Specifications • Fly Line Density: Floating • Fly Line Taper: Long belly, weight forward with welded front loop • Total Head Length: 51 feet (for 5 weight line - varies by line weight) • Running Line Length: 49 feet (for 5 weight line- varies by line weight) • Total Line Length: 100 feet • Core: Braided multifilament for cold water use • Coating: Sharkskin Micro-textured surface on 3M PVC • Line Weights: 3 through 8 weight • Colors: Blue Heron (gray) or Chartreuse PROS- Technological breakthrough greatly improves overall fly line and fly fishing performance; less friction, greater casting distance, higher floatation, easier mending, better presentation, more stealth, less line memory, improved potential durability, with less effort from the caster. CONS- $100 price is about $40 more than other premium fly lines. Creates much more noise going through fly rod guides than smooth fly lines. BOTTOM LINE – One of our basic fly fishing tools has experienced significant improvement! If the durability claims hold up, there’s no reason not to buy this line if you dry fly or nymph fish in moving water. The Sharkskin should be economical to use in the long run.
Fly Fishing, as popular as it may seem from its prominence in television ads, is still a very, very tiny industry. The total money spent on our several hundred year old art form pales in comparison to even recent phenomena like Pilates, for example. Yet, because fly fishing holds a fascination for a dedicated following, there are intelligent people in our world who devote themselves to finding ways to improve the fly fishing tackle that we all use. Almost all of these improvements are small ones. As manufacturers learn technologies from one another, product categories are slowly refined; Rods get lighter, faster, and more powerful. Reels become smoother, more rigid, with better drag performance. But rarely does a piece of new equipment come along with multiple attributes that clearly sets it apart from others. Well, that’s just what’s happened with the introduction of the new Scientific Anglers Sharkskin Fly Fishing Line. And I’m going to tell you why you’ll probably want to spend $100 to get a Sharkskin, if you can find one. Even if you’ve just bought a new fly line.
The new Scientific Anglers Sharkskin Floating Fly Line features a remarkable, patented micro-replication embossed surface that greatly improves overall fly line performance in virtually every category; higher flotation, less friction, less line flash, less line spray, less line coil and, purportedly, greater durability. The result is enhanced fishing performance with increased casting distance, easier mending, easier line pick up, greater stealth and better drifts. • Patented, micro-textured fly line surface greatly enhances overall fly line performance • Superior shoot-ability with greatly reduced friction through the guides for easier casting and greater distance • Higher flotation reduces drag and greatly increases line mend-ability • Greater pliability significantly reduces fly line drag component in moving water • Fly line surface sheds water more effectively – less line spray • Line is purported by manufacturer to be up to 3 times more durable than other fly lines. • Textured surface eliminates line glare or flash—more stealth • Line lifts off water and roll casts with ease
The Sharkskin Fly Line made its official debut at the recent 2008 American Fly Fishing Trade Association Show in Denver, CO, where retailers gather every year to see the new gear and decide on their inventory for the following season. Of all the new products, the conversational buzz I most often overheard in the aisles was, “Have you cast the new Sharkskin Line from S.A.!?”, or, “It makes a lot of noise when you haul, but I’ve never cast that far!”, or, “I swear it was floating above the water!” I didn’t get to cast one at the Show ponds; I was too busy trying to see all the other new stuff, and besides, I’d heard sales hype so often in the past that my expectations, honestly, weren’t that great. But I was handed a new Sharkskin line at the Scientific Anglers booth, as were hundreds of other trades people, and I put it in my bag as I left. I took the line out in my hotel room that night, as I read the information on the 3M box cover. My floating 6 weight Sharkskin line was called “Blue Heron” but appeared a very dull gray with a texture similar to cloth. The line was very supple in my hand and felt like dry snakeskin. The box explained that the surface of the Sharkskin Line was modified with “micro-repeating structures” that “achieve surface interface properties that mimic nature, such as the ability of insects to walk on water, the shedding and self-cleaning ability of Lotus leaves, or the adhesion that allows a gecko to walk up vertical surfaces.” Wow! That sure sounded impressive. I made a mental note to read up on Lotus leaves later. Although I didn’t have a magnifying glass handy, the close-up photo of the line surface looked like fuzzy fish scales. The performance claims were equally grand, but, like rods or reels, you never really know until you fish them hard.
