Today, Sage has announced their new R8, their first flagship fly rod for quite a few years The launch hype is generating quite a bit of conversation. Much of which is concerning its $1050 price tag.
So I decided this would be a good topic for a blog, do expensive rods catch more fish? Is there any need to spend top dollar on trout fishing tackle, and does the performance and build quality in any way justify such a price tag?
One thousand dollars for a fly rod is a lot, my entire fly fishing kit, including rod, reel, line vest and accessories cost less than that. While I do own multiple fly rod, I do 90% of my fishing with my 15 year old Sage Launch, I forget how much I paid back then but it would have been around $200.
So throughout the last 15 years, for the most part I have fished the same rod, meanwhile, my fishing buddies around me have different ideas and often jumped from model to model. Some of whom always seem to upgrade to the latest and greatest rod.
The outcome is less clear, while their gear has ‘improved’ I really have not noticed any difference in their ability to catch fish. The anglers who are better anglers than me, remain better anglers. But chances are they will catch more trout no matter the gear they use.
While the ones who struggle, still struggle despite spending the price of a used car on their fishing gear. A better fly rod does not make someone a better angler, it does not fix flaws or techniques or magically mend line to remove drag. A fly rod is just a means of producing momentum to accelerate and cast the fly line.
I still remember a story back in my second season of trout fishing. My Sage launch was away getting repaired. So I was fishing with a Daiwa fly rod I borrowed from my local fishing club. That Daiwa is a cheap rod, and I have never even seen a Daiwa rod since.
At the time, I was chatting online with one of the top local fly fishing guide who had been and endless source of advice and encouragement as I self taught myself to fly fish. My guide friend, who I admit is a walking billboard for Simms and Sage basically rolled his eyes when I mentioned I had a Daiwa Fly Rod.
Well, I wanted to go fishing, and the Daiwa was the only tool in my box so i headed into a little overgrown stream which had a reputation for fishing quite well early in the season. I spotted 5 trout, and I landed 5 trout. At the time, It was some of the most successful fly fishing I have had.
The Rod did not matter at all in my success or lack of it that day. What mattered was that the trout will in the mood to feed, and I was able to approach out of sight and drift my nymphs down to them. Any rod could of done that.
Are there any advantages to expensive fly rods?
While I am a firm believer that expensive rods do not catch more fish. I still believe they do offer some benefits. By far the biggest advantage of premium rods is the warranty and support they offer.
I have had my Sage repaired under warranty no fewer than 4 times. If I had purchased some budget brand rod, with a standard 1 year warranty I would have needed to buy four more rods within that time. Spending a little extra on my entry level Sage has saved me money in the long term.
When my Sage finally does fail me (after 15 years it is approaching the end of its natural life) I will happily buy myself another Sage. No, it will not be a Sage R8, but probably the newest entry level model. I will get another great rod, with one of the best warranties and support network in the business.
At the same time, I do not look down on anglers who decide to get nice gear.
These high end fly rods are very nice pieces of kit, If I was more of a fly fishing purist I might even consider treating myself to a more premium model.
But the reality is, I fish a lot of different rods, techniques and styles to many different species of fish. One morning I could be drifting nymphs to stream trout, then in the afternoon I could be trolling lures behind my kayak, and that night be soaking baits for sharks. I chase and target so many different types of fish and my tackle allowance only stretches so far.
Quality of components and guides
There is some argument to be had that premium rods come with premium guides and components that are more hard wearing and durable. Even then, when trout fishing I can not see much need for anything more durable than hard chrome snakes guides found on most cheaper rods. Expensive fly rods typically use snake guides made out of titanium which is apparently more durable and corrosion resistant.
Under normal trout fishing conditions it will take an enormous amount of use for a thick fly line to start to wear through guides. I remember about a decade back Scientific Angler come out with the Shark Skin range of fly lines that felt a lot like sandpaper to use. I did fish with it for a while and had some concern about the abrasive nature of the line. Although at the time SA did heavily insist that their line was no more damaging than any other. So I suppose some lines could be more damaging than others.
I mostly fish with Rio Grande or Rio Gold flies and they been fine.
While writing this review, I decided to inspect the guides on my 15 year old launch, not a single sign of wear or damage on any them. Not bad for run of the mill hard chrome snack guides that are found on virtually all lower end rods.
Now, I have also read over the years that the main cause of damage to fly lines is contaminants on the line itself, Small pieces of dirt, gravel, salts all contribute to wear and tear. So if you do fish in dirty water, or maybe even the sea it could result in an accelerated rate of damage. It is also a good idea for the health of the fly line to clean and wash it on a somewhat regular basis.
If your tip guide does eventually develop groves or break. It is not an expensive or complicated process to have it replaced. A replacement tip guide retail is normally only a couple of dollars. Maybe a bit more if you source a fancy titanium one.
I spent a lot of time discussing guides, I still must fit in a quick mention of reel seats. I have fished with countless rods, and only once had a reel set break on me, and never on a fly rod. The reel set that broke was on a very cheap rod and the thread someone become mangled. I honestly believe the difference between a normal reel set and a premium expensive one is cosmetics only. They are all very durable and if done up tightly they will hold your reel in place.
How much do I need to spend on a fly rod?
This question is quite hard to answer, because all modern graphite fly rods I have used are capable of catching trout. I honestly can not think of a single fly rod I will label as bad.
Some are likely to be better value for money, with more attention given to quality control but, with a the exceptions of a few telescopic models I feel the vast majority of available fly rods do a decent enough job.
So yeah, if your budget is $50 there is likely to be rods out there that will get you onto the river and catching fish. Likewise there is good rods for $100, $200 and beyond. In fact some of the rods in the $150-200 are very nicely finished. Cover the logo, and hand them to me blind and I will struggle to tell them from top end models.
This reminds me, of some words of wisdom I revived from one of my mentors who was absolutely deadly with the wet fly. His words were “The only difference between an entry level rod and a high end one is a few grams and a logo”
So what does spending more actually get you? I like to split fly rods into three or four price brackets.
The cheapest rods, usually from china and without established brands. In my experience they cast and catch fish just fine. Maybe a touch softer, and slower than more premium rods but a beginner will certainly be unable to tell them apart.
At this price point just do not expect much in regards to warranty or after market support.
These are the cheapest rods from the major brand, and the premium rods from the budget brands.
They might cost around $200-500. They cast well, and performance wise some of them give end the most expensive rods a good run for their money.
The cheaper rods in this price bracket, are likely to have less in the way of warranty. The more expensive options often come with the same lifetime warranties as the premium models.
Most experienced fly fishermen will likely be able to find the perfect fly rod for their need somewhere within this price range.
Premium fly rods
These rods demand top dollar, they contain the latest and greatest technologies and hopefully no expenses were spared on the components. While I do not buy them, I still believe such rods serve a useful purpose. They fund the development of the newest technologies that will one day trickle down into the more affordable rods.
These rods are also generally the lightest, and on average have the fastest action. For the dedicated saltwater fly fishermen, the higher end components might actually offer some advantage in terms of durability, on the trout stream. I doubt there is a practical difference.
I personally can not tell much of a difference between a premium rod and a mid-range rod. Maybe a master caster can get an additional few percentage points of performance out of such a rod but it is certainly beyond the skill level of the average angler.
Such rods are typically used by professional guides who can get them for a substantial discount, and by wealthy fly fishermen who can afford to fish the best.