SquareTop DyneLite Shoal-Cut Oars
Recently, I went to my local raft and paddling store to resupply on boat essentials. When I asked the 20-something bro behind the counter where I could find locking carabineers, he answered with another question: “What do you need them for?”
“For the anchor system on my driftboat.”
“If it’s for a driftboat, I won’t help you.”
I searched his tone for sarcasm, the two of us staring at each other across the glass case. He eventually relented.
“Nah, they’re on that wall over there, but you really should learn to row a real boat.”
That interaction is a good example of the split between different cultures, attitudes and needs of river recreators. Rowing for whitewater isn’t the same as rowing to keep anglers in optimal casting position. The basics don’t change: Both require a boat that floats well and oars to direct it, but the nuanced needs are drastically different. The shape of oar blades, as we traditionally have known them, is well suited for whitewater but has drawbacks for rowers more focused on catching fish than dropping chutes.
Sawyer realized this difference in consumer needs and designed oar blades specifically for anglers. While traditional blades are long and relatively narrow, Sawyer’s Shoal-Cut blades are shorter, wider and rounded. These oars allow me to get powerful, effective strokes in shallowerwater without banging rocks and scaring fish. Where once I had to use short, choppy strokes in water less than two feet deep, I now can row with efficiency and ease.
As a longtime fishing guide in southwest Montana, I spend more of my river time holding oar handles than cork grips, and these blades make my time on the sticks easier and more effective.
$399 each —Miles Nolte
G4 Pro Jacket
I know of only three ways to elude the increasing crowd of anglers on the water these days, a problem we all complain about and contribute to. First, fish the margins of the day and edges of the season. Second, find water so small, hard to reach or insignificant that few others bother with it. Third, head out in vile weather—the crappier the better. And on those days of incessant snow, sleet or freezing downpour driven by a hammering wind, you quickly realize that there’s no such thing as overkill in a wading jacket—no material too waterproof, no construction too tight, no design too protective.
For my money (and it admittedly takes a pile) the G4 Pro is as good as they come. The Gore-Tex Pro shell—state-of-the-art in weatherproof breathability—is tough, and for a bomber-weight jacket, this one is light and supple for easy body and arm mobility. The cuffs seal tightly, to minimize seepage that otherwise would soak your armpit when you cast. Nine pockets let you keep all of your stuff on the outside of the jacket, so you can stay comfortably zipped up, cinched down and barricaded against the elements. This is serious gear for serious anglers, especially if you are willing to get out there in the garbage weather. And while the high-water fishing may well suck, there’s a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself.
$549.95 —Ted Leeson
Sonar Sink 30 Clear
Lines typically don’t inspire fan clubs. Unlike fly rods or in rare cases reels, no one sits around pining for the fly-line models of yesteryear. Except maybe for one of the most obscure and yet beloved line offerings ever: the Scientific Anglers Mastery Streamer Express Clear Tip. This word salad of a product name may have had something to do with why the line never really hit mainstream; aficionados re-dubbed it the SAMSECT. When SA announced that it was jettisoning its entire range of sinking lines, those in the know held their breath; but thankfully the line has continued under its new, somewhat-less-lengthy name: the Sonar Sink 30 Clear.
What’s so great about it? First, it has a monofilament core rather than a multifilament braid. It needs stretching, but the tradeoff is a significant increase in the line’s rigidity. Think coaxial cable versus knitting yarn. Because the line is rigid, it has the heft to hold up a big fly with relatively minimal effort at absolutely maximum range. Striper anglers adore the Sonar Sink Clear’s ability to turn over an eight-inch wet mop of a fly at a hundred feet. The clear head (a full 30 feet) is no joke either; anecdotally, it appears to increase the distance a fish will move to chase a fly and lets you shorten the leader length, especially in clear water. As an intermediate sink, the line works equally well for stripers in rivers, bank-bashing trout in Argentina or Arkansas, or near-shore surf fishing. It is as close as these things come to the ideal streamer line.
$79.95 —Zach Matthews
Waders are like marriages: Nothing lasts forever, and you’re likely to have more than one. Being happy with either comes down to realistic expectations. For me, realistic wader expectations are difficult when a new pair costs as much as a liver transplant, not that I’ve been shopping health-care options lately. For that kind of money, I figure, waders should last a really, really long time and protect from snakebites, throwing stars and sniper shots. But if you’re foolish enough to splash around with those kinds of expectations, you’ll end up unhappy.