A couple of weeks later, I was on one of my favorite Northern California freestone streams. The nymphing was outstanding after a recent rain. I could see big Rainbow trout in exposed positions, feeding comfortably in the stained current. My relatively new long belly floating fly line, however, felt a little sticky, and was causing me to labor as I forced it through the guides. The front eight feet of the line was sinking. Even after I polished it to remove accumulated dirt and algae, I still felt I was working too hard. That night in camp I remembered I had the Sharkskin Line with me, and I mounted it on a spare reel to use the next day. In the morning, my first cast sailed ten feet past the fish I had spotted! In fact, the Sharkskin Line had so little friction going through the guides, I had to adjust my casting and mending over the next couple of hours to accommodate this phenomena. I was used to using far more power to accomplish these tasks with other fly lines. Now, it seemed I needed only half the energy to extend or shoot line. Single and double hauling was easier with fewer false casts. Texturing a fly line surface to reduce friction is not a new concept. Original silk fly lines were naturally uneven. The old Chancellor Chalkstream lines from England, and to a lesser degree, the old Sunset lines, had a dimpled surface, not unlike a golf ball, to reduce the amount of surface area making contact with the guides. Airflo, England’s premier fly line maker, recently introduced their bumpy surfaced Ridge fly line series in 2006. Scientific Anglers claims the patterning of the Sharkskin process reduces the contact surface area of the line up to 70%. Whatever it is, the Sharkskin, at least when new, has far less friction than any fly line I’ve ever used. I should mention that casting textured fly lines through fly rod guides creates more of a rasping noise than smooth lines, and with the Sharkskin, quite a bit more noise. It doesn’t bother me at all, any more than my click-pawl reel drag. So is the Sharkskin the ultimate distance full-length floating line? Well, that’s hard to say at the moment. Aside from texturing, fly lines in the past have either been stiffer and/or smaller in diameter to increase casting distance. The Sharkskin is much more flexible and softer, than other lines, bending more like a bicycle chain. Fly line taper comes into play for distance as well. The Sharkskin currently is offered in only one taper configuration, called the “Ultimate Trout Taper” in line weights 3 to 8. (note: after this review was published, SA has since introduced several new Sharkskin fly lines; Ultimate Trout Double Taper, GPX, Magnum indicator line, Steelhead Taper, Shooting Line for heads, and an ideal general purpose Saltwater Line - DS 4/09) This long belly, weight forward profile has a head length of about 45 for the 3 weight, ranging to 55 feet for the 8 weight, with a thinner, running line adding to the 100 foot overall length. This taper in a 6 weight performed extremely well for me, fishing at short to fairly long distances (70+ feet), both roll casting and overhead casting. I didn’t test the Sharkskin in a raw distance competition with my other high performance lines as I was mainly interested in assessing the Sharkskin’s fish-ability. The Sharkskin technology, either in the current Ultimate Trout Taper, or a future configuration, may very well prove to cast further than any other line. However, what I can tell you, from a practical standpoint, is that the Sharkskin Ultimate Trout will probably cast further, with less effort, than any other fly line for most casters in typical trout fishing situations. Note: This line is designed for mainly cold water use. Tropical saltwater fly lines typically have stiffer cores, so if that’s what you need, wait until S.A. comes out with a Sharkskin model suitable for that purpose (they have - see note above).
The most impressive, and important feature, by my reckoning, of 3M’s micro-replication process is its awesome flotation properties. I couldn’t believe how high my new Sharkskin line floated on the water, even the line tip! Fly line manufacturers have been struggling to improve line floatability for decades with decidedly mixed results. There’s only so much that you can do with a given mass of PVC with internal micro spheres to reduce specific gravity. Not many years ago, one could expect the best distance floating lines to start sinking immediately, and even most recently, the first six to eight feet of my dry lines will sink unless they were cleaned that morning, and they’ll still sink by the end of the day. Sinking fly lines increase drag and make line mending much more difficult and far less effective. The coatings on most floating fly line tips are barely capable of keeping them on the surface at all. According to Scientific Anglers, the micro-texturing of the Sharkskin Fly Line “Greatly increases the upward meniscus force (surface tension) through a combination of the water’s interaction with the new surface and the trapping of air into the valleys of the texture. The result is an over 200% improvement in resistance of the line to be forced into the water….effectively improving “floatation” of the line significantly beyond anything that can be achieved through the addition of glass bubbles or surface chemistries.” The incredible flotation of the Sharkskin had a profound effect on my ability to make drag free presentations. Firstly, the high floating fly line better supported the floating portion of my leader, keeping it up near the surface in rougher water. Secondly, the Sharkskin lifted so damned easily off the water that mending, stack mending, and roll casting could be accomplished with a fraction of the energy of my other lines, particularly at distance across disparate currents. Thirdly, the Sharkskin line itself has less drag in moving water due to its high flotation, but it also has less drag due to its suppleness, compared to other fly lines. Softer material, be it line, leader or tippet, will create less drag in current. Most trout anglers stake their fish catching success on their ability to present dry flies or nymphs in the most natural manner, which usually means as close to dead-drift as possible. Veteran anglers will understand the import of what I’m saying here, but let me re-emphasize for the less experienced; the new Sharkskin line does everything so much better that it will improve your fly fishing, improve your casting and strengthen your learning curve. The fly fishing line is, arguably, the most important functional piece of tackle you own, so we’re talking about something approaching the Holy Grail of desirability here. With this technology, fly lines won’t have to be so closely matched to rods, guide sizes on rods could conceivably be smaller and lighter, improving rod performance, sinking lines (when available) fished under tension would have greater tactile sensitivity. Not only that, the Sharkskin’s dull surface has virtually no line flash to scare wary fish, making it the most stealthy line available and a no-brainer for fishing spring creeks and hunting New Zealand brown trout. I’d strongly recommend the Blue Heron (gray) color for subtlety in most trout fishing situations. The alternative color, Chartreuse, while having low flash, is day-glo bright, suitable for anglers who have difficulty seeing their line or for fishing in very low-light conditions.
