Paul Arden | Tuesday, 16 May 2023
It’s an interesting world we live in. Some of the finest fly fishing rods were produced 30 years ago. I know because I bought one! The G. Loomis IMX 9’#6. In fact I bought two because I fell on my first one, on my very first trip to NZ at the ripe age of 22. Somewhere up the Greenstone River, having just met Camo-Guy for the first time, while following his red socks.
Steve Parton built it for me. It’s a small world. I built the second one myself, giving it “character”. Fitted with SICs throughout, I took my first fishing instructor exams with it back in early ‘96. It was an awesome rod. I remember years later meeting up with Chris Rownes, who said Mel Krieger had told him, that this was as “state of the art” as a fly rod could get.
Could it have been better? Hard to say. What’s changed since then? Better resins. Differences in the way we lay the carbon fibres and how we mix them. Mostly the differences between premium fly rods is in the design. Budget rods are typically formed using a single carbon sheet. Premium rods can be up to 5 different sheets, three high modulus and two high strength. If you are waiting for some new material to make you a better caster, and you not already a Flycasting God, then you might be looking in the wrong direction, or waiting for a very long time.
And quite frankly I don’t expect this to happen in my lifetime but who knows what the future holds? What we have available now, I think will do me for the rest of my life, which I sincerely hope is at least another 45-50 years! Certainly I’m trying very hard to make that happen. :)
This should really be about me encouraging you to learn to fly cast, and we’ve been doing that at Sexyloops for the past 25 years. But if you haven’t listened so far, then you are probably not doing so now! But really this is the key. And then you can cast absolutely anything. Eventually, if you are like me, then you will become discerning in your requirements, because not all rods are created equal.
A funny thing happened in this crazy marketing world that we live in. I blame the smartphone and the personal computer. Those things develop quickly. Stand around for two years and you are out of date. Although, to be honest, I’m starting to try to push my phones and laptops through into longer lifespans, partly because I’m fed up with the throwaway society – and partly because they already exceed my requirements…. Apps, video editing, managing websites, writing FPs… all done on the phone.
What happened in the rod marketing world, was that companies discovered that they have “sales cycles”. Sage worked out their consumer sales cycle was 5 years and as a consequence they needed to bring out a new rod series every five years. It wasn’t that rod technology advancements merited it; it was that customers required it! So the rod action gets changed and the marketing department comes up with what it thinks customers want to hear (no doubt thoroughly researched of course, as in “what would you like your next rod or do?” “Oh I would like it to be more accurate!”).
Unfortunately the changes that have been occurring in the design have largely been to go stiffer and stiffer. And because Sage sell more premium rods than anyone else, they get copied more than anyone else. The result? Flylines have been progressively getting heavier and heavier to cope with this general trend to increase rod stiffness. What a crazy situation. True-to-weight flylines are now the rare exceptions.
“I want to go stream fishing with dry flies and so want a 5WT. But it’s so bloody stiff I use a 7WT line. Now I fish streamers.”
It’s insane. Figure out what flyline you want to fish… and then organise the rod to fit around that. Otherwise you’ll be fishing cone-head streamers when the trout are sipping spinners. That’s not modern technology advancement; that’s just plain stupid.
At the heart of every rod design there has to be a flycaster. Otherwise how can they possibly know? This baffles me. If you want to make a great fly rod then you have to be a great flycaster. There is more to it than this of course, but if you don’t have that you are walking around the cave without a headlamp. If you can’t control your loops then how can you possibly know what is a good or bad fly rod? Between these two things – marketing fantasy and the inability to truly cast or fish – is one reason why the flyfishing industry is in the stiff rod/ overweight line mess.
I think it must be very difficult to be a consumer nowadays. Constantly bombarded by "new and ever improved technology" marketing (which is mostly fantasy at best, in an attempt to create a unique selling proposition – eg boron, Graphene, carrot fly rods, hexagraph, octograph, triangular rods, weird grips for “deeper loading” and on and on...). The biggest problem I see is that fly rods are generally too stiff nowadays and flylines are almost always overweight – and for casting purposes they behave like “bricks on a string.” This doesn’t help anyone. The main reason fibreglass made a comeback, IMO, is because carbon rods became unfeeling. Carbon fibre is a better material than fibreglass for flyrod manufacture in almost every way. Carbon fibre rods have feel. Poorly designed ones don’t.
Largely I think there are three elements to rod design when it comes to flycasting: progressive bending/loading, swing-weight and tip damping. If you don’t feel the rod flex under your hand then there is a feel problem. If it bends too much you also have problem! Swing-weight, I believe, very much determines feel. There are very few rod designers who design for tip damping. I don’t know why that it; that’s like forgetting to throw out the garbage when you finish.
From my personal angling perspective I don’t want to be constantly dialling in new rods, only because the design changed for marketing purposes. My HT6 is serial no4, which I think makes it 10 or 12 years old now. I haven’t cast a better 9’ 6WT – but that’s not the point, I haven’t fished a different 9’ 6WT. That’s very important when the chips are down and I’m taking difficult shots. I know exactly what the rod is going to do and how to make it perform, and all of that happens subconsciously. That’s very important. There is nothing worse than fighting against a rod when you absolutely must make it happen.
Anyway, that’s just what I’ve got on my mind at the moment. I have 9’#9 to test soon. That’s going to be exciting. Really want to get the 12 sorted and the 11 next – but that might only happen when I’m living on the Salt. I just can’t do it properly otherwise. Also I have a DHD coming too. That could take me very much longer to finalise because it could require me to spend 15 seasons full-time salmon angling :))) Now there’s a thought!
9’6 and 10’ rods… I keep getting asked and we have made some prototypes. But don’t hold your breath.
My days right now are casting coaching, fly fishing and triathlon training. It’s been a very long while since I’ve been fit like this. Any fish that requires me to run, swim or even bike after, I’ll be sure to land.
This month I get some swim coaching and a professional bike fit. If you are going to be an old fucker, then you might as well be an old fit fucker!
Todays POD. How anglers used to hold fish 30 years ago… before the “Facebook Pose” made every fish look over 100lbs.
Thought for the day (courtesy of a Netflix documentary): If a person doesn’t play he gets old quickly.