While I think the quality of entry level/budget fly rods offers amazing value for money today, I’ve been questioning whether premium rods now offer fly fishers a good option or if your money is better spent elsewhere. Here’s what I think based on looking at choices from a mainly performance perspective, while allowing for the fact that nice stuff is well, nice!
Firstly, a new or inexperienced fly fisher rarely has the skill level to appreciate a premium, high performance fly rod. I remember hating them with a passion at one time, many were too stiff for the close quarter fishing I loved and still do. However the bottom line was, back then my casting was simply not good enough. It’s like learning to drive in an F1 car, only less lethal! Early days a budget level rod is more forgiving of our mistakes while providing adequate performance.
Beyond this however, we can appreciate the potential benefits offered by higher performance rods, for which we pay a higher price and rightly so. The question for me was, is it better to go with an “off the peg fly rod” or have a fly rod custom built?
I have accumulated a number of high spec fly rods (as you do) over many years, with the usual justification of wanting them for specific times, places, techniques, etc. Following my own advice of always try before you buy when it comes to fly rods at this level, I’ve been largely pleased with the results. When it comes to pricing, it’s like anything else in life, if you are happy to pay X for the rod and are pleased with your purchase, that’s all that matters. However, in some instances, we can have our cake and eat it!
With custom built fly rods, the fact you can have elements styled to your taste so it’s nice to own is certainly true. The big opportunity in having a rod made, one I’ve found hugely beneficial is in performance. The key here is in knowing what you want the rod for. When I was 18, I built a fly rod for fishing tiny overgrown brooks. Not long after, I had a pair of fly rods built specifically for reservoir boat fishing. More recently I’ve had the rod shown in the above photo built by Andy Banting. The general spec of this rod is a 9ft 5wt. Testing on the casting field shows it works well with lines of 4-7wt with the sweet spot in the 5-6wt range based upon line rating to the AFTM scale. This means it’s ideal for small to medium sized stillwater, while being perfect for casting larger dries and/or blustery days on the river.
I didn’t have this rod made as a general tool though, it was designed for stalking or sight fishing. Key for me was minimising rod flash, so the blank is matt, there is no flashy decoration or exuberant colours. I just want this rod not to be seen when fishing and we did everything to help it blend into the background. Blank performance was critical, quick and accurate with a soft tip make the perfect fishing tool in this instance for me. I can put the fly where I need to (most of the time), have the power to control and quickly subdue large trout, while having the cushioning effect to guard against that sudden out of the blue savage run. The handle is purpose made, nicely decorative, yet functional. You see I have shovels for hands, so the handle has been made thicker than you find on an off the peg rod. This makes it more comfortable for me to hold, over the course of a day it’s less fatiguing on my hand, this also helps keep my casting arm relaxed and is another huge win!
A significant number of clients I see for casting lessons exhibit what at first glance can be considered a fault, over powering a cast. However, this can also be what I’ve come to regard as a symptom. An angler hitting the cast too hard while having white knuckles on the casting hand is a classic sign that the grip is too tight and might be causing the over power issue. One cause of this is an inappropriate rod handle for the angler concerned. This is an under explored aspect of fly rods. To see the potential, look at what is done with golf clubs, it makes a difference when you get it right.
For any fly fisher wanting a special rod I say this. If you want a high performance rod as a general fishing tool, an off the peg rod might be your best option. For anyone who knows what they want or is willing and able to work with others to discover that, a custom built rod is undoubtedly your best option performance wise and you get to make it look nice for you too. Another bonus, having your cake and eating it saves you money against top off the peg rods with big brand marketing budgets!
If you are considering a custom rod, Andy Banting built “The Heron” for me. You can look him up on Facebook where you will find images of rods he’s built and specs, search for Andy Banting or contact him here at Drew Fly Rods.
Interested in optimising your setup, casting or understanding what you need from a rod for your own fishing, drop me a line here.