When regional Orvis rep Dave Hayward told me that for 2008 they were going to introduce the 'ultimate fly rod,' I warned him against sniffing too much glue when making epoxy flies.

Folks, I'm here to tell you that crow has been added to fish, shrimp and Zapps chips as my four main food groups.

At a couple of recent shows, Jerry Iverson and I had the opportunity to check out and test several great new products soon to be in your fly-fishing catalogs. Among the most impressive were the TFO Axiom rods, the TFO Prizm reels, the Sage Bass rods, the Scientific Anglers (SA) Sharkskin lines and the Orvis Helios rods.

The Orvis Helios blew us away. This is the lightest, smoothest-casting rod I've ever held in my hand. Hayward explained something about "an exclusive thermosplastic resin technology combined with a new taper alignment," but that just went over my head.

Here's what I do know: The 8-weight Helios weighs an amazing 2 3/4 ounces! Rods even an ounce heavier than this (the current kings of lightweight) can splinter like a toothpick when put under heavy fatigue.

Hayward demonstrated just how much stress the Helios could take. Let's just say what he did to that rod is illegal under the Geneva Convention.

Why is this important? Most premium rods have warranties that will replace a broken rod. That's still no comfort when your rod breaks on some isolated water, where the fish are biting, and your backup is in the vehicle.

The Helios is ighter than any rod ever made and strong enough to withstand punishment on the water. As you can imagine, such a rod doesn't come cheap. Suggested retail is $775.

Now if you're looking to cast monster flies to hefty bass, then check out the new Sage Bass Series rods. There are two models: the Smallmouth and the Largemouth. Both four-piece rods are 7'11" so they slide just under the rod lengths for tournament competition. Each comes with its own specialized line: 290 grains for the Smallmouth and 330 grains for the Largemouth.

These rods are built for accurate casts in short- to medium-range distances, and capable of tossing big flies. Let's just say our tests with the Largemouth involved a fly most resembling a chicken tied to a hook. The accuracy with a fly that large was impressive.

Like all Sage rods, there's a lifetime unlimited warranty. Retail price is $350, and includes rod, line and travel case.

For 2008, Temple Fork Outfitters has introduced two new lines of large-arbor fly reels, both under the Prizm name. The Prizm D diecast aluminum reels feature an offset Teflon disc drag and a one-way clutch bearing. They retail for $39. The Prizm M reels are machined from T6061 aluminum, and feature a carbon fiber disc drag and a one-way clutch bearing. These sell for $139 to $149.

Nick Curcione, author of several books on saltwater fly fishing and technical advisor to TFO, helped me put these reels through several land tests with flying colors. The Prizm D is certainly a great bargain for the freshwater and occasional marsh use. The Prizm M is a great-looking reel — smooth and with substantial drag. I would add it along with the Orvis Mid-Arbor and Lamson Radius as the best values in inshore saltwater reels.

While the Orvis, Sage and TFO products got a lot of attention at these shows, nothing stirred more controversy than the new Sharkskin Fly Line from Scientific Anglers. SA's Bruce Richards, one of the world's top fly casters and co-creator of the Casting Analyzer, explained the science behind the line.

Sharks, like most fast-swimming marine species, expend a great deal of metabolic energy. Every little advantage helps: The shark scales contain tiny ridges that run perpendicular to their bodies. These ridges help reduce drag at the boundary layer, i.e. the contact area between water and solid matter. This principle has even been applied to certain aircraft to reduce fuel consumption.

Richards explained that the ridges not only reduce friction through the guides and along the rod blank, but can also reduce air friction when the line is cast in a tight loop. More than just having ridges, the materials and process have created a line that floats higher, has little or no memory, and will outlast the best fly lines currently on the market by at least three times through normal wear.

Casting the Sharkskin proved an interesting experience — the line makes a slight audible "zzzzzz" as the line shoots through the guides. I assumed these were the ridges gliding along the rod blank. The line also shot a bit further than the control line it tested against.

