By Sam Larson
I spend my own money on the stuff that I review here and would tell you if I was given a specific product for free or for testing. Everything below is my personal opinion and experience with the gear in question.
I rarely write product reviews. None of them ever seem to get to the core of a product. Reviewers seem to fall back on trite terms and easy outs all too often. Graphite rods are “smooth” and “powerful”. Fiberglass is “buttery”. Flies “float like corks”. The list goes on. My own personal review habits are to find as many reviews as I can and assume that the actual experience is somewhere in the middle of the plaudits and condemnations.
But at the core of this statement about how I don’t write many product reviews is that fact that I bought a $95 nymphing rod off Amazon. I decided to give actual high-stick nymphing a try this winter and I didn’t have the funds to go in for the usual brands, especially considering that I wasn’t entirely sure if I would like owning a dedicated nymphing rod.
Like all wants and desires in the 21st century this process began with a long bout of internet research and product comparisons. I settled on a Maxcatch Farglory 9.5 foot nymphing rod with extensions up to 11 feet. Never heard of Maxcatch? Neither had I, but Maxcatch is all over Amazon and the internet and they seem to make everything under the sun. Fly rods, graphite and fiberglass, reels, lines, etc., etc. And all for prices that are low enough to make a grown man weep and then maybe, just maybe, stop before finalizing the purchase and question what exactly you’re going to get for a $29.99 reel.
I found it after searching for “Czech nymphing rod” and sorting in reverse order by price. It was the cheapest of the bunch and had a single four star review. The rod starts as a nine and a half foot, graphite, four-piece, 4-weight but is advertised as a “four-in-one” combo rod. What that means is that there’s another couple of rod sections in the tube, a six-inch section and a twelve-inch section. Insert either or both of those sections in between the butt and the next rod section and you can set it up as a ten-, ten and a half-, or eleven-foot rod.
I rationalized the purchase a couple of different ways. One is that nymphing epitomizes chuck and duck fishing. I questioned the need for a rod that could actually cast well since all I would be doing is tossing heavy flies upstream over and over. A stout stick, in my mind, could do the job just as well. The second phase of rationalizing was that if I liked it I would almost certainly replace the rod with something nicer down the road. I also had an old Cabela’s reel that I had retired and it was already wound with line. With those two pieces to the puzzle already sitting on a box in my garage it became even easier to pull the trigger on the Maxcatch Farglory.
The rod shipped from China in three days, for free, which blew my mind. The carbon cost alone of getting something from the other side of the world to my doorstep should have been enough to drive the price of the rod way, way up. But arrive it did, neatly packaged in foam wrapping and a double layer of packing tape. The shipping label was densely covered in computer-printed Chinese characters but the name “Leslie” was handwritten in black pen across the upper left corner of the Sender box. Under all the wrapping was a decent quality cordura rod tube with a simple picture of a fly rod embroidered along the side. To one side of the picture was the text, “Farglory Nympb”. It’s easy enough to transpose a lowercase “h” and a lowercase “b”, especially if you’re not a native speaker, so I chalked that up to a quirk of international commerce. If nothing else it gives the rod some character.
The inside of the rod tube was sectioned off into five pockets and the top and bottom of the tube were padded with heavy foam. Tucked inside the top of the tube was a printed thank you note signed by Leslie Chan, CEO of Maxcatch. That explained the “Leslie” handwritten on the label, I thought. The first piece I slid out of the rod tube looked good. The blank was a matte root beer brown and the epoxy laid over the wraps and feet of the guides was a deep, glossy brown. The finish was consistent and the wraps were tight and clean, with nice even application of the epoxy. I sighted down the rod section and the guides were straight as an arrow. The rest of the rod pieces were as nicely finished as the first. The butt section had a smooth, dense-feeling cork grip that was wrapped in cellophane and a nice looking hardwood reel seat. The aluminum hardware felt smooth and solid. When I test fit the reel it sat snugly in the reel seat and the double lockrings held it very securely.
At this point I set all of the rod sections down on my counter and took a step back. The rod, I thought, looks far nicer than what I paid for. I had planned on receiving an unvarnished stick and instead got a rod that, at least as far as finish is concerned, looks as nice as some of the name brand rods that I have used in the past. All of the prejudices regarding Chinese manufacturing ran through my head over and over. I’ve worked in the cycling industry for almost a decade and the prejudice against overseas manufacture is an unsubtle current in that professional community. I know that knock-off and copyright-infringing products are a serious issue within the fly fishing community. There must be some difference, some reason that this rod was only $95 and any other rod quickly shot over $250. I joined the sections together and waggled the rod a bit. From my kitchen the nine and a half foot rod arched over my counter top into my living room. It certainly moved like a rod, I thought, and didn’t feel like an almost ten foot long broomstick. I broke it down again and put it away, taking one last look at the finish on each segment. The next day was supposed to be sunny and I decided to leave the office a bit early to get out on some local water and give the rod a test drive. So far it looked like a rod, and felt like a rod, but I still didn’t trust that it would actually fish like a rod.