Fly Line AFTMA Standard Explained

Fly lines

Fly lines are one of the biggest sources of confusion and debate in fly fishing.

Confusion is not just limited to beginners. Walk into any fly shop and there can be a bewildering number of choices. Fly fishing forums often have lengthy debates on various lines and arguments about one-half weight differences. And it’s true that many fly rods seem to cast better with some lines than others.

So where to begin to break through the confusion?

I think it’s understanding the terms and reference points. Rio has a great video that explains the standard and grain weights.

In addition, to breaking down the differences between grain weights and line ratings, the video discusses the effect that even subtle differences in grains, head lengths, or line diameter have on line ratings. And, you’ll not think about a business card the same way again.

You can see the video here.

Thomas and Thomas Avantt – Backyard Casting Review

Avantt

As might have been expected from my last post on the Thomas and Thomas (T&T) Avantt, I ordered one in six-weight with fighting butt and aluminum reel seat.

Once I got it from Emerald Water Anglers (EWA), I looked over the rod and saw the fit and finish was even more impressive than observed in the casual inspection in the store.

The rod is delivered with plastic covering the cork and a silver T&T cigar band. I know of only one other rod maker that covers their cork like that – Scott, and no one else that has a band on the cork. Protecting the cork may be a small thing but it certainly speaks of craftsmanship and pride. The unlocking reel seat is a wide band with the T&T insignia, classic and very refined.

Reel Seat

This rod is so beautiful it could be mounted on a wall for display. But that’s not why I bought it.

I wanted to get a bit more of backyard casting to better understand the rod – this time with lines I was familiar with and had actually fished.

I used a Rio InTouch Gold, Rio Coastal Quickshooter (CQS), and a Rio InTouch Outbound (OB) Floating – all in six weight, along with a 7.5 foot Umpqua practice leader in 3X.

I’ll say right up front, this rod cast well with all the lines I cast – both up at EWA and in my backyard; that’s not something true of every rod. At this point, I’m not sure what I’d say was my favorite – might depend on where I’m fishing, so more on that in a future post.

Given I wasn’t taking anyone’s time but my own, I used my standard approach in casting a new rod. I’ve grown wiser and no longer strip off line almost to the backing and try to cast for the bleachers.

I set up my soccer cones in the backyard at distances of 24, 32, 40, and 48 feet, all of which, perhaps not surprisingly, correspond to my fence posts; those lengths represent casts from a bit over twenty to almost fifty feet where most fishing is done on the beach (or chasing trout on rivers).

As I observed when casting with Dave McCoy at EWA, this casts nicely off the tip with about five to six feet of line out. With this amount of line, casting was more about watching the tip and varying casting speed to see how loops were forming. Very nice.

At 24 feet, I found I was accurate with all three lines, though only the CQS and OB had enough mass out to let me feel the line loading. I had to watch the Gold to see how my cast was doing. At the distances beyond 24 feet out to 48 feet, casting was easy with good line feel and I was accurate all distances.

Transition down the taper was smooth as the casts lengthened, but most of the loading is in the upper third of the blank as would be expected with a faster action rod.

In addition, I was looking for any tip collapse with the heavier shooting lines at distance, and that included casts beyond 48 feet. There was none, as I suspected given the stiff tip, making this a great rod for casting heavier lines and flies in the typical conditions on Puget Sound beaches; this rod will also work on windy afternoons on Montana rivers.

I spent some time casting the Gold with different speeds and stroke lengths to see if the rod favored any particular type of cast or under what conditions a cast would fail. From beginner-type overpower casts to slow and easy casts (with a double haul) the rod was accurate and I was able to hit the target area I set up.

This is one sweet rod.

The next step is to take it fishing. I’ll report on that in a future post.

Thomas and Thomas Avantt – Shop Casting Review

Thomas and Thomas Logo

I had been looking for a special fly rod for the last year.

