The “rod wars” are back on. I’ve already seen (or at least heard about) more new fly rods from manufacturers in advance of the upcoming International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD) trade show than I have seen in at least a decade.
And the number one feature that makes a lot of these rods different than past generations is that they are tougher. Oh sure, you’ll hear claims of “lighter” and “more sensitive,” but in reality, most anglers won’t be able to feel or sense a 10% weight reduction in rod blanks. Pretty reel seats and fancy wraps only go so far in boosting sales. There’s only so much potential rod companies can tap into on the “lightness and sensitivity” side. But they do have some potential to improve rods in the “bend but don’t break” arena. And that means more profit.
When you buy a rod with a lifetime guarantee, you’re really buying that rod and a built-in insurance policy. Say a rod company figures one out of every three rods sold comes back broken at some point. Sell consumers 1.33 rods, and the risk is minimized… or sort of. Despite passing the risk/cost on to consumers, and despite having jacked up the “processing fees” to fix broken rods in the past few years (it can now cost $50 or more to get your “free” rod replacement), a lot of the big companies still lose millions a year on rod warranties. One industry insider I talked with (whose company eats about $2 million a year replacing broken rods) said that the rod warranty is still one of the biggest disasters ever to hit the fly rod world. And I’m not sure most consumers even like it.
Nevertheless, Orvis, for example has seen far less breakage with its great Helios rod series, and that has translated into dollars saved by the company. A lot of the new buzz around new rods coming out, e.g. Loomis NRX, and Hardy Sintrix, and St. Croix Elite, revolves around a resin technology that significantly toughens the rods. The early indications are pretty impressive, as seen in this Hardy break test video.
You’re going to hear a lot about “faster, lighter, and tougher” and some (or all) of that will be true. But it’s the “tougher” part that’s the real breakthrough, and the real motivation for the new rod renaissance.
In any regard, your options are increasing exponentially. And while nothing is going to survive being slammed in a screen door or eaten by a dog, the days of delicate and dainty fly rods may be nearing an end.