The 2007 Kudo Awards

The 2007 Kudo Awards

Once again, it's the time of year when the staff of FR&R gets together with some of the magazine's closest friends in order to choose those pieces of gear

Once again, it's the time of year when the staff of FR&R gets together with some of the magazine's closest friends in order to choose those pieces of gear that deserve to be recognized with a Kudo Award for outstanding fly tackle. Selections for the 2007 Kudos were made by a panel of angling experts that included Barry and Cathy Beck; Buzz Bryson; Jim Dean; Brad Jackson; Steve Kantner; Ted Leeson; Darrel Martin; Will Rice and Rick Ruoff. They're some of the finest and most experienced anglers in the field, and we thank them for their efforts.Once again, we have also included a Readers' Choice Award, the winner of which was selected by FR&R readers who voted on our Web site, www.flyrodreel.com. In addition, we're also honoring our 2007 Angler of the Year in this issue. This year's AOY is a soft-spoken fly-fishing-industry insider whose name is not widely known to the general angling public. He also happens to be one of the most influential people in our sport; chances are you own one or more of the products he developed. For a number of reasons, we usually don't name "industry" people as Angler of the Year. But this man is such an obvious choice--as much for his character as for his accomplishments--that we couldn't allow ourselves to pass him over. Congratulations to 2007 Angler of the Year Bruce Richards. --The Editors Scientific Anglers Mastery Series Floating Trout Lines Harmony and versatility in a line of fly lines Most FR&R readers are aware that all trout anglers are not created equal. Fishermen vary in preference as well as in performance. Scientific Anglers knows this too, and they've kept the knowledge very much in mind as they've developed their fly lines. Specifically, by developing a couple of broadly applicable specialty tapers (OK, I agree, that's almost a contradiction, but read on), and two that are targeted for very specific applications, the company has provided anglers with a terrific quartet of tapers that arm us for virtually all trout-fishing situations. In other words, the SA Mastery Series trout lines--the Trout, GPX, Expert Distance and XPS--offer even the pickiest fly angler a line that will fit his of her requirements. The Trout line will cover maybe 60 percent of the trout-fishing universe; it's the workhorse, the bread-and-butter, the go-to fly line for most trout anglers. The Trout is a standard-weight line, has an adequately delicate front taper and is well suited to dry flies and moderate-length casts--you know, trout fishing. If, heaven forbid, any angler were limited to only one line for all situations, the Trout would probably be that line. It's a best seller, with good reason. The GPX is made with a similar taper to that of the Trout, though it's a half line-size heavier than a standard line and has a steeper front taper and heavier tip. It turns over better, but lands harder. For those who prefer to load a particular rod a bit more, or who work in wind, or use bigger flies, the GPX might be the preferred choice. You might think of the GPX as having a "Western" front taper, and the Trout as having an "Eastern" front taper. The XPS is the spring creek specialist's delight. It has a light front taper and short head, because it's designed for delicate placement of tiny flies, say up to size 22-24, at short to medium distances. Think of midge-sipping fish in skinny, mirror-smooth water, requiring heron-like stalks and presentations in conditions that would make a dandelion hitting the water look like a brick. The XPS is not a distance line, and it's not a big fly line. But if you want every extra edge when chasing spring creek PhD-degreed trout, this is the line to have. Finally, there's the Expert Distance line, which will perform at its peak in the hands of an above-average caster who needs or wants to aerialize a lot of line. But don't let this line intimidate you; it will also work just fine for the average angler. Eastern, Western, delicacy, distance. Yep, that pretty much describes the trout universe. These four SA lines have proven to be a most harmonious quartet, perfectly in tune to our trout fishing needs. And of course, all of them were designed by FR&R 2007 Angler of the Year Bruce Richards [See page 36], a fanatical fisherman who has experienced pretty much every situation most anglers are likely to encounter, and who obsesses over fly lines, both at work and at play. Not only do the durable and super-slick coatings on SA's trout lines incorporate the company's state-of-the-art AST (Advanced Shooting Taper) technology, which Richards helped invent, but the line designs he's given us are just about perfect, with the front and rear tapers and the diameters of the belly section and the other sections all working together exactly the way they should. --Buzz Bryson Sage SLT Fly Rod Perhaps the most versatile trout rod ever made