Gear Review: 13 Budget and Backup Rods

Gear Review: 13 Budget and Backup Rods

$200 can buy a lot of rod these days

  • By: Ted Leeson
Temple Fork Outfitters   Jim Teeny

Albright GP 90564

The action on this 3.5-ounce rod is on the moderate side of medium-fast. It doesn't produce blistering line speeds, but casts with a sure authority out to 50 feet or so; pushing too far beyond that can produce a little bounce in the tip and diminish control. In the typical window of fishing distances, however, the rod shaft does all the work if you stay with a smooth, easy stroke; it lays out line gently and can turn over long, light leaders.

The rod is rated as a 5/6-weight, and I preferred casting either a DT5 or WF6 line; the additional load extended the range, improved performance in the wind and gave a better feeling of control at the middle distances and beyond. It handles bigger and heavier flies fairly well and is a workmanlike, all-around trout rod.

$149
www.albrighttackle.com

Cabela's LST

Nicely light at 3.1 ounces, this rod has a comfortable balance, and the crisp, responsive tip makes it feel even lighter. It's also among the fastest and stiffest rods in the group and seemed to me slightly underlined with a 5-weight line; I preferred it strung up with a 6-weight, particularly for distances. I find this kind of action just right for stack mending and liked this rod particularly for indicator fishing, even with the grotesquely overweight junk I sometimes throw, and for picking up a longer line and laying it back down quickly, as you might from a drift boat. This one will be of most interest to those who like a quick casting tempo in a light, muscular rod.

$180
www.cabelas.com

Cortland Precision XC

This is a moderate-action rod that is smooth and true to the middle distances but is easily overpowered with an aggressive stroke, which can produce tip bounce. I thought the timing window on this rod was rather narrow, though once you adjust your tempo to find the zone, it casts comfortably and shoots line well.

There's some range if you need it occasionally, but for habitually fishing at distances or in the wind, I'd choose something with more authority. The forte of this rod, as the name suggests, is in moderate-range, precise delivery. I think experienced casters will appreciate this rod more than beginners, since the timing is a little exacting. The hardwood grip trim and futuristic reel seat are interesting but could be omitted to shave some weight from its 3.6 ounces.

$179.95
www.cortlandline.com

Dorber Ozark Mountain Tradition

This rod, the first I've cast from Dorber, has lots of punch, though it doesn't feel particularly fast or stiff, owing to the rather limber tip. In fact, the rod doesn't feel quite as authoritative as it actually is; when pushing and shooting for power or distance, you think for a moment that it's not going to make it, but line just keeps flowing through the guides.

Think of this as a big rod-large-diameter shaft (though modest weight at 3.3 ounces) for big flies, wind and bigger fish-but without a clubby, pool-cue feel. The uppermost quarter or so of the rod is fairly supple, so you don't need to work your butt off at closer ranges. A good compromise that leans toward more aggressive fishing.

$184.30
www.dorber.com

Echo Classic

This medium-fast rod is supple in the tip, but not at all floppy, with a fast recovery that makes it, among other things, effective in stack mending; combined with line-lifting and hook-setting power down low, it's an excellent rod for deep-nymphing under indicators.

There's good versatility here as well. It fires dry flies off the tip smoothly and precisely and has some cushion for lighter tippets- a nice combination for stillwater. You can get some distance if you need it, but I don't think that's the story here. The rod performs through a forgiving range of casting tempos at typical fishing distances, and the ease of casting makes it a good choice for inexperienced anglers. But there's plenty here for veterans as well. What I liked least was the weight-at 4 ounces, it felt heavy.

$149.95
www.echoflyfishing.com

Elkhorn Traveler

Rated a "medium-action," this is a fairly stiff rod, but not the kind that takes a shorts-rending effort to cast at close and medium distances. It is pleasingly adaptable to a variety of casting strokes and is very smooth with all of them; it responds best to a quicker tempo, but doesn't require it.

Though not my first choice for fishing fine tippets, it is an outstanding all-around trout rod in other regards-it has the touch for dry flies, the power for big nymphs and streamers, and the line-lifting strength for boat fishing. And the casting range-if you're into that kind of thing-is impressive: you can push this rod hard and it simply won't fold up. It made me want to get out on a flat with smaller bonefish. Best for anglers who appreciate a stiff, but smooth and light (3.3 ounces) rod. Lots of performance for the money.

$189
www.elkhornflyrods.com

L.L. Bean Streamlight

Lightweight at 3.2 ounces, with good balance in the hand, this rod, to my mind, most closely approximates some of the more expensive, medium-fast rods that have become justifiably popular in the past few years. It answers to a fairly wide window of casting strokes; you can push it for tight loops and speed in the wind or slow it down for soft, gentle deliveries.

