orvis helios 3 fly rod over a river
Gear

Gear Review: Orvis Helios 3

Time
By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
April 13, 2018

The Orvis Helios 3F 8’6″ 4wt is the best all-around trout rod for anglers in the Rockies.

Yes, I recognize that the “best” anything is subjective. Then again, the angling community has reached a consensus on the size 14 Adams and tan caddis as the two best dry flies of all time, right? Kidding aside, the new Orvis Helios 3 has the potential to become as widely accepted as those two timeless patterns.

Since I started fly fishing, Winston rods have been my go-to stick. The Orvis Helios 3 has a real chance to change that. The rod comes in two different designations — the 3F for “feel” and the 3D for “distance.” Performance differences exist between the two designations, but little changes in terms of rod design.

In fact, aside from the “NASCAR” sticker, as my buddy Sean Johnson dubbed it, nothing else about the appearance of an Orvis Helios 3 grabs your attention. If it’s on a rod rack next to something from Winston, Scott, Hardy, or Sage, it’d be easy to pass right over it. Hell, the H2 is more aesthetically pleasing than the H3.

But that’s what’s so great about the Helios 3. It’s a rod without the frills. It’s all business, built to cast straighter and deliver flies exactly where you feel they need to be. At $849, the Orvis Helios 3 is priced with the rest of the top-tier fly rods.

I put together a video review of the Orvis Helios 3, on top of the written review. If you like the video reviews, let me know! (@troutbumblog on Twitter/Instagram)

The Nitty-Gritty

What I Liked

Smooth Casting

From the moment I first fished this rod I fell in love with its effortless casting stroke. I’ve fished Winstons for so long for that same reason, and the Orvis Helios 3, in both the F and D configurations, casts superbly.

With the 8’6″ 4wt model, I didn’t notice exceptionally high line speed. A few of the faster Sage rods get a fly line moving quicker, but that’s partly to compensate for torsional stability. A slower line speed means a more relaxed, careful casting style, which the Orvis Helios 3 delivers admirably.

Accuracy

Orvis bills this rod as “accurate from anywhere.” In the hands of a competent caster, the H3 will absolutely sing. In the hands of an average angler like myself? Well, it felt a bit unfair – for the fish, of course –  that I could fling a dry-dropper rig beneath branches on the first try.

I will say that there’s a notable accuracy difference between this rod and most of my other 4-weights. Orvis engineered the H3 to track straight and wobble as little as possible, and those are two aspects of rod building that are universally accepted as impacting accuracy.

No Swing Weight

My buddy Hyrum fishes Sage rods like they’re going out of style. I broke his 9′ 4wt Sage X earlier this week, and offered to let him borrow a 4wt Winston while the X got repaired.

“Man, I don’t wanna downgrade,” was his reply.

And in some ways, he’s right. The first time I threw the X – and all subsequent times I’ve fished one of Hyrum’s – the lack of swing weight catches me off guard.

The Orvis Helios 3 is no different. You feel the line load on your front and back cast, but aside from that, the swing weight is nearly unidentifiable.

It’s Not Fancy

If you’re going to spend $849 on a fly rod, it might as well have some fancy accouterments, right? Well, just about every rod company would agree with you.

Orvis took things in a different direction with the H3, though. Instead of adding nickel silver, decorative wraps, or hand lettering, they slapped a matte gray finish on the H3F and spent the rest of the money on the blank.

It shows, because the Orvis Helios 3 outperforms nearly every other rod I own (my Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is the exception).

I love the fact that Orvis went all-in on making the best blank possible, creating a tool more than a piece of functional art. There’s something refreshing about the blue-collar attitude the H3 possesses. Aside from the high-grade cork, tight wraps, and even coats of epoxy, little else aesthetically points to the Orvis Helios 3 performing at the level it does.

What I Didn’t Like

No Hook Keep

The Helios 3 doesn’t come with a hook keep wrapped above the winding check. There’s a giant sticker in the way, so it’s understandable it’s not there. But there’s not a hook keep recessed under the reel seat hood, or elsewhere, for that matter.

Orvis Marketing Director Tom Rosenbauer told me they polled anglers on whether or not they wanted a hook keep. The response was split down the middle, so Orvis went without one.

It’s not a deal breaker, but I’d love to see the option for one on the rod.

Less Backbone

I know, I know – this is a review of a 4wt and I’m complaining about backbone. But hear me out. The Orvis Helios 3 fights fish well, and the way the rod flexes, you’re not going to break off light tippet unless you try.

But there’s not nearly as much backbone for casting my traditional dry-dropper-dropper rig. A three-fly rig is a standard setup in my part of the Rockies. Perhaps it was the line I was using – a true-to-weight WF4F from Scientific Anglers – but the Helios 3 didn’t turn over that big rig as easily as other 4-weights do.

Final Say

Lack of a hook keep aside, the Orvis Helios 3 is a stellar rod. I loved the H2, and so do tons of other anglers. Hell, John Gierach busted one out when he and I fished the Green River in March. But the H3 outpaces its predecessor by a mile. Smooth casting, no swing weight, and a no-frills blue-collar appearance combine to make it the best trout rod for the Rockies that I’ve ever fished.


Spencer Durrant is the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum, Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media, and a nationally-recognized fly fishing writer. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Gear

Gear Review: Opinel Pocket Knife

Time
By Spencer Durrant  | TMTB Managing Editor
April 5, 2018

Every angler needs a good pocket knife.

