Much as we’d all like to be casting $1,800 varnished masterpieces, there are a whole lot of rods people can get a hold of without taking out a third mortgage loan. Some are perfectly suitable for delicate trout fishing, while others would feel more comfortable in an urban industrial park, or in the deep blue sea. You never know when you’re going to hook a fine specimen of submerged branch as your little dry fly drowns in the riffles – you’ll want a picture of that and the only way to do it is to put down your rod. Spend just a few hundred on your stick, and you won’t be sweating it.
Elkhorn EF 863-5
This recommendation comes from Tim Emery of Fish Explorer Podcasts fame – the Elkhorn EF 863-5. It’s an 8’6″ 3-weight in five pieces, described as the ‘do everything rod’. Tim noted that he’s fished this rod on the Big Thomson, the Eagle, the South Platte and the Roaring Fork, as well as lakes in the Colorado Front Range. Uses have included both Czech and Polish nymphing, dry dropper, dropper, and small stream dry fly fishing. Well that pretty much covers the versatility bit. The only drawback in Tim’s eyes, playing it in the wind (which can actually be a problem with most any rod if the wind is strong enough). Mr. Emery, who’s got a decade of guiding and managing fly shops under his belt, says he’d put the rod up against anything in the $500+ range. Priced around $210, via Elkhorn Fly Rods and Reels.
Temple Fork Outfitters Finesse – TF 03 79 4 F
Matt Dunn turns the other cheek, throwing streamers when when the hoity-toity purists arrive, yet he can still show his sensitive side with the 7’9″ TFO Finesse 3-weight. Matt says the Finesse feels like butter in his hands – it won’t win casting contests, but it’s not supposed to either. He uses it for it’s intended purpose – dropping tiny dries at distances inside of 15 feet, quietly and with pinpoint precision (as well as peace of mind that his 8X tippet isn’t going to pop when the trout slurps). You can pick up the Finesse 3 for very reasonable $180, leaving you just enough cash, according to Matt, to grab the 7’3″ 2-weight and the 8’9″ 4-weight. Sounds like savings to me! Via TFO.
Orvis Streamline 865-2 Mid Flex
I prodded a friend to pick up the 5wt, 8’6″, 2-piece mid-flex job as a first rod when it went on holiday clearance. It cost my buddy $45. He caught his first trout ever on it, and has since pulled in quite a number more. After introducing him to streamer fishing he found it a bit mushy, but that’s to be expected from a light mid-flex. I traded rods with him one afternoon and thought it insufficient for the heavy hauls, but as a nymphing and dry fly rod it was perfectly suitable – if it was the last unbroken rod in the truck after a road trip, I certainly wouldn’t quit fishing. Priced around $90, but you can find them cheaper. From where else…Orvis.
Echo Classic 6
Bryan Gregson, the only Utahn who the State of Montana Tourism Board probably has on their payroll after this catch, is an Echo fan. Yep, he caught that Madison monster (15+ pounds by almost any measure) on an Echo Classic 6 (and it wasn’t even his rod). Sadly, the Classic has been discontinued, but the updated Ion model will set you back a mere $190 – from Rajeff Sports.
Echo 2 Saltwater 7
Mr. Gregson is back, this time with his go-to rod for chasing everyone’s favorite thrasher, the Tiger Muskie. Bryan has worked the R&D routine for a couple of manufacturers – he says function over fashion is what it all boils down to, with durability outweighing any bells and whistles. As a man who fishes a lot (170+ days a year), he needs equipment that can handle harsh environments, day in and day out. The Echo 2 S-7 casts fat flies like Bryan wants it too, and handles big, aggressive fish in tight structural situations once he’s hooked them. He calls the rod honestly priced, and at $290 (with two tips, medium-fast and fast), I’ve got to agree with him. Again, from Rajeff Sports.
Temple Fork Outfitters Professional – TFO 08 90 6 P
I own this rod, an 8-weight, 6-piece – I bought it for carping, with a mind to trashing it. I thought it would feel heavy in the hand (due to the number of ferrules), but it didn’t. In fact it’s light enough that the original early model reel I had on it felt too heavy, and I’ve since skinnied-down the crankcase. I can toss small stones as well as big barrel-eyed nonsense – under no circumstances do I feel like the rod is out of control, and I can drop just about anything anywhere I’d like, even with winds swirling around. I paid bottom dollar for it, and it’s clearly the best value I have in my quiver. I can’t imagine other rods in the line performing much differently – they are all lighter and purportedly just as manageable. It’ll cost you $210, but possibly cheaper if you get the rep a gig on Letterman. Via Temple Fork Outfitters.
Echo 2 Saltwater 9
This rod weighs in at $290 (again, it’s a two-tipper), but Jason Puris of The Fin says it’s worth every penny. Jason does 99% of his fishing from the beaches, rocks and jetties of Long Island (with emphasis on Montauk), and needs a stick that can handle surf and wind. While he has a half-dozen other (much more expensive) rods in his quiver, the Echo 2 S-9 does it for him because of the strength factor – he may favor slightly better casting tools, but he’s seen more than his fair share of them snap under the stress. The Echo 2 also gets the nod when Jason travels to far-away places – the convenience factor of those two tips wins over multiple tubes in tow. Once more: $290, from Rajeff Sports.
Temple Fork Outfitters Bluewater – TF BW LD
Pete McDonald has good things to say about TFO’s Bluewater 10-13 (we’re calling it a twelver to avoid confusion). Pete didn’t want to spend big money on a rod he breaks out only a few times a year for shark opportunities and/or his annual bluefin trip. Pete assumes he likes the rod because he’s used to it, but he still says it casts as easy as any other 12-weight he’s tried. The Fishing Jones proprietor isn’t stingy with the rod either – a fishing buddy of his picked up a tasty tuna with it. Good man – most of my friends would toss my rods overboard and scream fetch! Then again, maybe I deserve it. Priced at $250 – from a Temple Fork Dealer near you.
Take any of these rods, along with a decently built reel (many of which can be had for $200 or less, particularly during closeout season), and you’ve got an outfit for a lifetime. Some take to 7X flouro with gusto, while others are going to require the addition of shock tippets (I prefer hard mono to wire, but who really cares when you are chasing beasts that actually require such a thing as a ‘shock tippet’). But the best part about it all? You won’t be breaking the bank in the process.
Editor’s note: First, thanks goes out to all the contributors to this post – they are fine fly fishing folk, and were ready, willing and able to assist. I have the highest regard for their opinions. Also, this is just one survey, across a select group of anglers, and it’s heavy on a few manufacturers. That may tell you a little something about who is targeting the budget conscious, but I am sure there are plenty of other reasonably priced rods out there too. If you have recommendations on discount rods that have treated you well, please feel free to chime in.