About a dozen years ago a friend who knows about these things recommended I try Dan Bailey lightweight waders. I admit to being skeptical. A firm believer in “you get what you pay for,” I didn’t expect these comparatively inexpensive waders to last long.
But last they did. Even through butt-sledding, log-sitting and gunnel-jumping during a fall/winter steelhead season. When spring arrived, I pulled them inside out and hung them in a downstairs shower stall until summer. Then I tossed them in a duffel and choppered them into the Dean River. I didn’t take backup waders on that trip, because that would have been the smart thing to do. But the lightweights held up fine. A few weeks later I was on Alberta’s Bow River. Still no problems. It wasn’t until about a year after I bought these lightweights that one of my feet felt damp—at twilight while wading out of a tail-out on the Thompson River. I wasn’t too disappointed—these, I declared, had offered the best lifespan of any breathable waders I’d ever worn, and I’d tried them all. So when it came time to replace them, I had been so impressed that I bought two pairs.
I love my Dan Bailey lightweights. They cost a couple hundred bucks, and I have realistic expectations of them. I expect that they will last a reasonable length of time, which they always do, and more if I take care of them, which I never do.
$224.95 —Dana Sturn
Since I received Sage’s new X series fly rod, I haven’t called myself a fly fisherman; I’m a spy fisherman. And if someone were to call me 007, I’d correct them and say, “Call me 007X.” That’s because I feel like a spy when I’m walking through an airport or even uncasing this rod on a tailgate, all because of the way it arrived: not in a rod tube but in a black case with three combination locks, part of a Sage promotion to get writers to elaborate on this new rod.
I’m always slow to report on items that arrive that way—unannounced with ulterior motives—but this 9-foot 5-weight is too good to delay sharing what I have learned throwing tiny dries on Montana’s broad Clark Fork, casting bushy dries for Idaho cutthroat and heavy nymphs for big bull trout, and even whipping streamers to the banks while floating the Big Hole and other largish rivers.
So what’s the report? Sage’s new X reminds me a bit of the old Sage RPL from the ’80s. That’s because both rods work well in a variety of scenarios, being versatile enough to drop small dries or hit the banks with articulated streamers. And both are joys to cast (I still own the 9-foot, 6-weight RPL my parents gave me as a graduation present back in—oh, what does the year matter?—and I expect to own this rod for a similar duration.)
Sage used its KonneticHD technology on the X, making this a super-light, fast-action stick and a “must-cast” at the recent ICAST show, where it won Best of Show honors. Some of that surely had to do with brand recognition, but after fishing this rod all summer I can tell you there’s much more to it than that. Should you buy one at the $800-plus price? I can’t answer that. But I will say this: You should hit a local fly shop and cast one. When it comes down to it, all rods have a unique feel, and this one uniquely fits my needs.
$895 —Greg Thomas
Tiemco 200R Hooks
Among fly-fishing’s abundant ironies is the fact that, in a time when fly-rod prices are pushing a grand, with reels and waders not too far behind, our most direct connection with our quarry is still the hook—probably the least-expensive link in the whole chain of our gear. If you don’t tie, you probably pay little attention to it. If you do tie, you almost certainly are familiar with the TMC 200R, probably the world’s most versatile hook—equally at home on, in or under the surface film.
On trips that last longer than a week or so, I pack a small tying kit. Space is limited, and I get by splendidly with a selection of 200Rs from #4 to #18 (though they go down to #22), using them for pretty much the gamut of patterns from Adams to Zug Bugs. I’ve tied them with barbell eyes for Clousers, wrapped them with lead wire for stonefly nymphs, strapped on bunny strips for leeches, bent the shanks for Klinkhammers, and hackled them for all kinds of dries. The 200R is strong and elegantly shaped, perfect for traditional steelhead patterns; it’s far less expensive than the classic Atlantic salmon irons; and, in my opinion, it hooks and holds more reliably. And, of course, it forms the armature for a Stimulator—among the 200R’s first and still highest purposes. You can’t tie everything on one, but almost.
So my fishing hat’s off to the 200R: the workhorse wire, the working-man’s hook.
