Adventures in Fly Fishing
As part of my pending Bonefishing trip to Aitutaki in the South West Pacific I decided that I was going to build myself a flyrod specifically for the trip, and to celebrate turning 40. I have already settled on a Epic Fastglass 888 kit, which should arrive early next month. With that decided I turned my focus to what reel I would be hanging off the bottom of it.
Until very recently, all my fly fishing has been in freshwater chasing 'bows and browns down here in New Zealand. However I have done enought salt-water fishing to know that salt-water plays havoc on tackle. And while I have a number of nice reels - including a 8wt Lamson Litespeed that is my go-to 8wt reel for big water - I wasn't convinced that they would be up to the task for what I wanted.
Not only was there the issue of saltwater - but then there is the epic runs that Bonefish are known for. I very rarely end up on the backing when fishing for trout - even with a pretty solid fish in fast water. This will not be the case in Aitutaki. So I would need somthing that could hold alot of high strength backing. Then there was drag. Sure, a trophy Bone is considered anything upwards of 10lb, which is how we view trophy trout - so you could argue that a similar reel would probably suffice. But given the blistering runs that they Bones are famous for I would need something with a reliable and smooth drag. And then there is also the added possibility that I don't hook what I am targeting, and instead end up hooked up to a GT - which are also known to frequent the lagoon. Again - not something to worry about when fishing for trout in NZ. You are only ever going to hook a trout (or if you're in Taupo, maybe one of the small catfish that were maliciously released a few decades back). And while an 8wt rod against a 70lb GT would be alot less than ideal - I figure that a reel with a solid drag, coupled with a glass rod - could at least give me a fighting chance.
But what to get? I am a gear-snob. I dont do cheap - mainly because I have learnt the hard way that when it comes to tackle you are better off paying more and getting something that will last, than going cheap and then regretting it on the water. If I had an unlimited budget - then I would have turned to the Hatch Finatic. This is one sexy piece of metal. But I just cant justify that sort of expense upfront. I then looked at the Tibor Billy Pate reel. I liked the retro look of this - and the Bonefish edition with the engraving on the reel plate was a nice touch. But then to me an anti-reverse reel feels just a little bit like cheating. But that's just me.
I also decided that I wanted a reel that I could use not only for saltwater fly, but that was also be suitable hanging off the bottom of a double-handed rod - which is on the list of rods that I plan to build.
I then asked for some advice at a local tackle store - I told them what I was after, and what I wanted to use it for - and was shown the Lamson-Waterworks Speedster. Now, this is a nice reel, and more than capable of holding the amount of line I would need. But there was something not quite right in my mind. I own a couple of Lamson's - and while they have a sealed drag - I know from experience that water can - and does - get into them. Not so much of an issue with freshwater, different story with salt.
I then turned to the internet. Sage is a brand I am very familiar with when it comes to rods - but I have never used on of their reels. I read a couple of reviews on the 2000 and 3000 reels. They were all glowing. I then went in search of one online - and instead stumbled across the Sage 8000 pro series. Now, in New Zealand, these retail at around $1100.00 NZD - meaning I would'nt be buying one here. But then I found that Gorge Fly Shop in the US of A had them on special at $329.00USD (around $480 NZD). I was sold, and purchased the 8080 model - suited for an 8 weight line. Now, this is a reasonably old model - having been first released in I think 2012. Which is probably why they were going so cheap on Gorge's website. Look on Sage's current website and you wont find it listed. But that's the beauty with quality tackle - it will last a lifetime, and even if it's old, it doesn't mean it's still not great. Which is the reason you will find people still using old Hardy reels that belonged to their grandfathers.
After about three weeks - the majority of which the reel sat in Customs awaiting clearance - it arrived. I was charged an extra $160.00 for the import duty - but even then I saved around $450.00 on what I would have paid to purchase it locally. Don't get me wrong - I am all for "suporting local business" - but I am also not one for simply throwing money away.
