Sage SALT Five-Weight Review

Sage SALT

Most anglers looking for a fly rod for Puget Sound saltwater fishing typically start with a six-weight. The thinking is that it’s a good all-purpose line weight to handle most of the year’s fishing: from Sea Run Cutthroat Trout to Pink Salmon (in odd number years) and smaller Silvers (Coho). Chum salmon, however, require an eight-weight or better fly rod.

I started with a six-weight Winston BIII-SX. Beautiful as all Winston rods are, but it was stiff and heavy. Even worse was its big brother in eight-weight. Both soon found their way to eBay. After trying many rods (and I mean many – sometimes going back to an earlier candidate), I wound up with a great six-weight: the Scott Radian. It meets all the requirements for a good all-purpose rod for Washington. In addition to Puget Sound saltwater, I think it’d be a great rod to take over to the Yakima.

But it’s still a six-weight and I had been thinking I wanted a five-weight for Puget Sound. The truth is that most of the year’s fishing is for Sea Run Cutthroat Trout. Salmon season is four or five months long at best. And last year was a bust as no one had much luck with all the Coho that should have been coming in.

So I wanted the lighter-weight fly rod that would provide a bit more fishing fun with the smaller fish, but still land them quickly to make sure they weren’t exhausted when released. Lucky for me at about this time Sage had released its new SALT fly rod in line weights 5 to 16. it was the replacement for the well-regarded Xi3.

Gig Harbor Fly Shop’s writeup of the rod (here) convinced me, so after test casting the rod in nearby Skansie Brothers Park, I brought one home.

It is a sweet rod, from the beautiful dark sapphire color of the blank to the always excellent cork Sage uses, to the anodized aluminum up-locking reel seat and rubber fighting butt. One thing I thought was very useful, particularly if one gets the SALT in a number of weights, was the laser-etched rod weight on slide band.

The rod itself weighs 3 11/16 ounces. What’s interesting is that i think it feels and casts like a much lighter weight rod.

The tip response is fast but loading the rod further down the blank seems to be a more moderate action. Sage has said the tip provides the quick shots required in tropical saltwater fishing while the rest of the blank provides the action to go after longer range targets. Who am I to disagree? All I know is that it’s a fun rod to cast.

I did start casting it with a Rio Outbound Short, but found the casts and loops were too ragged for me. I switched to a full length Rio Outbound and everything settled out.

One thing to note is that Rio no longer offers the full length Outbound Floating / Intermediate in five-weight (the Outbound full floating is still sold in five weight). I went looking on eBay and was able to get a couple of the lines. Hopefully Rio will introduce a new line soon to replace the WF5F/I.

This feels like a rod that will be a good companion for many years to come. And while it may not work for dry flies, it can probably toss a streamer on the Yakima or in Montana (as Blake mentioned in his writeup).

To Buy a Spey Rod Means Actually Having to Spey (Cast) One

Farbank Spey Day

The latest newsletter from the Gorge Fly Shop has a blog post on a recent Farbank (Sage, Rio, Reddington) Spey Day held in Bend, Oregon on March 22nd, 2015. John Garrett, one of their Product Specialists, noted that it’s much easier talking with customers who’ve actually cast a rod than someone is mired in YouTube videos and online reviews – and having no actual experience with the rod(s) they ask about. He tells of his experience with a customer who had called fly shops all over the country and was frustrated by all the conflicting opinions; said customer had actually never gone into any local fly shops and tested any rods.

I confess – I’ve been guilty of that too (too many times in my life). Given life working in a corporate cube, it’s often easier to surf the web and get absorbed in product reviews and videos than going down to the fly shop after work or on weekends and putting cork in one’s hands.

And it’s not just Spey Casting or fly fishing. I was in a bike shop once (actually testing and buying a bike). The owner said he had these kids continually coming in with the latest issue of some bicycle-related magazine. They’d spend hours discussing and asking him about gear ratios, frame geometry and the like. He said to me, “I always tell them…why don’t you just go out riding.”

You can read the blog post here.

George Cook on Your First Spey Rod

spey casting

Blake Merwin, owner of Gig Harbor Fly Shop, had a conversation with George Cook – the outstanding Pacific Northwest representative for Sage – about Spey rods.

Any discussion about Spey rods and Spey casting can soon sound like a foreign language for single-handed fly casters thinking about picking up two-handed casting. Blake ignored the complexities of head lengths, grain weights, and T14 and asked George three simple questions: would a switch rod be a good rod for learning to Spey cast (the short answer is no); what should someone new to Spey look for in a first rod; and what’s the best rod for local anglers looking for a do-it-all Spey rod for Washington waters (13′ 6″ – 7 or 8 weight).

