For the past 34 years, George Anderson has owned and managed the Yellowstone Angler fly shop in Livingston, Mont. During that time his byline has appeared in Fly Fisherman, Trout, Big Sky Journal and Saltwater Fly Fishing, and he’s been credited on the television shows “Fly Fishing the World” and “Spanish Fly.”
In 2007, Anderson and his staff set out to do something the fly-fishing world had never seen: a quantifiable ratings-based comparison of the most popular 5-weight fly rods in something Anderson calls a shootout. The rods were graded on weight, price and casting distance, among other attributes. Scores were tallied and the results were published on his website (which, unlike magazines, does not rely on advertising from the companies that make the rods being rated).
Since 2007, Anderson has also done additional shootouts for 8-weights, 4-weights and updated 5-weights. We caught up with Anderson at his shop in Livingston.
Headwall: Why did you decide to do the first shootout?
George Anderson: There are a lot of equipment articles in fly-fishing magazines, but if you look at them closely you’ll realize that the person writing them never makes any judgment about why this rod should be better than that one. All those editors were spooked these big companies like Orvis and Sage would pull their advertising. So we decided to do a shootout and publish the results on our website.
Has there been any fallout with rod companies?
GA: Oh yeah. We knew there would be some kickback from manufacturers, but that’s okay. Some manufacturers even decided they wouldn’t send us rods for future shootouts. But in the long run it’s going to help those companies because now they know they need to do some stuff better.
What’s the difference between a good fly rod and a great fly rod?
GA: Cutting right down through all the B.S., it’s performance. How does it work? How does it cast short? How does it cast long? We look at swing weight, how does it feel in your hand when you flex it? Whether they know it or not, these are things consumers really take into consideration when they buy a fly rod. [The shootout] can really open their eyes.
Are the best rods the most expensive?
GA: We’ve had $200 rods beat out $600 and $800 rods. The less-expensive rods are getting a whole lot better. Ten years ago $200 rods were total junk, but things have tightened up a lot.
You’ve been in the business for nearly four decades.
How has fly fishing in Montana changed?
GA: When I first came to the Yellowstone there was hardly anybody fishing there, not with fly rods. Now there’s a lot more people, a lot more fishing pressure.
Good for business, bad for fishing?
GA: Sure. It’s a big conflict. You want the business but you don’t want the people around. One thing that helps is that even though there are more people around, most of them are fishing on a catch-and-release basis.
Hypothetical situation: You will die in two days. Where are you fishing tomorrow?
GA: My friends tell me I’m going to die a violent death anytime now. [Laughing] I’d be in Florida catching 100-pound tarpon with my son James. He’s a good photographer.