With the boom in interest in European nymphing, we are starting to see more products developed specifically for this technique. One thing that historically has held people up from doing it a lot is that to do it really well, you need a pretty specialized rod, and they aren’t always cheap.  For a while these rods were sometimes going for between $6-800 and the technology that makes them perform so well in this niche wasn’t fully developed in my opinion.The good news is that things are changing. There are more rods available now and they are more than getting the job done performance-wise. I wanted to do a review on what I would consider the three most affordable decent nymph rods out there right now.

Echo Shadow

So I will start by saying right off the bat that this is by far my favorite rod in the bunch but I will try not to knock on the others, at least too much. This rod was designed by Tim Rajeff and guru Pete Erikson of team USA with the goal of putting out the best nymphing rod while maintaining some versatility.
The rod is matte black and built for stealth, it has single foot guides which are also black, the rod has basically no shine to it other than the reel seat which I believe is aluminum. It also has a cool stonefly logo on the reel seat and the stripping guide is set slightly closer to the grip than you would think, this  helps you avoid line droop. It has alignment dots on the ferrules. It comes in a divided black rod sock inside a corder tube and come with the Echo lifetime warranty.
With the basics out of the way one thing to keep in mind with a nymphing rod is that the balance of the rod and reel is incredibly important. It does not matter what your stance is or how you hold it, i.e. arm out or arm in. The bottom line is it needs to balance well when you’re nymphing and the Echo shines here. It’s very light although I don’t know what it weighs exactly. It’s a well balanced rod to start with but it goes beyond that by offering a “competition kit” which comes with two 6 inch extensions for the rod and a counterbalance ring kit with a fighting butt that you can add when you put any weight rings on or not. You can add the weight rings below the butt of the rod to add weight to the lower end and help balance out your reel if its not suiting you.
Now for the meat and potatoes, this rod is sensitive, crazy sensitive even. I wish I could describe in words how sensitive it is when balanced but its hard to articulate it. Lets put it this way, when the flies hit or drag something on the bottom, you can tell what type of surface you made contact with. I can tell you I hit gravel, I hit a rock, I hit grass etc. I correlate this to scraping your fingernails on a chalkboard, it has a distinct feel. Well that my friends, is what you feel in your hands, you flat out can tell what your flies are doing at all times. It’s important to note that it does not take away from the power. It is tip sensitive as hell but I have never felt under-gunned with it when a fish is on the line. I feel like I detect strikes better with this rod compared to the others.
As for casting, this rod does cast a dry fly pretty good. You can even cast flies on your nymph specific lines. It does’nt cast heavy flies well at a distance but we cant have it all. The only thing I have found with the rod and its casting ability is that my casting distance is more limited than a standard rod but that’s to be expected and I have never tested it with a regular line.
All in all I highly recommend this rod to anyone who has nymphing in mind. Its light and sensitive, plenty powerful for most fish and casts pretty damn good. It’s nice to be able to lengthen the rod on bigger water, make the butt heavier if needed and its pretty handsome.
It retails for $249.99 and the competition kit goes for $74.99. Tested with the 10’6″ 4WT.

Cortland Competition Nymph Rod

The Cortland rod is one that I feel pretty good about but it just has something about it that holds me back from using it over the Shadow. This was the first affordable rod to hit the market during the Euro nymphing craze and a lot of people like it.
The rod is matte black with colorful lettering, they have oversized single foot black guides. The cork handles tapers down small for guys who like to extend their finger onto the blank for enhanced feel. The rods all come with a cork fighting butt and according to Cortland they are purposely designed to be butt heavy and the butt helps with that. They also have a hook keeper. it comes in a corder tube with a built in reel case with dividers.Now for the action. This rod has pretty good action, but I don’t feel like its as sensitive as the Echo. I find myself fishing with my finger on the blank to try to get a little better feel. It just feels stiffer period. When I’m fishing heavier flies deep I just don’t have the sensation down the blank like I do with the Echo. With that said it handles larger flies substantially better than the Echo does and that has an added benefit. With this rod when you have a fish you know it instantly all the time. With the Echo when you are fishing heavier rigs and your fly hangs up a bit, you have to give a little resistance to the hang up to get it to come tight enough for a hookset or to determine if your snagged or stuck a fish. Simply, when the fly stops moving it takes the Echo a split second longer to translate the feel all the way down the blank when using heavy flies. If you fish a ton of heavy flies this is a major advantage. It may not make sense now but if you get to fish both of them you will fell what I am talking about. I do find that I bounce more small fish with this rod than the other rods. Bounce is a term that competition guys use to describe losing a fish due to a tough rod tip both during or shortly after the hookset and into the fight when the fish are going nuts and creating a lot of tip movement.Now lets talk about the balance. Cortland claims that a lot of thought went into the design to make this rod balance well and I believe that but I don’t thin they took lightweight reels into account. I like to fish a very light reel on my Euro rods because whether its proper form or not, you end up fishing with your arm extended a lot of times and nice to have an outfit thats as light as possible in the butt section. The rod does indeed balance well but when I put a light reel on it compared to a standard everyday reel the balance point moves forward quite a bit and actually makes the rod feel a little heavier because you are so focused on whats going on with the tip of the rod. Put a heavier reel on it and it balances pretty nice.This rod retails at a reasonable $219.95. I tested it out and fished it a bunch in the 10’4″WT.R

Redington Hydrogen

The Redington Hydrogen rod released with a lot of hype around it and I was pretty excited to try it. It was one of the most intriguing releases recently for me and I wasn’t disappointed. I have mentioned the Echo a lot as my favorite and in the other two reviews I mention those two rods a lot without mentioning this rod. The reason for that is that I have not spent enough time with this rod to make a definitive decision about it but I will say this. It is fast emerging as my favorite and I am definitely developing a love for this rod.
These rods have a matte black finish with subtle lettering compared to the cortland. they have single foot guides with an ultra light stripping guide. They have a unique reel seat which is described as skeletonized for reduced weight. They have a half wells cork grip. The section tips are epoxy coated to prevent sticking and it has a lifetime warranty.Now…for the action. it”s pretty sensitive, but I do have to admit that I don’t think I was getting the full experience because the reel I had on the rod didn’t seem to balance well. However, from what I could tell it’s sensitivity is probably just as good as the Echo. The cool thing is that even though it’s sensitive, I still had the feeling of holding a more powerful rod, it recovered very very nicely. This made the rod feel and cast a hell of a lot more accurately than the other two and it gives me a lot more confidence when casting a regular rig. The rod is unique because I felt like I could load the rod with my leader but it didn’t feel cumbersome when you get some line out there.
With all this said, I can’t lie…. I have not caught a fish with this rod in my hand and that is the main reason that I am hesitant to make it my favorite, but I am definitely leaning that way. the one thing that throws me off is that I find it to be a little tip heavy. This is almost certainly because the rod is incredibly light and the unique reel seat is an unusual feel because on most rods you have little more weight in your hand. This makes me hesitate a little bit because I can’t decide what kind of reel to put on the damn thing. I think you need a slightly heavier reel than I like to use to balance the rod out but the rod is so light to begin with I’m not sure that putting a light reel on it will make it uncomfortable for me as a guy who likes a butt heavy rod. I also wish it came a little longer, this rod has three models, all 10 footers and I prefer a rod 10’6″ to 11 feet. For me the absolute final verdict on this one is not out yet until I stick a few fish with one.
It retails for $299.95. I tested it out in a 10’0″ 4WT.

fly fishing Review