Chris Clemes Split Cane Fly Rod review by Richard Gill

When the courier knocked at my door, I knew I was in for a treat as he handed me a tube containing a two piece, 7 foot, 3 weight Chris Clemes Symphony split cane fly rod.

It had been over a year since I first met Chris at the Sportfish Show in Reading where I had cast this very rod on the grass beside the marquees and now I was going to fish with it for a fortnight and, unknown to me, catch my largest wild brown trout ever.


Although I'm used to fishing delicate two weight, full flex carbon rods I was just a bit nervous unpacking a rod that wasn't mine and had been made by hand over many weeks.


However, having read the care guide booklet I was itching to get down to the tiny chalk stream near my house and cast to its wild and spooky little brown trout.


Obviously there was only one choice of line and reel for this rod and that's the Phoenix DT silk line and my trusty Orvis CFO click and pawl reel.


It was now late July and the stream was at its lowest level of the year and gin clear. Hatches were less frequent and what was hatching was very small indeed. The larger trout had gone in search of cover and very little would bring them out to feed from the surface.


I sat and watched the water for a good ten minutes before untying the rod bag and carefully assembling the two sections of rod. This task alone had me in go-slow mode even before threading the silk line through the guides, which is something I usually rush through impatiently. Now, all of a sudden, it seemed perfectly correct to take my time and appreciate the grain of the bamboo, the red silk thread wraps and metal spigot. Even my CFO purred more calmly, the bamboo dampening its clicks as I pulled line from it.


I was starting to feel slightly bewitched by the rod and I'd yet to make a cast, but once in the water it suddenly dawned on me that it's not so much about how the Symphony feels as how it makes you feel.


Having said that it casts beautifully, loading and unloading the compression in a very predictable way and delivering the fly with a level of accuracy I really wasn't expecting. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised as Chris and his team have given the Symphony a sublime dry fly action and casting tempo which is further enhanced by the Phoenix silk line, resulting in an extremely well mannered set-up.


It wasn't long before the trout started to rise again, taking the tiny emergers, so I tied on a size 16 hare's ear and CDC concoction and waited for the next rise. It didn’t take too long for a trout to show itself and as soon as my fly got within a foot of the fish he shot forward and grabbed it, making him my first ever fish on a split cane rod.


I went on to catch a few more small wild browns that evening and many more over the following weeks. The more I fished the Symphony the more I enjoyed pitting myself against the wily little blighters with each fish feeling that bit more deserved than usual.

However, what came next reduced me to a nervous wreck. A month or two ago I netted a stunning two pound cock fish from an unlikely and shallow glide, a huge fish for this unstocked little stream. Walking past the same spot I was shocked to see that he'd been usurped from his lie by an even larger fish - a significantly larger fish.


Over the following week I failed dismally to get close to this trout, spooking other fish and sending a ricochet of panic upstream long before I was within casting range. Then, on one particular evening I had a very uncharacteristic breeze on my back. Not only did this cause a slight upstream ripple - helping to mask my presence - but it also allowed me to lengthen my leader and tippet to ten feet and turn over my small crane fly pattern, the idea being that the larger hook would find purchase more easily in this monster's mouth should he take it.

Having spooked him with my first cast I then waited for what seemed like an eternity before attempting my second. He was tight to the left bank, as was I, and my fly landed a foot or so to his right. As it did he casually moved to it and took it.


In such shallow water he went utterly bonkers and shot off some thirty yards upstream making my CFO scream rather than sing and scaring the bejesus out of a young swan as he did. What happened next is still a bit hazy though I remember stripping frantically to keep up with him as he hurtled back towards me and then panicked as he got under a low bush, then into some ranunculus and then, suddenly, he was in the bottom of my net.


I stood there for some time puffing and panting while my knees settled, trying to take in what had just happened, but there he was, all 3lb 4oz of him, the most aggressive and impressive looking wild brown I've ever caught.


Once I’d returned him to the stream it dawned on me that I’d not once thought about the rod during this fight, not even when I had to bully the beast out from under that bush. The rod had simply done everything I’d asked of it and never left me feeling outgunned. For me that’s more than enough proof of the rod’s capabilities.


It’s fair to say that over the past few weeks this rod has enriched my entire fly fishing experience: and that's no exaggeration. There’s just something about this split cane rod that has amplified every aspect of my dry fly fishing.

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© Chris Clemes Fly Rods - 2018