The isles of the Somerset Fly Fishing Show are so densely stocked with fly fishing services, paraphernalia, tackle and personalities that it defies a comprehensive review. Therefore, after three days and nights of looking touching and talking I am going to try to collect a few observations and impressions. This is more personal than a studied State of the Industry.
Innovation is soft goods has bloomed big time. Industry leader Simms has new stuff coming, Patagonia was there, Fishpond has long been making cutting edge material and designed fly fishing packs and vests and our friends at Allan have introduced a series as has Umpqua. Backpacking/mountaineering materials and detailed construction have been replacing old school fishing vests for some time and many of us have foregone traditional vest in favor of packs and slings of varied design. I have resisted. OK, my decade old Simms vertical vest is really constructed of synthetics though it has that tan cotton look and, other than its welded nylon pockets which have literally fallen off it has held up very well and has a place for everything. Too many everythings. It was one thing when I would fish all day into the spinner falls of darkness and go for miles needing everything imaginable. I now need to carry less and maximize ergonomic weight distribution of the less I wish to carry. I did internet homework pre-show and my abstract tentative selection was confirmed at Umpqua Feather Merchants booth...the Swift Water Tech Vest will carry my fewer fly boxes coming this spring. Among my fishing partners; traditional vests, sling packs, hip and chest packs are all in use. For a variety of reasons the vest configuration suits my needs most optimally but this Umpqua product affords a light weight, quality fabricated design maximizing freedom of movement and intelligently organized stowage systems for a couple of large boxes, tippet, floatant and just enough room in the rear for a compact breathable rain shell. It then expands upon these necessities by having substantially supportive, wide and ventilated, via perforations, shoulder yoke straps ideal for mounting my camera holster to and, to avoid the weight of a Nikon pulling the vest awkwardly downward, a built in lumbar belt is an integrated design component. So, when wearing waders, you eliminate the wader's conventional belt and when wet wading you still have the advantage of a weight distribution supportive padded belt as in when wearing a back pack. Really smart and I eagerly look forward to re-organizing and compacting my vest load of stuff into it.
This supportive strap vest even has four thought-out rugged attachment points for zinger mounting with a pre-formed hole in each. Unknown to me prior to this show is that the Abel zinger which we have mostly seen images of and know it is expensive has a hidden feature. We have observed it has an "S" style carbineer to affix it securely to a "D" ring on our vest or pack. Fine and strong. Upon turning it over in my hand, I discovered it also has, screwed into it rear, a threaded pin-type alternative attachment system. One would unscrew the pin with its 3/4" (approx.) flat but knurled head and poke it through the fabric of, or in the case of the Umpqua products the pre-formed hole in the stout zinger loops and screw it back into the Abel zingers threaded port. Brilliant! Either black or Brown Trout will work fine for me and, in anticipation of being so well outfitted with a new strap vest and ultimate zinger, I also bought at the show a hand painted, pewter, brown trout pin from George Harris’s “Wildlife Collection” to decorate my new vest with. Customized already.
Speaking of Abel, I did visit the double booth of now combined Abel and Ross and examined the new Abel SD (sealed drag) reel. Currently only available in 4/5 size it is a thing of intelligent beauty. Ported to the maximum for weight reduction and rapid line backing drying it is still no super lightweight...it features the flex-free solidity Abel users have always been familiar with. Fit and finish are also what one expects from Abel, snug perfection. The stacked and sealed drag module which also performs as the reels spindle is fabricated by custom reel maker Joe Scarcione for Abel and has precise detents to fine tune the drag setting. If I have an issue it is that the drag is too powerful. Even I don't need a bonefish capable drag in my 4-weight outfits. This reel is replacing my existing, very fine, Galvan Torque on my Loomis NRX#4, one of my primary outfits, and the T-6 is moving over to my Method.
I carefully looked at two other reels at the show besides SD. One is the new Douglas Outdoors "Argus" spring and pawl series of trout reels. Douglas President, Jim Murphy, former President of Hardy North America, knows a thing or two about quality over-run, click check, spring and pawls and this one, machined and anodized finished in upstate New York is the finest modern iteration of this classic concept I have seen. Except for my 35 year old Orvis CFO IV, I no longer use any spring and pawl reels, however, one of the smaller Argus reels, mated to Douglas's not yet available but on display at the Show "Upsteram" small stream rods could find its way into my quiver. The attractive, pale green, Upstreams...the heaviest of which is an 8'8"/#4 with a cork and dual sliding band reel seat, where a big hit at the Show among the class of anglers that might otherwise look at Superfines or even fiberglass rods. The anodization of the two sliding bands is a dead match for the Argus reels' color too. Another first rate and also US built reel at the other end or the spectrum is our Forum's own Allan Fly Fishing's "Omega" stacked disc drag series of reels. Some have been frustrated by the long wait for Omega as prototypes and discussion about this reel have been around for a while, but Justin wanted to get it not right, but perfect! My examination of it at his booth suggests to me that it was worth the wait. Every aspect of it including the aspect ratio, large drag knob, ergonomic handle even a flush mounted uniquely styled counterbalance have been worked and re-worked into a finely detailed whole. I hope on my next saltwater adventure to put Omega to the test and fully report on its on-the-flats attributes but I have little doubt it will score an "A". Allan incorporates so many color combinations into their reels, yet I want Omega in flat, matte finish for non-reflective stealth. Oh, I also admired Hatch Reels special addition blue, Turneff Flats, conservation edition reel. Speaking of Belize, I spent some quality time talking and looking at lushes photographs of tarpon and permit fishing at remote Belcampo Lodge in southern Belize...and eco-angling adventure to dream about.
