This Week's View

by Rick Rappe

January 8th, 2001

Picking A Fly Rod

Publishers Note: The following article was sent in response to my Buyer Beware article about unscrupulous fly shops and their unethical treatment of folks new to fly fishing. Rick is the owner of Cabin Fever Rods, an internet e-tailer - as well as a new Sponsor of Fly Anglers OnLine.

I just read LadyFisher's comments in the January 1-7, 2001 issue on FAOL about avoiding buying a fly rod that you can't cast before purchase. On behalf of those of us who sell rods and blanks on the Internet or via mail order, I'd like to offer an alternative point of view.

LadyFisher acknowledges that not everyone has ready access to a good local fly shop that has a decent selection of rod choices as well as a helpful staff. But then she ignores this significant point by repeating the advice to only buy a rod from such shops.

I have some problems with this position. First it ignores that perhaps 1/2 or more of all budding fly fishers likely don't have ready access to a decently stocked shop. I have no idea of the accuracy of the statement about 1/2, but I live in a major US metropolitan area where fly fishing is only a minor activity myself; and even here the choices of places to "check out" rods is limited. As I look over the addresses of those who have purchased fly rods or kits from my company in the last weeks, I find most all orders come from towns like Signal Mountain Tennessee, Black Duck Minnesota or Berryville Arkansas, plus orders shipped to Canada, Australia, etc. It is simply not possible for very many of us to only purchase from local sources and so it is too rigid to suggest this route as the only good way to buy a fly rod.

Next LadyFisher ignores that all but the largest shops can't as a practical matter, stock the widest possible selection of rods anyway. Mail order houses on the other hand usually have a far wider price and performance selection from which to pick.

Third, I am bothered a little because those of us who sell rods to this majority try very hard to help the buyer make an informed decision. We do not foist a rod on a buyer because its' one that we might make more money to sell any more than this might happen at a local shop. Even ignoring that LadyFisher herself warns against local rod dealers more interested in selling high dollar equipment than what the buyer really needs; those few large well stocked shops as do exist are often unable to staff with clerks of any significant fly rod knowledge.

And fourth, while it is of some value to test cast a rod in a parking lot or on the lawn; it could be the subject of an article itself about how little this practice reveals as to how effective a fishing tool the rod may become for this individual. This is especially true for the less experienced fisher that the article targets.

So if local rods shops are hard to get to for many, and often don't have the inventory or knowledgeable clerks anyway . . . If mail order doesn't allow the buyer to try out the rod first, then how does the new rod buyer make an informed choice?

For the lucky minority that does have access to a helpful shop with a variety of rods to compare, by all means do business and support the shop whenever you can. In this LadyFisher and I are in total agreement.

I also agree that for nearly all casters, and especially those with less experience, a rod of more moderate action such as the model LadyFisher recommends is nearly always a better choice, and in a pleasant coincidence these tend to be lesser expensive models. Just yesterday, I conducted a test cast "party" with seven experienced fly fishers including the manager of the local fly shop. In a semi-blind test, one of my goals was to see if there was a correlation between the cost of a blank and how this group rated it as a casting/ fish catching tool. The 14 rods used were made from blanks varying widely in graphite make up and so price. Virtually ALL the casters liked ALL the lower cost and more moderate action models. Only two of the group also liked the faster actions of the higher modulus more expensive two piece blanks. These two individuals were also the two with the most diverse fishing experiences while the others who's fishing is more limited (in this case to smaller trout waters) only warmed up to the more costly blanks if in a multi-piece configuration. I attribute this to be because the multiple ferrules tend to give otherwise quicker rods a more moderate action feel that is coveted by the fisher with a short range/delicate cast focus.

I started an Internet based business selling fly rod building kits partly because I could not get the local support and service that LadyFisher recommends. And I feel I can give more thoughtful advice via e-mail because I can answer when there's time to focus on the question.

It isn't that difficult to make a good rod recommendation if the buyer either can articulate what he/she wants and expects or the seller takes the time to ask a few questions and listen to the answers.

I find that while LadyFisher's recommendation of a 9' 5/6 wt. rod of moderate action is a universally good one for the novice fisher; but it takes only a little effort to give an even more individualized answer:

    1. How experienced are you? How/where do you fish? What rod(s) do you use now? What did you like or not like about your current rod(s).

    2. What do you want the rod to do that the current one doesn't?

    3. Do you travel to fish or have a small car (multi-piece vs. 2 piece recommendation).

    4. Do you plan on a new reel/ line size or plan to use what you now have?

I find two distinct types of customers. The first is the comparative novice who is most often the more budget conscious, and it takes only a few questions like this to make a good recommendation. The other type, which is in the majority, has a very definite opinion about what they want the new rod to do, and they are quite good at explaining their desires.

In sum, while theoretically it is better to be able to test a variety of rods before buying, as a practical matter this is difficult for most of us for the reasons mentioned and test casting versus actually fishing with the rod is of limited value anyway. The rod buyer is just as likely to get good advice over the Internet, by phone or through the mail as in person. The argument can even be made that the remote seller has an even greater incentive to make the best recommendation as the hold on the customer is slight. And it is the e-tailer or mail order house usually with a wider price/performance/size/feature selection from which the buyer can pick. ~ Rick Rappe

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

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