At the International Fly Tackle Dealer show in July, it was yet another record-setting year for premium fly rods.
With rod prices ranging from $600 to $975, it begs the question: “Who buys these expensive rods?”
The answer is the same folks who spend $800 on a smart phone.
People love the latest tech, and are willing to pay for it. Given that nearly half the 6.8 million flyfishers in America have income of $75K or more, affordability is not necessarily an issue.
For the rest of us, there’s good news: There are many great rods in the mid-priced and budget categories, even some starting at just $69.
Rise of the Super Resins
A decade ago, sales of premium rods were headed downward. Graphite technologies had reached their limit.
That’s when Orvis took a different approach. They focused on the epoxy used to bind graphite fibers and scrim. Using advanced thermoplastic resins, the Orvis Helios was more responsive and 25 percent lighter than any comparable rod on the market. In its first year alone, it sold 100,000 units.
Other companies responded. Some adapted nano-resins. A nano-resin epoxy is filled with silica particles one-millionth of a millimeter in size — small enough to penetrate and bond the molecular fibers of graphite strands.
Super resin technology (SRT) rods are extremely light, have near zero tip vibration and cast further. From personal experience, they are totally awesome.
But awesome comes at a price — SRT adds about 30 percent to the cost of a rod.
Light as air
Many of today’s top selling fly rods use SRT: Orvis Helios 3, Sage Salt HD, Scott Radian, Thomas & Thomas Avant and Winston Air, to name a few.
This year, Winston followed up on their freshwater Air series with the Salt Air ($975). Like most of the SRT rods, the swing weight is incredibly light. In testing, it took little effort to get into the backing. And yet it somehow maintains the classic Winston progressive taper.
Sage introduced two new premium rods. The Igniter ($900) is an ultrafast rod capable of long casts on windy days. The Dart ($700) is a small stream rod, ultralight in the hand. In casting tests, the 7-foot, 6-inch 2-weight delivered pinpoint casts, yet also put out 70 feet of line.
Fine points matter
You don’t need SRT to make a great rod. In fact, as Jason Mauser of Mauser Rods points out, “Putting super resins in a poorly designed rod is like giving a pig a facelift.”
Built in North Carolina, Mauser Rods utilize high-modulus graphite, advanced taper design and quality finishing for an outstanding rod.
Like the Mauser Waterman ($695), the Taylor Anomaly ($625) and Loomis Shorestalker ($350) were some of the best rods I tested — yet none use SRT.
With smart phones, each time new advancements are made, the previous technology is pushed down to the mid-priced units.
The same is true with fly rods. For example, Thomas & Thomas has pushed down their Stratotherm resin — found in their premium Exocett rods — to a new mid-priced series, the Zone ($525). The Zone was very impressive during the casting drills. My peers agreed — it was awarded “Best of Show Saltwater Rod.”
Even budget rods are getting the advanced treatment.
The new St. Croix Mojo Trout ($195) now uses SCIII graphite previously found on their more expensive Legend series. The Orvis Clearwater ($198) is being upgraded with more advanced tapers found on their mid-priced Orvis Recon.
Glass is back
If graphite is so great, why are fiberglass rods still popular? For one, many anglers love the smooth and relaxed casting of glass rods. It’s like yacht rock for fly casters.
Fiberglass has also had some advancements. The new S-Glass is much lighter and more responsive than the E-Glass found on your grandfather’s rod.
The Echo Bad Ass Glass Quickshot ($269) is a series of 8-foot rods built on the new S-Glass. They cast great and are ideal for leveraging big bass and redfish.
Small stream enthusiasts will love Echo’s new River Glass series ($249), also built on S-Glass.
The infamous list
Each year I list my top tested rods. There are many other terrific rods out there, so I strongly suggest — try before you buy! (An * indicates new for 2019.)
• Premium 8-weight - Winston Salt Air *, Mauser Waterman *, Sage Salt HD, Orvis H3, T&T Exocett, Scott Meridian, Clutch Archipelago.
• Mid-Range 8-weight - T&T Zone *, Taylor Anomaly *, Sage Motive, Orvis Recon, Scott Tidal, TFO Axiom 2, St Croix Legend Elite.
• Value 8-weight - Orvis Clearwater *, Clutch Core, St. Croix Imperial, Echo Ion XL, TFO Mangrove, Redington Path.
• Premium 5-weight - Winston Pure *, T&T Avant, Hardy Ultralight, Sage X, Scott Radian, Loomis NRX Lite.
• Mid-Range 5-weight - Sage Foundation, Diamondback Clout, Scott Flex, TFO BVK, St. Croix Legend Elite.
• Value 5-weight - St Croix Mojo Trout *, TFO Finesse Trout *, Echo River Glass *, Fenwick Aetos, Allen Heritage, Redington Classic Trout, White River Classic.
• Specialty Rod - Sage Dart *, Echo BAG Quickshot *, Loomis Shorestalker, Sage Smallmouth, Orvis Frequent Flyer, TFO Bluewater.