BY FAR the biggest innovation in rods this year arrives in the form of Orvis‘s new Helios rod, a new product in the Zero Gravity series, which will be available first in sizes three through six for freshwater and six through ten for the salt. Though it hasn’t endured many “trial by fish” tests yet, the rod’s super-light weight left folks agog on the casting ponds. The five-weight “Mid-Flex” and ten-weight “Tip-Flex” we cast at the show were simply the best rods we’ve thrown this year.
At $775, the price puts the rod in the same class with all the other highest-end production rods on the market, but it seems Orvis spared no expense on the components or the packaging (the woven graphite rod tube looks like it cost $100 by itself). Titanium alloy corrosion-proof Recoil™ guides, solid NanoLite rings in the stripping guides — which Orvis says are twice as hard and 45% stronger than ceramic — and a woven graphite reel seat give the rod details that are hard to find even individually on other rods.
But the secret behind the rod’s extraordinary lightness is in the reduced graphite scrim combined with thermoplastic resin. (For a few more details, read our show conversation with rod designer Jim LePage, or read our original impressions of the prototype rod.)
After introducing a bunch of new specialty rods last year, G. Loomis has developed its first entry-level rod series and calls them Xperience Rods. The ten rods in the line go from a 3- to a 12-weight and retail for $265-345. With these rods Loomis says it is taking a different approach to low-cost rods, starting with blanks that belong on much more expensive rods. The company is also introducing the East Fork ELS, a fast-action rod that they say should have an action that fits between two other new rods, the softer WhisperCreek GLX ($575-620) and the MAX GLX ($620-630). East Fork rods will retail for between $385 and $435 and will be available in sizes three through seven. For the big-rod saltwater aficionados, there’s the new CrossCurrent FR10213-3. Tested on an extended world record tour for pelagics, the new CrossCurrent “Tuna Stick” already has a few pending IGFA world records to its credit. This fast taper/stiff action rod is rated for use with 14-weight lines and has a suggested retail price of $540.
Redington‘s new RS4 line — an upgrade to their popular RS3 rods — sports alignment dots and line designations on each rod piece, practical accents on a very affordable ($210-275) series of rods. Besides having lots of little fit and finish details, the moss-green RS4 comes in 2- and 4-piece models and ranges in price from $210 to $275, depending on size and handle configuration (cigar or full wells and with or without butt). Redington is also delivering what is probably the largest number of options in fly fishing ready-to-fish outfits: 4 packages including an outfit that includes a large-arbor rulon-drag reel, backing, a Crosswater rod, and a weight-forward line with pre-attached leader for under $150.
Scott will be starting the new year with its own ultra-light series of rods in the form of the S4 series. Scott focused on stability and tracking when designing the new multi-directional carbon fiber lay ups for the S4. The rods include Fuji Concept SiC strippers in titanium frames, REC nickel titanium Recoil snake guides, REC custom titanium reel seats with extra select buckeye wood spacers, along with details like alignment dots and measuring wraps. Even with the fancy dressing, the 9′ 5-weight 4-piece rod weighs only 2.9 ounces. S4 rods are available in a range from a 3-weight to an 8 and are all four pieces. They are priced at $675.00. Scott will also have a series of new technical two-handers called the T2H rods, priced at $750-850, and a limited-edition Warmwater Series ($625) that is their Concept rod for 2008. Finally — and this will make a lot of folks happy — Scott announced that they will be bringing back STS saltwater fly rods as their Classic Series for 2008.
Highland Mills (formerly the Tea Stick Rod Company) showcased their new “production” bamboo rods at the show, picking up the tradition of Heddon, Granger and Phillipson, who took bamboo rod manufacturing as far as it could go in the early 20th century. The idea is apparently to make non-custom cane rods affordable without sacrificing quality. If you want something truly unique, there are lots of other choices, but if you want bamboo at a price that won’t entirely scare you away from natural materials, these new rods make sense. Their American Series, available in 3-, 4-, and 5-weight versions, come with two tip sections and are priced at $1299.
Sage remains the quietly confident innovator that it has been for several years, capping a few new ideas with improvements based on customer response, such as making grips smaller. Their new sub-eight-foot bass rod, the BASS Series, will appeal to bug tossers in both lilly pads and mangrove creeks where snook lurk. The new BASS rods are priced at $350, and interestingly, Sage has designed their own new fly line specifically for that rod. We think this rod will also be a popular rod among kayakers, especially those used to having to throw big bugs from a sitting position. Sage’s new ZXL rods offer a slower action and improved taper in a rod that is yet $50-60 more expensive ($655) than last year’s new Z-axis, which remains their premium fast-action model.
R. L. Winston follows up on 2007′s Boron IIt rods with the Boron II-MX series, which will sell for between $655 and $715. The four-piece rods will be available in 5- through 12-weight sizes and carry Winston’s unconditional lifetime guarantee.
Hardy has decided to market a series of new graphite rods that match their reels. An example is the new Marksman rod that is meant to be sold with their lightweight Marksman reel for 2008. They want Marksman to be the “definitive light-line” outfit, including 2- through 5-weight rods with lightweight guides and nickel-silver reel
Jim Shulin of Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) let us spend time with their new Axiom rods at the FFR casting pools and and we came away with the same feeling that most TFO rods give us: that this is a good, sensible rod with plenty of reserve strength for distance casting. Makes sense for rod that employees Kevlar in the blank construction. The production Axioms have an attractive deep blue finish, retail for $249.95 ($274.95 with fighting butt), and come in sizes 5, 6, 8 and 10. Out in May but really part of the 2008 TFO line are the Deer Creek Series spey rods, which were designed by Mike Kinney and Bob Meiser. The Deer Creek rods range in size from a 5/6 to a 9/10 and cost $329.95-349.95. And joining the feel-good category of rods by TFO, the new Project Healing Water rods ($149.95 and $159.95 for the 5- and 8-weight respectively) mean a $25 donation from the company each time a rod is purchased.
This year Ross Reels expands into the fly rod market with their new Essence series of graphite rods. The three Essence models — the FS, FC, and FW — were designed with the help of Mel Kreiger are all 4-piece rods. The prices — $99, $149 and $199 — put them in the same class as Redington’s and TFO’s regular offerings.
Wright & McGill has a new five-section Boron 5Xe rod that had testers nodding in approval. The action reminded some of early production fly rods that used Boron, like Fenwick’s 1970 rods: stiff in the butt, softer in the tip. Sizes range from two-weight through nine-weight. The company also announced new four-piece Classic Spey Rods, including everything from a five-weight “switch” rod to a 14′ 6″ 10/11-weight. Both the Boron 5xe series and the Classic Spey Rods will retail for $300 to $370.
Not satisfied with five-piece efficiency? L.L. Bean is including two new affordable rods in their 2008 lineup: a new 8-piece travel rod ($179-199) and the Double L freshwater fly rod ($195) in their 2008 lineup.
St. Croix adds the Legend Elitefly rod series to its 2008 product line. The new rods will come in both Freshwater and Saltwater versions, sizes 3 through 12.