A Tackle Showcase

A Tackle Showcase

Editor's Note Each fall, just about every company that makes fly-fishing -related gear heads to Denver for the International Fly Fishing Retailer Show

  • By: Ted Leeson
  • , Buzz Bryson
  • and Darrel Martin
Editor's Note Each fall, just about every company that makes fly-fishing -related gear heads to Denver for the International Fly Fishing Retailer Show to display (and market) their latest products to retailers and distributors from around the world. And like cow stripers cruising a flat for baitfish, FR&R's Buzz Bryson, Ted Leeson and Darrel Martin spend three days roaming the show floor, talking to the manufacturers and looking for new and interesting items to write about over the coming year.At the end of the show we ask are three gear gurus to write up a half-dozen or so of the most promising or innovative products they found. Here, then, are 15 pieces of gear that they thought were especially good. Keep in mind though, that these are just a small number of items that they saw, and that FR&R does not have the space to cover all the great, new gear in a single issue. You can expect to see more new products reviewed in our up coming issues. Cortland 444 Classic Sylk Fly Line I heard about the Cortland 444 Classic Sylk Fly Line for months before I finally had a chance to cast one. It was worth the wait. Built with a very flexible PVC jacket over a small-diameter Dacron core, it's designed to replicate the casting properties of the natural silk lines favored by cane rod enthusiasts Having cast the real thing only once, I can't really speak to Cortland's success in reproducing the casting characteristics of silk. But after stringing up the Sylk line on bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite, I can say two things: First, this is a pleasing line on all three types of rods. The noticeably thinner diameter reduces wind resistance; it slips nicely through the guides, even the small snakes on some cane rods; it lands gently and draws off the water with relatively little disturbance. What I value most, though, is the suppleness of this line. Stiffer lines have become popular primarily because they shoot so well, but for actual trout fishing, especially where more exacting presentations are required, give me a softer line any day. An extra-long front tip further promotes delicacy. (If you're casting this line on a faster or stiffer graphite rod, you might want to trim back the tip a foot or two; it didn't seem to me I lost much in doing so.) The second thing I know for sure is that, at $48, this one is a lot cheaper than a genuine silk line. It comes in both WF and DT, in 2-7-weights. --Ted Leeson L.L. Bean Large Arbor Orion The general industry trend toward more affordably priced tackle continues, and at this year's show I saw a number of new large arbor reels in the $200-$250 range. One of the standouts was the L.L. Bean Large Arbor Orion reel for saltwater anglers. Outside diameter, spool width and weight are coordinated to make it a functional embodiment of the large-arbor idea, designed from the bottom up rather than lamely cobbled around an existing design. And it's solidly built. The reel is machined from bar-stock aluminum and anodized to resist corrosion. Frame and spool are ported to save weight without sacrificing strength, and the overall sturdiness, impressive in a single-sided frame, inspires confidence. So does the drag-a big, carbon-fiber/Rulon disc in a simple, mechanically reliable drawbar design. Drag guts and bearing are O-ring sealed to fend off contaminants. The sensibly large drag knob adjusts through two full revolutions of detented settings for fine-tuning drag resistance. A knurled finger screw on the hub releases the spool but remains captured so it won't fall off, and this drawbar approach locks up more firmly than spring-release designs. Left/right conversion is extremely simple. There are no radical innovations here-just smart, basic engineering and good execution that make this a value. The three sizes, for 7- to 12-weight lines run $199 to $219. Marc Petitjean Magic Head Every fly tier I met at the show was talking about the Magic Head from Marc Petitjean. This soft, silicone-like cup, shaped like half an hourglass, is tied in behind the hook eye with the cup extending forward of the shank. Then a streamer pattern is dressed as usual, behind the head. The head can be used in two configurations. The cup can be pushed rearward over the head of the fly, where it functions like