Scientific Anglers was founded in 1945 by fellow anglers Leon Martuch, Clare Harris, and Paul Rottiers in Midland, Michigan. They developed the first modern, plastic coated fly line in 1952, replacing silk fly lines which had been in use for well over 100 years. In 1954, SA introduced the Air Cel, widely considered the first modern floating fly lines. The development of 3M Microballoons in 1959 revolutionized the way that fly lines float and is the standard technology by which all manufacturers float their lines today. 3M, then known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, acquired Scientific Anglers in 1973. Today, 3M is one of 30 companies comprising the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is ranked about 100 in the Fortune 500 listing with over $23 billion in annual sales, operating in over 60 countries with 29 international companies and 35 laboratories. It’s probably the largest company in the world directly involved in the fly fishing industry. No wonder these guys can make fly lines float! They obviously wrote the book on early modern fly line development and it’s not surprising that they have research and development resources way beyond the means of the handful of other major fly line makers that we usually see on the shelves, which include Rio and Cortland in the U.S. and Airflo in the U.K. Most other brands you buy are actually made by one of these few companies or in Asia. Machines to build modern fly lines are very sophisticated, very expensive, and take up a lot of space, to satisfy a very small potential market. Hence the dearth of players. So, why hasn’t Scientific Anglers simply rolled over their competition? Well, the other companies may be small by comparison, but they too, have been innovative at times, particularly in coming up with specialized tapers for different fishing situations. These tapers are designed by knowledgeable fishermen, not scientists, so sometimes the little guy gets the jump on the big guy. Rio Products, recently purchased by the Sage rod company, has been particularly active, and successful, pioneering whole new categories of Spey and single handed fly lines. I’m not a patent lawyer, but I’m guessing that the 3M micro-replication process might pose a difficult challenge for all other fly line companies seeking to mimic the advantageous properties of the new Scientific Anglers technology. Certainly expect S.A. to capitalize on Sharkskin with an expansion of the product line in the near future.
Frankly, we won’t really know the true durability of Sharkskin until enough of us go out and thrash the water for a while. Lines that last a year for a fishing guide might last ten years for a casual angler. My feeling is, even in the worst case scenario (that being Sharkskin isn’t any more durable than other modern fly lines), the $100 price would still be a bargain based simply on its performance advantages. When you think about the money that you spend on rods, reels, other tackle, and the gas just to get to where you fish, forty extra bucks is a small price to pay.
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Specifications• Line Sizes: 6 to 16 weight• Rod Lengths: 8' to 9.5' • Sections: all 4 piece models • Handles: Portuguese cork - Full-wells saltwater grip• Reel Seats: Black anodized aluminum uplock w/ cork fighting butt • Actions: Fast
Saltwater fly rods have a difficult set of criteria to live up to. They need to be powerful, and have a relatively fast action to throw tighter loops when distance is required, and to battle wind with large flies. Yet, just as often, these rods are called upon to load quickly for very short casts, with just one backcast, when jumping fish from the deck of a boat, or in poor visibility conditions. Hmmmm... that sounds like a difficult design parameter to me. In a similar vein, we’re battling some pretty big, muscular fish here, sometimes longer than we would want to, so the fly rod has to be built strong enough to take that punishment, plus the added abuse of getting knocked around in a boat. But on the other hand, we may have to cast this beast of a rod for hours at a time, so if it’s overly heavy, or unresponsive, it could wipe us out of the game when if we’re unable to raise our arms any more. Such are the dilemmas of the Saltwater fly angler. Awhile back, the Sage Rod Company started experimenting with a graphite fly rod construction process which they thought would lead them to the next level in overall fly rod performance. In a nutshell, they were right on. After three years of extensive testing, Sage’s new Generation 5 Graphite Technology process was unveiled for the 2004 season in the form of an impressive new series of high performance saltwater fly fishing rods, the Xi2. This construction process has proven so successful, Sage has incorporated the same G5 Technology into the moderate action/light line ZXL Series, the all-around fast action Z-Axis Series, and most recently, for 2008, the featherweight TXL ultra-light series.