If you lose your nippers – which happens far to often for me to justify spending more than $5 on a pair – a pocket knife is a great backup. If you’re like me, though, you end up losing pocket knives as often as nippers!

Which makes the need for an affordable, but durable, pocket knife readily apparent. I’ve had my share of expensive knives, and they were great tools until I lost them. I hunt quite a bit, in addition to all of my fishing, and it feels like I’m buying new knives every year.

Enter Opinel. They’re based in France, making phenomenal products at a price point that doesn’t make your wallet cringe when you realize you lost another pocket knife. 

The folks at Opinel were kind enough to send along a few knives for review, and I’ve used them daily for the better part of two months. I have my favorite models, but there’s a consistent quality to every Opinel product that makes it easy for me to recommend them to other anglers.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Lightweight

The first thing I noticed about an Opinel was how light it felt for a pocket knife. The handle grabbed my attention in particular. Woodworking is a hobby of mine, but I couldn’t tell you what wood Opinel used. In my defense, though, I’ve never once worked with beech.

Most of their handles are beech, which is great because it’s so light. Half the time, I’d have the No. 7 in my pocket and forget it was there.

Blade Quality

For a pocket knife at this price point, I had some reservations about the blade quality. I’ve made a few knives in the past year (thanks to the TV show “Forged in Fire” I know how my own knife-building setup in my garage…) with 1075 high-carbon steel, and an old leaf spring.

The stainless steel blades on these Opinel knives are outstanding, especially for how cheap they are. Opinel sent me a No. 7, two No. 8s, a No. 10f, and an Eff. 15, and the blade quality was consistent across all five knives.

Two of those knives — the No. 7 and a No. 8 —  came with carbon steel blades. From a knife building perspective, I prefer the carbon blades for their durability.

Virobloc Safety Ring

The biggest difference between an Opinel pocket knife and something at a similar price point is the blade locking mechanism. At first, I wasn’t sold on the sliding ring that supposedly kept the blade from gouging my finger.

After more than a month of use, though? I haven’t had a problem. In fact, I think I prefer a sliding ring to the liner lock or lockback safeties popular in most American knives.

The Not-So-Good

Sharpness

The Opinel blades were really impressive. As with most factory knives, though, they either came not sharp enough, or quickly lot their edge.

Then I had to remember I was holding a $15 knife that’d likely field-dress an elk more effectively than some of my $50+ knives. A quick run on the whetstone gave me the edges I wanted, and so far the knives have all held it.

Inconsistent Safety Rings

This is a tiny issue, but worth noting. The Virobloc Safety Rings seem to vary in how flush they fit against the top of the knife handle. Some are almost too tight, while others are a bit loose. I don’t know if it has something to do with the specific models or not, but you’ll want to check that before buying one for yourself.

Final Word

Like I said earlier, every angler needs a good pocket knife. Those of us who still eat trout —  I’m proudly one of those anglers — like a dependable knife for gutting or filleting fish around a campfire. It’s also nice to have a backup to your nippers in the event that you lose them, or need to cut fly line, bushes, tree branches . . . I think you get the picture.

An Opinel pocket knife is a solid choice at a price point that won’t hurt your heart if you lose it. I don’t know how they’d hold up to field-dressing big game, but I’d be willing to carry one along on this year’s elk and deer hunts.

You can pick up an Opinel knife here.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum, and CEO/Owner of Cutthroat Creative Media. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

tom morgan rodsmiths fly rod in the snow
Gear

Gear Review: Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8’6″ 5wt

Time
By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor                                                              
February 19, 2018

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths fly rod isn’t just a rod — it’s poetry in motion.

Discussing a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod is impossible without mentioning Tom and his lovely wife Gerri. The amount of teamwork it took for Tom and Gerri to build rods together is astounding — and I only witnessed it a bit over eight months ago.

Tom spent the last 20 years of his life battling MS. He was confined to his bed or wheelchair, in a home not more than ten minutes from the Lower Madison River. It was during these years, though, that he created the best graphite fly rods I’ve ever fished.

It took years for Tom to teach Gerri how to create rods that met his lofty expectations. Luckily for Tom, Gerri was a quick learner. While she’d sort cork based on color, or wrap guides, Tom kept dreaming up new tapers and innovative ways to make rods better. He was a wealth of knowledge which never ran dry.

Tom owned Winston in the late 70s through most of the 80s, responsible for the design of the glorious IM6 rods. If the Sage XP is the best all-around production rod (which it likely is) then the Winston IM6 is the best dry-fly production rod.

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod today is what those old IM6 rods may have turned into had Tom not sold Winston and struck out on his own.

In other words, they’re simply incredible fly rods.

This won’t be a normal gear review, simply because I haven’t found one thing about my Tom Morgan Rodsmiths that I don’t like.

Effortless Casting

I’ve done gear reviews for the better part of a decade now, and I think I’ve cast something like five dozen fly rods. Some of them were the latest and greatest, and some were antiques.

None are as smooth and effortless to cast as my Tom Morgan.

Tom and Gerri built me an 8’6″ 5wt, with an extra tip section. It’s a two-piece rod, because those are the best casting rods ever built. Loaded up with a double-taper line, the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod taper goes to work and throws tight, quick loops in a relaxed, purposeful way that few other fly rods can match.

Build Quality

The sticker price on a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is enough to make even the biggest gear nuts think twice.

The moment you hold one in your hands, though, all thoughts of $1,500 being too much for a graphite rod fly out the window. These are some of the prettiest rods I’ve ever seen.

