How to test drive a fly rod

How to test drive a fly rod

Paul Arden | Monday, 4 June 2018

I made a video a few years ago, about rod design and what I look for in fly rod response. However some people, myself included, prefer the written word. So what follows is the method that I use when trialling a fly rod for the first time. It’s a little routine that I go through with every fly rod and have been doing so for the past twenty-five years.

From my years of experience in selling rods, for both my own business, as well as for other retailers and manufacturers, I can tell you that very few people do anything remotely similar. The vast majority of anglers false cast 10-14m of line and little else; occasionally you might see some distance casting. If this sounds like you then maybe this will help...

Casting up close.

The first drill is casting the fly and leader without any fly line at all outside the rod tip. This is very important because - as you will know if you are an experienced fly fisherman - we catch many fish within this range. Even if the test rod has only a 9ft leader, with a 9ft rod and a 3 ft arm this still gives us up to a 21ft cast. Most experienced trout anglers I know use leaders longer than 9ft. With an 18ft leader and the same rod (and arm!) you can reach 30ft... This leader-only cast is very important. Pick targets within the leader-only distance and aim to put the fly/fluff dead on target. Does the fly hit the rod tip? If this is your first time making this test you can be forgiven for the fly clipping the rod tip. However if this is one of your regular practise drills, and you are having collision problems, it could be that the rod is too stiff. I owned a rod that was on the stiffer side, and even after four months of fishing this rod exclusively, I still collided the fly with the rod tip in the heat of the moment. 

[It should be noted here that the bend in the rod is being created by casting the rod against its own mass. Consequently the idea that the ideal fly rod would weigh nothing is patently false.]


Lengthening the line. 

The next step in your rod assessment routine is to add one metre of fly line and repeat the process, still picking targets. During these drills you should try varying casting speed. Slow speed, medium speed, high speed and turbo. How does the rod respond throughout the speed range? Continue by adding another metre. Repeat aiming at targets and continue adding metre upon metre until you have approximately 10 or more metres of flyline outside the tip ring (or to whatever length you are comfortable lifting off the water). How did the feel of the rod change throughout the different lengths? Maybe it’s worthwhile going back again and repeating the complete drill or parts of it. 


And then it’s time for...

Line Carry / loop shaping. 

Strip back to only three metres of fly line and false cast trying to throw the narrowest of loops possible. Expect some collisions while you learn the rod. Once again you will want to vary speed but I like to spend at least half the time testing for the really slow stuff. Also try different rod and loop planes. Add a metre and keep repeating as before. At some point during this drill you will perform the one drill that almost all anglers do as their sole assessment routine - ie to false cast carrying somewhere between 10 and 14m of line! I don’t know about you, but this is not something I regularly do while fly fishing.

During this short to long carry exercise try casting both with and without the double haul. I’m assuming you can double haul. If you can’t then please watch our video manual!

What happens next depends on how good a caster you are...

Distance Carry. 

The next drill is to gradually lengthen your carry from 10m to your maximum carry, which will depend on the flyline’s taper and your skill level. A top flight distance caster, using a long belly flyline, can reach in excess of a 90ft carry (measured fly line end to hauling hand). Occasionally the rod breaks during this part of the test! So if this happens to you hopefully you are testing a shop or manufacturer’s rod, and not a friend’s rod! There is an argument that the broken rod wasn’t designed for such “extreme” casting - fair enough and it obviously wasn’t, however it would also indicate a design flaw in the rod’s strength, that potentially will expose itself as a weakness later. It’s no coincidence that often the rods that distance casters break in only a few casts, are the same rods that have a reputation for breakage in the wider market. 

[This is where Sexyloops really sets itself apart by the way, because every close-to-completion prototype goes into distance casting “shootout” competitions to discover any vulnerabilities. This has led to many of them being strengthened, sometimes entire sections.]

I might also a launch a few of these casts just to see what happens. Or more usually, I will wait until the very end of the exercise before trying to blast the fly or fluff into the horizon (for safety I recommend practising with fluff by the way, and wear your sunglasses!). 

What I look for during distance carry is feel as well as loop shaping. The rod should still feel crisp and not “overloaded” at any point. Some rods appear to give no different feel between 60’ and 90’ - these rods have very rigid lower sections and are not to my taste. Other rods have too much give in the butt - when you attempt to launch a long cast you can feel the butt give/flex - a characteristic very much the domain of fibreglass rods but also regularly appears in graphite - not something I want from my rod either. 


Now I can’t tell you what it is that you like to feel (or even what it is that you feel!) - only the method in which you can go about discovering it. This next drill is not about feel however, it’s about...

Tip/rod damping. 

