A few months ago an isolated whisper was heard by those close enough to hear it.
Like conspirators planning an assassination it was industry ‘insiders’ who began the speculation. Loose lips, they reminded themselves, sink ships and the secret was contained safely within their group. For a while.
But, in the way that the directions to a secret stretch of riverine paradise make it through what you thought was an impermeable information black-out, so inevitably did this news slip through the tight cordon. Social media saw a trickle of rumors that steadily grew into a torrent of wayward speculation, wild guesses, sheer disbelief, pure lies and blatant bullshit.
“Haven’t you heard?”, they yelled hysterically, “the world’s finest fly rod company has a industry-redefining, revolutionary new model on the way. It will change how you fish forever!”
The true believer in his iron-clad faith that this unseen and untested piece of plastic would be the greatest rod ever produced was such that even the most fervent Calvinist looked up and raised a jaundiced and disbelieving eyebrow.
“Well, it must be better”, they pleaded (a little too self consciously), “why would they make a worse one?”
“They’ve done that before.”, came the usual response, but this only encouraged more voices to join in the fray and opinions and their holders were ejected from the melee like a belligerent drunk through the plate glass window of a cowboy bar.
Anyhow, the rumours have just been confirmed. The true believers have gone from being appropriately smug in their vindication to being positively incandescent with excitement as the first reports have trickled in as to the prowess of this new *insert superlatives and many colourful adjectives here* rod.
Which company and which model?
It doesn’t matter.
Any of them.
All of them.
None of them.
We’ve seen this a hundred times before and we still manage to foul hook ourselves on the marketing barb.
This new one features the never before seen HyperPowerStiffFlexQXD7 (patent pending) technology that will make the last rod you bought from them (about ten months ago) seem as soft as chewed gum on a midsummer’s sidewalk. I know, their last model promised to set the thrusters to warp speed – but the world turns quickly and last spring’s warp speed is this winter’s zimmer frame.
It’s a special thing, this rod. Having tested pre-release models in the large hadron collider the white coats at CERN have stated that this stick is beginning to challenge our entire understanding of the nature of physics. Were this pole any faster, they say, as it approached the speed of light it would potentially slow down time and possibly precipitate the beginning of the end of the universe. They didn’t go as far as to call it the ‘God Rod’, but I’m told that the term was scribbled into the margins of journals and was mumbled about from behind grey beards.
Bolstered by the irrefutable might of scientific evidence it only takes a nanosecond to forget that ‘teeth of a rake‘ Johnny needs braces and that the house desperately needs painting. Seriously, you rationalize, his teeth aren’t that crooked and that the house can hold out until next summer.
On the streams that I fish a 12m cast is a long cast. A 15m cast is considered ‘miles’. Despite this, every time I try a new rod I peel fathoms of line from the reel and try to hoik it all a few dozen yards over the horizon. Why do we do this? Well, actually, I know why. It has nothing to do with what we need the rod for. We do it to not look like a rank hacker in front of the tackle shop jock.
Where does it all end, this ‘lighter, better, faster, further, more’ approach? Does all technology result in a better product? I’m not sure that it does. In fact, I’m convinced that while it has certainly raised the average, at the top end of the scale what you’re seeing is a scale of diminishing performance returns. Rod makers know this and are now chasing some sort of composite nirvana where every stick is everything to everyone. Stuff like “faster but with exquisite feel”, “lighter but with astonishing rigidity” and “longer but with a better presentation” seem to be appearing everywhere – and it’s pretty annoying (and not just because they sound like condom commercials).
You see, this is not a race for the ultimate fishing pole. The developers are not trying to improve your experience or your capacity. They aren’t trying to be ‘the best that they can be’. It’s none of these things. What it is is a race to your wallet. Market share. Units shipped. Graphs on walls, sales projections, returns on investment and, ultimately, executive profit and share incentives.
Like every other brand in the world rod makers are competing for your soul. They’re cashing in on your need to belong; to be perceived in a certain way by your peers and by yourself. They imply that a true angler only ever makes casts that reach far into the backing. They’re reminding you that deep inside you’re slightly empty – and that for a great many shekels they can fix that for you. (Don’t feel bad, similar things are fueling the resurgence in glass and bamboo. Being an anti-establishment hipster is also a symptom of a certain pathology. Don’t get me started on tenkara.)
I’ve always said that I want to be the guy who arrives streamside with the worst tackle but who catches the best fish (I’m halfway to my goal already). Still, despite this I’ve decided that I’m getting the new model in both the three and the five weight.
But only after I’ve had the house painted.