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’ve eyeballed the Smith Creek Rod Clip for a while. I think that anyone who fly fishes regularly has struggled with what to do with your rod when you catch a fish or, God forbid, something goes terribly wrong. I am not a fan of dropping my rod and reel into the water, I can only stumble around on the bank for so long looking for a safe spot to set the rod before it stresses out the fish in my net, I can’t balance the rod across my shoulders like everyone seems to do in their grip-and-grins on Instagram, and I’ve had it slip out from under my arm far too many times. Is this a trip-defining problem? Something that prevents me from fishing or keeps me from getting on the water? No, not at all. It’s a petty annoyance, but also something that feels like it should be simpler.
When I first saw the Smith Creek site the rod clip felt like a novelty. The kind of thing that lives in buckets by the cash register at the fly shop, not anything that’s actually worth the time but something that someone, somewhere, likely swears by and gets made fun of by their fishing buddies because of it. “FREE YOUR HANDS - KEEP YOUR REEL OUT OF THE MUD” says the website. But I kept coming back to it after each trip where I dinged my reel by dropping it on a rock. Tax season is the time of year when I make impulse purchases so after I got my return I splurged and spent a whopping $25 on the Smith Creek Rod Holder.
On arrival it was more nicely made than I thought it would be. The aluminum is sturdy, the anodized color is smooth, and the foam insert is high-density. The zinger it’s attached to spooked me for a second because it has a very short line inside it and I thought that it was broken. Upon reflection it makes a ton of sense because a long zinger would let your rod, after clipping into the Smith Creek Rod Clip, drop down to about knee level. The rod clip fit neatly into one of the Zero Sweep tool docks on the side of my Umpqua Rock Creek Chest Pack and tucked largely out of the way. I paraded around the house wearing my chest pack for a bit and, at least under those circumstances, it didn’t harm my ability to use my arms or move around. The thing is pretty tiny after all.
It took a couple of weeks before I was able to test the Smith Creek Rod Clip. Winter weather kept me inside but the annual Blue Lines trip to the Arkansas for pre-runoff brown trout gave me a chance to test the rod holder over three long days of fishing. And I have to say, it works. Really well. It never let the rod slip and, as advertised, it securely dangles your fly rod from wherever you pin the rod holder. Getting the rod in and out is a breeze, the foam doesn’t mark the rod’s finish, and when you’re done the rod holder zips back out of the way. I even got good at using it single-handed, an important skill when you have a struggling trout in the net you’re holding with your other hand. It makes tying on tippet and flies really easy, with a single caveat described below, and just generally makes using both hands simpler when you’re hip deep in a river.
There are some quirks to using it. Zinger placement is important. Where I have it pinned, on the side of my chest pack, puts the fly rod right in my face. I realized after the fact that all of the pictures on the site show people with the rod holder clipped much further out towards the side of their chest. They also have a jaunty slant to their fly rods, with the rod itself tipped out and away from them. That doesn’t happen for me. This is a straight up and down affair. One of the advertised perks to using the Smith Creek Rod Holder is that it makes tying on flies much easier. This is true, but rod holder placement comes into play again. Where I have it fastened you can end up with a bunch of loose line kind of flapping around in front of your face. Easy enough to fix if you take a minute to think through the problem, but when there are fish rising I’m not always at my sharpest. I also found that if I knelt down with a rod in the holder I’ll still dip the reel in the water. Not the end of the world, and it certainly is better than dropping a graphite rod across the rocks or watching it drift away in the current, but just something to note.
I bought the Smith Creek Rod Holder on a bit of a whim but it’s turned out to be a well-liked add-on to my fishing gear. I like it, remember to use it about three quarters of the time, and appreciate what it adds to the day. The litmus test for any new piece of gear is whether it makes your day better or simpler or more enjoyable. That can be a super expensive piece of high-tech gadgetry or a DIY paracord tippet reel. The only thing that matters is how it makes fishing better. The Smith Creek Rod Clip makes my days better by removing a handful of small annoyances and worries. It doesn’t help me catch more fish, it doesn’t help me cast better, but it lets me use both hands when I need to and keep my rod from falling into the rocks. For that it has a place on my chest pack.