Punching this rod for range can be done, but it produces tip bounce and is not my first choice for long-line applications. But this isn't really a distance tool and shines best with dry flies, fine tippets and light nymphing methods, and in these uses, I found it one of the easiest and smoothest casting rods of the group, capable of very quiet presentations. More energetic casters may find it a bit slow. A good entry-level rod.

$155
www.llbean.com

Redington Red.Fly2

With a balance point back toward the grip, this rod feels lighter than its 3.5 ounces. It's also one of the stiffest and fastest rods in the group, well suited to anglers who like the feeling of casting off the very tip at short to middle ranges and throwing narrow, fast loops. Yet for a faster rod, it delivers well at short distances. Weight distribution and a nicely shaped grip make it comfortable to cast, at least for those who like a quicker rhythm. Owing to its stiffness, it picks up line quickly and with authority-nice for nymphing. You can get range with this rod, but I preferred a 6-weight line for distances. A rod for those who enjoy a more powerful casting stroke.

$180
www.redington.com

Orvis Clearwater

This medium-action rod responds best, unsurprisingly, to a more relaxed casting rhythm, and when you find the stroke, this rod does all the work. At 3.3 ounces, it's nicely light with a slim and comfortable grip.

I found its short-line performance especially good for a nine-footer and liked it best for dry flies and light nymphing out to medium ranges. You can summon up a certain amount of power down low when hauling to reach out there, but the sweet zone really lies at more typical casting distances. Not my choice for chunky streamers, an indicator and a lot of split-shot, or picking up lots of line from the water, but it's pleasant to fish with almost everything else and will appeal to anglers who like to feel the rod working.

$179
www.orvis.com

St. Croix Reign

The somewhat large-diameter shaft puts the meat out ahead of the grip and it feels a bit heavier than 3.6 ounces-more a balance thing than a weight issue, which I remedied easily by using a heavier reel. Designated a "medium action," this rod responds best to a fairly slow stroke to engage its power-the low end of "medium," I guess.

Still, it is surprisingly tolerant, for a rod of this action, to a range of tempos and is forgiving at short to moderate ranges; it is also, in my imperfect hands anyway, unforgiving at longer range. But at practical fishing distances, it is comfortable and fairly easy to cast-a good choice for an entry-level rod or for casters who prefer a more leisurely timing.

$150
www.stcroixrods.com

Ross Worldwide Essence FW

This rod answers best to a medium-fast casting tempo, though overall it is a stiff rod that has, to me, a slightly clubby feel, with a balance point more toward the tip that makes it seem heavier than its 3.5 ounces. It does a nice job close in, delivering with crispness and precision but, overall, is not really a finesse rod; it seems designed more for power and gives good distance. I thought long-range performance was improved with a 6-weight line, though this may say more about the caster than the rod. What appealed most was the way it handled sinking lines, with strength and authority but a more moderate action that didn't shock the fly at the end of a cast and bounce it sideways.

$199
www.rossworldwideoutdoors.com

Temple Fork Outfitters Jim Teeny

This TFO rod feels somewhat lighter than its 4.2 ounces, partly because some weight lies behind the grip in the extension butt (which I find mildly puzzling on a five-weight) and partly because of the pleasant balance. Light and supple in the tip, this one has a lot of beef down lower-a combination that gives it a usefully effective fishing range, from reasonably short to pretty far out there. Pushing the rod for distance can produce a little vibration in the tip and slightly reduce loop-size control, but nothing excessive. Easier to cast at ordinary trout-fishing ranges and more versatile than some fast-action rods, this one is still fairly stiff with fish-fighting power (hence the extension butt, I guess). Anglers who like the quick, snappy feel of a rod that casts off the tip should take a look.

$199.95
www.templeforkflyrods.com

Winston Ascent

Designated a "fast" action, this rod really feels more medium-fast to me, though it is fairly stiff, and performs better with a moderate, rather than rapid, casting tempo, and it tolerates a forceful, aggressive stroke. It has excellent power, and though it certainly fishes the whole gamut of fly types, I preferred it most for streamers and as a boat rod, applications that require some line-lifting authority and pickup-and-shoot capability.

Though workable close in, the rod to me was most pleasing to cast beyond 25 or 30 feet. The balance is comfortable, but at 3.6 ounces, the rod felt slightly heavy in the hand. What I liked least was the large-diameter cork-odd for a company that I think makes some of the most comfortable grips around.

$195
www.winstonrods.com