This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

June 16th, 2003

Rod and Line Ratings

The last two issues of Rod Maker Magazine have featured articles about the "Common Cents System" which is an approach to equate the actual "weight" of any given fly rod or blank. The author of the articles is a gentleman from our region, William "Dr. Bill" Hanneman. We've known Dr. Bill for several years, and suffice it to say he is a thinker, not necessarily inside the square box. Bill's theory for some time has been all rods of a given weight are not necessarily the same weight at all. Now he has a system which proves it. Better yet, so can you!

Some may remember a column I wrote in relation to this subject taking issue with an article in a big time fly-fishing magazine which insisted "A five-weight is a five-weight - they are all the same." They weren't then, and they aren't now. It isn't just the action of the rods, it is also the perceived 'power' of the rod. More on that later. The great variations do make buying a rod, especially for the new fly fisher, very confusing and difficult.

To be honest, I don't have any real facts. Since that has not often stopped me in the past, why should I let it now? But I have seen the results of some of Dr. Bill's testing. So here goes; do the fly-rod and fly-line companies lie about the weight ratings on the rod and lines?

Many think so and some may be right. I would not be too surprised if some kind of slant the rating numbers a bit and possibly for good or even legitimate reasons. It is a bit subjective, what makes a fly-rod a 5 weight? The accepted standard is generally, if it casts a five line better than any other line it's a five. Simple enough. But, in whose opinion? The guy who designed it I suppose. Fly lines are a bit easier to rate, weigh the first thirty feet. If it falls between certain numbers, it is a five or a six or whatever. But how many of us are willing to cut the first thirty feet off a fly line to check? (Dr. Bill has a gadget for that too.)

But now when you put the two together and add the action of a rod things can get muddy. Inject the casters ability and it can get totally lost. What may cast well for you may not for me and so forth. This has opened the door for some fiddling with the numbers just a little to make a rod more or less suitable for a certain slice of the market.

Let's take a little three weight rod and line. You know this will be for small streams and short casts. Let's say the rod casts best with a three weight line when you have thirty feet of line in the air. But, under fishing conditions that will probably never happen. What should be done?

How about calling the three weight rod a four?

The customer buys the over-rated rod and a four weight line. It loads nicely with twenty feet of line, that's what happens. But, some other guy who likes little rods for stillwater says this rod is soft and won't carry over fifty feet of line. Both guys are right. If the vast majority of these rods are sold for the small stream group, should a rod company nudge the ratings a bit? Have they been doing it already? I do not know for sure. If they did would it help quite a few new guys so the rod and line they bought actually fished nicely at fifteen to twenty feet?

Around the fringes of the industry there are a few who think it is time to crack down on both the rod makers and the line guys as well. Even if they have no real proof that the numbers have been fudged a little. It may happen too. There are ways to exactly rate any fly rod, finished or blank, a system that measures so many characteristics that there is no room for doubt and it is not a subjective opinion made by a rod designer. It is the "Common Cents" system. At this time, none of the makers use it.

The line makers have their reasons to adjust ratings too, but the point here is, the numbers by rod makers and line companies may have been adjusted by both over so many years that they are starting to get a bit out of control.

A large part of the problem is also attributable to a strange phenomenon. For some silly reason it is assumed that given two five weights for example of about the same cost, the rod that casts the farthest is the best. It is more powerful and stronger, therefore, the best. Is this the truth? Does that make one rod better than an other? I guess it would if you wanted a rod that would cast the farthest. But, what if not? What if you only fish at twenty feet? Show me one guy in a hundred who will compare two rods at that distance and buy the one which casts the smoothest and easiest; the one that is the lightest in hand and has the more comfortable grip.

So be on the lookout, some things may start to change, perhaps a blank-maker, maybe a rod-maker will adopt this method. There might be an article in a fly fishing magazine bringing some pressure on this subject as well.

And the next time you are thinking about buying a new rod, try to give some real thought to what you are going to use it for and how far you will be fishing it. Try a few lines on it, see which one will load, cast and present a fly at your intended fishing distance. You may be inclined to disagree with the rated numbers on the rod and the line. And you may be right. ~ The LadyFisher

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