Line Weight: 5
Length: 9 Ft.
Sections: 4 pieces
Weight: 3 5/16 oz.
Grip: Western-Portuguese cork
Reel Seat: Up-locking nickel silver w/ rosewood insert
Action: Medium w/ high line speed
Construction: G5 (generation 5) graphite technology
Blank Color: Pomegranate
Tube Size: 30 in. aluminum of matching color
Retail Price: $675.00
Sage. Here from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary: “Sage
adjective. Middle English, from Anglo-French: proceeding from or
characterized by wisdom, prudence, and good judgment synonyms see wise”.
It was this definition that I thought of when I heard that Sage’s
latest rod series was not in fact their Z-Axis,
a rod series much praised in its own right for the utilization of
Sage’s new G5 technology in making for some of the lightest and fastest
rods on the market today, but instead the Sage ZXL fly rod, a rod
designed using the same G5 technology, but with the alternate goal of
creating instead a smoother, more refined rod, one with a medium action
and softer feel, yet still plenty of backbone. In other words, just
as the Z-Axis was designed to eventually replace the XP, so was the ZXL
designed to be an eventual replacement for another older yet still very
popular Sage series: the SLT. This was made possible with use of the
same G5 high modulus graphite that the ZXL shares with its closest
cousin, the Z-Axis. Is it just me or does it seem now that every year, a
slew of the biggest rod companies seem hell-bent on outdoing each other
in simply producing the lightest, fastest, and hence many times the
stiffest rod they can, which is all fine and dandy when it comes power,
weight, and the people that really prefer an ultra fast action, but
whatever happened to building in a “good feel”, a sensitive tip, and a
pleasurable casting stroke, not to mention something that doesn’t feel
like a broomstick when fighting a 12 inch fish? Sage has truly lived up
to their name in my eyes now as they have realized and answered the
considerable demand that this niche occupies within the market and for
many an individual angler. They have put forth full and equal effort
into seeing that the ZXL takes its rightful place alongside the Z-Axis.
Being one who appreciates the pleasurable, albeit, slower actions of
bamboo, fiberglass, and even earlier, lower modulus graphite trout rods,
but also the power, precision, and light weight of the latest “super
rods”, it was a virtual “no brainer” for me when looking for a new rod
to test and review. Enter the Sage ZXL 590 fly rod, a rod which I put
through as many paces as a day of fishing would allow, from fishing
tiny dry flies in a feeder creek I could jump across, to throwing nymphs
and streamers with plenty of added split shot into the faster, deeper
pools of the much larger freestone river that above mentioned creek fed
into. The Sage ZXL 590 did not disappoint.
The 9 foot fly rod for a 5 weight line is generally
considered to be the best all around fly rod for trout fishing,
especially out here in the west with our wide variety of waters, and the
ZXL 590 is no exception, especially with the unique blend of power and
finesse afforded to it by Sage’s state of the art G5 technology which is
matched to a more progressively graded taper that runs a strong
powerful butt section rather quickly into a surprisingly sensitive tip,
which makes for quite a “whippy” little rod with excellent
responsiveness. All of this breaks down into four pieces which combined;
weigh in at a feathery 3 5/16 oz. These 4-pieces slide easily into the
provided aluminum tube of 30 inches. The ZXL Series of fly rods feature a
narrower, western style grip designed for improved comfort and an
up-locking reel seat.
In conversation with Chris Anderson, the sales manager at
Sage, I learned that Sage essentially utilizes the exact same G5
technology of inner fiberglass scrim replacement in the ZXL that they do
in the Z-Axis. The sheets of cross-thatched fiberglass scrim, that were
traditionally used, layer upon layer, sandwiched in between sheets of
the main material, graphite were replaced with thinner, stronger, and
lighter weight sheets of carbon fiber. In this way, Sage is able to very
efficiently shave away every gram of unnecessary material, building a
much lighter but also much more responsive fly rod. But just as “the
proof is in the pudding”, the difference between the ZXL and Z-Axis is
in the taper design. By utilizing a taper that creates a more moderate
action and by coupling that with the G5 technology of the Z-Axis, Sage
was able to create a medium action fly rod that gives the angler
superior line feel and response, but one that still retains the ability
to generate line speeds previously reserved only for fly rods of a much
faster action, like the Z-Axis, or TCR.
