February 4th, 2002

The Board Room
By James Castwell


The opening.

Scene one: (The Board room at a major fly rod manufacturer; it's Monday, 9am.)

"Harrumph!" (That's Mr. Big speaking.)

"Good morning, Mr. Big." (A dozen smiling suits in unison.)

"Well. What's the 'bottom line?' he blusters. (Twelve trembling souls peering over the tops of loose-leaf ring-binders are silent.

A hand timidly elevates, all eyes shift to the wavering hand, then back to Mr Big.) "I think...

"I think we can cut a few more corners, add more hype and make more money for the stockholders." (He says, striving for composure.)

"I think we can do it if we use cheaper materials and dream up some new exaggerations." (A chill settles in like a fog on a cold lake. That was the same idea they had tried last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Mr. Big was the next to speak.)

"Right on, Tiddley! By Jove, it's worked before and it will work this time too, Let's do it to them again this year! Tiddley, you deserve a raise."

"Thank you Mr. Big," Tiddley quivers. "We will get started at once. Cut corners by using even poorer cork, buy cheaper graphite, dream up a new name, even lay off a few people, the heck with quality. Let's get those dollars. The 'brass' will love us and we will keep our jobs."

Scene closes.

That is, of course, fictional. You know that. I know that. There is however a feeling among many fly fishers that it is not only fact, it is perhaps even worse than that. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, each year, monthly it sometimes seems, that there are new buzz words and new names for products. I have no problem with that, all merchants do it.

There is a flip-side to the fly-fishing-gear manufacturing which is fascinating, absolutely fascinating. You only get to see the outside, I get to see much of the 'inside.' I have seen (actually been involved with) a rod maker switch to a higher-priced component because it was of better quality. He did not raise the price, he absorbed the increased cost. Sure, the rods would look nicer and probably sell better; result, better profits in volume. Another one, again a rod maker (I was in on this one too) went to better guides at a slightly higher cost. Would anyone ever know they did? Probably not, but, they knew they were better and that is all that counted.

The prototypes that are traveling constantly by UPS around this country are unbelievable. Daily, yes, daily there are guys working to make a better fly rod, changing graphite, patterns, lengths, tapers and anything else they can think of to change. Engineers and designers send the information to the custom rod makers and to the 'back-shop' to make new 'try' rods. Eventually a design will be accepted as really different and better for any number of reasons.

It will be an improvement. It will be one or more of several things. Perhaps, smoother, more power, faster, less vibration, more attractive finish. Somewhere, today, in some shop, in some state, a new rod was invented. Tomorrow it may be discarded, or it may be the 'first generation' of a spanking new concept. One company I know of developed fine new type of fly rod. I got to cast 'generation' number nine. The tip was too soft, it felt like a 5 weight tip on a six weight butt section. By 'generation' twelve they had it perfected. You can now buy them, they are one of the top selling rods. Would they have saved money by stopping at number 'nine?' Nope, they would have lost their butts, so to speak.

It's good old capitalism at it's finest. Make a better mouse trap, etc. Each company striving to do better, faster, and for less retail cost to you. The next time you slap down large chunk of change for a new fly rod, remember, the guys who made that rod are just like you and me. Trying everyday to make a living by beating the competition. You and I are their target; but also the beneficiary. It is a little like brain-surgery; it's not the labor involved, it's knowing where to cut that you pay for.

Lastly, I am privileged to know many of the folks involved in the manufacturing of rods, reels lines, and a whole lot of the things we sometimes take for granted. I would fish with darn near all of them. ~ James Castwell
Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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