ITB Fly Rod by Risen Fly
Towards the end of last year Ryan at Risen Fly approached me about field testing the soon to be released ITB rods. As you may have read in my blog “7 Innovative Companies You Should Know About", Risen Fly is a web based fly fishing shop focused on value driven products. That said, the ITB rods will retail around $135 and compete with the likes of St. Croix, TFO, Redington, etc. While I’ve received products from companies in the past they came no strings attached, but the unspoken message of “if you like it, let others know about.” In those situations I prided myself on two things: 1) free product shouldn’t cost the integrity of a review, and 2) if I liked it I reciprocated more than the product value in goodwill. So I was relieved when Ryan asked for an honest review to improve the product before offering it up to the public, not just lip service. Here is the exact message accompanying the rod:
“Thanks for taking some time to check out our first series of fly rods. We wanted to get them in the hands of people in the fishing industry to test out before we fully take them to market. Please fish this rod hard and after you put it to the test fill out the following survey.
Please rank all questions from 1-10 and make any comments you would like. This rod will come in around $135. Warranty claims will be the lesser of the repair charge (something minor) or $25 to replace broken sections. Manufacturing defects are covered without a fee.
We are marketing this rod as a great quality rod to have as a main rod, but not a budget breaker. We expect these rods to compare to makers like Temple Fork Outfitters and Redington so please rank accordingly.”
The category questions included:
So with that in mind I took the rod to the water paired with an Orvis Battenkill reel. Below is the actual review I sent back with some minor stylistic edits to improve readability.
Fit and Finish/Visual appeal:
Case – I really like the shape of the rod case which is triangular and different from any of the others I own or have seen, making it really stand out. The clever design keeps it in place and not rolling around when transporting. The rod name sewn into the case and a personal ID slot is a nice touch when traveling. Again, two features I don’t see on other rod cases I own. Overall it seems well constructed. My only negative is the color. The rod is beautifully done in burnt orange and the case looks tangerine. I’d love to see the case reflect the color of the rod more closely.
Bag/Sock – I like the screen print of the rod name on the bag and the layout works. While the rest of the packaging and rod the expectation of the price, the bag doesn’t match up. Not sure how that impacts the overall cost and maybe it is a little thing, but I really like the feel of a cloth bag (Consequently when I sent the review in Ryan was already reworking this aspect and it has since been changed).
Rod – The color of the case and bag brought the overall score down, but I give high marks for the rod aesthetics. The components finish the rod well and rival any I own. The shape of the reel seat is unique with the beveled design. The cork looks and feels great and the wrapping is well done. Markings along the rod blank are subtle, but provide indication for alignment and identification which is a nice feature. One piece of information missing is the overall weight (in ounces) of the rod. Not sure if it’s important, but I like having the ounces listed on my rods. This may be similar to listing GPA on a resume and was intentionally left off, but the rod feels comparable to the more expensive 5 weights I own. There were a couple of very minor blemishes on the rod finish itself just below the alignment guides on almost every piece. May just be cosmetic, and didn’t affect the performance. The color choice is great and the wraps complement the look well.
Casting up to 25 feet Overall not bad. Felt a little stiff at “short” range, but improved at further distance. Streamers and heavier nymph rigs cast well throughout distance while dries and lighter rigs didn’t load the blank as well. The rod was as accurate as the caster.
Casting up to 50 feet I thought this is where the rod shined in the 25-50 foot range. It loaded well and again was accurate with dries, streamers, nymphs, etc.
Price/Value I did some comparison shopping at one of the big box stores and this rod is priced in a very competitive space. Only the $250-$500 range carried more inventory and will be compared with the Echo’s, TFO’s, Redington’s, and St. Croix’s models. All make very nice rods. I think this is the only point of entry for a new company breaking into the rod business. Price is a very important aspect when someone embarks into fly fishing, but creating brand loyalty and overall product offering catering to this audience is also important. Big box stores do well because they offer a large selection, low cost options, packages and one stop comparison shopping. Risen Fly’s business strategy works towards similar goals. That’s a long way of saying I think the price point is right. $135 feels like enough separation from $150 which looks like a price break based on my window shopping. It would be nice to have a reel under $100 to compliment it as well. I think the beginning/value angler will struggle spending more for a reel than a rod and the goal should be to capture both sales. Just a thought.
Warranty Warranty is tough to judge without having all the business information. As a consumer we love lifetime warranties with little to no out of pocket expense. I’m sure the warranty provided is comparable to others in the class. But since I don’t know the business cost it’s tough to value. If it doesn’t break the bank and similar rods offer similar warranties then this is a chance to separate. Customer retention will be won or lost on the service. Those that do it right have a cult following, those who don’t bleed customers. My thought is that if you believe in the product and it’s not going to bankrupt you, give as much as you can here.
Desirability/Gotta have it! If I were on the market for a new rod, at this price range and some of the items mentioned were addressed this would certainly be on my short list. Of course I had the benefit of casting first. One disadvantage to an online shop is the lack of opportunity for folks to handle these rods. Reviews, price and its look will get folks to consider a purchase, and once they have had a chance to fish them customers will stay based on performance, customer service and warranty.
“That's exactly what I was looking for. Thanks. Already taking care of the rod sock. Didn't think about it when I ordered it, and go figure the cheapest one available was used. One of very few things we're planning on changing.”
