2013 Kudo Awards
Kudos (koo-dohs) n. [Greek Kydos,
akin to Greek akouein, to hear]
1. award, honor; 2. compliment, praise
Our 27th year of bestowing praise on noteworthy products and services.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve tried just about every alternative to felt soles that has appeared on the market. The results were always disappointing; in my experience, felt surpassed them all by a comfortable margin, and studded felt was the very best.
But the Patagonia Aluminum Bar Wading Boot has revised my opinion. These boots have five aluminum bars 3/8" thick and 3/4" wide screwed at intervals crosswise on the rubber sole. Anyone who’s drifted a bony river in an aluminum drift boat or canoe knows just how well the metal sticks to rocks. It’s malleable enough to deform very slightly under pressure and conform itself, on a tiny scale, to the contours of a hard surface. The result is a high-friction, non-slip contact with the streambed. I’ve put more than enough hours on a pair of these boots to be convinced that the bar soles are as good as plain felt on most underwater surfaces and very nearly the equal of studded felt on some.
No wading sole is perfect, of course. Like felt, the aluminum bars are least effective on extremely slick, slanted surfaces—snotty ledge rock and big, slimy boulders, where studded felts still get the definitive nod. And like studs, these can skate a little on dry rock, though they’re better than studs on silt, marl, mud, and sand. I did discover, the hard way, that a misplaced step, especially in a boat, can mash, nick or sever a fly line. But I’ve done the same with cleats; there’s nothing to do in either case but be careful.
The boots are billed as friendly to driftboat decks, and I found this to be the case. My initial concerns about weight proved unfounded. Bone dry, a pair of these boots weigh 6 ounces more than an average pair of studded felts; soaking wet, the felts weigh 6 ounces more because of absorbed water. A full-perimeter rubber rand and box toe give good abrasion resistance and contribute to a smooth boot upper that promotes easy cleaning. Unlike washing felt-soled boots, scrubbing these down to help forestall the spread of invasive species makes you feel like you might actually be accomplishing something.
About durability: There’s no question the aluminum wears, and as the corners of new bars get rounded they lose some of that fresh-from-the-box bite—but no greater loss, in my opinion, than on a pair of felts that have been compacted with use and contaminated with dirt. And the bars will wear faster if you do lots of hiking in rocky country. But the soles on my pair are on track for two seasons of solid use (perhaps a bit less than I get from felt) and there’s a big compensation—the bars are replaceable, far more easily than felt; a complete kit runs $29. The boot uppers are sturdy enough to last through new bars, and replacing them helps spread out the cost of these somewhat expensive boots ($239) over additional seasons.
Congrats to Patagonia for taking a step forward in secure, non-felt soles. www.patagonia.com —Ted Leeson
Patagonia Rock Grip Aluminum Bar Wading Boots
Real security in a non-felt sole.
L.L. Bean Pocket Water Fly Rod
Comfortable to cast and tremendously fun to fish.
I’d venture that many of us began our angling lives as children, fishing small streams. The compatibility of scale between the two is perfectly calculated to instill a love of the sport. And I’d venture further that many of us have moved on to other things—larger rivers, longer casts, bigger fish. But the pleasures of small water endure, and as I discovered over the course of a couple of seasons, the L.L. Bean Pocket Water rods distinctly elevate that enjoyment.
Again, it’s partly a matter of scale. Yarding out 9" brook trout on a stiff 9' 5-weight doesn’t even feel like fishing. These short, light rods—6'6" to 7'10", 3- to 5-weight—get you in touch with the wiggle you came for, and the 4-piece design breaks down to a small, almost weightless bundle for packing up to headwater streams. But it’s not merely a question of size. The action is ideal for closer quarters and more intimate fishing. By graphite-rod standards, I’d put these just on the slow side of moderate action; by fiberglass standards, just on the fast side. Designed to enhance the fun of small-stream fishing, these rods do it in the best way possible—they cast really, really well. The shafts engage with only a few feet of line beyond the rod tip for short-distance presentations; they rollcast like a dream and offer the deft precision necessary for fishing small water. You can feel them working at close range, but they’re not soft or weepy. They simply have a soul that doesn’t need to be coaxed out with 50 feet of line.