I suspect that building fly rods, especially trout rods, is rather more complicated these days than it used to be. Our repertoire of fishing techniques has expanded, and a single rod must now serve many masters. We ask a lot of it, from banging the banks with conehead streamers, to fishing short lines and bushy dries in the pockets, to high-sticking nymphs in deep runs, to going far and fine with long leaders during a Trico hatch. Ultimately, rod design boils down to a question of performance balance, and I don't know of a rod that better meets the varied and sometimes contradictory demands of our fishing than the Sage SLT series. When these medium-fast rods were first introduced in 2002, I was hardly the only angler to find them reminiscent of the old RPL, one of the great rods to come out of Bainbridge Island. Sage rod designer Jerry Siem put it exactly right when he said the two rods share similar casting and fishing tempos--more relaxed than the brisk, energetic pace of a faster rod, but by no means soft or slow. It's just that sort of in-between tempo that you can maintain comfortably all day. But the SLT improves on its predecessor: It's noticeably lower in overall weight, with a perceived balance point farther back into the grip that gives it the kind of light, lively, point-and-shoot feel that is difficult to put into words but is easy to recognize and a genuine pleasure to fish. The slim-line ferrule design shaves weight and bulk from the female ferrules, giving even the 4- and 5-piece models a fluid, seamless flex without a hint of dead spots. I haven't fished all the different configurations of the SLT, but I've used a fair number of them. And as always, one has favorites. For instance, although SLT's are made to carry lines up to 8-weight, they really shine, I think, in the trout weights. The 81/2-foot, 4-piece, 4-weight is a gem--crisp, responsive and sensitive--but still a rod with guts. To me, though, the real cream of the crop is the 81/2-foot, 4-piece, 5-weight. It responds to a wide range of casting strokes, which makes it, among other things, a superbly easy rod to use. You get pinpoint delivery with dry flies and can fish light tippets with confidence, but there's a surprising reservoir of power for distance, or wind, or chunking the ingots of lead concealed beneath the dubbing of a stonefly nymph. I've been fortunate enough to fish a generous handful of very fine fly rods over the years, but I've never found one I could honestly say was a better or more versatile performer. So congratulations to Sage on the SLT's--as close as you can get to having a personal caddy hauling a quiver of rods behind you. --Ted Leeson Ross Evolution Reel Large-arbor design, done right First introduced in 2002, the Ross Evolution Reel has a five-year history of performance and reliability that makes it an absolute slam dunk for a Kudo Award. The Evolution is one of a handful of reels that intelligently and usefully incorporate the large-arbor design--a misleading term since arbor dimensions don't tell much of a story. The best incarnations of the idea negotiate three variables: spool diameter, spool width and a factor often overlooked: weight. When these three elements are properly balanced, you can use a reel with a larger outside diameter without adding weight to your outfit and thus reap the large-arbor benefits that are by now well known. On each of the six sizes of the Evolution, spool diameter and width are individually tuned for optimum performance and pleasing visual proportions. Weight has been ingeniously shaved from the design by a skeletal, single-sided frame and a heavily ported spool. The upshot is a lightweight reel that maintains a more traditional appearance than other large-arbor styles. Whether we admit it or not, we buy in part with our eyes, and the Evolution is a very handsome piece. The looks here aren't deceiving. The drag system, modeled on the Ross Canyon Big Game reels (an FR&R Reader's Choice winner in 2003) is completely sealed and runs dry, with no lubrication, for reliability and easy maintenance. But what I particularly appreciate in the drag are the click-indexed drag knob (which prevents drag-setting drift) and a pressure range that is properly proportioned to a trout reel. The minimum setting is, appropriately, almost free-spool; the maximum setting provides resistance calibrated to heavy leaders, but isn't uselessly train-stopping. In between you get two full revolutions of the drag knob for the fine and gradual increments that are appropriate to the full range of trout tippets. And like its big-game counterpart, the drag here is admirably smooth and consistent. Spool rotation is spot-on true, and the flush-fit quick-release button is infinitely easier to use, as well as more attractive, than tiny levers or plungers. Even the clicks, incoming and outgoing both, are pleasant, not overly loud, and precise as the ticks of a railroad watch. I've used my Evolution with everything from 7X and Tricos to 1X and coneheads, always with