My Take: Rod action and the portability question

Tom Dorsey, Greenfield, Massachusetts 

Rod action may very well be one of the most discussed features of a fly rod. Many of the disagreements derive from the lack of a common understanding in terms; “fast action” for example. To some this refers to rod stiffness and to others it implies “tip action”… a stiffer butt section combined with a relatively more supple tip. For this reason I do not take this approach to rod action discussions, but prefer instead to look at practicalities.

Understanding your casting style
Perhaps in some imaginary perfect world there may be a perfectly balanced rod. This notion would presume that every angler has the same casting style. But as in golf, two golfers might send a drive equally far even though one uses a stiffer or more rigid driver than the other. This really stems from the fact that their individual strokes are different, and if they traded clubs they might both feel disarmed.

When anglers come to T&T to try rods on our casting pond, I take interest in the difference in their casting styles – those who have only recently come into fly fishing from a past history of spin fishing, usually invoke a strong sudden push of their casting arm and often overkill the rod’s essential capabilities. This, I find, is especially true of the strong-armed genre. A stiffer rod may, in these cases, be a remedy (I call this a “remedial rod” for those in question). This is often the case with casters who have no “haul” technique and rely only on their casting arm to do all the work.

I’ve seen strong-armed casters whose abilities vastly improve with a stiffer rod, and conversely for those who rely on technique and timing rather than brute strength. My best realization of this fact came when fishing in Norway many years ago. The Scandinavians learn at an early age how to negotiate the distance cast. It is essential since their rivers can be large and difficult. I watched my friend Hans, a strong, hulking-large man, cast a very long line with a T&T 10 foot 10 weight. An athletic task for those of us of smaller stature. But another friend, Johann, a small man of  leaner stature, preferred a full-flexing rod and relied on a beautiful long stroke with precise timing and controlled acceleration to easily cast as far as Hans. The short story, keep in mind that it’s important to match your style of casting with a rod that suits you best.

Understand your need
One requirement which the stiffer rod satisfies is the need to “drive” the fly as in salt flats situations where the wind is working against you. In this situation the rod is intentionally overloaded through the extra force exerted by the casting arm and often enhanced by a strong hand. Depending on the skill and strength of the caster it is not an uncommon practice to drop down a line weight on the same rod to avoid the sensation of overloading the rod if that occurs during the hand push.

But casting situations are not always about power and distance. Often times finesses is the requirement. This is true of fussy trout situations, especially on spring creeks with spooky and selective quarry where small flies and light leaders are the call of the day. These selective fish require an easy and cautious delivery of the fly. With a stiff rod, the chance of  losing the fly or leader when setting the hook is generally greater; a situation referred to as “overstriking.” That said, with a stiffer rod this can be avoided by being a practiced and patient angler.

Rod Portability and the necessary evil of ferrules
Many large fish enthusiasts and some of the best saltwater angers I know specially request and order two piece rods from T&T. And the reason is simple: during vigorous casting, ferrules, if untended and occasionally tightened can loosen and rotate. With a greater the number of ferrules more tending is required. A loose ferrule when trying to land a large fish often leads to a broken rod and the disappointing loss of a trophy. I know of very few tarpon anglers who would prefer a multi-piece rod if portability were not an issue. On the other hand, imagine the problems associated with owning a single piece rod — like simply taking it from place to place for instance. Once you are on the water, no problem. But how to get there? Many salt water guides are fans of the single piece rod but since their rod stays tucked in the boat the problem of travel and portability aren’t an issue. One solution to this dilemma is,to some degree, solved by the two piece rod. It is easily shipable yet has only one ferrule to be tended to.

When learning that I personally prefer two-piece rods for this task, the ensuing conversation usually goes something like this:

But, Tom, they won’t fit in the overhead bin!
Me: Why would I want to carry rods on board?
Well, how else do you get the rods to the destination?
Me: I ship them as baggage.
Ahh, but what if the luggage gets lost?

At this point I concede that this is a justified fear to some degree. My suggestion then is to ship them early to the destination by UPS or some other commercial means. Then call your guide or lodge and confirm that they arrived safely for your own peace of mind. Interestingly, with the high airline charges for extra bags these days it is usually far less costly to ship them by independent means anyhow.

When fishing for trout and mid to larger size game fish the prospect of loosening or rotating ferrules does not come into play enough for the configuration to become a factor in rod choice. In this case, portability wins out and the multi-piece rod is the obvious winner. Multi-piece rods by far constitute the majority of rod sales anywhere. But when the prospect of extra large fighting fish is involved, two piece models are a necessity.

That is exactly why we’ve always offered the ability to order our rods in the configuration that best suits your casting-, quarry- and destination-specific needs. We take great pride in the fact that our rods are designed to accomodate the call for custom, if need be — but more importantly, that they’re designed to accomodate many lifetimes-worth of enjoyment.

As always, if you’d like to stop by the shop for a visit, talk some rod-building or fishing and get out on the casting pond, we’d love to have you.

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