A Fly Fishing Conundrum

Rainbow Trout for Dinner

My wife loves me.  She puts up with all of my crazy hobbies, obsessions, and interests.  She encourages me to write and read and paint and draw and sing and play guitar – you get the point.  She accepts that I love being in the woods and helps me to spend as much time there as possible.  And she appreciates that I occasionally need gear for the outdoors.

We’ve been discussing Christmas and she’s all about getting me a fly fishing combo.  Where’s the problem you ask.  Well, there are many, I repeat, many, fly rod and reel manufacturers out there.  Of these, some are well known industry standards while some are newcomers.

I’ve been reading quite a few online reviews but there are so many options that I feel bogged down.  So, I’m asking for help.  If any of you are fly fishermen, or just frugal-minded woodsmen, I’d love to hear your opinions about these issues.

First off, I’d like to be around the $200 range.  Granted, you can get decent quality combos for less or you can spend thousands of dollars for top quality gear.  But $200 is where I’d like to be.  My logic is that I can get a decent rod, reel, and accessories for $200 and then gradually upgrade if I find that I fly fish as much as I’d like to.  With that number in mind, I’m open to spending less and could tolerate a little more – but not much.

Additionally, I’ll point out that I am intent on an 8’6” or 9’, 5 wt, 4 piece.  It seems that this size and weight is perfect for trout and smaller bass fishing.  Four piece rods pack well which is a requirement for the annual backcountry trip.

Here are the options that I’m considering:

Cabela’s  –  My first instinct was to purchase a Cabela’s brand combo.  They are in the $120 – $150 range. I’ve owned one before and it operated well and I couldn’t complain about its performance.  In fact, I caught quite a few fish with it and loved it until… a fly fishing aficionado let me fish with his St. Croix Imperial.  My goodness, it was a joy.  From that moment on, I wanted to upgrade.  Did the Imperial help me catch more fish?  No.  So, is it worth putting the extra money into a different rod and reel?  I don’t know.

St. Croix Rio Santo Combo  –  Of all the brands out there, St. Croix fly rods are my favorite.  The Imperial Series is amazing.  That being said, the Rio Santo isn’t an Imperial.  I’ve read quite a few reviews, some of which indicate that the rod is excellent but the reel will eventually need replaced.  This combo runs right at $200.  I think it would definitely get me into a decent fly rod – even if it isn’t the favored Imperial.  I’m certain that the reel would be fine for my few yearly fishing trips.  And maybe as my boys get older and go fishing with me, I could pass this one down and get myself an Imperial with a top quality Reel.

Orvis StreamLine  –  This one is iffy.  The price ranges from $175 – $275 and I expect that I can find one for pretty close to $200.  Orvis seems to be the industry standard but I’ve read that the StreamLine is a bit lower quality than the Orvis rods that we expect.

Frankenstein  –  I suppose that I could find the right rod, right reel and all of the accessories to get me casting for O. mykiss.  The benefit of this is that I have total control over what I choose.  However, with backing, fly line, tippets, etc., the dollars add up quickly.  I expect that purchasing in this manner will put me over budget.

With all of this in mind, I’d like to hear what you think.  If you own any of these rods, how do they perform.  If you’re a fly fisherman, what do you use?  Is there another combo that I should consider?  It may seem like December 25th is a long time away, but in truth, time passes quickly so I’d like to get this resolved as soon as possible.

Thanks in advance for your help on this.  Also, thanks for visiting SmoothingIt.com.  I truly appreciate it.


9 thoughts on “A Fly Fishing Conundrum

  1. OK, I’ll bite. Rather than give you a definitive answer, I’ll suggest a couple of ways to approach this. For starters, your instinct to go with a combo is right on.
    1. I’m a life-long fly fisherman. My wife was Not a fisherman when I married her. At this point, both my daughter (24 years old) and my wife are avid fly anglers. I started them both on Orivis Clearwater 5 weight combos. At $295, these are a bit more than you’re looking to spend. The upside? You won’t have to upgrade any time soon. In fact, you may never feel the need to upgrade with these rods, as they will handle most of the fly fishing West Virginia has to offer. (I grew up in Western Pennsylvania – similar fly fishing opportunities.)
    2. Orvis products are very good. So are the products of Sage, St. Croix, and every other major, well-known manufacturer.
    3. I have used (used to own) L.L. Bean’s Streamlite 5 weight combo and got several people started with these outfits. For $205, it’s a good value, and you won’t outgrow it as fast as you might some of the less expensive outfits.
    4. If you do much fishing, you’ll soon be able to cast better than the Cabella’s outfit you describe will allow you to cast. Same with the less expensive Orvis outfit – the Streamline. However, as you point out, that doesn’t mean that these rods aren’t adequate for most fishing situations. I caught thousands of fish on my first fly rod – a heavy, slow, inexpensive Cortland fiberglass model with a reel that didn’t do much more than store the line on a spool.

