He who dies with the most fly rods wins (P1)

The subject of fly rods and the many varieties available is presented by an avid fisherman. Fly rods are available in many designs and each one is favored by the fishermen that use them. Choosing the right fly-rod is subjective since a consensus cannot be reached as to which design is best.

Every fly fisherman has an unreasoning view of flyrods, and I am no different. Generally, we are united in the belief that all rod design has been progressive and that the ideas about flyrods in the past were so bad as to make it amazing that people were able to fish at all. This is based in good American fashion on the belief that angling is progressive and is chiefly concerned with efficiency. “I stepped into the water,” a fly fisherman was recently heard to say, “and proceeded to empty the pool.” We, his listeners, were bowled by the picture of efficiency. The trout stream as modem toilet. Now I understand that this sort of hyperbole is part of the fun, but its humor is based on the idea that we are trying to be efficient.

Aren’t we? I don’t think bamboo rods, for example, are as efficient as glass and graphite. But I like the smell of varnish when I open the rod tube! I had a graphite tarpon rod whose hook keeper wouldn’t take anything larger than a No. 10 dry-fly hook, an understandable mistake when you realize it wasn’t made by a fisherman but someone who looked with equal interest upon golf shafts, riding crops and umbrella handles. Yet I dearly love graphite for helping me put some poetry in my loop and for relieving the tennis elbow I acquired, not from tennis, but from steer roping.

Anglers have begun to crave conformity. This has not always been the case. Now some of us crave leadership, someone to tell us whether we should have a fast-action rod or one that loads with less line. Fast was it until recently; but slower, softer rods have claimed the moral high ground.

The evaluation of rods is completely subjective. The dream is the perfect rod but there is no such thing. A flyrod has to meet too many criteria and many are contradictory. Think of a rod for western rivers that must make delicate presentations in high wind. is the rod matched to the fish, the fly being cast or the atmospheric conditions? The rod needed for casting large streamers on western rivers in the fall is as big as some people use for tarpon. But the fish haven’t gotten any bigger since August. A 5-weight easily handles the sparsely dressed flies we use on bright sand bottoms for tarpon but it would never land the fish. The perfect distance for a trout rod to load is probably around 25 feet. But who wants to try, out a rod down at the fly shop with 25 feet of line? And no rod casts nicely with split-shot, though some tolerate it better than others. In a perfect world, fishing with split-shot on the leader wouldn’t be fly fishing at all. Neither would monofilament nymphing and maybe even shooting heads. Lee Wulff said that the fish is entitled to the sanctuary of deep water. That’s where most of us used to set the bar for trout fishing. We fished on top and tried to devise ways of catching big fish that way, fishing at night, fishing with greater stealth, hunting remote places that rarely saw an angler

So many rods are now designed for micro-niches, extreme line sizes, weird lengths. It is a great pleasure to use some of these rods when the conditions for which they were designed are perfect. It would be useful to remember that conditions are rarely perfect in angling. Long ago, when I started flyfishing, the standard trout rod was an HCH, a 6-weight, 8 to 8 1/2 feet long. After four decades of evolution in material and ideas, I have concluded that that is still the case, especially when you consider what it takes to make an all-day rod in most places. The rod might have grown to nine feet. A full day in one of my local rivers might require the angler to go through five sizes of dry flies and three of wet. The wind will range from 0 to 40. A 5-weight rod is not enough and a 7 is too much.

In my view, flyrods have some mysterious ergonomic range of length that is hard to explain. The same is true of hammer handles, oars, tennis racquets, golf clubs: the variations in length are surprisingly small. A trout rod significantly under eight feet is too short, and significantly over nine, too long. If it is too short, it leaves too much line on the water for good drag-control and speeds up the casting cycle. Too long and the rod becomes a handful in the wind and helps produce tailing loops. I had a 10-foot summer steelhead rod that I loved until the wind came up; and then I wanted to swap it to someone unsuspecting enough to daydream too much about line control, just as I had. A rod better has a great reason for being over nine feet or under eight. Nine is a wonderful length for a trout/tarpon/ billfish rod. It’s a length the human body likes. Just today I got out an old favorite, a 7 1/2-foot trout rod, and fished half a day with it. I hadn’t used anything shorter than 8 1/2 for so long that I was unpleasantly surprised to discover the extra drag problems the lower angle between rod, line, and water produced, not to mention the hurried casting cycle. The speeding technology of flyrods has finally just emphasized some basic truths. Even in the days when bamboo was king, light and fast were the ideals, sometimes called “dry-fly action.” Prescribing a rod as having a “wet-fly action” was tantamount to admitting that it was a clunker.

I know that I’m not going to stop anyone out there from acquiring a bunch of overly specific niche rods. I’m probably not even going to stop myself. I haven’t so far. The dream of flyfishing is one of simplicity; and most pursue it in the same way: acquire a blizzard of flies and gear in the belief that you are casting a wide net and that, at some point, you will get rid of all but the few perfect items and angle with the dreamed of simplicity. For most, the pile grows until death brings it to a stop If flyfishing weren’t still more or less esoteric, yard sales would never recover from this epidemic.

The biggest problem with flyrods is that you must not only meet all the physical criteria for the fishing you do but that you must also “love” the rod. For example, I have a 6-weight rod that is far and away the best trout rod I have ever owned. It is fast, light, and has the quickest damping stroke imaginable. It was designed by probably the greatest fly caster of all time. it is also cheerily built with the porous cork in the handles, disco guide wraps and decal graphics that give the codes that distinguish this product from the other recreational products from the same company I’m going to have to work at loving this, the best trout rod I’ve ever had. I’m going to have to almost wear it out. Its ultramodern decor is going to have to sink into history and become sort of campy. I may have to break it. I may have to defend myself with it during a holdup or use it to stand off a bear. Right now it’s a kind of yuppy artifact with less soul than a paper clip. It casts a thousand times better than the beautiful old Garrison I have which takes the same line. (P2)

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