epoxy on a saltwater pattern to consolidate and protect wing and body materials at the tie-in point. But the real magic here is when the cup is used folded forward over the hook eye. When the streamer is stripped through the water, the cup produces an astonishing, baitfish-like, side-to-side wiggle that is impossible to replicate with a standard streamer no matter what type of strip action or rod movement is used. The only other way to get this lifelike, lateral wriggling is with a diving lip, which besides being an utter nightmare to tie, twists the tippet unmercifully unless the fly is perfectly balanced. And it never is. When I first saw this simple idea, I got two images in my head-striper flies and damselfly nymphs. The Magic Head is currently available in 3 sizes-the smallest for trout patterns, the two larger for saltwater or big freshwater flies-in two cross-sectional shapes, round and oval. But there are plans to add an extra-small version for trout and an extra-large for billfish. They come six to a package for $4.95 and are distributed by Hareline Dubbin and Raymond Rumpf. --Ted Leeson Orvis Frequent Flyer Rods I think it's safe to say that, a few years back, the problems of weight and stiff spots from ferrules in multi-piece rods were officially pronounced dead. No one mourned their passing. The upshot is that the price of some of these superbly packable, five- to eight-piece rods, has been steadily dropping, and the quality going up. This year Orvis introduced its Frequent Flyer series of 7-piece rods that pack down to under 18 inches and run $195. There's nothing particularly fancy here, just efficient, workmanlike fly rods that offer the kind of performance you want in an everyday rod, but are affordable enough to pack along as backup insurance on a destination trip. I fished these rods for few weeks last summer and was particularly satisfied with the 9-foot 5-weight Tip Flex action-an action I normally find a bit stiff for my taste but, in this incarnation, one that proved surprisingly versatile on everything from size 20 midge pupae to conehead streamers. The 8-foot 5-wight in the Mid Flex action ran a very close second. The rods are packed in a divided, Cordura-covered case and make a very tidy travel package. There are six rods in all, from 4-9-weight. --Ted Leeson Ross Flywater Reel The new Flywater Reel from Ross Worldwide, a new division of Ross Reels, is a first for the company on a couple of fronts-its first value-price reel, and its first reel produced outside the US. Designed by Ross engineers to incorporate features of both the Cimarron and Gunnison models, the reels themselves are manufactured and assembled in the United Kingdom with cast-aluminum, powdered-coated frames in a handsome matte black. What's impressive here are the high machining tolerances maintained in a reel of its price. The runout in spool rotation is dead-on, no play or wobble or travel along the spindle-everything's true. The double plunger-pin drag engagement drives a full disk-drag system, based on the Gunnison design that is up to the Ross standard (and also gives a nice outgoing click). The drag knob is easily adjusted, even with gloved hands. The reel has a quick-release spool and easy L/R conversion. Consider this one an entry-level reel that doesn't sacrifice performance or that pride-of-ownership feel. It's available in three sizes for 3-7-weight lines and retails for $89-$109; extra spools are available, and the reel carries a 1-year warranty. --Ted Leeson Simms Bottomless Pit Roller Bag This year Simms unrolled a new line of angler's luggage-literally. The Bottomless Pit Roller Bag has heavy-duty, extra-large wheels and a stout, retractable handle for toting heavy loads. At the same time, a hard plastic bottom and end plate protect delicate gear from the indignities of airline baggage handlers. The bag is sewn with a beefy 1050-denier ballistic nylon exterior (840 pack-cloth inside) with a big horizontal zip access and a clever magnetic closure that keeps the flap in place even when the zipper is open. And the balanced base allows this one to stand on end without tipping over. What sets this bag apart, though, is an interior configuration specifically designed to carry tackle-zip-closing interior pockets that allow for organizing and separating gear rather than dumping it into a one big hole; a padded rod tube that recesses into its own compartment and is concealed beneath a zip-closing security flat; padding to protect reels and fly boxes; exterior