Fly Rods – How Much Should I Spend?

So, you want to know how much you should spend on a fly rod.  Wow!  Now that is a loaded question.  It’s not an easy question to answer because there are other questions buried in it, like; ‘do I need to spend a lot of money on a fly rod?’ and ‘will an expensive fly rod make me a better fly fisherman?’  

Most of the time the people asking this question are new to fly fishing or have been fishing for a while and are looking to upgrade but aren’t sure what that “next level” fly rod looks like so-to-speak.

There are many variables to consider. The answer to the question may actually put a damper on what you want. Truth is, if money is no object and you really don’t care about how the fly rod and you work in tandem, then buy whatever you want. However, if you want the best fly rod for your current skill level and you don’t have to smash the piggy bank, then read on. I mean, sure, I’d love a Ferrari, but will it make me a better driver and will I even know how to drive it?  Let’s jump in.   

First, most likely the reason you’re fly fishing in the first place is to have fun, to enjoy the great outdoors, the comradery of it all, and maybe even a little “Zen,” so when looking at how much to spend consider that in the equation.  More isn’t necessarily better.

Second, ignore, what the “other guy/gal” is fishing with.  Ignore the allure of the big brand names as a reason to spend a lot of money on a fly rod – to impress others.  Remember, fly rods don’t catch fish, people catch fish.  Yes, the fly rod helps but an expensive one won’t make you a better fly fisherman just because it’s expensive.

You see, fly rods are like tools.  For example, an adjustable wrench comes in all shapes as sizes and prices will certainly vary depending on the “quality” of the materials used to make the wrench.  If you’re a weekend warrior-type mechanic, then you probably don’t need Snap-On® tools, when a decent no-name brand will do the trick.  However, if you make your living as a mechanic, then you will most likely invest in expensive tools… although it isn’t necessary to get the job done.  Same thing with fly rods.  If fly fishing is something you enjoy but it isn’t a passion, then a less expensive rod will suit you well.  But if you’re hooked and consistently working at improving, then you may be ready to invest a bit more.        

One thing I have learned well is that an expensive fly rod isn’t necessary.  It’s nice, but not necessary.  For example, you’ve heard me write about my buddy TJ in some of my posts… TJ is a fly fishing guide… not professionally, but he has his guide’s license and he knows his shit. He’s invested significantly on his equipment. Me, on the other hand, yes I’m as close to obsessed/possessed as you can get with fly fishing, but I’m not on TJ’s level. My most expensive rod was $325. TJ’s most expensive rod was $1,000. Does he catch more fish when we’re fishing together? Sometimes – yes, sometimes – no. I’m always kidding with him about his expensive equipment versus my not-so-expensive equipment… it’s all in fun, but I will tell you, when he has some advice, I shut up and listen.

The Key Is Fit

The key to figuring out how much you should spend on a fly rod comes down to fit.., you want a fly rod that “fits” you.

What the hell does that mean, a fly rod that “fits” me?  Let’s talk casting mechanics.

Casting Mechanics

Casting mechanics is simply your skill level at casting.  How you cast your rod – the mechanics of motion makes a big impact in how well the fly is presented to the fish.  The rod itself is an extension of those mechanics; your body motion, your arm swing – back cast and follow through.  If your mechanics are overall sloppy, then the rod will reflect that.  If your casting mechanics suck, then a $800 +/-  fly rod isn’t going to improve your game. Think golf… better yet, don’t think golf, that game is way too frustrating.

Sooo, how do I know how good or bad my casting mechanics are? Simple. Go to your nearest fly shop and have an experienced fly fisherman and/or casting instructor review your casting “swing.” Tell them you’re looking at buying another rod and want to know what they recommend based on where you’re currently at with your skill level. If they’re worth their salt, they will be more than helpful and NOT try to sell you on something you’ll end up regretting.

Most likely, they’ll take a look at your mechanics with your current set-up… and they’ll have you try out various other rods to determine which will suit you best now. In addition to rod weight and length based on what and where you’re fishing, one of the key variables he/she will look at is the action of the rod; slow, medium, medium-fast, fast, and ultra fast.

Without going into the various types of rod action in this article, suffice it to say, and you may not realize it, but your swing may be better served with a different rod action than your currently using.    Once you determine the best action fit, then you can start looking at the various rods that meet your casting swing.  And of course, that being said, you can still find a range of fly rod prices in the action range you need.  So now what?

Before we jump ahead, let’s pause briefly and talk about why a good casting swing is important.  A couple of reasons; presentation, and conservation of energy.  Presentation is simply how accurately and naturally your line lands on the water and where your fly lands in relation to your target.  A smooth presentation won’t spook the fish and will place your fly naturally near the fish.  I hope it goes without saying that this will more likely lead to greater success?!  Conservation of energy means you won’t get as tired while casting, which means more time on the water and maybe more fish!      

What Does An Expensive Rod Buy You?

What you get with an expensive rod is “refinement.”  Refinement equals better quality materials in the rod which provides greater feel or finesse.  This is a bit hard to explain, and why your casting mechanics are so important.  The easiest way I can think of to explain is by using a guitar.  Have you ever heard a really good guitarist play a really expensive guitar and then play the same song on a far less expensive guitar?  The expensive guitar will sound much better not only because it is made from better quality materials, but also because the experienced guitarist can feel the music and the slight nuances in tone and get more out of the instrument.  Oh sure, the less expensive guitar will produce the same notes, but it won’t allow the musician that extra level of feedback for them to really make the most out of the song.  Conversely, a far less experienced guitar player won’t play with the same skill, and not be able to get out of the expensive guitar anywhere near the same performance as the accomplished guitarist.

With fly rods it’s no different.  A fly fisherman who has a solid swing to their cast will feel the performance of a higher quality rod and will be able to use that to their benefit through improved casting responsiveness, ease of presentation, and heightened sensitivity to the line on the water when a fish strikes.  A less experienced fly fisherman may notice a difference but won’t be able to capitalize on those differences.  In a nutshell, a more expensive rod doesn’t fit that person who doesn’t know how to use it.  Make sense?

The last consideration is simply how much you can afford.  While you may want to stretch your wallet to buy that really nice fly rod, don’t.  Even if you can afford it, if you can’t play the instrument, you may only end up frustrated on the water. 

Personally, I have several fly rods ranging from $100 to $325.  I didn’t buy my more expensive rod until I had a solid casting swing and could make use of it.  I spent many years fishing with my less expensive rods learning a better swing. Will I ever pay $1,000 for a fly rod? Probably not. I don’t fly fish for a living (or my family would starve), and I get as much from what I currently use as I need.

Remember Fit

So, with the range of rods out there at significantly different price points, yet seemingly similar offerings how much you should spend should depend on your casting mechanics, your passion, and your budget.  And remember, over time as you improve you’ll likely own more than one rod of similar weights/lengths yet higher quality and more expensive, so there is no need to spend a ton if you don’t have the skills to back it up.  


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