The new Cabela’s Synch Fly Combo is an easy-to-cast fly fishing rod and reel combo designed to offer great performance yet come in at an beginner-friendly price point. Cabela’s has succeeded: At just under $150, the Cabela’s Synch fishes above its price point.
To get us a closer look, Cabela’s sent Man Makes Fire an early 9′ 5-weight review unit a few months before this rod was available to buy. Here is what we learned.
Cabela’s has been producing its own fly fishing rods and reels for years, and the company usually offers a quality product at extremely competitive price points. Previously, Cabela’s offered its popular RLS+ Fly Combo at this price point — but we never specifically recommended the RLS+ combo at Man Makes Fire. When we heard that Cabela’s was phasing out its RLS+ combo in favor of a new and improved combo called the Synch at the same price point, we jumped at a chance to try it out.
First, why not the RLS+ Fly Combo? We felt that while the RLS+ combo overall was a good value, for some reason the rod seemed to be a little soft. The RLS+ reel — which Cabela’s still sells — was much better than the rod, but the aesthetics of the combo also didn’t quite feel matched. These were always minor quibbles in the big scheme of things but big enough to let other fly rod and reel combos win our appreciation.
Now though, the new Cabela’s Synch includes an improved rod and with a similar reel — Cabela’s shifted more the product investment into the rod. As a result, the overall combo has a better smooth-casting experience that’s surprisingly fishable — and that is what really counts.
In fact, when I first took the Synch out on the St. Joe River looking for fall cutthroat trout, I had to remind myself to pay attention to the casting stroke and note my impressions. Basically, it was very easy for me to focus on where I wanted to cast my fly and just put the fly where I wanted it. For short and midrange casts, which make up about 80% of most people’s casts, the Synch was accurate and easy to deliver.
The Synch is a moderate action fly rod. This means it bends primarily through a fuller segment of the rod instead of just the tip. Fly rods that bend most around the tip section are usually called tip-flex or fast-action rods. Personally, I prefer faster action rods, partially because I have an aggressive casting stroke, but most great fast action rods tend to cost quite a bit more than entry-level rods with moderate or moderate-fast actions.
I’ve come to appreciate some moderate action rods that load smoothly, and while I don’t believe they’re significantly easier for newbies to learn with, they usually do have a bit more room for user error at short distances. One area where moderate action wins out with beginner fly fishers is during the fight with larger fish. Basically, a longer rod flex can help reduce breaking off fish due to experience errors when fish take off on hard runs. The key point for beginners is to look for rods and reels that are affordable yet do most everything right without any glaring issues.
When I really wanted to reach out to the far end of my casting abilities with a long cast, I had to pay more attention and more patiently wait for the line to fully extend and the rod to fully load. Sure, this is key for most any rod, but my faster-action fly rods in the 9′ 5-weight configuration usually give me just a bit more oomf a bit more quickly. This is splitting hairs for most beginning fly fishers because truly, not very many beginners can cast farther than the Synch rod will easily allow anyway. And more often than not, most fly fishers are better off wading a bit closer to the fish: Even if you make a fantastic long cast, actually setting the hook successfully at long distances pretty often leads to lost fish. For most every casual fly fisher, long casts are overrated. An entry-level fly fisher is better off investing in a decent fly rod and reel combo like the Synch and then saving any extra budget for a good set of fly fishing waders and/or wading boots.
Looping back around to the Cabela’s Synch Fly Combo, as I fished it on the river, I was surprised at how the new Cabela’s combo inspired confidence — I didn’t ever doubt the rod while I fished. We got along nicely.
Cabela’s Synch Fly Combo Review: Fish On!
The largest fish I caught was a 17-inch cutthroat trout. Not a huge bruiser, but still a decent and fun fish that was large enough to let the drag do its thing on a couple of good runs. The Rulon disc drag system is fairly smooth. I generally set my drags on a light setting and then tighten them up if I get a big fish on. (This technique can help reduce breaking thin tippets, and it’s particularly important when you’re fishing with entry-level reels that might be more likely to stick or have a bit more start up torque than a truly high-end reel.)
While we’re talking about the drag, I also liked the sound of this reel — it’s silent on the retrieve but gives you a nice click when you pull line off the reel or a fish takes off on a run. This is an extremely minor point, but some reels sound tinny, cheap or grating, and I was pleased with the Synch reel. Overall, the fit, finish and function of the Synch reel is a step up from most entry-level reels.
The arbor of the reel is fairly large, which helps retrieve line more quickly and minimize line memory.
The Synch Fly Combo comes with a weight-forward fly line engineered by Scientific Anglers. In my experience it performed about as well as most any entry-level fly line these days. In case you’re wondering, getting an entry-level combo that comes with fly line and backing will usually save you $30-40 over the cost of buying entry-level line separately. And if you upgrade the fly line in a year or two, you’ll gain some casting distance (which isn’t a big deal for beginners but you might appreciate it when your skills increase, depending on the type of water you fish).
Cabela’s has nailed some of the details in the Synch Fly Combo, starting with the overall color. The silver-finish reel pairs well with the unique grayish greenish bluish color of the rod itself. The reel seat is inexpensive but the overall cut and design looks fantastic, and the little mayfly silhouette is a nice touch. As it turns out, I like the simple reel seat of the Synch more than many other seats made from traditional wood.
The AA-grade cork handle is also welcome — it’s very nice, actually.
The Synch rod comes in four pieces. One feature I’ve come to appreciate is the inclusion of alignment dots on each rod section, which makes assembly easier. It’s a minor feature, but when you’re looking at a river all amped up to be fishing, anything that gives you an extra minute suddenly gains importance. Alignment dots. Love ’em.
Meanwhile, the Synch comes in a 7’6″ 3-weight version, which is great for smaller water or fishing for skittish trout. There is an 8’6″ 4-weight, which is a particularly nice combo for smaller new fly fishers, as well as for fishing on creeks and smaller rivers. The 9′ 5-weight is the standard all-around fly rod size that’s great for most any trout fishing. The 6-weight will give you a bit more power to cast larger flies and streamers in the wind on bigger water, and the 8-weight version will be enough to handle a steelhead or mess around with bass, depending on the type of water you’re fishing.
All of the combo versions come with a handy rod & reel combo case.
Cabela’s Synch Fly Combo: Great Price-to-Value
Overall, the new Cabela’s Synch Fly Combo is a great entry-level fly rod combo that outperforms its beginner-friendly price point. The new Synch is surprisingly castable and should let most any fly fisher focus on the fishing. For many casual fly fishers, the Cabela’s Synch could easily become a lifelong rod and reel. At the same time, it’s more than capable of turning into a serviceable backup rod and reel combo that could also be passed on to a newbie or buddy looking to learn how to fly fish. The entire setup is predictable on the water, making the new Cabela’s Synch Fly Combo a cost-effective winner. Highly recommended.