Muck it up, Gear Hounds

Muck it up, Gear Hounds

  • By: Fly Rod and Reel
  • Photography by: Fly Rod and Reel

19 Killer products that came across our bows this year

photograph by adam tavender

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Tibor Signature 5-6 Reel

So I’ve been fondling the latest entry in the Tibor Signature series here in the office; it’s a prototype, and production models won’t be available until December. Truth be told, while there are apparently some small items to make perfect before this reel is ready for the public, I was hard pressed to find them.

In any case, this is a freshwater entry in what has been up to now a saltwater line of reels. As a consequence, the Sig 5-6 inherits the beefy sealed-cork drag system and all-around tough design and construction of its bigger cousins. To save weight, the reel is heavily ported, and even the reel foot has material machined out of its center to cut a few grams (Tibor calls this the “reel stand,” a moniker I may start using so as to make waves at angling cocktail parties).

This is, frankly, a wonderful little (big) reel. As I opened the box, one of the grumps here said that trout reels are just for holding line. Well, OK. But I’m perfectly happy with a really smooth drag system that will protect light tippets, and the spec on this reel is such that it could easily serve as a light bonefish reel. So there.

And there’s a coolness factor, too. The reel comes in several colors, and the drag cylinder itself is available in contrasting tones, so it’s visible through the porting in the spool and frame. Kind of like those flashy bright-red Porsche brakes. Come on, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t like to drive around showing those off.

The 5-6 should be ready to ship for Christmas (hint). Price is $685; spare spools are $350. The three bigger models range from $775 to $865. That’s a lot less than a Porsche. www.tiborreel.com

—Jim Butler

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Cortland Finesse Trout Lines

In the current battle among linemakers, between rough finish and smooth, Cortland comes down on the side of the latter, certainly when it comes to their Finesse trout lines. The line slips through the rod guides with nary a sound.

The taper and coating on the Finesse is designed for fishing at distance to troublesome fish, with multiple currents between you and where the action is. The idea is, the especially fine front taper and tip (Micro-Tip) make for soft deliveries, and the high-floating coating reduces on-the-water drag and improves mending.

That was certainly the case for me. I particularly liked the soft presentations I could make at short, medium and reasonably long ranges. The line comes in a subtle color Cortland calls Heron Blue, in weights 2 through 6 (weight-forward tapers). Retail is $75. www.cortlandline.com.

—Jim Butler

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Smith Optics ChromaPop Glasses

I’ll admit that I don’t pay as much attention to my eyeware as I might (despite the fact that I wear corrective lenses). But I should, and so should you. We tend to get obsessive about our other gear, but forget how important good vision is to our angling experience.

What’s got me so jazzed up about this is Smith’s new ChromaPop lenses, which I first got to look through early this past summer. But first, some science: All visible light is made up of three colors that we can recognize (blue, red and green; they combine to create other visible colors). Straightforward enough. Those color wavelengths cross over each other and, as Smith’s Peter Crow explained to me, our eyes get confused at those crossover points, and struggle to distinguish color. ChromaPop lenses actually filter out the light at those crossovers, allowing our brains to identify colors more accurately, and more quickly.

Simply put, color saturation when you’re wearing a pair of these lenses is quite remarkable, and clarity is pretty terrific, too (something I noticed even though I had to take off my prescription lenses to put the ChromaPops on). I tried these glasses in what amounts to a laboratory environment (a big exhibit hall, that is); can’t wait to see what they’re like in the field.

There are other features, of course. Smith says the lenses are 10% lighter than their polycarbonate lenses and 15% lighter than their CR-39 models (I wasn’t carrying a grain scale with me, so all I can say is that they were damn comfortable). The polarization is film-free, so no glue; this also helps with clarity. The lenses are photochromic, so they adjust to variations in light. And a hydroleophobic coating repels water and gunk. From $209 to $269. www.smithoptics.com

—Jim Butler

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Scientific Anglers Chard Grand Slam Saltwater Line

One of a flats angler’s greatest assets is the ability to consistently make the first cast count. Often, we don’t get a second chance. You can up your odds of first-cast success by throwing Capt. Bruce Chard’s Grand Slam Mastery Series textured fly line.

