First Fly Rod 1

Decisions, Decisions
Decisions, Decisions

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

While on a recent business trip to Denver, one of the individuals I was working with had decided to take up fly fishing. One of his co-workers was an avid fly angler and had taken him fly fishing on local Colorado waters a few times. The guy had finally decided to bite the bullet and buy a fly rod. And of course, along with it, a reel and line. He had gotten all sorts of advice from his co-worker and used some of his co-worker’s gear on the trips they made together. But my reputation as a fly angler was well known by the group I was working with so I got put on the spot–what would I recommend?  After off and on questions and discussion during the business day and more focused discussions over dinner, I came to the realization that I really wasn’t qualified or prepared to make the kind of recommendations this guy was looking for. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I was talking about, it was despite all my informed questions that I really didn’t know what this guy needed for his first fly rod. The consequences of such lack of insight could result, from whatever my recommendations were, driving him out of fly fishing because his first fly rod sucked (in his opinion).

Of course at the onset, I asked all the usual questions. What kind of fly fishing are you going to do? What species, what types of water, what kinds of flies, how good of a caster are you, etc., etc.? Of course his answers were vague. He really didn’t know and couldn’t actually explain what he was going to do with his first fly rod other than fly fish. Not an unusual situation for a novice fly angler. The other obvious question was budget. How much are you willing to or can spend on your first fly rod?  I learned very quickly that $$$ wasn’t a big issue, but value was. When you combine the price of a rod, reel and line (kind of an essential trio), the $$$ can add up quickly. He recognized and appreciated that. We discussed warranties and I quickly convinced him that having a rod with a good replacement warranty was good value in the long run. I think that one of the inevitable truths for novice fly anglers with their first fly rod is that they are going to beat up and abuse the rod, maybe eventually breaking it. I’ve seen it far too often and in retrospect I ill-treated my first fly rods immensely. I hope it is a recommendation that pays off for him.

Because There's Still Room for More
Because There’s Still Room for More

At some point, after a lot of discussion, he concluded a 9′ 5 weight fly rod was what he was looking for (mom and apple pie for any trout angler). Not a bad or unusual conclusion only complicated by the sheer number of available 9′ 5 weight fly rods on the market. The inevitable question–which 9′ 5 weight should he buy?  The answer to which I found to be an impossible proposition having no insight into what this guy really wanted to or was capable of doing or the conditions he might be facing. Add to this the widely disparate definitions and rod characteristics that litter rod manufacturers’ marketing hype which complicated every question I asked seeking insight. “…the [insert Brand here] rod is a game changer. Your game. Its fast action incorporates a built in sweet spot, making the [rod name here] rod the ideal choice for experienced and aspiring casters alike. or The [insert rod name here] is a featherlight war club that defies the laws of physics and has the backbone of an I-beam. Lighter in hand and 20% stronger than any rod we’ve ever developed, it transitions energy directly from your brain to the fly and casts with the precision of a laser pointer. Made by hand (aren’t they all) it’s a fly rod built by anglers who fish their way home from work, anglers with sunglasses-shaped tan lines, anglers who tie blood knots in their sleep.”  With that kind of hype, buying decisions are complex especially if you don’t tie blood knots in your sleep or your brain isn’t all that in tune with your casting skills. He asked should I get a fast, medium or slow action rod?  What’s the difference between tip flex and full flex?  Which is easier to cast? What’s the difference between this, that and that and this?  Although I found it relatively easy to make little drawings on bar napkins illustrating the difference between different rod actions, I found myself utterly unprepared to explain to a novice angler the virtues of one action over another. Making an understandable recommendation would require either at best, some experience on his part, or at worst his blind faith in what I was saying. I think my inability to provide the kind of expert advice this guy was seeking was due to my own experience, I had too much of it and it muddled what I could tell him.

At some point in the recent past I had tallied up the number of fly rods I had around the house, a great majority of which get fished at least once every couple of years. At last count it was 33, most of which I purchased used on EBay, a circumstance that hasn’t diminished their fish ability one bit. They range from an early Orvis graphite two weight to two different custom eight weights, one on Fisher glass the other on IM6 graphite. I think my shortest rod is my Fenwick FF70, a 7′ five weight early glass. The longest is a Thomas and Thomas 11′ six weight switch rod. In between there a three, four, five, six and seven weights in old glass, new glass, old graphite, and new graphite; from super slow actions to extremely fast actions. The only explanation I can give people for the number of rods I have is this: “I don’t think I’ve reached my limit yet because there’s still room in the house for more.” Because I became a proficient caster at an early age, I can generally pick up any fly rod, regardless of length, weight or action and make decent casts within a minute or so. Such skill does not make for compelling recommendations to a novice angler unless you are actually watching them test casting various rods. When asked “how does a fast rod feel different from a slow rod?” my only informed answer was: normal.

All the old glass and early graphite two piece softies
All the old glass and early graphite two piece softies

Of course when the discussion came to which brand of fly rod he should buy, I was at my best. “That’s easy, they are all good and it’s the angler who catches the fish, not the rod.”  But that’s not the kind of answer he was looking for. He wanted more precise advice. His fly fishing co-worker was a die-hard Scott man (not unusual for a Colorado angler) and was trying to convince him he needed a Scott fly rod. I was reluctant to be precise here, again because of my experience (and a hoard of rods composed of Winston, Sage, Orvis, Fenwick, Wright-McGill, Diamondback, Thomas and Thomas, St. Croix, Leonard, L.L. Bean, Scientific Anglers, Scott, Loomis ….. that are stacked up in the house). If there was any one brand more compelling than another, I’ve made a lot of poor choices in the past. I told him of my positive experiences with Orvis, Sage and St. Croix on rod warranties but was clear that was not a negative reflection on other brands that I never had any need for warranty repairs such as Scott or Winston.

Although I gave him some good reel and line advice which in my view is much easier advice to give, the essence of my rod advice was four fold—rods with repair warranties are good value, continue to improve your casting skills through practice and lessons (focus on casting skill, not rod characteristics), before you buy, test cast rods at fly shops, and finally, don’t fall prey to the marketing hype by rod manufacturers, high pressure salesmen or brand zealots (it’s still the angler that catches the fish, not the rod).

In the end, impatience got the better of him and despite the many choices available, he went ahead and purchased an Orvis Helios 2, 9’ 5 weight, mid flex rod for what he described as a great price (not an idle choice for your first fly rod because there’s a reason they don’t use Corvettes for student drivers.). I trust he will be successful and happy on the water, because if he is, I’ll probably be on the spot for that recommendation for a second fly rod and of course all those other essentials such as waders, boots, leaders, flies, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *