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Michael Gracie

The Little Scott Radian 753/4 That Could

gear bagIn early 2013 I received a package. The note within said “play casually with the contents, and if you find the time drop us a few words summarizing your thoughts”. So yours truly delivered back some long-winded blather a dissertation, finely detailed results of functionality testing across a myriad of conditions. The subject of the study was a generic nine-foot five that would later become the infamous Scott Radian. Breaking the non-disclosure agreement was an afterthought.

Then the inquiries began. “What if you built this same rod in a three-weight, say sub-eight feet?” “Hey, any thoughts on a 3-weight Radian?” “Don’t you think a Radian Three would be the coolest?”

YOURS TRULY: Man, a fast-action rod with this kind of sensitivity, this tippet-protection, seems perfectly suited for a light-line … uh um … three-weight rod, eh?

ANYONE WITH THE FACTORY’S NUMBER IN THEIR PHONE: Jeezus, will you shut the hell up about that already?!

I will now.

Now will you? Please?

What should a three-weight be able to do? First off, keep 6x-8x tippet intact. Add covering ten to twenty feet with minimal effort. Plus, make do with small flies on standard leaders. But what if it the angler wielding it could also stretch to twice that distance, entice the bite with fluffy terrestrial patterns, and tangle with fish bigger than a six-inch Colorado River cuttie?

“We thought you would leave us alone.”

Fat chance.

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Gear Review: Smith Optics Elite Tactical Sunglasses

gear bagSitting at a lunch meeting, my colleague squints and rubs their eyes.

“Peeps bugging you?” I ask.

“Yea, it’s these damn sunglasses. Every time I drive for more than a few hours with them on my eyes get really tired.”

“Hmm … are they polarized?”

“Yep.”

As a fisherman, I’d come to wearing polarized sunglasses almost exclusively. Every place, every day, and experienced the same, worn, tired eyes after prolonged face time. But I was loathe to seek an alternative, likely requiring I give up the matte-finish, full-coverage frames I’d grown accustomed to.

Smith Elite Tactical Sunglasses

Full frame AND maximum impact resistance

Aww, scratch all that bullshit above. After the jump comes the real reason I switched to these sunglasses (spoiler: it ain’t because I got a “hookup”) …

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A year with click and pawl: the Abel Classic Series

gear bag“What do you mean they don’t have a disk drag? How are you going to stop the fish?!”

Abel Spey and Switch ReelsIn the good old days, fly anglers didn’t rely on technology; it was mano y mano, the sportman’s grit and determination against the quarry’s fight for life. Then fishing folks got breathable rain gear, bear-proof beer coolers, and heated leather seats, along with disc drags pilfered from the Porsche 911 GT3. Enhancing skill, through experience, gave way to buying competitive advantage. Still, the spey casting community waxes nostalgic every chance possible (even more so than the average fly-fisher, accelerating after a whiskey drink), and Abel Reels answered the call by taking off the training wheels.

The Abel Classic series are adjustable pawl click reels designated for the two-handed fly rod angler. Built with extreme durability and simplicity in mind, they are nearly impervious to damage from everyday river abuse, and are so short on parts that mechanical failure means first getting run over by a tank. Constructed of 6061-T651 cold finished aerospace-grade aluminum with stainless steel internals, they are a breeze to keep fit – push the stealthy release lever to pull off the spool and voila’…barely any parts. The entire reel consists of twenty-one pieces, less than a handful of which are removable, or even moveable. There just isn’t much that can go wrong.

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As Fly Rods Go, Something Wicked This Way Comes: Introducing the Scott Radian

gear bagA couple of months back I was informed there was a parcel headed my way. Instructions were to mess around with the contents of said package, form opinions regarding how much entertainment value was derived from the item within, and report back to the sender. I was told that my very thoughts would become the tangible owner’s property and under absolutely no circumstances was I to publicly herald my rumination.

The plain brown box was propped against my front door. Around a meter long, and four by four, it contained the latest incarnation of precision graphite from Scott Fly Rod Company. I vaguely recall being given tacit authorization to discuss the rod’s characteristics with friends and work colleagues, and seeing as I was three shots into a twelve shot party when the orders were given they are the only ones who read this blog anyway, I figured what the heck…

Scott Fly Rod Test Grounds

Fleeting glimpse of stealth prototype. Location: Area 51

Eschewing Obfuscation

The nine-foot five-weight was packed for trips to State X and State Y, but I kept thinking I’d forgotten it. This enigmatic rod felt almost weightless in the hand, and yet easily handled roll and water loading two-fly rigs with large wool indicators, from 25 to 50 feet of line, in moderate to heavy winds. In often fast and twisting flows, mends were weaved that would make Joseph Jacquard head back to the drawing board; barely a flick of the wrist would have line hopping off the water in any direction I wanted. Tankers were frequently hooked, yet even when they fought their way downstream in heavy water the rod showed it had the guts to haul them back to my feet. It muscled big fish like it was formed from stainless steel.