The Sage ZXL 590 bears components and a finish to match its
sophisticated and refined character. Not too much “bling bling”, no
overabundance of gold jewelry components here, like you may see on the
gaudy Cadillac “super rods” of other current manufacturers. The
appearance of the ZXL is subtly understated but distinguished and
aesthetically pleasing, with a blank of a deep Pomegranate color
finished with four pairs of fine gold wraps in the Butt section. The
comfortable, more slender western style grip described earlier is made
of fine Portuguese cork, and the up-locking reel seat features nickel
silver hardware and a handsome rosewood insert.
I found the ZXL to be nothing short of amazing at medium
distances, which coincidentally, are where most of my trout seem to be
caught anyways. It throws an extremely tight loop at an impressive line
speed almost effortlessly between 15 and 40 feet, with a buttery smooth
transfer of power and excellent tracking. Dry flies can be dropped in
teacups at will at this distance it seems, with nary a ripple upon
presentation if so desired. I think the rod’s somewhat softer tip is to
thank, but I also found that this aspect lends itself extremely well to
nymphing, even with a considerable amount of weight, as the rod’s butt
handled the weight just fine, but it was the tip which allowed me to
feel every rock, weed, and fish in the river. Jerry Siem, Sage’s chief
rod designer, has indeed unearthed a gem with the ZXL.
Sage has built a reputation of quality and I see no reason
why it shouldn’t extend to the new ZXL and Z-Axis, series, even if they
are lighter. Lighter does NOT mean weaker in this case. If anything,
these rods are stronger. The Epoxy resin saturates and fuses the
graphite to graphite better than it did with the traditional graphite to
fiberglass scrim process. This technology has already been proven in
Sage’s new Xi2 Saltwater rods. In other words, what’s good for the
tarpon should be good for the trout, at least where strength is
concerned, shouldn’t it? And if you are ever lucky enough to be the
first person to hook a Trout that’s bigger and stronger than a Tarpon,
there’s always Sage’s excellent warranty and customer support to back
As with all Sage rods, every ZXL is covered by their
lifetime, original owner warranty. If you damage or break your rod, you
are responsible for the shipping charges and insurance to send all of
the pieces to Sage, plus a $40 handling fee, to cover return shipping
and insurance within the U. S.. International owners are charged
individually calculated shipping and insurance fees. A few other top US
makers offer similar rod warranties, but not all provide the same level
of service. The main plus with Sage seems to be the turnaround time. It
can take months with other rod manufacturers, but Sage’s lead time for
repairs at worst is 2 ½ to 3 weeks upon receipt during the high season
of summer, and this shortens to about 1 ½ weeks in the winter.
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. Although challenged by industry wide flat
sales, the growth of the Internet, and increasingly higher quality Asian
imports, 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
Overall, I found the ZXL to be a more than sufficient
replacement of the SLT and a delightful alternative to the Z-Axis for
those anglers who are open to the latest technological advantages but
who aren’t quite willing to trade in that smooth pleasurable feeling of
casting which to them, is essential to fly fishing.
Check out Sage's latest work. Sage Circa Fly Rods.
Attached please find a photo of me with a beautiful brown trout caught using my new Abel reel purchased from Leland. You guys are the best in offering advise and your upgrade program is Great !!!!
Having fly fished for over 40 years, I have accumulated a lot of equipment that I don't use anymore…that is until I found your upgrade program. Now I am able to have the Loop Cross S1, what I consider the best fly rod made. I can't thank you enough for providing this service. Leland has a customer for life now.
wanted to post about a great experience I had with Leland Outfitters
and their exchange program. I shipped them a bunch of old flyfishing
equipment I no longer used, they cleaned it up and sold it on ebay for
me, and I was able to buy new equipment. It all worked just as it was
supposed to, and that doesn't happen very often these days. I can highly
recommend you do business with this shop.
