top of page

Have We Reached "Peak Fly Fishing"? (Or at least peak fly rod)

Updated: May 23

This topic comes from a friend's post on the Wisconsin Fly Fishing Board's Facebook page. Quite some time ago now, Brian Stewart wrote - and I asked him if I could share - these words:

I also want to state that I'm certainly not against true innovation or the use of the latest and greatest materials. I understand how the market for new products works as well. I'm starting to believe, though, that we are approaching a time (maybe have been there a while already) in the fly fishing world where innovation has pretty much peaked. I work the musical instrument world. Specifically guitars and their related peripherals. In the electric guitar world, true innovation to the instrument...meaning innovation that could actually help you perform better...seemed to peak in the 1980s. Things like stainless steel fretwire; 2-way truss rods; locking tuners and locking tremolos, all came into common use during that decade. Since that time, there has been very little true innovation in the electric guitar world. Most new products are just variations on tried and true designs. The innovation has come in the manufacturing process, which has driven down the costs of good guitars. Another way of saying that is it is way easier to make a really good electric guitar these days. We don't seem to be seeing that with fly rods. I'm guessing that there is no better way to manufacture a rod now than there was 30 years ago. The cost saving is in shifting labor overseas (or south of the border). I would not be surprised to see one or two manufacturers of graphite fly rods "reissuing" a classic rod design. Other than that, where do they go from here? Can they make a graphite rod with an acceptable "swing weight" that will not break when I try to forcibly unsnag my Clouser minnow from a tree branch? I'd buy that!!

It's a topic I'd given some thought to but didn't know how to initiate the conversation. Brian's foot in the music / guitar world bridges that gap better than I ever could have thought to do - so I stole it (with permission, of course). I am by no means musical. I LOVE music but I have not ear and no talent for music. Trust me, I have tried. I learned about three chords on the guitar - and have since forgotten them. That is my experience with guitars. And being non-musical, I probably don't have the greatest handle on the comparison so I may not do it full justice, but I'll try.

Futuristic fly rod - according to AI
AI's idea of a futuristic fly rod - I have no idea how that is supposed to work but we'll know in the future.

I am only slightly more versed in fly rod design than I am that of guitars but I am much more experienced with using fly rods. Fly rods are certainly better today but so what? Like a guitar, at some point it is the user that becomes the limiting factor. You could put the world's greatest guitar in my hands and it will sound like shit. The world's best fly rod in my hands will not work as well as it does in Maxine McCormick's or some other insanely talented caster's hands. At the end of the day, the best fly rod - whatever that means - is going to be limited by your ability to cast it.

Fiberglass fly rod
My ANT fiberglass fly rod - a sub-$200 rod that is a ton of fun with the standard "Driftless-sized" trout.

I am mostly fishing streams that are "sidewalk to street wide" - the best description I've heard of the typical Driftless stream. How much does that fly rod really have to do for me to cast it 30 feet? Maybe 40 or even 50 feet on great occasion? I don't need the world's greatest fly rod and would rather have one that I can have fun fishing all day. Maybe one that allows a 12 inch Brown Trout to put a bend in it nearly down to the handle. One that is light enough in hand - I guess we are calling this "swing weight" now - that I can comfortably fish it all day long. I'd rather have the world's most fun fly rod - which I suspect is about as measurable/quantifiable as is the world's best fly rod.

Bamboo fly rod
My - new to me - bamboo fly rod. As I write this, I've cast but not fished it.

Much of that is the reason many continue to fish bamboo and fiberglass rods. They don't care to have the latest and greatest fly rod but one that is fun to fish with. And is maybe at least a beautiful as it is functional. To take in one step further, Perry Palin wrote a post about his experience making wood fly rods. Sometimes it is about limiting yourself to challenge yourself. Rarely do we need the latest and greatest fly rod - though I would say there are occasions where it comes in handy.


What more can we do with materials?


For others that have been at this awhile, they also remember graphite number designations. There are certainly innovations in fly rods - what they are made of, how they are "dampened", how to achieve strength but not at the cost of adding more weight, etc. In an age when $1,000+ "plastic" rods are becoming increasingly common, I ask to what end? Buy a $250 to $500 rod and use the rest of the money for some casting lessons or a guided trip - you'll come out further in the end. Well, maybe.

Brian gets at it with the last sentence or two. There is an inherent tradeoff between weight and strength and durability. Graphite is a light but relatively brittle material - which rod makers make less brittle with resins, other fibers, and other technologies. But there is always going to be a tradeoff between weight and durability. And rod companies certainly understand that. Putting out the "world's greatest rod" that is continually requiring new replacement tips is not worth is financially for a rod company. No matter how well it casts.

To be sure, I do think there are occasions that the fly rod can be the limiting factor. I have experienced it fishing "The Crash" on the Lower Wisconsin River which is a lot like needing to make a fairly long and quick cast on a saltwater flat (or so I imagine...). I would like a rod that loads more quickly and is easier to cast all day than my decades old 8 weight Sage SP - but it works and I'm too cheap / not able to replace it with the latest and greatest fly rod for the two days a year I'd really need, OK, like a better rod.

Lower Wisconsin River image
With Wyatt and Chris on the Lower Wisconsin River - waiting for another crash to happen.

Could it be better if it had "Revolution 8 Technology", "X-Core and ReAct", "Spiral Construction", or any number of other fancy sounding names given to fly rod technologies. Probably. Though, maybe there becomes a time where marketing overwhelms technology - or at least real differences among rods and old versus new models. Manufacturers still need to sell fly rods and guitars and I don't know but I am guessing that most changes in fly rods today are not revolutionary but rather are small, incremental changes. Pretty much no industry throws up its collective hands and says, "Well, this is the best we can do". There's no - or at least not as much - profit in that.


I wonder how much of the technological a new, high end rod is hype vs. reality. Are new fly rods awesome? Certainly. Those of us old enough to remember the modulus wars (I just made up the term but it works...), when companies seemed to be chasing higher and higher modulus materials, might find it a bit odd that today you hear a lot less about modulus. No longer are companies often advertising how many million modulus the graphite is. In fact, I've seen some manufacturers take their foot of the modulus throttle and are using more mid-modulus graphites. We've reached a peak - there is no more ability to get more modulus out of carbon/graphite. And there is no need to. So most advancements today are in "technologies" that dampen the cast and improve accuracy. Often we're back to where rod feel matters again. In some case, what was old is new again.


Links to More Information

193 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 Comments


Your own peak fly rod is the one that makes you smile.

I use a graphite rod in a large river or a pond, but most of my fishing is in small to medium sized streams, and I prefer bamboo or my own wood rods. I have some very fine bamboo rods. I’ve had some very fine fiberglass rods, but one of my sons borrowed the best of them 15 years ago and I haven’t seen them since.

Early graphite rods were sold as tools that allowed for longer casts. Then we were sold longer rods, shorter rods, faster rods. None of this is much interest to me on my small streams.

The idea of “swing weight” can be addressed…

Like

Your own peak fly rod is the one that makes you smile.


I use a graphite rod in a large river or a pond, but most of my fishing is in small to medium sized streams, and I prefer bamboo or my own wood rods. I have some very fine bamboo rods. I’ve had some very fine fiberglass rods, but one of my sons borrowed the best of them 15 years ago and I haven’t seen them since.


Early graphite rods were sold as tools that allowed for longer casts. Then we were sold longer rods, shorter rods, faster rods. None of this is much interest to me on my small streams.


The “swing weight” of a rod can be…


Like
bottom of page