You’re a pretty good fly caster, aren’t you? You can tell the difference between a fancy fly rod and a cheap rod. I mean, if I gave you a $1,000 weight to cast for a while and replaced it with a $250 stick, you’d know right away which is which, right?
Well, don’t be so sure. I did not do it.
During the F&S Fly Rod 2022 test, we decided to do a little parallel experiment. I always wondered if you couldn’t read the logo on a high end fly rod, would you know it was high end just by casting it? Would you be able to tell the difference between this and a cheaper stick? Or is all of our talk of next-level feel, control and responsiveness tinged with a certain amount of BS—justification for all the money we’re dropping on fancy rods.
To find out, we used tape to cover the logos of several of our favorite low-end rods ($250-$500) and several of our favorite high-end rods ($900-$1050). Because we already had some familiarity with each, after evaluating them for our main test, we also cocked our ball caps to one side to block out any recognizable features we might have picked up in our peripheral vision when throwing. , which is why we watch the video so awkwardly, or, one of the reasons.
The test and a crazy result
Our test was simple. One at a time, each tester walked up to the casting line and was given one unmarked rod after another to cast near and far until they had a good feel for each. At the end, he filed all the stems.
Four testers went through the protocol, and when it was complete, as a group we usually placed the high-end rods near the top of our rankings, which was no surprise. What was an absolute shock, however, was that we all ranked one or more of the lower end rods above one or more of the higher end rods.
Not only that, but some of us (like me), rated one of the cheapest rods in the above test more high end rods. In a jaw-dropping and slightly embarrassing sequence, editor Colin Kearns handed me one of our favorite high-end rods from the main test, a rod that cost around $1,000. I threw it and said, “Yeah, that’s really nice.” Then he handed me one of the cheaper rods. I threw that and said, “Oh, that’s even better.”
Then all the testers gathered to point fingers and laugh at me. Which was good fun. But, in fact, all of them put the same rod near the top.
This seems like a good time to take a step back and list my apologies, I mean, observations about the test and its results. What have we really learned and what haven’t we learned? Well, as this is a quick turf throwing test, I’d say we focused more on distance and throwing ability – how easy it was to throw tidy loops and shoot on the line. So we didn’t learn much about the versatility of each rod or all-day casting comfort or line accuracy and control on the water. Which makes me want to extend this test next year.
But we still learned tons. The most significant and shocking finding of this test is that when it came to casting a line with power, feel, and precision, four experienced fly anglers couldn’t clearly tell the difference between certain low-end rods. range and others costing three times as much. a lot, or even more. That’s huge, because it means you not having to spend a lot of money – or even average dollars – to get a really nice spinning rod.
Naturally, there are some limitations and conditions. The key is that you can’t buy just any cheap rod and expect it to cast well. The vast majority of the cheap rods we cast in our main test did not perform as well as the high end rods. But a couple did, which means it’s time to name some names.
Exceptional bargain canes of 2022
We were all extremely impressed with the Moonshine Vesper, a bargain at around $500. One of our testers put this rod in his top three after the blind casting test, and several of us rated it higher than at least a top-end rod. As another reviewer wrote in his notes: “It casts effortlessly and has the feel of a premium rod at half the price.” The Vesper is light and lively, with surprising power, and it’s also a superb rod.
But the real show stopper was Orvis’ Clearwater update, an absolutely stunning spell caster for around $250. I could cast this rod 90ft as easily as any other 9ft rod in our entire test, with consistent flat loops, awesome feel, and solid accuracy. I don’t think we’ve had a more forgiving rod, period, which makes the Clearwater a no-brainer for beginner casters. On the other hand, I am not a novice caster by far, and I would not hesitate to fish a season with this rod.
Now, before I get carried away, it’s time for the other conditions. As for the finer points that make a premium rod – things you don’t notice so much in a quick lawn casting test, like comfort and all-day casting versatility, control of the line and precision on the water – even the best cheap rods will run a little short. On closer inspection, you will find that the Clearwater is a bit heavy. It is above all a big water rod that lacks a bit of finesse and versatility. And, of course, the components are all very basic.
But the truth is that many of these niceties are just luxury. Aesthetics, to begin with. But also gain weight. Athletes tend to go a little crazy on this when it comes to their tools. Explain to me, for example, why a 6-pounder rifle is a ramrod and a 5-pounder bow is an anchor. So, like everyone else, I could rave about a featherweight rod that still has the power to make long casts in the wind. But do I need to catch fish? No. Will an extra ounce of rod weight really wear me down at the end of the day? I do not think so.
It’s up to you, of course, if these luxuries are worth $500 to $700 more? For many serious fly anglers, probably myself included, they are. Which is fine and dandy. But that’s not the point here. The big news – the startling finding from our blind casting experiment – is that anyone who can scrounge up $250 can go trout river with a great spinning rod and not feel outgunned by the fancy dudes downstream. And the posh guys downline – who can’t see the logo on your rod – may think, Man, this guy can really throw. I wonder what cane he has.