All of these new Sage rod Series are impressive performers in their own right, but let’s get back to the Sage Xi2s. The Xi2 rod has a fast action, yet is extremely smooth, and can readily generate high line speeds for longer saltwater casts, even though it has a finer tip and weighs about a half an ounce less than its popular predecessor, the Sage RPLXi. When I recently used the Xi2 12 weight on a Tarpon trip to the Keys, we ran into a lot of overcast conditions. Sometimes we didn’t see these monsters until they were just about on top of us. Then the guide was yelling, “Get it out there, NOW!” The Xi2 responded fairly quickly and accurately in these short line situations. Sage says that their Modulus Positioning System (MPS) in the Xi2 allows a precise lay-up of longitudinal fibers not only to create the smoothest action possible, but also “to provide a startling level of "line feel" throughout the casting stroke. This enhanced ability to feel the rod load allows you to apply power more efficiently.” I’d agree with that, considering that the Xi2 is a fast action rod. “Fast” in saltwater lexicon usually means “really stiff”. The Xi2 seemed to give me more feedback than the heavier saltwater sticks I’d used in the past. Long casts or short casts, the Xi2 seemed to make my casting easier. I should note that my casting style is suited, and my preferences are biased, toward faster action rods. But G5 Technology looks to make even fast rods more “castable” for everyone, so I would even recommend these rods to beginning casters, some of who may benefit by starting out with a fly line one size heavier than the rod weight.
There are thirteen of these dark blue-colored, four-piece bad boys, and they cover all the line weights, ranging from a 9’ six weight for spooky bones, specks, and reds, all the way up to an 8 foot long, sixteen (yes, 16) weight rod for landing god-knows-what kinda huge fish. The Sage Xi2 9 foot 8 weight, 10 weight, and 12 weight rods remain the salt water workhorses for flats, reefs and offshore and are the most popular sizes for all-around saltwater fly fishing.
Sage replaced a very successful saltwater rod series, the RPLXi with the Xi2. The Xi2 weighs significantly less, easily generates more power, but most importantly, has a more responsive, lively feel when compared to previous saltwater rods. The significance lies in the differing technologies used in building the rod blanks themselves. Instead of a typical fiberglass “scrim” or mesh that is rolled around the steel mandrel and binds the longitudinal graphite fibers together, the Z-Axis utilizes what Sage calls their Generation 5 technology. In this process, the scrim is replaced by a lighter layer of graphite cloth that is rolled at a 90º angle to the separate layer of longitudinal graphite rolled over it. The result is a rod with greater “hoop” strength with less weight. When a fly fishing rod bends, its circular cross section becomes an oval, with the greatest stress occurring in the compression element at the inside of the bend. This phenomenon is typically what causes graphite rods to shatter when they’re overstressed (aside from car doors, dog teeth, and nicks from weighted flies). These graphite “hoops” offer far greater stability than their heavier fiberglass counterparts used in past generations of graphite fly rods. In addition, when the G5 layers are compressed with tape and baked in an oven, as all synthetic rods are, the epoxy resin fuses the layers together more effectively than it would with scrim, and uses less resin in the process. G5 tech has been proven with the Xi2 Salt Water rods, and has lead to the production of new, higher performance freshwater Sage fly rods, as well. Not only that, but in the four plus years since their introduction, the Sage Xi2s have proven their extreme ruggedness in tough saltwater situations. So; lighter, stronger, faster, more versatile, and more durable, to boot? If you took a poll of veteran Saltwater fly anglers, it would be no surprise that they would rate the Sage Xi2 as the top saltwater rods available today.