Assuming that the rod has passed all the tests so far (and not blown apart during the distance cast), the next thing to test for is tip damping.  Casting with a medium length carry - stop very hard on the backcast and intently watch the bottom leg (rod leg) of the loop. If there are lots of wiggles there, running along the line away from the rod tip, this is failure of the rod to damp well. Only you can decide what is acceptable - I can tell you that we try to minimise these tip vibrations through the design of our HT rods. After all wobbly loops are not Sexyloops!

Three stops. 

How does the rod feel with hard stop, pull-back and stopless? Pull-back is a very interesting test and for some rods it just seems to “lock in” giving extremely positive feedback. For others it leads to uncontrollable tip wobble and yet others it gives little discernible difference. Now it’s quite possible you don’t know what pull-back is! In which case I’d recommend viewing and practising the Masterclass Flycasting Section on Sexyloops. For the uninitiated, pull-back is forced rod unloading created (mostly) by reversing the torque during the casting stroke - but it’s easier to learn from the videos Innocent. I test all three stops while casting at a variety of targets in the 5-15m range. 


Roll cast short to long. 

How much feel do you get when Roll Casting with only 3-4 metres of fly line outside of the rod tip? It’s no coincidence that “Spey lines” are basically overweight short heads. However when you’re fishing it’s most likely that you will need a complete range of casts and not only roll/Spey casts. We have two extremes in this "rod test-drive": at one end of the spectrum, short tippy close range overhead and roll casts with minimal fly line - and at the other end of the spectrum long distance carry combined with a high speed delivery shot. 

It’s my opinion that for fishing, a fly rod needs to have plenty of feel for those short tippy casts to targets within 3-4 rod lengths. Unless all you are doing is fishing large open expanses of water for imaginary sea trout, it is the short distance where we spend most of our productive time fishing. Consequently this is what you should spend most of your rod assessment time doing - hitting those close range targets. 

False casting 10-14m of line, at one speed, actually only tells you about that and is a very incomplete assessment of a rod’s capabilities/shortcomings. So a drill like the one I use above, which is much more applicable to how we actually use the rod when fishing, should be part of your rod testing procedure. 


Finally, I asked Lee Martell - the Sexyloops Rod Builder - what he personally looks for with regards rod building workmanship:

“I find most people look for different things when looking at rods. The majority pick a rod up, turn it upside-down and look through ring eyes... 
- I look for straight rings filed low to reduce bulge.
- Thread even, no gaps, covered sufficiently in epoxy.
- Epoxy as level as possible. Not bulging.
- Straight decals nice and clean.
- Grip glued - no glue around edges.
- Good cork no excessive filler or glue in between cork layers.”

I hope that this little rod testing exercise will give your some ideas of your own. If you have any tests that I haven't mentioned then I would love to hear them, either on the Board or via email - Thanks!!


Busy times for me... This week I’m finalising my Malaysia Visa that will allow me to live and work here - which means that Ashly and I can start hosting fishing trips here in the jungle - this will see me in KL for the first part of the week. Then, later in the week, I pick up my mate Stu Tripney who will be fly fishing Malaysia for the next three months. June is not so busy for me which is great - it means I can fish with Stu, practise my competition casting and continue training for a triathlon next September. 

July on the other hand is looking very busy. I think I have 9 guests visiting over the course of this month, including my good friend Jono Shales who’s visiting for a fortnight. August I’ll be in England and that’s also looking quite hectic. Taking of which, last week I mentioned that I will be hosting an open weekend for HT owners. If you are a Hot Torpedo owner then on August 25/26th come and visit me in Essex and receive your free HT casting lesson! There will be beer, campfires and lumilines...


PS I hope Stu remembers his raincoat! It’s been raining every bloody day. The lake level has been rising which is ridiculous for this time of year Tongue Out 
PPS HT Stealthmaster Shirts are in the final final design stages. I think I need a wife to keep me organised! Oh no that didn’t work Kiss. The design is looking very cool and involves a fishing photo courtesy of Aitor Coterón - thanks Aitor!

Paul Arden is the fly rod designer for Sexyloops and has been fly fishing for over 35 years and teaching fly fishing and fly casting for more than 20 years. Paul has extensively fished for trout in Europe, New Zealand, Australia and North America and for the past 25 years has been fly fishing more than 300 days every year. He currently lives in the North Malaysian jungle, fly fishing and guiding for Giant Snakehead and Giant Gourami. As a competition caster, he has reached the finals in the World Championships in 5-weight distance on three occasions, winning a Bronze medal in the last championships. He is full-time manager of the Sexyloops website and brand. 

Paul's "Jungle Fishing Sponsors" are RIO fly lines, PowerFilm Solar, Lawson Hammocks and of course he fishes the Sexyloops brand of fly rods; The Hot Torpedo.