What’s really interesting about a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, though, is the fact that they don’t mass-produce rods. Instead, each rod is built to the specifications of an individual angler. When I ordered mine, I think it took Tom, Gerri, and I a half-hour to sort through all the different options I wanted with my rod.

The standards across all of their rods, though, include nickel-silver reel seat hardware, octagonal winding checks, and top-of-the-line chrome snake guides and tip-tops. They don’t use pre-shaped cork grips, either. Each grip is built from multiple cork rings, sorted for color and quality, and then shaped to an angler’s choice.

Unless you were to build your own fly rod, it’s impossible to get this level of customization from any other rod maker (except the bamboo and fiberglass artisans). The attention to detail alone is worth the price of admission.

Presentation

Like I said earlier, I’ve fished a ton of fly rods. The new Hardy Zephrus Ultralite might be the best production dry-fly rod on the market right now, and the new Orvis H3 is uncannily accurate at distance.

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths doesn’t really specialize in one aspect of fly fishing, nor does it try to be a jack-of-all-trades. It’s just simply phenomenal at all the things you’d expect from a 5wt. Dries on still water to cruising trout? No problem.

Streamers against a Wyoming wind? The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths has your back.

String this rod up with a double-taper line, slow down your casting stroke, and you’ll realize you have the most accurate, delicate presentation fly rod you can buy.

In the months I’ve owned this rod, I haven’t found a single complaint in how well it presents flies to fish. Tom designed these rods for one purpose, and that’s pretty clear when you start fishing one.

The Best Fishing Rod I Own

A common theme that cropped up during my long talks with Tom was that he wanted his rods to be fished. I told him how I’d snagged an old pre-IM6 Winston (which he told me was built in 1977!) on eBay, and Tom’s first question was, “Have you fished it yet?”

As beautiful as these rods are, they’re meant to be fished. They’re like a great shotgun, honestly. You may not use it for every duck or chukar hunt, but it doesn’t sit in the closet and collect dust, either.

My Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is simply the best fishing rod I own. It’s so fun to cast, a joy to play fish on, and just plain gorgeous to look at. It’d be more of a crime to not fish one of these beauties.

When I went to pick my rod up from Tom’s home in Montana, he had one question for me before handing over the rod:

“Are you gonna fish that rod or hang it on a wall?” He asked.

I shrugged. “I’ll fish with it today, I know that much.”

“Fly rods are meant to be used,” Tom said. “And you better use that one.”

So, since May of 2017, I’ve followed Tom’s advice. The rod he built me is nothing short of magical. But what else can you expect from the father of the modern graphite fly rod?

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is something special, and if you’re ever in the position to buy one, do it. You’ll never regret it.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, TROUT Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

echo carbon xl handle only
Gear

Gear Review: Echo Carbon XL

Time
By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
January 7, 2018

 

Echo makes arguably the best price-point fly rods on the market.

Finding a good price-point rod isn’t as hard as it used to be. Just over the past half-decade since I started doing gear reviews, I’ve seen a huge jump in the quality of rods in the sub-$300 market. You’re not limited to whatever entry-level rod Sage has, or an unwieldy glass stick. Just about every company – even Winston – has a rod built for the angler who doesn’t need a $600+ fly rod.

Echo takes that idea to the extreme, with their flagship Echo 3 running $349.  Their Bad Ass Glass rods are pretty popular out here in Utah, and I’ve always wanted to spend some time with Tim Rajeff’s line of budget-friendly rods.

So right after Christmas, I picked up a new and 10’6wt Ion XL (review on that coming later!) and figured I’d dedicate the next three weeks to fishing just that rod.

The Carbon XL surprised me with its performance on the few spring creeks that still have open water, as well as larger tailwaters like the Provo River. It’s a fast-action stick with great backbone, and surprising feel out to about 40 – 50 feet.

It’ll cost you a whopping $149 to own a Carbon XL, and I don’t think I’ve yet come across a better bang-for-your-buck value at that price. The only rod that stacks up evenly with the Echo Carbon XL is the Redington Classic Trout. The Classic Trout is the same price, but a much softer rod than the Carbon XL.

With that said, my top recommendation for a beginner’s rod – or a rod for those who simply don’t spend enough time on the water to justify spending $300+ on a graphite stick – is the Echo Carbon XL.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Angler-Friendly Fast Action

Fast-action rods are usually the best for beginners to learn on. They’re far easier to cast than a delicate dry-fly rod or a thick streamer stick.

The Carbon XL is a very crisp, stiff rod, with only about the top quarter of the rod flexing under the pressure of a fish. That being said, the rod does a good job of transferring energy throughout the shaft, and a seasoned angler will quickly pick up on the rod’s casting rhythm.

Good Line Control

One of my biggest knocks on most price-point rods is their lack of line control, due to a tip that doesn’t track well (or more often, at all). Torsional stability is important in any rod, and while the Echo Carbon XL won’t win any awards for how it tracks, it’s much better than what I expected. I didn’t have to worry about my loops going too far to the left or right during my cast, and the stiff rod gave me more ability to throw longer mends into complex currents.

Surprisingly Soft Presentation

For a rod as fast and lively as the Carbon XL, I wasn’t expecting much when I tied on some small dries and hit my favorite close-to-home spring creek.

The rod surprised me by laying flies down with reasonable delicacy, and it even casts off the tip softly. I prefer to fish a dry-dropper-dropper rig, and the Carbon XL didn’t have a problem turning that over without making a big ruckus on the water.