    So why spend more than the minimum on a fly outfit? Two key factors: the upgrades will be lighter – noticeably lighter. And they’ll tend to have a faster action. These two factors combine to translate to less fatigue and longer casts. This makes for a more satisfying experience. Also, the drags on the very inexpensive reels on these outfits aren’t much. If you get into trout in the 14″ or above range with any regularity, or if you get into some river smallies, you’ll appreciate a reel with at least a nominal drag.
    That being said, if you shop at Cabela’s, L. L. Bean, Orvis, Sage or any other place with a good name, virtually anything you get will be better – a lot better – than what most of us started with back in the day. In fact, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that you really can’t get a “bad” outfit if you stay with a major manufacturer.

    So… pick your price point and be confident that as long as you stay with a name maker or quality retailer, you’ll come away with a decent outfit. Jump from the under $200 range up to $300, and you go from a “serviceable” outfit to one you may never have to upgrade.
    Budget enough for a fly box, a few flies, fly floatant, a line cutter, strike indicators, a pair of forceps or small needle nose pliers, a couple of leaders, tippet material, hook hone and you’ll be set. I fished for a long time just wet wading (no waders), and by keeping things simple was able to carry all my gear in my shirt pockets (no vest). There’s a lot of stuff you can get away with not having.
    For dry flies, an Adams – sizes 10, 12 & 14 – will cover a heck of a lot of situations for trout and panfish . For wet flies, pheasant tail nymphs – plain and with bead heads for extra weight and sparkle, in sizes 10 – 14 – catch an awful lot of stream and river trout and are good lake flies, too. For lakes, variations of wooly buggers are killing, particularly bead headed wooly buggers. Olive with a little sparkle of some type tied in are our go-to lake flies for trout – sizes 8 to 12. Wooly buggers can serve double duty as swing flies and streamers on flowing water. A great second lake fly are flashback nymphs – particularly if they have some green in them. If you’re planning on frying up some bluegills, the single best fly you can fish is a sparsely-tied size 10 or 12 black ant wet fly. Small black wooly worms are a good second choice if you can’t find the sparsely tied wet ants. That’s it. Three or four fly patterns. Learn to fish those well, and you’ll out fish most other anglers most days on most waters. You’ll find that oftentimes, no other lure or bait is as effective as flies.

    Final thoughts: Before I met Barbra, she had never fished. In fact, she swore she’d never marry a fisherman! How times have changed – as hundreds of photos of her happily mugging with trout, salmon, and other fish she’s caught will attest. The key to getting someone into fly fishing is to start with lessons and then to make outings very casual – with options to put down the rod and do something else always available (and with me having the sense to know when enough of a good thing is enough). And, at first, I did all the “guide” duties – tying on flies and lures, unhooking fish, untangling snarls, etc. Over time, she became more self-sufficient and now does all this herself – and along the way has become very skilled playing and netting fish!
    Same tactics worked with my daughter, and to this day we still get together each summer for a stint of solid fishing and all the great conversations that come at the end of a day well spent on water.
    So… what about your Honey?
    Which leads me to my final thought: I got basic fly casting lessons with a smattering of fly fishing theory from my mentor, Bill Kodrich, when I was about 12 years old. It’s a hobby that is complex enough that lessons will really speed up your learning curve. L. L. Bean offers a lesson for only about $20. You might have a local fly shop you can work out a deal with. Heck, if you’re giving them your business, they ought to be willing to throw in at least a basic lesson for free. (The Orvis shop I deal with does.)
    Have fun and happy fishing!
    Jack Donachy

    • Jack,
      That was far more than what I was expecting from anyone! Thank you so much for the excellent comment! The Orvis Clearwater sounds like a great choice as does the LL Bean that you mentioned. The Clearwater is a bit over budget but I’ll definitely give it some thought. It may be very well be worth the wait.

      Also, thanks for the fly recommendations. I haven’t even started that process yet but I’ll certainly keep your recommendations in mind.

      As to casting, reading the water, and the likes, I think I’ll probably be OK. In the early 2000’s, I had a pretty good mentor (the one with the Imperial) who taught me a good bit. I just hope that it comes back easily. That being said, if I can find some free or even cheap lessons, I may go ahead and learn all that they’re willing to teach.

      Again, thanks so much for the comment. I’ll check out your blog as soon as I finish this reply but if you don’t have a post similar to your comment, you should definitely consider publishing one for us newcomers to the sport.


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