Choosing a Fly Rod is Like Choosing a Guitar

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Little G Weevil with his 1940 Kay Photo by Louis Cahill

“Who are those $850 fly rods for? If the experts don’t need them and the beginners can’t appreciate them, who needs them?”

If you follow G&G on Facebook then you probably know about my love of old school blues. If you don’t follow us on Facebook, you should, you’re missing half the fun.

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I went out the other night to see my friend Gabriel Szucs, AKA “Little G Weevil,” play some blues at a local bar. G is a singularity. Hungarian born, he moved to the states, to the south specifically, to immerse himself in the roots of the blues. After years on Beale St. in Memphis, he fell in love and married a gal from Atlanta and moved there for her. That’s the only way we would ever have a local blues player of his talent.

I discovered G in a hole in the wall BBQ joint called Hottie Hawgs. It’s a dive but there was briefly an awesome music scene there. Trust me when I tell you that this guy is a world class talent. Unfortunately, no one has told the Hungarians that Americans haven’t given a shit about the blues for forty years so you’ve likely never heard of him.

Honestly, you haven’t heard G until you’ve heard him live. It’s his jaw dropping improvisation and the way he responds to the crowd that blows you away. OK, I’m getting to the fishing. I expected to see G playing his flame top Fibenare or maybe his 1940 Kay, both remarkable guitars, but instead, there he sat with a cheap Epiphone acoustic that he payed $150 for in a Mississippi pawn shop.

He slapped a vintage pickup on it and off he went. It sounded amazing! I could not believe he was playing those licks on an acoustic. Epiphones, Gibson’s budget priced imports, are OK guitars but most good players couldn’t play like that on a Taylor or Martin.

“Yeah, it’s hard to play but I don’t care,” G told me. “I like the way it sounds, it’s different.”

You sure couldn’t tell that it was hard to play and that got me thinking about fly rods. You can spend anywhere from $200 to $5000 on a fly rod. You can pay more if you want a really special collectors item but what do you need?

It’s a complicated question. I have some inexpensive rods that I love. I have some really expensive ones I love too. What’s the difference? Other than my Visa balance.

I was fishing with a friend one day who told me, “This $65 Bass Pro rod hasn’t gotten between me and a fish yet.” “Really!” I answered, “I can count at least six this morning.” In “Fishing Bamboo” John Gierach wrote, “Does having a better rod mean you catch more fish? Absolutely!” There is a lot of truth to that and good rods are worth the money but that’s not the whole story.

Here’s an example, I have a friend who is on the pro staff for a budget priced rod company. I’ll call him Jerry. Guys have said to me, “they must be great rods if Jerry fishes them, he’s an amazing caster!” True, Jerry is the best caster I know. Jerry can cast a fly line a hundred feet with a toilet paper tube. His rods, like the Epiphone, are ok and they’re cheap but it doesn’t matter to him. He’s a bad ass with any rod!

At the other end of the spectrum is my buddy with the Bass Pro rod. He’s a great fisherman now but at the time you could hand him a high end rod and it wouldn’t matter. He’d suck just as bad. So here’s the question. Who are those $850 fly rods for? If the experts don’t need them and the beginners can’t appreciate them, who needs them?

Here’s my attempt at an answer. Of course the experts need them. You or I could get a formula one car around the block, maybe in one piece, but when Danica Patric sits in it it’s a whole different machine. My buddy Jerry gets every penny out of that $850, believe me. He also knows, when he picks up a $200 rod, what it’s capable of and if it serves his purpose it’s a bargain.

I have a couple of Redington Predators that I love and fish all the time. Great rods. I don’t throw dry flies with them but that’s not what they were made for. I also own that $5000 custom made bamboo (a generous gift from a good friend, I do not have two dimes to rub together) and let me tell you, that little beauty is the shit wet dreams are made of! I enjoy both of them.

The big pay off is for the intermediate caster. If you’ve been at this for a couple of years and you know which end of the rod to hold, a really good rod will step up your game. It will make you a better caster because it will respond to good form and reinforce good habits over bad. That’s important, especially for the intermediate caster. As you become better you will grow into that rod and you will fish it for a lifetime. You may even pass it on to a son or daughter. A rod like that is worth the cash every time.

If you are a beginner there’s nothing wrong with a beginner rod. You should know if you’re going to fish once a week or once a year before you throw down serious cash. It just doesn’t make sense to own a really expensive rod to hold down space in the closet.

Buying a beginner rod can be tricky. A bad rod can set you back years in learning to cast. It can help you develop bad habits and be like fishing blind folded.

Here’s my advice on choosing one

•Don’t buy online.

I can not over emphasize the importance of a good fly shop. Get advice from the staff and cast the rod before you buy. Ask them to take you to the parking lot for a test drive. If it’s not the middle of their five o’clock rush it shouldn’t be a problem.