The Not-So-Good

Weight

Remember that this rod retails fro $149. Any aspersions about its weight need to be taken in that context. With that said, however, the Carbon XL is a heavier rod both in hand and on the swing.

It’s not so heavy that you think you’re throwing glass or bamboo, but it’s heavy enough to remind you (all day) that it’s there.

Long Leaders

Surprisingly, the Carbon XL didn’t turn over longer leaders as I expected. I still had to give it a bit of a haul if I threw anything longer than 10 feet (that’s with fishing Airflo Forge on the rod) to not risk my flies piling on top of each other. It’s frustrating, but not a deal-breaker.

Final Word

The Echo Carbon XL is a great rod for $149. If I had to recommend one sub-$200 rod to beginning or casual anglers, this rod is right up there with the venerable Fenwick Aetos. Its angler-friendly action and surprising ability to handle small, tight water will earn it favor with guides across the country.

It’s a great rod for its price, and one of the best price-point rods I’ve ever fished.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 

korkers hatchback wading boots
Gear

Gear Review: How Korkers’ New Wading Boots Shape Up After 6 Months Of Use

Time
By Spencer Durrant |TMTB Managing Editor | Featured Image by Ryan Kelly
September 19, 2017

Korkers makes the best wading boots on the market.

That’s my opinion and I’ll stand by it until I’m proven wrong. The issue regarding the interchangeable soles on Korkers boots has long since been addressed – they no longer pop off when presented with the slightest resistance like mud or snow.

When their new Hatchback boot came out, though, I wasn’t completely sold. In a review I wrote for Hatch Magazine, I was frank in my complaints about the boots. They were too stiff, and not the boot I’d pick for long days of hiking and wading deep into the Rocky Mountain backcountry.

They’re still stiff, but they feel broken in now. And I haven’t used a different pair of wading boots since . . . well, I honestly don’t remember.

The Hatchback is a good boot. I still think the Darkhorse is the absolute best value wading boot on the market, but if you’re looking for premium comfort and rock-solid stability, look no further than the Hatchback. Once you break them in, you’ll have a hard time breaking out of the habit of wearing them. At $239.99, they’re priced comparably to other top-tier wading boots. They’ll last longer – in theory – though, due to the interchangeable sole system.

Image by Ryan Kelly.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Durability

Korkers hasn’t let me down yet as far as durability goes, but the Hatchback is a new take for wading boots altogether. I usually spend 175+ days on the water each year. Those hard days on the water are evident in one glance at my gear. So the short of it is that I’ve put my boots through the wringer, and they still don’t show signs of wear. I’m talking 10+ mile hikes just to get to a river, plus wading in big water like the Blackfoot and Rock Creek in Montana. Through all of that, the Hatchback has remained strong and ready for action. I don’t see these failing me from a durability standpoint anytime soon.

Support

The biggest draw – aside from the rear-entry system – of the Hatchback is the support it offers. Wading boots are notorious for being either too soft and putting your ankles at risk of getting turned, or too stiff that one wrong step sends you in the drink. Recently though, manufacturers have made big strides in finding that balance between supportive and flexible.

My initial, and foremost, complaint about the Hatchback six months ago was how the boot was just too stiff.

After six months of hard use, though, I’d say they’re just right. I haven’t had ankle problems in these boots, and that’s coming from someone who can (and does) roll ankles on level pavement.

Rear-Entry Comfort

I honestly thought putting the BOA cable system on the back of the boot would be a misfire, like the Simms boots that had the laces on the side.

Was I wrong? You bet.

I haven’t seen any less or more wear and tear on the BOA cables since they moved to the back of my boot. They look like they should after 90 some-odd days on the water.

I was also wrong about the comfort of the rear-entry system. I didn’t think it made that big of a deal, but I laced up my trusty Devil’s Canyon boots a few weeks ago while a buddy tried my Hatchback boots before buying some. Getting the boots on and off was much easier with a rear-entry system. I didn’t have to bend over as far, which is a huge plus. For a guy with a bad back and a Mtn Dew gut a West Virginian would envy, that’s saying something.

The Hatchback wading boots are surprisingly comfortable on long hikes in the backcountry. Photo by Blair Piippo.

The Not-So-Good

Weight

I didn’t notice this at first, but when I swapped over to my Devil’s Canyon boots, I realized just how heavy the Hatchback is. It’s not a deal breaker, mind you – but you’ll feel it in your thighs and calves the next day if you walk any decent distance in these bad boys.

Tight Laces

This may just be a result of using the boots a ton, but the BOA laces don’t feel like they get quite tight enough to hold my foot as securely in place as I’d like. Part of that may also be due to the thinner neoprene boots on my new waders, but it’s worth noting. I have had the laces loosen during a day of fishing as well.

Final Word

Being wrong about a piece of gear doesn’t always turn out this well. In my case, though, I’m glad my first impressions of the Hatchback were wrong. They’ve quickly turned into my go-to pair of wading boots, and I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a top-tier boot. Don’t let the price scare you, either. You’re paying for a quality product and the absolute best customer service I’ve encountered in the fly fishing industry. Korkers goes above and beyond to take care of their customers.

Go try a pair on at your local fly shop and let me know what you think via Twitter or Facebook.


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to The Modern Trout Bum and never miss another post.