pockets; and a host of other features. Think of a gigantic tackle bag, big enough to hold rods, that travels on wheels. Not just another rolley duffel, this is designed to transport tackle. It's well-built, versatile and handsome. The 80-liter model ($329.95) is sized to carry 10-foot, 4-piece rods; the big 135-liter version ($379.95) will fit 10-foot, 3-piece rods. Serious traveling anglers should give this a look. --Ted Leeson Scientific Anglers Mastery Series Streamer Express Clear Tip Fly Line SA has again expanded its offerings for subsurface anglers with the Streamer Express Clear Tip. The line combines a 30-foot long clear intermediate density head (sink rate of 1.75--2.25 inches per second) with a colored intermediate density running line. Each size (and there are five weights, ranging from 200-400 grains, in 50-grain increments) has a different color of running line for easy identification. The five sizes cover line weights from 5 through 12. The Streamer Express Clear Tip is designed to fish 1--6 feet deep, and the intermediate running line keeps the entire line under any surface chop, providing a better connection to the fly. The 30-foot head length will load the rod quickly and a 12-foot transitional "handling line" section between the head and running line ensures a smoother cast (turnover), allowing the angler to both aerialize more line and to pick line off the water more easily. The running line integrates SA's AST chemistry, ensuring longer shooting and cleaner lines. SA's Bruce Richards brought some prototypes of this line to Harkers Island last fall for testing, and it became a favorite from the start. The albacore fishing was sub-par last year, and thus we wanted to make every decent shot count. The new line's taper worked as designed, loading the rod quickly and also helping with distance. It's a line I quickly decided was essential to a well-stocked saltwater angler's arsenal! The line retails for $59.95. --Buzz Bryson L.L. Bean Angler Rod Outfit L.L. Bean already offers anglers a wide selection of tackle, but the new Angler Rod Outfit clearly had one objective: to entice more potential fly fishers to the game. On price alone, it most certainly will do that. My first impression was that I should be kind to this outfit, as it was quite plain looking and in need of a friend. But I soon found myself concentrating on the business at hand: focusing on a target-even if it was a plastic hoop on the concrete floor, and not a subtle rise form on the stream. I didn't expect a lot, as this rod, along with a reel, line, backing and carrying tube, cost only cost $69. Not only that, but the string comes already tied together and loaded on the reel. With two strikes (plain and cheap) already against it, I gave the rod a couple of "practice swings"-and was impressed with the results. It loaded easily, providing good feedback for the intended entry-level user, allowing him/her to gain proficiency. Yet it wasn't a noodle; with a smooth stroke it will deliver plenty of line. As advertised, the two-piece rod is a pleasant moderate action design. The grip is comfortable, and the reel seat and guides completely serviceable. The Angler set up comes in the following weights and lengths: 5 weights in 7- and 8 1/2-feet; and 6-weights in 8-, 8 1/2- and 9-feet. The reel is a composite and appears to be sturdy enough. And the line, made by Scientific Anglers, requires little from the angler other than a basic stroke to deliver the fly. No frills, no glitz, nothing fancy; just a plain vanilla outfit that is solid and priced right. I'll bet Bean sells a ton of these. --Buzz Bryson Cortland&RIO High Floating Tips Let me say right off that I've never been too upset when a line tip started sinking a bit. Maybe that's because I've fished through much of the evolution of the modern fly line, and can appreciate that synthetic lines today are so much better than those of decades ago. Nonetheless, manufacturers are rightfully appreciative of and sensitive to customer feedback, and try to respond appropriately. Fly lines float because the coating has a lower specific gravity than water. Typically, the specific gravity of line coatings ranges in the neighborhood of 0.80--0.85, compared to water's specific gravity of 1.0. But at the fly line's tip, the proportion of coating to core is reduced, so the overall specific gravity is higher than that of the thicker belly, with proportionally more buoyant coating. After adding a monofilament leader, a bulky knot and a glop of cement