Product Reviews – Tips for Bargain Hunting
Fly fishing gear continues to become more and more expensive. Consequently, I am always looking for bargains. Following are some tips for bargain hunting. The first step for the frugal angler is to understand the sales cycle of fly fishing gear. New products are invariably introduced at the beginning of each season, i.e. in the spring, to appeal to us as we emerge from our winter doldrums, eager to start a new fishing year. Purchases at this time will be at full fare. In contrast, as the prime season draws to a close in the fall, fly shops want to empty their shelves in anticipation of next year’s new items. This is bargain time, as they will typically offer 30-40% discounts in order to clear their inventory. It is then that I purchase boots, waders and other gear that has a limited lifespan and will at some point need to be replaced. I try to keep a small inventory of such things in order to avoid the need to pay full price when my current waders begin to leak or my boots fall apart.
I must admit that I am a rod junkie, and would love to have the “latest and best” rod all the time. But they have become prohibitively expensive to allow me to pursue my passion fully. Fortunately, there are several outstanding rod manufacturers, and their heated competition leads each of them to introduce a new “latest and best” rod every few years. Therefore, there is an “obsolete” rod, i.e. the last cycles “latest and best”, available almost every year. Fly shops will try to unload these “obsolete” rods at steep discounts, starting at 30-40%, and if necessary, increasing discounts to 60-70%, which gives you an idea of the markup on new rods.
It can be a bit tedious to search for a fly shop with the discounted rod that you may be looking for, but now there is a net-based company, Fly Shop Closeouts, that affiliates with multiple fly shops across the country, similar to the Amazon model. They maintain a fairly constant listing of discounted equipment, including rods, reels, lines and accessories, boots and waders, all sold at steep discounts.
If you too are bedeviled with the rod curse, then you should also be aware of the Stillwater Fly Shop, a company in Sunriver Oregon, near Bend. They have an “upgrade program” which allows you to trade in old, underused rods, for an agreed upon price. This can then be used as a store credit for the purchase of a new rod. As multiple rods can be traded in, I was able to buy a new Hardy Zenith rod last year for less than $10 out of pocket! They also maintain an excellent inventory of used rods.
Another way to save money, is to purchase equipment that is generally not considered “top of the line”, and is therefore sold at a much lower price. The tradeoff may of course be quality. But, there are many products available today that are nearly as good as their much higher priced cousins, and I am going to review four such items that I purchased over the past year.
I first cast one of these rods last summer when I was helping my brother-in-law find an entry level rod. We cast a number of different rods, and were generally impressed with all of them. It was evident that although companies advertise the improvements in their high-end rods, many of these improvements have been used in their lower-end rods as well. We selected the Orvis Clearwater rod, which had good feel for short range casting, and excellent power for short and mid-range casting. It threw tight loops accurately in this range, although longer casts, 70-80 feet, did require a bit more work- not an issue for a beginner.
Fast forward a few months- I had been fooling around with a Tenkara outfit, with mixed impressions. Although it clearly has a place, it is also clear to me why “loops” were attached to rods and reels invented in the early 1700’s. These advances allowed for line management to assist with casting, as well as the playing and landing of large fish. No longer was it necessary to throw one’s rod into the water when a large fish was hooked, and wait until it had exhausted itself!
While using the Tenkara rod, I came to appreciate some of the advantages of its longer length. Thus I wanted to purchase a modern rod, longer than the standard nine feet, but was hesitant to spend a lot of money. So I bought a 10 foot, 5-wt Orvis Clearwater Rod. It has excellent feel, and the added foot gives it more power for longer casting. I was concerned that the longer length would reduce casting accuracy, but that is definitely not the case with this rod. The extra foot also extends the range of drifts with line held off the water, facilitates line mending, extends roll casts, and provides added clearance from obstacles behind the caster. I love it; a real bargain at $198!
I have always felt that reels for freshwater use are overpriced, and I constantly look for less expensive reels with a good drag system. The Echo Ion reel is advertised as a hybrid, made of cast aluminum which is then machine finished. Its internal parts are made of stainless steel, and has a disc drag with a click-drag knob that allows precise adjustment. The drag is very smooth- no broken tippets yet! It is a large arbor reel, with quick pick-up. The finish is matte black. Another real bargain.
I love wooden landing nets. They speak to the tradition of our sport, and are lighter than their metal counterparts. But I won’t pay the usual $100 for a landing net! While searching Amazon, I stumbled across the SF landing net, with a fish-friendly clear rubber bag. Another real bargain at $35.00!
When shopping for waders, one of the first questions to resolve is whether you really need chest high waders. Almost all manufacturers sell the lower cut pants for less than their chest high counterparts, sometimes for considerably less. In this instance, the difference is $20. While I have long used Simm’s waders, I looked at the Redington products this past year, as they have significantly improved them, while maintaining a friendlier price. They now use sonic welding for all seams, similar to Orvis, eliminating stitched seams, which have always been the site of breakdown and water leakage. This particular set of waders is light weight, breathable, with stocking feet and built-in gravel guards. They are very comfortable, and have been puncture-proof thus far, both important to me, as I do a lot of hiking in my waders in order to escape the crowds. I actually picked them up during last fall’s sale period for 195.99! On sale or not, I think they are another excellent buy.
If you are aware of other bargains, please share your “finds” on our forum; most of us are frugal anglers!
Written by Al Simpson, March 2015.