Rods for the 1 Percent

Premium-priced offerings highlight 2016 ICAST

Earlier this year, Titleist shocked the golf world by introducing the C16 driver, the first club to break the $1,000 barrier.

When I read this news, my first thought was, “Next comes the $1,000 graphite fly rod.”

Sure enough, at the ICAST sport fishing trade show in July, G. Loomis introduced their new Asquith series. The 9-foot, 8-weight rod will retail for $1,100.

That makes it the first standard graphite fly rod to break the four-figure mark.

According to Loomis, the Asquith uses cutting-edge technology that eliminates the spline found in rod blanks.

But Loomis isn’t too far ahead of its competition in technology — or price. Of the 27 fly rod companies represented at ICAST, nearly half offer premium rods priced at $700 or more.

So who buys these expensive fly rods?

In some cases, it’s the “1 percenters” — those fishermen with upper income.

But it’s also folks like my college recruiter friend, who sold her bass boat and used the money to buy a few premium fly rods and a Hobie kayak — with cash to spare.

Whatever the customer base, it’s a blessing to the rest of us. These rods are expensive because the costs of the fiber and resin research goes into new products.

But as that technology matures, it results in lower prices.

It’s why — regardless of price level — rods just keep getting better.

For example, Scott introduced their American-made Flex series for 2017. It incorporates the X-Core technology used in their award-winning Radian rods, but it costs $300 less.

Another example is Loomis. While the new Asquith was an impressive rod to cast, I was equally wowed with two Loomis older-technology rods — the Pro 4X and the Shorestalker — that sell for less than $400.

The Shorestalker series was developed by bass guru Dave Whitlock. At the ICAST casting pond, it delivered the fly on target both close-range and up to 100 feet.

My idea of a great rod is one with very low swing weight, a moderate-fast action that loads for short casts but has enough reserve power for long casts, and — most important — delivers the fly to a target consistently.

In a fiercely competitive market, these qualities are constantly improving.

Last year, Thomas and Thomas struck gold with their Solar saltwater rods. But rodmaker Thomas Dorsey wasn’t satisfied, so he went to work making a new series — the Exocett — that’s even lighter and more responsive.

I had a chance to test the Exocett at the fly tackle dealer demo day prior to the start of ICAST: Start saving up, because this rod is worth it.

Another rod that exceeded my criteria is the Winston Boron III Plus. Winston uses boron fibers in the butt sections of their rods to give improved strength, lower weight and higher flex modulus. The advantages are apparent when making long casts.

Sage came into ICAST with lots of preshow publicity about their new X series. I found the 9-foot 5-weight to be the lightest rod I’ve ever held and a dream to cast.

Unfortunately, the 9-foot 8-weight wasn’t as impressive as their existing SALT or Method series.

The SALT features a moderate-fast action I think better suits Louisiana marsh fishing. If I mostly fished the Florida Keys, where long casts are often required, the very fast action of the Method line would be my choice.

Douglas also came in with lots of praise about their new Sky series. I found them to be somewhat of a bargain on the premium scale with a MSRP of $695.

One rod that drew lots of attention was the new Edge series from Temple Fork Outfitters. Developed by Gary Loomis (who is no longer with Loomis rods), the Edge is TFO’s first foray into premium, made-in-America rods.

The Edge rivals Winston, T&T and Sage in quality and performance. The Edge will sell for $895.

Of course, those looking for rods in the mid-range ($250 to $500) or value range (less than $250) have lots of great choices as well, starting with Redington and Diamondback.

For 2017, Redington has updated their popular Predator series. I currently own a 6-weight Predator, but in casting the 2017 version I found it to have a more progressive taper and lighter swing weight.

They’ve also replaced their Voyant series, which I consider an OK rod.

The new Vice is a different story: It’s a bit faster, a tad lighter and much more responsive. For $199, it’s a rod that far surpasses its “accessible” label.

Diamondback has expanded their popular Flex series with a Streamer line of 8-foot rods in weights 6 through 9. Not only do they cast great, but the appointment of red matrix reel seats and wraps will make your fellow bass anglers envious.

Based on testing, I’m listing my favorites. As I often say, if you ask 10 different casters, you’ll get 10 different lists — so always try a rod before buying it.

An asterisk indicates new for 2017.

Premium 8-weight — TFO Edge*, Scott Meridian, T&T Exocett*, Sage Salt, Winston B3 Plus, Douglas Sky.

Mid-range 8-weight — Scott Tidal, TFO Mangrove, Diamondback Flex, Redington Predator*, Orvis Recon, Loomis Pro4x.

Value 8-weight — Echo Ion XL, Redington Vice, TFO Clouser, Orvis Clearwater.

Premium 5-weight — Sage X*, T&T Avant*, Winston Air*, Scott Radian, Orvis Helios 2.

Mid-range 5-weight — Scott Flex*, Diamondback Clout, TFO BVK, Loop Opti-Creek.

Value 5-weight — Orvis Clearwater, Redington Classic Trout, TFO Finesse, Allen Heritage.

Bass Rod — Loomis Shorestalker, Diamondback Flex Streamer, St. Croix Mojo.

Pack Rod — Hardy Demon Smuggler, Fenwick World Class*, Orvis Frequent Flyer.

Later this fall I’ll cover new reels, lines and accessories.

About Catch Cormier 275 Articles
Glen ‘Catch’ Cormier has pursued fish on the fly for 30 years. A certified casting instructor and renowned fly tier, he and his family live in Baton Rouge.