from Deanna Travis

FlyAnglers Online

Publisher & Owner



August 15, 2011

I suppose every fly fisher develops some sort of a way of choosing their favorite or best fly rod. The same for reels, fly lines, flies of course and all the other accouterments surrounding our sport. There isn't any way at all to explain those choices, it is a matter of personal taste, your opinion or mine. No great reason for it all, just the way it is.

However, if you are being paid to write a review on any of those pieces of equipment you probably would be expected to have some sort of scientific method to base your review on, not just your opinion (which in most cases, at least in fly fishing magazines, is exactly how they are reviewed).

In the case of fly rods, that is probably the most personal of all the equipment, and has to do with the 'feel' and 'action' of the rod more than what the rod is made from or what the modulus of the rod might be. Speaking of that, I remember a conservation I had with Gary Loomis many years ago when he told me he "made the word up." Modulus that is, he wanted a word to explain how the strength of a rod was influenced by the actual makeup of the rod. He called it modulus. Of course, everyone else in the business had to use it as well, and they didn't have a clue as to what it meant - and it didn't matter. You see, it sold rods. Or someone thought it did because it became part of the vocabulary. [Modulus – in physics it is a coefficient expressing the degree to which a substance exhibits a particular property – editor's note]

I don't have any argument with Gary Loomis; he made me a member of the G. Loomis Pro Staff when there weren't very many women on the Pro Staffs of any of the major rod companies. He spent the time to show me how rods were made from scratch up and I was honored to be a part of such a fine company. This was before Fly Anglers OnLine was created, and before Gary was diagnosed with cancer. 

Gary was not only fighting cancer, but the huge problem of what to do about fly rod guarantees. Orvis had come out with a 'life-time' rod guarantee where they would replace a rod, free. (Eventually the guarantee was changed to twenty-five years with a charge of $30 for rods manufactured after January 2003.) Gary swore the guarantee would "kill" fly fishing as the rest of the manufacturers who sold through shops could not compete with a business that sold mostly through a catalogue. It did change the industry, but in ways you might not expect unless you gave it some thought.

In time the rest of the rod manufacturers all fell in line. Gary sold his company to his friend and fishing buddy who also owned a fishing company, Shimano; a natural match since they had the reels, and with G. Loomis they also had the rods. As Gary's health declined he spent less time at the company until one of the Shimano sons took over the day to day operation. Shimano made some major changes in their rep system and did not renew most Pro Staff members. (I had dropped out to avoid a possible conflict of interest with FAOL) Amazingly Gary survived and the last I heard he was doing more fishing and had some interest in another fly rod company. I suspect there was a non-competition clause attached to the sale which has now run its course. 

Nothing stays the same and Gary and his staff had the magic in the 1990's to design and produce fly rods which set the standard for graphite rods. 

Whenever there is a vacuum something will fill it. And Sage did.  

Someone mentioned to me a while back that Marc Bale, who for many years was the head of marketing for Sage, now moved on up the corporate ladder, and was the most brilliant marketing person in all of fly fishing. We got to know Marc during the years they were a sponsor here, and we were always impressed with his ability to understand what we were trying to do. Not everyone "got" our intent - to provide our readers with good honest information so they could improve their abilities and appreciate all that fly fishing has to offer, and in turn become stewards of our fisheries. 

Marc was also one of the first sponsors to sign up on our Bulletin Board. If he wasn't reading it he had someone else appointed to read it - they often answered questions about fly rods. They understood the value of creating a community and eventually built one on their web site.

I said earlier the guarantee had created situations which may not have been expected or intended. I believe it opened the door for the huge price increases we have seen over the past ten years. In 1995 you could buy a top of the line G Loomis rod for $300, but today there are several rod companies either at or pushing $1,000 for a rod. 

I know it costs any of the rod companies to replace a rod, but I honestly don't think there are as many rods being replaced as you might think. I also know all of the rod companies now have some "shipping or handling" charges, anywhere from $30 to $65 which is actually enough to cover the cost of the rod. So that sort of evens things out. The big costs are advertising and doing the sport/dealer shows.

You know Orvis has been producing first rate catalogs for their customers for many years, and they sell all the items in the catalog at retail prices. Using Sage as an example, they sell their rods wholesale to the fly shops, for about half of retail. Out of that they also pay the reps. Looks to me like either selling directly to the public via a web site, or a catalog such as Orvis does is a whole lot more cost effective - not to mention smarter.

There has been some muttering on our Bulletin Board recently about the new Sage introduction of "The One". Also some comments about some Sage rods mysteriously showing up at some Costco stores. The story goes that Sage bought all the rods up at whatever retail prices were being charged and said they didn't know how Costco got them. I do know Sage hired an ad agency in 2010 (who didn't renew Sage's advertising with FAOL) and they may have some other ideas on how to promote Sage.

I do know the country is going through a very tough time, and the fly industry has been hit as well. I would not be surprised if more companies decide to market their rods (reels and whatever else) directly to the public, either via catalogs or cheaper and easier web sites. Sage is introducing a new web site and while I haven't seen it, I will be surprised if there isn't an on-line fly shop.

Let's face it, FAOL is about the only place in the fly fishing world which is not driven by the absolute need to make money. Yes, we have bills to pay, but this is not a big time "for profit" business. We do not have stockholders to report to. You are who we answer to.

And when all else fails and you can't understand why a particular company does what it does, just follow the money.   ~ LadyFisher

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