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An In-Depth Exploration of 2-Weight Fly Rods Under $400 MSRP

By Jim Stuard, Joe Cornwall, Jeremy Kurtz and Paul Feldman

Introduction

The big problem with most fly rod reviews is that they don't tell you much about the fly rod other than the price.  You're not going to have that problem here. We're going to tell you how the fly rod behaves on the water, because we fished every fly rod in this review. And we caught fish on every fly rod in this review...without exception!  You see, at Fly Fish Ohio we don't pull our punches!

If you've read our Fly Tying Vise Shoot-Out then you have an idea of what to expect here.  This is a subjective review where-in we share with you our impressions about the gear in use.  We've tried to include as much objective data as possible, including Common Cents measurements.  In an effort to truly be fair, we've contacted every manufacturer and asked them for their reaction comments to this review.  They'll get to tell you what they think, and we'll print every word right alongside our own opinions.  You, the reader, deserve to get a real, honest idea of how this gear will work for you on your waters. We sincerely hope we've delivered on that promise.

2-Weight fly rods are highly specialized tools.  They don't perform well with any appreciable wind.  They don't cast big flies, with a rough upper limit of a size 12 (so long as it's not too air resistant). They're dangerous when pitted against large fish because they may prompt overplaying that physically damaged the animal.  But, and this is an important but, they are an absolute blast when the conditions are right!  And they can most certainly be the very best choice when the ultimate in stealth is necessary.  We fished poppers and dry flies, nymphs and tiny streamers under a variety of conditions - both while wading and while paddling.  To the manufacturers who kindly (and trustingly) loaned us this gear for review, I must apologize right now.  It's not coming back to you in the clean, pristine condition in which it arrived!

I'd like to thank all of the manufacturers who agreed to provide gear for this review.  It's important to realize that this is a brand new way of reviewing gear in the angling media, and the companies that participated took a real chance.  I hope that none of them think we've let them down.  The Fly Fish Ohio editorial objective is to tell it like it is, regardless of how difficult that may be.  While we'd love to give every piece of gear an outstanding review, that's simply not possible.  In the market there are some products that succeed and some that fail, some that perform beyond expectation and some that don't make the mark.  Just because a piece of gear reviewed here is lauded, that's not an endorsement of every piece the company makes.  Conversely, if we find a rod lacking, that mustn't be read as a pan of the other rods in the company's line-up.  The opinions expressed here are based on personal experience with the rods listed only.

I'd also like to thank Bass Pro Shops for their generosity.  While Bass Pro doesn't make a fly rod that fits the parameters of this review - 2-weight production fly rods under $400 MSRP - they did opt to support Fly Fish Ohio by providing four Bass Pro White River ultra-light fly reels and four White River fly lines for this project so each reviewer could experience the same rod/reel/line combination, thus eliminating two big variables and allowing us to really compare rod-to-rod.  Without cooperation and support like this, this review would have been a much more difficult project.

This article also marks the contributions of two new members of the Fly Fish Ohio Team - Paul Feldman and Jeremy Kurtz.   The talent these two gentlemen (I use the word loosely) bring to the Fly Fish Ohio experience is truly impressive.  The fact they both dream about fishing just shows that great minds think alike!  Welcome to the madness, guys!

Finally I'd like to thank Senior Editor Jim Stuard for his relentless drive in putting this project together.  Jim coordinated all the fly rod loans, managed the shipping and transportation and generally made this happen.  In fact, it was his idea.  Thanks for providing the impetus for a fabulous feature, Jim!

Joe Cornwall

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2 weight fly rods are generally like open stretches of highway at rush hour. You don’t tend to see a lot of them in one place. My experience with 2 weight fly rods is limited to occasionally casting friend’s rods. They would lay a dry fly down on smooth river flows like it was being lowered into place. Before this shootout, I’d never cast anything heavier than a #18 Parachute something or other, on a 2 weight Add to that, my friends would only use a 2-weight on the calmest of days and I was reluctant to spend a lot of time with the rods. I balance that opinion out by mentioning a picture on Joe Cornwall's office wall. It’s a shot of a gigantic bull bluegill straddling the seat of his canoe. Had he not released that fish shortly after that picture was taken it may well have been an Ohio state record and almost certainly and IGFA tippet record at 12.75 inches long, 16 inches in girth and an estimated weight over 3 lbs. It was caught on a 2wt fly rod.

