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It's Lonely On The Bottom

Eagle Claw's Featherlight Fly Rod Reviewed

By Joe Cornwall

 

"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly."

Thomas Paine

 

Click For The Fly Fish Ohio Rating System

 

 

One of the unfortunate attributes of a hobby with limited practitioners is that the accoutrements of that pastime tend to get spendy quickly.  Fly fishing has a well-deserved reputation for being on the expensive side.  In the world of serious fly fishing, a $300 rod is seen as mid-priced and a top-notch fly line can push a C-note by itself.  For the most part, the industry doesn't take any rod under $100 seriously.  How sad that must be for the people who try to make a living from this wonderful sport!  Imagine having uncounted potential customers walk on by simply because they don't think they'll be able to afford the cost of entry.  Eagle Claw has made an industry out of changing that perception, and their newest series of budget fly rods will go a long ways towards bringing new blood into a grand sport.

 

To dare to imagine that there might be a fully functional, totally fishable fly rod available at a store near you for under $50 is nearly unthinkable.  To look for a discount beyond that and to imagine buying one for under $40, or even under $30, borders on the insane.  After all, it's not possible for a fly rod to sell for such a paltry sum and still be anything more than absolute junk!  Well, not so fast!  There's life down here in the profundal zone!  I purchased the rod shown for $32, including delivery to my door, and I could have purchased it locally for even a few dollars less if I'd wanted to take a ride. 

 

I purchased this rod specifically to write this review.  I certainly didn't need another 8-foot 6-weight fly rod; I've got dozens.  It's my favorite, and in my humble opinion, the single most useful size and weight for general purpose warm water poking about.  But as I pondered the possibility of a truly affordable outfit, it occurred to me that none of the print magazines would be likely to dedicate their precious ink to anything so plebian.  And the places that sell this type of equipment aren't likely to have anyone on staff who can offer useful advice.  So what happens to folks who just want a cheap rod?  What if you want a back-up outfit to keep in the truck 24/7/365?  What about an affordable rod the kids can learn on; something that will give them the opportunity to see if they want to go farther down this road?  Or maybe you just want a rod you don't have to worry about for visitors and guests?  I decided it's up to the Fly Fish Ohio crew to keep things real!

 

 

The Eagle Claw FL300-8 is one of a series of ten rods on the Featherlight family, and one of three fly rod configurations. There is also a 6-foot 6-inch 3/4 weight and a 7-foot 5/6 weight in the collection, and I've heard rumors that both of them are surprising performers.  In fact, they may be better than the 8-foot 6-weight reviewed here, but that's just rumor.  I've not handle either of the other configurations, but people I know and trust have told me that they define "bargain"!  If they're better than the FL300-8, then they are quite good indeed.

 

Eagle Claw claims that the "Classic Featherlight action has been updated for a slightly quicker response" making these faster than previous versions.  I never fished the earlier models, but they must have been very slow as the new Featherlights are quite smooth and moderate.  They are made out of a fiberglass/graphite composite, so there's likely a connection to the low modulus and simple taper used.  But being a glass rod they're certainly going to excel in durability.

 

The quality of the cork is surprising and is easily better than some rods costing three or four times what I paid for this little yellow gem.  Fit and finish are... shall we say "modest"... and in accord with the expected budget application.  The guides are cheap and the threadwork is functional without addressing beauty in anything more than a most superficial way.  The ferrule is a butt-over-tip design, something that's extinct on gear at any price point over $100.  It looks, and feels, befitting of its price.   All Eagle Claw Featherlights offer a one year warranty.  In summary, there's not much about the appearance of this stick, cheery as it is in its bright yellow dress, to build the confidence of a gear snob.  And that's where the surprise comes in! 

 

I rigged the Eagle Claw with a brand new Pflueger Medalist 1494 and spooled a close-out Bass Pro weight forward 6-weight line over some left-over backing.  The total price of the outfit was a staggering $65!  The rod and reel worked well together, with with a static balance point at the front of the grip.  I also fished the rod with double-taper 5 and 6 lines to see how it reacted to various loads. In my hands this rod definitely worked with a 6-weight.

 

I fished this rod while wading for smallmouth and carp, white bass and skipjacks.  I also took it out on my canoe several times to see how casting from a sitting position would affect performance.  I fished nymphs and streamers, buggers and poppers, wet flies and dry flies.  I didn't find a single application where the ability of this stick came up short.  In every practical regard, this rod is a solid performer!

 

My greatest criticism is aimed at the ferrule, which tended to loosen and allow the tip section to spin a bit.  A little paraffin helped, but this ferrule design really is about the cost.  It's just not possible to mass-produce a fly rod at this price point and have precision parts.  While this failing required the occasional pause in the action, it didn't take away from the utility of the stick.  The tip section never separated and the loosening was merely an annoyance.

 

I also felt the grip, while of surprisingly good quality cork with a smooth feel, was a bit short.  Another inch would have made it easier for me to find a comfortable hand position.  Again, this is a minor inconvenience and I've noted similar failings in rods an order of magnitude more expensive.

 

Roll casting was acceptable, with the rod loading fully with 15' of line beyond the tip top.  I was able to reliably place a roll-cast to 30-fee or so.  Tracking of the blank was marginal.  I found many casts ended up within 2-feet of my target, but controlling the precise placement to less than a foot was challenging.  When asked for distance, the progressive taper (there's nothing parabolic about this blank, despite the labeling) loaded more deeply until I was laying out casts of 50-feet or so.  Beyond that distance there was a distinct feeling of hinging, as though the tip section was overloaded while the butt section was barely bending.  This is likely a by-product of the ferrule design, which mandates a larger diameter butt to accommodate the tip section.

 

Even with these faults, there was nothing about the Featherlight that could or would keep me from fishing it effectively under a wide range of conditions.  Certainly my Scott Warm Water Special is a better 8-foot 6-weight; as it should be for 20 times the price!  The Scott makes it possible to almost "will" the fly onto a teacup-sized target while simultaneously executing an aerial mend.  This level of sublime performance is the result of absolute attention to detail and a perfectly tuned blank.  Under certain, very limited circumstances, and when applied with carefully developed skill, this level of performance can hook an angler to otherwise untouchable fish.  But for most outings, most of the time, the Eagle Claw's level of performance isn't going to be the limiting factor. 

 

Eagle Claw should be commended for producing a wholly functional, fully dependable fly rod that defines value.  It's a great choice for a youngster's first long rod.  It's ideal for the occassional guest who just wants to swing some line in the air and feel a rod bend with a bluegill, bass, carp or stocked trout at the end of the leader.  It's a great choice to store behind the seat of your vehicle for those unexpected opportunities.  All in all, this is a fine fly rod!  From a strict performance perspective, this stick lies closer to a two-fly rating than a three-fly rating on the Fly Fish Ohio rating scale, but I believe the unprecedented price point makes up for its warts.  There's nothing out there at twice the price that's any better, and damn few choices at four times the price that's significantly better.  Kudos to Eagle Claw for making fly fishing a sport for everyone... again!

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