In my capacity as a professional fly fishing guide and instructor, I am often asked by my clients if the ultra expensive fly rods that they see on the shelves of their local fly shops are really worth the price? However, this is actually a very difficult question to answer because there is a law of Economics that says that any object is only worth what people are willing to pay for it. Therefore, if people are willing to pay $1,200 for a top-of-the-line graphite fly rod then technically, it is worth it. So, perhaps a better question to ask is whether or not it is worth it to you and the answer to that question depends on your skill and the level of performance that you demand from your equipment.
As a professional fly fishing instructor, I have literally taught several hundred people the art of fly fishing starting with basic casting technique and moving onto stream skills such as how to read the water and basic entomology. Also, it has been my experience that I can teach the very large majority of novices how to make a basic forward cast in anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour of casting instruction using my unique lesson progression. But, as soon as they gain sufficient proficiency to land a fly in the general vicinity of the lies that I point out to them, I like to move to the stream and let them practice while fishing. Then, I spend the rest of the morning standing beside them and pointing out lies for them.
Next, sometime after lunch, I start to leave them on their own a bit while I stand back and watch and I have noticed than every single time I follow this formula, my clients suddenly seem to gain a miraculous improvement in their skills as they finally relax and let it all come together for them and many of them even look like they have been casting a fly their entire lives!
Therefore, because I am a scientist at heart, I too was curious to know if the fly rod made the fly fisherman or whether the ability to place a size 16 dry fly on the head of a pin at 30 ft. was simply a matter of physical prowess and proficiency and thus, unbeknownst to them, I decided to use some of my clients as human guinea pigs. Therefore, sometime late in the day, I would experiment by exchanging the inexpensive fly rods that I have for my novice clients to use for one of the excessively expensive, top end, fly rods that I use just to see if it made any significant difference. Also, in order to make the experiment as valid as possible, I also tried to match length, line weight, and action as closely as possible when I made the switch. But, what I discovered is that as long as the rods matched closely in length, line weight, and action, the expense of the rod did not seem to make any significant difference.
So, if the expense of the fly rod doesn’t seem to make any real difference, then why are the fly rod manufacturers able to continue selling those ultra expensive rods? Well, because the truth of the matter is that although you might not be able to tell the difference when you first start fly fishing, after you have been at it for a few years, and especially if you pursue it often, you will eventually reach a point where you will find that one particular series of one particular brand of rod feels like a wet dream to you for a chosen application while, you have a distinct preference for another series or even another brand for a different application.
Plus, even among rods of the same series, a change of a mere three inches in length will cause a rod to feel like an entirely different rod. Consequently, all experienced fly fishermen eventually reach the point where they bemoan the fact that fly anglers don’t have rod caddies like golfers do so that all they have to do is turn to their rod caddy as say “8 1/2 ft. 5 wt. please or, 9 ft. 6 wt. please” so that they would always have the perfect rod at hand for every hole! Therefore, to a highly experienced fly fisherman who is intimately familiar with all of the different types of fly fishing and thus is looking for a particular type of rod for a particular purpose and who is able to feel a significant difference between the various brands and series of fly rod then, often times, those ultra expensive fly rods are definitely worth the cost due to their ultra light weight, superior sensitivity, and advanced tapers creating specialized actions that can’t be found on less expensive fly rods.
So, the answer to the question of whether or not those ultra expensive fly rods are worth the cost is really a matter of your individual skill level and just how much performance you require from your fly rods. Thus, while it is usually only the highly experienced fly anglers that purchase those ultra expensive fly rods, most would not do so unless they felt that the gain in the level of performance they experienced was well worth it.