•Take your time.

Try a few rods before you buy. Feel the difference. $200 may be cheap for a fly rod but it’s still a lot of money and a rod is like a spouse, you’re going to spend a lot of time with it, find one you like.

•Go slow

Action that is. The most important thing is that you can feel the rod load. That’s how you learn to cast and a slower rod has more feel. You don’t need a rod that’s made to cast a hundred feet until you can cast a hundred feet and usually not then.

•Spend an extra $30

Get a practice rod. Several companies make them and they are the best teaching aid on the market. Read more here

•Get a good line

There are good low price rods but no good low price lines. Expect to pay $60 for a line. It’s worth it and dress the thing once in a while. That’s the biggest mistake I see new casters make.


So, if you’re getting started go down to the local shop and try out some rods from companies like Redington or Ross. There are some good sticks in those racks. If you’ve been fishing that starter setup for a while and you’ve been wondering if a high performance rod is worth the dough, it is. Ask some questions, think about how and where you’re going fish it and find one you like. I’m an intermediate guitarist and I just bought a Les Paul. I actually do sound a whole lot better.


To learn more about Little G Weevil Click Here

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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35 thoughts on “Choosing a Fly Rod is Like Choosing a Guitar

  1. Next time you are in Anchorage, go see Rebel Blues. Awesome electric blues band. They still love the blues in AK. Now down here in Naples, FL…

  2. Waiting to see if this kicks off another “my TFO professional is every bit the rod that your XP is, it just costs less”?

    “As you become better you will grow into that rod and you will fish it for a lifetime.” Yes you will and you’ll never wish you hadn’t spent the money.

    Tired of the argument and don’t partake in them anymore.

    • I hope we don’t have to argue about it. I can’t think of anything less relevant to me than how the next guys rod fishes. But like my friend Peter says, “if you have 3 people, it’s called an argument.”

  3. Since Louis and I both agree on the value of a great fly shop I thought I would throw a plug in for my local fly shop in Orem, Utah. I’ve been fishing a little mostly with rods handed down to me or gifted to me by my parents. When it came time for me to invest in a new rod I went to the local shop, Eddie Robinson’s Fly Fishing, and asked about rods, these guys were awesome they do a “custom fitting” where they actually analyzed my natural casting style and looked at how I threw loops and determine the best rod and line combination for how my body naturally wants to cast. It was the coolest thing I have ever seen and I haven’t found anyone since that does that. The even better part was that once they determined what the best rod and line combo was they could take that info and find a perfect fit for me at any price point. These guys are sweet and they now their shit when it comes to rods and lines. so if your ever in utah check these guys out, they are one of the best shops I have ever been to! I love my rod it’s a dream to cast. here’s a link too to their site

  4. Pingback: Tippets: Of Choosing Guitars and Fly Rods, Sediment in the Elwha, Dry & Dropper for Carp | MidCurrent

  5. The difference between a guitar and a high priced fly rod is the warranty, if I smash my guitar, they don’t send me a new one.

    I’ll never understand why rod companies offer no questions asked lifetime warranties instead of just charging x dollars for replacement sections. Punish the people hard on their equipment and and reward those that aren’t. It would inevitably drive rod prices down and lower the barriers to entry for new fly fishers which definitely wouldn’t be a bad thing.

    • I guess Pete Townsend spoiled it for the guitarist.

      Unfortunately what I think we will see happen is weaker warranties and high prices. I don’t agree that people should be “punished” for breaking a rod. Rods are generally broken by accident not because of misuse. When a rod breaks fishing it’s usually a from damage that Occurred in transport. High performance fly rods are fragile. The more you use them the more likely they are to break. I don’t think anyone should be “punished” for fishing.

      • Punished may not be the right word, but what happens currently is we pay a premium for a lifetime warranty and the people who take care of their equipment are paying for all of the people that are not.

        People will do what you incent them to, and lifetime warranties don’t incent them to care for their equipment and drives the prices up on everyone.

  6. Great article. Not sure about guitars, but the problem is that you could lay out 10 different $700 dollar fly rods and let 10 expert casters throw them, and their opinions would be ALL over the board.

    I don’t live in an area where I have access to a good fly shop to go and test rods, so when I want a new one, I have to call shops and send emails for advice. I will talk with 5-6 shops about 2-3 different rods I am looking at and will get completely different info from each shop on the action, style, likes and dislikes about the same 2-3 rods.

    Summary is…fly rods are so darn subjective. To me that is why arguments like “which fly rod is best” are silly.

    • Jim,

      That is all true. Its also true that many fly fisherman are bias when it comes to fly rod brands. We all have our favorites and we’re usually loyal. Furthermore, it all depends on what brands of fly rods the fly shop carries a lot of the time and who’s behind the counter or on the phone that you are talking to.

      If you are talking to someone that is pro staff with one of the fly rods on the list they usually will recommend that brand slightly more over the rest. Not always but a lot of the time.

