In the (supposed) good old days, there was a wall between church and state. There was advertising. And there was content. And the lines between the two were clear.
An ad was an ad. And a rod review was a rod review.
You could trust that the opinion of the writer wasn’t tainted by the fact that he or she was being paid by the product under review.
When buying fly fishing products today, however, it’s hard to know which is church (helpful and truthful content) and which is state (ads or sponsorships). The lines are blurred, thanks to an explosion of fly fishing brands, and, of course, the Internet.
Whom can you trust when buying fly fishing products?
Just recently I saw two rod reviews in the Trout Unlimited magazine. One was for a Sage rod, the other was a rod-reel combination from Cabela’s.
I wondered, “Why those two rods? Why not a Loomis or a Winston or an Orvis? Does TU have a promotion agreement with Sage and Cabela’s?”
Granted, a print magazine has limited space, so TU can’t possibly publish reviews of all the rods in one edition. But when you read a review of a rod in an online magazine or web site, can you really trust that the reviewer is not being paid by the rod manufacturer? Or receiving a cut from all sales tracked from the review (affiliate sales)?
In today’s cluttered world of unlimited fly fishing products, it’s hard to trust that the information you are getting is authentic and truly unbiased. Of course, that begs the question, “What does it mean to be unbiased?” Nothing is truly free from bias. I know that.
But we fly fishers want truly helpful advice when buying fly fishing products. Consider who I think are the only three people you can trust:
The Gals/Guys at the Local Fly Shop
This includes, of course, the guides at the shop. Yes, if you are flying into an area that you have never fished before and you don’t know the fly shop personnel, then you may need to be more wary. I hate to admit this, but the more “corporate” the fly shop, the less I trust the advice from its staff.
But I love buying at local fly shops. They deserve our business. They are the experts in local waters. And it’s hard to go wrong when you get advice from the folks at the shop.
With rare exception, I’ve found the guides and owners at local fly shops to be a trusted source for product recommendations.
Of course, each shop carries certain brands and may be, for example, the exclusive Orvis or Patagonia dealer in the area. That’s especially true in a place like Bozeman, Montana, with a seemingly endless number of fly shops. So it makes sense that fly shop owners and guides will push their brands. But I’ve generally been impressed at their objectivity. Actually, I’m looking less for objectivity and more for someone who will say, “Given your level of experience, I recommend this. And for this reason.”
Last year, I was looking at a new pair of waders. I was discussing my options with a fly shop owner, and he steered me towards a better brand that was on sale – and that was less than the brand I was looking at.
Of course, my trust-o-meter just went up 10 points.
Your Fly Fishing Buddy
Referrals are how I buy most big ticket items in my life, including cars, fly rods, waders, and shotguns.
I am not like my brother-in-law, who makes my eyes bleed when I think about how much time he spends researching his future purchases. I don’t have the patience. When he conducted a thorough investigation of mini-vans back in 2004 – and purchased a Honda Odyssey – I purchased one as well a few years later.
Why re-invent the research wheel?
It seems next to impossible to conduct a thorough investigation of every product. There’s too many products in the market. Take fly rods, example. Unless you have a year-and-a-half to fish a full day with each rod, how could you possibly select the right rod that works for you?
And even if I were to fly fish one day with every possible rod, I would never be able to make a fully informed, rational selection, much less remember how the first rod felt after trying out the other twenty rods.
If you fly fish with some folks, then ask for their recommendations. See if they will let you try out one of their rods (a risky request, I realize). At minimum, you should try out the rod you plan to purchase at the local fly shop. However, I have not found taking only a few casts at a fly shop all that helpful. I really need to fish with the rod for a couple hours.
That’s not always possible, though.
You. Yourself. Yes, You.
Don’t get caught up in the branding hype of fly fishing brands. Just because a piece of equipment or tackle is not the “top of the line” (as declared by some fly fishing personality or brand) doesn’t mean it’s not the best for you. The stories that brands tell about their products are silly. It’s just a product. It won’t save your soul or help you catch bigger fish. Truly.
The question is, “So does it truly work for you with the budget you have?”
I tend to buy higher-end fly fishing products when it comes to wading boots and fly rods. I start with more expensive products.
But not other gear. For other gear, I tend to look for value – best quality at the lowest price.
I recently selected a Sage One fly rod because the line was being discontinued, and the price was right. I like a good sale. I have now fly fished with the rod for several months, and I feel great about my decision. Somehow, I still seem to catch fish, even though I don’t have one of the more expensive brands.
Buying Fly Fishing Products
No person has unlimited time to research and try out every brand when purchasing equipment. And if you do, you truly have too much time on your hands. I’d rather spend my time fly fishing. You may have the personality for eternally investigating products, but I don’t.
In the final analysis, if you are agonizing between this brand of waders or the next, give it a rest. Ask around, take into account your budget, and then just buy the waders!
And head out to the river as fast as you can.