Asa beginner, you will find that buying a fishing-rod presents somewhat similar problems to those of selecting a first car. The sum of money involved, of course, is not so large but the variety of makes and models on the market is no less bewildering. Prices and materials vary considerably; experienced friends offer conflicting advice and opinions; there is the question of whether to buy new or second-hand. Let me try to help you by looking at some of the major points.
This is usually an important factor and, as with most other commodities, you are likely to get what you pay for. New trout rods vary in price from roughly £8 to upwards of £20. Salmon tackle costs about twice as much. You must make up your mind what you can afford, and one or two points are well worth careful consideration before you make your final choice.
A good caster can make do with almost any sort of rod but, given the choice, he goes for the best rod from a good maker. Such a rod is the result of many years of manufacturing experience and its action is the result of much thought. You are likely to learn faster with a smooth, well-balanced action even though, for the moment, you may not fully appreciate the qualities of the rod. Secondly, you are very unlikely indeed to damage a good-quality rod even when you are learning to cast. It will stand up to a great deal of abuse and, provided it does not suffer any accidental damage, it should last you for many, many years. (Rods of any quality, of course, are liable to mishaps in use or in transit but, for a small premium, it is possible to insure against most eventualities, including theft. Incidentally, the policy can be extended to cover both personal and third-party injury at the waterside.)
It is as well, too, to think of the future. Most anglers go through a phase of chopping and changing as they develop their casting skill. It is possible, even probable, that the rod which suits you now may not be the one which gives you the best results when your wrist and arm strength and your sense of timing have improved. In this respect, a quality rod retains a fair second-hand value and can be sold later without too great a depreciation in cash. Whatever you decide, bear in mind that it is unwise to regard your initial purchase as a final capital investment. A little market study in the advertising sections of the angling press will give you some idea of the differences between the new and second-hand prices of different rods from various makers. Hire purchase or credit terms are also available from many dealers.
Rods are designed with an action to suit a particular type of fishing. For example, a more flexible or ‘soft’ rod is regarded as having the best action for wet-fly fishing; a stiffer, tip-actioned type is favoured by specialists in dry-fly fishing. As you probably do not yet know what sort you are going to enjoy most, nor have you, perhaps, explored the possible types of fishing most easily available to you, it is best at the start to go for a medium-actioned rod. This can be used satisfactorily for both wet- and dry-fly fishing.
Length poses another problem. Small streams are more easily fished with a short rod, whereas a slightly longer one is better adapted for the greater casting distances often required on reservoirs and larger rivers. Modern rod trends are very much towards shorter and lighter models, and here again a satisfactory compromise would be an 8 ft 9 in. or 9 ft rod which can be used comfortably on most waters. The weight of the rod is also worth considering. A good cane rod of this length should not weigh more than about 6 oz, and you should not allow yourself to be persuaded to buy a rod that is any heavier. Even a couple of ounces extra, although it seems very little, will give your beginner’s arm cause for complaint at the end of a long fishing day.
In the second-hand market, you may be offered rods of 10 ft 6 in. or even longer. As trout-fishing rods, these have little to commend them to the beginner. They are heavy to use and can be outcast by the shorter, modern designs when these are coupled to the new lines now available. An 8 ft 6 in. or 9 ft medium-actioned rod, then, is what you are looking for. Rods are more commonly sold in three-pieces, that is, in three segments – butt, middle and top piece. Sometimes a spare top piece is offered as well, and while this is useful in case of an accident it does, of course, put the price up. If you are prepared to look after your tackle, you should not really need one.
Some rods are sold with two segments only, butt and top piece. There is little to choose between the action of the two-and three-piece rod and the matter really becomes one of convenience in transport.
Cane, fibre-glass and steel rods are all on the market, and each material has its own advocates. The majority of experts favour top quality cane, as it possesses to a high degree an intangible but important quality known as ‘feel’. This is an indescribable sensation but, in essence, it is the degree of sensitivity and manner in which the responses of the rod are conveyed to the hand of the angler. It adds much to the pleasures of casting a fly and playing a fish.
Fibre-glass rods are continually improving, however, and are more than adequate for present-day fishing. They are less expensive, tough and very suitable for the beginner in many respects. The final choice must be yours. Depending on the depth of your purse, you may feel that a top quality fibre-glass rod is better at this stage than a low-priced cane rod or a steel one. If possible, try them all out. Friends might be willing to lend you a spare rod for trial – and at least one manufacturer advertises a casting pool where tackle can be tested out before purchase.