      Thats just how it is, I don’t like it. Thanks for your comment.


    • Yeah, guitars are the same way. It’s tough. You might think about taking a trip to one of the regional fly fishing expos where you could cast a Loy of rods and get a feel for what you like.

  7. The timing of this post couldn’t be better. I have been diligently doing homework looking for a 9 foot 8 wt outfit (rod and reel) for my first trip to Andros in January. I will likely use it again in Key Largo in February, but beyond that, who knows. I would like to think maybe some fall reds in Louisiana or Texas but can’t say for sure.

    That being said, can I get away for $500? I am several hours from a fly shop so I can’t test anything out, and my other adventures are a few trout sorties through the year and some bass at the local state park.

    Any one have any recommendations?

    By the way Louis, love your extended family in Tyler!!

    • That’s a tough one. Salt water gear is pricy. $500 for a rod could happen. I like the predator from Redington but it’s a bit slow. You can make it work if you’re a good caster. Same goes for the Ross. I’m not real familiar with the models but I’ve cast a few that are ok. I hear really good things about the Echo rods but haven’t cast them. Honestly, I’d spend the money and get a Scott S4s.

      The other thing is the reel. For salt water you might be ok with a cheap rod but you have to have a good reel. Nautilus, Bauer, Hatch, something along those lines. A cheap reel just isn’t going to last or have the drag you need. You don’t want to spend a bunch of money to get to the Bahamas and have your reel freeze up on the first day.

      Good luck!

      • I fish a number of brands and have found that most fly rods these days are very forgiving. I currently have three rods in that range a Sage Salt ($900), TFO BVK(about $275), and Thomas and Thomas Zone ($500). I use a floating Wulff Bermuda line for all flats fishing. You can’t go wrong on either of the two lower priced rods. I’ll repeat a well designed rods will have a forgiveness if you end up carrying a little too much line in the air or your timing gets off a little. Remember I said a little in both cases. Nothing can overcome poor technique or trying to cast way out of the individuals skill set.

  8. I don’t have any ‘good fly shops’ around my neck of the woods. I traveled 2-1/2 hours (2 weeks ago) to go to one where I talked to the owner a few times on the phone and he assured me that he had the reel, UV resin & light , the line I wanted and some entry level rods I could try. I was looking to spend about $250 for the rod and another $200 +/- for the other items. When I got there the only thing he had was the Mastery series expert distance line by SA; the other items were non-existent in his store (but he could order them for me). He had plenty of $500-$800 rods on hand. Im not ready to put that much money on a fly rod yet, and I was clear about that to him.

    Long story short…I bought the line and went home disappointed; and I had 2-1/2 hours on the trip back to think about what had happened. It seems in my neck of the woods it doesn’t matter if you go to a shop or buy on-line, it is a crap-shoot whether you will be happy with what you order. I did some research on-line and ended up buying a 4 wt Xa Series from Allen Fly Fishing. On different forums I visit everyone is very happy with their rods and the customer service. I hope I am too, I’ll know in the spring!

  9. The real trick is to find those few lower to mid priced rods that perform like the high priced ones. I own several – well maybe more than several – of each. I’ve found a couple of inexpensive models that are every bit the equal of my $700 rods, at least for me and my casting stroke.

  10. Good story and one I can relate to on both sides. I still have fun pulling out my old Squire Strat from high school, but I’m saving up for that early 60’s pre-cbs Stratocaster.

  11. As a luthier of fine instruments and a fly fisherman I experience both frequently. Yes, a $300 guitar makes sound, but it will never produce the tonal nuances that a custom hand made instrument by a very good luthier can design and build. Then there is “playability”. Guitars for less than a $1,000 are mass production instruments out of factories, and are fraught with playability issues that get in the way of ability to easily fret a string, having a fast neck, not having a sharp lump under your right elbow, and getting the best sound from the instrument.
    None of those should be an issue coming from a good luthier. Yes, a well made custom instrument from a good luthier will cost north of $5,000 on up to nose bleed altitude of $40K, but those instruments will make you a better player.

  12. I have owned rods made by: Pflueger, Sage, Scott, TFO, Loomis, Winston, and Redington. There is an incredible amount of difference in how all of these rods feel and perform. I’ve had some very pleasant experiences with the cheaper Redington and TFO rods; they were great for what I wanted them to do. My first rod, an $89 Pflueger 8 ft. 5 weight (1983) was a ridiculous length of wet linguine. But as a self-taught (big mistake!) intermediate caster, I know what I like and I can definitely tell the difference between what works for me and what doesn’t. And I don’t for a minute regret having spent the money on my seven Winstons. I don’t feel the slightest need to buy another rod, even the latest and greatest or the new improved. But I certainly respect the fact that we are all different fly fishers, with different ideas and different preferences.

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