“Learning from the Water” by Rene Harrop

Rene Harrop

January can be a challenge for many fly fishers across the northern latitudes.

Bitterly cold air, numbing water temperatures, shorter hours of daylight, and languid fish holding in deep pools mean few to no days on the water. With the exception of winter steelheaders, fly fishing for most in January is just not fun.

So many find ways to cope with time away from the water.

A relatively few, with time and means, fly to warmer climes and water to chase bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Others take a break from fishing and park themselves in front of big-screen televisions watching the NFL playoffs. The dedicated fly fishers spend hours at the tying bench, building and designing the flies they’ll use in the coming season.

In addition to some of the above, I use this time to read books related to fly-fishing. (I’ve only started fly tying and will need to work on that next).

In past years I’ve spent time primarily reading books on fly casting – after reflecting on weak aspects of my casting from the past year. A careful reading of Kreh, Wulff, and others gave me insights to practice casting to get ready for the days of February and March for the early hatches on the Yakima and the chum fry entering Puget Sound.

This year I decided to expand my focus to improving my skills as a fly fisher not solely as a fly caster. And that led me to Learning from the Water by Rene Harrop.

Anyone who’s ever heard of the Henry’s Fork (of the Snake River) undoubtedly has heard of Rene Harrop – a highly respected fly fisherman, fly tier, artist, conservationist and writer. He’s spent a lifetime (over 50 years) focused on this region’s fishery – a fishery of legend and difficult fishing challenges: fish that have experienced goodly fishing pressure and that shun all but expert presentation.

His book has many practical recommendations but it’s more than just that. It’s a philosophy of how to be part of the fisheries we fish, and how that connection opens our minds and souls to a respect for all forms of life.

That connection comes from observation and experience, and requires study, practice, and determination. Harrop readily acknowledges a relatively few will approach fly fishing with this determination and dedication, but for those few the rewards and joy are immeasurable.

The first five chapters have the most applicability to all fly fishers. From the introductory words to the deception needed in approaching a fish, to the fly boxes needed, to casting and the take – there are deep lessons here for those willing to pay attention.

He advocates the skills of the hunter in going after the large trout. Deception is key. A fly must be presented at the right time and in the right size or wary trout will pass on it. To this end, he carries up to 18 fly boxes in his vest during the peak season. (He does note that very few share that dedication to having that many flies available).

And not every fishery requires that many flies. Puget Sound saltwater can be fished most of the year with variations of Clouser Minnows and a few other seasonal flies. The Yakima and other local rivers can be fished with a small number of nymphs and streamers. We do not have the fishing pressure of a Henry’s Fork here.

But the same philosophy applies. Are we observing the water we fish? Do we understand the life cycles of the fish and what they feed on? If we do then we are pursuing the same path he advocates – even if we are able to get by with one small fly box in our vest or pack.

Chapters on casting and leader length follow. Presentation is a critical skill, if perhaps a bit less so on Puget Sound. Not many of us even on the Yakima would choose 14-foot leaders. But again it’s the principles that are key. Do we focus solely on the long cast, i.e., “cast to the backing”? Or do we think about the structure and how best to present our fly, even in the common blind casting we do?

One interesting thing he mentioned was that on Henry’s Fork he carries at least a 150 yards of backing for the big trout– and that’s with a 4-weight line he typically uses. Big fish and light tippet (6X) mean the fish have to run. Think about that next time you’re using 0x or 1X tippet on Puget Sound.

Chapters follow on the entire range of flies he uses during all the seasons of the year. And there is a chapter on the river guides, and how the profession of guiding has changed over the years. There is an element of wistfulness in his writing as he talks about the pioneers of guiding and the changes in places like West Yellowstone, Montana.

It’s a beautiful book, both in its writing and in its photographs. I recommend it for anyone looking for a path into the deeper aspects of fly fishing.

One thing. Rene is a Scott pro. I read a comment that someone saw Rene and his wife Bonnie last June near the Harriman State Park (Railroad Ranch) on the Henry’s Fork. He said they were both carrying Radian 5’s and Hatch Finatic 4 reels. As he noted, they can fish whatever rods they want.

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).

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.

Mother’s Day Fishing

This year was a slow start to fishing for me. Poor weather, cold, other priorities kept me out until today. I was able to get up for an early Mother’s Day visit to my local beach. As it turned out, it was an outstanding start to 2014 fishing.

I used my Scott Radian (9’6″ 6 weight) with an Airflo 40+ floating/intermediate line. As a side note, in earlier posts I had expressed some reservations about the Radian, but a bit more testing caused me to take the plunge and get one at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop.

On arrival, my favorite spot below a point was occupied by a spin caster. So I started farther down the beach in a very soft back eddy. As he moved up the beach, I followed along until I got to may spot where the current is much stronger. Not sure what he was doing as he hadn’t caught anything that I could see. But I had gotten 3-4 hits as I moved up the beach on a chum baby. I switched to a Clouser-type (size 6) and then it was like magic. I was catching searuns almost as quickly as the fly hit the water. In a very short period of time I caught and released 9 fish (smallest was five inches, most were in the six to eight in range).

I continued up the beach to the edge of the seawall, getting at least one more hit until I called it a day. But not a bad day – most fish I caught in one day.

In terms of equipment, I was using a stripping basket but still had a good deal of problems with the Airflo line, the running line tangled frequently. I should probably On the other hand, the Sage performed wonderfully. When I was in the groove the casting was easy and I could put the fly where I wanted.

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.