Front Taper: Chard designed the line to combat one of the great saltwater challenges—having enough power left over in the casting system to lay out a long leader (straight) with a heavy fly. To help anglers accomplish this, the Grand Slam sports an extra-short front taper. The aggressive front taper dramatically increases the efficiency of energy transferred into the leader system, and makes casting into the wind much more manageable.

Belly: Because many saltwater fly rods are fast-action broomsticks, anglers have trouble loading the rod effectively for short casts, which occur often on the flats when a ghostly bone or a clever permit sneaks into range, unnoticed until the last moment. The Grand Slam belly is slightly overweighted, to load a rod quickly and cut down on false casts. Both are very important when a quick or short presentation is required.

Rear Taper: The Grand Slam’s longer rear taper provides a smoother transfer of energy into the belly of the fly line during longer presentations. It makes it easier to pick large amounts of fly line off the water. And it allows anglers to carry more fly line in the air, for the longest of shots.

I recently fished the Grand Slam in the Bahamas and in the Florida Keys, and it’s without a doubt the best saltwater floating fly line I’ve ever used. Chard’s innovative “signature flats taper” combined with the SA Advanced Shooting Technology (AST) is, in my opinion, the benchmark for saltwater fly-line design. It was named the Best Saltwater Fly Line at the 2013 ICAST/IFTD trade show. Cost: $85. www.brucechard.com or www.scientificanglers.com

—Kent Klewein

Photograph by Louis Cahill

Winston GVX

A couple years ago I was in a Montana fly shop with my brother-in-law, Pat, who’s one of the finest fly casters I’ve ever met. He grabbed a $750 rod off the rack, gave it a wiggle and then put it back down. When I asked for his thoughts, he shook his head and said, “I prefer a rod that bends.”

If your favorite trout rod also doubles as your emergency wading staff, then the new Winston 9' 5-weight GVX Select probably isn’t your cup of tea. Long story short: It bends. But if you’re looking for a superb fishing and casting tool, and if you’re partial to tight, effortless loops, this particular Winston, in my opinion, is as good as it gets.

The GVX Select is the all-graphite version of its acclaimed sibling, the BIIIx. For $250 less than its boron brother, you’ll find stellar cosmetics and the same perfect fit and finish you’d expect from any top-of-the-line Winston. More important, though, the GVX handles nymphs and small- to medium-size streamers with ease, and throws an absolutely gorgeous dryfly line from 20 feet out to 70 and more. The GVX isn’t as stiff as a super-fast fly rod—or, for that matter, your average pool cue. But if there’s a better value in high-performance fly rods, I’ve yet to run across it. Cost: $495. www.winstonrods.com

—Todd Tanner

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Umpqua’s Deadline Pack

Bags are bags. They are fabric enclosing a void where you can put stuff. There isn’t much that is “new” or “innovative” in bags. At least, there hasn’t been recently.

This year Umpqua released a new line of bags intended to challenge that assumption. They teamed up with designers from other outdoor industries to bring unique ideas to fishing-gear transportation. Their Deadline pack succeeds with innovation that is not merely impressive, but actually useful.

The Deadline is not just another backpack with a fishing company label on it; it really is a new kind of backpack designed for fishing. The zippers are on the back of the pack (where it rests against your body). The rest of the bag is made of zipperless, heavy duty, waterproof, rubberized material. So when you finally finish hiking up to that pool you’ve been dreaming about with every creeping step, you can drop your gear in the mud (or the water) without any worry.

The Deadline does not have assorted specialty pockets designed for specific tools. The engineers at Umpqua must have figured that you could decide how to use your carrying capacity yourself, something I appreciate. Instead, there is massive internal storage with two separate access points, one for wet gear, and one for dry gear. Though these two accesses share the same space, there is an adjustable waterproof membrane that prevents the wet from sullying the dry.

I have used this bag for serious day trips when I was hiking many miles into the backcountry. I have also used it as a carry-on for travel. It performed equally well in both circumstances. Cost: $159. www.umpqua.com

—Miles Nolte

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Hardy Zenith rod

I don’t really have to know how or why the agave plant gives tequila the ability to put me in a happy place. I just buy the bottle and roll. In the same vein, I don’t feel compelled to research Hardy’s Sintrix material and nano technology because, frankly, I’m not a materials engineer and trying to understand that stuff makes my head hurt. In addition, I already know what I need to know: Sintrix throws a damn fine line.

