The Orvisnews.com blog ran a short piece about testing fly rods at the Orvis rod factory (I would have killed for a quick peek at one of the “Rod Action Charts” seen only at a distance), and it reminded me of those rod testing sessions you hold with your friends.
When a couple of your fly fishing buddies are bamboo rod builders, you get to test a fair number of new fly rod tapers, and while you think casting a new rod would be straightforward, at times the it can feel more like a first date than a scientific process.
You don’t want to be swayed by the electricity of the moment, yet acting like a sour dullard won’t get you anywhere either. Things tend to be a little tentative at first, and while those first moments seem momentous, they’re generally far less critical than they seem at the time (thought it’s true you only get one first impression).
I have to admit that my casting isn’t all it could be, so while some rods really sing on the grass, they don’t cut it for me on the river.
The famous Paul Young style semi-parabolic rods are a good example; on the lawn I’m a god with the things, but on the river—where you’re staring down the barrel of difficult drifts, a little wind and the pressure applied by rising fish—things tend to go off the rails a little.
It turns out semi-parabolics respond poorly to being pushed, which is precisely what I do when trout are rising and I’m not connecting.
You might consider my lack of self-improvement (in the casting department) a personality flaw, but I prefer to think that simply recognizing it is evidence of a heightened sense of self-awareness.
That way I can congratulate myself and move on.
Bamboo rod gatherings are basically mega versions of the small, friends-only event; you get a lot of guys and fly rods together in one place and cast rods you’d never seen built by makers you never heard of.
It sounds wonderful and it is—right up to the moment you walk away with a “must-buy” list five rods long, and even before you’re done doing those financial calculations in your head, you know there’s disappointment waiting in your future.
Naturally, some rods disappoint you right away; others impress in a way that convinces you it’s time to sell pints of blood before the second backcast even straightens out.
Most fall somewhere in between, and some rods you don’t warm up to for quite some time. Others perform wonderfully on the casting range yet fail in actual practice, and as I noted above, that can probably be laid at the caster’s door.
Plus, you can’t overlook the conditions; when the wind is whistling down the Upper Sacramento River canyon, it tends to blow pretty hard across the face of Raine’s rod shop, yet if you’re standing on the side and casting towards the back (it’s usually warmer there), your untouched-by-the-wind forward casts unroll beautifully while your backcasts hook to the right and feel awful to your hand.
Casting a sweet lightline rod in the wind is also a prescription for disappointment, and in fact, I first fished an 8′ 4wt Orvis Superfine Touch graphite rod on the full-sized Upper Sacramento River during a windy day, and if that’s the only chance it got, you’d have to conclude it was a marginally useful rod.
Since then it’s been fished (by myself and others) on a couple of small streams, where it shines brightly indeed.
In other words, better check the wind before you decide to hate on a rod.
Once I fished with a guy in Tennessee who insisted the Phillipson he borrowed from me lacked the power to turn over the fly, and I finally got tired of listening to the complaints and watched him for a while before realizing his leader was a massive piece of overlong shit, and wouldn’t turn over a fly made of anti-matter, much less a bushy #10 Catskill dry.
At lunch I cut it back by a good six feet and re-tied it with a fairly rapid taper, and suddenly the rod was, you know, “fishing great.”
OK, Heavy Handed Moral #2: learn to tie a decent leader.
In any case, testing a fly rod offers one sizable advantage over dating; if you wake up with something and you’re suddenly unsure of your commitment to the relationship, you can sell a fly rod.
See you, fly rods in hand, Tom Chandler.