I had a rod I really liked.
Really, really liked.
But now it is gone.
Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning: The Orvis Clearwater 7ft 4-weight (704-4) rod is not perfect. First there is rod itself. The finish is dull, the reel seat is chintzy, and the cork hovers just barely on the right side of acceptable. There is even a “MADE IN CHINA” tag displayed so prominently on the rod tube that it simply had to be intentionally put there.
Second, there are the imperfections associated with 7 ft 4-weights in general. While a 4-weight line isn’t exactly a bruiser, asking a stubby little 7 footer to chuck a 4 very far requires that a large amount of power be stored in a small space. These rods are, by their very nature, snub-nosed rocket launchers– impressively powerful, wonderfully handy, and uniquely useful. If you can hit anything with them, that is.
But here’s the thing: the Clearwater 704-4 has a niche, and in that niche it is great. Let’s take a trip to Arizona so I can show you why.
As I laid out in my QUEST FOR THE PERFECT ARIZONA FLY ROD, Arizona is a very pokey place. While we have our share of big rivers, the real challenge associated with the vast majority of our streams is getting the fly on the water at all. Shortness is non-negotiable.
Second, though the water is small, the fish aren’t. Bringing a small rod to a big fish fight is fun in its own right, but it can be tough on both the fish and the fisherman. We also have a reasonable amount of small mouth water, which often requires throwing the kind of flies that don’t take well to 2-weights. While 7ft 4-weights are imperfect all around rods they make up for their deficiencies with their unique abilities to fit any where and fish anything. In this, the Clearwater excelled.
The Clearwater has a fast, but not absurd, action. Frankly I would have preferred something a little slower for ultra-short casts, but this could also be resolved by over-lining the rod and forcing it to flex deeper. I found that the Orivs Access 4-weight line worked well all around, but my trusty Airflo Xceed 5-weight was perfect for when I was willing to give up distance for close-in feel.
Because you have to ask, yes, the 704-4 can cast reasonably far. I am an average caster at best, but casts of 50 feet were comfortable and 65 feet was doable. Longer than that was possible, but frankly if you are casting more than 65 feet you have enough space to use a longer rod more suited to the task.
The cosmetic challenges could also be taken as something of a bonus when tossing the rod around. As Mark points out over on TroutBumming, much of Arizona’s best water requires a little light canyoneering– swims, downclimbs, easy bouldering. There is something genuinely refreshing about taking a rod on a swim without worrying about the consequences. That being said, a touch more time polishing the fit and finish on my sample would have been worthwhile.
All together the Clearwater 704-4 was a rod I liked quite a lot. It fished well, worked with my casting stroke, and I would have kept it for a long time. Then, disaster:
Through no fault of his own, my toddler stepped on the rod. The Orvis warranty department was an absolute pleasure to deal with, offering to either repair/replace the rod for a small fee or allowing me to upgrade at a hilariously reduced price. Jack down at the local Orvis store did a great job walking me through my options, and it came down to either the Superfine Carbon 704-4 or another Clearwater. To be honest, it wasn’t an easy question. I liked the Clearwater, and I did appreciate having a rod I could toss around without worrying about it. But in the end…
….the upgrade discount was just too tempting.
That being said, I’d buy the Clearwater again in a second. While this isn’t a comparative review, I can honestly say that having owned and casted both the Superfine and the Clearwater, they both excel at different things: the Clearwater is faster and chucks further, the Superfine is slower and perfectly finished. For my kind of fishing the Superfine is the better option, but probably not twice-as-expensive better.
The little Clearwater will always have a fond place in my heart. It cast well, fit anywhere, and brought me one of my favorite its-not-the-size-but-the-story-behind-it fish
Thanks, little Clearwater. You were great.
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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, has occasionally written for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally written for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.