absolute confidence, trouble-free pleasure, and the enduring sense that it is a far better fishing reel than I am a fisherman. About a year ago, owing to circumstances too moronic to detail, I was convinced my Evolution had been lost or stolen. My immediate reaction, even before getting bummed out, was to get on the phone and order another one. When I found the original reel a few weeks later, I just put my two Evolutions side by side and thought, "My, didn't that turn out well." I may have to try it again. --Ted Leeson Redington CPS Fly Rods Superb, affordable fly rods There's not much difference between blind-casting fly rods and blind-tasting wines. Oenophiles freely admit they're seldom able to identify a specific label, much less the critical year of production, and they often cannot even be sure of the variety of grape (swallowing the wine is discouraged because it tends to accelerate enthusiasm). Similar uncertainties await those who evaluate the casting characteristics of fly rods--as an FR&R test team discovered when it compared 54 8- and 9-weights for the June, 2006 issue (we tried to avoid any brand prejudice, and we didn't swallow the beer, or very much, anyway). If such tests are so highly subjective and flawed, why bother? It's because--with wine, fly rods and similar elegant obsessions--the really good stuff always stands out in some significant way, even when you can't immediately define the attraction (much less who made it, or where). The Redington CPS fly rods are sterling examples. Most fly fishermen recognize that these rods are special from the moment they first get their hands on one. That was certainly the unanimous reaction of our 2006 test crew. We were impressed by the smooth, progressive connectedness of the Redington's action, which yielded a feeling of confident control at all distances. If that sounds like "wine label" talk, perhaps I should add that tester Scott Wood easily threw the whole line (even with a bass bug). We also observed that the flowing power in these rods noticeably enhances the capability to tighten loops and "repair" sloppy casts in mid-air. With these CPS rods, now in their third year of production, Redington has clearly achieved its stated goal of building the highest possible performance into a modestly priced fly rod. These rods are fast (but not ridiculously stiff), light in the hand, extremely durable and remarkably versatile. The 8- and 9-weights proved to be terrific choices for bonefish in Belize (where the wind howled at 35 mph nearly every day). Yet, surprisingly, those same rods were perfectly at ease on ponds back home delivering bulky, wind-resistant bass bugs (before we took them back to the salt last fall to land dozens of albacore). And because Redington has successfully duplicated the same action throughout all the CPS rods--something of a rarity itself--you can expect to find that familiar feel in the lighter line rods for trout, panfish or whatever. There are 14 rods in the line--all 4-piece--ranging from a 3-weight, 81/2-footer to a 12-weight, 9-footer (and a pair of 7- and 8-weight 10-footers). With a retail price of $279, the CPS rods are an outstanding value, and while they're designed for the "core" of serious fly fisherman, there's nothing "average" about their superb capabilities. --Jim Dean W.L. Gore&Associates Inc. So obvious for a Kudo, we should have thought of it before… Anglers under, say, 35, probably don't even remember when rain gear and waders were truly waterproof--in both directions. If they kept rain out, they also kept perspiration in. On a long walk to or from the stream in the rain, it was fairly common for an angler to wonder which would be more comfortable: getting drenched in sweat, or getting bathed in clean rainwater. And in the stream, it was sometimes hard to tell whether the waders were keeping water out, or in. Flip open a fly-fishing book from the "good old days" of the '60's and '70's, and you'll see gear that, while serviceable, was lacking in comfort. Heavy, stiff, uncomfortable and, yes, "completely waterproof." So when waders and jackets made of breathable materials came out, it marked a development which, along with such inventions as graphite rods, nylon monofilament leaders, fleece wear and fly lines that truly floated, represented one of the few real milestones in the advancement of angling gear. And the pioneer, and leader still, in breathable materials is Gore-Tex, from W.L. Gore&Associates. Those who lived through the genesis of breathables appreciate them daily. Those who don't should understand. Gore-Tex is a form of polytetrafluoroethylene, commonly called PTFE (yeah, same stuff as Teflon). The feature that makes the material valuable to anglers is that its construction incorporates nine billion pores per square inch. Those pores are small--20,000 times smaller than a water droplet--and therefore far too tiny for water and wind to pass through from the outside. But the pores are large enough for moisture vapor to pass through, so perspiration escapes, keeping