That was enough to let me know I needed to give these unique fishing tools a closer look. In the last few years, I’ve been bitten by the vintage tackle bug and it’s afforded a unique historical perspective on the way designers intended their rods to be used. Quite a few of the rod companies, some of whom survive to this day, maintained that you could cast multiple line weights on their rods. The transition from using the old letter system of gauging line weight, to the current AFTMA standard, was a watershed moment for the demise of these ideas.

There are many examples of fiberglass rods from the 1960’s and 70’s listing multiple line weights. Russ Peak, one of the giants of this era, went so far as to publish three line weights on some of his rods. I think rod companies back then were either more in tune with the needs of the customer and, in so doing, were advertising the enormous versatility of their rods or, the lines of the period varied across so wide a range, they couldn’t do anything but advertise a likely line weight range.

With that history lesson in mind, look around today and you will have to look long and hard to find a rod that advertises more than one line weight. Some of the companies I’ve spoken with will flat out tell you their published line weights are only a suggestion. They suggest over-lining to your comfort level. I’ve taken 6wt rods and not had them cast well until I’ve up lined them two more line weights. Long story short, I’m starting to appreciate the value of being able to cast multiple line weights on a single rod. If the rod can handle the targeted species, why not be able to cast the published line weight and, as your flies or tactics change, be able to up-line to suit?

That appreciation for value applies when looking at this gaggle of 2-weights. The way I’ll be personally evaluate the rods is from a line range value standpoint. I want that rod that will let a size 20 Adams float gently and accurately to the water's surface. I also want to be able to swing a small wet or even a weighted nymph with some appropriate up-lining. I’ll definitely be delivering my opinion based on the rods usefulness as a 2-weight (all my review numbers were arrived at by using a double taper 2wt line), but I'll be making note of rods that are versatile enough to handle real fishing conditions.

Jim Stuard

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In the 40 plus years that I have been fly fishing, my quest for the perfect fly rod has been all over the map. I started with glass, followed by bamboo, and a steady progression of graphite rods from medium action mid-length rods thru ever increasing rod length and faster actions. When I rediscovered the mid action rod several years ago, it was like rediscovering the fountain pen! A ball point gets the job done very efficiently, buts it’s no fun to write with! In the last couple of years, I have focused my rod purchases on 6 ½ to 8-foot rods in 1 to 3-weights.

I have observed that ultralight fisherman fall into three separate camps (at least). The first group, and probably the majority, fish ultralights because they are nearly weightless, cast effortlessly, and allow small trout and panfish to show their stuff. They just find that ultralights put more “WOW” in their fishing. Another group fishes ultralights for the disadvantage and, hence the challenge they provide. Guys in this group can be heard bragging about how heavy a nymph or how large a streamer they can throw with their 2 weights! This is much like shooting skeet with a .410. The final group, to which I belong, fish ultralights for the distinct advantage they provide. These days my favorite type of (trout) fishing consists of late season, low-water conditions, with good trout sipping ridiculously small mayflies and midges. Under these conditions the slap of a 4-weight line on a placid pool sends fish racing upstream for cover. A soft action 2 weight (or a 1-weight) definitely results in more hookups. I know there are guys who fish early season with nymphs and streamers with a 2-weight, to which I say, “whatever blows your skirt up!”

Paul Feldman

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My fascination with ultra-light tackle began years ago before I started fly fishing. Like many kids, I started out with a Zebco spin casting outfit. Most of the rods of my youth were medium action, but as a young kid, feeling the fish on the other end and enjoying the fight wasn't on my mind I guess.

 

Later on in my late teenage years, I got a cheap ultra-light spinning outfit. Since I was into fishing for bluegills,

I wanted a rod that was capable of throwing very small spinners and jigs. Around that time too, many guys I knew where buying up the Quantum Micro rods and reels. These were a bit lighter than my UL outfit, so I bought one too.

