Wednesday 13th May, 2009
So many choices. There are literally hundreds of rod options available today. Domestics and imports. All price points, styles, actions, powers, colors, and with a huge variety of hardware options. Throw custom rods into the mix and the possibilities are endless. So with all the options, how does one know which rod to buy? What makes a rod "good" or "bad"? And, does it even matter?
Now, this topic is getting dangerously close to the "gear review" genre, which many of you know my feelings about. So, don't be offended if my answers to these questions don't match your own. Maybe we can take it over to the Board. In my opinion, everyone is unique in casting ability and style, and fishing conditions vary so greatly that you literally need to provide a 10 page description of background information, fishing/casting style, and personal preference before you can even get to a statement about whether a rod/reel/line is "good" or "bad" for a given situation. When was the last time you saw a 10-plus page product review? Right. Like I said, don't be offended. This is just one guy's take on it, and I don't even know that much. Fortunately this is Sexyloops and no one cares how much you know, as long as you know more today than you did yesterday.
How Does One Know Which Rod To Buy?
OK. Let's assume that our fictional angler (lets call him "you") has already done some homework and has a general idea about what kind of rod he "needs". I mean this in a general sense, like a 10' 7wt for nymphing winter steelhead, or, an all around 6wt trout rod for Montana, or, a backup 8wt bonefish rod that can do double duty as a salmon rod, or, a big double hander for fishing huge water like BC's Thompson. Once you know that, you can research the demands placed on a rod by the specific type of fishing conditions you are likely to encounter. Maybe you already know from personal experience. Great. But maybe you don't. If you don't, find someone who does, and ask them about it. You are looking for a guy who has fished the type of fishing you are interested in for years! Good places to find guys like that are at flyshops and on Sexyloops.com.
Once you have a full understanding of the demands of the fishing you do, or want to do, and can explain your own personal casting/fishing style, you can get into more detailed rod research. A few factors you should consider at that point are performance, price point, "feel" and room for growth.
This is where your personal Gear Nerd, local fly shop guy, or favorite internet forum can help you out again. The main thing that you need to do is ask SPECIFIC questions about rods as it pertains to your specific casting/fishing needs. Why do you need to be specific? Well, for example, I'd give you completely different advice on which 9' 8wt to buy for bonefishing compared to if you wanted it for nymphing and streamer bashing for small stream winter steelhead. The demands of those two types of fishing are VERY different. So, give and get as much information as you can about casting requirements (short, long, overhead, roll, Spey), fly size and weight including indicators and shot, the fishing environment (ice, wind, tight trees, steep beaches), personal preference , etc. Above all, think critically about how the design specs of a rod match up with your casting and fishing intentions and ability. A super fast action rod is not always the answer!
If you can afford a high end rod, great, but remember, that doesn't mean that the expensive rod is the best choice. Having a bigger budget just gives you more options. I own rods in every price point from $100 to almost $1000. I fish rods in all of those price points regularly as well. Fish don't care about price tag, they care about presentation. So, if I know that my $179 import 9' 8wt is the best tool for the job, I'll grab it and leave my $800 high end 9' 8wt on the shelf to collect dust. This is a real example, by the way. I usually nymph for winter steelhead with a moderate action, low cost import. It's easier to roll cast and load up at short range than my $800 rod, and I don't feel that bad when I bash it on overhanging trees or have to chip ice off the guides every few minutes. The expensive rod is a horrible nymphing rod - too fast, stiff, and hard to roll cast and fish in tight quarters. It's designed for high line speed. So, when I pack for a bonefish trip where I know I'll find big wind, plenty of casting space, and some high line speed requirements, the $800 rod is my choice, and the other rod stays in the boat as backup.
The great news is that there are a lot of really "good" fishing rods for many fishing situations and conditions that do not cost a lot of money. If you are on a budget, there is no excuse for not owning a "good" rod. If you have extra cash, you might be able to get 2 or 3 rods instead of one. It's great that a beginner can get into the game without breaking the bank. Just remember though, sometimes you get what you pay for. Cheap doesn't necessarily mean "bad", but sometimes expensive means "really, really good". Many experienced anglers and casters gravitate towards high priced rods because they sometimes do offer more in the way of performance, or something a bit less tangible.
At some point you need to give up on reading reviews and lurking on internet forums and fly shops. Before you buy, you need to know how the rod "feels". To do that you need to go and touch it. Cast it. Ideally with a number of different lines. One cast is worth 10,000 words on the FP. I can't tell you how any times I've gotten all excited about some new rod just to find out that I don't really like it when I finally see or cast it.
Another part of "feel", unrelated to how a rod casts, is how the rod makes you feel. Do you like how it looks? Do you like the idea of supporting domestic manufacturers or a hometown custom builder even if it costs more? Maybe you like the rod company’s overall environmental ethic. If you're like me you love pure simplicity and masterful craftsmanship. My favorite rods have great performance in a given situation, but also are beautifully crafted pieces. The point is, how are you going to "feel" about owning this rod?
ROOM FOR GROWTH
Lastly, if you are a beginner or intermediate angler and caster, you may want to chose a rod that challenges you in the short term so that you can improve and grow into it. This is a risk that might test your patience and leave you less satisfied in the short term, but better off in the end. It's a tough call, since you aren't able to rely as much on "feel" when making your selection.
So, after all that, how do you know if a rod is "good" or "bad"?
Every rod is good. Every rod is bad. Do you really think that there is a rod designer out there that will design/release a flyrod that he/she doesn't like? No way! Every rod is good for something, for someone. The real questions you need to answer are: Does the rod meet the demands of the fishing/casting style that I want to use it for? Does the rod allow me to cast and fish at my best? Can I afford it? Will I be able to grow into this rod? Does it make me happy? Does it feel right?
Does it even matter?
Does it really matter what rod you buy? No. And, yes.
People have been catching loads of fish with flies using rods with far inferior performance characteristics than what we can buy today for under $200. So, in that sense, it doesn't really matter.
But flyfishing isn't that simple for some people. We have so many choices, why not chose wisely?
One thing that I know is that I fish better and have more fun when I'm happy, comfortable, and confident in my gear and my skills. If I can find a rod that helps my confidence, and makes me happy, then that's what it's all about.
So, after that long rant, I'm off for the next two Wednesdays chasing bonefish and tarpon. Hopefully I can find some good fill-ins for the time I'll be away.
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