Different rod models offer a choice of fittings and the final weight of the rod depends to some extent on these. In use, they are mostly a matter of personal preference. For example, a screw-locking device which fastens the reel securely to the rod so that it cannot fall off when you are playing a fish is both convenient and practical but not, strictly speaking, essential. Simple slip rings are often fitted to reduce the total weight of the rod and are perfectly satisfactory in use.
For normal fishing, there is little difference between snake rings or full-open bridge rings, but the latter are more expensive. With modern glues, whippings are only necessary to secure the rod rings – though some anglers are still willing to pay a little more for the aesthetic appearance imparted by additional whippings between the rings. But bear in mind that these are merely decorations and have nothing to do with the strength of the rod.
Several manufacturers produce well-illustrated catalogues which, you will find, are full of useful information. They usually contain photographs of the various rod models offered, as well as notes about their action and the type of fishing for which they are designed. Frequently, they also include valuable hints and tips on angling in general, and you would be well advised to write for one or two catalogues before coming to your final decision. In any event, do not rush to buy – shop around and do some preliminary market study.
The past history of a second-hand rod is often difficult or impossible to trace. It is true, of course, that bargains can be picked up from time to time, but it is wise to keep in mind the old axiom of common law, ‘Let the buyer beware’, especially at sales or when contemplating a purchase from an unknown seller. Well-known dealers, on the other hand, have their names to protect and they are likely to try to ensure that you, as a beginner, get a fair deal. You are, after all, potentially a life-long customer.
Two points are particularly important when examining a second-hand rod. Make sure that it does not have a ‘set’ or twist. Examine the segments, especially the top one, by holding each up in turn and sighting along it. Any marked deviation from a straight line usually means that the rod has been subjected to considerable strain, even abuse. If so, it may have lost some of its original elasticity and be nearing the end of its useful life.
Secondly, if it is a cane rod, check that none of the sections show any ‘gape’ or signs of splitting at the seams. If they do, there is every likelihood that they will give completely under strain.
It also pays to examine the ferrules, which should fit snugly and tightly. If they are loose, it is an indication that the rod has seen much use. Play in the ferrules interferes with the action and new ones must be fitted. The general appearance of the rod is not really important so long as the action is good. New rings, whippings, ferrules and a fresh coat of varnish can be put on and, indeed, some makers can work wonders in renovating an old rod. Obviously, this will add to the cost, but manufacturers are usually prepared to give you an estimate for such renovations.
A reel is only a drum on which you can conveniently store line when not in use and, as such, a relatively unimportant part of your outfit. You can pay well over £6 for a precision- engineered model and these are certainly a delight to own and to use. If, however, pride of possession is of less importance than cost, very much cheaper reels serve exactly the same purpose and are equally efficient. I would counsel you, in your initial purchases, to put your money into the rod and line rather than the reel.
Do not be persuaded to buy a heavy reel in order to ‘balance’ your rod. The whole concept of balance is often misunderstood by some older anglers who have long been accustomed to a heavier weight below their hand. The tournament caster, who really appreciates the relationship between weight and performance, goes for the lightest reel possible. Indeed, he will cast further without a reel at all. My advice is to buy the lightest reel you can find, provided always that it is of sturdy construction and has a reasonably efficient check. A simple design is perfectly satisfactory and there is little call in practical fishing for such devices as a check release. Make sure that the capacity of the reel is sufficient to hold all of your line, plus sufficient backing. For trout, thirty yards of backing is ample. A reel of about 3-| in. diameter is right for most trout fishing.
Strange as it may seem at first, the right line is more important than the rod. The ease and efficiency with which you can cast depend to a very large extent on matching a line to your rod. If the line is too light, it becomes difficult to induce sufficient rod flex, and the line cannot then utilise the potential power of your rod. If, on the other hand, the line is too heavy, the flex is excessive and the rod cannot recover quickly enough to turn the line over correctly.
There are so many designs and materials on the market that the beginner is easily confused and often buys a line which is unsuitable both for his rod and for the type of fishing he intends to practise. There are three principal features to keep in mind – thickness, or diameter; design; weight. Let us look at these in turn and see how they are interconnected. 3
Lines can be obtained in different thicknesses and are allocated code letters according to their diameter in inches. Remember that this has nothing to do with the weight of the line.