You can read the interview here.

Gink & Gasonline: Giving Scott Some Love

Gink & Gasoline has praise for Scott Fly Rods – discussing the new Scott Tidal and the Bamboo SC rods in a video interview with Jim Bartschi, Scott Fly Rods President and their chief designer.

I’ve cast the Tidal on the lawn – very smooth and easy casting. I’m still considering adding an 8-weight for local salmon and that’s in the running with the Scott S4s. I’ll let you know what I decide.

You can hear the interview here.

A Question of Balance: The Rod’s Butt Section

Beginners to fly fishing read, or are told, that a rod and reel should be a balanced outfit. That is further amplified by the instruction that each should be of the same weight – so a reel made for an X weight line should be used with a rod built for a X weight line.

Then as the fly fisher continues in the sport, another consideration emerges – the feel of the rod in hand, i.e., the notion of a rod being tip heavy or butt heavy due to the relationship of the physical weights of the rod and reel (particularly the latter).  Common sense thinking is that a heavier reel doesn’t work with a lighter rod – creating a butt-heavy combination, or a light reel with a heavier weight rod becoming too tippy.  And this doesn’t even get into the arcane discussion of whether the balance test should be done with line on the reel or how much line should be stripped off to measure the balance. Or the even more esoteric static balance versus dynamic balance (balance during actual casting).

I came across an even more interesting twist on all of the above.  I had mentioned in a previous post that I had been doing some testing of rods and lines, both to test fly lines and potentially finding a replacement for a BIII-SX (read here).

One of the interesting things I discovered during the testing was the way in which the rod’s butt section affected my perception of the rod. I was casting a Scott Radian 9’ 6” 6wt. I had a Hatch Finatic 5 on it, loaded with a Rio Outbound 6-weight line.  When picking up the rod I found myself thinking it felt clunky and unbalanced.  It was noticeable though somewhat less during the casting.

I then picked up a Winston BIIIX (also a 9’ 6” 6wt) and put on the Hatch reel. It had a less clunky feel though I could feel the weight of the reel. The weight was apparent but it felt better. Casting was no problem.

I then disassembled the rod and took the reel off. I closed my eyes and had both butt sections given to me. It was noticeably obvious that the Radian’s butt section is much heavier than the Winston.

I’ve not been able to find any published rod weights on the Radian yet, but feel in hand suggest the overall rod weight is about the same range as a BIIIX or Helios 2. In looking at the rod butt lengths they are all approximately the same length (some differences in blank length

A visual and tactile inspection of the Scott leads me to think the reel seat itself is heavier than the other rods. Given its position in the rod it has a more noticeable affect than weight spread along the rods length (say from the weight of heavier guides).

I put a lighter weight Galvan Torque on the Radian (with all four sections assembled) and the rod felt right in hand. Casting was easy and the Radian is a terrific rod.

After all of the above, is there some mystery of the universe (or of fly fishing) revealed?

Of course not. The only thing to be relearned is that all of the received wisdom and technical specifications are meaningless in the face of actual experience.  True of fly fishing – or life.

The Alchemy of Fly Rods and Fly Lines: Rethinking the BIII-SX

I’ve been out in my backyard over the last few days to do some practice casting and continue my evaluation of a few fly lines. It’s been sunny and relatively warm (high 50s), something that’s not going to last, with rain and wind coming tomorrow.

This time out has reminded me that much like ancient alchemists, we seek our own philosopher’s stone of mixing rod and reel to create fly fishing gold. Unfortunately, sometimes we wind up with lead.

I’ve been using my Winston BIII-SX (9’ 6” 6 weight) for this practice. In addition, I’m using the time to decide if I should keep it or sell it on eBay. I’ve had mixed feelings about the Winston BIII-SX since I got it.

It was my second Winston (my first was a 9’ 5 weight BIIIX). The BIIIX was, and is, a joy to cast. But after moving over here to Gig Harbor, I decided to spend more time focused on beach fishing for sea-run cutthroat trout and resident Coho. That meant a 6-weight in 9’ 6”. And I chose the BIII-SX as I thought it’d give me a bit of heft for the bigger Coho’s as well as being a stronger performer than the BIIIX on the steeper beaches in wind.

