Focus on value for 2012
This year, for the first time in its history, the International Fly Tackle Retailers Show was held east of the Rocky Mountains — in New Orleans.
Buyers for national chains, wholesalers, guides, owners of independent fly shops, media and other parties descended upon the Crescent City in August. They came to review existing products and get a peek at the new stuff for 2012.
And yes, many also came to partake of the great food and saltwater fishing South Louisiana has to offer.
Of all the folks I spoke to at IFTR, only one voiced a displeasure with Louisiana. A lady from Minnesota wondered how I could put up with the oppressive heat and humidity. I asked her how she could put up with snow for seven months of the year.
While the show features every product even remotely related to our sport, it’s the tackle that gets most of the attention. Especially new rods.
Last year’s IFTR debuted the first rods constructed of nano matrix resins and other ultralight materials. The Loomis NRX and Hardy Zenith came forward to challenge the king of low swing weight, high-performance rods, the Orvis Helios.
One company that sat on the sidelines last year was Sage. As the leader in high-performance rods for nearly two decades, you knew they would respond.
For 2012, Sage has come out with the ONE rod. Before it was revealed at IFTR, a handful of pro anglers were given prototypes to evaluate. Nearly all said it was the best fly rod they’d ever cast.
It was for that reason that on the first day of IFTR, the Sage area of the convention center looked like an “Occupy Wall Street” mob. It wasn’t until late in the day that I could even get a rod in my hand to cast.
Longtime readers of this column know I’m hard to impress. The Sage ONE is indeed a great casting rod, a tad better than the Orvis Helios, but a tad lesser than the Hardy Zenith, which I’ve called the best fly rod made.
But with price tags hovering at $700, are any of these rods worth that extra edge in low swing weight and performance? It depends. If you’re going to fish one rod, and you want the best, get the best. Especially if your name is Les Miles or Drew Brees, and you can afford any rod you want!
For many of us, the mid-range category offers the best performance for price.
Temple Fork Outfitters has been the undisputed leader of value-priced and mid-priced rods for the last several years. From their Signature Series ($109) to the award-winning BVK series ($249), they also offer an unlimited lifetime warranty. Break the rod for any reason, ship it to them along with $25, and they’ll repair or replace.
In the highly competitive fly rod market, such achievement doesn’t go unchallenged for long. By far, the hottest trend for 2012 is the mid-range market.
Last year, Redington came out with their improved Crosswater series ($89) and Predator series ($199) of bass/kayak rods. This year they’re offering their new Voyant ($189) and Torrent ($249) series. They also offer a lifetime warranty on all rods other than Crosswater.
In my evaluations on the casting ponds, I found the Voyant slightly better than the Torrent for my moderate-action casting style. But the Torrent was able to consistently shoot 90 feet of line — which is about 40 feet more than I catch most of my reds!
The newly redesigned Orvis Clearwater was an unexpected surprise. Last year, Orvis came out with the Access rod. At $350, it offers the same technology found in their top-of-the-line Helios. According to Alex Beane, manager of the Orvis store in Baton Rouge, the Access was their top-selling rod by far this past year. So I wasn’t expecting them to take the Helios-based tapers and resins and apply it to a rod that sells for even less — $200 in fact. But that’s exactly what Orvis did.
In my testing, I couldn’t help but notice just how much improvement there was in the Clearwater. Honestly, the previous model looked like a cheap rod and cast like one. Not any more. If there’s one big mistake Orvis made, it was keeping the same name — it’s a whole ‘nuther rod!
I could go on and on about the many new models in the $100 to $250 price range. Ross, Mystic and Greys had new rods in this group that made an impression on me. Add to that, Bass Pro has come out with their Heat series of bass/kayak four-piece rods, and Cabelas is expected to reveal a couple of new rods including an upgrade on their best-selling Traditional series. Then you can understand why 2012 should be a great year for buyers.
Reels also were in the spotlight.
TFO’s new BVK reel is a machined large-arbor reel with very little weight, but enough drag power to stop a Redzilla. According to Larry Offner at Green Trout Fly Shop in Denham Springs, it’s been his best seller in the few weeks it’s been out.
Orvis has replaced the original Battenkill reel with the new Clearwater reel. I have a Battenkill from 1990 that is still in use. Even though it’s diecast, the anodization was good enough that there’s no sign of corrosion after hundreds of trips in the salt. The new Clearwater will be a large-arbor version of this reel, with a centerline drag.
Sunglasses, packs, buffs, jackets and tying tools were also feature items.
Flying Fisherman, Smith Optics and Costa del Mar have new lines of sunglasses for 2012 in popular amber and yellow. Both these lenses offer the best contrast vision for sightcasting to redfish, with vermillion as a choice for the brightest conditions.
Flying Fisherman has become my favorite because of its value price. For 2012, they now offer a new Master Angler hard polycarbonate lens that sells for just $59. A bifocal version sells for $79 and features a small magnifying section of the lens just perfect for those tying those difficult-to-see 7x tippets and size 20 flies.
Fly tiers on the go may be interested in Wapsi’s new mini-tool kit. It features a small vise with weighted pedestal. For storing those flies, Wapsi now has a new series of thin, clear fly boxes featuring slitted foam. If you ever use a slitted foam box, you will never go back to ripple foam.
Fishpond, Ethan Flies, and Clear Creek keep pushing the envelope when it comes to the (smaller) size in slings and packs. It’s amazing how something no bigger than a book can hold four boxes, six spools of tippet, pliers, a spare reel and a digital camera!
Books were also featured in the new products showcase. Best New Book of Show was “Fifty More Places to Fly Fish Before You Die,” a sequel to the bestselling “Fifty Places To Fly Fish Before You Die.” I hear the next book in the series will be titled, “Even More Places You Could’ve Fished If You Had Lived Long Enough.”
The one new book I was hoping to see won’t be available until March. Tony Amato of Amato Publications told me the economy is the reason for the delay in publishing “Saltwater Flies of the Southeast and Gulf Coast.” However, he said author Angelo Peluso has included more than 300 patterns, many of which were submitted by Louisiana tiers. Some, including the Coma Spoon, LaFleur’s Charlie and Ron’s Redchaser, are almost too good to publish.
Redfish could once again become a threatened species!