S4:E8 For the Love of Fly Rods

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The fly rod is the foundational element of gear for a fly fisher. If you have one fly rod, you need two. And if you have two, you definitely need two more. We love fly rods, and in this episode, we drill down into what we use and why. This is all about gear talk. Steve even goes so far to say that he doesn’t need another fly rod, but he must be developing a strange form of fly fishing dementia. Shame on him.

Listen now to For the Love of Fly Rods

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

What is your favorite go-to fly rod or fly rods? Which fly rod do you like most – and why? Please post your comments below.


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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

One person who purchased the book called it “cliffsnotes for fly fishers.”

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Buy it today on Amazon for only $13.99!

Your Next Pair of Fly Fishing Waders

Are you as confused as I am? In this post, I provide four questions to help you sort through the brand confusion when purchasing your next pair of waders.

I recently Googled the word “waders.” Sponsored ads from Cabela’s appeared at the top of the page with Hodgman waders for $14.99.

Seriously. Waders for $14.99.

I should have Googled “fly fishing waders.”

So I did.

More Cabela’s waders and a few others. The lowest price in this next set of ads was $59.99 (another pair from Cabela’s) and the most expensive was a pair from Orvis ($169).

I refreshed my browser and another pair from Orvis for $398 appeared.

Fly Fishing Waders Galore

A few days later I was trolling for gear and hit upon the Simms web site. I clicked on the “waders” link, and this is what I pulled up:

    G3 Guide – WQM Limited Edition: $549.95
    G4Z Stockingfoot: $549.95
    G4Pro Stockingfoot: $699.95
    G3 Guide Bootfoot Waders – Lug: $699.95
    G3 Guide Bootfoot Waders – Felt: $699.95
    G3 Guide Stockingfoot: $499.95
    G3 Guide Pant: $499.95
    Headwaters Convertible Stockingfoot: $399.95
    Headwaters Stockingfoot: $349.95
    Womens G3 Guide Stockingfoot: $499.95
    Freestone Z Wader: $399.95
    Freestone Wader: $249.95
    Freestone Pant: $229.95
    Womens Freestone Wader: $249.95
    Kids Gore-Tex Stockingfoot: $199.95

I scratched my head. Other than price, the waders all merged together into an expensive blur.

And that’s only the Simms line of waders!

I then visited the Patagonia site. And then looked at the Redington brands, the Orvis brands, and then Dan Bailey brands.

My head was spinning. And that’s not even the entire list of brands. (I apologize for all those I missed.)

How does an average fly fisher make a rational decision about which pair of waders to purchase?

My (Former) Approach to Decision-Making

Here’s how I purchased my current pair of waders.

I was on a fly fishing trip to Montana with Steve, my podcast partner.

It was springtime. And my aging waders sprung a leak. I got cold while standing in the Madison River, with snow and gusts of 20 mph wind.

We decided to fish the Yellowstone the next day.

On the way over to Paradise Valley, we stopped in Livingston, Montana, and I walked into the Dan Bailey fly shop on the main drag through town.

I said to the sales person, “I need a pair of waders.”

“Here’s a pair of Dan Bailey waders on sale.”

“Are they good waders?”

“Yes they are.”

“Okay, I’ll take them.”

I paid about $250 or so, plus or minus. And walked out with new waders.

(Note: I had these waders for almost ten years. I recently purchased a pair of Ultralight waders from Orvis for around $298.)

My Randomness Is Not a Strategy

Am I a shill for Dan Bailey or Orvis waders? Absolutely not.

Is Dan Bailey or Orvis sponsoring our podcast or blog? No. (This is a question that you should ask of every writer who mentions a brand in a post.)

My point has three parts:

1. I made a random, arbitrary decision with the durability of my Dan Bailey waders.

2. I probably got lucky.

3. The unending options of fly fishing waders confuses me about which to purchase next.

Am I saying you should be as random as I was?

Of course not.

4 Questions to Select the Right Waders

So here are four questions that I think you should consider:

1. How many days a year do I fly fish?

Steve and I calculated that we fish between 10 and 20 days a year. That’s not as many as we would like. But we live with 10 million of our closest friends in the Chicago area. We both lived in the West before moving to Chicago, but now it takes a bit more thought and effort to get out on the rivers.

If you are a newbie fly fisher and plan to fish only once or twice while on a summer vacation, you do not need waders, unless you are fishing in an area with lots of ticks. I rarely wear waders in the summertime, except if I’m in rattlesnake country. I wear my wading boots and wading socks, or a pair of wading sandals, and dri-fit shorts or pants.

If you fly fish fewer days a year than Steve and I do, then I would recommend a middle-of-the-road, workhorse brand of waders.

If you fly fish 40 or more days a year or are a professional guide – by all means – purchase the “best,” however you define the word. My guess is you own multiple pairs of fly fishing waders.

2. Will this be my only pair of waders?

I generally keep only one pair of waders in play. I keep it simple. I don’t use wading pants, though I do own a pair of waist waders. I often will use them in winter when I know I won’t be wading with the exception of crossing small spring creeks here and there.

Obviously, I’m not a fly fishing professional. Nor do I fly fish 40 days a year or more.

If you fly fish quite a few days in late fall, winter, and early spring, you may want to purchase a pair of insulated waders. However, I fish maybe two or three days a year in freezing temps, and if I wear layers under my breathable waders, I am fine (though you need to remember I grew up in North Dakota, so cold is my friend!)