But the question that everyone kept trying to answer: Was this line worth $100? Yes, that's right. The Sharkskin is nearly twice as much as most premium fly lines on the market. If the durability is three times as long as other lines — estimated 9 to 12 years — then maybe so.

If you're like me, and looking for reasons to spend money in a fly shop, then my advice is to stick with the Mastery, Rio and Wulff premium lines.

2008 spring calendar

Here are some regional opportunities to check out rods and other tackle, as well as learn more about various aspects of fly fishing and fly tying:

• Jan. 26-27 — Atlanta Fly Fishing Festival, Gwinnett Civic Center, Gwinnett, Ga. Check castlow.com website for details.

• Feb. 2 — 16th annual Texas Fly Tying Festival, sponsored by Texas Fly Fishers, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Bethany Christian Church, Houston. More than a hundred tiers from across the South. Featured guest author Ken Iwamasa. Check the texasflyfishers.org website for details.

• Feb. 9 — Acadiana Fly Rodders Conclave, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Grace Presbyterian School, 415 Roselawn Blvd, Lafayette. Check the acadianafly.blogspot.com website for details.

• Feb. 15-16 — Little Mo Fly Fishing Festival, Community Center, Murfreesboro, Ark. For list of programs, fly tiers and vendors, check the www.littlemissouriflyfishing.com website.

• March 6-9 — Louisiana Sportmen's Show, Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, Gonzales. Members of the Red Stick and New Orleans clubs will be on hand for casting instruction.

• March 8 — Red Stick Fly Fishers Conclave, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Waddill Outdoors Center, 4142 Flannery Rd, Baton Rouge. Seminars, instruction, fly tying. Featured guests Nick Curcione, Terry and Roxanne Wilson. Check the rsff.org website for details.

• March 28-30 — National Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) Expo, Lakeland, Fla. Seminars, instruction, fly tying, fly casting equipment, boats, all sorts of vendors. For details, contact Jack Neely, 352-245-4492.

• May 3 — Red Stick Fly Fishers "Fly Fishing 101" clinic. Free and open to the public. Registration required as seats are limited. Check the rsff.org website for details.

• May 16-17 — 2nd Annual Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) Gulf Coast Expo, Lake Charles Civic Center, Lake Charles. Seminars, fly tying, vendors, workshops and other activities. Featured guests Bruce Richards, Nick Curcione and Tim Borski. Check the gulfcoastfff.org website for details.

• May 29-31 — Southeastern Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) Conclave, Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Ga. Seminars, fly tying, vendors, workshops, and other activities. Special guests Lefty Kreh and Steve Rajeff. Check the fffsec.org website for details.

In addition to these events, Louisiana's six FFF clubs hold monthly meetings, usually featuring a guest speaker or tying/casting instruction. These meetings are open to the public.

• Acadiana Fly Rodders. First Tuesday of each month, 6 p.m., Grace Presybterian Hall, 415 Roselawn Blvd, Lafayette. Website: acadianafly.blogspot.com.

• Contraband Fly Casters. Third Tuesday of each month, tying at 6 p.m., meeting at 7 p.m., Kirkman Hall, McNeese State campus, Lake Charles. Website: www.contrabandflycasters.com.

• New Orleans Fly Fishers. Last Thursday of each month, 7 p.m., Whitney Bank branch, 1441 Metairie Rd., Metairie. Website: noflyfisher.blogspot.com.

• North Louisiana Fly Fishers. Third Tuesday of each month, 7 p.m., YMCA Camp Forbing, Shreveport. Fly tying demonstrations bi-weekly at Bass Pro Shops in Bossier. Website: www.northlaflyfishers.org.

• Ouachita River Fly Fishers: Currently the last Monday of every month, 6 p.m., at Judd Moore's home. Website: orff.squarespace.com.

• Red Stick Fly Fishers. Second Monday of each month, 7 p.m., Wildlife and Fisheries building, Quail Dr., Baton Rouge. Fly tying the fourth Monday of each month, 7 p.m., at Cabelas in Gonzales. Website: www.rsff.org.

For updates on events and meetings throughout the year, check the Louisiana Fly Fishing website at www.laflyfish.com.