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  1. Default Cortland's 444 Sylk

    The Fly Fishing Column:
    A Product Update©
    Cortland’s Sylk (A 444 Classic Line)

    Doug Macnair

    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.

    - 30 –
    © Copyright: Douglas G. Macnair, 2004-2005.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. Thumbs down Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    I've tried the cortland sylk line in a wf 6 and can't begin to tell you how much I dislike this line. It was billed as a line for bamboo rods so I jumped on it. A local fly shop only carried it in wt forward so I bought that and gave it a try. It took a good 45-50+ feet of line out before it would load a 6wt cane rod, I spooked trout 20ft away from me trying to make a decent short dry fly cast. I bet a DT would be a better choice but for as much as it cost I could buy the great Cortland 444 DT Peach and be satisfied.

  3. Default Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    Interesting... two different points of view. I have not cast the Sylk line so I can't make an accurate judgement as to its castability. However, it is my very best selling fly line... and I don't push it either. So far... no complaints.

    Thanks for your comments guys.


  4. Default Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    I seriously doubt that you would stand and show us your casting acumen. You have already offered us details on your inability to adapt your stoke - if you have one - to the cast.

    Your snide comments are just that -- snide. I note your "knowledgeable" experience failed to note details about your rod. It seems apparent to me that you know little about fly casting.

  5. Default Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    Intersting statements coming forth here regarding the use of this line. Which as yet l have not used, but will do so in the very near future.
    And with respect to both parties l will form my own opinion on this issue.
    And that will be related to many factors, such as many of those indicated by the review given.

    It may well be that the dislike for the line was due to casting ability, combination of rod and line weight used. I do know which of those was the real reason for dislike of that line.
    I was not there to witness the occasion.

    I do know that what may suit one may not be so for another using the same rod and line combination.

    I am also a musician, l have a beloved 1930 Gibson mastertone banjo. I can do all l want with that instrument. Give me a banjo of a lesser quality and l cannot. The reason being that the playability of that banjo will not allow me to move around the fret board in the same way.
    It is the degree of sense of feel if you like.

    And l am of the opinion that the same applies to the user of a fly rod. What may work for me may not do so for another, for one reason or the other.
    Of course l can be objective in so far as giving my personal opinion.
    That was in fact the case a few days ago when a client came to me for Spey casting lessons. He belived that the line wt was not correct for that rod.
    In my opinion it was because l could easily set a roll cast out 40 yards with it , and by other means of spiral casts do all l required of that rod and line combination.
    My client was not able to develope the sense of feel to load that rod and therafter use the rod to it full potential as a casting tool.
    And he may never do so unless he can develope what is needed to do so. But he may well try another set up and do better with it.

    I will admit for myself having been in this business as a pro fly fisherman since the 1960s, that l tend to forget, much that is second nature to me. When for the majority of guys who fish it is hard work to achieve high levels of skill.

    But they are all entitled to state their case, one way or the other. I may choose to differ from what they say based on my choices and background knowledge and acquired skills.

    It would have been more polite to have furthered the reasoning why the dislike came about, other than those put forward.

    I do not pretend to know all the answers and there is no one out there who has cast a fly line that does or ever will !!!

    But there is progression based on of course many factors, such as those that are now considered historical, tackle design, techniques and personal experiences to name a few.

    Davy Wotton.

    Ok, l got carried away on the previous post. l had intended to add some further comments there related to the line.

    I assume that there is some technical data related to the given weight of that line for a given length. In that case a comparison may be made against other modern manufactured lines.
    For sure there has to be a related balance between the fly line wt and the rod used.
    I have had other fly fishers tell me the same thing, that they could not get the rod used to load, that they also felt the line was underrated given the line weight stated.

    But it may well be the manner in which they were casting. I was not there to see what they were doing.

    I love to fish with a silk line as there is nothing to compare with it, so far as l am concerned.
    Interesting the line is marketed as a line for bamboo rod users. Those of you who have never fished with a bamboo rod will of course not be aware of how very different the action is compared to the majority of carbon rods out there. In fact l used to fish back in early days with a number of Hardy bamboo rods and then the fibatube series. Overall l prefer the action of a more mid flex slow action rod. Do not think such a rod will not cast a fly line out of sight,it will if you can adapt to the action of the rod and the technique to use it.
    Most of my general trout fishing is within a cast of 60ft. Should l require the use of a rod for fishing sunkline or long range, then l may choose another set up.