Later, during a furious hatch of BWOs sized more like gray drakes, the rod turned over ultra-fluffy dries on 10-foot leaders with less than half that length in line hanging off the tip; I could literally feel the #10 Whatchamacallits twisting and turning in the wind on their way to the intended targets. Then the fish would eat, I’d set, and the rumble would begin. Those feeding up top weren’t big, but they were feisty, and prior to tap-out I could sense every headshake, change of direction, and move to order yours truly another Macallan Sherry Oak perform aerial acrobatics. The rod seemed to morph from wrecking crane to semolina angel hair, making even ten-inch fish a hoot to bring in.

Adjudication

A more enjoyable stick to fish I’d be hard pressed to find. Roll casts, overhead casts, single-handed spey tricks – I found nothing it couldn’t do. Nary a tippet was popped, yet I found the rod possessed brutally efficient hook-setting prowess. And did I mention it mends like an Ermenegildo Zegna tailor after consuming a gallon of Red Bull? That’s a quality nearly impossible to find in modern fast-action fly rods, and probably the subject’s highlight feature.

Of course, this new lineup, purported to be named The Wicked Radian, isn’t yet available – the rumor is sometime in the next month. I’ll probably get kicked off the SDSTSTC (Scott Double Super Top Secret Testing Crew) after exercising my loose lips as though training for the next Olympics, so feel free to ask questions as I am a shoe-in for the curling team anyway.

MG signing off (because sometimes keeping your big mouth shut just isn’t any fun)

FTC Disclosure: This product arrived on the above mentioned doorstep as a loaner, and will be returned to the rightful owner at some future date.

Kitchen Sink Will Travel: The Fishpond Westwater Sling Pack

gear bagSearch the patent office database and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of inventions that are guaranteed to help you catch more fish. Most have never made it to market, because fish are infinitely smarter than anglers.

I’m one of the dummies, but I do think the most marketable incarnations are the ones that make life easy for the fly fisher, like allowing he or she to travel in comfort and convenience; to carry all those useless fly fishing implements with ease. Do that and shops will sell more of the needless things; prosperity reigns supreme. If it’s water-resistant, you don’t soak the camera when you tumble into the river – you hence catch those background images you desperately need for the hero-shot Photoshop jobs – again, victory. Finally, make it extra spacious, and the roadside burrito cart vendor wins too. If you add all of these elements together someone might accuse you of conducting espionage at some top-secret military installation. Or just being the designer of the Fishpond Westwater Sling Pack.

Fishpond Westwater Sling PackBuild quality

If I knew exactly what technique Fishpond used to weld the seams on the Westwater Sling, you probably wouldn’t care anyway. Let’s leave the techno-babble to those geeky marketing types who are clueless as to what actually matters, and just say those seams are welded tight, look great, and feel like they don’t exist at all.

While Fishpond doesn’t bill the Sling as “waterproof” – they opt for “water resistant” – the Sling was clearly built to keep the wet stuff out. I spilled a half can of beer on it, and splashed it with water to clean it off. When I unzipped it to grab another beer, all was nice and dry on the inside. What more proof does an angler need?

The Westwater Sling is contructed of 1680d TPU fabric i.e. very tightly-weaved with a thermoplastic polyurethane laminate. It should be very tough, and nearly waterproof. I loaded it up for numerous trips, did some bush whacking, carelessly tossed it on gnarly rocks, and threw it in a river. Much to my dismay, the Sling took this abuse in stride. After that, I emptied the pack, carted it into the backyard, and stomped all over it while watching South Park re-runs on my mobile timesuck device. The pack lived, and could still hit the blacktie charity circuit.

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New toy immediately reveals it’s a very useful (and versatile) tool

ca·pit·u·late
verb,
– Cease to resist an opponent or an unwelcome demand; surrender.
Synonyms: surrender, give in, yield, submit, succumb

It has been described as evolution, but like most things preached in repetition the more I heard it the more aggressive I became with rejection efforts. At its core it is part of the genre of steelhead and salmon fishing, and at first (and second, and third) blush the idea of downsizing the product for alternative applications seemed like nothing more than marketing flight of fancy.