Whilst the level line is satisfactory and will give a reasonable cast, it has been shown that a line which is graded in diameter along its length behaves much better in casting, and gives increased distance. There are two types of graded line, the double taper indicated by the letters DT, and the forward taper line or FT for short, WF or weight forward is also sometimes used.
Double Taper Line
The easiest way to visualise the double taper is to imagine first of all a length of level line. To each end of it are added pieces of thinner line. For example, we might start with a level ‘c’ line and add a length of an ‘H’ line to either end. We thus have an HCH line, with a thicker portion in the middle of ‘c’ diameter which, is actually 050’, and two end pieces whose diameters are both -025’. It does not matter which end is attached to the reel, the tapered effect is the same.
The double-tapered line is justifiably very popular. Besides its casting advantages, it can be reversed on the reel when one end starts to show signs of wear, and this, of course, prolongs its life.
Forward Taper Line
Here the line consists of three segments, all of different diameters. It starts with a thin portion, very quickly becomes thicker, and then tapers to a third section which is usually slightly larger than the starting segment. For example, a typical forward taper line might have an ‘H’ diameter in front, a second section of ‘c’ line and a third of ‘F’ line. You will see that this means a variation in diameters thus: -025’ – 050’ – S’. Such a line is carefully designed so that the thickest and heaviest part appears very quickly as the line is drawn off the reel. This confers several distinct properties. It enables a very short cast to be made easily, as there is enough weight immediately available to flex the rod even with a short length of line. Another advantage is that a very long cast can also be made without overloading the rod.
The forward taper has not yet attained the same popularity in this country as the double-tapered one, principally because it cannot be reversed and does not, therefore, last so long. Apart from this consideration, I strongly urge you to consider it carefully for trout fishing. In my view, it assists the novice caster to get his rod working even in the early stages when he is using a very short line.
Having dealt with the taper of the lines, let us now turn to the materials of which they are made.
For many years, waterproof, oil-dressed silk lines were regarded as the best available, and they still possess some real advantages. They are supple and responsive, and sink fairly slowly in the water but can be made to float on the surface by the application of a special line grease such as Mucilin. This means that one line can be used either for sunk-line fishing or for dry-fly fishing, where a floating line is required. However, a silk line has to be treated with care, dressed frequently when required to float and dried off by unwinding it from the reel after fishing. If left on the reel during the offseason, they have a tendency to become sticky or ‘tacky’.
The plastic line has a nylon or Terylene-braided central core and an outer layer of plastic material. If the density of this outer layer is greater than that of water, it will sink. Two types of plastic sinking line are now available: the fast-sinker, which can be used to fish near the bottom, and the slow-sinking type, which goes down through the water less quickly and can be used to search the middle layers of water for fish.
A third type of plastic line has tiny air bubbles sealed inside the outer coating and these keep it floating indefinitely on the surface. It requires no grease or line dressing whatsoever, and like all plastic lines, can be stored or left on the reel without risk of damage. This appeals to many anglers and, unquestionably, the plastic floater is gaining rapidly in popularity for general fishing purposes. It is, however, less versatile than the silk line, since the floating line cannot be made to sink should you wish to change your tactics. To do so, you must purchase and carry a separate plastic sinking line.
Again, these lines are designated by code letters. For example, DT-HCH-S means a double-tapered, HCH-dimensioned line of the sinking type, DT-HCH-F refers to the same line but of the floating type. Forward taper floating lines are also available in plastic material.
Even when the diameters are the same, all these different materials have different weights. An HCH sinking line, for example, is much heavier than an HCH floating one. Not unnaturally, a good deal of confusion can arise in matching a particular type of line to a rod and it is most important to recognise that the weight of the line and not its diameter is the deciding factor.
As a guide to the angler, the Associated Federation of Fishing Tackle Manufacturers agreed to introduce a system of numbers by which one line could be directly compared with another. These numbers are preceded by the distinguishing symbol $, and range from 1 to 12. They refer to the actual weight of the first thirty feet of line (excluding any level portion at the very tip) regardless of the material, the taper if present, or the diameter. Thus a rod manufacturer can suggest the most suitable weight of line for any particular model in his range of rods.
The best way for you to match your line and rod is to find out which AFTM number is recommended for it. Once you have obtained this, you can decide which kind of line is best suited in price and for the kind of fishing you expect to do.
