May 15, 2014
A fishing guide I know once got a call from a guy from the Boston area who wanted to hire him to go fishing for lake trout. The prospective client said that he'd heard that lake trout were native to the state and that he would therefore be assured of catching a completely wild fish on his trip.
The client and guide met up early one morning a few weeks later, and headed out in a boat on Seymour Lake in Morgan, Vermont. As the client was new to fly fishing, they decided to troll wet flies. It was a beautiful day, and it took about two hours before they hooked a trout.
After a good fight, the client boated a healthy laker and turned to the guide.
"Okay," he said, "it's time to turn back."
The guide politely reminded his client that he'd booked a full-day trip, and still had another six hours to fish. One fish was all that was required, the client explained, as he'd only come up to catch one fish and now he wanted to go back and cook it.
It turned out that the client wasn't a "sportsman" at all, he was a natural foods distributor and he'd always wanted to eat a meal of completely organic fish. He didn't trust the ocean and figured a pristine lake in northern New England might produce the quality of food he was looking for.
He wasn't aware of our own water contamination issues, or the warnings issued by Vermont Fish & Wildlife not to eat too many fish per month. But all that aside, his motivation was honest. He had fished for a special meal and once he'd accomplished his goal, he was done.
I really had to respect the guy's attitude. For him, fishing was a simple means to an end. He understood the limitations that he had placed on himself and his experience by deciding ahead of time that his goal was to obtain a meal, and nothing else.
The fact that he had selected what must easily be considered the most unpredictable fish market in the world to do his shopping spoke to his faith in the purity of the forest and to his seemingly boundless spirit of optimism. Either that or he had no idea how difficult it can be sometimes to actually catch fish. In fact, most of my less auspicious escapades have taken place while fishing when the evening meal was on the line.
Beauty & the Bass
During the early 1980s, my wife and I were living in Massachusetts together, experiencing the testing period that many couples go through before they actually commit to marriage. Some people used to refer to it as "shacking up." Whatever it was, I was often instructed to go catch dinner. For most of that period, I worked as a freelance stringer for various local newspapers, earning the extraordinary daily fee of $30 to write up stories about town government hearings and meetings.
Given that this far from constituted what could laughingly be referred to as a "living wage," we augmented our diet with veggies we grew in our backyard garden, and whatever I was able to haul out of the water. On one particularly sunny summer day, I decided to go fishing at Lake Noquochoke in Dartmouth, and I caught a huge largemouth bass on a nymph drifted next to a large mass of milfoil. I tossed the fish into a cooler and drove home.
Freshwater bass are extremely hardy, and even though it took me almost ten minutes to drive home from the lake, the fish was very much alive when I pulled it from the cooler and brought it inside our apartment.
I went upstairs to the kitchen with it, but on a whim, I decided not to kill and clean the fish just then. I looked at the wok sitting on top of one of the upper shelves, and thought how I might prepare this bass in some new way. And then it hit me–I could use a Chinese recipe I'd read that called for freshly caught fish, so fresh that the animal is literally cooked alive.
It turned out that I was a bit too squeamish to pull this off. I'm such a candy-ass that I can't even drop live lobsters in boiling water. I have to split them first, which kills them instantly, then I clean them and cook them. The simple truth is that it freaks me out to cook a live fish. So I decided to merely keep the bass alive right up until the moment before I popped it into the wok.
And that's why the bass ended up in the bathtub. I only filled it with perhaps a foot of water, so it didn't have the depth it needed to jump out. After a few minutes of swimming around its new confines, the bass hid itself in the folds of the shower curtain.
I went downstairs, sat down on the couch, and waited for my wife to come home. When she walked in, we exchanged greetings and she went upstairs to take a quick shower. And this was how I learned that there is nothing on earth so startled as a woman confronting the evening's main entrance as she steps into a tub. Well, nothing except perhaps the entrance itself.
All of this illustrates the trouble I sometimes get into when I decide to keep my catch. These days, I rarely harvest fish, and during the past two seasons, I have only brought home three for the table. Unfortunately, that doesn't alter the fact that I have been responsible for killing other fish during that same period of time.
While we all enjoy catching fish, we should never forget that they are actually fighting for their lives when we play them in. The bass in my tub was likely more content than a trout with a hook in its mouth.
If we decide to release fish, it only makes sense to safeguard them while they are under our control and attempt to release them safely. At the same time we should realize that the impacts of catch-and-release fishing are not insignificant.
One late spring afternoon, while fishing the on the Winooski River in Bolton, Vermont, I hooked a brown trout that had been hiding against a rock ledge on the opposite side of the river from where I stood. I had thrown a large stonefly nymph and I was able to watch as the trout moved out of the shadows to attack my fly.
I spent a minute fighting the fish, and about the same amount of time making sure that it was healthy enough to release. I checked my knot and my fly and made a few more casts at the ledge.