Initially I was excited with the BIII-SX as it was a Winston. The line choice recommended by the Gig Harbor Fly Shop was a great match: the Airflo 40+ Floating/Intermediate. Initial casting was somewhat easy and fun (if by no means as fun as with the BIIIX). The rod weight was more noticeable and at shorter line lengths it did feel more like a club than a fly rod. I’ll confess and say I hadn’t cast it before I bought it – dumb me.

So I might have just consoled myself that it was a Winston and kept on using the AirFlo 40+, except for two things.

The first was that I wanted to go with floating lines for casting some beach poppers, and that’s when I started to see the BIII-SX had some major issues with its dependency on lines. I first got a Rio Outbound (OB) Floating in 6 weight. I figured the 37.5 foot head would cast approximately like the the Airflo with its 35-foot head (though the Airflo is heavier at 261 grains versus 240).

It did take some practice to get my casting down with the OB, but once I did I was hitting around the 70 foot mark as with the Airflo. Shorter casts were doable – but as with the Airflo – without any feel. For both lines it seems I needed to have at least 30 feet of line out – making approximately a 50 foot cast the minimum for the BIII-SX.

I then got the Outbound Short (OBS) Floating in 6-weight and put that on. I thought the compact head (30 feet versus 37.5 for the OB) would load the rod better. The OBS was almost as heavy as the full length OB (235 versus 240 grains).

But all the theory was irrelevant. The rod never really seemed to come alive; heavy and unresponsive. I have a sense a 7 weight OBS might work better. But that points to the problem with the BIII-SX series: I they are all actually at least one rod weight higher.

Late last year I had also tried casting the BIII-SX in 8 weight with an 8 weight OB and it was like casting a broom stick. The rod wouldn’t load at all. Even when putting a 9 weight OB on it was not much better. I’m guessing it’s at least 1.5 – 2 weights heavier than stated. Winston blew it with this series.

Then there is the other thing – how the BIII-SX compared to casting other rods. I’ve had the chance to cast the Orvis Helios 2 Tip Flex, Sage One, and the Scott Radian.

They were all superior to the BIII-SX, at least for me. I didn’t like the Sage One in a 9-foot as it’s too stiff too, but it was still better than the BIII-SX (and much lighter).

The Scott was definitely a fast rod, but I was able to feel it at distances less than 30 feet, while at longer distances I could feel the power and speed of the rod. It was a different casting experience than a Winston and while it’s a very fine rod, the thicker grip was something that felt uncomfortable. A person’s muscle memory sure plays a part in evaluating a new rod. If I had a couple of weeks to cast it to get used to the grip I might change my mind. Adding it to the list for future consideration.

The Helios 2 was the best of three as far as I was concerned on this day of testing – easy to cast at all distances. Feel wasn’t great at short distances; it was sort of there but not as noticeable as the Radian. At longer distances, there was feel and control. The only problem I noticed was that with longer casts, I had to work a bit – more than with the Radian. So not perfect, but very close. It’s definite candidate to replace the BIII-SX.

After all of the above, I’ve come to see the BIII-SX is a much more specialized rod than an all-around rod. Maybe that’s what Winston intended it for – heavy flies in heavy winds at distance where feel and easy casting are not part of the equation. That narrow use may make it a standby rod, but not the first choice for many trips around here where sea runs and Coho are closer to the beach.

Maybe eBay will be getting a listing soon. But I think I’ll get some time on a BIIIX first. I may have just made a bad decision based on moving away from a rod series I like a great deal. And maybe take another look at both the Helios 2 and the Radian.

Lawn Casting the Scott Radian

I had an opportunity to take a 9’ 6” 6-weight Scott Radian out for a bit of lawn casting. Based on the buzz I’d read about it being a “fast rod with feel”, I had high expectations for it. After approximately one hour of casting, I thought it was a really nice rod, but I don’t think I would sell the rods I have just to buy it. I still think the Orvis Helios 2 is a better casting rod at distance; and within about 50 – 60 feet, I’d give the edge to the Winston BIIIX.

All the testing was done with a Rio Outbound 6wt Floating and a 7-foot practice leader.

I started with about 10 feet of line out. Pickup and lay down casts were easy. I could feel the line (lightly it’s true but still feel it). It was something I could never feel with that amount of line with either a Sage One or Winston BIII-SX.

I stripped off another 10 – 15 feet of line and the tip started loading more, making casting easy and fun. I stripped more line until it I had about 55 feet of line out. False casting (without stripping) was simple. The rod was loading more and I could really begin to feel how fast a rod it was. Same thing when I added a haul or two.