Spencer Durrant is the Managing Editor of TMTB. He’s also a nationally-recognized fly fishing and outdoors writer. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

winston air fly rod
Gear

Gear Review: Winston AIR Fly Rod 8’3wt

Time

Is the Winston AIR fly rod the company’s best performing rod?

Much in the same way that no two fish are the same, neither are the fishing style of any two anglers. The wide gamut of fly fishing approaches is, in part, responsible for the glut of rods on the market. The Winston AIR fly rod caters to a specific group of anglers, but does it so well that even anglers who don’t fish slower rods and lighter tippets will likely fall in love with the AIR’s lively, light action.

Last fall Winston sent a 9’5wt AIR for me to review (you can read my thoughts on it in Hatch Magazine) and I loved it. So when time came for me to pick up a new 3wt, I turned to the AIR rod family.

The 8’3wt is a lively, moderate-fast action rod that delivers uncanny torsional stability, subtle presentation, and an enjoyable casting experience in one of the market’s lightest rods to date. Add to that the high quality of workmanship present in the Winston AIR fly rod family and you’re looking at a premium niche rod.

For a 3wt, the AIR has surprising backbone. I’ve comfortably fished it at distances of up to 55 feet and landed a few decent browns with it. The AIR handled it all as well as you’d expect from a 3wt.

At $945, though, an AIR is cost-prohibitive to most casual anglers. However, if you’re any sort of dry fly enthusiast or you simply value a stellar casting experience, you should consider putting an AIR in the budget. It may not beat out the company’s vaunted antique graphite, but it’s likely their best niche-performance rod currently available in production.

winston air fly rod and fish

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

 

Action

Thankfully, the fly rod industry is turning away from fast-action broomsticks, albeit slowly. The AIR is a moderate-fast rod – by Winston standards – comparable to Scott’s rods. I’d say it lands somewhere squarely between the now-discontinued Sage Circa and the new Sage X.

The AIR’s action, while a tad faster than what Winston is largely known for, is enjoyable and easy. It’ll deliver dry flies and smaller nymphs on target up to about 50 feet, while the backbone of the rod helps turn fish in swifter current.

Weight

The AIR feels a lot like the name implies. It’s an exceptionally light rod, though in the 3wt version I have noticed a more pronounced swing weight than in a 9’5wt configuration. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Just something worth noting.

Tippet Protection

This is an underrated aspect of modern rod construction, which I find odd since so many tippet breaks I see are due to far-too-stiff rods more than angler inexperience.

I’ll save my dissertation on physics and fly rod tips for another day, but the AIR – in all weights and lengths I’ve fished it – does a stellar job of protecting tippet. The classic Winston feel is present in the AIR, and you can comfortably fish 7x tippet on the 8’3wt. Now, why you’d want to fish tippet that small is an entirely different argument, but it’s comforting to know that sort of protection lies within the AIR’s capabilities.

The Not-So-Good

 

Weak Wind Performance

Yeah, I know this is a review on a 3wt. But it’s also a complaint I had of the 5wt model – the AIR doesn’t do well in the wind. Winston made a big to-do about the SuperSilica resin used in the AIR, but it doesn’t seem to translate directly to improved casting against a steady headwind. If you ever use your lighter rods on something other than narrow spring creeks, you’ll want an aggressively-tapered WF line, likely a half-size heavy, to coax the best performance from the 8’3wt AIR.

Price

I’m a believer in the mantra of you get what you pay for. Whenever friends ask me which rod they should buy, I always respond with, “The best you can afford.” Sure, we could all catch fish with a Wal-Mart combo, but there’s a reason we don’t.

At $945, the AIR is a heftily priced rod geared to a niche market. This rod is built for dry fly enthusiasts and light-line anglers – a crowd growing smaller and smaller as the fly fishing world’s obsession with streamers and nymphs only grows.

winston air fly rod and brown trout

Final Word

The Winston AIR fly rod is one of Winston’s best rods ever. I don’t have a problem saying that. It’s well-built, incredibly fun to cast, and a strikingly accurate tool of the trade. It’s expensive, but it’s worth the money if you have the budget for it. I’d still hesitate to dub the AIR Winston’s best-performing rod of all time, though. I have some rods built in the late 70s and early 90s that give the AIR stiff competition.

That being said, though, it’s likely the company’s best-performing rod since the WT line was discontinued from full-scale production. And it’s a rod worth having.

Buy it here from Fishwest.

Spencer is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

hardy reels fwdd image
Gear

Gear: Hardy Reels’ FWDD Review

Time

Hardy reels have long been regarded as some of the best in the industry. The wide-spool Hardy Perfect revolutionized reels, and today the company continues to produce high-quality reels at reasonable prices.

The all-new FWDD from Hardy Reels.

The FWDD series ushers in a new era for the storied manufacturer. It’s a minimalist’s dream reel, featuring extremely durable bar stock 6061 aluminum and the light weight of a click/pawl reel. The most impressive aspect of the FWDD series, though, is that this reel isn’t a click/pawl.

It’s a disc-drag reel which maintains low weight, buttery-smooth pickup, and a medium arbor to give lightweight trout anglers yet another option in the reel world.

hardy reels with a fish

Ranging from $199 to $229 in price, the FWDD isn’t cheap. It does, however, deliver on its price tag with some of the best performance I’ve personally seen in a lightweight reel.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Drag System 

The highlight of the FWDD series – and any reel, really – is the drag system. If a reel can’t manage the runs of your target fish species, it’s nothing more than an expensive line holder.