I learned that by packing a 9' 8-weight Hardy Zenith to the Yukon Territory this summer, where I hunted northern pike and lake trout for up to 18 hours a day for seven straight days. To balance the rod I spooled an Orvis Hydros Bass line to a Mirage reel; I needed that compact head and short front taper to turn over a wire leader and the big streamers we threw for pike. I found the Zenith a little softer flex than what I’m used to in an 8-weight but, still, I had no trouble turning over those flies at the end of 70-foot casts. And when fighting 40-inch pike, the rod had all the power I needed to turn their heads and keep them out of the weeds.

This rod really shined when we switched from throwing long casts for northerns to sight-fishing with scuds and chironomids for cruising lake trout that ranged to 10 pounds. This fishing demanded spot-on presentations at 20 to 40 feet, and the Zenith took on that task brilliantly. I’ve found most 7- and 8-weight rods to be very good at throwing heavy flies for distance, but nearly disastrous when subtle, up-close casts are required. Few do both, but the Zenith did. There’s a very fine line that separates good rods from great rods these days, but I’d put the Zenith in the latter category. It’s a beautiful stick, it has a great feel, it tames strong fish and, most important, it’s extremely versatile. $679. www.fly.hardyfishing.com

—Jeff Wogoman

Solo Skiff

Single-person flats fishing has long been the purview of kayak anglers. But kayaks present many problems: limited range; limited stealth; and difficulty in standing and fishing. In response to these limitations, many anglers have gotten involved in the burgeoning “microskiff” movement, often with heavily modified light canoe craft such as the Gheenoe. Tom Mitzlaff, founder and former owner of Mitzi Skiffs, brought his fiberglass boat-building expertise to bear and created something remarkable: the SoloSkiff.

At about 14 feet long, the boat is the size of a kayak, but it is fitted with a 4.5hp outboard motor, giving it a much wider range. The layout is pure genius: Because the angler is also the poler, his standing platform is more or less centered in the craft (front to back). This is ideal for control with both the pole and the motor, as the boat does not pirouette. With a draft of only one inch empty and three inches with a grown angler, this is as skinny a skiff as any kayak. While the natural habitat of the SoloSkiff is the Everglades or the near-shore marshes of Louisiana or the Florida coast, it would also be just the rig for inland carp or even striped bass fishing in still water. The hull costs $2,650—approximately half the cost of a modified Custom Gheenoe. The motor, which has its own fuel reservoir, is another $1,200 (again, less than half the cost of power on a similar microskiff).

While certainly a special craft for a special purpose, this is the kind of high-end, focused innovation that opens whole new fisheries to fly-fishing. Check it out at www.soloskiff.com

—Zach Matthews

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Mountain Khakis Granite Creek Shorts

If you wet wade in the summer as much as I do, there’s probably a long list of things that annoy you about your trunks. Fishing shorts basically come in two versions: swim trunks, with no pockets, irritating mesh liners and a drawstring; or hiking-style cargo shorts. The problem with the pockets on a standard pair of cargo shorts is that they can fill with water at inopportune times, and they’re often like a blouse in cut. The metal grommet holes some companies employ as drains don’t release water fast enough to avoid the “sea anchor” effect while swimming, which can be downright dangerous.

Mountain Khakis—best known for their Carhartt-style rugged-wearing pants—recently introduced a line of quick-drying, durable fishing shorts called the Granite Creek series ($63). They did everything right: reinforced waist with a heavy-duty front button (so you don’t need drawstrings); gusseted crotch for comfort while seated in a wet boat; interior pockets with hidden quick-draining mesh bottoms; and a very attractive cut so you can walk into a restaurant after a day on the water without feeling like a tourist. The material is significantly sturdier than standard hiking shorts, but dries just as fast. The shorts are available in both 9" and 11" inseams—with odd-number waist sizes to boot—for optimal fit. Available online at www.mountainkhakis.com

