Neil Travis - May 20, 2013

A rod, specifically a fly rod, is a tool and as such what one can do with it depends upon the skill of the user. One of the things that I remember when I was teaching fly casting was that beginners always wanted to know what fly rod to purchase. My advice was that they should purchase the finest rod that they could afford and then, when they discovered that they could not cast they could not blame it on the equipment.

When I was teaching fly casting with the late JC, to prove the point that it's the person using the rod and not the rod, we had a common household broom that JC had modified into a fly rod, of sorts. It had guides and a reel seat. The first prototype did not have a reel seat and we would simply stick the reel in our pocket. With this unorthodox teaching tool JC would proceed to cast, usually in a very nonchalant manner. Soon he was casting half the fly line, apparently as effortlessly as if he was using a high quality fly rod. In time he could cast the full fly line with a common household broom. I never managed to cast the entire line but I could make a respectable cast with the broom rod, certainly respectable enough to put out enough line that I could have used the rod to fish with. I still have one of the broom rods; a rod that breaks down into two sections, complete with guides, tip-top, foam rubber grip and reel seat – plus it still has the bristles. Certainly the broom rod is not something that any sane angler would want to use for fishing or casting, but it served to prove a point.

The modern fly rod is a thing of beauty. From the reel seat with its exotic wood insert and smooth flawless cork grip the rod appears to grow outward in a smooth transition of tapered perfection. Gone are the obvious nickel silver ferrules, modern fly rods fit together seamlessly making the resulting shaft appear as one piece. However, in reality a modern fly rod is a hollow, tapered shaft, unless it is a bamboo rod, made of some type of synthetic material – graphite, boron, fiberglass, or a combination of various materials. These rods are an excellent example of all the years of fly rod development; they are light weight, available in any desired action and length. However, they are not magic wands, and while it may be said that clothes make the man a fly rod does not make an angler.

Most of the fly rods in my collection, especially the ones that I use on a regular basis, are at least 10 years old and several are twice that age. I have several old fiberglass rods that over 40 years old and still work as well today as they did when I first acquired them. Most of my bamboo rods date back to the late 60's and they cast just as well as they did when I first purchased them.

There is a certain myth that seems to exist in fly fishing that a new fly rod will be the answer to all our casting problems. Part of this can be explained by the fact that fly rod makers are constantly introducing new fly rods and they make each new model sound so much better than last year's model. This is marketing and that's what's necessary to sell new rods. Unfortunately many anglers don't seem to understand the simply reality that the differences between lasts year's must have model and this year's new and improved version are mostly cosmetic.

It's interesting that over the years the ideal rod has changed, especially among trout anglers. Many of the rods that were available when I started fly fishing where quite large when compared to the ones we use today and cast fly lines that would be considered heavy by today's standards. I recently pulled out one of my old fiberglass rods, circa 1960, and the butt section is as big around as my thumb. The fading label just above the cork grip advised that the rod used a GBG [8 weight] line. Today a rod using an 8 weight line would rarely be used for trout fishing on most waters except when fishing on large rivers and using heavy streamers or large nymphs.

Today the best-selling fly rods among trout anglers are 5 weight rods, and many anglers routinely use fly rods that are designated for 3 and 4 weight lines. I have a remarkable little rod that effortlessly casts a 1 weight line and I have caught some very respectable trout using it. Only a few years ago a rod that used a 1 weight line would have been considered a novelty, and any angler that would routinely use it for catching fish would have been considered a show-off.

Like many fly fishers I have a considerable stable of fly rods. Many of them have not been used for several years and each year I purpose to use them more often but by the end of the season most of them have not seen the light of day. With a few exceptions, they all are quality rods and are more than capable of doing anything that I would require of them. They are tools and in the hands of a competent angler, despite the fact that many of them are decades old, they would perform as flawlessly as they did when they were the latest model.

Fly rods will not perform magically in unskilled hands, but when used by someone with knowledge and applied skill they are magical indeed. My fly rods have transported me to places that I might never have ventured without them, and they have provided me with hours of pleasure. Like their owner they have the patina of age about them, their cork grips are stained, and their cases are nicked and scratched. They have not made me an angler but they are quality tools that have assisted me in becoming one.

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