So, first impressions. This is a beast of a reel. It feels solid - like you could run it over and it would survive. The dual function drag is new to me. Essentially this allows you to set your drag on the outer ring, and then fine tune it on the inner dial. So, you might want to set the outer drag for what you need for stripping off line, and then engage the inner drag at what you know you will need to initially fight the fish on. The outer drag dial is star-shaped and easy to grab onto, and the outer drag has settings numbered from 1-20 on it - meaning you can quickly dial up what you know is the right setting.
The lines of the reel are very clean - no obviously areas for the line to snag against. And the spool has a fully exposed rim for easy palming. A nice touch is that the palming rim is concave in profile, meaning for those long leaders you can wrap the line around the reel and hang the fly off a guide ring further up the rod without having to wind the end of the fly line though the tip-top. This woul also be especially handy when using the long leaders and large indicators we use on the Tongariro nypmphing for spawning 'bows. You can't wind the end of the line through the tiptop due to the canary-sized indicator.
The sealed drag is exactly that. Sealed. In fact with the reel apart at the moment in front of me - I am not really sure how you would get into it. Which is usually a good indication that you shouldn't. And the maintenance section of the pamphlet that came with the reel is about five sentences long. Essentially wash down with fresh water, remove sand and grit, and let dry. That's it.
I also took the oppourtunity to have the reel spooled at the shop with Hatch Premium Braided Backing. This is essentially the same diameter of dacron - but at 68lb breaking strain it's more than twice the strength. On top of this I have chosen a WF8F Rio Bonefish Tropical line.
So, this is a whole lot of reel - and more than up to the task that I have planned for it. Before heading to Aitutaki I will probably get a chance to hit the Tongariro during winter and while the 'bows are running, so while it is overkill I will give it - and the Epic 888 a trial run up there. But as they say, first impressions count - and the first impressions of the Sage 8080 are good, this has a look and feel of a reel that will probably outlast me, which again is a good reason for buying quality in the first place.
The last several months or so I have been putting off buying a new pair of wading boots. For the last year or so my current pair have been showing increasing signs of being past their best-buy date.
I've been wearing pair of Simms' Rivertek 1 BOA boots since around 2009 - and they have served me well. But after replacing the BOA fasteners once (incidentally at no cost - BOA have a lifetime warranty, so go to their website and they will ship you out replacement kits if yours fail), it has now gotten to the point that all the stitching has gone, along with most the tread on the soles, and it's only a matter of time before I end up on my ass going the wrong way down a set of rapids.
I had been mulling over what to get. We are somewhat limited in New Zealand to really two main brands - Simms, and the River Works. I did find a pair of Korkers recently in an outfitters in Turangi - but was told they are no longer being bought into the country due to the change in the exchange rate. Which is a shame, as they looked to be a solid pair of boots (just not in my size). So I revert t what I usually do - and that was to buy Simms. I am unashamedly a gear-snob, and I havent yet had a piece of gear made by Simms that has failed to impress. Sure, it's espensive - but you pay for quality, right?
I had been quite interested in the Vapor boot that Simms has recently brought out onto the market. This looks more like a hiking boot than a traditional wading boot - and is not nearly as high as some of the other boots Simms produce. And it looked light - which is something I was after. I find a day scrambling over rocks, as well as the long hike back to the car after walking up a rover several hours, to get somewhat tiring when you are wearing a heavy-duty pair of wading boots.
Finally last week I found that Totally Fly in Auckland had these boots marked down from $349 to $220.00. At that price it became too good a deal to pass up, so I bit the bullet and purchased a pair online. I'm yet to take them out on the river - but first impressions are that despite being a "light-weight" boot, they are still of pretty solid construction. In fact more than what I had expected based on the images on the website. I also ordered one size smaller than what my Rivertek's were - thinking I'd probably use these more as a wet-wading boot. As it turns out they are too big for this - but fit perfectly with my waders. I'll just need to get a pair of neoprene guard socks to wear with them on the warmer days when I want to leave the waders at home.
