By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
January 7, 2018
Echo makes arguably the best price-point fly rods on the market.
Finding a good price-point rod isn’t as hard as it used to be. Just over the past half-decade since I started doing gear reviews, I’ve seen a huge jump in the quality of rods in the sub-$300 market. You’re not limited to whatever entry-level rod Sage has, or an unwieldy glass stick. Just about every company – even Winston – has a rod built for the angler who doesn’t need a $600+ fly rod.
Echo takes that idea to the extreme, with their flagship Echo 3 running $349. Their Bad Ass Glass rods are pretty popular out here in Utah, and I’ve always wanted to spend some time with Tim Rajeff’s line of budget-friendly rods.
So right after Christmas, I picked up a new 9’5wt Echo Carbon XL and 10’6wt Ion XL (review on that coming later!) and figured I’d dedicate the next three weeks to fishing just that rod.
The Carbon XL surprised me with its performance on the few spring creeks that still have open water, as well as larger tailwaters like the Provo River. It’s a fast-action stick with great backbone, and surprising feel out to about 40 – 50 feet.
It’ll cost you a whopping $149 to own a Carbon XL, and I don’t think I’ve yet come across a better bang-for-your-buck value at that price. The only rod that stacks up evenly with the Echo Carbon XL is the Redington Classic Trout. The Classic Trout is the same price, but a much softer rod than the Carbon XL.
With that said, my top recommendation for a beginner’s rod – or a rod for those who simply don’t spend enough time on the water to justify spending $300+ on a graphite stick – is the Echo Carbon XL.
Angler-Friendly Fast Action
Fast-action rods are usually the best for beginners to learn on. They’re far easier to cast than a delicate dry-fly rod or a thick streamer stick.
The Carbon XL is a very crisp, stiff rod, with only about the top quarter of the rod flexing under the pressure of a fish. That being said, the rod does a good job of transferring energy throughout the shaft, and a seasoned angler will quickly pick up on the rod’s casting rhythm.
Good Line Control
One of my biggest knocks on most price-point rods is their lack of line control, due to a tip that doesn’t track well (or more often, at all). Torsional stability is important in any rod, and while the Echo Carbon XL won’t win any awards for how it tracks, it’s much better than what I expected. I didn’t have to worry about my loops going too far to the left or right during my cast, and the stiff rod gave me more ability to throw longer mends into complex currents.
Surprisingly Soft Presentation
For a rod as fast and lively as the Carbon XL, I wasn’t expecting much when I tied on some small dries and hit my favorite close-to-home spring creek.
The rod surprised me by laying flies down with reasonable delicacy, and it even casts off the tip softly. I prefer to fish a dry-dropper-dropper rig, and the Carbon XL didn’t have a problem turning that over without making a big ruckus on the water.
Remember that this rod retails fro $149. Any aspersions about its weight need to be taken in that context. With that said, however, the Carbon XL is a heavier rod both in hand and on the swing.
It’s not so heavy that you think you’re throwing glass or bamboo, but it’s heavy enough to remind you (all day) that it’s there.
Surprisingly, the Carbon XL didn’t turn over longer leaders as I expected. I still had to give it a bit of a haul if I threw anything longer than 10 feet (that’s with fishing Airflo Forge on the rod) to not risk my flies piling on top of each other. It’s frustrating, but not a deal-breaker.
The Echo Carbon XL is a great rod for $149. If I had to recommend one sub-$200 rod to beginning or casual anglers, this rod is right up there with the venerable Fenwick Aetos. Its angler-friendly action and surprising ability to handle small, tight water will earn it favor with guides across the country.
It’s a great rod for its price, and one of the best price-point rods I’ve ever fished.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.