Fly Rods and the Custom Fly Rods (Fish Guns)

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Fly Rods and the Custom Fly Rods
(Fish Guns)

For most fly fishermen buying a new or used fly rod is a simple and uncomplicated task that requires very little knowledge about how a fly rod works. Some fly fishermen may even get all the information they need from a sales clerk at their local fly shop or sporting goods store. Unfortunately this lack of knowledge can affect how well a fisherman does on the river. The performance of your fly rod can directly affect your success in catching more and bigger fish. Your fly rod is the cornerstone in becoming a good fly fisherman.

Fly fishermen, like all consumers, have been brought up in the trappings of the most advanced consumer driven economy in the world. Advertising, marketing and branding have made consumers a prime target for product commercialization. This type of commercialization can be traced all the way back to school days when kids wore labels instead of clothes. How all this relates to fly fishermen is simple. Many fly fishermen, especially new fly fishermen, are simply going to go to the local sporting goods store and buy a Sage or Orvis fly rod because of the brand name. How much of that $800 price tag is brand name?

Now, I’m not implying that Sage or Orvis are bad rod companies. On the contrary they can make a good rod, however, just because they make rods does not mean they have the best rod for you. Even if you know what length and weight rod you want, going to the fly shop or sporting goods store and wiggling a few Winston rods around is absolutely the worst way to buy a fly rod.

There are thousands and thousands of fly fishermen out there casting away with every kind of name brand fly rod you can imagine and love the performance of their rods. There are probably just as many who are happy with their fly rods but would be absolutely stunned at how their rod actually performs in comparison to some of the better fly rods in the market. It is a revelation most fly fishermen go through and it never stops being funny as hell to watch. The situation usually runs like this…I’ll go out to the river with a new fishing buddy and he’ll hop out of the truck and hard charge down to the river. Once he gets down there he will start bashing his rod around like a pole axe made of spaghetti, really working hard to get his leader out to that rock seven feet away. After I’ve squeezed every bit of laughter out of that scene I’ll go down and let him use my rod for a bit and the results are always the same. I watch as it dawns on him that many of the technical problems he thought was associated with his casting form are actually the result of wrestling with his wet noodle of a rod. What he has just learned is buying a better rod gives you more power in your cast with less effort allowing for better line control and presentation. It is a revelation both myself and my son in his time have experienced and it is something akin to one of many rites of passage for fly fishermen. Buying the right rod for you can have that kind of change on how you fish.
Buying a rod is serious business and should be fully researched. Just because you may be new to fly fishing or believe you know a lot about fly rods does not give you an excuse to not to learn everything you can possible know about that rod you are wiggling around at the fly shop. I have been a rod maker for over 20 years and you would be amazed at how many times a fly fisherman has showed me his rod with pride and asked me what I thought of their fly rod. Now, I know I’m a very knowledgeable rod maker and an expert on fly rod construction so I can be critical about most fly rods I see. But when I see a name brand rod and learn what price they paid for it I can’t bring myself to tell someone that what they paid for and what they got is a joke. Most often I’ll say, “Nice rod you got there” and leave it at that. What makes it even worse for me is the fly fishermen will go on and say how many more of the same name brand rods he has and how he loves them.

What he doesn’t realize is how much more effective a fly caster he would be if he would have done a little more homework. He doesn’t know that the rod’s he bought at a pirate’s price is basically junk. He could have paid a fourth of that price and got the same performance and quality from a cheap rod. Recently a very good fly fisherman told me a sad story of how his Sage rod broke in half during a fight with a 20 inch Rainbow. The rod simply snapped in half at the cork handle. There is no reason for any 9 ft. 6 wt. high quality name brand rod to snap in half above the cork while fighting a 20 inch Trout. This sad situation was witnessed by other fly fishermen of sound repute. Another guy brought in a fly rod for repair because the rod seat came off his Redington fly rod and it was cheaper for me to repair it than it was for him to send it back to the factory.

The bottom line is we fly fishermen don’t know anything about the rods we see for sale on the rod rack other than what we’ve been led to believe through word of mouth or advertising we’ve read in a fly fishing magazine. We may believe that all those Orvis or Winston rods on the rack are the best fly rods available. We may even own a couple and love how they perform. But what do you really know about that fly rod other that what name is on it or what length or weight it is.