    You makes your choices and pays your money. What may work for one may not be so for another.

    Davy Wotton.
    Forum Moderator




  6. Default Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    i purchased cortland sylk in a dt5f for my cortland. between that and reading doug's casting instructions i can cast about 50 to 60 feet depending on the conditions and the fly i'm using. being a complete novice to the sport i must say that between doug's instructions and his suggesting using the sylk line has greatly improved my casting ability. can't wait to get a chance next year to try out bigdon's st. croix 5wt. going to be interested to see what kind of cast i get with that. as far as the sylk i have to say that it was money well spent.

  7. Default Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    rwowww Doug! I give my view on the line and get jumped on. I didn't think my comment was snide at all. Personally I'm happy with the way I cast, I can catch fish and enjoy my day on the water. All I need is a nice line on my cane rods and the wf sylk line didn't cut it for me.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    South Texas

    Default Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    I went back and read the second post and found nothing in it but an account of personal opinion of a aforementioned product. I understood our friend from Idabel to mean that his experience was just different and that it didn't suit him. He didn't attempt to state any opinions about the product as fact (as in "this line is **** and the reviewer is full of the same") but rather clarified that it didn't suit him. I will admit that it might have been more gracious to thank Doug for his contribution before disagreeing, but I don't think the comment was horribly out of line or anything. I haven't cast the line yet myself, so I can't say which opinion I agree with.

    The one thing I have learned from observing many discussions/debates about rods and lines is that rod "load" is a relative term that will be different in many ways for many people. "Load" is often referred to as a precise measurable constant from one caster to the next, but I don't think this is the case. How much "load" we all prefer in a rod varies quite a lot. This is why they make rods that range from buggy-whips to broomsticks and lines with different belly lengths. On top of that, some anglers prefer to overline every rod they've got, and a major line mfg has recently started offering lines in half weights to suit those with still different load preferences. Personally, I can't get excited about fishing a 6wt bamboo rod ever, but there are thousands of bamboo fans out there who couldn't imagine fishing a 5wt Sage XP for trout. (that happens to be Sage's best selling rod ever)

    We all like different rods for different reasons and that's why we have so many to pick from when buying a rod. For all those different rods we all have dozens of different lines to pair them up with to suit our different preferences as well. The first caster famous for his distance casting ability was Lee Wulff, who did so with short bamboo rods. The current champ likes long stiff graphite sticks. Fly fishing is riddled with sitioations where there is multiple ways to skin a cat, and that's why we like it so much.

    I'd rather hunt fish than bait deer any day.

  9. Default Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    Here is what I ment to say:

    Some act and talk as though casting were the entire art of Fly-fishing, and grade an angler solely by the distance he can cover with his flies. This is a great mistake and pernicious in it's influence. Casting is but a method of placing a fly before the trout without alarming it, and within its reach. It is merely placing food before a guest. The selection of such food as will suit, and so serving it as to please a fastidious and fickle taste, still remain indispensably necessary to induce its acceptance.
    - Henry P. Wells, 1885

    Please e-mail me if you have any comments or cuss words you have to say to me, for I won't be back to this message board to read them.


  10. #10

    Default Re: Cortland's 444 Sylk

    I just recently learned of this line and am very interested in it as huge bamboo rod fan. I have previously used only the peach Cortland 444's on my rods and have been happy with those, but it's probably time for some new lines, especially on the 5 weights. I fish a couple of old Wright Mcgill Granger Favorites that take a 5 and a 6 weight and an Orvis 99 that also takes a 5 weight. I have heard some things about this line sticking to itself on the reel and becoming too limp when the weather gets warm. I also read a post on another forum that Cortland is aware of the problems and is in the process of fixing them. I was wondering if anyone has experienced these problems and if anyone knew anything about Cortland updating this product. If they're in the process of making it better, then I will probably wait till they do to give it a try.

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