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Fly Fishing Jazz: Gear Nirvana

by Kirk Deeter
Kyle Zempelphoto by Kyle Zempel

True satisfaction, when it comes to fly fishing gear, is finding a rod or reel that you love so much, you truly don’t give a damn about what it might possibly fetch someday on eBay.  Even better, while many of us might rationalize buying that rod, reel, net or whatever to our significant others by saying it’s a potential “heirloom,” the fact is that the most valued hand-me-downs have nothing to do with market worth, and everything to do with how much they were treasured on the water by the person who owned them in the first place.

I fish rods, and I carry things in my fishing vest that aren’t worth a plug nickel, but they’re special because they came from people who mattered a lot to me.  My favorite rods and reels, however, are the ones that have worked best in helping me catch memorable fish.  The price I paid has nothing to do with any of that.

When I go on trips to write stories, I carry a “lucky” waterproof ballpoint pen that folds in half, partly because I realize the utility of a waterproof pen when I’m scribbling notes in rainstorms on the water, but mostly because it was given to me by Charlie Meyers.  I think it cost him $3.99.  Today, I wouldn’t sell it for ten grand.

As we enter the fishing trade show season when generation “next” reels, rods, and so forth will be press released, YouTubed, Facebooked, and blogged to the point of nausea (and I will admittedly be wrapped up in the hype machine, writing stories about all of that). I’m simply hoping that the dedicated angler can see clearly enough to realize that true love is born of fishing utility.

What’s right for me may not be right for you, and vice versa.  When you boil it all down, it’s all subjective, and the love affair really doesn’t count until after years on the water.

It also has nothing to do with price.  It has everything to do with feel.

And the reason this conversation is happening in a “Fly Fishing Jazz” context is because that’s exactly how and why icons of the music world have turned odd, misshapen, strange musical instruments into artifacts.  I’ve touched on this notion before.

When you find that rod that you really like, don’t be afraid to take out the sandpaper and scratch down the thumb spot in the grip until it fits just so.  Just for you.  Just for now.

It won’t be worth as much as a “mint condition” equivalent that’s never been out of its tube.  And your great-great-grandson’s thumb might not fit the groove you made.

So what?  I guarantee he’ll appreciate that groove for what it really represents.  And in the end, that’s all that really matters.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • Al Keller

    This article came at the right time. As tarpon season is winding down for me and reflecting on the anglers and fish, this article reminds me of a trusty 11-wt. It has battle scars from over a decade of anglers and tarpon abuse, rough dirty cork, paint and clear coat chipped off, really looks kinda rough, but I would not trade the rod nor start a tarpon season with out it on my boat. I do have new, clean, shiny rods, but this trusty 11-wt has stories, dreams fulfilled, and many more tarpon to land.

    • I’m also fishing with a tarpon rod that I started fishing with in 1990. Are there “better” rods out on the market? Yes. Do they have the memories of hundreds of fish caught and the places they were caught (e.g. a guppy hatch just before dawn, January 1 in the backcountry, during a few double hook-ups in the worm hatch). No.

  • Axelfly23

    enjoyed this immensely.

  • Anonymous

    I’m with you on this one KD. I upgraded and during that period made sure I didn’t damage the heck out of my gear. Some folks got some really good deals on ebay too! I finally have the rods and reels that I’ll stick with until I’m fish food. No kids now or plan to have them…these babies will go to nieces and nephews, a charity or a good friend.

  • Awesome article! For me, my love for my gear comes from my comfort with it. A rod, rather than a tool, feels like an extension of my hand, or rather, a part of me that fits perfectly. I know each little part of it, as it knows me.