you dry and comfortable. Bob Gore developed PTFE in 1969. The first commercial use was in high-speed cables and, later on, sealant products. The Gore-Tex fiber was first manufactured in 1972, and was used in membrane filter bags. By 1976, it had begun to find its way into clothing. Those first fabrics were not without problems, such as pore-clogging caused by body oils, fly flotant, bug dope and French-fry-greased hands. Gore addressed this by incorporating an oleophobic, or oil-repelling, substance. Another early drawback was that the holes made by sewing seams caused leakage. One of the first solutions was to simply trace the seams, filling the needle holes with a sealant. But Gore quickly found a better way, introducing Gore-Seam tape in 1979, thereby eliminating leakage through seam holes. In fact, the Gores quickly resolved all such problems until the product was pretty near flawless. Today, Gore-Tex has been worn to outer space, to the tops of the highest mountains and to fields and streams around the world by countless sportsmen. Perhaps the telling example of how completely Gore-Tex (and now, similar competing breathable products) has dominated the fly-fishing wader market is the fact that so many other once-popular fabrics have vanished in its wake. No more heavy, hot, rubber-coated waders. And few anglers choose neoprene these days. The versatility of Gore-Tex has replaced them both, with breathable outerwear that is comfortable in the spring, summer and fall with light clothing, and in the depths of winter with layers of fleece. As we peel off our waders at day's end, having remained dry and comfortable during the day, let us salute W.L. Gore&Associates. --Buzz Bryson Nature's Spirit Fly-Tying Materials A remarkable reputation among fastidious fly tiers Terry Ball, owner of Nature's Spirit, has drive. He entered Washington State University on a basketball scholarship. There he held a 14-year university record for the highest score in a single game--39 points. But the possibility of professional basketball was eliminated by the military draft. During the Vietnam era, he served two years in Army Intelligence. Always pushing himself, at the age of 45 he participated in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. After 40 years of working at the Pendleton Woolen Mills, Terry knew his wool, and he carried that knowledge to his own modest Seattle fly-tying-materials company. Established in 1995, Nature's Spirit has a remarkable reputation among fastidious tiers, and offers some of the most admired materials available. The company's name is more than just a title; it is an aesthetic. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Terry believes that materials should appear as in nature, that natural beauty is the best worship. Influenced by Japanese art, he stresses simplicity and subtlety. Natural and subdued colors predominate. The dyeing, developed with Pendleton Woolen Mills, is immaculate. Nature's Spirit "Fine Natural Dubbing," an industry standard, comes in 36 "insectile" colors, including nine elusive olives. His "Fine Natural Dubbing," a soft and fine fleece, is meticulously carded to align and blend the fibers. There is also "Nature's Finest Dubbing," an ultra-fine fleece that is indispensable for patterns sized 18 to 28. These "hatch matching" colors are absolutely consistent: There are no hot or dead spots in the dubbings. With natural products color consistency is especially difficult, but each packet of Nature's Spirit olive brown is identical. And although the colors match specific insects, with judicious blending they can match every insect. Like most tiers, I have my favorite dubbing colors: the "frothy" Infrequens; the Blue-Wing Olive, the "watery" Pale Morning Dun, the "creamy" pale yellow, the "dusty" Callibaetis and the "cinnamony" March Brown. Like all the dubbings, they are pleasant to wrap. Soft and supple, they readily twirl or fluff for a body or thorax. In addition, all Nature's Spirit materials, including the dubbings, are treated with natural preen-gland oil, a unique process that produces a remarkable change in the texture and sheen. The result is increased buoyancy, luster and tying ease. Both the process and the products are designed to protect the environment. Nature's Spirit colors appear in all their other dyed materials as well, including their CDC feathers, and goose and turkey biots. Some of the more unusual materials include goose CDC, select gadwall, pintail and widgeon flank feathers. Terry Ball sells no beads or tinsels, and only one dubbing--Nature's Spirit Emergence--has a speck of synthetic flash. His respect for nature and tying materials created Nature's Spirit, where old-world craftsmanship comes in a zip-lock bag. --Darrel Martin Wade Deeper Nature's Spirit 206-537-1600 Redington www.redington.com Ross Reels www.rossreels.com 970-249-1212 Sage www.sageflyfish.com Scientific Anglers www.scientificanglers.com Scott www.scottflyrod.com 800-728-7208 W.L. Gore&Associates www.gore.com 800-431-GORE