The sanded surface blank of the Xi2 is painted a blue color with blue thread wraps over English Hopkins and Holloway heavy-duty oversized snake guides, oversized round tip top, and two stripping guides, with three stripping guides on 11 weight rods, and heavier. The grips are turned smoothly from the finest individual Portuguese cork rings and are complimented with a black, salt-safe, heavy duty anodized aluminum uplocking reel seat with a cork fighting butt. Due to several layers of inspection during the manufacturing process, the fit and finish of the Xi2 is nearly flawless and what one would, and should, expect on a top of the line rod. The rod comes in a cloth sock with fold over tie down and a substantial, blue colored aluminum tube with a solid screw cap. • Sage G5 technology graphite construction • Very light in hand (for salt water fly rods) • Fast and crisp, yet smooth, rod tapers for high line speed, accuracy, and comfortable casting, near or far • Oversized, low profile English Hopkins and Holloway guides and round tip top • Hand-turned Full Wells cork grip • Black uplocking salt-safe big game reel seat with cork fighting butt • Cloth sack and aluminum rod case • Limited lifetime warranty
Sage was founded in 1979 by Don Green, an experienced rod blank builder and one of the architects of the modern fishing rod, as owner of the Grizzly Fiberglass Company, which later partnered with Fenwick. It was originally called Winslow Manufacturing (after the city of Winslow on Bainbridge Island, Washington) but within a year had changed its name to Sage. Emphasizing high quality fly rods sold only through specialty stores, Sage rode the crest of the fly-fishing boom in the post “A River Runs Through It” years. Today, although there is no industry repository for exact numbers, Sage is probably the world’s largest producer of premium fly rods and employs over 100 workers in their manufacturing facility. So, has being the 800-pound gorilla affected the quality of their product as it has with so many other companies in the outdoor industry? Although challenged by industry wide flat sales, the growth of the Internet, and increasingly higher quality Asian imports, my impression is no, for several reasons. Sage has continued to retain talented people and spend money on research and development. The proximity of Bainbridge to the Boeing Aircraft manufacturing plants near Seattle and Toray Composites in Tacoma provides access to a wealth of knowledge from the aerospace industry, the primary end users of graphite fiber. More importantly, aside from a few casting and spinning rod models over the years, Sage has pretty much stuck to their original intention, building very good fly rods. The Xi2 has a limited lifetime warranty for the original owner. If you damage or break your rod, you are responsible for the shipping charges and insurance to send ALL of the pieces to Sage in the original tube, or a PVC tube, plus a $50 handling fee, to cover return shipping and insurance within the U. S. or Canada. International owners are charged the actual shipping and insurance fees. Not a bad deal for an expensive, relatively fragile tool. The other five or six top US makers offer similar rod warranties, but not all provide the same level of service. I’ve seen some customers wait 3 or 4 months, or longer, to get their rods back. Sort of puts the damper on the fishing season. Sage’s lead time for repairs is usually about 2 to 3 weeks during their busy summer, and shortens to about 1 ½ to 2 weeks in the winter.
The Sage Xi2, from many standpoints, deserves its reputation as the best all around salt water rod series, and would be my first choice in all line weights that I would most often use in saltwater. If I could suggest one ‘dream’ change, however, it would be for Sage to adopt some new, innovative technology that’s recently become available; Recoil nickel/titanium guides and stripping guides. These amazing, lightweight guides are nearly crush-proof, usually snapping back to their original shape after being deformed. Recoils, as I’ve heard from some saltwater pros, have superior corrosion resistance over traditional plated steel wire guides, particularly when exposed to a constant marine environment. I don’t live on the ocean and I’m an occasional salt water fly angler, so I clean and rinse my gear (as I’ve been told to do over the years), after every salt exposure, and I clean it again, more thoroughly, when I get home from a trip. So, for me, as well as most anglers, both types of guides will work fine and most likely will give me long years of service. Sage competitor, G. Loomis has had good success with the Recoil guides on their GLX CrossCurrent saltwater fly rods. The CrossCurrents also cast very, very well and I would rate them a close second to the Xi2 and, perhaps, a first choice for someone who keeps their rods onboard most of the time.
Generation 5 Technology all-graphite layup from Sage builds noticeably lighter, stronger and faster line speed saltwater fly rods that can still load readily over a wide range of casting distances for ultimate versatility. Thirteen rod models from 6 to 16 weights to cover everything from small reds to giant billfish. Heavy-duty reel seats. Limited lifetime warranty.
$670 to $745 price tag is a little steep for some, but in line with other top saltwater fly rod makers. Traditional chromed steel guides, while sturdy, sometimes do not hold up as well to constant, or unmaintained salt water corrosion as the newer nickel/titanium Recoil guides.
A combination of recent technological advances and superb tapers, the Sage Xi2 has established a higher casting and fish fighting standard in saltwater fly fishing rods. Fast, smooth, ‘lively’ and powerful with proven strength and durability from the world’s most successful premier fly rod manufacturer.
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