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Buying a fly rod in 2013

Today’s fly rod market offers more choices than ever before. Is that a good thing? If we know how to choose wisely, it’s good, otherwise not. So how do we make a wise choice?

First we must select a line size best suited to casting the flies we’ll be using. For example, a 5-wt line or lighter will best present small flies to small fish while providing thrills in playing the fish. This lightweight gear is best suited to small or calm waters. An 8-wt line or heavier is best for larger flies on big water, especially under windy conditions. This enables us to select a rod designed to perform optimally casting the line weight we’ve chosen.

Next we must choose between single and double handed rods. Single handed rods are shorter, 6 – 10 ft, best for most fishing, especially for fishing small streams and for casting dry flies. Longer double handers are becoming popular for old-timers because of their ease of casting, for younger anglers who want longer casts, and for the Spey casting that, like a roll cast, stays clear of the trees behind us. A compromise, the increasingly popular switch rod, usually 10 – 11 ft. and available for 5 – 8 wt. lines, can be used for any single or double hand cast, so is the most flexible.

Another choice is whether we want a 2-piece or 4-piece rod, the latter becoming by far the most popular for ease of transport. A 4-piece rod can be used like a 2-piece also, so it’s more flexible.

Next we compare the rods fitting our criteria in the marketplace. We need to consider factors like country of origin, performance, quality, rod fittings, weight, appearance, materials and methods of construction, customer service, and price.

Once we’ve narrowed our choice to a few rods, we should field test them. Rod feel and performance are highly personal, and mail order rods may not suit us. Any good fly shop will let us test the rod before purchase, or offer to refund our purchase within a limited time if we are not satisfied.

Finally, we should check out the maker’s customer service reputation. I used to sell Okuma fly rods that were made in Asia and came with a limited lifetime warranty, but I soon discovered that Okuma’s distributor, Serge Boulard Inc., refused to replace broken rods in most cases. A batch of Okumas I received also had incorrect guide spacing, a quality issue. When we think about it, cheap prices include nothing for customer service, so nothing is what we get!

Instead, I suggest buying reputable premium brands. As always, we tend to get what we pay for. Most premium rodmakers have series of rods in competitive price ranges, often costing little more than Asian imports. Canada charges a 15% import duty on products originating in Asian countries like China. That tends to make Asian import prices competitive with North American made products.

I find that many rod buyers fail to consider the importance of good customer service until a rod breaks. Customer service is very important to a fly shop’s sales and customer loyalty, so I decided to survey the fly rod marketplace to see what premium fly rod makers offer in customer service.


Here’s what I found.

Orvis rods have a 25 year NO-FAULT warranty. Customer pays shipping to Orvis + $30 for rods made from 2003 onward.

Sage has limited lifetime warranty. Customer pays shipping to Sage + $50 for repair & return shipping.

Redington rods are made in Asia, as is everything it sells, but Redington is a US company owned by Far Bank, that also owns Sage and Rio and offers good customer service. Redington has limited lifetime warranty. Customer pays shipping to Sage + $30 for repair & return shipping.

Hardy has lifetime warranty. To replace any rod section, customer ships a short piece to Hardy + $25 + 10% of the rod price for each section being replaced.

G Loomis rods have limited lifetime warranty, except for fly outfits that have 1 year warranty. Customer pays shipping to G Loomis and pays $20 + HST to Shimano Canada Ltd.

St. Croix rods have limited lifetime warranty. Customer pays shipping to St. Croix and $30 for replacement and return. St. Croix offers no-fault replacement for or upgrade for a higher fee. But it’s St.Croix’s excellent NO-FAULT tip replacement service that really stands out in the industry because most breaks involve a rod’s delicate tip section. Here’s how it works - the customer calls St Croix’s Customer Service toll free and gives the rod model and serial# from the rod butt, ships nothing and pays $30 + $10 return shipping and gets a new tip within a week, rather than the usual 4-6 weeks. Some customers even report service and or shipping charges being waived.

One of my customers even bought two tips so as to have a spare, like old split bamboo rods had. Recently two customers have told me that they are so pleased with St Croix’s tip section replacement service that they both plan to purchase St. Croix high-end fly rods in the near future, rather than other brands they had been considering.

I’ve had less experience with the other rodmakers listed in the survey, but I can recall exceptional customer service examples from most of them, depending on the circumstances.

Most rod warranties are good only for the original owner, so a second-hand rod likely has none. Beware of such “bargains”.

One of my customers brought in a 2-piece rod that was stuck together. The rodmaker, Orvis, advised him to break and return the rod which would then be replaced, but I managed to separate the pieces using a crude tool that I made for the purpose. Later I received a grant to develop an engineered tool that works very well. No graphite or fibreglass ferrules have beat me yet, so if you have this problem, bring me the rod and I can help! 

If you just remember that good fly shops and premium rodmakers want only happy customers, you can become one of them!

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