And I think that’s when it lost its luster for me. It wasn’t the rod as much as me not really liking the fast feel at longer distances. I’ve cast enough to know I don’t like rods that feel like broomsticks to me. If I had to rank the order of broomstick feel of faster rods I’ve cast, I’d say the Sage One was easily the stiffest and the one I liked least. Between the Radian and BIII-SX it’s a bit of a tossup, but based on memory, I think – at least in 6 weight – the BIII-SX is stiffer.

I think I like rods that are a bit slower – the so-called “medium fast” rods like the Orvis Helios 2 (Tip flex) and Winston BIIIX rods. Of course, that’s just me. If I had a chance to cast the Radian for a longer period and got used to its speed I might change my mind.

If you like faster rods with a bit of feel, particularly ones made in the USA by our fellow citizens, then I think the Scott Radian would be a terrific choice.

Oasis “Lazy Susan” Fly Tying Organizer

Oasis Lazy Susan

After I took an introductory class on fly tying at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop, purchasing fly tying materials and tools became the obsession. It became almost immediately clear there would be a need to find someplace to put “stuff”, to borrow the metaphor from George Carlin’s brilliant comic routine.

The material was easy – I have a few organizer plastic boxes I got at Target. In them go the feathers, hair, flash, eyes, and hooks. Easily stacked, translucent, and able to be stored in a drawer.

The bigger issue was tools. I didn’t want to have to put everything in a box or bag and have to pull everything each time it was time to tie. In addition, I thought keeping the tools and vise on display would serve as a reminder to get tying; and would make my desk look like a little bit of a fly shop.

After seeing what was available, I decided on Oasis Fly Tying Benches’ The Lazy Susan. Compact (8 inches by 8 inches by 9 inches tall), with room for a lot of things in little bit of space, the small bench is perfect for someone who needs a small footprint on a desk or work area.
This is a two-layer platform – the top for tools, the bottom for spools and other materials. The platform attaches to the base via a metal ball bearing roller, making rotation of the unit very smooth and easy. I like that feature.

The top platform has 24 holes for tool storage – scissors, bobbins, bodkins, bobbin threaders, and anything else. My only criticism is I wish a few of the holes were a bit larger for bigger scissors or forceps, but it’s only a small nit.

The bottom layer has 12 brass rods (that you install yourself – so you have to be a bit careful to get them all at the same height) making space for 24 spools of thread or other material. There are large holes around the lower layer, providing room for glues, hair stackers, etc. The only problem I’ve found so far is that my Zap-a-Gap bottle is too large for the medium holes and too small for the large holes, so it tends to fall over if I spin the unit.

In addition, there is a hook to hang hackle pliers and a foam insert for bodkins. And there is a magnetic patch on the lower layer for hooks and razors.

For me, it’s about perfect.

You can find it at a number of online retailers or directly from Oasis. I’ve found prices vary a bit, but it’s basically around $90. You can order it from Oasis here.

Sling Packs

The fly fishing vest has been the garment that for decades marked someone as a fly fisher. Originally made of cotton canvas, the short-waisted vest with its many pockets was as distinctive as the fly rod and reel.

Over time, the hot canvas vests gave way to lighter, cooler vests made of nylon fabric or mesh. But for many, the vests were still confining or tended to induce carrying too much for a day’s fishing.

Recent years have seen the increasing use of waist packs or sling packs, with the vest, if still owned, relegated to the back of a closet. I gave mine away.

Most of the gear manufacturers have sling packs. Over the last few years I’ve spent time, and money, trying packs from Orvis, Patagonia, and Simms (pre 2014 models).

I found the Simms pack the least comfortable and useful to me. It was more like a waist pack with a sling, rather than a true sling pack. Simms is revamping their line for 2014 and a true sling pack appears to be coming. From what few pictures I’ve seen it looks rather interesting.

Patagonia’s Stealth Atom Sling is an interesting pack that has good size, a water bottle carrier, drop down hard pocket and a nice waterproof internal sleeve. I liked this pack though it has a few quirks I didn’t care for. There is a small padded pocket on the neck strap that has no utility that I can find – too small for sunglasses or a cell phone. The pack itself has a number of places to clip on forceps and other tools. I like things put away so I don’t knock them off – and have done that with forceps on more than one occasion.

