This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

September 22nd, 2003

What's the Standard?

My husband, JC, and I were outside casting a couple of new rods today. Both were 8 wt., 9 ft. and just on the market, both about equal in price (expensive). We liked one better than the other, and when we came in we got into a neat conversation about how we judge or compare rods. For us, there is a rod which we consider the "Best of Breed." Since that is the way it is, every other rod is compared to it in one way or another.

So we took it a step further. What if we had never seen/cast that brand of rod? Then what would the 'standard' be?

With that background, here's something to ponder.

If you had a blank check and could buy any rod at all, what would you buy? But that's not all. Why?

Why would you pick that rod?

No fair worrying about what else the money could/should be used for. Since this is a mental exercise, just go for it.

Would you replace a rod you are not exactly happy with? Or buy another of the same brand in a different weight or length? Or a special purpose rod? Is there a rod you have always wanted? Or one you wish you could try?

How would you go about finding that rod? Is there a place you can cast several? Is it important for you to cast the rod - or would you purchase on someone else's recommendation? (Even if it was your own money?)

Okey, let's change hats. What if you were a rod designer? How would you change any of the rods you own? Or any you have cast? Is there something you feel the rod industry is missing?

One of the rods I was casting today has an indentation for ones thumb. Both had full wells grips. The indentation didn't fit my thumb, and my thumb is sore. There is some 'tradition' or something that says any rod over 6 wt. should have a full wells grip. Phooey. I don't like them. If I had my druthers, I'd have a cigar grip on my 8wt rods. But since no one in the industry does that, that means I would have to have a rod custom made. I've only had one built, and it's a long story, but I sold it.

LadyFisher, Denver Show

I've had a theory for some time. The rod companies who have offered decent rods at a modest prices will have 'name recognition' when their customer decides to upgrade to a better rod. This also works for folks who have fished say, St. Croix rods as spin fishers. If they decide to try fly fishing, I contend they will be more likely to buy a St. Croix for their first fly rod. Don't be surprised if you haven't looked at the St. Croix rod line lately either. They have fly rods in the same upper price range as the rest of the rod manufacturers. I believe that company will continue to sell rods to that customer as long as they keep offering better rods.

That is not to say there aren't better rods - or worse rods either.

Here's where it gets sticky.

Compared to what?

What is your frame of reference? How many rods do you own? How many rods from different manufacturers have you cast or fished? (Preferably fished.) I read an ad in print recently commenting on parking lot rods vs. fishing rods. I'll readily admit casting a rod in a parking lot is much different than casting it on water. In fact, any water will change how a rod loads. (But you knew that, right?)

If you started out fly fishing with an absolutely horrible telescopic STEEL fly rod, anything after it had to be wonderful! I did, and the next rod was my dad's, cane, and I have no idea what it was but it was sure a huge improvement over the heavy, clunky, ghastly steel rod. When I eventually got to the Scientific Anglers Systems rods (1970s) it was wonderful!

I won't go through the whole sequence, but the point is I've cast the most awful rods you can imagine - and caught fish! Are we at a point of diminishing returns on rods? Have they gotten about as good as a rod can be? I'm not a rod or material designer and I don't have a clue as to what is in the future of rods.

I do believe you really can't buy an awful rod today. Some may be heavy, clunky, and lack in response, but with a good line, you can make any of today's rods work. If we had any of today's entry level rods 30 years ago we would have thought we had died and gone to heaven.

The person coming to fly fishing today has incredible rod choices. Admittedly, some rods are overpriced - but the more specialized a rod is, the smaller number of them will be produced. So I can excuse some of that - on the other hand, some companies have lived on their names too long and are not producing rods which warrant the high prices. Putting a new name on old technology doesn't fly. That's an unfortunate part of the American system - but if one doesn't keep up, you just might fail.

With all I've said here, crank your brain back to my original question:

If you had a blank check and could buy any rod at all, what would you buy? Why?

Change your mind? What indeed is the standard you use to judge a rod for your own use? ~ The LadyFisher

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