Three Half Truths about Fly Rods

Over the years, I have learned three truths about fly rods. These truths have become mantras. I stand by them and share them with new fly fishers. I also insist that these three truths are half-truths. Each has its exceptions:

You get what you pay for.

My family tires of my repeating this little proverb. I say it about everything from shoes to soap to SUVs: “You get what you pay for.” It’s true for fly rods as well. You generally get a higher quality and performance from an $800 rod than from a $400 rod. You can also feel the difference in quality between a $150 fly rod and a $400 rod.

Usually.

There are exceptions. Sometimes the feel of a rod when you cast it trumps the difference in quality. A cheaper-but-quality rod may work as well or better for you than one which costs a couple more Benjamin Franklin bills. I may be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a $350 rod and a $600 rod if I did a double-blind test.

Also, there are cases when the extra $200 gets you a particular brand name and not necessarily more quality.

You don’t need more than one fly rod.

For trout, give me a nine-foot, six-weight rod, and I feel confident in just about any situation on the river. I’ve used my nine-foot, six-weight to catch selective rainbows in Nelson’s Spring Creek (in Montana’s Paradise Valley) on size 20 flies.

My son, Luke, even out-fished me a time or two on a small spring creek in Timber Coulee (in Wisconsin’s Driftless area) with a nine-foot, six-weight while I used the more appropriate eight-foot, four weight.

Yet there are times when you need more than one fly rod.

An eight-foot, four-weight might give you the only chance you have at the delicate cast required for a wary trout. Besides, this lighter weight rod makes a sixteen-inch rainbow feel like a twenty-inch rainbow.

Then there is the King salmon I hooked while fly fishing with a nine-foot, six-weight on the Willow River near Wasilla, Alaska. I thought I might defy conventional wisdom and have a chance at hauling in this monster. But I soon realized that I would break my rod if I tried to net it. I needed my eight weight to have a fighting chance.

Sure, you only need one rod. But there are times when you really do need to go a size up or down to get either distance or delicacy — not to mention the strength you need to haul in one of the big ones.

You don’t need to worry about breakage when your rod has a generous replacement policy

My two Orvis rods have 25-year guarantees. Orvis “will repair or replace it no matter what the reason. . . . Step on it, close the door on it, run over it with the car-it doesn’t matter, we’ll fix it.”

This is no lie. I’ve had my two rods fixed twice and replaced once. I stepped on one in the dark and broke a tip off of it a couple years later. Orvis even replaced another rod after I dropped the tip section in the Owyhee River and it drifted away!

My Winston rod has a lifetime guarantee, although it does not cover “lost rod sections, intentional breakage, misuse,” etc. But when accidents happen, you don’t have to kiss your $800 investment goodbye.

No need to worry, right?

Not so fast. You will be without your rod for a few weeks. Also, there is some money out of pocket. With Orvis, there is “a nominal handling charge of $30.” With Winston, the handling charge jumps to $50.

And you really should take care of your fly rod even if the manufacturer has a generous replacement policy. But then again, slamming your car door on it is not the end of the world when all it takes is a few weeks and thirty bucks to get the world back to spinning happily on its axis.

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2 thoughts on “Three Half Truths about Fly Rods

  1. There is a lot to this, I never believed it made a difference till I bought a Winston. I’ve had a lot of cheaper rods and they fished well, but once I upgraded- well they don’t get used as much these days- however it is hard to overcome the mindset of worrying about breaking that nice fancy rod.

    • That’s been my experience, too, Jim! The feel of a Winston rod was what sold me on shelling out big bucks for it (plus the fact that it was made in Montana, my home for half of my life). For me, worrying about breaking such an expensive rod has become a good thing. I’m a lot more conscientious about taking care of it.