Maybe 10 minutes later, I got another strike. This time it was a juvenile smallmouth bass. It fought well for its size, but I was still able to bring it in very quickly.
I reached down with my left hand and lifted the fish out of the water. I stepped back onto the shore, cradled my rod against my right side, and tried to secure the bass's lower lip with my right thumb and forefinger, but it took no time for everything to go wrong. The bass lurched to escape and slipped off the hook. A second later, it lay twitching on the ground next to the rock it had landed on headfirst. Clearly, it was badly hurt by the fall.
I dropped my rod to one side, scooped up the fish, and brought it back into the water. I spent several long, apprehensive minutes trying to revive the bass, but each time I tried to let it go, it floated weakly on one side, not moving its fins or gills. It was gone.
My mistake had been in not paying attention to where I stood when I grasped the tippet and reached over to lip the fish. Had I been where I belonged, standing in a few inches of water, the bass would have easily survived the fall.
Many fish die after they've been let go, either because they were too exhausted after the fight, or were poorly handled as they were unhooked (as was my case), or because they weren't revived sufficiently, or released into water that is too fast.
Everyone kills fish by making mistakes like this and it's one of the challenges to conservation-minded anglers that we can so easily injure the fish while trying to catch and release it unharmed.
Best New Freshwater Rod
Scott Radian $795
Sometimes it's major improvements to rod blank technology that set a new rod apart. Other times, it's little functional switch-ups and cosmetic changes that woo consumers. In the case of the new Radian, it's both. Jim Bartschi and his crew at Scott Fly Rods have hit a home run.
The Radian uses Scott's X-Core design to create a wide, stable tube with thin, sensitive walls, along with ReAct technology to speed rod recovery time and reduce vibrations when the rod stops. Getting rid of these extra 'wobbles ' has been a goal of rod designers for a long time, and Scott seems to have brought us a step forward with a rod that casts with crispness and authority, but still has the feeling of connection you need in a trout tool.
And while some might consider a rod handle 'cosmetic ' I'd have to disagree. Your grip, and the handle on the rod, can affect the way you cast, and a full wells grip reduces hand fatigue and is a better grip for a wider range of distances and conditions. Sage did it last year with the ONE series, and we may be seeing the beginning of a trend here with the full wells grip on the Scott Radian.
Another improvement is the REC wood-insert reel seat with an uplocking ring Bartschi calls 'self-indexing. ' What this means is that you don't have to spin the reel seat ring to find a proper alignment for the reel foot. It's always perfectly aligned in relation to the forward hood under the handle. It's a very small thing — and no one has ever failed to seat their reel properly due to lack of a self-indexing reel seat — but it shows that Scott is thinking about consumers, and considering just about every possible path to make things slicker and more convenient.
Other small details like Universal Snake guides with curved, 'radiused ' feet that fit slimmer on a rounded blank; alignment dots; and measuring wraps on the blank all add up to a rod that has forward-thinking design and higher performance in mind. The fly-fishing industry seems to agree, as the rod won Best Freshwater Rod at the 2013 International Fly Tackle Dealer show, and also overall Best in Show. The 4-piece rods are available in 4- to 8-weight models. scottflyrod.com
Best New Saltwater Line
Scientific Anglers Saltwater Grand Slam $85
Slackline casts are great when you're dry-fly fishing for trout, but in saltwater fishing, a slackline cast means that you'll have to retrieve line before you can come tight to the fly, and that lapse in effective movement often means the difference between catching fish and just seeing them. Florida Keys guide Capt. Bruce Chard is a master of coaching the short cast to the batter on the deck, but he's still watched too many bonefish and tarpon swim right past a stationary fly due to poor presentation. To combat this problem, he designed his Grand Slam line with an extremely short front taper that delivers excess energy to the fly so the leader turns over completely, and you can instantly swim the fly. The heavy head loads rods quickly for quick up-close casts, but a long rear taper (twice as long as most other saltwater lines) also helps you carry and control more line in the air for those opportunities where you actually get to make a hero cast. scientificanglers.com
Best New Saltwater Reel
Nautilus CCF-X2 $435 - $555
Low start-up inertia is easy when the drag is set low. The difficult thing is to have low inertia when the drag is set heavy. These lightweight, fully sealed reels have a sophisticated braking system that generates 20 pounds of drag with less than 1% start-up inertia. Here's how Nautilus made such a lightweight reel with heavyweight stopping power: The sealed drag has two friction surfaces — cork and carbon fiber — for double the surface area. Hybrid ceramic bearings and TPX bushings keep the weight extremely low yet perfectly align the axle to ensure that the spool tracks true at all settings. An oversize drag handle takes six full turns to go from zero to 20 pounds of drag. And the screw-off spool goes from left-hand to right-hand retrieve in minutes. nautilusreels.com
Best New Saltwater Rod
Sage Method $800 - [imo-slideshow gallery=145],050
although Sage isn't officially calling this a saltwater rod, we tested the new fast-action Method on the bonefish flats of South Andros Island and found it's the perfect tool for launching long, accurate casts in calm conditions where you can see the fish coming (and they can see you) from a long way off. And it's just as effectively when the wind is howling, and you need to make a powerful cast right into the teeth of a gale.
