Product Review

September 18th - 20th, 1997
The Perfect Rod(s)
The People Using Them
Pick of the IFTD Show

by NWFly

Walking into a new car showroom and seeing the polished luster of new cars is an awe inspiring moment. Everything is fantastic. The paint, the leather, the smell hell, even the plastic molding is new and wonderful. I never did, but am sure that had I seen a brand new AMC Pacer on a showroom floor I would have thought, "this is a nice car."

Welcome to the world of marketing. Replace the cars with rods, reels, clothes, hooks, boots, boats, and all the other stuff we spend our money on to prepare and participate in fly fishing and you have the International Fly Tackle Dealers show in Denver.

You have the trade show. Where deals are made that land the gear in your local fly shop.

Before I get into my picks (yes, I got greedy - there are two of them) take a word of advice. When you go into your local shop and the owner begins to push this and that product your way, ask him over and over, "Why?" Find out how far he can go before the glazed look in his eyes tells you he is now asking himself, "why?" If you don't see the look, chances are you have found someone who knows the product and believes in it.

If the glaze appears, trust your own judgment ... but don't be upset with the shop owner. Like most of us, the sales line was good and the buyer went for it. Or something all the others probably have was extra-hyped by company X . . . so it seemed better, improved, special. Or a deal was cut. "Sell five million of my model zippy and I can discount your cost an extra five percent!"

Remember, marketing is what gets it out the door, and never to be confused with actual quality.

Quality, from my perspective, is a combination of simple things. In a rod, it is the feel in my hand , the balance throughout the cast, the flex of the rod working with my style. The rod is the tool I use to do the job - my way. I was told at the show, "if you rotate with the backcast and with the forward cast this rod will significantly increase your distance." Good try . . . and by the way, I only look stupid. If I did that with any rod, I would increase my distance. It's not how I do it; not my style.

Quality from a company, true quality, is the simplest of all things to detect. It is honesty. Honesty in describing the product, support for the product and the reasons they are producing the product. And respect for the customer. Which brings me to my first Pick of the Show.

Elkorn Rods

"Elkhorn Rods"

Elkhorn Rods. The name alone is great! It gets to the core of what this is about . . . mano y natura! Man and nature. Compare it to some of the competitor 'names'. What comes to mind? As words they don't launch me into thinking, " this is what it is all about!" Elkhorn Rods does.

Elkhorn Rods - Fine, Honest FlyRods. That's the tagline. The company phrase telling us how the company looks at itself. I like this one a lot. Simple. To the point. Sticks to the subject. Fine, honest flyrods. Let's go fishing!

I stopped by daily to talk with Tom Clinkenbeard, owner of Elkhorn. About the 'industry' most of the time; though, neither refer to it as 'industry'. It's fly fishing. Elkhorn Rods: Fine, Honest FlyRods fits Tom like a glove. He is providing us, the fly fishermen, with superior quality products at a fair and reasonable price. No hype.

Elkhorn unconditionally backs product, not trends. If the rod should fail during use, he will replace it - with a sincere apology for your inconvenience. If you slam the trunk lid on it, sorry. Should have had it in the durable, rugged case it came in.

Most fly fishers will never hear of him. At least not through mass media advertising. It costs too much, and that cost has to be transferred to the buyer in higher costs for the rods. Not from your local fly shop either, except the smart ones shopping to meet the quality needs of their customers. The Elkhorn booth didn't have the glitz, glimmer or well positioned 'female attractions' prominent in the well known booths. It simply had rods, Tom, and a few camp chairs to rest on while talking about rods and fly fishing. Most "shoppers" walked on by.

So far I haven't mentioned rod quality. It's there from tip to butt. Even the case, supplied with every rod, is of superior construction. If you've been looking at others, take the time to ask your local shop to bring in an Elkhorn to compare. If they don't know how to get one in, have them call Tom. At a fraction of the cost, you get a rod that performs equally well against the best. I have one, the 4 piece, 9 foot, 9 weight Elkhorn Traveller. I'll let you know it fairs against the mighty chum salmon in a few weeks.

Through the years I have had the pleasure of many close friends. But one will always lead the list, Mike. He and I are that rare combination that somehow share an extra bond. Put us together in a room full of people and we will have them on the floor in tears from laughter. Without trying. The topics flow, the conversation blends . . . we even finish sentences for each other. Scares hell out of our wives. Sometimes that alone makes it worth it. I mention this as introduction to my second pick of the show:
Port Townsend Angler

"Port Townsend Angler"

The Port Townsend Angler. Even the name states it, The Port Townsend Angler ... singular use; owned by two people, Jim Kerr and Joe Crecca. Bookends. J. Castwell introduced us. After all they are local boys from our neck of the woods. 30 minutes up the road. We talked for about two minutes before it hit me ... they have it. Like Ben and Jerry. Like me and Mike.

From then on, I would strike up conversations with them whenever our paths crossed. Must of happened three or four times throughout the show. As shop owners, they were checking out the latest gear and getting things set up to bring into the shop they haven't opened yet.

It's tourist time in Port Townsend, WA and beach front shops cost a bit to rent. But, for them, it has to be close to the beach. Customers might want to try some gear and they want them to be able to 'really test it'. On slow days, they want to be able to go fishing without really leaving the store. So they are waiting for the tourists to go home and the rent to go down. It will, happens every year.

They qualify as a Pick of the Show because of what they represent. Though just young pups (in their early twenties) they have a fundamental appreciation of what fly fishing is really about. Fly fishing. Their shop will provide the quality the customer wants, and - surprisingly, for their age - their knowledge will help customers make an informed decision. Not based on product hype, or selling the highest priced items, but, rather on what various combinations work best for the type of fishing the customer is going to do. As Castwell likes to put it, "they will make customers."

Making "customers" translates into making friends. They are also guides, who will take these new friends to some of the best fishing the Olympic Peninsula has to offer.

Don't be surprised if down the road, in the years to come, when the torch is passed from Lefty, or Mel, or any of the greats of today it is to Jim and Joe. They have it . . . whatever it is.

So you have my picks and hopefully a little perspective on how I look at things. I keep it simple, functional. As a footnote, I still occasionally go into new car showrooms. For the glamour, the glitz. Like a fly to ... sugar. I have never bought one. NWFly

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