So, first impressions are a really nice boot that is lighter than most - but of a sturdy enough construction that they should last a good several years. I'm going to fish them "as is", and not add the optiona screw in studs and cleats that you can buy for them. I found that when I used these on my Riverteks that writhing a few months most of them had been ripped out. So overall not a huge fan. But if I find I'm not getting enough grip I may re-consider.
In late 2016 I was driving down the highway when I heard a plug on the radio for an upcoming interview with a "world famous female fly fishing guide" who has just bought into a Wanaka-based New Zealand Fly Rod making company." The female angler in question was April Vokey - who I had heard of, but I had no idea what the rod company was. The only fly rod makers I was aware of where the two "big brands" - Kilwell and Composite Developments. Two rod companies that were huge and had a strangle-hold on the flyrod market in New Zealand while I was growing up, but whose day I would argue has been and gone. A quick google search revealed that the company in question was Swift Fly Fishing, who produce a line of flyrods - predominantly fibreglass - and market them under the name of Epic Flyrods. On their website you can buy rods and blanks, but what really caught my attention was the "ready to wrap kits." Essentially this is a box that contains all the components you require to build your own rod, and a very comprehensive step-by-step guide.
I had never considered building a rod before. And I wouldn't have known where to start had I wanted to. But now here was a kit that contains everything you need - and the best part - apart from the satisfaction of building your own rod, is that by building it yourself you are saving pretty much half the cost of what you would spend if you bought a completed rod from Swift.
You see, Swift state that they are not in the business of building rods - they are in the business of making world class fibreglass blanks (and a couple of carbon ones - almost as an afterthought it seems). They employ only one rod-builder, and each rod is "made to order" - and as you would expect, you pay a premium for it. No more though I would add than what you would pay for a top of the line mass-produced rod - such as a Scott Radian or a Sage X. But if you buy the kit then you pay roughly half the cost. The more I looked at it, the more it seemed like a really good idea. And the catch phrase "if you can tie a fly, you can tie a rod" finally convinced me.
So I bit the bullet and placed an order for an Epic 480 rod kit - in "so blue" colour scheme with a black reel seat. The kit ships in a Asolid cardboard box, that opens up an converts into a rod-building stand. The kit comes complete with the blank, snake brand guides, high-grade Portuguese cork handle, an aluminium Epic-branded reel seat, a pack containing all the resins and glues you will need, Japanese silk thread for the wraps, a rod sock, and a very cool fibreglass rod tube. And most importantly, a very comprehensive "how to" guide complete with pictures.
The process of building the rod itself is reasonably straight forward. You need to glue on the rod seat and the handle - which is as easy as it sounds, and then the bulk of the work is taken up with tying on the guides. Using the rod stand and a fly-tying bobbin this is a pretty straight forward task. The very first guide took me about 15 minutes to do - but after a few more they were taking me probably two minutes for each side of the guide. I did invest and purchase a CRB Hand Wrapper while on a quick trip to the US, and while this made things a little easier, it is not a requirement. Once the all the guides were on and aligned correctly it was time for the one part I was particularly nervous about - applying the resin (finish) to the guides.
This essentially involves mixing up the two-part rod finish, and then applying it to the wraps with a small paint brush while trying to avoid any drips or bubbles. To make this process slightly easier I had also picked up a rod dryer from the US. At roughly $40USD this piece of equipment spins the rod as it dries, meaning that the resin won't sag or drip during the drying process. Without one of these you would instead need to turn the rod by hand every 15 minutes or so - and I was not convinced that I would get as good a finish using this method.
Applying the resin itself was not as scary as it sounded. The instruction guide basically said to "be bold" and not spend time trying to get it perfect. The resin is "self-levelling" and once it is on it tends to flow evenly across the wraps as it dries. I applied resin to all the wraps - which being Japanese silk in a natural colour immediately became transparent - and left the rod on the dryer to set over night.