—Zach Matthews

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Redington Vapen Rod

One glance at Redington’s new Vapen rod is enough to tell you there’s something different about it. The surface of the shaft has a spiral appearance that owes to the new X-Wrap construction, in which a carbon ribbon is wrapped on the inside of the blank and another counter-wrapped on the outside. The result, according to Redington, is longer, more powerful casts and tighter loops. The result, according to me, is a real rifle. I fished a 9-foot 5-weight that drilled big, bushy flies into the wind with surprising efficiency and refused to fold even under a full-sinking line. The polymer grip (plain cork is also available) provides a textured non-slip surface with a cushiony feel—not a particular advantage in my eyes, but not a liability either. This is a rod for anglers who prefer a quick casting tempo and the feel of line firing off the tip of the rod. It comes in line sizes 3 through 12 and runs $299.99 to $349.99. It won the Best Saltwater Rod category at the 2013 ICAST/IFTD trade show. www.redington.com

—Ted Leeson

photograph by Greg Thomas

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Scott Radian Rods

I’ll admit to being a bit of a tip caster (in part because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of fast, fast rods out there; the tools trained the angler). While I appreciate cannons that can throw gobs of line, being able to detect what’s going on beyond the rod tip has advantages. The new Scott Radians are an attempt to provide both power and touch; simply put, they’re right on target. I spent the most time with the 9-foot 4-weight, and it’s a winner.

That’s a medium to light trout rod in my book, and generally I’m not looking for monster power; no need to cast the entire fly line. But I do want authority for bucking wind, accuracy (all the time), and the punch to turn over long leaders when I’m casting over fussy, pressured fish.

Affirmative on all counts. The rod produced tight loops (anything otherwise was the caster’s fault), extended a 12-foot leader with little effort, and put the fly right where I wanted it as long as I did my part. Long casts were a matter of adding a little speed to my stroke. And the sensitivity in the tip is perfect for protecting light tippets. An outstanding rod that’s a true joy to cast.

Radian blanks are relatively fat, with thin walls (what Scott calls their X-Core technology), producing at once light weight and stiffness. ReAct is Scott’s term for the combination of X-Core with new materials and tapers; among other things, this results in quick damping of tip vibrations. That has all kinds of benefits in our casting, not least of which is accuracy.

As a result—no surprise—the rods were named Best in Show at the 2013 ICAST/IFTD Show. There are 16 models (all 4-piece), in lengths from 8'6" to 10', line weights 4 to 8. Price is $795. www.scottflyrod.com.

—Jim Butler

Simms Vapor Boots

Nineteen-eighty-seven. Right side of the lane, planting on my left foot. I was going to throw it down on some syrupy-slow center. Ok, I’m 6' tall and white. I was going high to lay it in. That’s not the point. This is: My foot rolled off the top of his laces and my ankle dislocated. Tore everything off the outside of it. Later, the doctor took an X-ray of the good ankle. It moved two degrees. The bum wheel? It twisted 33 degrees. Said it was the worst injury of its kind he’d ever seen, and he works with three professional sports teams. Pain and rehab I do not want to go through again.

Which is why I had to grab a pair of Simms’ new Vapor wading boots when I saw them displayed at the ICAST/IFTD show in Las Vegas in July. They are touted as the lightest wading boot SIMMS has ever made, at 25.1 ounces per boot, and you’ll know this as true when you hold one. What I find to be amazing is the support they provide at such a light weight. They are super solid at the heel cup, they have molded rubber running along the sides of the boot, and they have synthetic leather working from the heel to the top of the laces, which offers additional support for the ankle. They utilize Simms’ new VaporTread technology, which is an aggressive tread that’s great for the trail and can be supplemented for wading with screw-in aluminum studs. It’s also part of the reason this boot is so light—Rich Hohne, Simms’ PR Manager, says the VaporTread’s molded retention plate is minimized compared to the company’s StreamTread soles, which are made out of a heavier die-cut, full-retention plate.

I’m a guy who likes to hike to my fish, meaning a few miles up a trail and then however far off-trail to reach the river. Cliffs, rockslides, leaping tall, fallen trees in a single bound . . . . But, if I screw this left ankle up in the backcountry, it’s suddenly not about fish and it’s all about Search & Rescue. So I took the Vapor out two times this summer, both times off-trail for untouched cutthroats, and I found these boots to perform like the best mix I’ve seen so far of a great hiking boot and a great wading boot. And when I was tromping around in these, I was mostly fearless, concentrating on the hike and the fish, rather than where my left foot was planting each time. That’s the greatest endorsement I can give to a super-cool-looking and super-strong lightweight boot. Available in December. $169.95 Check them out at www.simmsfishing.com