This will be my third and fourth rods to sell
through the Upgrade Program. The first sales went so well. I was impressed at the
professional way everything was handled from the start to buying my new Scott T2H switch rod. I
am convinced that you net me more cash because of the great presentation and the
I recently went on my first Salt Water trip and after
doing some research I decided to go with the Hatch reels for the trip. I
was not disappointed by their performance. When I returned to the
States, I decided to make the full conversion to Hatch reels for all my
fly fishing and the Leland Upgrade Program was perfect for this goal. I
sold all of my non Hatch reels and used all the profits to replace my
old fresh water reels. I got top dollar for my old gear and I had no
hassles selling it. Leland took care of it all.
My only problem is now I also started buying from the Leland Upgrade
listings. I found some great values and hard to find
merchandise. I check the listings very few days looking for that new
used gear item I can't live without.
The program is very well run and organized. The staff have
been excellent in customer service. I would highly recommend this
I want to thank the Leland Upgrade Program for this
incredible program! You guys made it possible for me to sell my used
gear, some of it decades old, and get equipment I’d been dreaming about.
When I sent my gear to you I had hoped to sell enough stuff to
partially finance one particular Winston bamboo fly rod. Not only did I
get the Winston bamboo but amazingly I was able to pick-up two Winston
IIIx rods and a tackle pack for my spring bonefishing trip to the
This program is great! Selling my used equipment was easy,
stress-free and may have contributed to the improvement of my marriage!
"About my experience with Leland Upgrade I can address to
that no matter if you are selling or you are buying from
like I did few times during last three years, you can
be absolutely sure
that your product will get best professional evaluation and
presentation allowing other people to buy it with confidence
and trust. In my opinion this is the key of any Upgrade program and
Leland has developed it extremely well."
"I am heading to Belize for some saltwater fishing in
June, 2011. Needed to standardize my reels. Had an Abel Super 8 and Sage
3400D with spools for my 10wts. Decided to purchase two Tibor Riptide
reels but how do I sell my Abel and Sage? Bingo, the Leland Upgrade
Program. Jon & Casey handled the selling of the reels on eBay from
start to finish. I received a good enough price that I was able to
purchase one of the Riptides and some accessories. If this program was
not available I would probably still have the two reels and spools. Jon
and I are also working on some additional equipment that I need. To Jon
and the Upgrade Program, "Job Well Done"
Larry was most impressed with the communication from the Upgrade Team during the sale of his gear.
Best of all, he got a little more credit out of the experience than he expected. Here's how Larry's expectations were exceeded:
“When I first came upon it
online, I thought it would be a good way to sell some old fly fishing
equipment, and I didn't have any idea as to current value, collectiblity
or demand,” Larry said. “I had a number in mind as to what would be a
fair price for my gear and was pleased and surprised to have gotten
twice what I expected.”
The type of water and fishing determines appropriate fly rod length. Smaller streams mean tighter casting situations, and a shorter rod is much more manageable. Big Western rivers and salt water require a longer rod for increased distance and power. While, anglers fishing for steelhead and salmon commonly prefer longer rods for large mends and roll casts. Generally speaking, a nine-foot rod is ideal for the vast majority of fishing situations. If you are new to the sport, this length will perform effectively in a variety of waters and will allow for a solid development of your fly cast.
Check out the best fly rods available today.
>> WHAT OUR UPGRADER'S HAVE TO SAY
>> GET STARTED
There's no doubt that photographer and
friend of Leland, Val Atkinson, is something of a fly fishing legend.
But his recent trip to South America is as much a celebration of
angling landscapes as the sport itself. Capturing the immensity of
the Southern Hemisphere's most coveted fishing destinations, Val's
latest collection depicts life at the edge of the world. And, of
course, the trout that call these sacred waters home.
