After you've been fly fishing for a period of time, and perhaps own more than one rod, your criteria for selecting a new rod will change. Whether you plan to spend more or not, you'll be able to discern differences between rods that might suit you.
There are lots of great rods on the market; try many and make the selection process fun.
Fortunately, there are a lot of great rods on the market, and the selection process should be fun. Here are a few musings you might consider.
Although most fly rods are 8-1/2 to 9 feet long, there are situations where shorter or longer rods are a better tool for the job.
On small brushy streams, where casts are short and casting room is limited, many veteran anglers prefer shorter rods, from 5 to 8 feet long. If you've been accustomed to a 9-foot rod, there will be a learning curve involved in mastering a shorter stick. Timing is a bit more critical, but once you get used to them, these little rods can do tricks for you. Most close range sticks have a softer action to assist loading.
At the other end, on large rivers, longer one-handed rods offer advantages in reach, mending, and other line control functions. Most manufacturers offer rods in 9-1/2 to 10 foot lengths for this type of situation. As with the shorter rods, it will take some time and practice to wring out the advantages.
The largest rivers are best managed with 12 to 15 foot two-handed Spey rods, but we won't get into that degree of specialty here.
A delicate and seldom mentioned subject concerning our fly-fishing journey is bad casting. After we've been beating the water for a year or two and begin to have some regular success, we tend to become oblivious to the bad habits we've developed. Lord knows, my guide, or the kid at the shop selling me a $700 rod certainly won't mention it, but we often look, as Lefty puts it, "Like a monkey hoeing cabbage." Even after 40 years, there are mornings I still do. Rent videos, take advantage of good casters in your local club, or just pay for some lessons. It's time and money you'll be glad you spent.
At the risk of over-simplifying, rod actions range from slow (softer) to fast (stiffer). Both have their place as anglers and conditions vary. A proficient caster can adjust to either.
Faster actions are more widely preferred where delicacy is not an issue. Throwing large flies in brisk wind or nymphing with big indicators and lots of weight are examples. Fast rods do require more of an aggressive stroke to load, and as our joints and ligaments age, we may find a moderate action rod to be a more comfortable fit to our casting stroke.
Softer rods lend themselves to more precise presentations, lighter tippet and close-in work.
Fancy wood reel-seat inserts are aesthetically pleasing and enhance pride of ownership, but you will pay for them (on average, about $100 of the retail price).
In saltwater or damp climes an inert reel seat material such as aluminum is still preferred. It doesn't hurt to try a reel on the rod. I bought an expensive rod a couple years ago, and didn't notice until later that the reel seat didn't tighten properly with some reels. Otherwise, it fishes like a dream.
An aluminum rod tube is more pricy than PVC but is worth the extra protection if a pack horse steps on it.
Some expensive rods have lousy cork, and some moderately priced rods have great cork. Good cork with less filler will last longer, so it's good to pay attention and compare.
Warranties seem to go in and out of fashion every few years. The fact remains, total breakage of rods from fish, Labrador retriever pups, car doors and ceiling fans combined amounts to about 2 or 3 percent of what is sold. Unless you are accident prone or just don't take care of your gear, a warranty shouldn't be a primary selling feature, but an incidental. Not many of us would agree in principle to paying extra for something we wouldn't likely use. In any case, most manufactures will repair or replace for a nominal charge.
Selecting a new rod should be fun. Sales clerks and friends can be helpful, but in the end, you will be the one fishing with it. Trust your own instincts and personal taste.
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