—Greg Thomas

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Patagonia Stealth Sling Pack

I didn’t think I could wear a slingpack. In fact, when a friend wore his I called it his “purse.” But then Patagonia sent one to me for trial. It sat around the house for a few months and then a trip to the Bahamas arrived. I knew I’d only need a few tippet spools, a box of flies and some pliers. So I decided to load it up, instead of my traditional backpack or fannypack, and go for it. And I quickly became a convert—Patagonia’s Stealth Sling was comfortable to wear, it kept my gear out of the water when I had to wade across little channels and creeks, and it made getting at those flies and tippet spools a breeze.

These packs aren’t for everyone. Essentially, this is a minimalist pack and you couldn’t take five boxes of trout flies, your 35mm camera body and a couple of cold ones for the end of the day. But out on the flats this sling, which is built of 840-denier 100% ballistic nylon, held enough gear for the day and it stayed out of my way. The Stealth has eight utility pockets and a drop-down molded front panel with an interior fly keeper. There are slips for leaders and tippet material, too. I couldn’t wear this in all circumstances, but on the flats it was great. $89. Visit www.pataonia.com

—Greg Thomas

Orvis Encounter Outfit

This is wrong. What is Orvis thinking?

I just finished playing with the new 9' 5-weight Encounter outfit, and it seems much more than I should expect for the price (of which more later). As good as Orvis’s other rods are, I’d be a little worried about these replacing some higher-price sales.

This is a truly fine trout rod, paired with a molded-composite large-arbor Encounter reel and a weight-forward line. Casting is fluid and crisp, with plenty of oomph for working in a stiff breeze. Pushing the rod, I can feel the blank flex down into the grip, but at this price one doesn’t get a super-high-Modulus material. That’s not a bad thing. Casting this rod might encourage you to cut your coffee intake by a cup or two, and let the rod do the work on the water.

There’s no denying it: I’ve cast rods with price tags three times that of this entire outfit that didn’t perform as well. Cosmetics are understated, and fit and finish are beyond reproach. The rod lets the casting do the talking.

There are four models (all 4-piece), from an 8'6" 5-weight to a 9' 8-weight. My only suggestion for improvement? After you’ve fished yours for a while, upgrade the fly line for a noticeable difference. Price is $159 (retail for the reel alone is $49). www.orvis.com.

—Jim Butler

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Abel Limited Edition Grateful Dead Reels 

My first brush with the Grateful Dead came on a fishing trip in 1980, at Grand Lake Stream, Maine, when a high school buddy punched in an 8-track of “Reckoning,” the band’s acoustic recording from Radio City Music Hall.  The music was softer than I expected given the band’s name and heavy metalish iconography, and seemed melodic if not exactly riveting. 

College changed that.

By my junior year, three years later, I’d logged more 20 shows and had a Europe ’72 poster on my dorm room wall.  Many more concerts would follow once I moved to San Francisco; and when I picked up the guitar, I made a beeline for the Grateful Dead songbook.

So it’s little surprise that I was intrigued when Abel released its limited edition (250 units) “Steal Your Face” reel, available on its Super Series and Classic Series models.  I imagine there were impassioned discussions when it came time to decide on which Dead artwork to incorporate—the Aiko Aiko bear and the Skull-and-Roses designs must have been contenders—but the circular Steal Your Face mark fits nicely on the reel, and the quality of the finish is exceptional.  Oh yes—and the drag on the 7/8N on my desk doesn’t seem bad either!

As of press time, I haven’t had a chance to put it to work.  Though you can be sure that it will be tested against some Deschutes stealhead soon. From $750. Visit www.abelreels.com for details.

