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Trouts Journal

How To Buy a Fly Rod

Ivan Orsic / Feb 25, 2018

Editor's Note: This piece can be found in the 2018 Edition of The Current. With the beginning of the traditional season upon us, we figured this was valuable information to pass along to beginners, intermediates, and experts alike, as you prep for what looks to be a great season of fishing ahead.

Purchasing a fly rod used to be a simple exercise. You’d head on down to your local fly shop to seek the advice and expertise of the store's staff, and ultimately make a purchase. You may have had to travel to a couple different stores just to make sure you’d seen all of your options, but the main source of information and advice always came from the fly shop. Fast forward to today, and one’s options to purchase a fly rod are endless. Now not only do you have your local fly shop, but you can peruse the wares of any online fly fishing retailer across the country or globe. There is also an endless amount of product information and reviews that you can use to research and educate yourself on what fly rod is best for you. This all sounds great, but I can tell you from experience that this process is getting people into fly rods that are not ideal for their needs, or the rods intended application.

The truth of the matter is that fly rods are a technical piece of gear, and there is a lot that goes into understanding and determining what fly rod is best for the individual angler. This is why I have grown increasingly concerned about the value and merit that consumers are putting into fly rod reviews. Sure, these reviews offer relevant content about a product, but keep in mind that most of these reviews are conducted by people who are no more of an expert on fly rods than the average consumer. In this day and age, it’s just as easy for a consumer to learn the ins-and-outs of a new fly rod as it is for the guy behind the counter (thanks, Google). That’s why it’s so important to remember the Golden Rule of purchasing a fly rod: It’s not what fly rod is best, it’s what fly rod is best for YOU. The following are a few suggestions for things to consider when purchasing your next fly rod.

Not all reviews are created equal - studies have shown that online reviews are becoming increasingly important when it comes to online purchases. In fact, recent data indicates that as much as 70% of online shoppers will consult an online review prior to making a purchase. What scares me about this statistic when we talk about purchasing a fly rod is that there are a lot of people who are making large dollar purchases by relying on information that is possibly skewed by personal opinion at best, or at worse totally incorrect knowledge and assessment of the product. Does this mean that ALL online fly rod reviews are bad? Absolutely not, but you need to be mindful of who is writing the review.

  • Bloggers - This is a good source for finding quality and reliable reviews. The authors are typically unbiased towards the product, as they aren’t selling anything other than ad space. They also don’t have anything to gain or lose with a product review, so I have always found these reviews, to be honest and reliable.
  • Fly Shops - This is another source of good quality and reliable reviews. One of the key advantages to reviews from credible shops is the breadth of fly rod inventory they have on-hand, so the reviews can be more “comparative” across other models and brands. You’ll likely find good technical information in these reviews as well, as well as pertinent product insight like line suggestions, and weight/length comparisons.
  • Consumers - this is where I start to get skittish about online reviews. Consumers are going to offer the least technical, and most personal opinion oriented review. While their opinion of a fly rod is 100% valid, it’s not going to give you any idea as to whether the reviewed fly rod is right for you.
  • Magazines - these are really hit or miss, as some can be very valuable, and others are just glorified ads. These reviews are a great way to see what the latest and greatest rods are, but they’re not going to provide you much value beyond that.

Fly rod “Shoot-Outs” are fundamentally flawed - I’ll come right out and say it, I do not like “fly rod shoot-outs”. They are a great marketing tool for the person/business creating the content, but they do nothing for the end consumer. There are too many of these online now to count, and each of them has a flaw that discredits the review entirely. The biggest and most consistent problem with these reviews is that they “tester” uses the same fly line on every rod. The issue here is that there is not one fly line that has been created to cast every fly rod. Stiffer rods necessitate heavier tapered fly lines, and softer rods need lighter tapered fly lines. So, it’s fair to say that many of the rods being cast are not done so with the best line for each rod, so how can a reader get a good sense of what a particular fly rod can do?

Know what other fly rods you own prior to heading to your local fly shop - we encounter this issue on a daily basis. A customer comes in to purchase a new rod but doesn’t know the specifics of their current fly rod. Listen, I get it, not every angler knows their fly rods models like their children's names and birthdays. But before coming in to purchase a new fly rod, take a moment to note what other rods you currently own (model, weight, length).

Brand doesn’t matter - I know that our fly rod vendor partners aren’t going to like me saying this, but when buying a fly rod it’s important to be as impartial as possible. There are certainly brand loyalists out there, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t prefer certain brands over others, but the more impartial you can be when buying a fly rod, particularly if you’re newer to the sport, the better. In the end, every rod is different, and I personally believe that you are doing yourself a disservice by not trying a rod from a manufacturer you’ve never cast.

In the end, THE MOST important thing to consider when buying a fly rod is how much YOU like the rod, not somebody else. Forget the brand, the price, or even the looks, if you like how the rod feels in your hand, then that is all that matters. In the digital world, we live in it’s hard to not pay attention to the abundance of reviews across the web, but I promise you that if you follow the Golden Rule of Purchasing a Fly Rod, you’ll never be disappointed.

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