Best Freshwater Fishing Rods of 2017
When compared to the rest of the outdoor gear world, fly rod models tend to have a long shelf life. The smallish market, cost of domestic production (most US brand products are still made in the U.S.), and relative simple nature of the product makes it cost-prohibitive to abandon proven designs every year (or even every 2-3 years).
Still, rod makers are remarkably innovative and new designs move the market forward by leaps when they do occur. Looking at the latest crop of fly rod offerings, we found innovations offered in both general purpose and purpose-built rods. We tested all the rods initially in the settings for which they were primarily designed — for general purpose rods, they were fished with dry flies, nymphs and streamers, in both still water and rivers. We also pushed the rods — both general purpose and purpose-built — into a range of situations to check their versatility and performance on various types of water and techniques.
Sage and its sister-brand Redington consistently present the largest new product launches each year, and both brands unveiled freshwater rods that we tested. The Sage X continues the brand’s focus on powerful fast-action rods, while the Redington Vice keeps costs down (through off-shore production) while still delivering performance. St. Croix offered the most unique design this year with its Sole. This two piece rod features one long butt section and a short interchangeable tip section¬. The rod ships with two different tips so anglers can tailor its action to local fishing conditions. And Orvis delivers a new variation on its award-winning Helios 2 series – a previous Gear Institute Gear of the Year winner.
For this test, I was joined by trout guides, game wardens, outdoor photographers, and fish advocates from Trout Unlimited in evaluating the new rods. Proving that everyone is different, we all had our own personal likes and dislikes, but the strengths — and weaknesses — of each rod revealed themselves to each of us over the course of the tests.
The unanimous pick for the Best in Class Freshwater rod this season came from a classic old brand with a new lease on life: Thomas & Thomas. New ownership and a new design team have lifted the venerable old brand from the mediocrity it faced when it was just one part of a corporate entity. Back under private ownership, T&T presented a wonderfully versatile rod in the Avantt. This rod series incorporates new materials (resin and composite) in an updated taper, creating a powerful casting rod with remarkable sensitivity and finesse.
Likewise, the Redington VICE gives anglers good power and fly control at a very reasonable price. The Vice delivers medium-fast action, with a sensitive tip for delicate presentations, and a strong butt for fighting powerful fish in fast water. At just $300, the rod is less than half the price of others in this class, but with just modest drop-off in performance.