Taking heed of my own advice, I gave my friend Mike one of the new 2007 catalogs, as he's just getting into the sport. At the top of his must-get list was an 8-weight fly rod for salt water.
Imagine his shock when he hit the first page of rod offerings, and saw a Winston Boron IIX priced at $615. He told me his first reaction was to call his banker and take out a second mortgage. Either that, or hope some man with an eggshell head might offer him a briefcase full of money.
Fortunately, Mike didn't stop at the first page. A few pages later, he hit the section of "value" fly rods — those that sell for $240 or less.
Two-hundred dollars might still seem expensive when compared to a $60 casting rod from your favorite sporting goods store. Actually, many of these stores do sell fly rods for under $60.
Wal-Mart has a Scientific Angler graphite rod, Bass Pro Shops has the Hobbs Creek and Dogwood Canyon series, Cabela's has the Three Forks series and Academy has the Pfleuger Medalist.
These so-called "bargain" rods are graphite, have solid reel seats and cork grips, meet the minimum guide-per-foot criteria and cast fairly decently. They're OK for beginners, but advanced casters will demand more.
The rods Mike saw at the beginning of the catalog are the so-called "premium" rods. They represent the cutting-edge of technology, constructed from high-modulus graphite blended with boron, titanium or chronium and/or built on computer-generated tapers.
Two other factors add great cost to premium fly rods.
First, they're made for the discriminating fly caster, one who wants a rod that casts with soul, that has exquisite components and is of very fine workmanship.
The second factor is that the physics of fly casting demand that the rod be engineered to a very high level. There are casting rods that are constructed to that level as well, and if you find them in a catalog or on the web, you'll see they can also cost hundreds of dollars.
Fortunately for those on a budget — including us LSU fans who purchased non-refundable travel to California anticipating a Rose Bowl invitation — there's a compromise: As the new technology replaces the old, the old is relegated to a less-expensive series.
It's similiar to the market for digital cameras. Four years ago, a topline point-and-shoot digicam was about $300. Today, it's still about $300. Difference is that today's top cameras have almost twice the resolution (megapixels) and many new features such as image stabilization.
Want a digicam like one made four years ago? You can buy it for about a hundred bucks now.
Likewise, if you want a rod like my first 8-weight I bought 20 years ago, then take a close look at those bargain rods under $60.
Back then, the Fenwick I purchased was a highly recommended, mid-priced offering. It cost $140. In today's currency that's equivalent to $240. For that amount, you can buy a St. Croix Avid, TFO TiCr, Sage Launch, Scott A2 or Winston Vapor. To put that Fenwick against any of these rods in a casting contest would be like putting Rosie O'Donnell in a beauty pageant.
Furthermore, most of the value rods today come in four-piece models, and some, like the Orvis Frequent Flyer and L.L. Bean Traveler, come in six and seven pieces. With advancement of materials and epoxies, multi-piece rods are now actually lighter than nearly all the two-piece rods from a decade ago.
One final reason why fly rods in the $120- to $240-range represent your best deal: Like the premium rods, these come with a lifetime no-fault warranty. If you break the tip in the car door, just send the rod back to the manufacturer along with a check for a nominal amount (usually $25), and you'll receive a new tip or new rod.
And so I ask you — value-priced rods: deal or no deal?
Here are some opportunities to check out rods and other tackle, as well as learn about various aspects of fly fishing and fly tying from experts:
• Jan. 20-21 — Atlanta Fly Fishing Festival, Gwinnett Civic Center, Gwinnett, Ga. Check castlow.com website for details.
• Feb. 3-4 — Texas Fly Tying Festival, sponsored by Texas Fly Fishers (Houston), Bethany Christian Hall, Westheimer Road, Houston. For details, visit texasflyfishers.org.
• Feb. 10-11 — The Fly Fishing Show, Arlington Convention Center, Arlington, Texas. For list of programs, fly tiers and vendors, visit flyfishingshow.com.
• Feb. 17-18 — Little Mo Fly Fishing Festival, Community Center, Murfreesboro, Ark. For list of programs, fly tiers, and vendors, visit littlemissouriflyfishing.com.
• Feb. 24 — Acadiana Fly Rodders Conclave (Lafayette), Grace Presbyterian School, 415 Roselawn Blvd. For details, check out the AFR newsletter posted at laflyfish.com.
• March 3 — Red Stick Fly Fishers Conclave (Baton Rouge), Waddill Outdoors Center, 4142 Flannery Road. For details, visit rsff.org.
• March 3 — Fly Fish Texas, sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife, Freshwater Fisheries Center, Athens. For specifics, visit flyfishtexas.org.
• March 8-11 — Louisiana Sportmen's Show, Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, Gonzales. Red Stick and New Orleans club members will be on hand.
• April 20-21 — Ouachita River Fly Fishers (Monroe) Warmwater Rendezvous, Lake D'Arbonne State Park. Check orff.squarespace.com for details.
• May 5 — Red Stick Fly Fishers "Fly Fishing 101" clinic. Free. Registration required. Check rsff.org for details.
• May 18-20 — Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) 1st Annual Gulf Coast Expo, Lake Charles Civic Center. Featuring fly fishing and kayak fishing programs, fly tiers, vendors, workshops and other activities. Check gulfcoastfff.org for details.
• June 7-9 — Southeastern Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) Conclave, Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Ga. For registration form and list of programs, tiers, workshops, vendors and other activities, visit fffsec.org.
• June 22-24 — Home Waters Expo, sponsored by Mid South Fly Fishers (Memphis), featuring Lefty Kreh and Cindy Garrison. Check msff.org for details.