Or, rather, my fly-rod collection is embarrassingly big. I’m not braggadocious. There’s actually a bit of guilt associated with this claim. No one angler ought to have to spend 20 minutes debating which rod or rods to pack for a single outing to the river.
But I do. I spend more time choosing a fly rod than I spend actually packing the rest of my gear. It’s a dilemma born of excess. Yes, over the years, this collection has put quite the dent in my credit card balances, but it’s also provided unmatched moments of joy. Fly fishing is my passion—fly rods are the conduit to that passion.
But I think it’s time to trim the herd a bit, and I’ve started the process, having given away two perfectly good rods to deserving recipients over the last few months. I parted with a sweet little 4-weight in September—I gave it to a great friend who wanted to spend more time fly fishing. On our first outing together, she hooked a solid cutthroat, but she didn’t land it.
But that smile. And then the exclamation.
“There’s something totally different about hooking and fighting a fish on a fly rod,” she said to me, her face one big, giant smile. Right there. Totally worth it. Her joy. Her excitement. They became mine, too. A 4-weight that hadn’t been out of the case in probably half a dozen years delivered some real, palpable pleasure to my friend, and, in the process, made me happy, too.
But parting with fly rods is like parting with … good stories. Each rod is associated with people, places and, of course, fish. There are some that I’ll never give up. There are some that I’ll give up because I know they’ll go to good people who might fish with me and put them to good use, like the 4-weight I gave up this fall. That’s the rod that I used for the first time high in the Lemhi Range, where I nabbed small bull trout on dry flies (yes, they’ll hit a dry). It’s the rod I used to cast small hoppers to rising rainbows on the Fall River in Yellowstone’s backcountry. And now, it belongs to a friend who’s so excited to have it that I’m sure I’ll hear the stories of her exploits whenever we get the chance to fish together.
I’ve considered a fire sale—a listing on the local classified site in hopes of recouping some of the money I’ve invested in fly rods over the years, but I’ve ruled it out. Good fly rods have earned deserving homes. They deserve to be fished by people who appreciate them and the stories they could tell if they could somehow talk.
For instance, I dropped a nice 5-weight off at my brother’s house this last weekend while I was in Denver for the International Fly Tackle Dealer show. He’s serious about fishing again—something he hasn’t done much of since we were kids. This gift wasn’t so much the loss of a perfectly serviceable 5-weight, but an investment in time spent together on the water. It may be awhile before we fish together—we live 10 hours apart—but it’ll give him the opportunity to chase trout until then. And it already comes with a story, at least for him. His big brother gave him the rod.
But, for me, the rod has a history. I bought it probably six years ago because I needed, of all things, a 5-weight. I know that the 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod is kind of the “universal” implement among fly fishers, but, for some reason, I was 5-weight poor at the time. If I remember correctly, I purchased the rod because the 5-weight I had on hand split at the bottom ferrule while fighting a South Fork brown, and I had a trip planned to Alaska, where I’d be chasing grayling in a fishy network of tundra streams with one of my best fishing buddies. So I bought the new one and sent the old one in for repairs.
By the time I got back from Alaska, the old one had been repaired and delivered to my house, and I was suddenly flush with 5-weights.
So my little brother now has my old, dedicated grayling rod. But he wasn’t the first recipient. Years ago, when a buddy of mine shattered his 5-weight falling out of a drift boat, I lent him mine. He fished it for a good year, using it to chase dry-fly trout in the Henry’s Fork and the Madison. When he got around to repairing his old rod, he brought mine back to me—I’d nearly forgotten about it.
“It’s a great stick,” I remember him telling me. “Nothing fancy, but it does the job.”
Indeed. I remember thinking the same thing while chasing grayling with it. It wasn’t particularly expensive, and it’s not the most handsome rod ever crafted. But it fished well, and it helped me stick more fish than I could count while walking the banks of tundra streams that cross under the Denali Highway. It’s the rod that I leaned against the truck while toasting the great fishing with my friend on a trip I’ll never forget.
So my brother is getting a rod with stories attached … a rod that’s fished some of the best trout water on the planet, and that’s been to the Last Frontier and cast over some of the finest grayling water anywhere.
He may not fully understand what that means to me, but in due time, the rod will add to its list of storied waters. It may fish the South Platte, and will most certainly fish the Blue and the Arkansas. By the time we meet up again, his rod might have caught more fish than mine.
And I’m OK with that. It will mean that I made the right call when I passed the rod—and its stories—on to my little brother.
And it makes it a bit easier to choose a rod for me … for when I hit the river next, or hop a plane to some angling destination, where there are new fish to be caught, and new stories to be gathered and told.
And new rods to fish, too, of course.