Over the past few weeks, I have thought a lot about how hunters attach themselves to rifles. I’m not much of a gun lover – I don’t care if my rifle has a built-in stock or a floating barrel, or if a .280 shoots a little flatter than a .270 – but I’m fascinated. by the fact that so many hunters focus on all the little details that go into a working firearm. After all, a gun is just a tool – and the last time I checked, the majority of hunters aren’t engineers or tool makers.
When I compare the way we look at our guns and our fly rods… well, it looks like they are completely different. Fly fishermen don’t spend hours and hours digging into the raw engineering data on rod cones, or tip deflection, or the optimal specs for a machined reel seat. You won’t find any fly fishing writers who talk about a particular epoxy, or the ultimate prepreg in the world, or if woven scrims are ultimately superior to all other options. Heck, it’s even rare to come across a heated discussion about ferrules. (Does anyone still use in-house faucets or is the entire industry drawn to a tilting design?)
I find it fascinating that the same outdoor enthusiasts who spend an inordinate amount of time delving into the details of rifle design and performance will turn around and buy a fly rod simply because a marketing campaign claims it is. is the best thing since sliced bread. When a company tells you that their new rod will increase your throwing pleasure, help you catch more fish, and make your teeth whiter, shinier, and more attractive, you need to respond with a little more skepticism.
Which raises a simple question. If you shouldn’t trust advertising – and you shouldn’t – how should you go about buying your next fly rod? Here are my suggestions.
First of all, ignore the hype. Of course, if iconic anglers like Craig Mathews, Kirk Deeter, or John Juracek write wonderful things about Brand X’s new rod, then watch out. But when a really compelling advertisement hits your wallet, remember that a new fly rod won’t make you a better caster, or a better angler, or increase your fishing pleasure. ‘a factor of ten. We all love to throw nice rods, but a good pitcher with a mediocre fly rod will always outperform a mediocre pitcher with a good rod.
Oh, and ignore the price. What do I mean by that? Well, as most expert anglers will tell you, when it comes to fly rods, there is no direct correlation between price and performance. You can spend a lot of money and end up with an amazing rod. You can spend a lot less money and get a fly rod that is almost as amazing. And you can spend a ton of money on absolute mess. Set your price cap for a new rod, but don’t feel like you have to hit your upper limit. More money doesn’t necessarily equate to a better casting or angling tool.
Then ask yourself what you want your new cane to do – and be specific. Where will you use it? What species are you going to target? What type of flies are you going to catch? Do you anticipate a lot of wind? Do you bring your new cane on planes? What techniques are you going to use? Unless you are looking to throw your money away, buy a cane that meets a specific need.
Let’s say I want to dry fly fishing on the Beaverkill and Delaware rivers in New York City, but I don’t have a stellar dry fly rod. I’ll start my research by narrowing my options down to a certain weight and length, with rod action suitable for dry fly fishing. For me that means a 9’4 weight with medium to medium-fast action.
Or let’s say I want to stick with the dry flies, but I want to fish the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers of Montana. I would keep the 9ft length and the same medium to moderately fast action, but upgrade to a weight of 5 to handle the extra wind and the potential for bigger flies. When I buy a rod I either want it to solve a specific fishing problem or it to perform much better than a rod I already own.
Once I have set a length, line weight, and action, I set an upper limit on the price and eliminate any models that exceed my limit. Then I decide if I want to go new or used, and whether I go for custom or serial, and if the ubiquitous 4-piece setup makes more sense than the other options.
Now is the time to do some research. Since there are some people in the fly fishing media that I trust, I’ll see what rods they recommend. And since there are certain brands that I tend to put on a pedestal, it’s time to find out which of their rods fit my specific parameters.
I always want to narrow things down as much as possible before I start visiting local fly shops and asking to test out any models that might be suitable.
I will eventually try to cast every rod that matches my settings (or at least every rod I can find), taking into account the specific fishing conditions I anticipate. There’s no point in pulling out a cane flat on the fly shop lawn and seeing if I can do a tricky 15-foot presentation, or grabbing a spring-loaded cane and trying to pull the whole line. And it’s important to spend enough time with a cane to get a good feel for it.
In the end, I’ll have to make my decision. My own personal criteria are fairly straightforward. I want a cane that performs extremely well in the tasks that I am going to ask it, and I want a cane that disappears in my hand.
Some of you may be wondering how can a rod “go missing?” Well, the rod has to be smooth enough, precise enough and easy enough to cast that I never have to think about it. I always have to focus on my fishing. If I want the fly to land next to a partially submerged log 60 feet away, or under an overhanging branch, then this is what should happen – and it should happen without conscious thought or the extra effort of my part. In other words, the rod should disappear from my consciousness and I should focus completely on my fishing.
That is, in a nutshell, my process of choosing a new rod. Is my approach foolproof? Unfortunately no. Choosing a new rod is more of an art than a science. But if we’re prepared to take the time, we can eliminate the vast majority of potential problems and give ourselves a great chance at finding a fly rod that we will enjoy for years to come.