About $.25/per —Ted Leeson
“That reel doesn’t cost enough.” Have you ever heard that sentence uttered, especially by a fly-shop owner? Probably not. And yet I now have heard those words more than once, as shop owners across a wide variety of fishing regions object to the “underpriced” Redington Behemoth series of die-cast reels, which range from $109 for the 5/6 weight to $129 for the monster 11/12. They’re not complaining about the product, either, just the fact that it sells for so little. Well, naturally, at that price the reel must have some kind of congenital defect, right? Not so fast. It is a die-cast, rather than a machined, reel, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
While die-casting (pouring molten metal into a pre-formed mold instead of carving the reel from a solid hunk of metal) is certainly old school when it comes to reels, the technique allows for some designs that just can’t be cut by a CNC machine. CNC machines have limits on the architecture they can fit a cutting bit inside. The crosshatched arbor spokes of the Behemoth are a perfect example; by carrying the load diagonally all the way from the rim of the spool across to the opposite side of the inner arbor, they make for an attractive, clean design with a large amount of core space in which to cram brake disks. Because of the angles they present, no CNC machine could make them. More space for brakes equals better stopping power and a more efficient design with less need to compromise. The result is a bargain-bin reel that looks great and punches well above its weight class.
Redington probably could offer this reel for twice as much and no one would bat an eye. At this price, the Behemoth series represents one of the best cost-benefit ratios the fly-fishing market has ever seen for a product.
$109 to $129 —Zach Matthews
HERO Session Camera
GoPro almost single-handedly revolutionized the outside “adventure film” genre. By placing near-cinema-quality video hardware into a portable, lightweight, optionally waterproof box, the company hatched an entire film industry that continues to shake the bedrock of what a fly fisher is. In the past the only problem I found with these cameras was the sound. It was terrible. Sure, you could pry a GoPro out of its case and film on dry land, but no one in our sport wants to risk that. Fly-fishing is entirely about water.
Enter the GoPro HERO Session. Marketed as an entry-level offering, this likely represents the future of the entire action-camera genre. The entire camera is now waterproof, meaning its microphone systems are always “outside” the enclosure (interior versions made for that terrible audio on previous models). Unless you’re planning to enter the Sundance Film Festival, you’ll never notice the compromises GoPro made to the Session’s video hardware, but you will notice the more intuitive user interface, the less-clunky screen graphics and the longer battery life. It’s an all-around upgrade from any GoPro, including the current flagship models.
$199 —Zach Matthews
Rio Gallegos Regular/Large Waders
Just a couple of years ago Patagonia had a maddening issue in its wader department: Most of its top-end waders were coming off of the assembly line in perfect order; others, inexplicably, were failing out of the gate.
So Patagonia formed the Wader Task Force, composed of people who would examine PG’s entire manufacturing process and the final product to determine where the issues were occurring. The singular goal: Control and eliminate variations in the production process.
After more than a year spent in a sample pair of PG’s new Rio Gallegos waders, I am ready to declare these waders as winners.
Understand that I am not fair to my gear. I beat on it in the field and don’t take good care of it when I get off the water. In other words, I don’t rinse or store it with any kind of love. And still these waders hold out the water. I’m tempted to fill them with rocks, tie them to my trailer hitch and drag them behind the F-150 to see just how many miles they make before parting at the seams. Realistically, I’ve hiked 500 miles in these waders and fished in them for countless hours.
Along with leveling out the production process, Patagonia added some great design features to these waders. For example, they’re built with four-layer H2NO performance fabric to keep out water; they have single-seam construction; and, with two inches of fabric removed from the hip area, they are not too baggy or too tight, meaning that for my average size they fit about perfectly right out of the box.
These waders also offer some nice pockets, including a reach-through exterior hand-warming pocket, a zippered exterior chest pocket and two interior pockets for additional gear. The suspender system easily disengages, so the waders can be dropped to the waist without having to remove a wading jacket. And the waders come with removable knee pads, which for me are a godsend after competitive track in my youth and 40 years of hardcore hoops. Anatomically fit left and right booties keep the waders from bunching up in wading boots.
Best of all, when I met with Patagonia at the 2016 ICAST show, in Orlando, Bart Bonime, the company’s director of fishing, told me that these new waders are enjoying a less-than-½-percent failure rate. And when a pair does fail, Patagonia can trace it back to the point of production, because every pair carries a serial number. All of this tells me that Patagonia learned from an issue and got things right.
$499 —Greg Thomas