over that knot, the question is not why isn't the tip floating better, buy how is it floating at all? The solution would seem as simple as adding to the tip section more of whatever causes the line to float in the first place (e.g., "microballoons"). That's tricky because certain proportions have to be maintained to ensure coating integrity (in other words, without enough "glue," the coating won't be durable enough). There's also the issue of diameter and mass, higher physics to most of us, which must be optimized for good turnover. Independently of each other, both RIO and Cortland have developed what each will only describe as a "proprietary process." But both say that, without increasing the line's diameter, they have reduced the specific gravity to near 0.60, a significant decrease, or is that an increase-well, a big improvement in tip flotation. RIO has said its process, which at least for now is called High Flotation Technology and has a patent pending, will be used first in the Rio Grand and Nymph lines. Jim Vincent said it will be incorporated into the tip and portions of the front taper. Both lines retail for $60. Cortland's process is being introduced in the new 555 Dyna-Tip series of lines. The Dyna-Tip is available at $59, in 4-9 weights, and the 4-foot high-floating tip will be white, contrasting with the remainder of the line's mango color. If you're one who fusses over the tip sinking-particularly when fishing tiny flies that are tough enough to float or when using the tip as a strike indicator while nymphing-this new technology is worth checking out. --Buzz Bryson Cortland Half-Weight Lines Ever find yourself thinking that if your line were just a bit heavier (or lighter) that it would be nigh perfect on your favorite rod? We don't all cast alike, use the same leaders and flies, or cast them the same distances. We don't all prefer the same "feel" in a rod, and the easiest way to adjust is often to fine tune that rod with a line. Cortland offers a new way of doing that, with the company's half-size line weights. The half-weight lines will initially be available in Cortland's new Precision Trout Hi-Vis series. The line is available in a weight forward Rocket 2 taper (itself new, featuring more weight up front and a longer front taper, for directional stability and more precise presentations), in line weights 3--7.5, with the half sizes being 3.5--7.5. "Overweight" lines aren't new. Both the Scientific Anglers' Mastery GPX and RIO's Rio Grand are built somewhat heavy to better load faster fly rods, but what Cortland has done is to continue to offer the normal-weight lines and the half-weight lines. Theoretically, one should pick one's line first, and then match the rod to that line weight. Few do that. Many others start out with what appears to be the perfect marriage of rod and line, and subsequently find themselves wishing the line were just a bit heavier. Lightweight trout rods, in particular, are generally more sensitive to fractional changes than heavier, even faster bass and saltwater rods, and Cortland rightly and wisely focused on those. Cortland's Russ Darr was kind enough to provide me with some samples of the new line in whole and half sizes. Based solely on a bit of lawn casting, one can clearly notice the difference in a half size. If you've found yourself thinking, If only this rod loaded a bit more quickly… well, now it can. The lines retail for $55. --Buzz Bryson Redington CPS Fly Rods The CPS (Core Performance Series) rods represent an entirely new series of rods for Redington, and it's a complete-and large-family. There are 14 rods, all four-piece, from 3-weight to 12-weight. Lengths vary from 8 to 10 feet, with most being 9-footers. One's first impression of these rods is how nicely finished they are, comparing favorably with considerably higher-price rods. The components look fine, and the blank and thread wrap finishing are quite nice. Debate all you want about the economic wisdom of having rods made overseas. But don't doubt for a moment that, given quality materials, proper training, and appropriate quality control, high quality products can be manufactured anywhere. Redington describes the CPS rods as having extra fast actions. Several FR&R's test-casters found that these rods loaded well and cast crisply at a good range of distances. But don't be deterred from trying this rod if you're not a fan of extra fast actions: It is surprisingly user-friendly. This is a rod that's definitely on my list to get on the water