In March, Val hosted a group of international
anglers for the trip of a lifetime: one week fishing for browns at
the Remota Lodge in Chilean Patagonia, one week chasing sea-run trout
at the Kau Tapen Lodge in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and an
opportunity to wet a line with a fly fishing great. Equipped with a
selection of Loop and Leland's finest gear, Val and the gang trekked
across the wilds of a trout fishing mecca. With them, a brand new
Leland Switch prototype and Leland Brass Sea Run Reel, two Loop Cross S1 Fly Rods with Leland Limited Edition Opti Reels (9ft 5wt with a Dryfly for
browns, 12ft 7wt with a Speedrunner for sea-trout), and a 12ft 7wt Loop Yellow Rod equipped with a Classic Fly Reel, 8-11wt.
no better place to put fly tackle to the test than Patagonia, with
the Rio Grande boasting the largest run of anadromous brown trout in
the world. Big fish, long days, and ripping winds made for beautiful
photographs and serious strain in environments where lesser gear is
best left at home. The season's exceptionally low water levels also
demanded delicate presentations and put rods and anglers to the
ultimate test. But this didn't stop them from landing enormous fish
amid spectacular settings. In Val's own words, the trip was “truly
remarkable, among the most productive and enjoyable fishing
adventures I've ever gone on.” Not to mention, the response to the
gear was hugely positive and had the guides offering to purchase
Val's own rods and reels.
And what about the man behind
the camera? Val landed the largest fish of the trip, of course: a
whopping 23 pound gem of a sea-run brown. With fish like that and
photos like these, it's easy to see why Val's is undoubtedly the best
job in the world. As for the rest of us, there's nothing like gawking
at a few South American slabs to get you through the work day.
**Look for Val's Bolivian Dorado
series in the latest edition of Catch Magazine, or browse his
Trout is the common name given to a number of freshwater fish species belonging to the salmon family, Salmonidae, and include three genera: Genus Salvelinus (often refered to as "char"), Genus Salmo which includes Atlantic species and Genus Oncorhynchus which includes Pacific species. Trout have no spines on the fins, and all of them have a small adipose fin along the back, near the tail.
Trout are usually found in cool, clear streams and lakes, and are distributed naturally throughout North America, Asia and Europe. Several species of trout were introduced to Australia and New Zealand by fishing enthusiasts in the 19th century. In California, trout thrive in a number of environments. Steelhead are found in coastal watersheds, many native species ply the high mountain creeks of the Sierras and rainbows and browns can be found all over the state.
Trout are important for a number of reasons but perhaps their primary importance is as an "indicator species". When trout disappear from a lake or river, that watershed is in trouble. Trout are referred to as "cold water fish" because, unlike a number of other species, they prefer cold, clean and often free-flowing water. When our streams and rivers, slow down, dry out or heat up, it's the trout that are the first to feel it.
Trout are also considered by ecologists to be a 'keystone' species for watersheds. Keystone species are those that, if they die off, leave critical gaps in the ecosystem that cannot be filled by other species. If trout are removed from a river system, for instance, the many aquatic insects that they feed on overpopulate, resulting in destruction of aquatic vegetation. Meanwhile, bears and birds and other land vertebrates that feed on trout are left without an important food source.
When we talk about trout at CalTrout we usually mean wild trout. Unlike hatchery fish that are farmed and planted expressly for recreational fishing, wild trout live and breed naturally in the state's watersheds. While hatchery-reared fish have their place in California, wild trout remains CalTrout's primary focus.
The steelhead is an anadromous species of trout, native to the west coast. Anadromous fish, like Salmon, are born in fresh water, mature in the ocean and return to freshwater (often the stream of their birth) to spawn. Unlike Salmon, however, steelhead do not necessarily die after spawning and can make the run between fresh and salt water several times. Because their habitat, appearance, and life cycle is so different from other trout species, they are often singled out as a separate species.
Many species of wild trout are actually immigrants. Species like the brown and some rainbow trout species were introduced into California's lakes and rivers many years ago where they continue to thrive and are protected under the Wild Trout Program.
Heritage trout, however, refers to those species that were here long before our state was called California. So, while all heritage trout are wild trout, not all wild trout are heritage trout.
