HOOK: 3x or 4x long, size 4 to 10
Awhile back I attended the Vancouver Fishing Outdoors show and had the chance to cast a wide array of fly rods. From Lamiglas to St. Croix, I cast them all and I gained some useful insight into the differences between rods from various manufacturers and even some of the nuances between rods of different series made by the same company.
I started out with Sage. I have always liked Sage rods for their fast action and light weight. Back in 1982 when I purchased my first graphite rod (a Sage I) there was not much in the way of solid competition and Sage won my choice easily. Now there is a bevy of good graphite rods on the market and companies are hard pressed to stay on top of the competition.
I cast several of the Sage rods and that graceful fast action is still there. It's nice to see a company stick to what got them to where they are today; some things should not be changed. The rods all cast well and I thoroughly enjoyed my time casting them. They loaded well, easily maintained good line speed and had good tip damping speed (the speed at which the tip stops moving when you stop moving it). Unfortunately, Sage prices have climbed to a point where they are prohibitive to most "weekend warriors".
I cast the St. Croix rods next. These rods have developed a reputation for being the "affordable" alternative to the high priced, high performance graphites such as Sage. After casting all three rods in the St. Croix repertoire I can honestly say that the St. Croix line lives up to its claim. While not the powerhouse that the Sage rods are, they performed exceptionally well. The manufacturer has stated that they design their rods to have a more "classic" casting action than the other graphites and I believe they have achieved this. Once I adjusted to the slower speed of these rods I found them light and powerful. The most pleasant surprise of all however, was the fact that these rods are up to one-fifth the price of other upper end rods. While at the St. Croix booth I overheard one fellow state that he liked the action of the St. Croix rods so much that he had given up using his other rods. As it turned out, his "other rods" were some of the much higher priced rods I cast. It simply goes to show you that there is no one rod, or even one manufacturer, that can satisfy everyone's taste.
When I finished with the St. Croix rods I ventured over to the Lamiglas booth. They strung me up a six-weight system and I took it over to the casting pool to give it a try. Upon casting it I immediately noticed that the speed of the rod was much faster than anything I had cast thus far. So fast, in fact, that I was uncomfortable with it and it took me several minutes to adjust to its speed. I could have loaded the rod with an eight-weight line and I am sure it would have cast that just as easily. I paid close attention to the rod as I cast it and no matter how much of that weight forward line I loaded the rod refused to bend past the upper third of the blank. That was a STRONG rod. Being that fast though I believe the Lamiglas would be difficult for beginner and intermediate skilled casters, but it was quite an experience to cast. The Lamiglas was also a good price in comparison with the other manufacturers.
I returned the rod to its rightful owners and moved on to the Thomas and Thomas rods. After questioning the representative about their rods for a few minutes he finally asked if I would like to try one. I thought he would never ask. He loaded up his top of the line two-piece six-weight and off we went. I cast this rod for a good five minutes and could not make up my mind about it. It was beautiful to look at, lightweight and well balanced. It threw out line with impunity and I had a hard time trying to tell exactly how it compared to the others. It had a rod speed somewhere between the Lamiglas (the fastest by far) and the Sage. It dampened very well and overall performed wonderfully. I decided that I liked it and asked the fellow what the price was on it. He told me and I quickly passed it back to him before I passed out. It was an exceptional rod but I just could not see that there was that much difference between it and its competitors to justify such a high price.
Unfortunately I ran out of time then and never got to cast any other brands. My little casting clinic did, however, allow me to see and cast an array of rods that varied greatly in performance, action and price. I cannot tell you which rod or rods were best. There was no one best rod, they were simply different. Certain rods lend themselves to certain casting and fishing situations better than others. I can tell you though that all the rods were good quality and all had lifetime unconditional warranties. If you have ever broken a rod tip you will know the value of such a warranty.
I never set out to do a "rod competition." I simply wanted to cast a few rods for my own knowledge, but as I went along I discovered things that I thought might interest you. To do an in-depth review and comparison would require rods from the other manufacturers and a lot more time and effort, as well as some defined guidelines and "tests." The best advice I can give you is that you get what you pay for up to about $100 or so. From there on you start to enter the world of declining benefits per dollar increase. As the price increases, you get better performance, but somewhere along the way the costs start to outweigh any increase in performance; that trade-off point varies with the individual caster. Go to the next outdoors show yourself and don't be afraid to get up at the casting pool and cast a few rods. You should never buy a rod without having cast it (or one exactly like it), and you will be amazed at the differences between the various companies. If you take a bit of time to do this you will be much better prepared to purchase the rod that best suits you and your personal needs and will find yourself a fishing buddy that will serve you for a lifetime.