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.
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.