Finally, sick and tired of the bunk, I undertook the battle to shut the kook-aid drinkers up once and for all. The wallet was opened…

Two-handed tools

The Scott T3h 1106/4 with an Abel Switch reel

To handicap my effort, I used this preconceived blatant waste of my hard-earned dollars to indicator nymph a crowded, didymo-laden tailwater, the source of which had turned over and bled the flow St. Patrick’s Day green. The narrow passage, the thick brush, and the overhanging tree limbs would be my friends. Then, several unexpected things happened…

I chucked heavy rigs ridiculously long distances with next to zero effort. I changed direction mid-cast, with nary a single snag from behind. The rig never once tangled. Finally, I caught fish, albeit few, and yet walked back to the truck with a smile on my face usually reserved for trophy days.

Swinging fat streamers with sinking tips is a foregone conclusion, and while I don’t envision these spey/switch tactics being ultimately useful in pure sight-fishing situations, I do excogitate toting this rig for virtually every other.

Hence, I admit defeat. To those I fought, please accept my sincerest apologies.

MG signing off (because if you can’t beat ’em, just pick up a two-handed fly rod)

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…

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The Redington/RIO Summer Vacation Package

gear bagA while back someone near and dear picked fun at the fact that I take care of my fly-fishing gear. I described how I wipe down my rods after each outing. They snickered. How I let my reels air dry in the office. They chuckled. That I occasionally clean my lines with a soft, wet sponge. They laughed out loud.

“I don’t ever leave my rigs in the truck over night.”

Cue tumble on the floor, in tears.

You spend a great deal of money on your fly-fishing gear, so I think you should take care of it. Some folks, however, don’t think you actually need to spend that much money on your equipment, nor give it a polish each time it gets within a 100 feet of water. And we are about to find out if they are right.

Introducing the Redington/RIO Summer Vacation Package…

The Redington/Rio Summer Vacation Package

Will it survive? Only a summer will tell.

Mysterious (yet very useful) bundles do at times arrive on my doorstep after I beg like a spoiled child behind closed doors, but this delivery was wholly arranged in advance. It starts with a Redington Torrent 9′ 7-weight, 4-piece, a fine looking stick in shiny, semi-translucent green. Said rod is paired with a Redington Delta 7/8 reel in “smoke” color, and wrapped within is a hefty helping of Rio Grand WF-7-F. Total retail value is just shy of $550. No bad for a setup that could easily be used on salty flats. But it’s going someplace much worse.

We are going to call this a break from tender loving care. A test of value proposition. Or simply the summer of abuse. I’m betting I’ll destroy this equipment in short order; meanwhile the folks at Farbank (Redington & RIO’s parent company) are going all in that the gear will still be pristine operating condition when I return it to them. I won’t purposely try and break anything, but I will let it bake in the truck, won’t clean a thing, may occasionally will often set it on a pile of rocks instead of laying it gently in the grass, and will otherwise fish it as hard as possible. With heavy tippets. For carp. In the urban South Platte drainage and nearby environs.

I’d say odds right now are even, but we all know the target species clearly has the upper hand in this game of precision and skill unadulterated dumb luck – let’s hope this setup is smart, because we know the angler wielding it needs a whole lotta help. Intermittent reports on the rig’s perform and condition will follow, including but not limited to a repetitively photoshopped pic of the carp I catch this season.

MG signing off (to call on the cyprinid wrecking crew)

Probably Zombie Proof Too: The Fishpond Nimbus Guide Pack

gear bagYears ago I decided I didn’t want anything hanging off my shoulders besides the dreadful burden of catching fish. So I shed the vest in favor of a waist pack, caught more fish, and consumed more 7-11 Big Bites (which are a great dawn patrol breakfast treat, until you try wiping the dribbled mustard off your shirt while hauling down an elk-strewn road in the pitch black). Soon after I wondered why my pack’s waist straps started shrinking.

Back and forth I went, vest to pack, pack to vest, until I found what I thought was the ultimate fly-fishing accoutrement storage, the ole’ Mountainsmith Tour. I ran with it, touting its utility, relishing in its capacity…while secretly pissing and moaning about all the straps dangling from it, and finally settling on it being perpetually slung over my shoulder because it was so difficult to spin around for access when lashed over my hips. Yes, purpose defeated.

Fishpond Nimbus Guide PackWhat did I really want in a fly-fishing waist pack? Lots of capacity…lots! And the fewer compartments the better – one biggie accessible from the top would be supreme. Ace the custom features otherwise designed for holding floatant, dry shake, and pliers – all the things that either wind up in a shirt pocket or don’t get carried in at all. Easy in/out access for big C&F boxes, and wide hip padding so I didn’t have to split myself in two to keep the loaded pack from hitting my ankles. Go minimal “strappage” (otherwise designed for Everest expedition participants). Let’s also throw in excess room, after the stones, terrestrials, dries, nymphs and beads extra dries, for a can of bear spray Guinness.