Hardy went with Rulon for the disc-drag system, though they added a clicker that produces the famous sound many anglers love to hear in a fly reel. The drag’s max capacity is 1lb of force, per Hardy’s specs. While that sounds like it’s on the low end, I’ve found it to be more than enough for most situations the FWDD and I have gone through together.

Startup inertia is low and smooth – comparable to the Orvis Battenkill series – and adjusting the drag is simple. Most Hardy reels come with color-coded drag knobs, and the FWDD is no exception.

hardy reels in water

The drag will put the brakes on trout, provided your rod has a light enough tip to absorb the remainder of a running fish’s energy.

Judging how a reel fights a fish is more subjective than most people realize. Palming a reel is one way to make up for reels with lighter drags, in addition to using your index and middle finger on your reel hand to apply pressure to outgoing line.

Ideally, though, you get a fish on the reel as soon as possible. It reduces the amount of time fighting fish, with increases their survival rates, as noted by Kirk Deeter in Field & Stream

With all that said, the FWDD can comfortably handle trout up to 20 inches. Anything past that and you’ll be running downriver.

Build Quality

Lightweight trout reels need to be durable, due in large part to the “combat fishing” most high country anglers encounter. From bush whacking to being dropped on boulders, lightweight reels are often prone to easily breaking.

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The FWDD isn’t bomb-proof by any stretch of the imagination, but the 6061 bar-stock aluminum from which both the spool and frame are built will take a beating. I’ve fished my FWDD (a 2/3/4 model) for about 6 months now, and while it has a few battle scars, it’s in sound physical condition.

The Not-So-Good

Spool Release

In an effort to cut down on weight, Hardy built the FWDD series with a “push on/off” spool release system. There’s no button, no lever; instead, you grab the frame and push the spool off with your fingers. It’s tricky to figure out the first few times, and makes switching spools a bit of a hassle.

Drag Range

Remember, I really like the drag on this reel. Hardy did a spectacular job with it; however, the range of adjustment on the drag for the FWDD just doesn’t quite reach the full potential.

Hardy’s color-coded drag adjustment knob is a useful feature, but all the green drag settings on the FWDD feel exactly the same. It’s only when the reel is set to orange or red settings that I’ve felt the drag actually adjust.

hardy reels brown trout and rod

Final Word

For $199 – $229, this reel is is a bit on the high end as far as cost for a lightweight reel. However, Hardy reels are known for their top-notch materials and design. This reel is gorgeous, fun, and handles trout runs admirably. It’s a great reel for the minimalist angler who just wants the basics, and provides more stopping power for lightweight anglers who’d normally fish a click/pawl reel.

You can purchase an FWDD here.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum, and contributes regularly to national fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

walton fly rods
Gear

Walton Fly Rods Native Series

Time

Walton Fly Rods is a new name in the rod industry – but are they good rods?

My good buddy Brad Smith (@BradSmithOutdoors, Senior Writer at Wide Open Spaces) is the owner of a new rod company based out of Indianapolis – Walton Fly Rods.

He was kind enough to send along about two-thirds of the Walton product line for the staff here at TMTB to test. We’ll be rolling out reviews on other Walton products in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

We’ll kick off the series of reviews with an in-depth look at the Native Series of fly rods.

USA-Built, Lifetime Warranty, Excellent Price Point

Walton Fly Rods are built in the USA, come with a lifetime warranty, and run $310. That’s a pretty great deal no matter who you are. However, the deal’s only good if the rods are adept fly fishing tools.

Walton built the Native Series with the East Coast angler in mind – a small 7’ 3/4wt graphite rod (unique, because most rodmakers aren’t rolling out blanks designated for two line weights these days, though it was very popular in bamboo and glass heydays) that bends like a wet spaghetti noodle. It’s obviously a dry fly tool with enough give in the tip to protect light tippet, yet when a fish is on the rod snaps tight and gives you ample backbone to play a fish quickly to the net.

These rods are built in the good ol’ US of A, with mid-grade cork grips (better than an average $300 rod, but not as good as the $500+ rods), average-sized stripping and Snake brand guides, and a beautiful burled walnut reel seat insert tucked away inside a skeletonized aluminium body. Two uplocking bands secure the reel into place and the entire affair is pretty light.

walton fly rod native series

The swing weight wasn’t as bad as I expected. Rods with this much flex tend to have a heavier swing weight, but the Native Series wasn’t bad at all. The casting stroke is extremely different than what most anglers are used to. I own more antique Winston graphite and other bamboo sticks that are slow by today’s standards – and the Native Series falls in that category. They’re relaxed, slow, leisurely-casting rods.

Now, the Native Series rod isn’t as accurate as I’d like. I threw two different lines on this rod (SA Heritage Ultra Presentation WF4F and RIO LightLine DT4F) and neither line got the fly exactly where I wanted it when I pushed my casts beyond 35 feet. Inside 35 feet the Native Series put flies where I needed them, making it a solid combat-fishing tool.

All Walton rods come with a lifetime warranty, cordura rod tube, and dependably solid build quality. At $295, that’s a helluva deal – and in my opinion, the best selling point for Walton Rods.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Presentation

By far the best quality of Walton Fly Rods’ Native Series is how the rod is able to present flies. I fished it during a midge hatch on the Lower Provo River here in Utah and within 35 feet I had reasonable control of my fly. The Native is built on IM7 graphite, a material very similar to the old IM6 Winstons. This rod is soft and supple and if you fish tiny creeks in the Rockies or brush-choked streams in the Smokies, the Native has your back.

walton fly rod in water

Tippet protection

I fish dries or a dry-dropper rig more than anything else. It’s how my grandfather taught me to fish and it’s how I enjoy fishing. As such I’ve learned to value rods with soft tips that protect light tippet. The Native does a great job of that. I wrangled a 17-inch brown in on 6x tippet and never worried about the tippet snapping.

