What’s in a fly rod? Sure, some are rolled from graphite, some crafted from split Tonkin bamboo, others are poured fiberglass gel, there’s guides, reel seats, cork grips (sometimes composite) and such. But I’m not looking to go into a “how to make” or a “how it’s made” dissertation on rods. I’m asking what’s “in” a fly rod? What is it that draws us towards one rod over another? To claim one better than another? To choose one from the quiver over another for the day’s fishing? This is not about a general rod company being better than another general rod company. I have my certain dislikes and likes towards companies. It’s a question of what draws us to a particular rod regardless of the company sticker on it. When I’m getting things ready to head out to the water I take a moment to decide which rod is going with me. I’ve thought on this a handful of times and I always go back to one instance where this metaphysical pondering was brought to the forefront.
Me and my wife (girlfriend at the time) were in Central Idaho, about to float a nice stretch of river. As we were getting into the boat the guide looked at my rod I chose to use for the day; it was an old Cabela’s 2 peace, 9 foot 6 weight graphite rod I’ve had for years. After a short snarky smirk the guide commented, “You should really upgrade and get into something better than that rod.” I didn’t really say anything in return, just “Hmm… Maybe.” The thing is, I had other rods, mostly ranging in the mid-price range category, but that’s not the thing. I chose this rod for a reason, it had a purpose to be on that water.
Early in life my folks got a divorce and my mother remarried to a man who became that great father figure, a Dad really. He showed me what true honest work is, responsibility, how to treat women with the respect they unequivocally deserve, and got me into the one thing that obsoletely changed my life – fishing. I remember pawing through those thick Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s catalogs dreaming of my own impressive collection of obviously magical gear; my Dad caught more than me and had far more tackle boxes filled with interesting gummy things and sparkly jingling jigs. The mass collection was my speculation for his success. I didn’t have much money to afford collecting my own mass. I had to work for everything I did and wanted, and pulling chickens and detasseling corn didn’t pay much. Garage sales where my catalogs. And it was at one of those I happened upon a fly rod.
I whipped the water for a good long season with that garage sale rod, wet noodle really. It was the rod I took every time my Dad took me fishing. I would listen to his advice. Sometimes a friend of his would be with us, I would take their advice. I could feel their sideways glances looking at my cast, their cringes with every pile cast, flitches with tailing loops and forward casts. They where patient and kept giving advice, but more importantly they kept telling me – “you’ll get it.” Slowly I learned more about the fundamentals of fly fishing and casting and began to get the hang of it. It must have been the diligence I showed towards the sport that gave my Dad the idea to gift me a rod and reel setup. I imagine he thought it would serve better than the random no-name $10 garage sale purchase I made and was frothing the Michigan water with, or perhaps he thought it was my due. Either way, it was a much better, and greatly appreciated addition to my meager arsenal. Casting came easier with it. I explored many rivers of Southwest Michigan and took it with me when we did our summer long vacations visiting family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was my every day rod, it was my only real rod.
I fished with my Dad as much as I could, but I got older and began fishing with my own buddies. The times me and my Dad fished together became less and less. I started swinging a hammer and earning better money than on the farms, allowing to expand my rod collection a little and shelving the gifted rod more and more.
I moved West in my early twenties creating an even bigger gap and less of a possibility to fish with my Dad. Shortly after I moved he developed small cell lung cancer, suspected from Agent Orange during his service in the Vietnam War, and passed far too early in life. He never got the chance to visit me out West where he encouraged me to move and always thought I belonged. He missed me graduating from college. He never met my wife and never met his grandson. He never got the chance to fish any of the rivers he dreamt about.
That rod I chose for that float in Central Idaho with my future wife, that rod that I should think about upgrading to “…something better…” was the rod my Dad gave me as a gift years ago. It fished rivers on my move West. It has fished many of the rivers I fished when I was in college in Portland, Oregon. It fished my favorite rivers when I lived in Montana. Since living in Bend, Oregon it has seen my go to spots. My son has wiggled it in the yard while I try to teach him how to cast. It’s not my every day rod, it’s my special occasion rod.
So, what’s “in” a fly rod? Memories. When we where in Central Idaho, about to fish that beautiful river, I thought it appropriate to share that memory with my Dad and show him that river. Do I need to upgrade, no. It’s already the best rod anyone can have.
This stems from a short version I posted on the Bend Casting Club website – here