There comes a time in every flyfisher's life when it becomes necessary to spend a large amount of money on something you don't really need. If you're me, that happens several times a year, which is just one of the reasons why I spend my life standing outside banks and supermarkets with a sign reading "Will tie Pheasant Tails for food".Like most of us, I have a terrible weakness for tackle shops. It doesn't matter where they are, or even what they sell; all over the world, I have been found wandering around inside them in a hypnotic fugue, thinking to myself things like "You know, I do need some fluorescent pink llama wool" and "Hey, that 12-piece zero-weight would fit really nicely in my Emerger pack" or "This shirt isn't really that gruesome, and it'll help the emergency search helicopters find me". And so it was that this week, I found myself in two of America's fly shops, having indecent fantasies about their contents.
Now, I do actually need a new rod. Or, to put it slightly more accurately, I would quite like a new rod, even though I don't actually need one, because I am off to New Zealand again in January and, well, it's the sort of trip that really deserves a new rod. Right? Well... Well, I can't really escape from the fact that my fine Scott five-weight served me perfectly well last time around, and that I also now have an equally fine Loomis seven, and that between them they will catch pretty much any of the trout that are stupid enough to swallow one of my flies. I also can't really hide from the fact that my books don't really generate enough money to feed me on lentils for a year, let alone support the purchase of expensive new fishing tackle, and the flytying-for-food business is, well, slack at this time of year.
But dammit, I want a new six-weight.
More to the point, I want a Sage XP. I am fairly sure about this, because having spent some time chez Arden this summer watching the Big Boys cast a really long way, it quickly became clear to me that the XP is a rod that suits me, for all sorts of reasons. It is responsive without being overly aggressive, it has a nice progressive action, it is beautifully made and it just feels good in the hand in a way that most other rods don't. And so, being in a country where rods cost less in dollars than they do in pounds, I thought I could reasonably justify something that I may end up using for a lifetime, assuming I don't meet a grisly end on a river at the end of the world any time soon.
I only wish it was that easy. My first attempt to buy one of these fine rods started in the town of Newport, Rhode Island, a place where striped bass abound - and, thus, not the sort of place where people use anything as sissy as a six-weight. As it turned out, I had far too much fun talking to Craig, the manager of the local fly shop, to actually get around to buying anything, despite the fact that he valiantly attempted to interest me in an absurdly cheap new Scott eight-weight that I now really wish I had bought. By the time I had realised the error of my ways, I was on the bus back to Boston. (If you're reading this, Craig, I promise I'll come back and buy it next year).
Next stop: a shop in downtown Boston that will remain nameless for the time being. Now, by the time I got there I was astonishingly hungover, in need of some retail therapy and in a fine condition to be ruthlessly exploited by a callous salesman. With this in mind, I had carefully prepared my opening statement, thus: "Hi. I'm in the market for a four-piece, six-weight Sage XP, but you might be able to talk me into a Loomis or a Scott if you play your cards right. I need it today, and I probably also need a ridiculously overpriced reel to go with it". Spending talk, I'd have thought - but instead, the salesman spent twenty minutes showing me a 3-piece T&T, a two-piece Winston and, for all I can remember, that 12-piece zero-weight. And I should make it clear at this point that he had a perfectly serviceable XP in the rack.
I won't even tell you about the horrors I experienced in the Orvis shop.
Here's the point. In my weakened state, he should have been able to sell me more or less anything. But that S-word is the key: even this reckless idiot sometimes actually needs to be sold something, rather than just be shown it, or invited to waggle it - and, like everyone else on the planet, I need to have confidence in the person selling me something that costs twice as much as my first car. And it suddenly occurred to me that actually, nobody has ever done a good job of this. In expensive tackle shops all over the world, I have never met anyone who asked any of the questions that need to be asked of someone buying something as personal as a flyrod, let alone be invited to put a line on it and see how it actually casts. You can go to two shops within casting distance of London's St. James's Park, for example - a place not short of open spaces, grass, even water - and you will never, ever be invited to try one of these rods without having to drive to the testing pool in Reading, well over an hour's drive from central London.
Now, I'm sure there are exceptions out there - and I am equally sure that actually, I am one of those difficult bastards who will try fifteen rods and buy the one that he first picked up. But frankly, at 600 quid a shot I don't think that's a lot to have to deal with. Even at 600 dollars a shot, I'd expect to be asked some basic questions about casting style, blank preference, intended types of fishing, experience and anything else that might help somebody else decide what might be a good rod for someone like me to buy. Car salesmen do it routinely; even the people who sold me my last stereo spent more time ferreting around in my private life than an average Daily Mirror reporter.
The upshot of all this, of course, is that I don't have my new rod; and I probably won't for a long time. My prized Scott five-weight will do more than adequately for now; a rod that Paul Arden, in his infinite wisdom, just told me to buy, even though I could have had more expensive ones from him, because he believed it to be the best rod for my purposes at the time. Now that's what I call salesmanship.