This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

December 16th, 2002

How FAOL 'Tests' Rods

I love fly rods! I enjoy looking at them, wiggling them, inspecting them, casting them and best of all fishing them. There are tons of very good fly rods on the market, all depending of course on your particular desires and needs. I guess 'wants' goes into that mix as well.

If you fish small streams with tight cover for picture perfect little jeweled brookies, and I fish heavy western waters for big brown trout, chances are we aren't going to have the same 'needs' in a rod.

So what one sees as their choice for a rod depends on what they fish for, the conditions, as well as length and weight of the rod. What else? I like a rod that looks nice, I expect the wraps to be well done, a reel seat which is more than just functional, good quality cork, and the shape of the grip needs to fit the use of the rod. A full-wells grip, in my opinion, ought to be reserved for 8 weight and up rods. The same for fighting butts, one on a 6 wt seems awkward to say the least.

I personally want a rod which is light in hand. I tend not to fish just for a few minutes, if I'm going fishing, I'm going to fish - hopefully for hours or days.

What about action? I like a progressive action rod. I've owned just about every rod action one could imagine, from telescopic steel (slow), old bad cane (very slow), Orvis cane (slow) Pezon & Michel cane (parabolic medium), fiberglass from the old Scientific Anglers System Series rods to newer Lamiglas, (all medium) to the first of the graphite, Orvis Far and Fine, (medium fast) to the G.Loomis IMX and GLX (fast) and the super smooth Gatti rods, (progressive to very fast). So what? Frankly, they all did/do their job. They are casting tools which deliver a fly line, leader and fly to a specific target.

There is another consideration. Cost. If you are brand spanking new to fly fishing you can purchase a good rod for $50. It may not have great cosmetics, or smaller or larger guides, the cork may not be super - but the rod will do the job. Once basic casting is learned - (and I don't mean to insult anyone, but about 80% of fly fishers could stand to greatly improve their casting, which would greatly improve the quality of their fishing and catching) then when the spirit moves you to buy a different rod, you will have the knowledge to choose the next rod with some idea of what you expect it to do in your specific fishing. Trust me, as you improve your casting you will want another rod!

You can't pick a rod by someone's 'test' or an article comparing rods. There is no test possible which could be scientific enough if it is based on people casting rods and giving them points for various things. Every caster and fly fisher is different. Even if the testing was done by identical twins, there would still be muscle and mental differences which affect their casting ability and thus their view/opinion of a rods performance. Such tests are very misleading and just plain silly.

You may have noticed we have some rods in our Product Review section. (Along with lots of other goodies.) We usually try and let you know exactly what was done with a rod, including if it was fished - which is the ultimate test of any rod. A rod may not make the longest cast, but it may fish wonderfully! We do try and let you know what may be available, what is new, and if it lives up to the claims made for it.

Let's take it a step further.

A rod shows up here at FAOL. It is carefully unwrapped, the packaging saved (since in most cases the rod will be returned - at our expense I might add) and the rod pieces are laid out on the kitchen table where there is good light. The rod is inspected. Are the pieces straight? Are the guides straight and the wraps appropriate, the feet of the guides all covered, no cracks in the thread wraps? Is the epoxy finish even and smoothly applied, no bubbles? How is the quality of the cork? If of lesser quality have holes been filled and nicely sanded? Is there a winding check? Is the tip-top on straight? Is the color of the various pieces of the rod blank itself the same?

Assemble the rod, putting a little candle wax on the ferrules first. (If indoors, turn off the overhead fan first.) Does the rod line up straight?

Find a reel with the correct or recommended line for the rod. (We usually use a Royal Wulff Triangle Taper line for this.) Take it outside.

Line the rod and pull off about 30 feet of line, (with leader and yarn fly). Make several casts with just the 30 feet of line. (One hand only, no double-hauling here.) Tip cast the rod and see if one can obtain a nice tight loop with the 30 feet of line, consistently for a half dozen casts. Next, check for accuracy at the 30 foot and shorter distances. Does the rod load at the shorter distances?

Then we work our way out in about 10 foot increments, watching the rod as it loads and checking for loop control. Does it take more effort to keep the same size or type of loop?

Finally strip off the remainer of the fly line from the reel and see how far the rod will cast and if it overloads and will not deliver a cast. You can cast a whole line with almost any rod, however getting the leader to roll out and deliver the cast is another story. Can the same loop be maintained?

You may never need to cast 60 or 80 feet. BUT if the rod doesn't have the strength (backbone) to cast very far, it also won't cast in a wind situation at lesser distances. And there are few places where one doesn't run into wind on the water sometime.

If we have the opportunity to cast the rod on the water, how it roll casts and mends line is also checked.

That is how JC and I 'test' a rod. A bit more here - if a rod manufacturer offers to send us a rod to try, we ask for a 6 wt., 9 ft. That has become our 'standard' for comparing rods. It isn't possible to compare a 3 wt to a 5 wt. After years of doing it this way, we have some expectations on what a 6 wt rod should do.

To my way of thinking, buying a new rod, another rod, is not a status symbol. Having the 'best' or 'most expensive' rod on the market doesn't mean a thing. Who makes the determination of what is 'best?' How that rod does the job you need done is the first consideration. Everything after that is gravy. It certainly can't hurt to set some standards of performance for any rod you may be interested in having.

Is our method something you can follow? Only maybe. The final proof of any rod is how it casts for you and how it fishes. ~ LadyFisher

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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