You might have heard it as you worked your way up through high school, preparing for college, a profession, or work: “you should go out for track (or band, or the debating club, or…) to be more ‘well-rounded’. Whether that worked out for you or not, there is some merit to the strategy of being a “renaissance man”, so to speak – so much so that a version of the term even eked its way into fly fishing.
The Orvis Company, a giant in fly fishing, began a transition to graphite rods in the early 70’s, thanks to Howard Steere, the superintendent of the Orvis fly rod shop. Steere loved bamboo but had the vision to recognize the potential of graphite as a fly rod blank material. During this era, no company had built a satisfactory graphite fly rod. Orvis eventually came out with their own and these rods included the Orvis 8’3” All Rounder 7wt. The name of the rod recently caught my eye, especially in light of my parent’s well-meaning lectures to be ‘well-rounded’ in life…
While there is truly no all-around fly rod, the Orvis All-Rounder is considered by some to be a good attempt at a noteworthy objective in rod design. It is a full-flex rod with great butt strength and a soft tip and because of its design, it has the ability to cast a lot of line or cast short. The rod handles small flies fairly well yet due to its line rating, can throw streamers in the salt. Its short length allows its use in small streams that have close alder growth and cover.
As I researched the All Rounder, I started to realize how specialized fly fishing product has become. These days one can buy a myriad of fly lines with tapers targeted to specific fish species, casting taper (WF, DT, Intermediate, Sink Tip, etc.,) and even fishing conditions. A recent scan of one online fly fishing store’s inventory showed a Mastery Redfish Warm and Mastery Redfish Cold fly line. Talk about niche fly lines! The same applies to fly rods where the choices must be absolutely bewildering and intimidating for beginners. Material choices have expended and now include bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite, as well as composite blends. The lengths of fly rods range from diminutive 5 foot creek rods to 14 foot spey rods, all offering different cork grip options, reel seats, guide types, ferrule types, and sections, including a return to one piece rods. Actions vary from slow to ultra fast and then there are rods built for specific species or types of fishing, switch rods and nymph rods being recently marketed niches.
And yet, many of the old timers and the greats of fly fishing did just fine without the specialization. Lee Wulff, for example, spent a lifetime pursuing larger fish on lighter tackle and frequently used a one-piece, six foot bamboo rod to catch fish ranging from small stream trout to Atlantic salmon up to 26 lbs!
I happen to own a Scott G706/3 (7′ 6 weight 3 piece) that is a replica of the fly rod that Scott’s founder, Harry Wilson, first built for Lee Wulff. It supposedly became Lee’s favorite rod and he used it to catch everything from trout to Atlantic salmon to permit.
None other than Lefty Kreh was interviewed in an excellent video about his fly fishing biography during which he bemoaned the fly fishing industry’s over-pricing of product so that many people – particularly the working class – have not been able to afford to enter the sport of fly fishing. Lefty also discusses fly rods during this video and has an intriguing take on their classification. He breaks down fly rods into 3 categories as follows:
- Presentation weight – up to 6 weight. These are generaly used for trout fishing where tippet protection is of most importance.
- Distance weight – 8 to 10 weight. These are used where distance casting and the use of large / heavy flies is common such as with smallmouth and largemouth bass, pike, and carp.
- Lifting weight – 12 – 14+ weight. Lifting weight rods are almost exclusively used in saltwater fly fishing where the rod’s primary function is to fight and land big fish.
Lefty’s approach would definitely help any beginner angler slim down their choices to a few, rather than pursuing a stuffed quiver of specialized rods such as I now own that fill up an entire corner of my study. And while Lefty doesn’t see much use for transition weight rods (7 and 11 weight), it’s interesting that the All Rounder happens to fall squarely in the gap between presentation and distance categories.
My own start in fly fishing began with the purchase of a St Croix Pro-Ultra 9 foot 5/6 weight 2 piece fly rod. I bought it at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store for $99.00. This rod served me well until I began to read fly fishing magazines and then fell under the product trance they sometimes cast. It wasn’t long before I started purchasing higher end specialty rods under the auspices that they would somehow make me a better angler. It’s ironic that even now, with some very good yet high priced rods in my stable, I’ll pull out the St Croix…
So, I’m on the verge of taking action on the goal of fly fishing for a year with some sort of “All Rounder”, just to see. I’m certainly no Lee Wulff or Lefty Kreh, but maybe fly fishing with one rod could be a good thing. Maybe it would force me to focus on improving my skills, rather than relying on new fly rod design and technology to bolster me up. And quite possibly it would then put a halt to expanding my inventory of fly rods, putting a smile on the wife, reducing credit card debt, and making a seller’s presence on eBay? Stay tuned…