The first thing you notice out of the box is the rod tube. It's pretty sweet for a budget combo. Inside it has four dividers to keep the rod sections separated and scratch free. The outside of the tube has the Encounter logo embroidered on canvas (fancy) and features a carrying handle and zip closed top. It is really well thought out and has a solid feel and build. The rod is a 9 foot 4 piece, and has a cork handle with fighting butt. The guides were nice and straight and the up locking reel seat doesn't have that cheap feel you normally associate with budget combos. The reel appears to be made of some sort of composite (plastic?) and is strung up with floating line and backing. All in all it has a nice balanced feel, but how does it cast?
To test this I fished it for a few weeks on some of my favorite Madison ponds. The rod loads predictably which is a good thing because my casting is anything but predictable. However even with my limited casting skills I got reasonable distance with the Encounter rod. Also my roll casts improved greatly since this is more of a moderate action rod. This was my first time casting a rod like this since all of the other rods I own are fast action. It helped me learn to wait for my back cast, instead of just using the rod to muscle the line around. The deep bend and even loading of this rod made my roll casts reach greater distances than I was used too. Sometimes this distance improved by as much 8-12 feet. It handled streamers well and easily casted a full assortment of common bass patterns. This is a great rod for the beginning warm water angler. The Encounter combo performs pretty well, but I do have a few things I don't like about it.
For starters the reel on this combo drives me absolutely crazy!!! The drag is all over the place and is anything but consistent. No matter how I adjusted it, or readjusted it, it never gave me the same pull. Some people will tell you that all a fly reel does is hold the line, but I have come to expect more. Living in Wisconsin I know that the big Great Lakes brown trout, bully smallmouth bass, and the mighty muskellunge, will make quick work of this drag and break me off. Don't believe me, see for yourself. Also the line is fine for a beginner, but it feels cheap. After just a few outings the last 8 feet or so stopped floating and needed to be treated. Not a deal breaker necessarily, just something that will irritate the hell out of the bass guys throwing top water flies. The negatives don't outweigh the positives though, this is an all around well balanced setup.
As you can see this a great combo for the beginner. It will even serve as a good back up to your favorite rod and reel. It has its issues, but most budget combos are going to be a compromise. This combo has a nice rod with a basic reel and line. In fact, the rod is so nice that as you progress as a fly angler it would be worth upgrading the reel and line to something of a better quality. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Orvis Encounter 8 wt combo to somebody looking for a descent starter package to get them on the water. Just keep an eye on that drag setting.