In general fly fishing is not as tough a sport as it is perceived. A decent cast can be developed with a fair amount of practice, and with a little help from your fly shop anyone can be put in a saltwater or warmwater situation filled with non-stop action. It’s all fun. But the need to be challenged is in our nature as fly anglers. High-risk, high-reward is the catalyst in the addiction process. This is why we find ourselves stalking bonefish in inches of water, redfishing in 20 mph winds, trying to feed tarpon who are only interested in getting to where they need to go, making 7,904 casts in hopes of one musky or snook, going toe to toe with pelagic giants and pretending we understand a single thing about the behavior of permit. We need every advantage we can get and the company that lessens the handicap the most wins.
So amongst gear manufacturers, IFTD 2017 was a race. A race to improve. To make the rod that best optimizes your casts, the line that compliments the rod for the perfect presentation, and the reel that most efficiently handles the rest after you’ve accomplished what should’ve been the hardest part, feeding the fish in difficult situations.
Sage SALT HD
Let’s go back to optimizing your casts. How often is your first cast right on the money? Not often I presume, if you’re anything like me. Or how many times has your first cast been good, only to have the fish change directions or swim lazily by your fly? The opportunity for a second shot is still there and the SALT HD is all about making that second shot count. The SALT itself was always known for its power, not so much its feel. We’ve already seen the precision and feel that Konnectic HD technology offers through the X. Now combine them and you have a lighter power stick that not only generates line speed effortlessly allowing you to take better advantage of rushed first shots and haul a ton of line for efficient second shots, but also offers incredible feel and precision through reduction of lateral movement so you can be more confident in each shot landing where it needs to. That’s the Sage SALT HD, your IFTD 2017 Best Saltwater Fly Rod and Best of Show winner.
Abel’s new sealed drag series is an award magnet. Last year the Sealed Drag Salt took home Best Saltwater Fly Reel. Being that the new Sealed Drag Fresh is basically a scaled down and lightened up version of the SDS, it’s only fitting that the SDF took home Best Freshwater Fly Reel for the 2017 show. The SDF wields an amazing 10 pounds of max drag through the same smooth carbon fluoropolymer system as the SDS, just smaller and lighter. With a drag adjustment range three times greater than the original SD reels from 2013, and a virtually zero start up inertia, the SDF will be one of the best light tippet protecting reels on the water. The futuristic modern porting is not just for appearance purposes. The SDF is actually nearly a full ounce lighter than its predecessor. Available in up to a size 6/7, this reel will be just as at home on bonefish flats and in snook lights as it will be on trout streams.
Orvis Helios 3
Since its announcement the Helios 3 has been marketed as being the most accurate rod in the game. After casting it I can testify that the H3 is scary accurate and throws like a cannon. But that’s not the wow factor for me, for me it was the forgiving nature in which the rod was accurate. It’s like Orvis greatly increased the sweet spot and added almost autocorrect-like capabilities. The H3 makes it possible to still be precise after making common accuracy killing mistakes such as shooting a little too much line on your backcast or moving your backcast slightly off plane. Perfect casts are rare and no two casts are ever exactly the same, not with all the variables involved. Wind, fly, direction, distance, window of opportunity and what the fish is doing all come into play. The H3 compensates for these factors so that the forward cast is always released through a tight window on a truer path to the target. This happens through a reinforced blank with a greater hoop strength so the rod won’t oval when under pressure, thus dampening the vibration and reducing tip frequency as the rod unloads. Orvis is extremely proud of this rod, the way they added the stark white section in the blank proves this. I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of that white blank on the water really soon.
Hatch Finatic 2nd Generation
Hatch has been listening. Major improvements were made in just the right places. The new Hatch Finatic shaved a bunch of weight by concaving out the spokes and by porting out 9 windows in the frame as opposed to the previous 7. The sharper edges of the previous generation were smoothed out to provide a greater sense of confidence while keeping the modern appearance. The drag system itself is ditching the old o-rings and going with a lip seal under the center hub for a much more reliable sealed system. Finally the new mist finishes provide a beautiful matte appearance and blasted texture.
