"Which flyrod should I buy?"

"Which flyrod should I buy?"

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 18 April 2017

If you ever worked for a fly shop, or gave lessons to beginners, or maybe tried to introduce a friend to flyfishing, you probably have heard this question. It is quite possible you remember asking someone that same question yourself. It is also quite possible you are still mulling the question today.

Of course, the simple answer is “buy a SL Hot Torpedo”! But I just put that here to beat Paul to it. It might just be the right answer… but again I’m just putting that out to keep Paul at bay.

The question, though, is rather common. And the more I have thought about it, the harder that question has become. I am at the point now where I cringe when I expect it is coming. I tell folks it is like asking someone what shoes to buy. No matter how much they cost, or which name is on the label, if the shoes do not fit, the buyer will not be comfortable with them. With shoes, at least most people know their size, with flyrods, the beginners have no clue what so ever as to what might be their style of casting.

In the last six months or so I’ve broken 3 flyrods and, unbelievably, lost one section of a four piece fourth rod. How the hell can someone lose a rod section? Apparently, I can.


One of the rods I broke was what I consider a legitimate break, in that at least it made sense. I was picking up a large backcountry tarpon fly from the water on a backcast and caught the tip of the 10wt with the hook. It sounded really solid, and I said as much to the other angler on the boat. On the next cast the top half of the tip section flew almost as far as the fly. Well, as they say, “Shit happens”. It was not an expensive rod, just one I was experimenting with, and so of course had no warranty. I accepted that gamble when I picked it out of a fire sale bin. With my shop discount I paid little for it. So no big deal… I just wish it lasted more than one outing.


A little after that I was casting for snakeheads with an 8 foot 4 weight and caught a branch instead. When I tested to see if the hook would pull free the rod snapped. I did not think I put much pressure on the rod, but I may have been a little excited at the time. It was a warrantied rod so it has since been replaced but that little mistake did end the fishing on that afternoon much earlier than I wanted.


The next one I broke was a 5 weight that I was probably abusing by sight fishing for snook. Although somewhat larger than the usual 5wt fish, they were dining on one-inch minnows and demanded a quiet presentation. Apparently I high sticked the rod when I was trying to slide a spent snook to the canoe. Once again, no warranty, and once again, fishing essentially ended. I had heavier rods with me but they did not meet the requirements of the day.


The next rod that broke really hurt me emotionally. It was an old favorite Scott Heliply 7 weight that I’ve had for decades. I could almost cry right now remembering the day! That rod had caught innumerable fish and it did so wonderfully. It was a delight to cast. It bent deeply when fighting a fish. It cast the line weight it was labeled to cast. Sigh, sniff.


That morning, I remember, on the first few casts I was scratching my head. Did I put the wrong reel on the rod? Something just did not feel right! I double-checked but the line was correct. Something seemed strange though, the line felt too heavy and the leader would not turn over. I wrote it off as being a cockpit problem and I began to concentrate on my casting to compensate. I was working a shallow shore, and when sorting out a line tangle the fly sank and caught on something. The snag gave when I tested and felt like a branch that could be pulled back to the canoe. As I was stripping the object back to the canoe the rod butt simply expired with a gentle death rattle right above the cork handle. I believe it died from old age and a happy life of heavy use. RIP old friend!


So, recently, when I was getting ready for a trip and choosing my weapons, and I found that a 4 piece 8 weight was missing one section, I really could not believe what a run of bad luck I was experiencing. Are you kidding me? I take two-rod cases with me, usually, when I go out in the canoe. The cases are doubles, so I have four rods, compact and protected. The cases are for three piece rods (because I like those old Heliplys so much) and also because a 4 piece rod will fit into a case for 3 piece rods, but not the other way around. The four pieces sort of disappear in the longer tubes though, and when I took out the rod there was only three. How I lost that one section of the 4 piece 8 wt. I simply cannot comprehend, but I guess that is somewhat implied in the word “lost”.


Yes, it is quite possible that all of the above errors are due to advancing age, mine, not the rods. Except for my Heliplys all the other rods were of rather recent vintage. The missing rod section definitely suggests an onset of senility.  And while the other breakage could be due to becoming clumsy with age and heavy handed, I would prefer to think it is the result of too much recent time in the gym. Yeah, right! I do feel it necessary to defend myself with the fact that I had not broken one rod in the last five years, maybe even ten. Before these I can’t even remember the last rod I broke. Oh shit… I am experiencing memory loss too!


There are some plausible explanations, of course. The five might have broken for the same reason as the 10: a fly in flight clipped it. The structural failure was simply delayed and waiting to happen for when enough odd strain was applied. The four possibly failed due to a life of adverse conditions not exactly intended for a trout rod, like fighting snakeheads and baby tarpon. I sure don’t fight fish the way Paul fights snakeheads. Fighting large tarpon has taught me that the reel is a winch, the rod’s leverage stops at the stripping guide, and you don’t lift and reel as much as you extend and contract at the elbows. I fight all tough fish that way even down in the tiny single digit rods where the fish may not actually be all that large just oversize for the equipment.


So, as you might imagine with all those rod failures, I’ve resorted to pulling out some of the rods I previously set aside. And that has led me to quite a revelation. While the replacement rods are all adequate, there is now a mismatch between the rods, lines, leaders, and flies. Maybe mismatch is not the best description, another term like “imperfectly balanced” might be better?


The flies are where it all starts. Over time, experience and adjustment of the three other presentation parts (leader, flyline, rod) will evolve into the best vehicle to deliver them the way the fish demand. Now that I am trying some different rods, that balance needs to be retweaked. The number on the rod, and the number on the line, as many of SL know, is more a suggestion than a rule, and the two do not necessarily match. On the combinations I disrupted above they sure did not match in all cases. Line profiles are different for different flies. Leader lengths differ by the presentation required. It is all quite complicated. It takes a lot of testing and tweaking. It is also very satisfying when you get it right for your style of casting, which is yet another parameter in the mix.


What surprised me the most was how much the rod was involved with that feeling of balance.  For presentation purposes I thought the line/leader/fly relationship was the key section. Nope. Change the rod and the entire system needs to be re-evaluated. It just might be that once all the parts are optimized the rod simply cannot be substituted.


So now, when someone asks me which flyrod they should buy, I pause. By asking that question they reveal how little they understand and how far they have to go. Personally, I feel if they believe it should be a simple question to answer, then they probably will not stick with flyfishing. I think most fly anglers enjoy the process, the journey, as much or more than conquering the fish. But, as to their question,after a deep breath, I usually start with… “Well, what type of fish do you want to catch?” And then, we go from there.


One thing my recent experiences have taught me - always get a rod with a warranty, and fish as much as you can while still young!