To say I was impressed with what I found in the morning would be an understatement. So would be saying it was "as good as a bought one" - because in my mind it was better. I could not fault the finish. The resin had dried smooth with no bubbles, and had levelled out perfectly. And now all that was left was to test it out on a fish.
So, I headed up the Hutt River on a sunny Saturday morning to see how it fished. This was both my first 4wt rod I had ever cast, as well as the first glass rod I had cast in about 20 years. Man, what a difference! Swift say they make "fly-rods with soul" - which is a great catch phrase, but there is some truth to it. The rod is a medium action - so it took a little bit of getting used to after having been bought up on fast and ultra-fast actioned carbon rods. But once I had the timing right I found I was punching the line out as far as I needed to - and as far as I was able to with my heavier rods. I now started to regret the not-insignificant amount I had recently spent on a Scott Radian 6wt. Eventually I came across a deep pool with a dark shape moving slowly in the current off to the side of a submerged log. I added a tungsten bead-head nymph to my leader to get down a bit deeper and cast upstream - and spooked the fish. So I moved on up the river. On my way back down stream an hour or so later I could no longer see the fish, but always the optimist I cast into the pool and watched the indicator as the leader drifted through. halfway through the drift the indicator jerked under the current, and I whipped the rod tip up. The line went taught, and the then came the tell-tale thump of a fish shaking its head, before he realised he was hooked and bolted upstream into the current. The main thing I noticed was how much "grunt" this rod had for a four weight. The rod bent hard, but at no point did it feel like it was under any stress or in danger of breaking. After quick battle I had a nice conditioned 4lb brown in the net.
In short, I am sold. And I am not kidding here - I don't think I'll ever buy another "factory rod" again. My very new Scott Radian (which was a rod I had dreamed of owning for a long time) has only been used once since I built the Epic - and even then it felt horrible to cast, having gotten used to a slower action rod. I'm sure I will use it again on bigger waters in the winter, but the Epic will become my go-to rod for the local rivers around where I live.
I will add that Swift are only one of a number of rod makers offering blanks, and there are numerous online stores that specialise in rod building equipment - the best one I've found being www.mudhole.com. I will eventually look at build a rod "from scratch" - including turning my own cork handle, but for now I have my eyes on a few more Epic ready-to-wrap kits. I have already placed and order for an Epic 888 which I am building to take to Aitutaki to chase Bonefish with in July, and after that I will probably go big - and look to build a double-hander.
So, if you have never considered building a rod, then I strongly suggest you give it a go. The Epic rod kits are a good place to start - and as a bonus you get arguably one the finest fibreglass rods on the market today as a result of you efforts. And there is nothing quite as satisfying as catching a fish on not only a fly that you have tied - but also on a rod that you have built.
Not long after I started fly fishing I took the leap to tying my own flies. My first vise was a cheap nasty deal that I bought from a local sports store which clamped onto the side of a desk. This was quickly replaced by a slightly more expensive (but still cheap) tying kit that came in a nice wooden box. This vise was made from brass, and if nothing else, it looked the part, and it served me well for a good fifteen years or so. Then I stumbled across a review in an Australian fly fishing magazine of a new product that had come onto the market. The article spoke of how this system - called a Nor-vise - revolutionised fly trying through the use of both a spring-loaded bobbin that applies tension on the tying thread, as well as the vise itself, which allows the tier to spin the fly effortlessly around its axis. Think of it kind of like a lathe, and your on the right track.
Having checked out the numerous videos on Norvises's very comprehensive website I decided that I had to have one. I set about trying to track down a supplier in New Zealand. No one seemed to have heard of Nor-vise, so after several failed attempts I emailed the owner of the company, and the inventor of the Nor-vise, Norm Norlander. Almost immediately I received a reply from Norm in which he pointed me to an outfitters who could supply me with one of these. I contacted the outfitter and was told that while they didn't hold any in stock (…not sure why) that they would be more than happy to order one in for me. Several weeks later and I was unwrapping my new toy.