Price and warranty

I’ve fished nearly 40 rods, from a $50 Wal-Mart special to bamboo rods worth more than my car. Rods can cost as much as a downpayment on a condo, but is it worth it? That all depends on you.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced rod, with a lifetime warranty along the lines of what Sage or Winston offers, Walton is hard to beat. I commend them for a $295 rod with a lifetime warranty.

The Not-So-Good

Power

For a 3/4wt rod I was a bit disappointed with the strength of this rod. It really struggled past 35 feet to get the fly in a good position, and I don’t think fishing a leader longer than nine feet is advisable.

Two piece

This is a two-piece rod so it’s not as travel-friendly as a four piece. I think this works in the rod’s favor when looking at how it casts (fewer sections means smoother casting) but some anglers may not be happy with that.

Accuracy

The Native does put flies where they should be if you take your time to learn the rhythm of the rod. It’s slow enough, though, that I had a few issues with fly placement out past 30 or so feet. It’s not inaccurate, just not a laser-straight stick like other rods.

Final Say

$310. Lifetime warranty. Smooth action, soft tip, great presentation abilities, and built in America? Those are all big points in Walton’s favor. The Native does have its drawbacks – most 3/4wt rods do, though – but with all the benefits Walton Fly Rods offers, the perks outweigh the possible dysfunctional aspects of the Native.

You can buy a Walton Rods Native Series here.

Spencer Durrant is a novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum and a contributor to other major fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.

fly line on fly reels
Gear

Gear Review: Cortland Fly Line is More than the 333 Series

Time

Gear reviews here at TMTB are organized in a specific way. There’s always an overview section to give you a quick rundown of the gear, its value, and whether it’s earned the TMTB Seal of Kickass Gear. Then, because I hope other gear nuts are reading, the reviews will get into the specifics of different aspects of the gear.

Overview

I started fishing with a Cortland rod, reel, and Cortland fly line outfit my dad bought from the local supermarket. It wasn’t anything special, but to this day I still have the rod and reel. The reel’s old, clunky, and sounds like a chainsaw when a hot trout’s on the line, but it works. The rod is a serviceable backup streamer stick, though I’ve held on to it more for nostalgia’s sake than anything else.

The point here is that Cortland has been around for a long time, and for good reason – they make products that just work. Most beginner fly fishermen spool their rods with Cortland 333 or 444 line, since it’s more affordable than other brands. The 333 was actually the first PVC-coated fly line, and Cortland’s survived for more than 50 years in a tough industry.

They’ve since branched out, though, and have found some serious success. Fly Fishing Team USA members Lance Egan and Devin Olsen both used Cortland rods, line, and indicator mono in their “Modern Nymphing” film, produced by the great Gilbert Rowley. I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with both Egan and Rowley, and while it’s no surprise both of them handily out fished me, the quality of their Cortland outfits surprised this diehard Winston man.

Now, I’ve been a big fan of Cortland’s fly lines for the past few years. The Trout Boss HTx line, in particular, is my favorite 5wt line on the market. The Finesse Trout II is a dream on my old IM6 Winston rods, and every line I’ve used has lasted as long as I’d expect them to.

Recently, Cortland sent me two more lines to try – the Precision Omni-Verse WF5F and the 444 Spring Creek WF5F. Both of these lines are similar in function but incredibly different in taper, which is why I’ve lumped them together in one review.

cortland fly line

Photo courtesy Cortland Fly Line

The Omni-Verse is a specialty line with one of the more unique tapers I’ve seen. Offered in weights 4 – 10, this line features an exceptionally long head and thick rear taper, creating a line that mends like a double-taper but loads a rod as effectively as any weight-forward line. As with most Cortland lines, the Omni-Verse is built true-to-weight, per AFFTA standards.

The 444 Spring Creek is also true-to-weight, available in weights 2 – 6. The Spring Creek series has a long tip and the tougher 444 coating, making it ideal for use on spring creeks, freestone streams, and other waters demanding a perfect presentation.

I’m partial to the Omni-Verse line only because I love how well it mends at 50+ feet, but that doesn’t detract from the solid, workhorse performance the Spring Creek delivers. Both are a great value from a company that’s proven themselves since before graphite fly rods were a big deal.

The Cortland Precision Omni-Verse and 444 Spring Creek Fly Line earned the TMTB Seal of Kickass Gear.

 

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Presentation

Both the Omni-Verse and Spring Creek are excellent presentation lines. Whether you need a small dry tucked tight to the bank or a roll cast with a nymph rig to the inside edge of a seam, the lines work well with your rod to achieve the desired results.

The Spring Creek is the better choice for dry-fly only anglers, if only because it’s built with a shorter head and more running line, making it an ideal line for the small stream angler where casts are usually 35 feet at the most.

Cortland Fly line 444 spring creek

Photo courtesy Cortland Fly Line

Taper

The taper for the Omni-Verse is nothing short of genius. Think of it as a long-belly line, because that’s essentially what it is. The head is 62 feet long that ends in a 25 foot rear taper. That’s a lot of continuous taper – reminiscent of the Triangle Taper – gradually growing and shrinking through the majority of the fly line. The 6 foot level tip gives anglers a WF line which roll casts as good as any DT I’ve ever fished.

