The Fly Fishing Column:
A Product Update©
Cortland’s Sylk (A 444 Classic Line)
It seems not so very long ago that fly fishing wasn’t quite as simple as the sport we know today. In the “good old days,” the Pflueger Medalist was the fly reel of choice for ever so many folks. It wasn’t fancy -- held together with screws that seemed to loosen at the wrong time, equipped with a less than perfect fabric drag, and a rimless spool that couldn’t be palmed, it nevertheless caught lots of fish (and fishermen). To be sure, the Medalist will outlive me; it remains available today.
In those earlier days, rods were typically fabricated of bamboo or cane … over time some came to be regarded as works of art and are now incredibly expensive; others were not. Lacking the smooth casting action imparted by the craftsman’s hand, these rods were, then and now, best described as “fishable.” My first fly rod, an 8.5-feet “no-name,” falls into this later category. Please don’t misunderstand, way back then, it was a big deal! You see, the rod was a gift from Gordon Tripp the owner of a family resort where I spent the summer working. Situated near Bailey, Colorado on the South Platte, Glenn Isle, as it was known, was the perfect spot for a youngster wanting, more than anything else, to catch a trout. I clearly remember the moment when Gordon helped me rig the rod! Shortly thereafter my first trout was a done deal. The rod is intact and remains with me today – still fishable after all this time.
In the “old” days, a quality fly fishing line was typically fabricated of braided silk. These lines were lovely to behold, soft and subtle products worthy of being worn by the finest bamboo rods available. Of course, silk lines did have a drawback: they were maintenance intensive. A day of fly fishing was a day extended in time because of the requirement to care for the fly line. No one I ever heard of simply tossed reel and line into the car trunk to wait cleaning for another day…
It’s been said that anyone who fishes a bamboo rod will never forget the experience or the rod, or, for that matter, tossing a silk line. For me, it's true ... It follows that when Cortland announced the new Classic 444 Sylk line, I was one of the first to ask for the opportunity of putting the line through its paces … I think you can guess where the name “Sylk” came from. The name recalls the classic silks of yesterday. That's a memory I seem to dwell upon…
I believe that Cortland’s Classic Sylk is the first synthetic line ever designed that recreates the original appearance and unique performance of the finest natural silk lines from the past … but without the requirement for extensive maintenance or the extraordinary high cost usually associated. After all, who really wants to return home after a long day on the water only to spend even more time cleaning and dressing a dirty fly line with such stuff as linseed oil?
I can imagine the discussion that must have gone on within Cortland’s corporate walls when the suggestion was brought up to make a new “silk” line. Imagine the issues: go through the R & D process to create a new line that was - so to speak – old? Then produce, distribute, and retail it? Human nature being what it is, there must have been those who were skeptical of the line’s success; thus, they were pitted against those who were optimistic, believing the fly fishers’ interest in classic tackle was a niche market worth exploring. Logic suggests that resurrecting the manufacture of actual silk lines would be an economic risk likely to fail in the end; but a synthetic that emulates the actual silk? Why not? Good question … and so, those in doubt gave way. Now, whether this synopsis represents what actually happened, I know not … but I do know that I couldn’t be more pleased that the optimists won.
