Don’t Be Loyal To Your Favorite Fly Fishing Brand
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Don’t Be Loyal To Your Favorite Fly Fishing Brand

Flyfisher people are creatures of habit. This trait makes most anglers extremely brand loyal, sometimes to a point of extreme ridiculousness. I have seen fishermen virtually come to blows streamside because of brand sensitivity, once having to step between two guys in their late 60’s. One client had just broken his rod. I am sure his rod had a nick in its finish from being hit by a fly with lead eyes a cast or two before the loud; “Pop!” rang from up river where stood looking quite forlorn. Immediately I knew he had a broken rod and headed downstream with the spare Redington that I carried in my backpack. Unfortunately his buddy beat me to my pack.

The voices were already heated when I arrived on the scene. The hapless angler was standing knee deep in the water.

Two crossed fly rods lying on a rock
Tried and true, old and new-there are lots of great rods and reels out there

His right hand held a butt section that was snapped about a foot above the grip, the fly line keeping the rest of the rod from floating away. His friend was giving him a toothy; “I told you so” smile and telling him if he had a G. Loomis rod that break would have never happened. Suddenly there was lunge by the unfortunate angler towards his tormentor, much like a brown bear trying to grab a sockeye. Splashing into the fray, I got between the two life-long friends in the nick of time.

After a little doctored up coffee and a few cookies, everything was good between the friends. The following year they laughed as they waded into the same spot after they traded rods for the day. Come to find out; both G. Loomis and Hardy make pretty good rods according to their “expert” opinions.

My Reel Is Better Than Your Reel

I am guilty, my friends are guilty – anglers, in general, are guilty of hitching their wagon to one brand of fly rod, reel, waders etc. New techniques for fly presentation are far more accepted into the fishing community than personal experimentation with untried brands.

Four fly rods lying on a table with four different reels
There are lots of good reel choices out there

It is sort of like the debate between Ford and Chevy drivers that has gone on since the auto was invented.  Just replace the “Ford” and “Chevy” with “Sage” and “Scott” and envision what would happen. I have seen fly fishermen passionately defending their favorite rod company so vehemently that you would think someone’s wife had been insulted, not a questioning of a rod choice.

The reason for such brand identification is because everyone wants to belong to something. This human instinct was instilled when our ancestors were spearing fish in their loincloths. The proliferation of social media groups and clubs dedicated to specific rod and reel manufacturers illustrates the fierce brand allegiance that pervades fly fishing. Breaking these prejudices are almost impossible but when it happens, the angler is usually pleasantly surprised.

A-Ha Moment

The regionality for the sales of different fishing products, particularly rods and reels is amazing. Regional bias carries over to lines and wading gear also, but these passions run deepest for rods and reels. When I  worked in fly shops  I saw brand bias on a daily basis, the anglers who wouldn’t try a different brand of rod or reel if they gave it to them for free.

But I was guilty when I was guiding, I was one of those guys. I used Sage and Ross Reels almost exclusively, poo-pooing anyone who tried to put another brand of rod in my hands. It was during my sabbatical from the fly fishing industry that the fog of brand loyalty was lifted because of a forgotten rod on a long road-fishing trip. That moment changed how I now look at gear and made fly fishing even more enjoyable for me.

“You Couldn’t Have Used That Rod Here Anyway!”

One August, a few years ago I was driving on I-90 headed east. A weird foreboding struck me a little past Spokane. After a few miles of this dire feeling, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten my new 4wt. Winston. I was heading to the Missouri without a dry fly rod! Simultaneously it dawned on me that I had also forgotten my venerable Sage 490 LL also. At 70 MPH I took a deep breath, vowing to myself that I wouldn’t let this predicament ruin my trip. The plan to acquire a rod came together in my mind as I entered Missoula.

The guy at the gas station told me where the closest pawn shop was located. He reminded me that there probably wasn’t much there in the line of fly rods since it was peak season. This I knew, but I didn’t need this soul-wrenching truth reinforced by the guy taking my money for gas. Deflated, I paid for my gas and Corn Nuts and headed for the door when he said; “I have one I could sell you.” I would learn two lessons on this trip.