—Chris Santella

Rio Perception Fly Line

The Perception Line from Rio garnered top honors as Best New Fly Line at both this year’s European Fishing Tackle Trade Exhibition and the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show. Casting one, it’s not hard to see why. At the heart of the matter, literally, is an ultra-low-stretch core that minimizes energy-robbing line elongation so that more of your casting power reaches the fly. Where you really notice it is on long pickups and mends that don’t have that sloppy, sluggish feel; the line responds almost instantaneously to the rod movement. Line stretch also diminishes sensitivity—think strike detection in subsurface stillwater fishing. The Perception line more reliably transmits subtle tugs, taps and nips and—maybe best of all—promotes quick hooksets, particularly at longer distances; a lift of the rod moves the fly immediately. The line is designed with a versatile, all-around taper and is available in WF3F to WF8F for $89.95. www.rioproducts.com

—Ted Leeson

Ex Officio JavaTech Shirt

First an admission: I’ve been riding a mountain bike as often as fishing this summer, only occasionally mixing the two endeavors to reach untouched trout in the northern Rockies. While riding that bike I’ve learned that Ex Officio’s JavaTech ¼-zip longsleeve shirt is a multitalented piece of gear. On the bike it breathes well during uphill grinds; on the downslope it keeps me warm and its snug fit keeps bugs out. On the water it performs great as a baselayer; on cool summer and fall mornings and evenings, it works as a comfortable outerlayer.

The reason it works so well in a variety of conditions is due to the way it’s made—Ex Officio’s S Cafe technology embeds processed coffee grounds in the fabric for superior performance. The grounds give fibers increased surface area to pull perspiration away from the skin. These particles also trap odor molecules so the shirt stays fresh, a bonus when you don’t want to change from what you wore on the water to what you wear to dinner. You can’t find a more comfortable shirt, and it carries 15+UPF to protect you from the sun. $65. See www.exofficio.com

—Greg Thomas

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Cabela’s American Dream Rod

Cabela’s American Dream was born from a single question: What would be your ideal fly rod? Cabela’s listened to the feedback and it became clear that anglers wanted a combination of power and finesse, a rod that could huck big bugs a long way, yet bend enough to protect light tippets when setting up on and fighting large fish. That’s how the American Dream came to be.

I got one of these rods this summer and put it to the test on a few of Montana’s best under-the-radar cutthroat streams. I threw the 9’ 5-weight
4-piece and outfitted it with Cabela’s Rapid Landing System (RLS) reel, which is a definite improvement over past RLS models. It’s light, retrieves line quickly on its large-arbor spool, and even on the smallest model the drag could stop a 12-pound bull trout.

Back to the rod. I threw a variety of bugs with the American Dream and never had trouble reaching fish, whether casting an indicator, a couple split-shot and a #8 Serendipity (oh yeah, cutts eat that during summer), or bushy caddis imitations along brushy banks. Is this a rod for the Railroad Ranch and Silver Creek, where tankers eat size 20 Tricos and pop 6X tippets with a single sip? Probably not. To me the American Dream is a little stiff for the super lightweight work. Is it ideal for freestones and many tailwaters? Heck, yeah. Basically, this is a great all-around rod that would serve well in most situations, and at a selling point under $300, it’s a steal. Available in 3- through 8-weights. Made in the United States. Available this fall. www.cabelas.com

—GregThomas

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fishpond Nomad Nets

In an industry replete with high-technology innovations—industrial-strength, aerospace-grade metals and fibers—one piece of gear has been oft ignored: the net. That world was once the domain of woodshop handicrafters, but Kevin Best entered the space with his Nomad nets and took it by storm.

Designed specifically with durability in mind, Nomad nets are crafted from a carbon fiber and fiberglass composite that is nearly impossible to damage, and is also extremely lightweight and positively buoyant. Your author was skeptical of Mr. Best’s claims, and took one of his nets for a two-month test drive before it even came to market. The result: Despite stomping on it, jamming it into rocky river bottoms, using it as a walking stick and scooping up plenty of fish, I couldn’t damage it.

Nomad nets come in five configurations, with two basket size choices. Lengths range from 26 inches for the Hand Net to 55 inches for the full-length Boat Net, with weights of 12.5 ounces and 26.3 ounces, respectively. The Hand Net, Mid-Length Net and Guide Net have baskets that are 13 inches wide by 18 inches long. The Mid-Length Boat and Full-Length Boat models’ baskets measure 16 inches by 24.75 inches.

All the nets come with Nomad’s trademark olive RiverKoat finish, a rubberized paint that significantly enhances the grip when wet, a rubber basket (black or clear), and carbon-weave accents. Additionally, new models will soon be introduced with either a blue-base “Riffle” camouflage or a brown/spotted “Tailwater” rubber finish. Priced from $115.95 to $239.95. www.fishpond.com.

—Michael Gracie