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.