Metal-flake Fly Rods

Metal-flake Fly Rods

What can the new tournament-ready bassin' rods do for us?

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The Bassmaster Classic is winding down as I finish writing this piece in late February. Alton Jones, a Texan, won and collected $500,000, with about 15,000 wildly cheering spectators watching the final weigh-in. Countless more watched on cable television. It was the tournament's 37th year.

There are about half a million members of Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS). Compare that, for instance, to roughly 150,000 members of Trout Unlimited. Fly-rod makers Sage and Scott introduced purpose-specific fly rods (models called "BASS" and "Warmwater," respectively) for the 2008 season… Is the math that simple? Are fly-rod manufacturers about to embark on an era of metal-flake-coated, wildly colored fly rods that match the bassin' boats they're destined to be carried on?

Well, don't trade your tweeds and single malt for coveralls and Bud yet. But neither should you dismiss Read More » these fly rods as gimmicks.

Sage's BASS series features two sub-8-foot rods (7-foot 11-inches, 4-pieces), the Smallmouth and Largemouth models, for 290- and 330-grain lines (more about that later). Scott's Warmwater Series include three 7-foot 111/2-inch 3-piece rods for 6-, 8- and 10-weight lines. Both manufacturers' Web sites point directly to tournament fishing. Sage's site (www.sageflyfish.com) reads, "After working with a small, tight-lipped group of serious bass anglers…both rods measure 7'11", which slides them just under the strict tournament rules for rod length."

Scott's site (www.scottflyrod.com) suggests that, "And, if you're looking to win that big purse, these are tournament legal at just under 8 feet. So get out there and show the BASS boys what you can do with a fly rod."

The problem is that BASS (the organization) rules don't appear to currently allow fly-fishing gear: "Only ONE casting, spin-casting or spinning rod (8-foot maximum length from butt of handle to rod tip) and reel may be used at any one time." Note the omission of fly tackle. The rules of the other major bass organization, the FLW tour, are much more liberal: "All bass must be caught alive in a conventional sporting manner. Only one fishing rod may be used at a time."

Are you confused yet? If not, ask yourself why rod makers that manufacture both fly and conventional rods—and who should be much more attuned to bass anglers—haven't jumped onto the bassin' bandwagon, or didn't earlier, given the huge potential market. Here's what's happening. These new fly rods are not general purpose, but are purpose-specific. Not species-specific, but situation-specific. Read the fine print.

Jerry Siem, Sage's rod designer, explains. "These rods are designed for close, tight quarters, low line speed with little line out, for kayak fishing [where a long rod gets in the way when landing a fish], for picking the line up and laying it back down. 'Hybrid' is a good description. They're for snook, muskie, bass."

Because bass fishermen represent a huge pool of potential new customers, and to make the two rods easy to distinguish among all of Sage's other models, Sage chose to produce them in a distinctive yellow color and call them the "BASS" series.

Scott's Jim Bartschi expressed similar thoughts. "Most rods are designed for tight-loop casting. These Warmwater Series rods are designed for picking up and putting down a larger fly with wide loops and with accuracy: for repetitive casting without wearing down or endangering the caster." (Jim chuckles at the latter point, but reducing the chances of Clouser-to-angler contact is a good thing.)

Bruce Holt at G. Loomis, which produces rods for fly and conventional-tackle anglers, notes that the company's FR 969-3 Cross Current rod is not new but is bass-ready. It's an 8-foot 9-weight rod that is designed for relatively tight fishing conditions. Holt keeps a close watch on fishing trends, and doesn't foresee tournament fly-rodding in the near future. But don't be surprised if Loomis responds to developing trends.

These new rods then are intended for bass, but equally so for snook, baby tarpon in the backcountry and pike in the shallows. They are designed for: Minimal false-casting, big flies, controlling the fly (accuracy), controlling the fish and repetitive casting at close to moderate distances with relatively slow line speeds.

How so? Well, most current fly rods (in the 8- through 10-weight line sizes typically used for bass) are designed for obtaining high line speeds, casting small flies and aerializing long lengths of line. Basically, they are saltwater rods. There are exceptions, but there aren't many purpose-specific rods designed for the above criteria, until now.

How do you meet those criteria? Well, you need a rod that loads quickly (one or two false-casts, at the most). Again, the idea is to pick up the fly and plop it right back down. The rod has to have a bit heavier tip, a bit softer midsection. And the line needs a short, steep front taper, combined with a short, fat belly. Accuracy comes from having a tip that is strong enough to control the fly without wobbling. If you can get the rod loaded quickly, false-casting is minimized. And having power down through the rod butt will help you quickly turn the fish's head away from cover (in theory!).

It's up to the angler to match the right line to these special rods. Scott's Bartschi says, "The line taper has to be right.

Use a system approach, and everything improves. Combine an aggressive short taper with a short head. And use a shorter, heavier leader. Every little bit helps."

Sage makes sure the right line is used by packaging the line with the rod. And rather than being designed for specific AFTMA line-weight designations, the Sage rods are balanced for 290- grain and 330-grain lines. Sage's Siem explains: "Sage's lines are designed with a short, heavy belly and quick front taper. Matched with a similar leader (heavy butt, steep taper), the lines will load the rods with as little as 12 to 15 feet of line out."

Siem contrasts the BASS rods' matching lines to conventional long-belly, lon-front-taper lines: "It's more like a bowling ball than a baseball. It's a pick-up-and-lay-down, no double-haul, and almost no false-casting situation."

If you've watched the better tournament bass anglers and the better fly anglers—and if you haven't, you should—you know that they keep the lure/fly in the water. Conventional gear doesn't require false-casting, of course, but even so, you don't see water drying on the lure. They put lures back in the water very quickly, and very accurately.

When bass anglers are flipping and pitching, the bread-and-butter short-game casts, they typically hit within a square-foot target area. Flipping involves a short-range cast, typically made with the wrist while the other hand holds line already pulled off the reel. Pitching is a bit longer, with a motion more like a tennis backhand. Both involve relatively little rod motion and quickly get the lure back in the game.

Bartschi, Siem and Holt agree that bass anglers need equipment that lets them fish comfortably, confidently and accurately, and high-line-speed rods don't do that for bassin'. As Holt says, "The angler needs to focus on the point of entry, not on what's going past his ear!"

The technique of a really good bass fly fisher is similar. Certainly, they false-cast, but not much. These new rods, with the right lines, facilitate that. And for shorter casts, bugs can be flipped with a fly rod—or dapped, just as pocket water is fished on small, overgrown trout streams. And with a bit of practice, you can master the bow-and-arrow and skip casts to reach under overhanging bushes. You'll see a minimum of wasted motion and effort. Pick up the fly, lay it down: false-casting is held to a minimum. It's called efficiency. The game is keeping the fly "in the meat."

Most of us fly-fishers will never enter a tournament, should fly-rod bassin' contests ever come to fruition in considerable numbers. But more and more, fly anglers are sampling bass ponds. And, when we're blown off the tarpon or bonefish flats, we head to the backcountry for snook and redfish. These rods are designed for just such fishing. And, if tournament fly-fishing for bass does catch on, well, you'll be ready. Just plan for that metal-flake finish on the rod.

Buzz Bryson lives in North Carolina, and is a longtime contributing editor to FR&R. He's been known to hang a few hawgs on flies.