Al Campbell, Field Editor

January 14th, 2002

First Fly Rod?
By Al Campbell

Sometimes I just can't do anything right. Managing a fly shop often puts me in a spot where I can't make the right choice to please the customer, no matter how hard I try. This is especially true when helping a beginner or intermediate level flyfisher choose a fly rod.

What would you choose for a person trying to buy a first or second fly rod? What if price wasn't a problem and the customer wanted the best rod to fit his/her needs? Would you grab that new $600 fly rod that's the most advanced technology rod in your store? What if you worked on commission; would that influence your decision?

First of all, I do work on commission. I make my living by selling fly fishing tackle and other sporting goods to people who trust me to help them find the right product to suit their needs. However, I try my best to remove the commission prospect from my mind when helping a customer. I sincerely believe the best choice is to get the customer into the right product for their needs, even if that product costs much less than other things I sell. If I treat the customer right, I'll gain their trust and their loyalty, and I'll make up the initial loss of commission on a return customer who trusts me for all their fly-fishing needs.

That doesn't always work the way I plan.

If a beginner comes to me looking for a fly rod, I try to get them into the best rod to suit his/her needs, but one he/she can afford. Even if price isn't a concern, I don't try to sell them the most costly rod in the place. That wouldn't serve the customer's needs very well. In some cases I talk the customer into purchasing a rod much less expensive than the one they had been looking at. Like I said; I try to suit the needs of the customer.

That's where I get into trouble once in a while.

Most people with three or less years of fly-fishing experience can't get the most out of a $600 high-tech fly rod; and selling them one might hamper their learning experience rather than help it. Adding to the problem is the friends of that customer or a few folks at other fly shops hoping to gain an advantage. It isn't a gentle world we live in.

Before you buy that new, high-tech fly rod, ask yourself this question: "Am I ready for this rod?" The answer is in the way you respond to these questions.

    1. Are my skills refined to the point that I have surpassed the capabilities of my rod? If you can cast your present outfit all day without whacking the end of the rod or yourself with the line or fly, maybe you've caught up with the capabilities of your rod.

    2. Is there a particular niche in my fly fishing pursuits that my present outfit can't fill? If your present outfit is great for brookies but isn't suitable for bass, and you really want to chase bass, it maybe time for a new outfit in addition to the one you already have. That doesn't mean it needs to be a high-tech outfit though. It means we need to find an outfit that fills a need.

    3. Do I really need a new outfit, or is this a purchase because I want the best, can afford it and think it will enhance my experience? If you don't really have a need for this outfit, you might be buying yourself a lot of trouble and grief. When your old outfit can't keep up with your skills, it's time to replace it, not before.

Here's where I get into trouble. I direct a new guy to a quality entry to intermediate level outfit like the Sage Discovery 2, when he was willing to buy a top-of-the-line Sage XP, etc., and he thinks I just insulted him. Next he visits another fly shop owned by Dollar Digging Dave. Dave not only sells him the Sage XP, he tells him I was just trying to trick him into buying two fly rods by selling him an entry rod first, then I'd be working on him to upgrade to the XP soon. That isn't the way I do business, but I just lost a customer, and now that customer has a rod he can't cast, and it will most likely slow down his learning curve too.

New to intermediate fly casters need to be able to feel the line much more than they need precision control of that line at long distances. For the most part, high-tech fly rods exhibit less feel and more long distance control. That's great if you have the experience to put that type of rod to good use, but it sucks if you're trying to learn and can't feel the line load the rod. That new fly-fisher won't find rod and line timing an easy task to learn with that rod. He isn't likely to return to the Sage Discovery either. That outfit is now a symbol of abuse in his mind. Too bad, the Sage Discovery rod is an excellent choice for a beginner, and a far sight better than many other rod companies offer as a premium rod.

If dollar signs get in my eyes, and if I sell him the high-tech rod, not only will it be harder to learn on, his buddies and maybe D. D. Dave will tell him I saw him coming. Yep, I really put the screws to him this time; sold him a rod that cost way too much for a beginner. Again, I lost a customer, Dave may have gained one (at least for the short term), and the customer lost out again, because he will continue to try to learn on that rod he can't feel. After all, it is the top of the line, so it should make learning easier, right?

If I didn't explain why I felt the outfit I sold him was the better choice, and if he doesn't trust my judgement, I lost a customer. Since this is a true story that has happened several times with a couple of less than honest dealers, I know the situation well. However, most customers will understand why they need that entry-level outfit if I explain it to them carefully. At least I can hope that's the case.

Why am I telling you this? It isn't to complain. I just want your initial introduction and growth into the fly fishing community to work well for you, and I want to do everything possible to help you learn the sport. You won't learn it as fast as you should if you're trying to cast a rod that's hard to feel.

Some of you will be shopping by mail, and others will be hoping they wandered into an honest shop. If you know that a good entry-level outfit is better suited to your needs, you won't have trouble picking out that new fly outfit, even if the salesman isn't exactly honest. Hopefully, you'll choose the right outfit for the job. It isn't always the most expensive one. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns
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