Patagonia Stealth Atom

And that brings me to my current favorite sling pack: the Orvis Safe Passage Sling Pack. It has two features I really like and make it stand out for me: it has a sleeve forceps on the neck strap; in addition, there’s a sleeve for pliers on the main bag. Both sleeves are secured with magnetic closures. The pack has two pockets that enable me to carry all that I need and not more. It doesn’t have a water bottle pocket (the large Guide Sling does), but I can work around that. And it doesn’t have a waterproof inner sleeve; I bought a waterproof sleeve and that takes care of that need.

Orvis Sling Pack

Give one of them a try.

Retooling the Rod Inventory: Considering the Orvis Helios 2 8-Weight

Orvis Helios 2 8 Weight

I’ve had a long affection and appreciation for Winston rods. For years I admired the reputation and mystique of the Winston brand. I’ve owned a 5 weight BIIIX for over three years that I used on the Cedar and Yakima rivers. I loved its beautiful green color, the build quality, the soft tip that allowed flies to gently fall on the rivers, and its general fishing ability.

When I started fishing in the saltwater fisheries of Puget Sound, anticipating the wind, I jumped on what was then the newly released faster BIII-SX in a 9’ 6” 6 weight. I liked casting the rod and found it a bit stiffer than the BIIIX but nonetheless a fine fishing rod.

A six-weight rod is more than enough rod for the sea run cutthroat trout and resident Coho salmon of Puget Sound. But I wanted to go after the migrating cousins (Coho/silvers and pinks) and that meant an 8-weight.

Given it was saltwater fishing my immediate and obvious conclusion was the BIII-SX in a 9-foot 8 weight. I got a chance to do more than a bit of lawn casting with it and…I really didn’t like it.

I tried casting it with a Rio Outbound Short (8-weight); a Rio Outbound (8 weight); and an Airflo 40+ (9 weight). It was an exasperating experience. I didn’t feel as I could get the road to load for me in a way I would have expected with an 8 weight. I tried varying my cast in stroke length, timing, and power application. Nothing I did made me feel like I was getting to the Winston sweet spot I could find with the 6-weight.

I was disappointed. It may have been the rod in that weight is too fast for my casting abilities. I’ve begun working on my double haul and sometimes get a rough approximation of one. So, I certainly think that my technique needs improvement. But still, I started to think I was too restricted in my thinking about rod brands.

Not really ever feeling love for Sage rods, which may be blasphemy for someone living in Washington, I decided to check out Orvis – after reading a lot of the buzz over the last year or so about the Helios 2.

I was first able to get my hands on a 9’ 6” 6 weight (saltwater with fighting butt). If nothing else, I figured I could get a feel for how the at least one rod in the series casts and fishes.

My first impression was that it was lighter that the BIII-SX in the same weight¬ – turns out it was half an ounce, and I was surprised I could feel the difference. While I was checking the 6 weight differences, I looked and found the Helios was over an ounce lighter in 8-weight (for the 9 foot rod).

It’s not the beautiful Winston green, but a refined midnight blue; . The reel seat is attractive with a skeleton frame surrounding what is advertised as woven graphite; it’s good looking! (I did see the rod tube, and well…to each his own).

Enough about aesthetics. How did it cast?

Well and this was almost not a surprise given the praise heaped on it by most of the reviews I’ve read, it was a great casting rod. Light in hand and light in swing. I found it easy to shoot line; at the same time it was easy to accurately cast with only several feet of line and leader beyond the rod tip.

Comparing rods, even when switching back and forth between my BIII-SX and the Helios 2, is always subjective based on perception as much as observation of casts. But I’m prepared to say that I liked casting the Helios 2 much more than the BIII-SX. I had the sense my casts were straighter and more confident than with the BIII-SX.

Of course, not all rods in a series are the same. Often one-rod weight and length will be terrific; then moving up or down to another weight and it’s difficult to believe they are from the same series – as I noted with the BIII-SX above.

But I’ve found the rod I want to look at for my 8-weight. If it casts anywhere near as well as the 9’ 6” 6-weight, the crew from Vermont will be getting my business.

And now what to do about the 6-weight?

Money not growing on trees or being the latest lottery winner, it’s difficult to conceive of having two premium rods of the same weight and length. And even a justification of having a backup when a rod needs repair (as I had with a broken tip on the BIII-SX this summer) is a bit of a stretch.

So I’ll keep the BIII-SX for now and get the Helios 2 in 8-weight. After that, something may be going on sale on eBay. And more important, I need to get some additional casting coaching and instruction.