 

Fast forward to the start of my fly fishing career. My first Fly rod was a 6wt. That was what was recommended by the guy at the fly shop. So I bought the 6wt rod, but fishing for bluegill wasn't all that enjoyable with this rod like it was on the Quantum Micro. It took a couple of years to find a fly rod that would work for me and my panfish addiction. I finally found it in a 3wt rod. From there my direction in this sport was clear, and as time went on I wanted to go lighter, and I ended up with a couple of 2wt rods.

 

Not everyone agrees on the practicality of UL rods or how and when they should be used. Some want a challenge, others what to paint a small fly on the water as delicately as possible. Some what to catch large fish on the lightest possible tackle. For me it's all about having fun, and catching panfish. I think that 1wt, 2wt, and 3wt rods allow panfish to show off a great deal more than a 5wt rod will. Fishing is supposed to be fun after all.  

Jeremy Kurtz

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Methodology

These rods were fished on creeks and ponds over the course of the spring of 2009 by Paul , Jeremy  Jim and Joe.  Bass Pro Shops kindly loaned us four BP White River Classic UL fly reels, two White River CV2 weight-forward number 3 lines and two Cortland Double-Taper 10-Meter number 3 lines.  We're very grateful for their generosity and support.  In addition to the  Bass Pro gear, which was a constant in this project, each rod was also mated with the reels and lines each reviewer already owned.  Roughly speaking, 6 of 8 different models of reel and at least as many different varieties of line were paired with each rod in an attempt to isolate the performance of the stick from the performance of the system.  Long time readers of the Fly Fish Ohio on-line magazine will know how much importance we assign to balance.  When you see comments regarding the balance of the rod and reel in this feature, we're referring to the Bass Pro gear unless otherwise noted.

Reviewers were provided with a standardized review form that asks for a rating on each of nine axis of performance, with a tenth opportunity for the reviewer to award purely subjective points.  Once a rod was evaluated by each reviewer, the points were added and averaged to create a composite score. The questions were averaged across each reviewer, and then the 10 composite question ratings was averaged for a final score.  This score is then rounded to the nearest quarter point and the Fly Fish Ohio Fly Award ratings were set.

A fly rod is a tool used to perform a number of complex fly casts as well as to hook and control a fish once its been fooled into taking the fly.  Therefore we've put emphasis onto the full palette of attributes, some of which are as strongly aesthetic as they are practical.  We've looked at the grip, which should not overpower the rod nor compromise balance with a selection of appropriately sized reels.  The grip should provide a comfortable foundation for the casting hand while enhancing the appearance of the stick with graceful lines and proportions.  Guides should be properly sized and wraps should be neat and symmetrical.  Ferrules, especially on multi-piece rods, should provide witness marks for easy assembly, incorporate minimal mass and must be robust.  A rod tube is an integral part of the system and an after-market tube is a hidden cost.  In short, a fly rod must satisfy the need for pride of ownership as fully as the need for practical utility in order to score highly.

Jeremy provided Common Cents System (CCS) measurements for each fly rod.  The Common Cents System was developed from the need to have a standard for rating fly rods.  While the CCS ratings aren't a perfect way to evaluate a fly rod, they are a consistent way. Without getting into a lengthy treatise on the CCS system - something you can read about in detail here - instead we'll give you the Cliff Notes version. The Effective Rod Number (ERN) is the number for a rods power/line weight. Since this is a 2wt shootout, we'll use the 2wt range of numbers  to explain the ERN more clearly. An ERN of 2.5 is dead on for a standard 2wt line. A 2.0 rating would make the rod a light 2wt or heavy 1wt. A 2.9 rating would make the rod a heavy 2wt or very light 3wt.  

ERN 1.0-1.9 = 1 weight.

ERN 2.0-2.9 = 2 weight.

ERN 3.0-3.9 = 3 weight

ERN 4.0-4.9 = 4 weight

ERN 5.0-5.9 = 5 weight

Action Angle (AA) describes the curve of the rod under a load.  These numbers can be roughly translated to the amount of flex; ie... slow, medium, medium fast, and fast.  The Action Angle numbers are as follows.

59 and under = Slow action

59-63 = Medium

63-66 = Medium Fast

66 and above = Fast

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