Before I get caught up in how I believe it performs, let me quickly discuss what I look for in a Euro nymphing rod and then I'll take you through how the Cortland performs in each of these areas. Also, please note that this review only applies to the 10' 6" 3 wt model as I have not fished the other 4 rods in Cortland's lineup.
The 3 basic qualities I look for in a Euro nymph rod are:
- A length of 10' or longer which is finished light enough to still balance in the hand after the reel is attached. Your hand is the fulcrum of your fly rod lever and the weight should balance in the cork where you hold the rod. Without a 10' or longer rod, casting a Euro rig is much more difficult. I've taught many students who have gotten the hang of casting a Euro rig with one of the rods I bring to a clinic only to write me later to tell me of their casting struggles with their typical 9' rods when they fish on their own. However, a light long rod that balances well is difficult for manufacturers to achieve and has really only been realistic in the past few years. A balanced rod, which reduces swing weight, is critical for reducing fatigue in the forearm from repeated casting and hook setting and also for reducing fatigue in the shoulder when the rod is elevated through the drift.
- The rod should have a fairly fast blank overall for casting accuracy and loop manipulation. However, it must have a soft tip to dampen head shakes and hook sets that still recovers quickly despite being soft. This soft tip protects fine tippets from breaking and keeps small fish from throwing the hook, which can make or break your results in competition. Furthermore, the soft tip loads easily to propel rigs with small tungsten nymphs which only have leader outside of the rod tip. I look for the rod to be stiff through at least 2/3 of the blank with a progressively softer tip beyond. I also look for the tip to quickly return to it's original position when flexed without prolonged undulation, which in turn undulates the casting loop leading to flies landing away from your intended target, especially with an uneven power stroke or a casting stroke which deviates from a narrow plane. Too many Euro rods I've flexed collapse near the middle ferrule feeling like the manufacturer took a fast graphite rod for the first two pieces and attached a fiberglass rod for the last two pieces. This results in poor casting loop formation and loss of accuracy as well as missed fish because the tip is so dampened that direct hook penetration, especially in deep water, is an issue.
- A Euro nymphing rod can't just be a one trick pony. I need it to fish a dry fly well so I don't have to pack multiple rods all over the place for a days fishing. There a lots of days and competitions where I don't expect a hatch or rising fish but I stumble upon a giddy trout that is feeling the need to poke his snout through the surface. If the rod I'm fishing is lousy at casting a dry, then my chance at catching these fish is reduced and so is my enjoyment and/or competitive success.
Does the Cortland Competition Nymph Rod possess these qualities?
- The Competition nymph rod is the first Euro rod longer than 10' that retains a balance in the hand. The use of single foot guides, as opposed to snake guides, reduces the number of thread wraps and the epoxy required to finish the rod by half. It may not seem like this would matter much but the longer the rod gets the more an additional fraction of an ounce in the finished rod will adversely affect the balance of the rod in your hand. Cortland also added a fighting butt to the rod (something many European manufacturers add to their nymph rods) which shows its best utility in counterbalancing the tip weight of the rod due to it's length. It can also be braced against your forearm during long drifts. In my conversation with Brooks Robinson about the rod, he explained that part of the reason Joe Goodspeed, the rod's designer, left the rod unpainted is that they received a painted batch during its development and the paint slowed the action of the rod significantly and substantially added to its weight. The decision to leave it an unpainted matte black blank may have created a rod that isn't very elegant, but I much prefer my rods to focus on function over form and I believe Cortland has achieved great function with this rod. To illustrate the balance of the rod look at the balance points in the pictures below. Notice that the Cortland balances deeper into the cork than either of my Sage ESN's, which creates a feeling of lightness in the hand even though the rod might be heavier (Cortland doesn't list the weight of the rod).
With the Ross Canyon, the Sage 4 wt balances at the end of the cork and has a heavier feel in the hand than either the Sage 3 wt ESN or the Cortland 10' 6" 3 wt Competition Nymph Rod.