Years ago as I was preparing for a trip to "Musky Country", I was able to finagle a custom 9-weight build out of Zeb Tonkavich of Snowman Custom Rod Works that arrived just in time for the trip. I was really stoked about this new fly rod and it all made a lot of sense until I was casting heavy flies, that inevitably crashed into the fly rod from time to time, and running figure 8's under the boat, often banging around in the rocks on deep passes. After three days of near constant abuse, this new fly rod didn't have that fresh off the rack shine anymore...
When Carl McNeil of Epic Fly Rods first mentioned that the Reference Series was in the works, my first question was if the Epic 686, Epic 888, and Bandit were in the work flow. The Epic 686 came out in the initial rollout and recently the other two have made the lineup along with the dainty Epic 370. There are now eight fly rods in the Reference Series with six made of fiberglass and the other two in carbon.
Last week a care package arrived from New Zealand and inside were the Reference Series Epic 686, Epic 888, and Epic Bandit. I posted up a few photographs on Instagram Stories and someone asked about the quality of the build to which I replied that these are easily 90% of what I'd compare a Studio Built Custom fly rod against. These are all fine examples of what the Reference Series offering is about with value and off the rack availability. Warranty fixes should be easy as well if a breakage occurs along the way.
Comparing a Custom Built vs. Reference Series? There's a Epic Fly Rods Blog post with a great comparison chart to help you make your decision. Ask yourself if you'd like to save $200-300 and have your fly rod shipped immediately? If so, the Reference Series might be the ticket.
In the end, fly rods are tools which help get something that you're doing done and while there's nothing that I like more than a thoughtfully built custom fly rod, for my own fly rods 6-weight on up that is likely to get roughed up and abused, I typically pass on the sentimental feelings and look for something factory built that I won't cry over when a tip or blank section needs to be fixed or replaced.
Visit the Epic Fly Rods website to check out the Reference Series and if you have any questions please send me an email. I'm happy to hash it out with you to include fly lines that I've found these fly rods like.
Thanks in advance to those who click through the affiliate links in this post when making a purchase from Epic Fly Rods as it puts a few coins in the T.F.M. piggy bank. I appreciate it greatly.