But since there are also 4- to 6-weights with wood insert real seats in the rod family, and nine different Spey and switch models, it's much more than a saltwater series — it's a high-performance casting tool for people who enjoy pushing the ceiling higher and higher. 'Sage's DNA is synonymous with fast-action rods, and through Konnetic Technology, we've taken seriously smooth, ultra-fast action performance to a new place entirely, ' said Sage chief rod designer, Jerry Siem. 'Our newest high-performance rods will make any caster better, but will also help experienced casters notch exceptional casts with regularity. ' sageflyfish.com
Best New Switch Rod
G.Loomis PRO-4x $480 - $575
about a year ago, G.Loomis introduced its new PRO-4x rod series — rods that mimic the actions of the top-of-the-line NRX series because they share the same tapers, but they don't use the same expensive resin systems and carbon fibers as G.Loomis's best-performing rods. What you're left with is a series of well-designed rods that are fun to cast, and affordable enough that you can get more than one. Initially, the PRO-4x was a family of single-handed rods, but in 2014 it's expanding to include switch and two-handed models for everything from trout fishing in big rivers to true Spey casting for anadromous species.
Like previous PRO-4x rods, the switch and two-handed models use some tapers from the more expensive NRX series, so if you like the 13-foot, 8/9-weight NRX, you're likely to appreciate the same rod in the PRO-4x series. But you're even more likely to enjoy the price difference. With a trout rod, a PRO-4x is about $280 cheaper, but when you get into switch and Spey rods, the savings run up to $500 and more, and you still get much of the 'feel ' of a performance rod.
Although the series is based on NRX tapers, there are some original gems in the family. The 10'6" 5-weight PRO-4x has no equivalent in the NRX series, yet our tester thought it was 'the perfect trout switch rod. While most switch rods are actually too long and too heavy for extended use with one hand, this one is a real multipurpose tool that you can Czech nymph with, hit a snap-T when the bank is tight behind you, or cast dry flies to rising trout. ' gloomis.com
Best New Technology
Redington Super Dry Fly Waders $500
All breathable, waterproof fabrics in the outdoor industry are measured, evaluated, and compared by their moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR), also described as the 'breathability ' of the fabric. And while the issue of which company has the more breathable fabric has been hotly contested for decades, the issue of how that moisture vapor gets to the membrane in the first place has been largely ignored . . . until now.
Redington is the first to use a product called 37.5 in a new line of waders built with the idea of more effectively creating moisture vapor (you can't pass liquid sweat through a breathable membrane) and moving that vapor toward the membrane. The new 37.5 technology uses tiny particles of activated carbon and volcanic sand — both are filled with microscopic cavities, creating an incredible evaporative surface area for their weight and volume.
These activated particles are embedded to the wader lining using a polyurethane binder to 'stick ' the microporous particles to the wader interior. According to 37.5 inventor Dr. Gregory Haggquist of Cocona Natural Technologies, this lining draws moisture away from your body, and drives it through the membrane, leaving a comfortable microclimate next your skin of about 37 to 38 percent relative humidity (hence the name). The new Redington Super Dry Fly Waders ($500) with a front zip, Super Dry Waders ($400), and Super Dry Pants ($280) are all constructed using Redington's sonic-welded seams and will be available in 2014. redington.com
Best New Trout Line
RIO Perception $90
RIO's new flagship trout line has made a core change, both figuratively and literally. The Perception trout line has a new low-stretch core — the first of its kind for polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based fly lines. RIO won't say what its proprietary new core is made of, but it's not nylon monofilament or nylon multifilament, which are the traditional elastic materials for PVC fly line cores. If you've fished RIO's InTouch Deep lines, you've already felt the difference a low-stretch fly line can make to your contact with the fly, your sensitivity in detecting strikes, and your ability to set the hook when you feel the fish. Everything is more instant and efficient. But does it make a difference in your casting as well?
'Absolutely, ' said Simon Gawesworth, RIO marketing manager and a big part of the Perception design team. According to Gawesworth, a good caster can significantly stretch a standard fly line in the air by merely hauling the line, and this stretch is like a giant power drain when you're trying to move the fly efficiently. The Perception's low stretch — about 6% compared to about 30% in a standard fly line — lets you move the fly immediately instead of first stretching the line before you can move the fly.
