For some time, Bucky has been asking me if I’d write a blog post about the Hardy and Diamondback fiberglass rods carried by Blue Ribbon. He is quite a fan of both, and regularly fishes a Diamondback. I’ve been putting him off for a while now, but for no reason other than to spend a little more time evaluating the various models and collecting my thoughts. Ordinarily, I’d prefer to write complete evaluations about each of the following rods, but for the sake of brevity I’m going to limit myself to a few comments about each rod.
Before I start there’s one point I’d like to make. The recent resurgence in fiberglass rods has once again got people talking about “fiberglass” action, just as they often talk of “bamboo” and “graphite” action. There is no such thing. Not for fiberglass, bamboo or graphite. A rod’s action—the bend it assumes under load—is a function of design, not of material. In the hands of a knowledgeable rod designer, any of the aforementioned materials can be used to make rods with any kind of action. (Bamboo and fiberglass weigh more than graphite, and longer length rods built with these materials often exhibit a degree of self-weight momentum. This is often confused with—but is not the same as—the action of the rod.)
There are three models of Hardy fiberglass in the shop: 7’ - #3, 7.5’ - #4 and 8’ - #5.
The 8’ model is a superior rod, and I think the best of the three. It demonstrates excellent communication in close, it’s silky smooth at normal fishing distances, and when asked to go a bit long easily incorporates the butt section to carry the extra load. There is never a need to modify your casting stroke or to exercise care in where you place the casting load in this rod. It manipulates line easily, and can protect fine tippets as well. Rod material notwithstanding, it’s one of the best designed rods available today.
The 7.5’ rod is excellent, too. In close and at normal fishing distances, it is the equal of the 8’ model. For casts longer than 45 feet you will have to exercise some care with this rod, as the tip and middle are not as accepting of the additional load. (But casting over 45’ is really outside this rod’s purview anyway, so I don’t consider this a problem.)
The 7’ rod lacks the in-close communication of the other two models. In a rod designed for close work, this is a real negative. Owing to its relative stiffness, it is also not nearly as easy a casting rod as the other two. (I put a #4 line on this rod and it was much improved in this regard. So, to me, this is a #4 rod, not a #3.)
Blue Ribbon carries two models of Diamondback fiberglass rods: 8’ - #4 and 8.5’ - #4.
The 8’ rod lacks communication when used with a #4 line, especially at close and mid-range. At distance it’s a bit better in this regard but, truth be told, for efficient casting this should really be considered a 5-weight rod. With a #5 line on it this rod is excellent at everything short of distance work. I rank it just a hair behind the 8’ - #5 Hardy (because the Hardy requires no care in casting, even at distance). The overall appearance of this rod is not as aesthetically pleasing as that of the Hardy, but that’s at least partly due to the fact it’s $125.00 less expensive.
The 8.5’ Diamondback is really a #5 rod masquerading as a #4. If you use this rod with a #4 line—which you can do—you will end up expending more effort in casting than would be necessary if the rod were truly a #4. But as with the 8’ model, put a #5 line on this rod and it is much improved. The rod contributes more to the cast, and the in-close feel is far better. At 8.5 feet, the weight of this rod is noticeable during casting, as is the self-weight momentum (a feeling of heaviness in the hand, as the already slow action is somewhat exacerbated by the weight and length of the blank itself).
In summary, the 8’ Hardy and 8’ Diamondback (both used with #5 lines) and the 7.5’ - #4 Hardy are superior rods. Not superior fiberglass rods, mind you, but superior rods regardless of material. If the lengths and weights of these rods suit your needs, I strongly recommend comparing them to any of today’s graphite or bamboo rods.
Here's a clip for all you lake Junkies!
Virtually every summer weekend it’s possible to turn on the television and watch a PGA golf tournament. By and large, these tournaments feature the best golfers in the world. The skills these golfers demonstrate are numerous, impressive, and subject to endless analysis. If you play also, it’s easy to see how your game stacks up against theirs. And after watching the professionals hit the ball, I’m very much aware that I play the game nowhere near their level. Striking the ball cleanly—time and again—is but one reason they’re professionals and the rest of us aren’t, and this can be seen clearly during every telecast.
Things are a little different in the sport of fly fishing. Opportunities to watch expert fly fishermen are scarce. Not only because real experts are a rare commodity to begin with, but also because there aren’t any readily available forums for watching them. Forget the TV fishing shows and almost all fishing videos—they seldom showcase expert anglers. Even when they do, it’s tough to truly appreciate their skills. Too much of what separates the expert from the amateur doesn’t translate well to the screen.
