Fly Line Review: Airflo Ridge Tropical (Trio)

gear bagI’d read a few favorable reviews of these Airflo Ridge lines, listened to Tim Rajeff rave over their unique construction, spent an afternoon throwing pretty roll-casts at fish that never rose to the occasion, and heard the whispers about Keys guides demanding them on clients’ tarpon rods.

Immediately thereafter I threw caution to the spring breeze, called Rajeff Sports (Airflo’s exclusive N. America distributor), and convinced those folks to let me take some of their saltwater models for a spin during a somewhat hastily arranged trip to the Bahamas. The Ridge Tropical Bonefish in WF6-F and WF8-F, and the Ridge Floating Clear Tip Tropical in WF10-F, were what I got, and the lines were fished on Scott S4S’s in 6, 8 and 10 respectively.

It is a tough job, but I figured somebody’s gotta do it. And now that we have entirely dispensed with the clichés, let’s move on to more…

Castability

Airflow Ridge Lines for Saltwater

The Airflo Ridge Saltwater Trio; Photo by Rick Mikesell

The Airflo saltwater lines aren’t the first I’ve tried; in fact, I began using a Ridge Supple Tactical just a few months back on the same Scott S4S 6-weight, when fishing for carp. I was prodded into test casting that line against another of equal weight, and the first thing I noticed was the lack of stretch in the Airflo line. When throwing long casts – really trying to fire it out there (as much as a chubby bald guy who sits in an office all day writing code and crunching numbers can “fire” a line “out there”) – fly lines tend to act like rubber bands, seemingly reaching out just a bit further than intended as the cast unfolds, and then snapping back as the casting stroke changes direction. And particularly with very fast rods like the S4s. The Airflo line I benchmarked against the others, with fine empirical measurement while sipping on a Sessions Lager in the fly shop parking lot, felt a lot stiffer, a lot more snappy, and I can’t help but think that the lack of “bounce” translates into more energy directed where it counts, into the rod.

The Airflo Ridge saltwater lines acted no differently – they actually made my fly rods feel crisper – I could feel the rod loading much more distinctly. And boy o’ boy do they shoot. Those ridges that run down the length of the line are purported to reduce friction against the guides, and they work precisely as intended. When I handed my ten-weight to my boat partner one exceptionally windy day, they declared the same, as coil after coil of line disappeared off the casting deck over and over and again.

Visibility

I’d heard that some folks (including guides) had problems seeing the [bonefish] lines against light bottoms, and therefore had trouble tracking the fly against fish position. My test days came with mixed conditions, and most of the time the skies where overcast. Hence, I didn’t any difficulty seeing the line, even after five swigs from the flask. But, I did also cast into flat light and moderate crosswinds, and I find those conditions the most difficult to see lines on the water (even when the cast crashes down twenty feet in front of the boat, which in my case is the norm). Nevertheless, I didn’t have any more trouble seeing the sand-colored line that I’ve had with blue and green line shades. Now if only bonefish could see flies snagged on the back of my shirt. And sprout some wings.

The X Factor

Here’s the scenario: you are competing in some nutty fly-fishing tournament where you have to catch as many species as possible before days’ end, and there is money on the line. While drifting along this creek, pondering how badly your fellow competitors are cheating (and how to cheat even more effectively than they), you look back behind the boat and notice there is a huge barracuda trying to eat the engine prop. Now, barracudas get pretty jazzed up about shiny stuff, but this one has to be off his rocker because the prop is probably going to give him a severe case of indigestion. So, you throw him a bone, in this case a big, bushy fly. And what does this otherwise overzealous toothy critter do? Eats it…duh!

Of course, the angler on delivery end fails to crank down the drag, so when Mr. Bling decides to split Mr. Forgetful is immediately staring at a bird’s nest that would make a bald eagle envious. Most anglers would throw in the towel, reaching for their leader wallet and fly box. Airflo lines, however, are stiff, and the outer coating is tough as nails. Instead of getting knotted up the Ridge Tropical Clear Tip stays true to form, and the otherwise ill-prepared fly-fisher makes quick work of the backlash and puts a licking on the predator. The engine prop is therefore saved from harm, and everyone gets safely back to the dock.