Despite the name, the Pocket Water series is a delightful match for the kind of water where I cut my fly-fishing teeth—small, meandering spring creeks flanked by tall weeds on high banks. The short length keeps backcasts low, beneath the drooping tops of vegetation in a more open alley, and the presentations are quiet and feather soft for glassy water and spooky trout. Tracking is dead-on for the accurate deliveries required. Small waters like these don’t necessarily mean small fish. My favorite model, the 7'6" 4-weight, has enough strength down low to handle the 20" spring-creek browns that, very occasionally, come your way.
In fact, while I wouldn’t call these powerful rods, they can surprise. I first cast one at a trade show in the company of a friend, who is also a well-known Montana guide. Guides love to test limits, and in that spirit he picked up the 6'10" model, stripped out some line, then proceeded to shoot a backcast at least 40 feet behind him, and promptly roped a sprinkler head in the 15-foot ceiling of the convention hall. I’m not sure how far the forward cast would have gone and never had a chance to find out. The maintenance staff was still working to untangle the thing—and save the trade show from an indoor storm—when I left.
These are superbly smooth, comfortable-casting rods, and tremendous fun to fish. All props to L.L. Bean for bringing that last part, especially, back into the picture. And at $195, these rods are also a value. www.llbean.com —Ted Leeson
Montana Fly Company Waterproof Boat Box
Massive storage space and clever features combine in a must-have item.
The funny thing about trade shows is that, often, the best products manufacturers display there never get made. They call these things “vaporware,” and they tend to be the stuff with specs that are just a bit too nice and prices that are just a bit too good to be true. So you never see them in a shop.
For a while, I feared that my favorite new product from 2011’s International Fly Tackle Dealer Show, in New Orleans, would be a classic example of vaporware, never to be seen off the show floor.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Montana Fly Company’s new Waterproof Boat Box is, unequivocally, the best in its class, and it is now beginning to reach store shelves. Weighing just under three pounds, this is a seriously heavy-duty fly box. Its available surfaces for storing flies measure approximately nine inches by twelve inches wide by a whopping four inches deep. The box has a handle and—almost unique in this size box—a waterproof gasket. If you’ve ever lost a whole box of flies to rust, you know how important that can be.
The MFC box is a significant upgrade from the “tool boxes” available in the past: its foam is the same high-end gray slit-foam usually seen only in the nicest boxes coming out of Japan. Like those boxes, it has an internal panel that you can remove. Depending on fly size, you could store nearly 2,000 flies in this single case—a year’s supply for just about anyone.
The box costs $64.99 without the internal panel (the option most big-game anglers would choose), and an additional $17.99 for the panel (perfect for trout guides).
A big fly box for the boat is the kind of product many anglers don’t need. However, those who do really need one. The MFC Waterproof Boat Box is the product boat anglers would design for themselves if they had the chance. www.montanafly.com —Zach Matthews
Ex Officio’s Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs and Tee
Undies for minimalist travel.
I own a Web site called Angler’s Tonic, and I find it difficult to gauge what visitors want: I write book reviews that stimulate no discussion; I write about wonderful fishing destinations that include great imagery and often get little feedback; I pen album and concert reviews that only occasionally draw response; and I write a column called Drink of the Week that, understandably, gets a lot of views, but not as many as I think it should.
That’s why I was surprised when I penned a gear review last August detailing the merit of, get this, a pair of underwear. That post got lots of page views and plenty of response, which made me think, Really, men’s underwear as a pertinent fly-fishing topic?
You might ask the same question until packing for Russia or Mongolia or Alaska or even the Florida Keys and you’re forced to go super light to avoid baggage fees, or to gate check all of your luggage so it actually arrives where you want it to. If that’s your situation, Ex Officio’s Give-N-Go That’s Fly Boxer Briefs, which are lightweight, highly breathable, odor resistant and extremely quick drying, and can be washed in a sink, are a godsend.
That’s the situation I was in this past June when I flew to Alaska for two weeks of fishing, clam digging and glacier hiking. I packed exactly two pair of Give-N-Go underwear and never felt like things were getting, um, ripe down south. And those underwear functioned just as billed—I washed them in a sink and in two hours they were dry and ready to roll. My experience pales in comparison to an Ex-O ambassador who quit his job and pedaled a bike, over a two-year period, from Alaska to Argentina with just two pair of Give-N-Go underwear.
These briefs ($30), and the similarly functioning Give-N-Go Short Sleeve Tee Shirt ($38), are not cheap. However, if you travel much and think about how the airlines gouge us these days, going light makes sense, and these garments will pay for themselves quickly. Plus, you’ll have the most comfortable underwear on the planet. www.exofficio.com —Greg Thomas