Do you know what kind of graphite it’s made from? Do you have a personal relationship with the rod company? Do you know what grade the cork is above the reel seat? Is the reel seat make of aluminum or pot metal or stainless steel or titanium? What kind of wood is the reel insert? Does it have a reel insert? How many modules of graphite is the blank? Is it a fast, medium, medium fast or slow rod? Do you know who made your rod and how to get in touch with him with any questions? Are the line guides Fuji or Pacific Bay or are they stainless steel, black chrome or nickel chrome? Is the tip top epoxied on or glued on? Well I think you get the point. If none of these things matter to you then you probably are wasting your time reading further.

All those things mentioned above are critical to the price and performance of your rod. They reflect how long your rod will last, how it will cast, how it will perform in a tough fight with a fish and it will definitely reflect in the price. If you are going to pay a high price for a rod you better get the best components available. Nothing can be worse than to pay a high price for a fly rod only to learn later that the components used to build your rod are junk. You went out and bought a top name brand fly rod for $800.00 and got a good blank with a bunch inferior components on it..

Now let’s get down to the reality of the problem. Most name brand rod makers are not going to tell you all the things you now want to know about their rods. Only the information stamped on the rod is available to you. Most sales people working behind the counter don’t even know the answers. You can get some information on rod construction and rod specifications from brochures the rod makers leave at the fly shops. You can try and call the manufacture but more than likely they won’t give you all the information you need. Lastly, you can try the web for some answers but again you are only going to get what the manufacture wants you to know and any review will be subjective at best.

Now, there are certain things that are critical to the construction of a fly rod that many brand name rod companies just can’t answer. Such as were the guides attached correctly with the backbone of the rod blank. Well of course the manufacture’s Rep. will tell you the guides on all their rods are on line with the backbone but the reality is he was not there when the guides were put on and would certainly not know who wrapped them on to begin with. This is the most critical part of rod making. The guy who had a Sage rod that broke in half while fighting a 20 inch trout obviously had the guides wrapped on sideways. I can bet you that if the guy whose rod snapped in half had called the manufacture’s rep they would have told him that the guides were put on correctly, but again the manufacture’s rep would not have known who worked on your rod. The backbone of all rods must support the guides or else you run the risk on breaking a rod in half. So it’s important to know who built you new rod because with something as important as guide to backbone alignment…you should not have any questions on the integrity of a fly rod you’ve invested your hard earned money on. .

So how do you find out all the information you should know to buy a high quality, lifetime warranty fly rod that’s a name brand? Well it’s easy. There are many fine custom rod makers in America that can build you any fly rod you want. Many have their own line of rods and most will build that famous rod blank you love for less than the name brand manufacture can sell it in a fly shop. You may even have a few custom rod makers living in your home town or nearby.

One of the biggest benefits of having a rod custom built is there is usually no middle man. They can buy the rod blank of your choice directly from the rod manufacture keeping the cost down to just freight. So you should see an immediate effect in the price. You certainly have the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with the custom rod maker that you could never get from a brand rod manufacture. You immediately learn who made your rod and can contact him or her any time and they will know you and your rod.

The money you save initially by using a custom rod maker can be put back into the rod by upgrading to the finest components you wish to buy for your rod. So now you can start to see how a name brand company can sell you a rod for $800.00 and make money by not using the same quality components you would expect and get away with it because many fly fishermen aren’t up on all they need to know when it comes to shopping for a new rod and a lot a brand fly rod manufactures know this.

Where the rod manufacture can get away with this because they deal in advertising their name and use a multitude of outlets to move the volume of fly rods that keep their financial goals going, the custom rod maker can’t do that Large rod manufacturers can sell inferior rods because of their marketing power and market saturation and exposure”.

. The custom rod maker has his own line of fly rods or custom rods that must be the finest on the market. They must be the finest because he totally relies on his customers to come back for a new rod or have his satisfied customers tell their friends and family to contact their rod maker for fine new fly rods. If the custom fly rod maker makes a phony fly rod then his reputation will eventually suffer the consequences and a custom rod manufacturer’s reputation is everything to him. Bottom line is more often than not you can obtain a better fly rod at the same or better price by purchasing a custom build rod.

Having worked in a major sporting goods store’s fly shop, it has always amazed me how much, or shall I say how little fly fishermen know about fly rods in general let alone the construction or specifications of the fly rods they’re looking at. For me it is always a joy to help educate fly fishermen on the history, manufacturing process and the intricacies of how fly rods are made and used. I enjoy working with my customers and take great pleasure when I hear how well my rods have performed for them and am flattered every time a new customer contacts me from a reference. Some of the best people I’ve ever met I had the privilege to make a Merlin Classic Rod for Them. I can bet you when you bought that new St. Croix fly rod at the sporting goods store the guy who made that rod does not feel the same way.

Mike Sandifer