Lines are available in a variety of colours – white, ivory, brown and green. It is claimed that the white floating line is less visible to fish but, of course, this is hard to prove. At least, it does not put fish off, and does enable you to see clearly what is happening to your cast in the air and on the water. This is a strong point in its favour.
Stressing again the importance of matching your line to your rod, I suggest that for your first line, you invest in a forward taper, white floater. It is the most expensive but I feel sure that the forward taper will assist your first casting efforts. A floating line is the most generally useful since you may fish wet-fly, dry-fly, or nymphs with it, and it is also easier to pick up off the water. Furthermore, the correction of casting mistakes is assisted by the ease with which you can follow the movements of the white line.
Double-tapered and forward-tapered lines are sold in thirty-yard lengths for trout fishing, and in forty-yard lengths for salmon fishing. If one of these lines is put directly on to a suitable reel, it will only fill about two-thirds of the available drum space, so, in order to fill the reel completely, it is customary to add additional line as backing. This is a useful safety measure in case a large fish should strip a great deal of line from your reel during playing, and also aids the speed of line recovery, since each revolution of the reel handle can pick up more line if the drum is partially filled. Special backing line can be purchased but I use ordinary 16-lb breaking-strain nylon and this serves the purpose very well. As a rule, about fifty yards of nylon are required for a trout reel and about a hundred yards for a salmon reel.
Casts can be bought already made up with or without attached flies. Tying up your own casts, however, is fun – and cheaper. Nylon can be purchased in spools of twenty-five or fifty yards, and my own practice is to buy the latter at the beginning of each season. For trout, one spool of 4 lb and another of 6 lb breaking-strain are likely to meet your main requirements; for salmon, one of 10 lb and one of 16 lb. The knots used in making up casts are described in the section on Angler’s Knots.
In addition to a rod, reel and line, a number of other items are part of the standard fly-fishing outfit. These accessories can be dealt with briefly.
On small streams it is possible to manage with a pair of Wellington boots. On lakes and reservoirs and on larger rivers, however, there is always the temptation to take an extra step forward, and as this is likely to result in wet feet, a pair of thigh-waders is a good investment. Make sure that they fit when you are wearing a thick pair of woollen socks, for though you may not need socks for summer fishing, they are a comfort in early spring and autumn and if the water is cold. You have a choice of three kinds of sole – rubber, felt, or a plastic material with hob-nails. My preference is for the latter, which seems to give me a better grip in a wider variety of wading conditions. Incidentally, waders are easily ripped on barbed wire fences, so that a puncture repair kit is worth carrying in your bag.
Always remember that wading can be dangerous and, when in the water, move your feet with care. Beware of potholes and quickly shelving ledges, and study the water level and current force. If it has been raining heavily, the river can rise with a rapidity which may take you by surprise. If you cannot swim and are regularly fishing rivers where wading is obviously dangerous, a life-jacket is a sensible precaution. These can take the form of a waistcoat-type of garment which can be inflated in an emergency by the gas from a small bottle of carbon dioxide. They are quite inconspicuous and there are several salmon rivers, where breast waders are used, which I would not wade without wearing my life-jacket. Even when fishing from boats, they are very much worthwhile for peace of mind.
When buying a trout landing-net, make sure that it is large enough to hold the larger sea trout you may catch on holiday. A combined net and wading staff is worth considering. Most trout anglers carry a folding net which can be secured to their fishing bag by a clip. Get into a routine of replacing your net immediately after you have landed a fish. It is all too easy to put it down on the bank or in the grass and to forget it.
An expensive fly box is really a luxury item – very nice to have, but not essential. Very serviceable boxes can be made out of suitable tins and pipe cleaners. The bottom of the tin is lined with felt and the cleaners stuck along in horizontal rows about an inch and a half apart. The flies can then be hung over the pipe cleaners.
A good pair of scissors with sharp points is essential. Buy a pair with a sheath, attach them to a cord and carry them tied in your fishing bag, or slung round your neck. As well as scissors, I always have a pin or two stuck in the lapel of my fishing jacket. There is nothing like a pin for clearing any excess varnish blocking up the eye of a hook, or for helping to undo a tangle in your cast.
Hook points dull, become twisted or rusted in use and lose their needle-point sharpness. I carry a small, two-inch carborundum stone which I use to hone them when necessary. It is particularly useful in salmon fishing-, where the heavier hooks are very liable to minor damage.
