We have all heard that _______ (fill in the blank) company is crappy! That their hooks, their leaders, their fly lines, their fly rods, their waders, and any other product you can think of are just crap. It is all crap. The experiences that we have had personally, seen on social media, or been told about by others shape our perception of the various products we use. I would hope that every product we see on the market was developed to provide a better experience on the water, or getting to the water. I really have a tough time believing that any company would intentionally sell a fly rod that is not capable of casting 40 feet, or that a company would intentionally sell tippet that breaks every time you tie a knot or set a hook, or that a company intentionally manufactures waders that are meant to leak in the ankles, knees, or any other areas, or that a company would intentionally manufacture a net that breaks when you try and net a 20-inch trout. These companies want their products to be used, and used successfully. (Yes there may be the occasional failure in any product, but that’s not their intention)
Healthy Brown trout getting pulled out of a“less expensive” net
Shiny Carp in my lunker
So…A story..Many years ago I was on a multiple day fishing trip with my dad and brother. We were camping near a beautiful mountain stream, and we had a roughly 30-40 minute drive back town if we needed anything. I had the “privilege” of casting on a longer run and having the tip section of my nice 9-ft, 5wt fly rod go flying into a deep section of the run. At this point in my fly fishing life that was the only rod I had AND no one had a back up rod. I lost my cool (my family made fun of me for that and potentially rightfully so). The decision was made, I drove to town, found a grocery store of all places that had a fly rod, picked up a $40-50 fly rod, and drove back. Over the next several days I caught plenty of fish and enjoyed fishing on the “junk” rod. By the end of the trip I could cast very accurately with the cheap rod as I could my normal, significantly more expensive, fly rod.
This experience almost begs us to ask the question: “If we can catch fish with a budget fly rod (or any other product) why buy a “high-end model”? That is a very important question to ask. Just as a entry model smartphone will likely have storage to hold the necessities, will be relatively long lasting, be able to run most of the applications you want it to run, and take decent pictures, a higher end phone will have enough storage and high quality camera to handle the hundreds of “grip-and-grin hero” fish pictures and “sunsets after a tough day of fishing” photos that we all take and be able to handle virtually any application consumers can throw at them. Fly rods, reels, waders, boots, and fly boxes are all very similar in this regard.
(Fly boxes at various stages of organization and cleanliness— they both do a great job at what I need them to do)
These products, whatever they may be, simply put, are tools to help us catch fish. Tools that are meant to be used properly to accomplish a specific task. A fly rod is meant to cast a fly and line to a specific area and then to be a shock absorber when fighting fish. Waders are meant to keep us dry when wading. The list goes on. All of the products we purchase have an intended use, and when used properly are able to acheive a desired result. Using the right tool for the job is importnat. Using the same examples, a 3-weight fiberglass rod is not intended to fight 20-plus pound tarpon; a pair of hip-waders is not meant to block water when you wade waters that would go above to mid-chest.
So, back to my story about the cheaper rod, after some time on the water I was able to use the cheaper fly rod to effectively catch lots of fish. Was the cheaper fly rod effective? Yes. Was the nicer rod effective? Yes.
Cheap yellow Rod, does the trick when taking my 2 and 4 year old fishing at the ponds
So what was the difference? What is the difference between a less expensive fly rod and a more fly rod? What is the difference between a $30 reel and a $600 reel? That is a very loaded set of questions. It can be both significantly more and significantly less difference than one might expect. Here are a couple examples that might help explain what I am meaning. Within a thirty minute drive of home I have a few small streams and ponds that I visit to clear my mind and fish. At these locations I consider a trout big if it breaks twelve inches or a bluegill big if it breaks 5 inches. At these locations my reel is little more than a line holder. I can’t recall EVER playing a fish on the reel. So in situations like this, a $30 reel would perform just as well as a $600 reel. I probably would rather have the $30 reel just to avoid damaging a $600 reel. Following the same line of thoughts on reels, if I were to go out to target large carp, or be fortunate enough to be able to go after bonefish, or baby tarpon, or redfish, or any other particularly powerful fish, it is important to ask would an inexpensive reel be able to handle the demands? Probably not. Upgrading to a higher costing reel usually provides extra benefits that could include things such as a sealed drag, lower startup inertia for the drag, a smoother drag system, and can result in a higher quality finish and prettier reel.
Another example, Fishwest hosts trips to various destinations to chase bonefish, tarpon, and other wonderful saltwater fish. Over the last while I have shared my feelings about the Loop Q and Redington Predator fly rods. These rods have been great to fish, and relatively inexpensive for an amazing experience. With dedication, practice, and coaching I have been able become a moderately decent caster with these rods. If I were to spend a week on one of the hosted Fishwest trips, would I be able to accurately present flies to fish and land fish? Absolutely. If I had time to adjust my casting and have a relationship created with the Loop Evotech, the Orvis H3, the Winston B3X, the Sage X, the Scott Meridian, (and the list of rods goes on) I’d likely take one of these more expensive rods. Why? They (speaking very generally here) are usually built with higher grade components, are lighter, more powerful, more accurate, and almost always better quality across the board.
So, hopefully the connection between the gear, its purpose, and the price you thereby pay for it has been well established at this point. One extremely important point that I really want to make sure has been made: to maximize the effectiveness of any gear it is necessary to practice with it and be extremely familiar with how the gear works. If I had to chose between having only one shot at a trophy bonefish with a cheaper rod, reel, and line that I know extremly well and one shot with a top priced rod, top priced reel, and line that I didn’t know, I would chose the one I knew. Why? I want to know how my roll cast is going to perform at 15 feet, how my double haul is going to land at 40-60 feet, how to adjust my drag incase it feels to loose when a fish is running. The time spent practicing with your gear and understanding of how to properly use it is more than the pricetag on your gear. This said, if you can afford the more expensive gear AND can build the skills with the gear then thats even better. The goal is to have a quality time on the water. In order to accomplish that: practice your craft, master your gear, enjoy the nature around you, hope that you can trick some fish into eating your fly, trust your gear and your skills to properly land the fish, have fun.