with. I don't expect to be disappointed! Be it the 3-weight or the 12-weight, the CPS rods are $249-a price point that suits. --Buzz Bryson The Dubspeed The best ideas are the basic ones. Zauner Fishing Concept's Dubspeed makes adjusting materials in a dubbing loop swift and simple. It comes complete with a cradle arm, three shelves (1 3/4, 3" and 5"), and a hook spinner. The three shelves allow different dubbing-loop lengths. After mounting the hook in the vice, attach the thread to the hook shank. Then rotate one of the three shelves or "channels" (the goulotte), similar to a "dubbing block," against the hook shank. Hang the thread over the shelf and arrange the various dubbing components, such as fur, hairs and feathers, on the thread. Next, create a dubbing loop by attaching the "hook" spinner (the crochet) to the thread and loop the thread back to the hook, thus trapping the materials lying on the shelf. Swing the shelf away and twist the spinner to capture the materials. After spinning, merely wrap the spun materials along the shank to create the pattern. A single spin and wrap create various pattern parts, such as body, thorax and hackle. Although the instructions are in French, the sequential photographs make the setup and process clear. The adjustable cradle clamp accommodates any round vice post. It should be excellent for creating hackles and bodies made from CDC barbs. And, as the thread loop mounts on the hook shank, the Dubspeed is faster than the traditional dubbing block. C'est vraiment très simple! --Darrel Martin The Stretch SST Jacket Since 1989, Patagonia's SST jacket has established a reputation for tough style. It has always been a serious jacket for the serious angler. The new waterproof Stretch SST is now lighter, suppler, softer and more breathable. The stretch fabric allows unhindered casts and movement. The hidden inner-cuff gussets seal out water and prevent snagging the line. The three-layered, 4.2-ounce stretch fabric has a Storm HB barrier and tricot liner that offers superior abrasion and tear resistance as well as improved waterproof-breathable performance and comfort. The Deluge DWR finish speeds drying and adds warmth and comfort in cold, wet conditions. The fabric, used for many years in Patagonia shells, has withstood the worst conditions of alpine sports. Numerous design details, often tucked out of sight, combine function with style. The full-cut accommodates a plump fly vest and layering, while the cleaner silhouette eliminates line catches. A fully adjustable hood tucks into the collar. The waterproof, zippered, oversized front pockets keep contents safe and dry. Small pockets inside large ones hold tippets, strike indicators and other items so, as Patagonia puts it, you do not have to root around large pockets "like a pig after truffles." D-rings, hidden under the front flap, hold various small items such as floatant and retractors. Two, horizontally zippered pockets appear on the inside chest. At the front, a full-length, waterproof zipper with Velcro flap blocks wind and water. The Y-joint sleeves allow freedom without bulk and avoid shoulder seams. Anatomically curved elbows and stretch fabric offer unrestricted movement when casting or rowing. The men's model converts to deep-wading with a snap system and "Houdini draw-cord hem." There are two attractive Stretch SST colors: the man's bog green (a brown-green) and the woman's cyclone blue. This may well be the next generation of quality. Suggested retail is $325. --Darrel Martin Partridge S-Series Fly Lines Partridge of Redditch now has "a line of lines," designed and manufactured in the UK. The Shooting Distance, the Reservoir (4-9-weights), the Payload (8-12-weights) and the Dry and Delicate (3-7-weights) have a continuous "leader" and "a running backing line." The terms "leader" and "backing" as fly line sections is odd. In any case, these unique lines have a 3' continuous "leader" section built into the front. A standard monofilament leader can attach directly to this narrow "leader" section or the "leader" can be cut back to attach a standard braided loop. A long, narrow running line, called a "running backing line" attaches to the reel or to a standard backing line. The long "running backing" makes smooth, liquid casts. These lines are dramatically supple and soft. I found that little effort was required for casting and shooting. A fly-line winder, similar to a small star, comes with each line. Mount the line winder in the line spool and clamp it between your