I don’t think I cringed too much when he pulled the rod tube out from behind the seat of his pickup. Seeing the word “Orvis” on the tube brought all my personal biases boiling up from my inner being in that hot parking lot. Matt or Mark, I have forgotten his name, had found this almost new Orvis Superfine Glass rod somewhere on the Bitterroot when he was walking his dog. “I am more of a hunter. I have never figured out the fly fishing thing;” he said as he waved the rod tube in the air like a wand. He said he had posted it in Craigslist’s Lost and Found section, but no one had come forward. Lucky me an Orvis, I thought to myself.

He asked; “Is a $100 fair?”

In my mind I thought; “No, it isn’t for that!” but I gave him $150 for some bonus karma. I headed east out of town with a rod I knew I was going to hate due to my perceived lack of viable options. At least I did have a rod to use. Then I told myself I could sell it when I got home. The rest of the trip to Craig was pretty melancholy as I longed for my rods. Occasionally I would glance over at the Superfine riding shotgun next to me like it was a smelly hitchhiker I had picked up.

Arriving at the motel I  found my friends standing around the Hyde having adult beverages. They laughed at me when I told them the story of the rod and how I wasn’t pleased to have to use it the next day. Kyle said it was actually good luck. How was this lucky I thought? Then he said; “You couldn’t have used the Sage anyway. I don’t allow them in my boat.”

Best Day Ever

The Missouri is my favorite river in Montana. Rainbow and Brown trout spend the summer swimming around with their mouths open waiting to eat whatever insect might appear on the glassy surface of this great tailwater fishery. The morning we arrived at the boat ramp there were already PMDs starting to pop.

A boat launch on the Missouri River on a perfect summer's day
The Mighty Missouri River on a perfect day

The three of us Ro-Sham-Boed for the rowing order and boat positions. I got the back first and then would rotate up front after an hour. This was perfect I thought, except for my rod.

Pulling the fly rod out of its tube was seeing someone’s baby for the first time. Guilt crept over me as I put my Ross Evolution into the reel seat. The dang thing was feeling better and better in my hand as I strung it up. I already liked the little 4wt and I hadn’t cast it yet.

I hooked my first fish on my first cast that was so effortless and accurate I was immediately sold. The day was perfect and we caught a ton of fish. PMDs and then Caddis flies in the evening made for my best day ever on that river. The rod fished so well that by the end of the three days on the river I was trying to get Kyle and Jeff to try the Superfine out.

Learn and Experiment

From that trip on I opened my mind towards brands of fishing gear I would have never fished with before that fateful fete’ to the Missouri. Galvan and Nautilus reels have joined my Ross fly reels in my reel bag all lined with different lines from manufacturers like Rio, Scientific Angler and Wulff. Sometimes I don’t even take a Sage rod fishing, blasphemy for me.

A large Rainbow trout in a rubber net
One of many Missouri River Rainbows caught that day

There is really no bad piece of gear out there now. Each piece of equipment has different characteristics and features that I may like and another angler doesn’t. These variations are no longer brand specific. They now vary by the different product lines offered by manufacturers.

Don’t select that new rod because of who made it but by how it feels in your hand. Read blogs(like this one), product reviews, manufacturer specs and talk to friends to make an informed decision. Make an informed decision, not an emotional one based on brand loyalty. When you do this, you might find a new favorite piece of gear that fits your fly fishing style better than the current one that you are using now.

Follow Sean Johnson:

Sean was raised in Northeastern Oregon in the Wallowa Valley. It was there that he learned to hunt and fly fish. After receiving his history degree from the University of Oregon, Sean guided fly fishermen from Alaska to Chile. There were a few interludes where he sailed as a crew member on a ship and even worked in the craft brewing industry. Eventually he found his love in writing about the outdoors. His articles and fiction stories have a unique style and voice that conveys his love for the natural world. Currently he is the main writer for Always A Good Day, freelances and is working on a book of fiction.