The first thing that strikes you about the Nor-vise is how well it is constructed. It looks - and feels - solid, like it is made to last, unlike some of the cheaper vices on the market. The system consists of three major components. The vise with the jaws, a bobbin-rest post, and the Norvise bobbin. The Nor-vises's main point of difference over other vises is the ability to spin the hook around its axis very quickly, and a quick spin of the vise revealed a very smooth, almost friction-free movement. First impressions count, and in this case, so far, so good.
Unlike other vises, the Nor-vise does not have a stand, or a clamp to affix it to your working surface. Instead you need to mount the vise and the bobbin rest post to your working surface through screws located at the bottom of each part. I headed down to my local hardware store and picked up a nice piece of laminated particle board, the sort that you use for kitchen cabinetry, to use as my vice mount, although Nor-vise do offer a ready-drilled bamboo mounting board on their website. A couple of quick drill holes, and the addition of some self-adhesive non-slip rubber feet, and I had my Norvise mounted and ready for action.
The next step was setting up the bobbin. Again, this is a point of difference that sets the Norvise system apart from the rest. The unique bobbin is spring-loaded to allow thread to be wound on under tension. Release the tension on the thread, and it automatically winds back onto the bobbin. Think of a retractable tape-measure, and the concept is similar. You can pull as much thread out as you like. But let it go and it winds back onto the bobbin. The bobbin, like the vise, is very well constructed. A ceramic tube ensures that there are no rough surfaces or burrs to abrade the tying thread, and the bobbin comes with a total of four spools that can be loaded up with different types of thread, and which are quick to change. Loading the spools is straightforward thanks to a nifty little attachment that you can clamp into a power-drill and which holds a cassette. Wind some thread onto the spool and start the drill, and watch the cassette quickly fill up with thread.
The vise I purchased came with the standard in-line jaws. These - as the name implies - are not offset, and are great for tying larger pattern flies, such as lures and streamers used for trout, and saltwater patterns. At the time of purchasing my Nor-vise these were the predominant patterns I was tying. However, as time progressed I started to do more and more nymphing. I found the inline jaws just a bit too big to comfortably hold a size 16 hook, without it getting lost in the jaws. But - and this I think is one of the strongpoints about the Norvise - there are numerous accessories that you can purchase to enhance the system, one of which is the fine-point jaws. These feature and angled adjustable set of jaws capable of holding the smallest of hooks, and being off-set they enable you to get the bobbin into places that the in-line jaws just won't allow you to go.
Changing the jaws is simple. Just unscrew two small allen-head screws (allen key is supplied), pull out the old jaws, slot the new ones in and tighten the screws, and away you go. The only downside to the offset jaws is that it can be difficult trying to get the hook in a position that allows you to spin the fly rapidly while maintaining it on a level plane. But then with small hooks this is less of a requirement than if you were say tying a large fly with a long hook shank where you were winding on numerours materials (such as a Woolly Bugger).
So, how does it rate? Well, since purchasing a Nor-vise I have found I tie more often than I used to. Tying flies such as Woolly Buggers is a breeze, just tie in the materials, spin the vice, and move the material down the hook shanks while watching it wind on. Additionally, Norvises's website is a great source of information on how to use the system, with numerous videos showing different techniques that can be used, and showing how to tie a number of different patterns.
The Norvise takes a bit of getting used to , but like all things, the more you do it, the better you get. The bobbin is amazing, and quite frankly, I don't know how anyone could tie without one - with or without a No-rvise to use it with. I don't think I could go back to using a standard vise now, and I often watch friends tying flies on their more traditional systems and are amazed that they wouldn't switch to something that in my opinion is so much simpler to use.
Overall rating 5 out 5.