Now let’s say you were so fortunate as to be able to fish for permit out of Belcampo. You would need a 9-weight rod with the power to shoot a loop into the wind and land a crab fly with consummate accuracy. Of course one does not get to go permit fishing every day (well, I don’t) so this rod would need to be equally at home fishing for bass and false albacore off Long Island too. I fish several 8-weights I am very happy with; Loomis’s NRX and Scott’s S4s to name my favorites. I own but am not in love with any of my 9-weight rods and have been waiting for just what I want to be introduced, and I do believe it has been. Two of my most excellent casting friends and I took a group of varied rods outside on the back lawn at Somerset and switched off between term, sharing observations. Much more can be learned about a rod shared among trusted friends than by yourself as three times the opinion rate can be generated. In the past, the best 9-weight permit rod I ever used was Sage’s TCR and today Sage has the third and most sophisticated generation of that specialized lineage in Method. Fast tapered and fast tipped Method is extraordinarily accurate and, if making a handful of casts per day as when fishing permit, might be spectacular. However, somewhat less so when booming out repeated shots to strafing albies during an entire tide…but then there is also new Sage Salt. Hardly a slow rod, Salt does flex a little more through the upper third of the rod than does Method and also may possess more lifting power in the butt as well, a good thing when trying to induce a big cow off the bottom in Montauk’s seething rip. Salt is also a bit easier and a little more forgiving than Method to cast even at near full length of the line shots. I love my Method #6 but, as I suspected, Salt may well be my next and best #9.
At the opposite end of fly rod application is precise delicate presentation of dry flies on technical spring creeks. For a long time, my preferred rod designation for such streams is an 8 ½’/#4. Surprisingly, though many good and some great 9’/#4’s abound, Loomis’s NRX#4, Scott’s Radian #4 and even Orvis’s H2#4 tip-flex for example, the shorter version is rarely even close to the same class. Though I continually sample most of the new upper end 8 ½’/#4’s that get introduced, none has yet to supplant generation old Loomis StreamDance HLS GLX in this important to me size. Until, perhaps, now and again, Sage to the rescue. It has taken more than a year since I realized its existence but we test casted ONE in this size out on Somerset’s snow-free Friday lawn as well as SALT. This little magic wand of a fly rod weighs nothing and casts the narrowest, straightest loop of any rod of any size we sampled. Now it might be a little quick reflexed for some seeking the ultimate spring creek rod but for my high line speed, in-air line manipulation, dry fly presentation style, it could be just right and I intend to find out on the water.
We also cast three other trout sized rods that have garnered considerable interest on our Forum recently, in one case due to the accolades heaped upon it not once but twice by George Anderson. In both his previous and most recent “5-WeightShootouts” Anderson has proclaimed G.Loomis’s NRX LP 9’/#5 as the finest and most capable 5-weight trout rod in the world. I am a Steve Rajeff fan as a rod designer and have long enjoyed using Loomis rods including two NRX models, the 9’/#4 original NRX and the 8-weight as well, both great rods. We sampled both the NRX LP (Light Presentation) in #4 and 5 and disliked both. Way too deep flexing to intuitively form tight loops and slow in recovery enough to limit line speed as well. Yes, they feel lighter in swing weight than original NRX, not the lightest of contemporary fly rods, and, though no doubt suitable for nymphing and easy enough to cast, I would not enjoy nor recommend these LP version rods for dry fly use.