legs for twist-free and tangle-free loading and unloading of lines. The Ian Gordon Spey lines (7/8, 8/9, 9/10, 10/11, 11/12 weights) are available in a short (65-foot) or medium (75-foot) heads in floating, intermediate, medium-sink and fast-sink profiles. As most of the line weight is within the draped "D," these lines create maximum rod load for effortless casts. The fine front tapers mean less water friction, faster line speed and delicate presentation. Color changes in the line provide a reference point 5' from the end of the head for consistent casting. The Partridge line profiles are unique. These lines have shorter tapered sections but longer running lines. The long, "running backing" on each line creates a unique profile and an unusual casting grace. Cost and availability is yet to be determined. --Darrel Martin Simms Dry Creek Lumbar Bag The Dry Creek Bag Series includes some well-designed waterproof bags: Camera Bag, Lumbar Bag, Chest-Hip Pack, Chest Pack and Back Pack. The 420 denier polyurethane coated nylon combined with thermal welding creates durable, waterproof bags with round, tight corners. The Dry Creek Lumbar Bag, in orange or coal, is a roll-down fanny pack and removable built-in belt with aeromesh padding. The belt has two zippered wing pockets, one on each side for small items. The bag, with wrap-around interior padding, has a large front pocket and two interior bellowed pockets. An exterior front pocket provides quick-access to additional storage. The Lumbar would be excellent for storing cell phones, GPS units, cameras and other items safe and dry. The roll top and buckle closure prevents water entry. This is an attractive, intelligent and practical bag. Rather than hanging off the shoulder and banging the body like some waterproof bags, the Lumbar Bag hugs you. Any angler near water will want it, and everyone needs a hug. Suggested retail is $59.95. --Darrel Martin G. Loomis Roaring River Two-Handed Rods Loomis has done the two-handed aficionados a remarkable service. They have taken the mystery out of two-handed rods, but kept the magic. Loomis has created a complete series-24 in all-of two-handed rods based on the three basic two-handed casting styles used throughout the world: (1) Traditional Style (Greased Line GLX/Deveron), (2) Scandinavian Style (Stringer GLX/Alta) and (3) Skagit Style (Dredger GLX/Kispiox). These are attractive rods. For example, the GLX rods have proprietary graphite blanks, nickel titanium recoil guides, Portuguese cork handles with composite cork caps, an offset-oval barrel reel seat and faux-scrimshaw insert with engraved fly graphic. Loomis has also compiled a lengthy list of fly lines (updated periodically on their website) to match each rod for various line loads: medium-light load, medium-moderate rod load, medium-heavy rod load and heavy rod load. Each rod has a specific history and function. Traditional Spey-casting maintains a relatively fixed line length of 65-100 feet, allowing you to cover water without retrieving or lengthening line on each cast. Traditional rods have a full flex through the mid-section when fully loaded. For example, look at the traditional style FR1688/9-4 rod. It is a 14', 4-piece rod for an 8/9 line. This medium-light rod-pleasant for playing 10-pound fish-casts floating lines comfortably 65- to 85-feet. Rod action is moderate, yet powerful. It handles all but the largest flies with confidence. Anglers fishing the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec from a canoe may find this model just the answer to cast to both sides with minimal effort. No matter where you fish or how you cast, a rod should match your style. These rods will introduce many new anglers to the two-hander-never has it been so simple and so accessible. Suggested retail prices range from $400 to $980. --Darrel Martin Scientific Anglers www.scientificanglers.com Redington 800-253-2538 www.redington.com Patagonia 800-638-6464 www.patagonia.com Zauner Fishing Concept www.zaunerfishingconcept.com G. Loomis, Inc. 360-225-6516 www.gloomis.com Simms Fishing Products 406-585-3557 www.simmsfishing.com Partridge of Redditch 315-253-2793 www.partridge-of-redditch.co.uk Cortland 607-756-2851 www.cortlandline.com Orvis 888-235-9763 www.orvis.com Hareline www.hareline.com Raymond Rumpf 800-523-6644 www.rayrumpf.com Ross Worlwide 970-249-1212 www.rossreelsworldwide.com L.L. Bean 800-441-5713 www.llbean.com Cortland Line Company 607-756-2851 www.cortlandline.com RIO Products 208-524-7760 www.rioproducts.com