Someone in Montana has my fly rod.
Sitting at the bar at Izaak’s in Craig, Montana, a stone’s throw from the banks of the Missouri River, I’m struck by a hollow ache in the pit of my stomach. Something is wrong, but I haven’t yet put my finger on what. A moment later, I replay the end of our day and realize what it is.
We clamber up the Missouri’s steep banks, make our way down the road and back to our vehicle, lay down rods, kick off wading boots in favor of flip flops, strip off waist and chest packs, pluck flies from the brim of hats and drying patches and toss the whole lot in the back before heading off in the direction of town.
The whole lot except for one: the Stickman P5 Stealth that I laid on the roof of the Subaru Outback we’d rented for the week.
I know better. Placing a rod on the roof of a vehicle is a rookie move. So I try to shake the hollow feeling, dismissing it as paranoia, and take another sip of my beer. But I immediately scroll through my memory of our unloading of gear and realize that hollow feeling may be there for a reason.
Returning to the cabin we’ve rented to take inventory and subsequently to the rod’s last known whereabouts on the side of the Missouri lay any doubts to rest. It’s gone.
Losing any rod is bad enough, but it is considerably worse when you lose the it rod -- the one for you. And, throughout the previous season, that’s just what the Stickman P5 Stealth had become: the rod for me.
If you're not familiar with Stickman Rods -- and you're likely not -- Stickman is a relatively new, European rod company that designs and builds rods in Spain and Hungary. The team behind Stickman is comprised of European industry veterans who seem dedicated to their craft and their quest to build rods that are unique in the market. Initial offerings from Stickman Rods include a 0 weight nymphing rod, an 8 weight saltwater series and two series in more traditional trout weights -- including the focus here, the 5-weight Stickman P5.
I’m not one of those anglers that, when a new rod hits the market, rushes to check the spec sheet for an ounce tally. Sure, light rods are nice, especially when you’re planning on high sticking all day, are talking about a lengthy two hander or a maybe nine weight you’re going to be tossing big flies with. But, light rods are easy to come by and a few tenths of an ounce here and there -- especially in trout weights -- don’t ever seem to be particularly noticeable. It’s also worth noting that, in my experience, the number scribbled next to “weight” on a rod’s specifications rarely seems to correlate with how light a rod actually feels in the hand.
But the Stickman P5 feels light. Really light. Despite its specifications which suggest that it in fact isn’t lighter than many of its competitors in the high-end 5-weight market, the P5 feels as light in the hand during a cast as any rod I’ve cast in recent memory.
When you get into the high-end rod range, you expect uncompromised build quality and top-tier components, and you typically get it. Stickman’s rods are no exceptions, built with first-rate components and premium cork, recoil guides, and Hopkins & Holloway tip tops, Stickman’s rods are finished in Hungary and exhibit a distinctive, handmade feel.
Sure, you could label that assessment entirely subjective, but if you’ve owned any rods from a custom rod builder that obsessed over each wrap, labored over the finish and so on -- you might also agree there’s a fine quality put forth by custom, hand made rods that even the priciest rods out of higher volume operations lack.
Stickman’s rods, whether by virtue of their relatively boutique size or their rod building standards, emerge from the shop with that fine, custom rodsmith quality.
Light, pretty rods are great to shake and gawk at in the fly shop but if they don’t fish well, who cares?
That’s not to say that there aren’t a bevy of premium fly rods out there that fish well. There undoubtedly are. In fact, there are likely more excellent rods on the market nowadays (across all price ranges) than ever before.
When comparing fly rods at any price range, the most important question you should ask is: which is right for me, for my casting style and preferences, for the places I chase fish and the ways I like to chase them? In the premium rod range, this line of questioning becomes paramount, as the choices are all rods of the highest hallmarks of quality, all of which likely deliver excellent performance.
As noted, over several months last year, Stickman’s P5 Stealth became the go to rod in my quiver. Stickman seems to have produced something truly special in the P5, particularly for my casting style.
Stickman calls the P5 series “fast action”, but you likely won’t. The P5 has a distinctively medium action feel to it and is notably less stiff than other rods it’s price range such as the Scott Radian, G. Loomis NRX, Sage ONE and so on.
The rod’s lively tip most certainly isn’t overly stiff, and is an asset for short casts when you won’t have enough line out of the rod to load deeper into the blank.
When you do however, the rod will load deeply into the blank, in line with its medium action feel. But, thanks to decisively surprisingly recovery, the rod carries line with a great deal of energy and does so smoothly and gracefully.
It also recovers accurately. Casts at all distances traveled true to the line created by the caster.
Despite the amount of feel in the rod, its still a true performer that delivers crisp, dependable loops even at distances over 50 feet. Will you be entering distance-casting competitions with the Stickman P5? Likely not, but it will allow you to carry line confidently out to 60 or 70 feet and lay down energetic, smoothly delivered casts.
Certainly due in no small part to the P5’s action and character, it is a rod that performs in a wide variety of conditions. From delicately tossing tiny dries on still spring creeks to fishing big streamers in windy conditions, the Stickman P5 has delivered dependably. It’s not a niche rod, which means it won’t always be the perfect tool for the job. But, thanks to its do-it-all nature, over the course of an entire season fishing the P5 Stealth, I rarely felt the need (or desire) to reach for something else.
If there’s a trout rod out there that is more suited to be the lone star of a one-rod quiver, I’ve yet to cast it.
When we truly love certain products, we struggle to find things to write about that a piece of gear, apparel and so on hasn’t gotten just right. There’s almost always something to find. But, in the case of the Stickman P5, I’m not even going to bother. This is a rod that I’ve unabashedly come to love after toting it from one end of the country to another, and while I’m certain it has faults, I’m not inclined to go digging for them.
Most importantly, the Stickman P5 simply a pleasure to fish. As noted, there’s a great deal of feel in the rod and you’ll almost certainly be surprised by how much power it possesses due to how quickly the blank recovers. Yet, there’s a creaminess to its action that is evocative of some of the characteristics that I imagine -- not being a slow rod aficionado -- lure people to bamboo and glass, despite it unquestionably being a high-performance rod that can deliver even in demanding conditions.
An oft-quoted friend and far superior angler once told me that you should choose a fly rod that does what you need quickly and effortlessly, without you needing to think about it, one that disappears in your hand. For me, the Stickman P5 Stealth did just that, time and again.
Quite unfortunately, it also disappeared into the brush on the side of a Missouri River pullout.