A quick flip through a tackle catalog or a scroll through Instragram will clearly demonstrate the charm that aesthetically pleasing fly rods have for fly fishers. Detailed graphics, bright colors, and custom cork designs on handles are “in.” Obviously fish are lining up to be caught by anglers who use prettier gear, so it makes sense.
Well, that last sentiment might not be true. But having a visually attractive fly rod isn’t intrinsically wrong, either. I imagine that the only point at which a good-looking rod becomes an issue is when the form inhibits function. And honestly, I can’t think of a real example of that.
The other point of contention is what may very well happen to your beautiful personalized fishing rod. Some of my tackle, through the unfortunate result of lack of opportunity, are display pieces. However, the point is that fly rods get taken outdoors, strained under the weight of fish, and get cast aside to deal with said fish. In short, they get used.
I like things clean and neat. When I spend my money on something, I try my hardest to keep it in pristine condition. I’ve always shuddered at the notion that taking the minute effort to care for your gear is somehow unnecessary or impossible when giving fishing your full attention. Practices like keeping my fly rod in a sock and tube, placing the butt on grass and not gravel, or just being generally delicate with it have never impeded my ability to fish or have fun.
So when I scratch up the butt of a new fly rod for the first time, there is a little part of me that dies inside. This was most acute when I took my first premium rod out on the water. I bought an Orvis T3 right when they came out around 2001. I can’t remember all of the buzzwords that lured me into that purchase, but I imagine that they were something to the effect of “thermoplastic” and “nanoceramic.” But I know that I could cast the thing with great accuracy, and that it was handsome. In particular, I fancied the engraved, integrated uplocking rod butt.
It was probably asphalt or concrete. Something outside of nature was surely the culprit. But it wasn’t until later, on the stream, that I noticed the scratch. My beautiful, new, expensive fly rod had been tarnished. Scarred. Made less-than.
Could I buff it out? Call up the guys in Manchester and have a new butt overnighted? Make up a story of how a giant brown trout had to be warded off using the backside of my 5-weight?
Thankfully my disorder doesn’t run so deep as to paralyze me. That day, and all the days since, I was able to look past some cosmetic imperfections on that rod. My casting performance wasn’t hampered, the ability to set the hook on fish hadn’t been compromised, and from a distance you could hardly see the scratch. Over time, other scratches joined that first one. Some were even from streambank rocks as the rod was hurriedly tossed to land a big fish. Others were from different parking lots, from different adventures across the country.
I’m getting over it. Slowly.
By and large, using things results in them looking used. Cars get nicked windshields, shoes’ soles wear out, and our faces wrinkle from smiling and/or frowning. Hopefully we, as anglers, can do more smiling as our precious gear gets worn through those very experiences that we acquired them for.