My medical adventure of late 2016 through early 2017 provided me with a good amount of time to think about what’s important in life. I came to the conclusion, as Thoreau wrote in Walden and Other Writings, that it had been far too easy for me over the years to be “frittered away by detail”, and I needed to “simplify, simplify.”

In fly fishing, I decided I wanted to focus more on the essentials of the fish, the flies, and the contexts of time and place – rather than the too familiar path of being gear-compulsive.

For those who don’t fly fish (or any other gear-driven preoccupation – such as golf), it’s ridiculously easy to be caught up in the release of new gear. Fly rods in particular can drive an almost obsessive longing for the magic rod that can turn a poor casting stroke into perfection, or the rod that allows the fly fisher to target species from just beyond the rod tip to the next county in a howling gale. And I had been susceptible to that in the past.

To be fair the latest generations of fly rods are spectacular. Whether from Loomis, Orvis, Sage, Scott, Winston, and others – they are lighter with great tapers and with better materials and manufacturing than was possible in previous generations. I’ve cast many of them and they are all superb.

But I wanted a special rod – one that was not a custom rod but that had custom-rod attributes and was made by a small company of craftsman.

To that end, I started seriously looking at Thomas and Thomas (T&T) rods. I had been reading about them for several years and they seemed to fit the bill.

I emailed Dave McCoy, owner of Emerald Water Anglers (EWA), and one of T&T’s new ambassadors, who said the new Avantt was a better choice as a beach rod rather than the saltwater-specific Exocett. That sounded great to me as the Avantt would also work on the windy rivers of southwest Montana when we go to visit my son and his family in Bozeman.

I made the trip up to EWA in West Seattle to cast the nine foot six weight with the full-wells grip and the fighting butt.

I’ll briefly mention that this is one great-looking rod with superior cork, a matte blue finish, and some of the most impressive guide-wrap work I’ve seen – some rod makers use too much epoxy on the guide wraps; there was none of that on the Avantt. The craftsmanship is impeccable.

Dave brought three lines out for me to cast: an Airflo beach line (seven weight), an Airflo Xceed (six-weight), and a standard six-weight line. The alley behind the shop was good place to cast, except for a passerby who didn’t appreciate the backcast whipping out in front of him. Some people have no sense of humor.

After rigging up the rod, I observed how light in felt in hand and I noticed how the shape of the cork full-wells grip fit naturally into my hand.

I started casting with the seven-weight and worked my way down to the standard six-weight line.

The seven-weight line felt great. I started with less than ten feet of line and began working the line out. As the length of line increased, I began to see this was definitely fast-action rod that had a firm tip. But I was surprised how easy it was to cast and how light the swing-weight felt.

Moving then to the Xceed and finally to the true to weight line, as expected the response was a bit quicker. But the more I cast it with each line, the more I found myself thinking this was a very versatile rod that could handle any number of lines. Dave asked me which of the lines I preferred with the Avantt. and I had to think as each one worked well, but if I had to choose one it would be the Xceed.

Also it seemed to me that the more I cast it the more I was able to stop focusing about the rod and was just focused on the line and cast. Typically, I can feel a fast-action rod in my elbow and shoulder when first casting it. There was none of that with the Avantt.

I was liking this rod a lot.

Day Zero and Hook Choices

Hooks

Look at the two hooks above.

The top one is a TMC800s; the one below is a Daichi X452. They are both excellent size-six saltwater hooks. If it’s not clear from the photograph, the TMC is a thicker-wire hook than than the Daichi.

Now, which one should you use?

The answer may be dependent on which fish you are targeting.

In Puget Sound, we spend most of the year fishing for sea run cutthroat trout and resident Coho. In general, most of the fish are smaller than around 14 to 16 inches and do not need a large thick hook to land them – making the Daichi a better choice. Now, for migrating Coho I’d go with the thicker hook.

I had noticed that when I started using the Daichi hook, with its thinner wire and much sharper chemically-sharpened tip, that I was drawing less blood from the fish and the hook was easier to remove – releasing the fish quicker and with less damage; giving it a better chance it will be around for the next fly fisher.

