I put my money where my mouth was and bought a 5/6wt rod from Fly Fishing Benefactors. You may recall the earlier review I did on one of their reels (click here). Carl Craig, the owner of FFB, lent me a 3/4wt rod, the Shenandoah model, to test. I loved it so much that I bought the 5/6wt (San Juan model) and, bottom line up front, fell in love with it as well. So, why write the review on the 5/6wt?
Well..... I know I have to give the 3/4wt back when I am done testing it.... so, that test may take a long, long, long time... sorry, Carl.
The San Juan matches up against the TFO Professional model. I've got one of those, so it was natural to compare the two. When you look at the specifications below, it's clear that the FFB model wins in terms of price and materials, but what does all that mean?
First, the easy stuff:
- Special cork, walnut and aluminum are all personal preference items that make the FFB rod look great. As a guy who uses "ugly stiks" for my bass rods, I am not really obsessive about looks. For those of you who are, the rod looks elegant with the walnut/gold finish on the handle providing a spark of color vs the dull finish of the TFO and making those "fish next to the reel" pictures we all take look a bit better.
- The rod tube is a great freebie! You can get a good rod tube for $25, but why pay that additional cost when you can get one for free with an FFB rod?
- Both have a rod sock...ok... that's standard equipment and expected.
- The TFO has one additional guide - providing some extra control and a slight advantage to TFO
- Price? Clear winner with FFB - especially when you factor in the tube.
So, it comes down to the IM8 Modulus Graphite and the weight. Those are the two characteristics that drive performance. I am not an expert on graphite, so I did some reading and here are the bottom lines in the experts' own words (my bold and color):
FLW Outdoors Magazine Discussion: "What an angler needs to understand is how the word “modulus” pertains to graphite rods. Modulus is not a thread count, as many would have you believe. Modulus basically equates to stiffness. The higher the modulus, the stiffer the material is by weight, meaning less material is needed to achieve the same stiffness of lower-modulus materials. This results in a lighter product. “You have to remember, weight is the deterrence to performance,” Loomis said. Stiffness also equates to responsiveness – that is, the rod’s ability to store and release energy. The higher the modulus, the faster and more consistent a rod is able to store and release its energy, which enables an angler to cast farther and more accurately."
Fly Anglers Online (search for IM8): "Modulus is a term that describes the stiffness to weight ratio of the graphite that's used to create the rod blank. When you cast a line, the rod flexes with the weight of the line, storing energy as it flexes. When the motion of the rod stops, the rod reflexes and releases all of its stored energy to propel the line. When you increase the modulus of the graphite, you increase the ability of that graphite to store and release energy. You also increase the speed that the rod releases the stored energy. That in turn, increases the line speed that is generated in the cast. Increase the modulus, and you increase the reaction speed and power of the rod blank.
Unfortunately, increased modulus results in increased costs. The process involved in creating higher modulus graphite is a costly one. The highest modulus graphite material costs as much as ten times more than standard graphite. That cost is passed along to the consumer when he or she buys a rod blank. For my money, the higher cost is worth it. The better performance is more than enough to offset the increased costs."
You can read the entire articles and draw your own conclusions, but here are mine:
- The IM8 modulus graphite contributes to the lower weight of the FFB rod
vs the TFO's IM6
- The IM8 modulus graphite gives the FFB rod better performance characteristics
vs the TFO's IM6
- FFB gives you all the benefits of a higher modulus at a LOWER cost - the opposite of what is supposed to happen
So, from a theoretical perspective, the FFB rod should be the best choice, but I had to make sure it "felt" right.
I put both rods to the test in the field using the same reel/line. I spent the morning casting with the FFB rod and the afternoon using my TFO on the North Branch. At the end of the day, it was a "no brainer". My TFO is now my second string rod. The FFB rod felt more responsive and I could cast farther with less effort. The next day, I stuck with the FFB rod all day and my arm was not tired at the end of 8+ hours of whipping fish. If you need a new rod in either the 3/4 or 5/6 classes, you should take a hard look at the FFB offerings.
If you are going to be at the Fly Fishing Festival in Waynesboro this weekend (18 April), I recommend you visit the FFB booth and test not only the 5/6 wt (San Juan) but also the 3/4wt (Shenandoah) rod.
The folks at Finewater Flyfishing did a full, very technical, review of the 3/4wt Shenandoah rod that you can read at this link.