To gain appreciation for the skills of an expert, I think you pretty much have to stand alongside one, watching as he or she fishes. Of course, this isn’t easy to do either. But not having the chance to watch an expert has never kept the amateur angler from wondering, how do they fish differently than me?
Here are a few thoughts, based on observations I’ve made over the years. (Incidentally, I know the terms “amateur” and “expert” aren’t exactly opposites and that they’re also subject to definition. Let’s just say the experts are those operating at the highest levels of skill with respect to knowledge and ability, and that the amateurs are somewhere beneath that—usually quite far beneath. In golf terms, think pro golfer versus a 15 handicapper.)
One of the most significant differences between expert fly fishermen and amateurs lies in the level of respect they accord their quarry. Not respect in the conventional sense of, say, honoring and appreciating fish as symbols of the wild (I would hope anglers of all skill levels bring this to the sport), but rather respect in the sense of understanding that the fish they’re trying to catch are wild.
Most wild animals, fish included, possess formidable survival instincts. Instincts that in varying degrees make them difficult to find, approach, fool, and capture. Expert anglers understand this completely. Indeed, their approach to fishing is deeply informed by the knowledge that in order to capture a wild trout (especially a larger specimen), an essential first step is respecting its wildness.
In that regard, amateurs generally fail. They don’t fully appreciate the fact that wild trout behavior is all about survival, and not about offering themselves up for our angling pleasure. Because of this amateurs end up committing many errors in their fishing, including but not limited to questionable tackle choice, careless approaches, and poor fly presentation. Though it may seem as if respect has nothing to do with this, on a very fundamental level it has everything to do with it.
Expertise can be thought of as a combination of knowledge and ability. In an expert angler knowledge is multifaceted. There is the conceptual knowledge of fly fishing itself—understanding the various methods and tactics that may be employed, equipment theory, etc. There is specific knowledge of fish species—where they live, how they behave, when they feed, what kind of food they eat. Also, there is a deep knowledge of additional factors that affect fishing such as weather, water conditions, insects and/or other food items.
This knowledge base is sometimes overlooked as part of the expert’s skill set. This is due partly, I think, to the fact that you can’t see it. And owing to individual personality, there’s often no inkling of it even when talking face to face with an expert. It’s always present, however, and before their first cast is ever made this knowledge has been brought to bear in deciding where to fish, when to fish, and how to fish. That’s why more often than not an expert ends up in the right place at the right time.
Ability can entail many things. It can be a physical skill, such as superior casting. It can be manifested as a mental skill; the capacity for long periods of intense concentration is an example. Often, an expert ability includes both mental and physical aspects. The power of observation is one of these.
Experts are observant by nature. They’re in touch with their surroundings. They consistently see things that escape the notice of the amateurs. One reason for this is that the best anglers have exceptional eyesight. Another is that they possess the cognitive ability to interpret the significance of what their eyes see—around the water, on the water, and in the water. Add together good eyes, strong cognitive powers and many years of experience, and you end up with powers of observation that vastly exceed those of the amateur. Specific examples of skillful observation can include spotting fish underwater, correctly interpreting fish behavior, observing subtle rises and other signs of feeding activity. In the case of selective feeding, it can mean figuring out which particular food item the fish are taking.
Stealth is another skill with both mental and physical attributes, and it’s one that experts possess in spades. Stealth can take many forms—crawling unobserved through minimal cover to approach a fish, wading a pool without disturbance, remaining motionless for minutes at a time while stalking fish. Different kinds of fishing often require different degrees of stealth. The ability to recognize this and employ just the right amount in any given situation is another quality that separates the expert from the amateur.
Closely related to stealth is patience. I consider patience primarily a mental faculty, and the ability to incorporate it to the degree required is a hallmark of the expert angler. Like stealth, patience can be manifested in many ways. Maybe it’s in waiting on the weather, or waiting on a hatch. Maybe it’s in waiting for a big fish to establish a regular feeding rhythm before casting to it. Patience also plays an important role when it comes to fighting fish—especially big fish.
When it comes to employing the right amounts of observation, stealth, and patience, amateur anglers frequently come up short. Some of this is due merely to inexperience. A large part of it, however, appears bound up in the all-to-common notion that if we’re not standing in the water actively casting, then we’re not fishing. But here the expert can teach us a valuable lesson: observation is fishing. How much is necessary may change with every situation, but the need for it never—I repeat, never—goes away.