The Bad

True weights

True-to-weight lines are harder to find these days, With the exception of offerings from RIO and Scientific Anglers, finding a true-to-weight line is like looking for size 30 dry fly hooks. Of course, the increasingly fast action of fly rods is the reason for half-weight heavy lines dominating the market, so if you fish with a rod that’s anything beyond a moderate action you’ll likely have a few issues with feeling your rod load this Cortland line. It’s not as strong in the wind either, and doesn’t offer the same turnover power for larger bugs, though both lines did just fine with long dry fly leaders.

Final Say

Both of these lines are essentials for the modern dry fly angler. They’re more durable than RIO, available in true-to-weight sizes which load dry fly rods (glass, bamboo, slower graphite) better than a half-weight heavy line, and they’re more affordable than most lines on the market. Cortland’s existed so long for a reason – their gear is quality, and these two lines are no exception.

Spencer Durrant is a novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum and a contributor to other major fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.

Gear

Gear Review: Does the Orvis Recon Earn the Hype?

Time

Gear reviews here at TMTB are organized in a specific way. There’s always an overview section to give you a quick rundown of the gear, its value, and whether it’s earned the TMTB Seal of Kickass Gear. Then, because I hope other gear nuts are reading, the reviews will get into the specifics of different aspects of the gear.

Overview

When you go shopping for a mid-priced rod (anything from $275-500) you likely don’t consider Orvis sticks. The mid-price market is dominated by Echo, Redington, Fenwick, Blue Halo, and some pretty decent Sage models.

Orvis has – rightfully so – earned a reputation of high quality over the years. As any angler knows, high quality is almost always accompanied by high price (the exception is the Echo Base, Fenwick Aetos, and Redington Hydrogen). But you don’t have to shell out a mortgage payment to own a quality Orvis stick, thanks to the Recon series.

orvis recon 9ft 5wt

The fine folks at Orvis sent me a 905-4 (9’5wt 4pc) Recon, and I spent a bit more than a month tossing it as my go-to 5wt. I’m primarily a dry-dropper fishermen, but I threw streamers and longer nymph rigs on the Recon as well.

Overall, I was impressed with a) the weight, b) the build quality, and c) the blue-collar attitude of the rod. This thing clocks in at 2 5/8oz, which is stupid light for a 5wt that has the backbone of the Recon. The build quality is what you’d expect from Orvis – high-grade cork, a beautiful dark wood burl insert for the reel seat, and black-nickel hardware.

Now, the Recon didn’t wow me in any specific category. Rather, I was impressed with how it managed nearly every fishing situation I threw its way. Dries to warily rising trout? No problem. Nymphing with a sighter leader? You bet. 5wt-sized streamers? Just don’t snag the tree behind you, because the Recon is a rocket that’ll shoot line in a laser if you’re a competent caster.

It felt like the fly rod for the blue-collar angler. If you don’t want to spend a ton of cash but still need a quality rod that’ll fish well and even put some trout on the table for dinner, the Recon deserves a wiggle test from your local fly shop. It sells for $425.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Accuracy/torsional stability

This rod is scary accurate – almost as good as the new Sage X. A competent caster won’t have issues getting this rod to put flies on a dinner plate up to 60 feet. Beyond that, most 5wt rods don’t pack the punch to be that accurate, but most trout fishing situations don’t require 60+ foot casts to begin with.

The blank stays straight, tracks well, and unless you’re up against a stiff wind you don’t have to work the rod too much to get your flies in the right spot.

Roll casts

I’ve switched my nymphing game up to Euro nymphing (thanks in large part to Lance Egan, Devin Olsen, and Gilbert Rowley, who produced the great “Modern Nymphing” film that’s a must-watch for every angler) so I don’t look at a roll cast like I used to, but the Recon did an exceptional job of lobbing an indicator, two weighted flies, and some split shot up and down the Lower Provo River.

Overall competency/Build quality

The Recon really is a rod you can comfortably use in any reasonable fly fishing situation. It handles dry flies, nymphs, and streamers very well, has a soft enough tip to protect your favorite skinny tippet, but the backbone to fight a larger trout’s run.

The build quality is typically Orvis, who’s churning out some of the best-looking production rods on today’s market.

The Not-So-Good

Long leaders

I fish a lot of dry flies, and in the winter I’ll fish size 20-30 midges on a 14’ leader. The Recon didn’t turn these leaders over as well as other rods, like my Boron IIIx from Winston. I had to work the rod a bit with a short haul to get these leaders out, but again, for the price point of the Recon, it’s still great.

Not as great with the wind

The Recon does well in slight breezes, but in heavier winds it’s not as great as other 5wt rods. Again, though, it’s important to remember that this rod packs the performance of a much more expensive offering inside a sub-$500 price tag, so it’s hard to really nitpick it too much.

Final Say

With the 25-year warranty from Orvis, a $425 price tag, exceptional build quality, and solid blue-collar performance in nearly every aspect of trout fishing, the 905-4 Recon is arguably the best mid-priced rod on today’s market. There’s a reason guides from Alaska to Patagonia have a Recon or two in their customer quivers – because these rods just work.

You can buy a Recon from our preferred fly shop, Fishwest.

Spencer Durrant is a novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum and a contributor to other major fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.