While Lamson has always dominated the mid-price sealed light saltwater & warmwater category, they lacked a strong heavy-duty saltwater contender. Until now. The Cobalt is a powerhouse. To strengthen the frame while keeping the theme of super lightweight reels with ultra large arbors, Waterworks machined the inner and outer surfaces on different axis. This is an industry first that dramatically strengthens the side of the frame that bears the most load without adding weight. The drag system is a supercharged version of their sealed conical drags that uses a proprietary high-temperature graphite alloy to create torque. The Cobalt’s “set drag” adjustment system is quite innovative. So before accessing the full range of drag through a single rotation of the drag knob, anglers can adjust the initial amount of drag that the first (lightest) increment provides. This is good news for record seekers looking to protect ultra light tippet on very large fish.
Constructed of nearly indestructible 1680D TPU coated recycled Cyclepond, the environmentally friendly Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack, Slingpack and Lumbar Pack make for one of the most durable series of waterproof packs on the market. Each pack is designed for efficient fishing functionality and is padded in all the right places for all day comfort. The new Fishpond Quickshot Rod Holder is one of those slap yourself in the head, “why didn’t I think of that?” industry innovations. It attaches to the side of most Fishpond waterproof packs, including the entire new Thunderhead series, and holds a fly rod comfortably out of the way. This is a game changer in beach and flats fishing. Now you can have your tarpon, GT, permit or Cuda rod rigged and ready to go.
RIO DirectCore Flats Pro
The RIO DirectCore Flats Pro is dreamy. When asked why the Flats Pro shot and turned over so effortlessly, Raz our RIO rep simply replied “low-stretch core”. The low-stretch monofilament core makes sure none of the energy generated from your rod tip is stifled or lost, resulting in more efficient casts. Low memory in the core also provides straighter finishes and minimizes tangling. The Flats Pro is an all-in-one presentation line and windy day, big bug line. This was achieved through weight distribution and an extended back taper. The front taper allows the line to load quickly over short distances and the extended back taper provides the stability needed to carry more line and make more delicate presentations. Coated to retain its stiffness in wilting heat, the 2017 IFTD Best Saltwater Fly Line has taken flats and backcountry lines to a new level.
Simms took home four awards this year. With Dave Chouinard on the front-lines of Simms saltwater product development, the company continues to expand its saltwater line with purpose. Even with an enormous birth of new products, Simms keeps its soul and stays true to its mission of producing the most functional, comfortable, performance fishing apparel and gear on the water. Stand outs for us were the Solarflex Armor, Intruder Boot Salt, Axtell Pant, Sungaiter Cool and their focus on women’s apparel. Winner of the Men’s General Apparel category, the Simms Solarflex Armor uses Coolcore fabric technology to lower surface temperature up to 30% when wet. Think about that next time you’re poling the boat and everything is hazy from the heat. Integrated sungaiter means you’ll never forget your face protection again. The Sungaiter Cool uses the same Coolcore fabric technology. You’ve seen professional athletes with the cooling cloths, same concept. The new Intruder Boot – Salt is light, durable and lined with an integrated neoprene sock that folds over as a gravel guard and offers all day comfort on a naked foot. The Axtell Pant has an articulated stretch knee and crotch, the areas where you need it. The buffet waist offers a comfortable waistline without scrunch. Guides have reported no pilling or roughage from the pushpole on the bomber fabric after thorough testing. With a rising force of woman anglers, Simms is tirelessly campaigning to make sure the women are outfitted for success. A new Sungaiter with a pony-tail slip and the Women’s General Apparel winner the Women’s BiComp Shirt are the pinnacle in women’s performace fishing wear and show how Simms understands the needs of all of its anglers.
Skinny Water Culture and Flood Tide Co
Skinny Water Culture has really blossomed. Their new line of pants and shorts are extremely light with a modern fit, integrated belt-loop plier holder and will come in unique colors that breath new life into what we wear on the water. The culture extends beyond the water, so the new tees and woven shirts are comfortable flags to fly everywhere you go. The sunshirts were revamped to be better fitting, lighter and fresher for all day on the water representation. Flood Tide has touched its roots and is giving the people what we want. Some good clean living and Paul Puckett artwork that unites us as anglers while drawing others into the lifestyle. Retro, musical, modern, simple, intricate, the new Flood Tide line has something coming for every angler and outdoorsman.
If IFTD 2017 has proven anything, it’s that: we are a fast evolving industry where nobody is resting on their laurels, and that the manufacturers are not only listening to the anglers on the front-line but they also are composed of the anglers on the front-line.
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