Searching for the perfect fly rod among the dizzying array of commercial options could be a life's work, but why bother, when less than $500 and a few hours of fitting gets you a custom fish-fighting weapon that feels like an extension of your arm?
Adirondacks trout-fishing legend Francis Betters makes custom rods that will launch a fly across 50 feet of water to a spot no bigger than a Belgian waffle. Better yet, they'll pick the line up briskly, for a precise presentation to the secluded pool to which Mr. Rainbow Trout has retired. And if a rising brown so much as bats a gill at your fly, you'll be able to feel it. While your buddies downstream struggle with endless false casts, you throw darts. And catch fish.
Betters, also a fishing writer of some note, has operated out of his shop on the banks of New York's AuSable River -- the heart of big trout country -- for nearly 40 years. He argues for a heavier, stiff-tipped rod, but will make sticks to fit your tastes. The custom process (he also sells ready-made) includes a discussion with Betters about what, where and how you fish and a trip to the river to watch you cast, before he makes adjustments.
While some find lightweight, soft-tipped rods do more work for the caster and, by flexing, cushion the strike, Betters considers them an affront to skillful angling. Besides, his rods are deceptively delicate, yet aggressive line-rocketing instruments that he constructs from high-modulus graphite and sometimes dresses out with handles shaped from lacewood.
Traditional craftsmanship and understated good looks are Betters' signature. The top-of-the-line $445 model can be ordered from six feet, six inches to nine feet, in emerald green. A $295 variation, made from a less pricey gray graphite blank, is also available. Betters segments them into as many as five pieces, which makes for tidy packing. Each order comes with a rod tube and a rod bag.
After a dozen casts with a Betters rig, my own rod made me think I was fishing with pudding. I still can't get that piercing stiletto of line out of my head. And in my book, anything that inspires memory…well, I call that a thing worth having.