I frequently come across discussions regarding fly rods and their performance vs. price. These discussions can get heated at times as rod choice has become for some anglers, a very personal choice. The discussions also frequently stray off track, and become arguments and rants for and against the fly tackle industry. Mainly the issue comes down to budget rods vs. high-end rods.
Let us break this down. A fly rod is a tool, period. It is a tool for a specific or a general purpose. Beyond functional design and build of a rod, which are the key properties, are aesthetics and marketing. Mainly marketing. When we judge a rod, we ourselves have a huge part to play. Brand loyalty, personal aesthetic preference, casting ability and style, and our fishing need play a large role in our judgment.
Let me concentrate on function for a moment.
I constantly hear people defend their budget $200 rod against the most expensive $700 plus dollar rods on the market without placing the comparison in proper perspective. I have cast surprisingly good rods and shockingly poor ones at both the lower end and upper end of the price scale. One man’s meat may be another’s poison, based on ability and need.
For example: The guy flipping glo-bugs to spawning salmon on our tributaries probably does not need a fast recovery super lightweight casting tool. For this individual’s need, a reasonably strong rod in the lowest price point will do just fine. The rod functions as a lever to fight fish to the bank and less as a casting tool. Take the saltwater angler who has to launch his large fly out 90 feet into the surf to a pod of bluefish and we have a different story.
In addition, what makes a crappy rod and a good rod is all in the mind or hands of the person doing the casting. At casting clinics I am often asked to cast a student’s rod to see “What is wrong with it.” Sometimes the answer is that the rod is poorly designed. More often, it is the line and rod in conjunction that are mismatched. Most often of all there is nothing wrong with the rod, which leads me to my little saying, “It is not the rod, it is the fool behind it.” Incidentally, this saying was originally aimed at myself for selling rods that I did not like due to my inability to adapt to, and take advantage of their special qualities.
Admittedly, there are some outstanding rods out there. The old Sage RPL, the Loomis GLX, the Orvis Superfine come to mind right away. All these rods have or had a unique taper and bend which just felt right for the angling job at hand. There are also some real turds of rods on the market. We all have probably all owned one or two of these before selling them off.
The key to this little discussion is that even a mediocre to badly designed rod will perform fine in certain conditions. To the angler who plies trout streams no more than twenty feet wide, a certain rod may be just fine for tossing grass hoppers to the bank. The same rod at over twenty feet, however, loses all accuracy. Hmmm… interesting. Some rods are meat-sticks designed to pound the western rivers from drift boats with heavy nymphs, split shot, and big dries acting as indicators. Place this rod on a spring creek and it is like throwing rocks into the still water. Here we have a specialty rod once again. The right tool for the right job...
So, in conclusion, when we weigh into the next inevitable beer fueled discussion of who’s rod is better and who’s rod is overpriced, lets all remember to place ourselves in proper relation to the rod as a casting and fishing tool for ourselves, our abilities, and our fishing needs.