A Happy Medium
Something that I've not cared for in fly fishing is the big emphasis put on premium travel and tackle. Exotic destinations, pricey guide trips, and top-tier rods and reels are undoubtedly way cool and intriguing, but it can also fuel a negative stereotype about the sport. Like I'm sure many of you reading this can relate to, I've heard statements along the lines of "fly fishing is for rich people" or "if I started fly fishing I'd go broke" many times in my life. It sucks that some people still have that perception, but I always make sure to tell them that you absolutely don't need a doctor or lawyer salary to be fully immersed in fly fishing.
Just like how you don't have to fly to some remote atoll or river to fly fish, you also don't need a $1,600 combo, either. If you're like me, you likely would love to own all the very best stuff, but either can't afford or can't justify dropping that kind of coin. I have a huge interest in premium gear and occasionally treat myself to something VERY nice, but day in and day out the "mid-priced" tackle is the biggest attractant. Items in this segment can offer a great blend of price and outstanding performance that's super enticing. Thankfully, there has been no better time than now to find a great rod or reel at a more moderate price.
Fishing with a high-end piece of equipment can be special.
The best components, refined craftsmanship, light weight, and extreme performance are the normal benefits you'd expect when paying a premium. While the materials and build quality seldom disappoint here, the performance difference between high-end and mid-grade gear can be quite slim. In recent years, I've noticed this delta narrowing for gear in both the fly and conventional tackle worlds. Heck, sometimes the cheaper gear fishes and feels even better! As materials and technology improves, superb performance doesn't always equal the biggest price tag, especially when cross-shopping products from different manufacturers. Higher-end technology and components incorporated into a fly rod or reel often trickles down into a lower-tier item as well.
I consider myself an absolute tackle junkie, but I find that when I'm completely focused on fishing or am actively catching fish, I really don't care as much what combo I'm holding in my hands. It's fun to admire on the rack at home or in between casts, but if the setup feels, works, and looks great while getting the job done well, do you honestly feel at any type of a loss for not having the absolute top-tier model? Despite my affinity for the high-end, I can feel equally content when using one of the better mid-grade setups.
Let's not forget the lower-end gear as well.
There's some very nice stuff to be had these days at really affordable price points. For me, though, the real sweet spot is that middle-of-the-road gear because of the excellent blend of price, performance, and refinement that can be had. However, even that price range may be tough to swallow for some, but considering that the costliest rods and reels can each run in the $800 range and up, the moderately-priced items begin to look a lot better—especially when you consider how premium-like some of them look and fish.
Of course, not all tackle in this segment is created equally and reading honest reviews (like ours!) can really help weed out the duds from the superstars. Below I've linked a handful of past reviews to some (but not nearly all) of what I'd call modestly-priced standout rods and reels from roughly $200–$500 that really made an impression on us....