A pile of fly rods for folks on a budget

gear bagMuch 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

tim-emery-north-fork-ranchThis 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.

After the fishing, there’s money left for beer.

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.

mikes-bluefinTemple 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.

The End

fly rodsTake 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.


ken morrow says:

that’s a good selection of some quality rods spanning the range of sub-$300 fly rods. the elkhorn 5wts r also quality sticks. and i hav a super value reel recommendation for ur readers: fly fishing benefactors (ffb) reels by carl craig at http://www.flyfishingbenefactors.com they run from $79 to just under $200 and r the best reels at any price point i hav ever used. carl is a top-level aerospace engineer retired from the federal gov’t (dhs). and he makes the reels to raise money for causes he believes n. thus, the prices. but don’t let the “no frills” marketing fool you. that’s just how he keeps the prices low. he has great customer service and warranties. and his reels r simply awesome.

ken morrow says:

for a full flex taper elkhorn, the nomad series rods r an excellent value. i own the 3 and 5 wts and really enjoy them when fishing dries and tiny emergers, soft hackles, and nymphs on light tippets.

Thanks Ken. I was getting schooled by some stillwater aces today. I tried to get a leg up with lighter tippets, and could have used a softer tip. I earned a trip to the fly shop instead.

Jason says:

Would be great to see a similar post on reels.,,,

Matthew says:

Seeing this list contains an Orvis Mid-Flex and the TFO Finesse, its a sin leaving out Sage’s Launch 586-2. This rod can be found under 200.00. In Sage’s terms this would be a full flex rod which is why I would go with a 8’6 in a 5wt. I feel you should always go with a two piece rod with a Mid and Full flex setup.

My Steelhead rod is a TFO Professional series 10Ft 7 Wt. and I absolutly love it.

Also, you could have recently picked up an Orvis Zero-G 864-2 Mid-Flex 7.0 for around $320.00 which will forever be my favorite rod.

To the Original Zero-G – RIP

Matthew –

Jason mentioned the missing downline rods from the premium brands as well. The same friend who took on the Orvis also bought a 6 wt FLi at the ISE show – I believe he paid under $200 for it (of course, that’s a closeout/show price). I had a chance to cast the rod in the demo pool, and found it pretty smooth – certainly good value for those bucks.

Yea, the Zero-G… I only got my hands on one, and only once. I bought it immediately – the 6 wt. salty tip-flex 10.5, for big streamers, and it was a sweetheart deal to boot.

Thanks for the contribution.

steve Babbitt says:

want to be blown away try out the offerings from Grey’s. I cast a 9′ 4wt X-flite along side a much higher priced Orvis and sage rods I was trying to decide which one i was going to buy. Believe it or not the $280 x-flite blew them both out if the casting pool. I was able to throw 70′ of line easily and pick it up again with out any trouble. The recovery on it was as good as either of the $400 + more expensive rods as was the ability to hit what you needed too at 20′ or 70′. The thing that i was most impressed with was the light feel it weighed only about 2 3/4 oz. and felt even lighter. I picked one up the very next day and used the extra $$ to get a Hardy Swift reel for it.


Thanks Steve. I took a look at the Grey’s online – seem reasonably priced, but it’s pretty hard to tell one line of rods from the other (and in particular figure out their suitability vis-a-vis action).

On a side note, one of the contributors to this article, Matt Dunn, had a rod/reel stolen yesterday (bummer). He’s now trying to figure out a replacement setup, and could use some advice. Click through here and help a brotha out!

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