Introduced some three years ago but acquired by me just last year, Thomas and Thomas built a series of one NS5; No Sanctuary 5-weight, their quickest recovery rate rod to date. It was my first contemporary T&T rod in decades from this Greenfield, MA rodmaker with a history of the hands-down finest finish work of any commercial fly rod. T&T has suffered through near bankruptcy and regular ownership changes including the last sincere but absentee British owner. Now, however, hands-on, seriously committed, energetic and young, Neville Orsmond has purchased the company, retaining the majority of the long experienced, expert craftspersons that build both the graphite and cane rods as well, most importantly, as co-founder and master rod designer, Tom Dorsey. T&T had a prominently positioned and well-staffed booth with Orsmond, Dorsey and several advisory staff in attendance disseminating both information and enthusiasm. Having regarded original NS5 as a success they have followed it up with a modestly refined design and materially improved NS II series spanning #5 – 8-weight for trout and single handed salmon/steelhead angling. We included the NS II#5 in our lawn grouping and it is better looking, marginally lighter and incrementally softer in the tip than the earlier version. Improved NS II is a powerful, fairly fast actioned, accurate rod for larger rivers, particularly, in my opinion, well-suited for drift boat dry fly use where longer but precise casts are called for. All three of us liked it, commenting on its smooth and well supported taper transitions and ability to feel the line load at both near and long distance. This is one finely crafted, beautifully and tastefully finished rod that bodes well for new product to come from this re-invigorated venerable company. Welcome back T&T.
NS5 was painted but, like Scott Radian which I regrettably did not have the opportunity to sample again, NS II features the un-sanded, natural graphite finish replete with spiraling resin scares from beneath the tape applied prior to oven curing. Another rod of considerable interest with this same form-follows-function surface was Seele’s 9’1”/#5 “Tailwind”. It is curious that three of the rods with the highest quality finish work all featured this un-sanded surface. Tailwind, designed by Seele partner Michael Mauri, a superb caster, is very light weight and slender, about the same as Orvis’s H2 though 1” longer, has an elegantly comfortable Western style grip of top quality cork and, a treat to me, no useless hook keeper in front of my fingers. Unfortunately it snowed Friday night so this medium fast, custom built rod was cast at the indoor, congested casting pool with time and space limitations. Perhaps it is not fair to compare a one-at-a-time, custom built rod (from Pennsylvania) to the factory built rods but Tailwind’s price is comparable to other high end rods, even a little less than some and its build and finish quality is at least equal to the best out there. I will have to cast this rod again, hopefully with a rising trout before me because it is very intriguing. The rod has a just right tip, no hinging at any point in the taper, in fact the transitions progress seamlessly from perfect tracking, quick recovering tip section into a supportive mid-section and one can almost feel the adequately strong butt subtly flex almost to the cork on longer casts. Seele is only a couple of years old though Michael and his partner Mike McFarland are no new comers to rod design and construction, but I don’t have a long time reference with their work which includes graphite, fiberglass and two handed rods of both materials. Tailwind has its own personality, different from other rods I have longer experience with and it is a personality not only I but, I believe, a lot of us would like to become much more familiar with.
Orvis had a booth but Scientific Anglers, their fly line subsidiary was not represented there. Once again, Rajeff Sports, makers of ECHO rods and influential distributors of Airflo lines was not in attendance. RIO and Cortland though both had booths with top, knowledgeable people manning them. I have two pieces of Cortland news to report. On the saltwater line front, the Liquid Crystal Blue that has received accolades from me and a growing number of our flats fishing Forum members, is going to be slightly improved in its next generation by extending its 90’ length by about 20’, a good thing as this line shoot like crazy. They have expanded their successful Trout Boss line by introducing an HTx version with a modified extended head, long rear taper design with a noticeably slicker, heat tempered finish and thinner core material. Unlike the original standard weight version, this new one is, like RIO Gold, a ½ size heavy line. I look forward to fishing this technologically advanced, new two-tone line this spring. In conversation with several Sage and RIO representatives including expert, Simon Gawesworth at the RIO booth my theory that non-stretch cored fly lines might not be as good as braided nylon core lines for dry fly use was widely disparaged. They concurred that the Perception line I fished in comparison to conventionally cored Gold may have suffered in comparison due to the superior taper of the Gold but insisted I do an apples to apples comparison and fish both the nylon cored and In Touch Gold lines side-by-side and they are certain I will find the non-stretch version more responsive both in casting, striking and fighting a good fish. Simon says some sense the In Touch lines as heavier due to the absence of stretch but they are, in fact, identical in weight. Regrettably, the issues in developing the flats version of non-stretch lines remain unresolved…but not forgotten. Virtually everyone, rod designers, expert casters, fly line makers and experienced anglers are in agreement that an elongated rear taper is fundamentally important but until the fly fishing consumer understands and requests this feature it will not achieve design dominance.
Among all the booths crammed with fascinating tackle and isles crowded with show attendees where the most valuable resource this or any of these shows has to offer; the men and women composing the fly fishing community. Factory representatives, retailers, noted fly tiers, authors, casters and personalities from around the country and world of fly fishing mingled together discussing every aspect of our sport and cementing relationships with one another. The bar at the adjacent Double Tree Hotel and local area restaurants seamlessly furthered the interaction among anglers as the show closed until the last round of drinks were consumed. The Show was great this year and like previous shows going back to the old Suffern, NY and Theodore Gordon Annual Weekend Shows of the past, I left feeling optimistic about the season to come after this, the unofficial opening of fishing season.