And perhaps a choice of hooks reflects the choices to be made in the larger issues facing us today.

It’s become clear to me that it’s long past time to stop using the term “climate change”, which is a euphemism to avoid inflaming those clinging to dying industries or outdated political ideologies.

The correct term should be “climate crisis.”

The hurricanes, forest fires, and mudslides of last year, and this winter’s storms, have demonstrated that the sometime-in-the-future climate change is here now – constituting an existential crisis.

Elsewhere on the planet, the effects of this crisis are even more clear.

American television does a poor job reporting things happening elsewhere in the world,except for terrorism, wars, and royal weddings.

That’s not the case in other countries. The CBC had an excellent report a few nights ago on the drought in Africa that’s impacting the future of Cape Town – the second most populous city in South Africa.

The drought has reduced the water in the city’s reservoirs to the point that city leaders now speak of Day Zero – the day when the municipal water taps run dry. There will still be water from deep groundwater, requiring people to walk to the 200 distribution points, and there has been a rush to build desalination plants.

And there have been conservation efforts. Residents of Cape Town have been ordered to use no more than 13 gallons per day. That may sound like a lot of water, but in the US the average daily use per person is estimated at between 80 and 100 gallons. Think about how you would get by on 13 gallons of water.

The exact timing of Day Zero is a bit unclear; it was originally thought to be April of this year. Due to conservation and augmentation efforts it has now been pushed out to 2019. Read more here.

But until the drought ends the residents of Cape Town will be living this particular climate crisis.

As with Cape Town, people everywhere will face a Day Zero.

It might be the day when there is no more skiing due to snow levels rising above the tops of resorts.

It might be the day your favorite sports fishery is permanently closed.

It might be the day having an oceanfront house might not be possible no matter how much money you have.

It might be the day the electrical grid drops as severe storms destroy large segments of the transmission and distribution system.

It might be the day there are no ocean fish to be caught for consumption.

It might be the day there is no water to irrigate the lands used for grains and vegetables.

For any of these, and more, the problems may be unsolvable – and our future grim.

But we each have to do what we can. It is about the choices we make regarding our impact on the environment and in the places we live. And hopefully that may be enough to give us time to rethink and rework how we live on this planet.

It starts with conserving water – and using the lightest hook we can.

A Tatoo Remembrance and A Class Act

Sage Leg Tatoo

People get tattoos for any number of reasons, too many perhaps to articulate or even understand. As someone who has no tattoos and has no plan to get one, there is at least one purpose for a tattoo that I can understand – and that is for remembrance.

I came across the following post on the Sage web site. For those who have not heard of Sage, it is one of the top-tier fly rod companies.

An individual named Douglas Derrick contacted Sage and related his story of growing up with a brother and sister (Dustin and Kristen). The two traveled to Nepal and Peru in 2006 to join their father who was working with Doctors Without Borders. After the father returned to the States, they then attempted to climb Mount Artesonraju in the Peruvian Andes. Someone slipped on the climb, and both and another climber all fell to their deaths on June 27th, 2006.

Before they left for Nepal and Peru, Dustin had left Douglas his fly rod – a Sage TXL fly rod and told him to keep track of the number of fish he caught with it. After their deaths, Douglas attempted to return the rod to the now grieving father who lost his only children.

The father told him to keep the rod as Dustin wanted him to have the rod. In 2008, Douglas moved to Portland, Oregon. Sometime after, his home was burglarized and the rod along with other items were stolen. To continue his homage to his dead friends he got the tattoo shown above.

Someone from Sage recently saw the photo on Instagram, which also had the background story attached.

The Sage repair department staff were moved by the story and decided to make an exact copy of the rod to send to Douglas. The TXL model was introduced in 2005 and is no longer in production – so Sage went out of its way to build a custom rod; including adding Dustin’s name and the date of his and his sister’s deaths.

I have a number of Sage rods – each is outstanding for its intended purpose. This story also reminded me of the outstanding men and women who people Sage.