We've tested the line extensively and found that it not only casts better, it mends more efficiently, picks up quickly and quietly, and gives you better control and more sensitivity for 'blind ' fishing subsurface with nymphs and streamers, where instant contact with the fish is the difference between hooking up, and missing a strike. In short, it's a more responsive line because the force you apply at your end of the rod is more immediately telegraphed through the line, and there is no 'dampening ' effect cause by line stretch. rioproducts.com
Best New Trout Reel
Tibor Signature Series $685
Ted Juracsik set the saltwater world on its head when he reinvented the Tibor brand with his Signature Series. The reels are lighter than the original Tibor series and have a sealed, waterproof drag system that's easy to change from right- to left-hand retrieve. The esthetics and stopping power of the Signature Series quickly made it a staple for everything for bonefish and redfish, up to billfish and tarpon with the giant 11-12 size. In 2014 this saltwater stalwart is coming down in size to a 31/4"x23„8" trout-size reel that holds 200 yards of 20-pound-test gel-spun backing and a 6-weight line. The 5-6 Signature reel has a lighter foot to balance with smaller trout rods, and there's also a speciality color scheme for the lightweight of the family that allows you to choose a distinctive lime, aqua, crimson, or black drag system to match with the standard frame and spool colors that Tibor has offered for years. tiborreel.com
Best New Wading Boot
Simms G4 Boa Boot $240
You've probably seen people jogging the streets barefoot, or maybe read the book Born to Run, which takes a close look at the podiatric health of barefoot cultures. The barefoot concept embraces the philosophy that you'll perform better if you allow your foot to do its work unencumbered. While you can't actually wade a river barefoot, the premise behind the G4 Boa Boot is that your foot is a complex appendage with tiny bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves all working to keep you balanced and moving. If you eliminate feedback coming from the river bottom, you hinder your own ability for proprioception — the ability to sense the orientation and movement of the body and its parts. According to Brandon Hill of Simms, the key to the new boot is the sculpted TPU retention plate in the boot platform that allows the outsole to articulate so you can feel your way along the river bottom better, and use your foot the way it was designed. simmsfishing.com
Best Women's Waders
Orvis Silver Sonic Convertible-Top Waders $260
Comfortable and easy to move in, these convertibles give you options in warm weather. SonicSeam Technology ensures there are no bulky seams to rub in awkward places, and a flip-out interior pocket offers a secure place for valuables. The fabric is light, and packs down smaller than some competitors — important for ladies who travel. Orvis nailed the fit here — these are the best-fitting waders I've tried, and together with the convertible top, made these my favorite of all the women's waders I tested this year. orvis.com
Best Fiberglass Rod
Orvis Superfine Glass $400
After a several-decade hiatus from fiberglass, Orvis has come back into the glass game. Rod designer Shawn Combs at Orvis started the process several years ago. After a long period of testing, tweaking, and tuning, Orvis has finally released the Superfine Glass, rolled and assembled at the Orvis rod shop in Manchester, Vermont, and priced under $400. There is no excuse for any serious glass geek not to at least give these rods a try. I recently spent an enjoyable afternoon casting small foam hoppers to hungry brown trout in Wisconsin's Driftless Area using a 7' Superfine Glass. The little 3-weight handled the hopper without issue and rolled out accurate casts up to 40 feet without a problem. There is also a 7'6" 4-weight, and an 8' 5-weight in the series. orvis.com
Fishpond Black Canyon $180
Fishpond has introduced 14 new fishing packs and vests for 2014 built with a strong, durable nylon material produced from recycled commercial fishing nets. Not only is Fishpond helping remove these old nets from the ocean and beaches by creating a value for them, but the high-tech recycling process uses 27% fewer natural resources and reduces greenhouse emissions by 28% compared to using virgin nylon.
One of the new products using recycled materials is the Black Canyon backpack. With an adjustable external frame, offset air mesh back, and padded, contoured shoulder straps, it helps carry heavy loads and keeps you cool while hiking into remote fishing destinations. The modular design lets it dock with many of the Fishpond's chest/lumbar packs, and two zip-out rod tube holders comfortably carry fly rods. The large main backpack compartment carries plenty of gear while three smaller pockets offer quick access to necessities. fishpondusa.com
Simms DownUnder Merino Ziptop & Bottom $100-$120
These merino wool base layers aren't just manufactured in the U.S., the wool is raised on Montana ranches, and washed, spun into yarn, and woven into fabric, all without leaving the state. The wool is never bleached — an environmentally destructive process that can also remove the natural lanolins that help make Merino wool soft and naturally odor resistant. Because of the extraordinarily small diameter of the Merino fibers, this wool doesn't itch, and helps wick moisture away from the skin so you feel dry and comfortable. The garments are sewn in the Simms Bozeman factory using a flatlock stitch so they are both comfortable and stretchy enough to wear as a base layer. simmsfishing.com