases it is not true. Certainly in the case of rods it is not true. Take a graphite rod, where the blank is turned on a mandrel. The blank should then be spined and thereafter the reel seat, handle and guides are attached to the rod. So what do the components cost? The most expensive rod components out on the market should not cost much more than $125 for a manufacturer.
That is the blank and the other components which go to make up a rod. Of course they will cost more if you are buying them on a retail basis, assuming you can get them. But these are indicative costs for the most expensive rods on the market. And this includes saltwater rods. There is absolutely no reason why a saltwater rod should be more expensive than a freshwater rod. No reason whatsoever. And these are the high end rods. Low end rod components are much cheaper.
So why are some rods more expensive than others? The answer is simple. Marketing. If you read fishing magazines, you will see particular products given a lot of real estate in the various publications. This is simply a consequence of magazines demanding that manufacturers advertise with them in exchange for positive reviews. Nothing more. If you want proof, look at the number of advertisements devoted to particular brands and then check out the numbers of reviews and advertorials where those brands are mentioned. Then look at the brands which don't seem to show up in the magazines so much and see how little they advertise. In other words the fishing press simply sells itself for advertising dollars. Nothing more. Then the uninformed public sees the masses of print devoted to particular products and that becomes their choice. These companies do it because they have the budgets to do it and to some extent it works sufficiently to justify the expense.
So the bottom line is simple. If you buy a rod simply because it is more expensive than another, because you think it is "better", you are being conned. The ideal way for you to choose a rod would be to take several rods out on the river with someone who tapes over the brands of the rods and then you fish with them all and make a decision as to what is best for you. This might be clumsy, but it would be an eye opener. Recently in our weekly reports we noted an example of a rod test done on such a basis and check the results.
I'll give you another story. A couple of years back we did a simple test here. We laid out all the rods we carried in the shop with lines on the edge of the pond and then invited a group of people to choose their favorite rod. The rods we had ranged from $100 to $800. And by a large margin, the $100 rod won the competition. It wasn't scientific at all but those casting included most of our guides who pride themselves on knowing good rods. It was illuminating.
Now don't think that I am saying that the best rods are also the cheapest. Obviously not. What I am saying is that if you look at the basic cost of components and then leave a margin for the manufacturer, distributor and the retailer, it still doesn't justify a retail price of close to $800. The price should be closer to $495 - $600. So that means that basically it is possible for a manufacturer to be able to make a rod out of the best possible components and get it on the market leaving a good margin for intermediaries and still have the rod sell for that price. So any graphite rod selling generally in the market place much above that range is basically over-priced.
So if you happen to cast a very expensive rod which you like very much. Fine. Buy it. Buy it because you like it and because you think this is the ideal tool for the job you want to perform. But don't think that because you paid $250 more, that you are getting any more value. You are just being prepared to pay for what you like regardless of price.
So if you really want to find out what you like try and get several rods to test drive on the river without knowing what they are. If you can organize it you will have an illuminating experience.
Myth 3: If an "expert" tells you what is good for you. He is generally wrong.
Remember that only you know what you really like and want. Start with the premise that someone who calls himself an "expert" and who claims he or she can tell you what you need is generally going to be wrong. In fly fishing this is so simply because how does one define an "expert"?
Remember we are talking about what rod you want. If you want to cast long distances, a long distance casting instructor who can coach you will be able to give you advice in relation to your technique and then describe the physics of different rods in much the same way as a golf pro can advise you. But that is not the person to whom I am addressing these comments. I am simply talking to the fisherman who has fished for a while, is reasonably competent at casting and has an idea of what he wants the rod to do.
Maybe you like to nymph and hi-stick in the process. Then you will like a longer rod which is not too heavy and which is responsive enough to enable you to hook and land the fish you want. Maybe you want to throw heavy streamers. Maybe you want to float down a wide river and throw double hoppers against the bank from 50ft from a boat. Maybe you want to fish a small mountain stream where there is a lot of underbrush so you want a shorter rod which can gently present a dry fly. Maybe you want long distance accurate shots at a feeding permit into a 15knot wind. Maybe you want to hook a 100lb Tarpon and not have the rod blow up while playing it. There are plenty of people out there who can tell you what they do and why they like what they like. But in the end a fly rod is like a persian rug. Would you buy a persian rug online? Of course not. You will buy what you can see and feel and your decision will be personal.
So how can you choose a rod? Simply define what you want the rod to do and then test drive several rods in different price ranges but with similar characteristics. It is quite possible that the task you want to perform is not attainable because your technique is lacking. So no rod will overcome that. At this point a competent casting instructor should be able to point to a couple of adjustments to your technique. Maybe the answer is to take out a guide trip with a guide who understands that the trip is as much about testing a rod in the conditions you want as it is about fishing. Make sure you can get a guide who can cast and who can also instruct. A lot of guides are terrible casters. And they don't understand the technical aspects of casting sufficient to identify your flaws and offer a remedy. The best golfers are not necessarily the best teachers. But find someone who knows what they are talking about and then you can then work on your technique in real world conditions.
In summary then, consider 3 things when deciding to buy a rod.
1. Go to a shop which will enable you to test drive a rod on the river in the conditions in which you normally fish. You can then see if the rod will do the actual job you want. Make sure you use the line you like to normally use or alternatively find the line which suits the rod. A great rod with the wrong line will not perform whoever casts it.
2. Go on a guide trip and explain to the guide what you want to achieve. Make sure the guide will have the rod you want to try, or the shop you booked the trip through will make the rods available to the guide for that trip.
3. Finally, try a number of rods. So you need to go to a shop which carries a range of different rods. Do your initial research and then decide what you want to try. Don' t go to a shop which has just 2 or 3 brands of rods and think you are going to cover the range of options. Its not true. The salesman will tell you that they have a series of models which covers the field and therefore you will find what you want. Wrong. You are just being conned.
If you look at the range of rods we carry you will see we cover the field and we still don't have them all. We don't carry sage or winston because they are in the big box stores and sage have even been sold at Costco. How long before they are in Wal-mart?
Anyway you will already know how those rods cast. We are trying to introduce you to the rest of the industry which doesn't market themselves like cornflakes. So look around for a local shop which carries a lot of these other rods. If you have a question feel free to ring up any of our shops and just ask about the various rods we have for more information. We won't charge for the advice and we don't care where you buy it. We are in a service industry and so just want to provide a service.
Once you decide what you like, you can then look at other aspects such as warranties, times for repair and breakage rates on various rods. That may be relevant if you think you will break a few times. But basically what we are trying to do is educate the public that choosing a rod should be a personal decision based on the best information you have available.
One last thing. There is no such thing as a lifetime warranty. All rod companies make money out of breakages. You pay for the "handling" fee and postage. But really they are making money. Don't believe otherwise.
For some of the rods listed check our Frying Pan Anglers Store.
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