Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Choosing A Fly Rod, Pt. 1

While I was unpacking after moving into our new house last month, I came across a handful of fly fishing gear that I hadn’t used in a long time. One piece of tackle was my 12-weight Sage RPLXi and Tibor Gulfstream reel. Even though this was the most expensive rod and reel that I own, it hasn’t seen the water in almost seven years.

I stopped using it for the tarpon in Key West when I realized that a 10-weight was much easier for my clients to cast and didn’t spook those heavily pressured fish as much. I took it with me when we moved to Puerto Rico but the tarpon on Vieques were all twenty-five pounders, also perfect 10 weight fish. So the big 12 weight stayed in its tube for the next five years. Now that we’re back in Southwest Florida, with a thirty minute boat ride to Boca Grande and the monsters that live there, my old 12-weight and big Tibor reel will see some action once again.

I feel silly for letting a $1200 piece of gear collect dust for several years, and that brings me the subject of this month’s article: Who really needs top of the line fly fishing tackle and how do you justify spending that kind of money?

Let’s start with the easy part. If you’re a beginner at this sport, there is no reason to spend any more than $200 on a fly rod and reel. Many manufacturers such as Cortland, Temple Fork, or Redington offer complete packages for around $150. This will give you a saltwater-ready rod, reel, and line with a lifetime warranty thrown in, too. The advances in graphite manufacturing and computerized machine-tooling have created a revolution in affordable fly fishing gear. Yes, it will be made in Asia, but these outfits are as good as anything the big name American companies were producing ten years ago at almost five times the price.

The high performance and fast action of a $700 rod will be lost on you if you’re a beginner, so don’t even look there. Orvis, Sage, and G.Loomis, the same folks who’ve invented and perfected the $700 fly rod, all offer beginner’s outfits for less than a third of that price. Don’t let a tackle shop or even a friend talk you into anything more expensive for your first fly rod.

So let’s move up the scale a bit. If you live here in Southwest Florida, have regular boat or kayak access to the shallows, and have learned to cast a fly past fifty feet, then it might be time to consider buying a higher performance rod and reel. This is where you want to look at an 8 or 9-weight from any of the big name companies. It might not be cheap but trust me on one thing; their lifetime warranties really are good for a lifetime. I break at least three or four of my Sage rods a year, (usually on ceiling fans,) and have never had to argue with the home office out in Washington State.

You still don’t need to look at the very top of the price list of fast action saltwater rods. A smooth casting 8-weight from a company like Temple Fork or St. Croix can be picked up at the Bass Pro shop for under $300 and even returned there if you happen to break it. A lot of serious anglers are using these four-piece models as back up rods when they travel since they can be carried on the plane. Considering the nightmare of modern baggage handling, this is a really smart idea.

Saltwater is a harsh environment so you will want to pay a little more attention to the reel you select. Once again there are dozens of great ones out there but you’ll want a reel manufactured from bar stock aluminum with a sealed drag. This will eliminate any corrosion worries and won’t need much maintenance other than a freshwater rinse at the end of the day. Look for that lifetime warranty here, too. Most manufacturers offer it.

So now let’s move back up to the high-dollar stuff and figure out who needs it. As a guide I have to have the best gear possible and clients should expect to see that on any charter boat. That doesn’t mean I buy all new rods and reels every season, far from it. Most of my fly tackle is several years old but as I mentioned earlier, it has a high attrition rate. The lifetime warranty eases the pain of snapping a rod that costs as much as a mortgage payment.

If you’re on the water a lot, have your casting perfected, and can afford it, by all means buy the best rod and reel possible. The latest generation of rods are astounding and definitely worth the money. There’s currently an arms race between the big three manufacturers to produce the lightest rods possible that can still throw a heavy saltwater fly line. The Orvis Helios at $785 is winning right now.

I use Sage rods exclusively and their Xi2’s are my favorites. (Yes, they do give me a guide’s discount.) The reels I prefer are made by Tibor and are totally bulletproof. I’ve have one of their Everglades models that I’ve never once taken apart or cleaned in thirteen years. I use it every time I fish and I know it can handle anything I do to it.

Ask five different guides what the best rod and reel is and you’ll get five different opinions. The good news is that there is a ton of choices out there for every angler and budget, and nearly all of it is quality tackle that didn’t exist a few decades ago. No matter what you spend these days, if you choose properly you’ll have a rod and reel that can last many years or even a lifetime.