I queried the innermost reaches of my feeble mind for clues as to why the fly-fishing industry couldn’t produce such an accessory, and concluded they just didn’t listen, just didn’t care, were focused on the almighty dollar, and that I was the sole anal retentive in a world of magnanimous, wholly satisfied anglers. Then one day early last fall I woke up a package arrived on my doorstep. Contained within was suspension of disbelief, and I immediately checked the gear closet for electronic surveillance devices. Would this thing actually go to market, or was it just a cruel joke? My suspicions were unfounded – it was real, and the answer to my prayers – the zombie antidote I ordered online after watching Resident Evil too many times Fishpond Nimbus Guide Pack.

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Long-Term Rod Review: Scott S4S 906/4

gear bagI’ve pulled off a few half-fast rod reviews in the past, only to find some quirk down the road that made me dislike the stick. And go looking for something new. Hence, this review is long term, as I’ve owned the Scott S4S 906/4 for better than eighteen months now.

As rods go, I’ve pared down my quiver considerably in the past few years. The goal: update my rigs while making them serve multiple duties. Let’s face it, premium fly rods are a significant investment—when you plow money into a business venture, you look for multiple revenue streams, so why not look to use your expensive fly rods for multiple situations and multiple species? Over the last year and a half I’ve spent more time with Scott’s saltwater six than any other rod I own. And as a result, I will likely spend more time with it going forward… than any other rod I own.

Scott S4s fly rodThe S4S 906/4 is my go-to carp rod, loaded with (what else?) a Rio Carp. It’s the only rod I use for bass, slinging a Rio Bass. I use it for trout too, when ugly meat is required, on the end of a 200gr SA Streamer Express. And I’ve watched my flats-guide-for-a-day whip an entire Rio Bonefish (that’s a hundred feet, by the way) out with a swift wind smacking him straight in the face. He wouldn’t let me cast the stick off his boat, and after it was in his hands he wouldn’t give it up either—this was advanced casting lesson time, so I just thanked him for the instruction. And tucked my 8-weight between my legs.

As far as the rod fit and finish goes, everything is built just as precisely as the Scott S4s 908/4 I reviewed last year. And it looks exactly the same too, so you can take a look at pictures here. I acquired this puppy after inquiring directly to Scott – my specs were as follows:

I want a stick that is lighter than my average carp rod, bold enough to huck Meat Whistles around my (no longer secret) bass pond, and capable of joyful response while doing the sinking line/Sex Dungeon thing Kelly Galloup style. In addition, I want it to feel right with a skinnier reel i.e. under 6oz, and be willing to get the ever-living crap kicked out of it without looking like it needs a trip to the emergency room. Catch my drift?

The folks in Montrose replied: You need an S4s 906/4.

Since delivery I’ve doubled the rod over, exposed it to the salt, slung streamers all day long (tossing six pound rainbows overboard like dinks after this catch), and podium-ed in a tourney with it.

I spent hard-earned dollars on this rod, but it’s been worth every penny—it is, without question, the the most versatile fly rod I have fished with to date. It isn’t soft enough for really short shots—you have to overline it, like I did with the Rio Carp in 7-weight. But the fatter lines, like the Rio Bass, the SA GPX, and the sinkers like the Streamer Express, engage the stick like the shifter on a 911.

Did Scott get this rod absolutely perfect? Nope… I probably can’t easily turn over a #22 midge on the end of a ten foot 6X leader with it. But I haven’t bothered trying. That is cold-water “fancy” fishing—pristine conditions, smaller targets, fine scotch afterwards. The S4s 906/4 is all e.coli, barbed-wire fences, violent targets, and knocking off a case of PBR during the post-game show. I like those situations, but then again trudging around Denver’s South Platte hasn’t sent me to the hospital yet either. Knock on high-modulus graphite.

I’m not sure Scott was planning on offering anything other than a lightweight, light wind, light-prey, salty handler when they were designing the S4S 906/4, but they wound up with something much more special. It takes a little time to learn its intricacies (i.e. I went through several lines before I found the sweet spots), but everyone else can now fade those trades—the lines mentioned above fit like gloves. After the cast you’ll likely never feel outgunned either.

I definitely haven’t.

MG signing off (because you never show up to a gunfight with a knife, but you might be able to hold your own with this fly rod)

FTC Disclosure: The rod was acquired in exchange for cold hard cash. And nothing more.