Old is new again at ICAST
Hey, fly flingers, pop quiz time!
What do Thomas and Thomas, Powell, and Diamondback have in common?
If you wore boots to your high school graduation, then you’re probably old enough to know.
The answer is: They used to make great fly rods.
They do make great fly rods.
It was a long time since I’d seen a Powell, T&T or Diamondback fly rod — almost as long as the last time I ate a bowl of Ninja Turtles cereal.
But in July at the ICAST fishing trade show in Orlando, not only did I see my old favorites but I got a chance to cast their latest reincarnations.
In 1999, Cortland bought out Diamondback and, over time, phased them out until the brand name was extinct.
Last year, Cortland’s former product manager Nate Dablock restarted the company and bought back the name.
There’s bad news and good news regarding Diamondback.
If you were a fan of their Backwater, Aeroflex or Western series — as I was — you’re out of luck. The Vermont factory was closed years ago, and the mandrels used to make those blanks are long gone.
The good news is that the rods Dablock are designing are as good as any rods I’ve cast for that price point. Based on the buzz around their booth during ICAST, I’d say Diamondback is back.
Their new models include the innovative Clout freshwater series (MSRP: $425), the Flex freshwater/saltwater series (MSRP: $299) and the fiberglass Meeker series (price TBA).
The Clout series has the most-unusual grip I’ve ever seen. This “Link Grip” is a group of cork pieces with exposed blank between each piece.
At first glance, my thought was, “This grip will never sell.” Casting a Clout 5-weight, however, showed how the grip gave me more control than I expected. The rod itself was a joy to cast.
The Flex 8-weight was very smooth, yet powerful. The blank had fast recovery speed — a trait found in the best saltwater rods.
Like Diamondback, Powell is a story of recovery.
For almost 60 years, the Powell family made high-quality bamboo and graphite rods in Chico, Calif. The Powell Light Touch and Legacy are considered among the best rods ever made.
In 1996, Walton Powell sold part of the business to investor Charles Schwab in an effort to expand. Instead, Schwab took over the company. Legal issues caused the company to lose their dealer network.
In 2002, Powell’s rod designer, Keith Bryan, purchased the company, which had been transformed to a conventional rod maker.
Bryan wants to bring back their fly legacy. Literally. At ICAST, they showed off a prototype of their Legacy XL fly rod — a newer version of an old classic.
Thomas and Thomas was another pleasant surprise. Since 1999, the Connecticut-based company has gone through a couple of owners and a few business issues.
That changed last year. Neville Orsmond, a 34-year-old Connecticut coffee entrepreneur, bought T&T. Living only a few miles from the factory, Orsmond spends five days a week on location.
His first act was genius — he hired T&T founder and legendary rod designer Tom Dorsey. Together, they’ve created three new series of high-performance rods.
I casted two of their new rods at ICAST. The first was the Spire, which is being marketed as a medium-action dry fly presentation rod for trout anglers. It was the best trout rod I cast during the show.
The other new T&T rod I tried out was the Solar. This is a fast-action saltwater series that is tuned for accuracy in the 40- to 70-foot range. During my testing, I was able to cast the entire line — 105 feet — with a single double-haul.
The Spire and Solar are awesome rods, but awesomeness comes at a cost. Prices will be in the $800 range.
Scott Rod Company took top honors at ICAST with two fantastic new saltwater rods: the Meridian and the Tidal.
The Meridian won the Best New Saltwater Rod and Overall Best of Show in the Fly Tackle Dealers Showcase at ICAST.
Again, premium comes at a price — $856 to be exact.
For those looking for Scott quality at a better price, the Tidal is the answer.
Being a moderate kind of guy, I found the medium-fast action on the Tidal a bit more favorable to my casting stroke. I was actually able to cast it farther than the Meridian. It wasn’t as light, but it felt more in control.
At $475, it’s also easier on the checkbook.
One of the best saltwater rods tested is one you can’t buy — you have to build it.
This is an 8-weight rod made off Batson’s Revelation blank. I had no trouble casting the entire fly line.
Overall, I tested 53 fly rods, both new and existing models. Here were my favorites. Yours might be different, so always try before you buy.
Best premium 8-weight — Scott Meridian. Runnerups: T&T Solar, Loomis NRX, Hardy Zenith.
Best mid-range 8-weight — Scott Tidal. Runnerups: Diamondback Flex, TFO Mangrove, Orvis Recon, Allen Volant.
Best value 8-weight — Echo Ion XL. Runnerups: St Croix Mojo, Redington Voyant.
Best premium 5-weight — T&T Spire. Runnerups: Scott Radian, Orvis Helios.
Best mid-range 5-weight — Diamondback Clout. Runnerups: TFO BVK, Douglas DXF
Best value 5-weight — Orvis Encounter. Runnerups: Redington Classic Trout, St Croix Imperial.
Later this fall I’ll cover new reels, lines and accessories.
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