Words To Avoid In A Rod Critique

I can’t recall exactly when I first saw the words “track” and “tracking” used in the evaluation of a fly rod. I remember thinking at the time that their use by the reviewer was suspect. As time passed, they cropped up in more and more reviews. Today, they’re practically ubiquitous. Just yesterday I was reading some rod reviews in a magazine, the authors gushing on about such-and-such rods “tracking really well”.

The term “tracking” is used to describe the quality of a rod to remain in a single plane as it is moved through the casting stroke. A rod with perfect tracking would never veer off-plane, and the fly line cast by such a rod would unroll in perfectly straight lines. Nothing wrong with that; it’s a recipe for efficient, accurate casts. A rod that doesn’t “track” well would demonstrate some sort of off-plane movement, perhaps side-to-side wobble.

This all sounds well and good, but for one small problem. No fly rod quality exists that is usefully described by “track” or “tracking”. Let me repeat that.  No fly rod quality exists that is usefully described by “track” or “tracking”.  What reviewers think they’re describing when using these words is actually nothing more than an account of a fly rod’s stiffness. That’s all.

Pay attention to today’s rod reviews and you’ll see this is true. Rods alleged to “track” well are all of an ilk. Meaning stiff. Rods that don’t “track” well flex otherwise. I have yet to see a moderate or full-flexing rod praised for its “tracking” qualities. “Track” and “tracking” serve no purpose other than to confuse consumers (and unfortunately demonstrate a reviewer’s lack of knowledge about fly rods and how they work).

The way a rod moves through the casting stroke depends entirely on the person using it. The best casters keep rods of any action on-plane. Less skilled casters do not. Because so many of the important concerns of fishing—and how well they can be managed—depend on the stiffness of a rod, it is precisely that quality that should be a primary focus in rod reviews. 

So if you wish to sound knowledgeable when talking about fly rods, I recommend avoiding the words “track” and “tracking”. You’ll fool some people, but certainly none that possess real fly rod knowledge.


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