Casting is perhaps the most important physical skill in fly fishing. (There is a mental aspect here as well, but for our purposes we’ll ignore it.) That the expert casts better than the amateur is a given. But what, exactly, does “better” mean? There isn’t a simple answer here, since a number of interrelated elements are always involved in casting. Let’s look at a few of them.
When it comes to the mechanics of casting, the expert’s form is generally faultless. Their casting strokes are built from fundamentally sound, repeatable movements. Good casting fundamentals are important because they allow complete control of the fly line—from altering the size and shape of the casting loop to adjusting the line’s speed, direction, placement and manipulation on the water. Experts can perform all the necessary casts and line maneuvers required for effective fly presentation. On the other hand, amateur’s strokes suffer almost universally from any number of technical flaws.
Another part of expert-level fly casting is the ability to maintain an awareness about what’s occurring in the space between the fisherman and the fish. Experts pay close attention to the water and its movement, always considering the effects it may have on the line, leader, and fly. They’ll note the presence of wind—its strength, direction, consistency. They may consider such factors as the angle of the sun in relation to the fish. These things are taken into account before the first cast is made, because they serve to inform about exactly what kind of cast will be required.
Experts will ask themselves if a straight-line cast is okay, or whether slack is necessary. If slack is called for, how much and where in the cast should it be positioned? How much line speed is needed to achieve the correct distance, or to counteract the wind? Should the fly land hard to the water? Softly? Is there a risk that the rod or line will spook the fish? Whatever the situation, experts are always thinking ahead. If several different kinds of cast could work, the expert invariably chooses the easiest one.
In contrast, amateurs all too frequently cast first (from wherever they happen to be standing at the moment) and make adjustments later, after the need for them has become obvious. Even when the subsequent adjustments are correct they often come too late to matter. The fish have already been alerted to the angler’s presence, put down, or spooked completely.
Accuracy is a critical element of casting. Unsurprisingly, experts exhibit a substantially greater degree of it than do amateurs. Put simply, they can deliver the fly where it needs to go. More subtly, they can put the fly where it needs to go on the first cast. Most fishermen know that the opportunity to catch a fish is never better than on the initial cast, which is why the experts are always working to make their first cast their best cast.
Let’s remember, however, that no one is perfect. We all make errant casts. It’s just that when the experts err it’s generally done in a way that doesn’t cost them a chance at a fish. For instance, when casting to a rising trout the expert typically misses short or wide, keeping the fly and leader away from the fish. He’ll also miss with delicacy, avoiding crashing the line or leader on the water. Done this way it’s possible to get numerous chances at a given fish. Amateurs often lack the ability to make repeated casts close enough to a fish to catch it without alerting it to their presence or spooking it outright.
The ability to cast long distances is commonly held as a quality that separates experts from amateurs. But I don’t think you have to be able to cast long distances (for discussion’s sake, say over 80 feet with a 5-weight outfit) to be considered an expert angler. Distance isn’t everything. Yet the creme de la creme of experts certainly can cast long, and in the right place at the right time they benefit greatly from that ability.
It’s sort of like the pro golf tour. Every player on the tour is an expert golfer, but not every one of them will be a tournament winner. That’s because they often lack one or more of the little extra skills that puts a player on top. For fly fishermen, the ability to cast extreme distances is one of those little extra skills. While it guarantees nothing and isn’t required often, when it is required nothing can replace it. So while anglers that can’t cast long may still be experts, they’re a definite notch below those who can.
Another difference between experts and amateurs lies in their understanding of tackle. Experts own and employ the right equipment for the type of fishing they’re doing. That means the right rod, reel, line, and leader. They know how it functions together and they also know its limits. This is important in every step of the fishing process, but especially critical when it comes to fighting fish.
Knowing the maximum amount of pressure that can be applied to a fish, and knowing when and how to apply it are subtle skills that the experts have acquired and refined. Amateurs generally lack knowledge about the limits of their tackle and the physical feeling of operating at the edge of those limits. Consequently they frequently make mistakes when fighting fish. Perhaps the most common is that of underplaying the fish—failing to push their tackle near enough to its breaking point. This unnecessarily gives fish more time and opportunity to escape and also adds to the physical stress they must endure.
Of course, there are many other differences between the amateurs and experts. It’s unfortunate that we lack better opportunities to watch the experts in person, because that’s the one place where you can gain an appreciation for what’s really possible in this sport. Should you ever have the chance to watch or fish with an expert, I’d recommend jumping at it. Pay close attention to what they do, and I’m certain your own fishing will benefit tremendously.
It's late summer on a meadow stream, and a trout rises for a terrestrial imitation. The first hint of the angler's response can be seen in the slight movement of the leader.