The big, ugly hopper pattern hung from my jugular like a vampire. My client’s face was ashen. I reached for my clippers and cut the line, trying to remain calm. “Better walk back up to the truck so I can use the mirror”, I said nonchalantly. I hoped he didn’t see my hands shaking.
“Mm maybe we should get you to the emergency room”, the client stammered. I just walked away.
We got to the truck and I removed the hook using the tried and true monofilament method. It didn’t even bleed.
As I explained to the client, it wasn’t his fault, really. It was the fault of the damn-fool clerk who sold a beginner a seven foot four weight rod in the first place. Nice rod, probably cost around $500. But definitely not a beginner rod.
As the holidays approach, it occurs to me that much pain and suffering could be avoided if folks knew what to purchase for that fly fishing loved one. Not only my personal pain, but the loved one’s pain at not being successful at a new sport. Or an old one, for that matter.
The perfect beginner rod is a nine foot six weight. Many shops and fly fishing professionals would argue that a five weight is more versatile. While that may be true, a heavier rod is usually easier to learn to cast. Most beginners rush the back cast and overpower the forward cast to compensate. The six weight rod is more forgiving, allowing the form to be imperfect and still get the fly out there. I also like this rod for kids. Even if they have to use two hands they’re generally more successful with a long, heavy rod. Remember, Mom, that hook will be nine feet from their eyeballs!
For the intermediate to advanced fly fisher, more specialized rods may be in order. The lighter the rod, the more delicate the presentation. A common mistake by many clerks in the big sporting goods stores is to try to match the rod to the water you will be fishing. Small stream, small rod, yes? No. The method of fly fishing dictates the rod. I sometimes use a 10 foot four weight on the West Fork of Rock Creek. I can reach completely across the stream with it, keeping all my line out of the current. That rod is also a great light tackle nymphing stick. It mends line like you wouldn’t believe. Still, it’s not a rod I use a lot. You sacrifice a little accuracy for the extra foot of rod, and it’s not so good in the wind.
Usually, I consider anything under a five weight nine footer a dry fly rod. The smaller the fly and the spookier the fish, the lighter the rod needs to be. That’s because the fly line matches the rod weight. A lighter line won’t throw big, heavy bugs. It will, however, make a smaller impression on the water as it lands. Great when you’re fishing flat water to spooky fish. I also find that shorter rods are more accurate.
Reels are a nice gift, but remember that the reel must match the rod and line. I often hear people talk about fly reels as if they don’t really matter. “Just a place to keep your fly line” they say. While it’s true that the reel doesn’t play a role in casting, it does play a big role in landing fish. A smooth action is key when using light tackle to land big fish.
Durability is also a consideration when buying a reel. Machined reels with disk drags and sealed bearings will cost more, but they last a lifetime. Your fly fishing loved one will probably be passing it on to the next generation.
Now, let’s talk value. There are fly fishing packages available for a wide range of prices. These packages also range from unusable to very adequate. You get what you pay for. Most packages include rod, reel, line, backing and a few flies. You can plan on the flies being useless and the line being all but useless. Even with the more expensive packages, the fly line is where the manufacturer saves money. No matter how good your rod is, a bad fly line will ruin your day. A decent fly line will cost at least $40. I’d rather cast with a broomstick and a good fly line than with a $1000 bamboo rod and a cheap line.
These days, fly fishing gear doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Temple Fork rods are a great value. You’ll pay $90 (Series One) to $150 (Pro Series four piece) for a very good quality rod. Very durable and a great rod for beginners to advanced fishermen.
Never buy a rod that doesn’t come with a lifetime warranty. Ever.
My friend Kory,former owner of The Otter’s Den Fly and Tackle in Columbus, likes to use this analogy: “Buying a cheap rod to find out if you like fly fishing is like buying a rifle with a bent barrel to find out if you like hunting.” If your equipment doesn’t work well, you won’t like the sport. Period.
My best advice to you as a potential fly fishing gifter is to buy from someone who knows the sport. Most big sporting goods stores and all department stores do not have knowledgeable clerks in their fly fishing departments. This makes a huge difference. I’ve had clients come to me with all sorts of equipment problems because of inept sales people. These range from not putting enough backing on the reel (or none at all) to way too much. One client was having such trouble casting that I took his rod and tried it. Turns out the fly line was spooled backwards. He was casting with the wrong end. Reels have to be set up for right or left retrieve. I had a client this summer who had a line spooled for right hand, but the reel mechanism was set up for left. That means the drag worked in the wrong direction! Buy your gifts from a fly fishing shop. Chances are the guy working the shop this time of year is the outfitter, or at least an avid fly fisher.
A few red flags to look for in a store clerk are:
Showing you the $600 rod when you’ve already said you’re buying for a novice.
Acting like your questions are a waste of time.
Not being able to answer your questions.
Being a “know it all”.
Trying to talk you into spin fishing gear (yikes!)
You’ll know a good one if he opens up to you, talking avidly about the sport. A good sales person will make you feel welcome, not like you’ve interrupted his day. He’ll also listen to you and will just try to sell you what you need, not everything in the store.
Another great reason to buy from the smaller shop is loyalty. You’ll have a better chance of getting your problems rectified, getting better deals in the long run, and getting insider info from your local fly shop than from a catalog. Building a relationship with a local will always pay off in the long run.
One last word – Gift Certificate. (Wait, that’s two words!). There are so many trinkets, tools, goodies, flies, vests, chest packs, waders, etc. that you probably won’t want to mess with it. All this stuff is very specific to the situation your fly fisher plans to encounter at a given time. A gift certificate provides flexibility. And saves your fly fisher from the embarrassment of re-gifting!
Trout Scout December Fly Box
Girdle bugs size 8
Yuk bugs size 6
Red brassies size 16
Zebra midge size 20
Kaufman’s emerger size 20
Single midge parachute size 20