Thomas & Thomas has undergone a renaissance of late under new owner Mark Richens, who has given the company the business wherewithal it needed to clear a huge backlog of already- designed rods. First and foremost is a new premium saltwater series, the TNT.
Dynamite red with tons of backbone, these are fast-action lifting and fighting sticks which clearly were designed with tarpon anglers in mind. T&T also has a new fast-action trout line, which Richens was careful to explain will be offered as an option (T&T is not leaving its traditional medium action niche behind). The NS5 series (NS is for "no sanctuary," explains Richens, because "these are definitely distance casting rods)" is a gorgeous update to the classic T&T heritage.
Clear Cure Goo, along with the other UV resin companies, have collectively introduced whole new possibilities in fly tying. One of the problem areas with the new material, however, was that the traditional material dried rather tacky, while the "No Tack" solutions available were more expensive. Brian Carson of CCG explained that this is because the "No Tack" versions require much more of the photosensitive catalyst chemical, which is the most expensive part of the mix.
Recognizing the realities of this economy, Orvis decided to focus on updating their value-based products, and they did it in a really innovative way. Many fly rod companies have gone overseas for production of their budget rods in recent years. The technique for many overseas manufacturers is very similar to how bamboo makers used to steal each others' tapers in the golden era of the 1920s-1940s: basically, you just cut the rod up into many tiny sections and take precise measurements, then copy the internal taper (which gives you both the mandrel shape as well as the approximate number of turns of graphite needed to reach the external diameter).
Orvis's Steve Hemkens explained that for their updated Clearwater series, they instructed their overseas partners to do the same thing... to the Helios. "Basically," Hemkens said, "we knocked off our own rods!" The results are excellent: a modern fast action taper made with budget conscious componentry for $198 (freshwater) and $225 (saltwater). In keeping with the theme, Orvis also used the same drag design from its high-end reels to design an all new composite plastic (and also formed aluminum) Clearwater Reel, starting at only $49. Combo packages with line will be available for under $300.
Hatch has a very sweet new reel called the Fanatic, hot off the presses. It makes use of the same Hatch drag core which has been in the line from the start, but for the first time it is available all the way from the size 1 (appropriate for 2 and 3 weight rods and light as a feather on up to the 12Plus (a monster which would swallow literally a mile of ba
Patagonia certainly takes the prize for one of the most radical new products, with their new Cramp Ons ($199) and the accompanying Rock Grip Boot ($239). Both items feature aluminum bars based on the original cramp ons designed by Yvon Chouinard from the early days of Patagonia (in fact, so early it was still known as Chouinard Equipment).
Montana Fly Company is about to give the popular Cliff Bugger Beast a run for its money with this new, sealed, paneled big fly box. The same size as the Bugger Beast, this box also boasts high-quality slit foam for both large and small flies. The center panel is removable, and best of all, it's entirely waterproof (with four strong clamps to make certain).
Day One of the IFTD trade show is drawing to a close. The Drake Magazine fly fishing video contest will go down in a few hours. Showgoers for the most part have expressed satisfaction with the New Orleans location (except perhaps for those who spent a tad too much time on Bourbon St. last night), but rumors are circulating that next year's show will return to the West--potentially to Reno, Nevada. Attendance is down from its peak in the early 2000s but does not appear to be much worse than the last two or three years. No doubt the ongoing economic doldrums have a lot to do with that.
Meanwhile it's always fun to look for the unexpected gems that stand out.
Rio Products has five new line releases and an entirely revamped leader lineup. For the two-handed anglers out there (Spey is in Rio's collective blood), they have released a new, all-around, general purpose spey line called the Unispey, which will be available in a full floater, as well as as a shooting head and a part of Rio's existing VersaTip system. Intended for beginning spey anglers as well, the line has a black section that clearly illustrates where to carry the line to properly load the rod.
Simms Fishing Products is one of the few fly fishing companies that is actually growing in a down economy; their expansion into the conventional fishing market has largely been a success, and their clothing lines have expanded and sold well.
Simms 2012 Guide Wader
R.L. Winston took the cover off three new rod lines last year, so this season they have kept it simple, expanding the BIIIx into a line of five-piece models but otherwise leaving their lines unchanged. As always the boron-heritage lines from Winston are powerful lifting rods, but with the IIIx iteration they have also dialed in the tips, resulting in a smooth, hard-charging caster's rod. Both the 10- and 12-weights are especially excellent striped bass, large permit and tarpon sticks.