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The L.L.Bean Quest Fly Rod Outfit is an excellent beginner fly rod and reel combo. L.L.Bean offers it in eight different size configurations with its four-piece fly rod outfits — and in four options in its two-piece outfits.
To get us a closer look, L.L.Bean sent Man Makes Fire a 9-foot, 5-weight 4-piece review unit for testing. After fishing with the L.L.Bean Quest Fly Rod Outfit for trout during early-season fishing conditions in Idaho, this is what we learned:
L.L.Bean Quest Fly Rod Outfit Review
The best fly fishing rod and reel outfits for beginners usually deliver a solid blend of performance, quality and cost. Because new fly fishers often end up investing in so much gear so quickly — like fishing waders and wading boots — it’s important for most beginners to keep their cost-of-entry as low as possible. One way to do that is by choosing an affordable fly fishing rod and reel outfit.
L.L.Bean says that its Quest Fly Rod has a beginner-friendly moderate action, but to me, it feels more like a moderate-fast action. Is that good? I think that’s great because the L.L.Bean Quest Fly Rod — particularly in the 9′ 5wt combo I fished — casts surprisingly well.
In fact, when I was casting a heavily weighted double-nymph rig during the testing process, I was astounded at how well the 9′ 5wt Quest rod handled the heavy flies. It also threw a large hopper pattern with ease (though this was just to test castability because it wasn’t grasshopper season at the time I was on the river).
For smaller dry flies, the Quest was surprisingly easy to cast. In part, this is because I have a relatively fast default casting stroke and I tend to appreciate faster actions. A lot of competitive beginner fly rod and reel combos require more effort and better technique to get distance, but I was able to cast beyond typical midrange (40-50 feet) distances without working very hard.
Admittedly, my accuracy at longer distances wasn’t as good as I can get out of much higher-priced fly rods like the Orvis Recon — but the vast majority of productive trout fly fishing is at midrange and even close-up distances. So many guys like to believe that farther is better, but often those long casts result in missed fish or flies caught in bushes behind you. (And once you’re thoroughly addicted to fly fishing, you’ll have a better read on which kind of rod you’ll want next!)
The key to the L.L.Bean Quest 9′ 5-weight fly rod is that it’s easy to cast and handles heavy and large flies remarkably well. It has more backbone than most entry-level fly rods, and that, in my experience, means you’ll likely still enjoy fishing with it for years to come.
The L.L.Bean Quest Fly Rod Outfit casts so well it has earned a spot on an upcoming rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. I’m confident that I can hand the Quest outfit to newbie fly fishers on the trip and they’ll have a good experience.
Quest Rod Quality
The overall Quest rod quality is on par with most other competitive fly rods in its price range. The medium-action graphite rod blanks have a pleasant brown color. As expected, the varnish is a bit thicker than what you’ll find in lighter and more expensive fly rods — but it certainly doesn’t look bad in person.
We appreciate the traditional wood insert reel seat in the 4-to-6-weight options. The 7-to-9 weight options use a more saltwater-resistant anodized aluminum (which is good).
L.L.Bean says the cork handle is a premium grade, but if we have any quibbles with the L.L.Bean Quest Fly Rod Outfit, it’s that the cork quality matches the rod’s entry-level price point. That said, we only care about cork looks right when we first hold the fly rod. After we fish with it — and get it wet, dirty, sandy and occasionally a bit slimy — we don’t think about it again. A beat-up cork handle just adds character to a fly rod.
The Quest Reel
I purchased a Quest reel from L.L.Bean several years ago to use with a midrange fly rod in my quiver, and it’s been a solid affordable reel with a great price-to-value ratio. (Right now, you can’t buy the reel separately from L.L.Bean, but I’m guessing that has more to do with supply chain issues than it does with a long-term strategy.)
Either way, the L.L.Bean Quest reel that came in the combo outfit appears to be the same. It has a large-arbor design, which keeps your fly line at a bigger circumference on your fly reel to make reeling in faster.
The inline rulon disc drag is reasonably smooth, but for best results you’ll want to set it lightly if you’re using lightweight tippets with small flies. If you hook a large fish, you can always tighten the drag if you need to during the fight — or simply palm the outside of the rim to gently add a bit more friction.
Last of all, the Quest reel is a bit heavy compared to most more expensive reels but it’s very competitive with entry-level reels (which is why I bought it years ago).
Which Size Should I Get?
If you’re wondering which fly rod size and weight option you should get, here are a few thoughts to help you out.
If you’re fishing primarily on small streams, choose the 7’6″ 4wt or the 8’6″ 5wt. If you’re looking for the most versatile all-around trout fly fishing rod that’s good for small streams, great for large streams and small rivers, choose the 9′ 5wt. For bigger trout, bigger water, or situations where you want to cast large and heavy streamer patterns, consider a 9′ in the 6-8wt range. For instance, we’ve caught coho salmon on entry-level 9′ 8wt rods and think they have plenty of power for the job.
What about L.L.Bean’s two-piece Quest fly rod option? Decades ago, two-piece fly rods tended to be lighter and cast smoother than four-piece fly rods. Today, however, with modern manufacturing methods and materials, the casting differences are much smaller. The biggest differentiating factor is more about travel and storage: Four-piece fly rods are significantly easier to store and travel with. If that’s not important to you, choose the version that’s still in stock and available now.
There are many entry-level fly rod and reel combos available on the market these days, but most of them are of inferior quality and should be avoided. We do not recommend that you buy a heavy department-store kit — especially not for kids who aren’t as strong as adults. For more detail, read our guide to the 10 Best Fly Fishing Rod & Reel Combos for the Money . . . or consider these alternatives below:
Redington Crosswater Combo — One of the most popular fly fishing outfits for beginners is the Redington Crosswater Combo. We’re fans of the bright blue rod blank, and while it has an easy-casting medium action that’s less stiff than the L.L.Bean Quest, it’s surprisingly fun to cast. For casting power, we like the L.L.Bean Quest a bit better. The Redington Crosswater Reel has both pros and cons. The key benefit is that it’s lighter than the Quest reel, which we appreciate — but the drawback is it has a composite material construction that might not be as durable if abused over the long haul.
Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit — The biggest benefit to the Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit is the crisp casting performance and solid overall package quality. The biggest drawback is the higher cost and fewer combo weight options.
TFO NXT Black Label Fly Rod Kit — When the Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label Kit is on sale, it’s hard to beat as an entry-level fly rod and reel combo. It has a true medium-fast action rod with enough power to grow with you. Better yet, the included reel is a step up in quality and has a lighter, more modern open large arbor design.
Redington Field Kits — The drawback to Redington’s new Field Kit series is the increased costs — more than twice as much as the L.L.Bean Quest Outfits. The benefit is a step up in rod and reel quality and in fly line quality, too: Unlike most fly fishing combos, the Redington Field Kits include a matched fly line that is significantly better than the lines included in sub-$200 kits. To help beginners choose the right kit, Redington matches them to species or water-specific kinds of fishing.
The Bottom Line
All-in-all, the L.L.Bean Quest Fly Rod Outfit delivers an excellent price-to-value ratio for beginner fly fishers. The surprisingly powerful action will let you more easily cast larger flies, and the Quest reel is durable enough to take a beating. While L.L.Bean also offers two-piece kits, we tend to recommend the more travel-friendly four-piece Quest outfits, which come in a wide variety of length and weight options. If you’re already an L.L.Bean fan, there’s no reason to stray. Very highly recommended.