There is so much information and opinions on products these days making us more informed consumers. That doesn’t necessarily equal an easier decision making process. Through various platforms we help each other make better decisions, but the information is only as good as the person sharing it. I know others had a chance to work these rods over like Dub the Thorax and Eat My Fly Outfitters. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind sharing their opinions if you dropped them a line, but everything I saw coming from them was extremely positive. It’s humbling to be a part of shaping a product and I like the way Ryan/Risen Fly approached the release of these rods. Ryan had already thought through a lot of what I mentioned, and every interaction that I've had with Risen Fly gives me reason to believe in the company.
To round out a 360 review of this rod, I’m giving one away to a random audience member (think Oprah and look under your seat). My only request is that if you win, test the rod for a couple months and then drop me a line to let me know what you think and the rod is yours to keep.
Congratulations Christopher C. winner of the ITB Rod Giveaway
Sage ESN 4100-4
Sage ESN 4100-4
I enjoy fishing dries, wets and streamers, but if I had to generalize my style it would be as a nymph angler. The more I put to practice specific Euro styles of nymphing, the more I recognized the need for a specialized rod. My primary stick is an 8'6" 4wt Sage Z-Axis and while it is a great all around rod, it put me at a disadvantage when executing tight line techniques. So the search was on....I like Sage rods, so my curiosity never wandered outside their offerings, but I did have some decisions to make. At first I looked at the 99 Series and the ESN. As I saw it there were 3 main differences between the two: 1.) Length 9'9" vs. 10' (3 inches doesn't seem like a lot, but in my mind 9'9" was close enough to getting a new 9'6" "everything" 4wt 2.) Generation 5 versus Konnetic Technology 3.) Taper /Action (Medium Fast vs. Medium). Both have the same retail price. The ESN is a little lighter, but close enough not to be factor. Ultimately, I ruled out the 99 on principle and ego. If I was going to spend $700 on a rod I wanted the newest technology. The next rod I considered was the Sage One. Surprisingly, this was a tougher decision. While I started down the path of a specialized nymphing rod the lure of getting the latest and greatest was strong. My thought process ranged in length from 9', 9'6" or 10" or a new all around rod, a rod that compromises between an all around rod and tight line length, or fully committing to the length I was looking for. I didn't select the One because of loyalty and commitment. I really like my Z-Axis and if I bought a new all around rod I didn't want to choose between the two, and if I wanted a specialized rod I wanted to get a specialized rod not a 9'6" or 10' One - the long way of saying I got a Sage ESN 4wt and here are my thoughts.
Likes: I'll spare you the aesthetic breakdown, it is a Sage and they don't make ugly rods. In the interest of full disclosure I set this rod up with a Galvan Brookie B3 (review below), RIO indicator line and a self made leader with built in sighter. From the first cast I recognized the accuracy of the rod. Odd to say given the short distance of my cast, but it handled the line, leader and weight of the nymph(s) extremely well. It cast with a nice open loop and my fly landed where I wanted and because of the rod length, my tip extended over the point of entry allowing it to drop straight through the water column. By instantly getting the fly at the right depth, with greater line control, I could keep it in the strike zone longer. This is extremely important when your drift is so short. It also cast an indicator and swung a wet fly well. On the Sage website they claim the "supple tip telegraphs every boulder, bump and bite" I quickly realized this wasn't just marketing propaganda as my sighter danced through the drift. I even found myself muttering stream side "every boulder, every bump." Also, as advertised, the rod felt very light. You can spend a full day straight armed with this rod. The medium action made fighting fish a lot of fun. Not just every boulder, but every head shake, every turn. I had to remind myself I was fishing a 4wt not a 3wt. The flex in the tip will protect extremely delicate tippet, if you break a fish off it probably won't be the rod's fault.
Dislikes: Take these with a grain of salt. With any 10' rod you've got some limitations where this rod will go. I wouldn't want to bushwhack with this stick fully assembled. It is a specialized rod so it does a handful of things extremely well, but if you want to cast a dry fly half the day you may want to pack another rod. I'm not saying you can't cast a dry with it, but there are certainly rods better suited for the task. You need to be alright knowing this is 3rd down and goal line running back not the guy who gets the ball every down (even though they are probably getting paid the same). My biggest dislike was more of an adjustment than a complaint. The first handful of times I took this rod out I unbuttoned a lot of fish. It could have been an increased number of hookups and more opportunities to lose fish, or I got deeper and my hook took more abuse and lost its edge. It could have been all of those things, but I think it had more to do with the action. I went from fishing all fast action rods, like my Z-Axis, where the rod doesn't give, to a medium action rod telegraphing energy up and down the line. While it detected the strike it took me awhile to get the feel for landing the fish. By the third time out I didn't lose a fish (or any more than I normally do). I underestimated this fact when making my buying decision, I wouldn't do it differently, but if you think this may be an issue for you the 99 series with a medium fast action gives you another option.
Overall, I love this rod and it is better every time I take it out on the water. It allows me to catch fish in water I typically would walk by. If you're in the market for a specialized stick to up your nymphing, the Sage ESN has my recommendation. One side note, while I normally support my local fly shops (where I live they are few and far between) I did purchase this rod online, but had a tough time finding it. The site from which I originally purchased the rod later called to tell me it wasn't in stock and was back ordered until May (purchased in March). So I started calling around before placing my next order to confirm availability and several other shops were out. Ultimately, I purchased the rod from Leland Fly Fishing Outfitters and was very pleased with the customer service.
Leland Fly fishing Outfitters
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