You can read the original post here.

Sage X Fly Rod: More Casting

I had previously discussed that I had gotten to cast the Sage X (see here). At the time I had commented that I thought the rod was subtle, i.e., it wasn’t a rod that one picked up and either liked or disliked.

As it was, that comment seemed to reflect what I was reading in a number of forums. The Sage X is a fly rod that needs to be cast with varying strokes, power, and fly lines to find the magic for an individual caster. It takes a while to establish the relationship.

Since then, I’ve had a number of opportunities to cast the Sage X – particularly in 6 weight. And I will say unequivocally it’s a brilliant rod. It throws tight loops with little effort – I’ve noticed even my back casts get tighter with it. And I’ve not shot a cast over 75 feet with no hauls before.

Casting with both Intouch Rio Gold and Intouch Rio Perception, as well as the SA MPX, I think the Gold is the best all around match for it – if tossing only streamers I might lean to the MPX.

And it got me to thinking I should go back and cast the five weight again.

I’m thinking the X might be coming to me soon. Just need to sell a rod or two.

Sage X Fly Rod – First Impressions

Gig Harbor Fly Shop held a casting party last night for the new Sage X fly rod. In addition to the beer and impressively prepared hors d’oeuvres, the representatives from Sage brought a good number of X models in additions to other existing Sage rods. All rods were available for casting at nearby Skansie Park.

I’ve been casting long enough to know that it takes time to really understand how a rod performs in one’s hands (and how that may change with different fly lines). Last night provided an opportunity to cast a number of rods several times, but I don’t think the length of time was sufficient to form any final conclusions. So, consider this a set of first impressions.

I got to cast the following X models: 9’ 0” 5-weight with Rio’s Intouch Gold; the 9’ 0” 6-weight (with fighting butt) with Rio’s Coastal Quickshooter; the 9’ 6” 6-weight with Rio’s Coastal Quckshooter, and the 9’ 0” 8-weight with unknown line. In addition, I got to cast the Sage MOD 9’0” 5-weight with Rio’s Intouch Gold, Perception, and Grand.

Of all the rods tested, I really liked casting the 691 (9’0” 6 weight with fighting butt). I felt like I was having an easy time getting my timing down with it. The rod just felt right. The line shot a mile with almost no effort – though to be fair I think that was due to the new Quickshooter line, which I think I’m going to buy and replace my Rio Outbound line. The reel was the new Sage 6250 – very smart looking reel.

The 697 (9’ 6” 6-weight) was also a nice rod; easy to cast and powerful. But I would like to have cast it side by side with a 9’ 6” 6-weight Scott Radian, which is a great rod.

I can’t say much about the 9’ 0” 8-weight. I really suspect it was the fly line but I couldn’t get much of a feel casting it. And by the time I picked it up the casting area (with trees close behind) was getting crowded, with fly rods on the ground everywhere – making it difficult to put the rod through its paces.

The biggest disappointment – at least last evening – was the 9’ 0” 5-weight X. I was casting the Rio Intouch Gold, I could not get a sense of the rod. It felt light in hand, but I couldn’t get the timing down. I would like to have tried a Perception or MPX line on it. This model has gotten a lot of good reviews so I’m thinking I didn’t really see what it’s capable of doing.

The MOD testing was interesting. I liked it best with the Intouch Gold, but the Perception was nice on it too. And I think it was a much better casting rod, at least last night, than the 590 X. And for it’s moderate action, it could carry a lot of line and get some good distance.

As I finish this post, I’d have to say I think Sage has a winner in the X. But it seems to me that its capabilities are more subtle than with previous Sage rods; meaning that it’s going to take some time casting it, and adjusting one’s cast, at varying distances and with a number of different lines to find out where its magic and promise exists for the individual angler.

I plan on doing that.

Bozeman Road Trip – And R. L. Winston Rod Company Tour

Simms

My son David, and his wife Jamie and daughter Bridget moved to Bozeman Montana last Spring.

