Fly Rods That Made Me’ Quiver

| February 26, 2009

Last year was a good one for gear, and now that some time has passed, maybe I can begin to concentrate on what I “really think” about a couple of rods that have joined the traveling one man show.

After a few TFO rod purchases in 2007, specifically the TICR Axiom 6 and 8, both 9 footers, I took a slight hiatus from gear in general until the opportunity arose for a Winston Boron BIIX 5 and then in another good turn, a Sage Z Axis in a 10wt. and ZXL in a 5wt. I really thought the Winston would be a great daily driver, a rod I could keep loaded and cocked at all times, and even had the grip changed from a but with double well fighting butt configuration to a cigar grip when I ordered it. It fires flies like a rocket launcher, but is too stout for ponds and too weak to horse bass out of the weedy tanks, so it has become the “box of chocolates” – never know what you’re going to catch – rod.

The Z Axis 10 has been a dream rod, the one I use when the SO is on the flats with me and she’s using my Axiom 8. It is a big stick that will go far, but supple enough at the tip to pinpoint shorter range targets. This rod just feels good. I have not been into any big fish with this yet, but I won’t be losing any sleep wondering if it can handle it.

The Sage ZXL – 9’/5wt. is becoming more of a pond and smaller fish rod because it is responding so well to my current level of casting ability / disability. It really responds to a more fluid stroke, smoother stopping, and the results are surprising – accuracy, accuracy accuracy. Perhaps it does not give as much distance as the BIIX, but I could see this being the perfect rod for somewhere like the Conejos – in a 4 weight.

On the wish list for 2009, only one rod that seems affordable in today’s economic climate, and that’s a TFO Finesse 4wt-7’9″. This seems like a dual purpose rod; great for tight spots like the Blue River and its small Bows, and for Bream and smaller tank fishing. Funny thing about rod wish lists, they always seem to have unexpected additions.

After owning and throwing these top-of-the-line rods, it is easy to see that you really do get what you “pay” for. The best analogy I can come up with is welding with a MIG wire fed welder. Wire feed, and MIG make almost anyone look good – even me. The same can be said for these rods; they can make me look good – at times. Their quality is infectious – once you have one of these, you will want another, and once you get used to throwing them, you will be tempted to leave a more fitting weight rod behind just to cast one of these sweet sticks.

THE FUTURE OF US ROD MAKERS

There is talk everywhere about layoffs at venerated rod makers like Sage and Winston, and I have chimed in with little mature consideration of the reality of what the US economy is doing to all businesses that exist on the fringes of necessity. In the retail area of my business, the phone does not ring that often, and e mails are down by significant numbers. Even internet traffic statistics show significant decline (again in retail) with no appreciable differences in my or my competitions sites or offerings. This leads to a discussion of basic economics. If you can sell more rods at a lower price, why wouldn’t you? Your supply is up. Demand for your product is down. How can you keep your price up? Price has to come down to raise demand. Sure, you will have a lower per-unit margin, but you will sell more units, I suggest MANY MORE units. This is a dangerous deflationary game of limbo, but we are all being forced to play that game. Think of it like this; Would you go to a US auto dealership and say, “I’ll give you sticker for that truck – and nothing less!”? Heck no. Compared to the auto sales environment of only a few years ago, they’re giving them away now.

I can even see a future in fly rod sales where offers of “buy one – get a second at half price”, or rebates – are used to entice buyers back into the high end luxury rod market. There’s more talk about distribution as well – wider channels, direct online sales, and big boxes. For someone not raised in the fly fishing business, one of my first head scratches was when I was looking to click on “BUY” on Sage’s website. How can these guys avoid selling rods directly to the consumer and continue being a going concern? Why wouldn’t manufacturers do deals with “devils” like Cabela’s or Bass Pro, if it means survival?

Their choice is clear, change or perish. They can try and stick to a known course, do the same thing and expect different results – much like the debacle US auto unions have chosen, or pull out all the stops and see what works. Consolidation could be another option, and nothing should be beyond consumer’s imagination. What happens could be surprising, or it could seem to be a natural synergy. Something will happen though, because I don’t see any Rescue Programs on the horizon for rod makers. If it wasn’t already apparent to those making a living in the fly fishing industry, it should be apparent now; You are in a luxury (discretional) spending category, and spending has been cut. Have you noticed your water being less crowded, flights with seats, fare wars and sales-sales-SALES!?

I have heard the argument that when folks don’t have work they fish. Now, just because I do that, I don’t think we can draw that out to the rest of the unemployed population. OK, they may fish, but do they fly fish?

Rest assured, changes are coming to the industry. What I find curious is that the fly fishing industry is so averse to change for the sake of survival. It appears the insiders, those inside the business, don’t want change if it costs them, but it’s OK for other industries. If I were to venture a guess, I would generally classify the fly public as left of center, more interested in classic liberal topics such as the environment, and reigning in “big businesses assault on the environment”, but beyond the immediate personal financial pain, these same people may be forced to take a long look at where they really stand in the face of unprecedented government involvement in private and public business entities. It’s not that fly rod consumers will snatch up extra rods if prices come down, they will not (seen new car prices for US autos lately?). However, it may entice that first top shelf rod purchase for someone who sees the fly industry pricing structure as a bit “steep” for their taste.

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Category: Fly Rods, Life Observed

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I write. I photograph. I fish, and I live.

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  1. shannon says:

    Previous poll results coming out tomorrow. Story on East Texas Pickerel in the works – with excruciating (for secret keepers) details. shannon