The Differences of Fly Rod Testing
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
One thing I've noticed over the years of reading fly rod reviews and forum posts is how much they can vary for a particular model.
I've seen it countless times. I'll test or even personally own a rod that I really enjoy fishing, only to read that someone else has gripes about it. Or, there might be a rod that I think was mediocre, yet others might say it's outstanding. How can this be? Granted, some "reviews" online seem like their sole purpose is to please manufacturers and sell more rods, but sometimes these discrepancies in rod performance may leave readers confused about who is right and wrong.
Spinning and casting rods are more simplistic to review. Besides the usual inspections of craftsmanship, balance, and sensitivity, how the rod casts is much more straightforward. Casting is far less varied or technical, plus these rods are designed to cast the weight of the lure. While fly rods undergo much of the same scrutiny as their conventional counterparts, the whole aspect of casting is a major differentiation. Fly rods are designed to cast the weight of the line rather than the fly, plus fly casting is just way more complex. This can help lead to some very different views and opinions for a particular fly rod.
The fact is that most fly rods built by reputable manufacturers today are generally at least very good respective to their price points. Fly rod design and materials have come a long way over the years and I have yet to fish a newer rod that I'd label as poor. Several things can impact what an angler experiences when using a particular rod, and some of those simply aren't the fault of the rod.
Let's explore 3 of those things...
Grain Weight- Not matching a rod to the right line can seriously detract from the casting experience. When the optimal line isn't chosen, it can cause negative effects in regards to how the rod loads and the general feel of it. If one angler matches the rod/line perfectly but another does not, their feedback on that particular setup is likely to be quite different.
A prime example here would be an extra-fast rod. These rods typically cast best with a higher grain weight line. Rather than picking a line that is true to weight, the common choice here is to use a line that's built "overweight" or even "up-line" by going a full line size heavier.
For instance, a 5-weight line's ideal weight is about 140 grains. If this line is used on an extra-fast rod, there can be a lack of feel at shorter distances because there is not sufficient line weight to load this type of rod optimally. When longer casts are made, feel improves since more of the line's head is outside of the guides which offers increased weight to cast with and the rod loads deeper. Now, if a heavier line is chosen for this extra-fast rod, it will load more efficiently at shorter distances but still have plenty of power to make far presentations.
As mentioned, purchasing a fly line that's simply built heavier or using a heavier line size are both legitimate options. In the case of RIO fly lines, they have the Gold series which is weighted more "by the book" so to speak, whereas the Grand series is built heavier for the same given line weight. The WF5F Gold line has a 30-foot grain weight of 146 grains in addition to a long overall head design. In contrast, a WF5F Grand line carries a 30-foot grain weight of 160 grains along with a much shorter overall head design. Finally, there's the WF6F Gold line with a 30-foot grain weight of 168 grains.
In this case, either the Grand line or the WF6F Gold would likely be the best picks for our extra-fast 5-weight rod example. I don't really like to up-line anymore and prefer just buying a line specifically built for extra-fast rods, so my personal choice here would be the Grand. These rods are built for seasoned casters battling such adversities as large flies, high winds, and long casts, so a more aggressive purpose-built line like the Grand is ideal.
Who's Casting- With a properly-matched setup, it is now up to the person casting to get that rod to perform. The problem here is that everyone is different. Casting styles vary and a particular rod action may not match an angler's technique or skill level accordingly. Less obvious nuances like what rods a person typically uses and their sensitivity to weight can affect their take on a new stick as well. Someone whose fly fishing has centered around chasing trout on small waters using moderate-action 3 and 4 weights might say that even one of the best 8-weights on the market feels too stiff and heavy if they've never thrown a rod like that before. I know I've liked rods that others didn't seem to be as fond of, and vice versa. Differences in casting and overall experience can certainly play into one angler loving a rod while another says "mehhhh...." I know that in comparison to other anglers, I likely have a little more tolerance for the feel and casting of faster action rods since I've spend so much time with them.
Which Model- Just because a rod of a certain line weight receives heaps of rave reviews doesn't mean that every model in that series will be just as awesome. Even with some very expensive rods it's not uncommon to find a model or two in the same lineup that just feels different...in a not-so-good way. If you are buying a rod without handling it first, try to get some feedback regarding the model in the exact line weight you want to buy. Not too long ago, I had this experience with my sister. I bought a 7 weight, while she bought the same rod but in an 8 weight. Mine felt and performed very nicely for the price, but in comparison hers was not nearly as pleasant.
Nothing beats trying a fly rod before you buy it, but in this age of buying things online that isn't always going to happen. Before purchasing a fly rod, it's always wise to seek out every review you can find and compare what all the folks are saying. This helps you get the best possible idea of what you're buying without actually holding the rod first. When a rod has been out a while there's usually plenty of online chatter to sift through, but in the case of a rod that is a brand-new release there unfortunately might not be much to go on.
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