The moral of this very true story: Airflo lines protect engine props. And they don’t tangle easily either.

Conclusions

They are less stretchy than other lines (and/or the leopard skin tights I’m wearing during the next Invitational Chickcharney All-Species Tourney), they don’t cause line-blindness on the water (but the 150 proof in the flask might still), they shoot like a 300 WinMag (without the sore shoulder afterwards), and they don’t get tangled up like the words of this reviewer.

What more could you ask?

Ok…how much did you pay for them?

Honestly, I received the lines for no charge, and under the expressed condition that I tell the world what I think about them.

So are there any negatives, or are you just pulling our leg because you got free stuff?

Sorry, but the lines are hot enough that I am now begging for more. To test that is…part of the job. Yea right. Meanwhile, there is one weakness to the Airflo Ridge lines – they are oh so slightly deficient in the brand-new, out-of-the-box, floating department. Most people would think that sucks, but having taken to greasing my fly lines to keep them riding high, it didn’t bother me too much. A few less micro-bubbles during the manufacturing process is a small price to pay for the bonafide extreme durability of the lines, and I just put a little Airflo Whizz Lube on the lines twice during a week of testing and didn’t seem to notice the issue at all.

As an aside, I did learn a little trick from my friend Frank Smethurst while out fishing with getting completely schooled by him one afternoon. A little Loon Payette Paste floatant rubbed along the length of the line’s tip and belly really makes the Airflo Ridge float like a cork, and the stuff is viscous enough that it sticks firmly between the ridges and stays put. Whizz Lube for the saltwater, Payette Paste for the fresh – I’m treating lines after just a few outings anyway.

MG signing off (because Airflo line have ridges just like Ruffles, and they’re almost as tasty)

Comments

Agreed on nearly all fronts!

What about the relative performance of the PU coating vis a vis mending inside vs. outside the wake?

Outside the wake mending is easy as pie. And no self-respecting fly-angler would dare think about mending inside the wake.

WindKnot says:

First, let me officially say thanks for this honest review. I’d thought about giving these lines a go until you mentioned the dreaded LFQ (Low Floating Quotient). (And did you say something about ‘dressing’? That goes on salads, dude.) So, I am gratefully to you, really legitimately grateful for this review. This is exactly what I want to read in gear-reviews, besides “Oh, this thing I got for free is sooooo awesome. I’m going to have [insert company name]’s children now.” So, good work.

However, I must say that the LFQ is a deal-breaker for me. See for those of us who strictly wade fish (the poor, the humble) having a floating line actually float is a HUGE deal. When you’re wading along and see a fish you usually 1) stop, 2) assess the situation and 3) pull the trailing line near you so you don’t have to drag it off the water when you cast. Now, all this takes a little time–say 30 secs. or so–which is just enough time for a line with a LFQ to sink down and catch something on the bottom (weeds, grass, coral, mangroves, crabs, mermaids, shoelaces on your ChuckTaylors, etc.). Of course, you’re completely zoned in on the bonefish so you notice none of this, having trusted that your ‘floating’ line is still, well, floating. Then, at the perfect moment you begin to make your cast only to find the line sluggish and recalcitrant. You keep going, though, fixated on the fish and finally shoot line, only to have it jump back yards short of the target because of the aforementioned fouling on the bottom. LFQ lines fill me (and folks like me) with perturbation and despair, and raise my blood-lust levels to unhealthy levels that can only be calmed with half a bottle of Appleton and a bag of ice. Do you know how expensive ice is the Caribbean? Do you?

Anyways, I suppose the main thing is to say “thank you for doing your job as a reporter/journalist/blogger” and reporting the good with the bad.

Tight lines,
WindKnot the Elder

WK,

I never had the line actually sink, and definitely not get snagged on the shallow bottom – nothing remotely close to the scenario you describe. And, I waded two days during the last SW trip, as well as use the Supple Tactical on carp often (and exclusively now) – sinking is definitely not the deal. It just looks more like a competitor’s line does after a few days of hard use – not sitting high on the surface, and with the tip dipping – out of the box.

Personally, I’d take the durability over the out-of-the-box floatation any given Sunday, as I ALWAYS wind up cleaning and lubing lines anyway.

Cheers.