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Inimitable Lefty Kreh, the father of modern day fly fishing [1925 – 2018]. Skip Clement photo taken at the 4th International Bonefish and Tarpon Symposium held at the old headquarters of the International Game Fish Association in Dania Beach, Florida, on November 11-12, 2011.

Dirt Cheap fly rod maybe, but combo questionable. If a rod comes out of a communist country’s subsidized commerce system, you bet it ‘could be’ a good fly rod and reel

By Skip Clement

Not so long ago, when the Chinese started to impact the fly rod scene with Walmart prices like $50, Lefty Kreh was asked, indirectly, what he thought of that. The querier set the question up, hoping for an answer he didn’t get. Lefty said, and I paraphrase, ‘It is hard to find a bad casting fly rod these days.’ 

Now, more than a dozen years later, and with Lefty having passed away, it’s hard to know if he had made qualifiers to his statement? Although he ‘eventually’ reped TFO, it was clearly a deal he couldn’t turn down and he didn’t proselytize his opinion.

Nonetheless, it’s unavoidable and indisputable that they’re are okay – even excellent casting fly rods made on high-tech machines with the best materials and in China. A profit, supported by subsidies from the Communist Government and currency manipulation, assures that $30 will make a profit. And as Lefty said, it’s an okay fly rod [not always, I add].

Back up a bit

The best advice my eight decades of fly fishing can muster for you is to head to your local fly shop, let them make you whole with fly and rod and reel combos.

Today, the better shops will probably recommend combos put together by Redington, Orvis, and others. The best combos are not ‘beginner.’ Stick with at least intermediate caliber. Some of the name brands with ‘beginner’ combos will only disappoint – like buying a new car with training wheels.

The reason combos are now in favor again is because the ‘Bigs’ have seen the light and now offer not only a good quality product but everything they offer matches up. And there is a savings for you in their bundling.


The copycat shootouts to George Anderson’s by many others have admirably done an excellent job of promoting fly fishing via YouTube. They have convinced their target audience, newcomers or undemanding trout and crappie fly fishers, that with minor product ‘cons,’ as in Pro and Con, they can be made fly fishing whole with combos of a rod, reel, tube, fly line, and leader for under $100. 

The big rod producers left the door wide open for Lefty to have to say, ‘It is hard to find a lousy casting fly rod these days’ because he was right. The wide-open was $600 fly rods then had a built-in profit that accountants drool over. Even with the ridiculous guarantee – if the dog eats it, we’ll send you a ne one.

In the field of play however, it all falls short because the $30 fly rod is limited to maybe up to a five weight, but in most cases, like my 9-foot, 4-piece White River [WR] 4-weight – $29.99, plus shipping and tax sent to my nephew’s 6-year old daughter in New York – abandoned upon receipt. The long and short was that Lila’s fascination with the trout stream behind her house was not catching the stocked trouts, but the trout itself and the streams’ under rock bugs, which to this day still fascinate her.

Orvis’ Encounter Spin/Fly Combo –  7′ in length. (Spin) 2-6 lb. test, 1/16-3/16 oz. lures; (Fly) 5-wt. $230.

Bass Pro Shops

That White River 4-weight [available in 2-, 3-, or 4-weight] has seen limited playing time because while I have no trouble casting it with non-streamer weight flies or just very light flies, it has no energy or reliable accuracy beyond 35-feet +/-. With the rod, my arm, and leader making up more than half of that 30-feet doesn’t promise anyone great angling days ahead. 

It admittedly has no problem fighting the small stream holdover stocked rainbows, but it is not a fun rod to cast. I do not like a post-cast vibrating fly rod, and knowing enough about fly rod builds [Henry Fly Rod & Reel], it ‘ain’t’ gonna’ last too many outings. 

I recently splurged or went halfsies with Angie Roth on a Cabela Prestige II Reel and GCR Graphite Fly Rod Outfit Available in 4- [7’6″], 5-[9′], and 8-Weight [8’6″] for $180 – freshwater only.

NOTE: Cabela’s fly rods and offerings are better than their sister Bass Pro fly rods called White River – much better

The Prestige Fly Reel, advertised as all-aluminum is obviously not 6061 aircraft grade aluminum because it did not survive a drop on parking lot asphalt.

The rod was as advertised, coming in a good protective rod case, and the aesthetics okay, but although glass, it was on the ‘whippy’ side. However, Angie pointed out that it was advertised as deep bending. 

Looking glass

Angie has an Orvis glass rod which is also deep bending, so we hauled it out of its resting place in the garage, and I rigged up the 5-weight. It was no match; the $449 Orvis Superfine fly rod was demonstrably better – casting larger flies easily, casting faster with less reverberation than the Cabela, which was much better than the related Bass Pro Shops’ White River. The distance was overwhelmingly in Orvis’ column and accuracy, short 25- to 35-feet about the same. The feel in-hand of the Cabela’s excellent, as was the Orvis. Granted, that’s a high price $449 on a comparative basis, but an Orvis will be with you for decades.

The VICE rod from Redington – Red’s Fly Shop.


After combing the internet for YouTube vids championing cheaper rods, a pattern began revealing that limiting selections up to 5-weight and declaring TROUT rods only is where the makers of most more affordable glass and graphite fly rods felt comfortable. A breakaway on that would be Tim Rajeff’s Lift Rods [I own a 5-weight $99] available 3- through 8-weight. 

The best fly rod combo [rod, reel, fly line $410] in the less expensive realm is, in my opinion Redington’s [VIDEO] Vice. In In any weight it is available, currently 4- thru 9-eight – it has it all. I’d be happy with it over almost any individually selected fly rod and fly reel combo rod/reel combo with only one exception.

I picked up a well used VICE 4-weight rod from my college roommate for $50 and a promised steak restaurant dinner the next time we meet up. My VICE is a keeper and should be on everyone’s top draft pick. My friend bought a replacement VICE 6-weight and one of my Henry 8-weight combos for an upcoming trip to Labrador later this summer, and at a ridiculous price, of course – what are friends for anyway?

Where the rubber meets the road

The great separator for these inexpensive fly rods or fly rod combos is when they leave the world of freshwater and trouts of 16″ to 24″. With trouts falling into the 8-pound Labrador brook trout [Salvelinus fontinalis], Alaskan 7-pound rainbow, 10-pound New Zealand brown trout, or 10-pound South Florida Largemouth Bass class, the cheaper rods are out of their league. There are exceptions other than those pointed out.

Cabela’s Prestige Fly Outfit available in 4-, 5-, and 8-Weight – $180.

In conclusion:

There is also a trend of bundling. Packaged combos that exceed current limits of local freshwater trout streams, and even tips on some variant combos. For example, my Henry Fly Rod‘s specific use system designed for anglers compromised by age, upper limb arthritic issues, or want a fly rod that can boost performance and improve outcomes previously attained without a modified fly rod and delivery technique.

Perfect example: Henry Fly Rods’ combo features a unique, one-of-a-kind lightweight, ultra-short Dave Redington designed ‘Power Boost’ series Scandi and Skagit [3-through 9-weight] fly rods – $700.

“You can always buy something cheaper, but remember, the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

— Benjamin Franklin 


Author Skip

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