Carrying a number of made-up casts with the flies attached is simplified by the use of a cast holder. There are various designs but the plastic disc around which the nylon is wound is very convenient and helps to prevent those irksome tangles which often occur when unrolling a wet-fly cast.
Garments intended for all-weather fishing must fulfil three requirements. They must keep you dry and warm and offer the least possible restriction to casting movements. You will find that different individuals have very varied ideas about what constitutes a suitable outfit. I can only offer a few suggestions as a general guide.
My first priority is to keep dry whatever the conditions. There are many jackets on the market which are offered as being suitable for this purpose, but many of them turn out, in practice, to be merely ‘showerproof and quite unable to resist a prolonged and heavy downpour. In my view, there is no real substitute for the short oilskin wading jacket which comes down over the top of the waders. This type of jacket is usually well cut to allow ample room for arm and shoulder movement and is absolutely watertight. With a pair of waterproof trousers as well, you can sit out the heaviest shower in a boat and still finish up dry and comfortable.
One constantly hopes for balmy spring days, warm summers 38 and a final, fine spell in September – but more often it is a matter of adjusting clothing to suit cold winds than warm zephyrs. Heavy sweaters and pullovers are useful, of course, but they do tend to pad out a jacket until it is tight round the shoulders. A number of years ago, in search of a garment which could be used for most of the season, I bought a quilted leather jacket in a merchant seaman’s store. It has proved a very good, long-term buy. It is windproof, warm and has a nylon-fur collar which is continually in use in spring and autumn.
An ordinary cloth cap, a balaclava, a tweed hat or a Highland stalker’s cap are all popular choices. As long as it fits well and is not liable to blow off into the water with the first puff of wind, anything is suitable. The practice of sticking flies into one’s headgear, although colourful, is not to be recommended, as the tinsels of the flies tarnish in the sun and wind.
General Hints and Tips
Before you leave home on an expedition, check over your tackle. You may manage to make do without a minor item such as a torch or a pair of scissors, but if you drive thirty miles and then find that you’ve brought the wrong line or forgotten your reel, your day will be ruined.
The faster you can assemble your gear, the sooner you will be able to start fishing – but make haste slowly. Familiarise yourself with the fittings and adopt a routine procedure. The male ferrules of your rod should slide into the female ferrules without any need for undue pressure. If they do not fit easily, lubricate them with a touch of Mucilin or other line dressing and wipe off any excess with a rag. Make sure that the rod rings are aligned. Put your rod bag in a safe place.
If you are left-handed, or if you prefer a left-handed reel, fit the reel to the rod with the handle to the left. The majority of anglers, however, prefer the reel handle to be facing right. Whatever the type of fitting, make sure that the reel is securely fastened to the rod. You don’t want it falling off when you are playing a fish.
Thread the line through the reel so that it runs over the line guard, or, if there isn’t one, over the middle spar across the reel. Take the line up through the rings and pull off a few feet from the reel. (Some rods are fitted with a special small ring near the grip. This is intended to hold the tail fly of your cast when you are walking from one spot to another. Don’t thread the line through this ring if you have one on your rod.)
When you are ready to attach your cast, place the rod at an angle against a tree or fence. The temptation is to lay it on the ground. This is always potentially dangerous, as you may step back on it. Watch your line, too – treading on it with heavy waders may nick and weaken it.
If you have some distance to walk to the water, or when you are moving from pool to pool, get into the habit of carrying your rod with the butt foremost. Should you stumble, the rubber button will then take the shock. If you carry the rod tip first it is very easy to run the point into the ground and break it off. If you haven’t a fly ring, you can keep the cast out of the way by bringing it round the base of the reel and then hooking your tail fly on to the first rod ring. A few turns on the reel will tighten up the cast and prevent it flapping about or catching on bushes.
When you’ve finished the day’s sport, reverse the routine. Untie your cast and wind it round the cast holder. Roll up your line but leave the reel on the rod until you put the segments into their bag. If the rod won’t come apart, put it behind your knees, hold it by the ferrules and pull hard in opposite directions. This often succeeds in releasing it. If not, don’t twist the wood. Let it cool off for ten minutes and try again.
As you put everything away, check them against a mental list – rod, reel, fly boxes, cast holder, net, scissors, waders, torch. Every year anglers lose vast quantities of gear – quite unnecessarily.