This photo shows the Cabela's Bighorn Fly Combo.
Chris Maxcer

Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Combo Review

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The Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Combo is an all-new entry-level fly fishing rod and reel combo for 2018. So far, it looks as if it’s replacing the Cabela’s Three Forks Combo, which we used and appreciated in a variety of lengths and weights for well over a decade. In fact, Cabela’s has relaunched its entire lineup of fly rods and fly fishing combos this year.

To get us a closer look at the new Bighorn Fly Combo, Cabela’s sent us a review unit in the 9′ 5-weight configuration.

Here is what we learned:

Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Combo Review: The Basics

In addition to selling other fly rod and reel brands, Cabela’s produces its own lineup of fly rods and reels. The Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Combo is the company’s entry-level option that prices out at just under $100 for the Bighorn fly rod, Bighorn fly reel and Bighorn backing and fly line.

At this price point, the Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Combo does not come with an included rod or rod/reel case. If you’re looking for an included case, Cabela’s offers its new Synch Fly Combo, which steps up the overall quality of rod and reel and comes in at $149 (read our full Synch review here). Both fly rod combos, it turns out, offer an outstanding value and make it into our Best Fly Fishing Rod and Reel Combo for the Money guide.

Cabela’s has changed how it identifies the type of graphite and its corresponding rod actions, using a GI, GII or GIII label. Cabela’s GI technology results in a moderate action fly rod, GII is usually used in moderate-fast action fly rods while GIII graphite blanks are used for Cabela’s fast action fly rods.

This photo shows the Cabela's Bighorn Fly Combo on some river rock.
The Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Combo offers an outstanding price-to-value ratio for an entry-level fly fishing combo.

So what does this mean for the Bighorn Fly Combo?

A moderate action flexes in a broad curve along the top two-thirds or so of the rod’s length. This type of action usually makes it easier to cast at short and medium distances, which is where 80% of casts go. Moderate-fast actions tend to bend most around the top half or so of the rod while fast-action rods, sometimes called tip-flex rods, bend most at the tip.

Beginners, in particular, can benefit from moderate actions because they can more easily load the rod to make short and medium distance casts — or so the theory goes. Like most theories, there is some truth to it, but it doesn’t mean a new fly fisher can’t learn with a fast-action rod and have great success, too. I’ve taught newbies on rods with all three actions and the action is not the defining characteristic of their success — temperament and the willingness to keep trying usually win the day.

All that said, how does the Bighorn Fly Combo cast? Pretty well. I could make short and medium casts from 25 feet to around 60 feet without much trouble and with decent accuracy. To push past 70 feet, which is a long cast, I had to pay close attention to my technique and make sure my timing was spot on. Frankly, most experienced trout fly fisherman don’t cast much farther than 75 feet with 9′ 5-weight fly rods. As for me, my most memorable big fish catches all happened when I was up close and personal under 25 feet away when I could easily see the fish take the fly.

If you’re hung up with distance casting as a newbie — or you’re going to be fishing lakes or big rivers — just get yourself a 9′ 6-weight rod instead of a 5-weight. The 6-weight will be slightly less soft on the water when you’re fishing for spooky trout, but you’ll be able to cast farther and cast bigger flies more easily. You can also upgrade the fly line in a year or two when you’re a better caster and you can usually gain some distance as well.

Back to the Bighorn rod: moderate action rods tend to benefit beginners when they actually hook a decent fish. Why? The longer rod flex helps cushion the fight and protect your tippet (the thinnest part of your leader at the end) when a fish takes off hard. In this respect, sometimes a moderate action rod helps beginners get better overall results early on.

Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Combo Review: The Reel and Line

The Bighorn Fly Reel, which Cabela’s does not sell separately, is much smoother and tighter than I was expecting. It has a durable and long-lasting Rulon disc drag and a large arbor design that reduces fly line memory. It doesn’t compete with high-end reels, but for freshwater fish, it’ll get the job done. I’ve caught hard-fighting coho salmon on Cabela’s entry-level reels and I expect the same results with these reels. I recommend that any new fly fisher starts out by setting their drags lightly, and that’s especially true when you’re fishing with entry-level reels. When you hook a big fish and start fighting it on the reel, you can always adjust the drag knob to a tighter setting.

This photo shows the Cabela's Bighorn Reel.
The Cabela’s Bighorn Reel uses an open-frame large-arbor design.

As it turns out, Cabela’s is offering the Bighorn Fly Combo with three other reel combinations. The first is a pairing with the Wind River Fly Reel, which has been in the Cabela’s lineup for years. It’s good entry-level reel. I’m not sure that it’s remarkably better than the Bighorn Reel though. The second combo pairing is the Bighorn with the Prestige Plus reel, which bumps the price up by $20 but gets you a cork drag that Cabela’s says results in minimal start-up torque . . . which is great when you’re using light tippets with small flies for big fish. The final option, the Bighorn with Prestige Premier reel, jumps the price by $40, but you get a better reel with a carbon disc drag as well as an upgraded fly line. These reel upgrades are all good, but I’m not positive that they are significantly better for a beginner on a budget — it might be smarter to put an extra $40 into accessories like forceps or flies.

The included standard Bighorn weight-forward floating fly line is fine, too — it’s not as slick and won’t last as long as a premium line, but hey, that’s not the point here. It does the job and will do the job for hundreds of outings, and if you wear it out — great! You’re addicted to fly fishing and you can upgrade your fly line — or try out a whole new combo. In fact, I think this is why Cabela’s produces its entry-level combos: the price points compared to the overall quality offer such value that I don’t think there is much profit in them for Cabela’s. I think they’re doing it to help get people into the sport, which we obviously believe is a good thing.

Bighorn Fly Combo: ‘Great Entry-Level Rod and Reel’

All of this, it turns out, is a long-winded way of saying that the Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Combo is a great entry-level fly rod, reel and fly line that will get the job done. While it doesn’t come with a protective case, the overall components are far better than any shrink-wrapped department store combo. The fit and finish is similar to previous generations of Cabela’s rods — pretty solid overall — but the cork handle seems to be a clear notch up in quality. Like most Cabela’s fly fishing combos, the price-to-value ratio is outstanding, making the Bighorn Fly Combo a can’t-go-wrong choice — in whichever version you choose.

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