Two weeks ago I made a driving trip over to see them and their new house. A flight would have been quicker but I prefer driving and seeing the country whenever possible. And this was my first solo road trip since I got married.

Coming into Montana was a treat. It’s been about a decade since I’d been there; way too long. As I crested the Continental Divide east of Butte, I recalled it’d been 40 years that month since my first visit to Montana and Yellowstone.

I was living in Idaho Falls at the time while training at the Naval Reactors training site 40 miles west of Idaho Falls. Long, long days and not much sleep was the norm; good practice as it turned out for life later in the submarine service.

But the rotating shift schedule we worked did offer 5 consecutive days off once per month. And that gave me the time to make my first visit to Yellowstone; saw a moose in the park. Coming out on a late snowy Sunday afternoon I saw a man wading in the Madison river. That was my first time seeing someone fly fishing.

Back to the current trip.

The time in Bozeman was fun. Got to see the Simms building – the source for so much gear for so many fly fishers. Sampled the local beer and had a great meal at the Montana Ale Works. Did a quick day trip to Big Sky and West Yellowstone. And just had a wonderful time. Driving out of town I was figuring ways to stay.

Rather than heading back on the interstate, I headed southwest to drive through Ennis and Virginia City on the way to Twin Bridges. Ennis may be among the most storied fly fishing towns around and Virginia City is a historic gold mining town.

The final part of the trip was along the Ruby River, a tributary of the Beayerhead River, which joins the Big Hole River near Twin Bridges to become the Jefferson – one of the tributaries of the Missouri River.

Winston Fly Rods

I got to Winston Fly Rods about 20 minutes early for the daily 11AM tour. Winston Fly Rods sits at the southern end of Twin Bridges, Montana, which has a population of 375 per the last census (the entire county has less than 7,000 people). It was quiet except for the wind. With the rivers and mountains, I thought if you were going to choose a place to build fly rods this would be it.

I was greeted by Adam who asked if I wanted to cast any of the rods while waiting. The office was lined with all the rods in the Winston inventory. I chose the Boron III Plus in a six-weight saltwater version and took it out to the casting lawn in front. It was smooth and easy to cast both against and with the wind. Quite a change from the rod it’s replacing – the Boron III SX.

The tour started near the front of the rod building area and gave me an overview of the rod building process – stopping to indicate a door behind me where the green paint is applied that makes Winston rods so beautiful. He said he couldn’t say much about it except that it’s all proprietary and closely guarded. And later in the tour he said the green thread used for trying on the guides was also proprietary to Winston.

He showed me a rod blank after it comes out of the rolling and heating steps – it looked like the natural finish of a Scott rod. He explained why Winston believes the sanding process is required, by saying they find very small numbers of errors that can only be detected by the operator of the sanding machine. Any blank section that fails at this point is destroyed.

We walked through the various stations in the rod building process. Along the way I met a number of the Winston staff who without exception were friendly and extremely proud of the work they did. I talked to the guy who does all the repair work, the woman tying on a guide on a returned bamboo rod (she said can do all guides on a typical rod in about one hour). While she wasn’t there (it was lunch hour) Adam mentioned they have one woman who has been doing all the script work on the rod (model, weight, and serial number) for over 15 years.

We wound up in the room where final inspections are done. Adam showed me a couple of the rods that were marked for minor rework. He looked at one of the rods and saw the problem. Handing me the rod he indicated where the problem was but I couldn’t see it.

Winston has 30 employees working at the facility; in addition, they have 12 contractors in the local community who do the tying of the guides. It was clear to me everyone of those people build every Winston rod with pride and attention to detail.

I had thought going in the tour would be a quick walk through. But I spent almost 50 minutes on the tour and likely could have stayed longer if I had more questions. As I left the tour Adam invited me to come back anytime I was in the area.

I have appreciated Winston rods for some time. But this tour gave me a peek at what truly makes them exceptional – and that’s the people who put so much of themselves into building them.

And I’m going to have take another look at the Boron III Plus rod.