For much of my fly-fishing career I was a Luddite, avoiding new technology as if there was something shameful about it. For years I fished with a cheap rod-and-reel combo I bought at a department store. It was heavy and the reel was clunky, though relatively bulletproof. The drag was useless so I set it light and palmed the spool when a bigger fish threatened to overrun it.
I caught quite a few fish with that outfit, and developed a slightly superior attitude about my cheapo gear. Fly anglers once used almost exclusively split-cane rods and steel reels with click-and-pawl drags. That was the standard technology for decades and it caught lots of trout.
So I convinced myself that rummaging the bargain bin at the fly shop was somehow a measure of character. Looking back, I now realize it was just an excuse for my limited disposable income.
Once I had the money to spend, I did. I’m not sure the new stuff means I catch more fish, but I do think the technology makes it easier to catch fish. This is in part because it makes it easier to fish longer. Anyone who spends any time high-sticking nymphs knows what I’m talking about. There’s no better way to understand the virtues of lightweight gear than holding your rod next to your ear all day drifting flies through fish-holding runs. It’s tiring — not in the way running a marathon is, mind you, but it takes a toll nonetheless. After a few hours you need a break.
Stiffer, or “faster” in fly rod parlance, is also better. Not everyone agrees, but I’m big on fast-action rods when I’m nymphing. In many applications, ultra-fast rods don’t really cast as well as those with moderate action, but you’re not really casting when you’re nymphing.
Instead, you’re lifting and lobbing a long leader with multiple flies, plenty of split shot and often a strike indicator. I have a nymphing rod that bends almost down to the grip and I don’t really care for it. High sticking is all about repetitive drifts, and it seems as though it takes twice the effort to lift all that hardware out of the water and drop it back in the run for another drift.
Stiff used to mean heavy when it comes to fly rods, but that’s no longer the case. My fastest rod is also my lightest. Loaded with a modern reel machined from billet aluminum, it’s a feather compared to my old outfit.
The technology is better, but it’s still not that different from our split cane, click-and-pawl past. But I saw a new rig recently that looks interesting, if not a little odd. Lamson, an Idaho-based fly reel maker, has a new reel that mounts on the end of the rod a little like a caddywampus lollipop. If you haven’t seen one, search for Center Axis on the internet.
Instead of mounting below the rod like conventional reels, the Center Axis moves the mass of the reel more inline with the rod itself. The idea is that it reduces the lever effect of the reel’s weight as you cast. I haven’t tried one myself, but I do have an old Abel reel that includes something called an Abel Arm. The arm moves the reel a couple inches farther away from the reel seat than a regular mount. The technology never really caught on — I suspect because it amplifies that lever effect — though some folks say the arm relieves stress when casting.
The Center Axis could go one of two ways. Ten years from now every manufacturer will have copied it, or it will be mostly forgotten, like the Abel Arm. At least now I can afford to try one.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com, which covers outdoor news in Montana.