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Is an Old Fly Rod Enough?

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Every once in a while, in a moment of weakness, I wonder why I have expensive gear. Generally, I come to my senses immediately and realize that I can cast faster and fish harder when I “have my premium rod on.”

But sometimes I do wonder

I have my grandfather’s fly rods. He wasn’t a fly fisherman by any stretch of the imagination. As far as he could recall, he used them a handful of times in Wisconsin for bluegill and little pike. They are beat up bamboo, glass, and cherrywood fly rods of dubious origin.

Why wouldn’t they be sufficient for the majority of my fishing – bass ponds and medium-to-small trout rivers? I only cast 20-30 feet most of the time. A “better” rod would be handy, but not at all necessary.

Before eyes begin to roll and anger starts to mount, let me say that I am happy to have an array of rods that fit into practically every niche imaginable. (And I could always use one or two or seven more.)

Hopefully you’re somewhat introspective about your hobbies. Fly fishing practically begs it. There’s the whole romantic notion of standing in a river and reaching out to a wild creature that can’t be seen until you fool it. The fly rod is usually the focal point of this quasi-mystical relationship. So it makes sense that fly rods have a special aura about them.

But what if all of it is a misappropriated emphasis? What if all I need is an old cherrywood pole or even just a $100 graphite rod from the local sporting goods store?

Honestly I considered going fishing using a $20 WalMart fly rod and writing about that. But the reality is that I don’t have enough time for serious fishing, let alone the hours in the week for a parody of a trip to the stream. It has been done – Google it. Guys take bargain gear camping, fishing… probably not rock climbing… and report on how the experience was compared to a day with high-end equipment. The consensus is that such experiments prove that  cheap gear works, it just isn’t as user-friendly.

Like I said: I don’t have enough journalistic zeal to give that one a shot anytime soon. It is fascinating, though. I do think that conscientiously downgrading can be counter-intuitive. In one’s attempt to  stop focusing so much on gear, you end up focusing on gear. You try to see how little you can get away with, and it becomes an obsession unto itself.  Minimalism takes maximum effort, as it were.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer in objective terms. What may be a good purchase for you might be a bad one for me. What I might think is essential, you may very well consider negligible. That is the way it goes. An old five-and-dime fly rod might not be as chic right now… but it could be the next thing that takes the fly fishing world by storm.

All of this to say that we have a funny relationship with gear. So much could be written about it, but I think that there is  a tension between fishing and fishing stuff.  It can be good, and it can get ugly – but it depends on the individual angler. At the end of the day we each get to live with that tension, and figure out where we need to be in it.




  1. Les Hall says:

    Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.) is prevalent in male hobbies. I’ve seen guys with all the latest Leica gear and all they do is take basic photos of the kids, pets etc. Using the Leica is a waste, but if you can afford it great, it’s a lovely piece of kit to use.

    I feel the same about fly fishing. I have expensive 1 wt rods and cheap ($20) 7 wt rods. The amount of pleasure I take from using them is totally irrelevant to their cost. I love to fish so even when I use the dodgy telescopic fly rod I have a great time.

    I learned long ago that practicing your craft is what counts and fishing with people better than you or with guides. Buying more gear will not help you.

    I have five guitars that attest to my unwillingness to sit down and practice…

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