Another consideration is the depth and speed of the river. If you are fly fishing shallow creeks in the summer, you definitely don’t need waders.

3. How brand conscious am I?

I am tend to be brand agnostic. At least when it comes to fly fishing waders.

With fly rods and wading boots – I am more persnickety. A fly rod affects how I cast. And wading boots could save my life.

But waders?

Some of you may need to look good on the water. You need to wear the most expensive brand because of how doing so makes you feel about yourself.

Bully for you. Buy. And be blessed. A $700 pair of waders may make perfect sense in your mind, even if you fly fish only once every couple years.

4. What is my budget?

With waders, I tend to be budget conscious, and, as I mentioned, brand agnostic.

I’d rather save a couple hundred bucks and add that to one more fly fishing trip this calendar year. I don’t have unlimited money for fly fishing. I also hunt upland game and waterfowl in North Dakota every fall with my extended family, so fly fishing doesn’t get all my resources for the outdoors.

I paid $298 for my recent pair of Orvis Ultralight waders. I made a conscious decision not to purchase a discount brand. I’ve been down that road, and the saying that you pay for cheap three times is pretty much gospel.

Instead, I try to see value – a durable pair of waders at a reasonable price.

I don’t need my waders to have the latest technology or include wi-fi or sing “You are so beautiful” to me. And since no fly fishing catalog will likely be asking me to model outdoor clothing anytime soon, I simply need the waders to be up for the kind of rugged fishing I do. Yes, the fly zipper would be nice, but I couldn’t justify the extra $200 or so for the convenience.

Waders should last me five to seven years, given how hard I use them and my number of days on the water.

One last comment: I definitely recommend purchasing stockingfoot waders (not waders with boots). That means you’ll need to purchase wading boots, a topic for another time.

Before You Buy Your First Fly Rod

If you’re new to fly fishing, purchasing your first fly rod can be as bewildering as buying a car. There are so many variables to consider.

Besides, if you ask five friends for advice, you may get eight different opinions. It’s easy to get frustrated. Or even to feel stupid. Don’t. Selecting a fly rod should not resemble choosing a health care plan.

This should be fun!

Making some key decisions before you start shopping, though, will help you make an informed, confident purchase. It will also keep the fun in the process. So here are the decisions you need to make.

Price Range

How much do you want to spend?

If you’ve never fly fished before, a starter rod in the $100-150 range will serve you well. Less is more.

If you’ve fly fished enough to know that you really want to pursue this, then I’d suggest spending a bit more — perhaps in the $300-600 range. Buy a fly rod you will still enjoy using in two or three decades.

I purchased a Winston rod (see below) a few years ago, intending to use it for life. I paid good money for it (although the price I paid then looks quite reasonable now). I don’t regret the decision. At some point, you’ll want to buy your “fly rod for life” (unless, of course, there is a significant breakthrough in technology). If you’re ready to do so, then get a higher-end rod which fits your budget. But if you’re still experimenting, spend less.

Note: The mid- to high-end rods typically have a 25-year or lifetime guarantee. This means you can get your rod repaired for about 10% of its cost if you step on it in the dark and snap it in two (which I’ve done).

Brand Preference

I apologize in advance for leaving out some fine manufacturers. But here are some options:

On the lower end of the price range, some good options include Redington, Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO), St. Croix, and Cabela’s. For mid-range to high-end rods (in quality and price), I’m a big fan of Orvis. Sage makes a fine rod, too, and I was all set to purchase one until I picked up a Winston Boron IIx which was made in Montana. Loomis is another fine choice, as is Scott.

Don’t fret over the difference between a high-end Orvis or Sage or Winston. Choose the one that feels right.

Rod Size

If you’re fly fishing for trout in the big western rivers like the Yellowstone or Bighorn, a nine-foot, six-weight will be a good all-around rod. It’s big enough to handle streamers and make long casts in windy conditions. Some swear by a nine-foot, five-weight. That’s fine.

To me, it’s like the difference between using a 30.06 or a .280 Remington for deer. Either will do the job. If you’re fly fishing the spring creeks of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, an eight and a half foot, four weight will be more appropriate. It’s a bit lighter and more delicate for those smaller streams which require more gentle casts.

Some fly fishers swear by an eight-foot rod for smaller stream fishing. One question to ask is, “Where will I be fishing most often?” If “smaller spring creeks” is the answer, then go with a smaller rod size.

Type of Action

A mid-flex or a medium action is the place to start.

This designation means that the rod flexes or bends in the middle when you cast your line. This makes it versatile (good in most conditions) and forgiving (not too temperamental). A tip-flex or fast action rod bends closer to the tip. The stiffness of this action gives you more power — especially on windy days. It is better for longer casts, but beginners sometimes struggle to get a feel for it. A full flex, or slow action rod, is easy to cast. But it’s better for short distances. You’ll have to work harder to get the line out on long casts. It’s like pedaling in gear 3 on a ten-speed bike as opposed to gear 9.

The pedaling is easier, but it takes a lot more effort.

If you can make (or at least think about) these decisions ahead of time, you’ll be in a better position to make a choice when you enter your local fly shop.

Yes, unless you’re an expert, buy your rod at a local shop.

You can often try casting different rods to see which one works best — and you’ll get a little bit of help with your casting, too. The guys and gals at your local fly shop will also help you choose the right reel and the right line to go with your rod (yes, more decisions).

Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the purchase. I guarantee that buying your first fly rod will be more fun than buying a garbage disposal or a pair of dress shoes.