I’ve long argued that the fly line is the most critical aspect of the fly fishing system - if you will allow me to call rod, line, leader, and reel a system. I think the 444 Sylk proves the point. It offers the legendary performance of a true silk line but without the maintenance and high cost usually associated. Designed to satisfy the avid bamboo and fiberglass angler, the 444 Classic Sylk fly line is butter-soft and a bit smaller in diameter than traditional synthetic floating lines. That makes it the line of choice for traditional action rod anglers, including those fishing earlier rod designs that have smaller guides. Without a doubt, Cortland's technicians have designed the Sylk in a color that nearly matches the look of a traditional silk line freshly treated with linseed oil. With the advent of this line, there can be no doubt that “Hi-Tech” continues to improve the sport. I hasten to add that Cortland’s Sylk has absolutely no memory…
As I sat and fondled the line, my mind flashed back recalling ever so many images now long past. With the look and touch of the original silk, I decided to initially rig the Sylk to one of my old Pflueger Medalist 1494s. To me, that seemed appropriate. I then decided to make my first casts with the old bamboo rod I mentioned earlier. While I’ve gotten older and perhaps gained in my skill from experience, nothing much has happened to make the old rod any better than it was originally. Re-acquainted, I re-learned that the rod remains fishable -- it comfortably threw 60-feet with Cortland’s Sylk. Not to bad for a rod that’s now 54 years old and certainly not one in the class of an Eden Cane or rare Granger. More importantly, it says something about the line. The old rod and the way it responded to the line made an impression on me – the Sylk is indeed a very different fly line.
The next rod I selected for this review was an Orvis Madison 6-weight, 8.5-footer. For those who might not recognize the name, the Madison is crafted of impregnated bamboo and an Orvis classic. I love mine. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the marriage of the Sylk Rocket Taper and the Madison. To me, the two seemed to have been waiting for each other. Smooth casts near or far and superb accuracy were the order of the day. Want high line speed and tight loops? No sweat! How about open loops for a soft and gentle presentation? Not a problem! Need to do some accurate backhand casts? Consider it done! Whatever I asked, this mated pair delivered. The experience was an absolute joy. Little wonder that Gray’s Sporting Journal awarded the Cortland’s Sylk line their "Gray's Best" award for 2005. Fish a Bamboo? You owe it to yourself to purchase one of these lines and see for yourself how well it performs.
I next tried the Sylk on two of my other favorites: one, a little 6-foot custom fiberglass that dates to 1962, the other, a retro-glass Hardy Perfection 7.5-footer. The little custom fiberglass performed admirably, despite the fact that the Sylk was equipped with a 12-foot 4x leader … a long leader for a little rod. I was also very pleased with the Hardy Perfection. Known for its soft traditional action, gentle presentation and more open loops, it did exactly what it was designed to do … A woman who was observing my cast remarked, “Gee, that’s so pretty…”
The last rod used in this review was a Sage 8.5-foot RPL Graphite III. This is a rod I like so much I think it’s fair to mimic Charlton Heston when he said: “They will have to pry it from my dead hands.” The marriage of the Sylk to the Sage RPL turned out to be a “made-my-day” experience. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that it came as a bit of a surprise. Knowing the Sylk was primarily designed for those throwing cane or fiberglass rods along with a lot of nostalgia, I was somewhat in doubt as to how the line would function on a fairly fast graphite rod like the Sage. The results attained set aside any of my doubts. In truth, the Cortland’s Sylk enabled some of the longest casts I’ve ever made with the little RPL. That’s saying quite a lot. Frankly, I would be hard pressed not to make this the #1 line for the little rod. Tight loops and effortless turnovers with all the precision one could ever ask were the norm. Absolutely amazing!
Before closing this product review, Cortland’s packaging deserves a word of special mention. In a word, it’s great! The loaded spool is encased in a very neat plastic box that is perfectly suited for line storage. From my point of view, it beats the hell out of a cardboard box. Besides, it contains an interactive CD that includes just about everything you ever wanted to know about Cortland’s fly lines. Simply slip it into your computer’s CD slot and sit back while it loads. For beginners it is a very useful tool; for those more advanced, it will assist in determining what line to try next including the specifics of head length, belly, and running line.
I can say with certainty – Cortland’s Sylk deserves “Gray’s Best” award for 2005. Happily, other weights are on the way. There is no doubt in my military mind … I believe Cortland’s Sylk is destined to become a classic in every sense of the word.
For more information about the 444 Classics, contact: The Cortland Line Company, Inc. 3736 Kellogg Road, P.O. Box 5588, Cortland, NY 13045-5588. 1-(607) 756-2851.
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© Copyright: Douglas G. Macnair, 2004-2005.