So you’re sitting in the easy chair, the kids romping about the floor, watching, say, “Fly Fishing the World.” Suddenly it strikes you how much fun you’ve been missing all these years drowning worms, when instead you could have been chucking flies. But, damn — from all you know and hear, fly-fishing is for rich guys. You know, fat cats who think nothing of plunking down a thousand bucks for the latest whiz-bang, yee-haw rod, and a reel costing at least half as much. And they don’t even blink that a fly these days costs more than a — a Bud Light, for cripes sake! Say it ain’t so.
Okay, but first a couple disclaimers: My one and only claim in all of this is experience (50-plus years and counting). Thus, the ideas expressed are, of course, nothing more or less than personal opinion. In other words, no expert testimony; just a simple discourse on what works for simple-minded me. I should also point out I am not on any pro staff, e.g. I derive not one red-cent from the sale of rods, flies or whatever. I, too, detest the evil practice of outsourcing but. …
Talking graphite rods now, as a guide I’ve tried, if only for a few show-me casts, rods of every sort — $1000 rods, fire-sale rods, fast rods, slow rods, long rods, short rods, powerful rods and wimpy rods. I also field a lot of questions: Best make, best length and line weight, fast-action, slow and in-between and, of course, cost. Like, pray tell the difference between, say, an $800 Sage and a $100 Redington? (By the way, Sage owns Redington).
Obviously, 700 bucks gets you fancier nickel-silver furnishings as opposed to stamped aluminum; you also get a flawless finish and highest-grade cork grip, exotic wood reel seat and so forth. And, from a technical standpoint, the pricier rod gives you the latest breakthroughs in the ever-evolving development of graphite. Doubtless, you get a state-of-the-art tool (at the moment anyway, as I say graphite rods are ever-evolving) and doubtless, too, in the hands of an expert, it’s well worth the extra cash. To be blunt, though, if you needed to ask, it’s doubtful the extra cash would do much.
For the budget-conscious, or perhaps those who think they might like to give fly-fishing a go but would rather not take out a second mortgage in the bargain, I’ve got good news: Rod makers, unlike politicians, have not forgotten middle America. Truth be known, us average Joe’s have never had it so good. It’s hard to believe, but there are many really good, affordable, rods and rod/reel combos out there. So many, actually, that choosing can be the biggest hurdle. Albright, Cabela’s, Cortland, L.L. Bean, Orvis and Redington all offer decent, very affordable rod/reel combos for under $200.
For example, one of my favorites, the Redington Pursuit, retails for the princely sum of $99.95, while $169 will get you a well-made large arbor reel and a padded rod/reel case to boot. Available in 2- or 4-piece (a personal choice; both handle and cast equally well; the 4-piece travels better, a real plus if airline travel is part of the plan.
Gone are the days when cheap rods had much the look and feel of your basic tricked-out broom handle. All the above are nicely finished with decent cork grips and traditional snake guides. Of utmost importance, all cast well on the mark at close range — 10-15 feet — with enough stuff to zing one effortlessly and accurately out to around 60-70 feet. Contrary to what you might see and hear, few trout fishing situations call for long casts. While this is not a how-to-fish piece, the better idea is to forget distance casting. Instead, work on stalking close and making accurate casts and drag-free drifts, achieving good hook-sets and using good landing technique.
How Much Rod Do You Need?
Day in, day out, big western rivers — the Madison is one — call for rods with enough stuff to handle big flies and big wind. A 9-foot 5- or 6-weight will handle all but the worst of it. For creek fishing you might want to consider an 8-foot or 8 ½-foot rod; same 5- or 6-weight line.