No state can compete with California's diversity of native trout species. Its 60 major watersheds include over 20,000 miles of rivers and streams (Source: FRRAP, 1988.). These waters support 10 native trout species, the majority residing in the Sierra Nevada. California, however, also leads the nation in the number of extinct or imperiled aquatic species (Source: Moyle and Williams, 1991.). The problems for the State's native trout species are particularly acute in the Sierra Nevada, where river systems are the most altered and habitats impaired by logging, mining and grazing (Source: SNEP, 1996.).
A brief assessment of the status and health of these 10 native trout species is presented below. The assessment designates their health and general risk level according to four categories: extinct, at high risk, at moderate risk and not at risk.
California Bull Trout: While Bull Trout populations still remain in other western states, no Bull has been caught in California since the 1970's. Before their disappearance, they were found in the McCloud River in Siskiyou and Shasta counties.
Paiute Cutthroat Trout: This is the rarest trout in California and one of the most imperiled species in the state. Limited to two small populations surviving in Silver King Creek in the Humboldt Toyabi National Forest and the Inyo National Forest, the Paiute is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Presently there are only about 500 Paiute trout over six inches. The two primary reasons for their diminishing numbers are habitat loss caused by overgrazing and the introduction of non-native trout species including rainbow and brown trout.
California Golden Trout: Once called the Volcano Creek Golden Trout, this species was designated as the State Fish by the California Legislature in 1947. Their range encompasses approximately 120 miles of stream habitat found mostly within the Golden Trout Wilderness high in the Sierras. The California golden trout is a State Species of Special Concern (Source: Fish Species of Special Concern in California, CA DFG, Second Edition, June 1995.) and a Forest Service classified Sensitive Species. The golden is the most likely California-native species to be federally listed as endangered, due to habitat degradation, primarily by livestock, and planting of non-native trout species.
McCloud River Redband Trout: This unique and colorful rainbow trout subspecies is native only to the McCloud River and tributaries above Middle Falls near Mt. Shasta. Redbands populate about 60 miles of stream habitat but their numbers have been reduced by competition with non-native trout, primarily German browns. Hybridization with introduced rainbow trout and deficient late summer flows are also a problem. The McCloud River redband trout is a State Species of Special Concern and is a candidate for federal listing.
Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout: This rainbow trout subspecies is confined to Eagle Lake near Susanville in Northern California. The Lake's population is a robust one. However, the fish are spawned in a local hatchery as their historical spawning grounds (Pine Creek) go dry at certain times during the year due primarily to cattle overgrazing. The fish is presently listed as federally threatened.
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout: This cutthroat species historically occurred throughout the Walker, Carson, Truckee and Honey Lake drainages including Lake Tahoe, Donner and Fallenleaf Lake. Today, the Lahontan population is restricted to 14 streams in the Lahontan drainage with about 23 miles of occupied habitat, as well as 720 acres in Independence Lake. Presently the population consists of less than 10,000 adult fish. The Lahontan cutthroat trout is a federally listed threatened species due primarily to past overgrazing. Currently, the Lahontan is considered stable and a population has been re-established in the Upper Truckee River.
Goose Lake Trout: This rainbow trout species occurs in Goose Lake and most of its tributaries, as well as some of the tributaries of the Pit River. Historically, significant spawning runs consisting of thousands of 2-5 pound trout occurred in most suitable tributaries and provided a popular trophy fishery. Today, most of the spawning runs are blocked by diversion dams and are de-watered for irrigation purposes. The California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) feels that, despite the drought of 1992-93 which caused the lake to dry out completely, there is a good chance for the population to stabilize and even grow. And in tributaries such as Lassen Creek, several hundred Goose Lake trout have been seen spawning. The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to see the trout listed while the DFG feels that they should not be.
Warner Lake Redband Trout: This rainbow trout subspecies was isolated in Warner Lake approximately 15,000 years ago. Evolutionary changes during their long period of isolation resulted in a unique strain of trout. Human impact over the last 150 years has resulted in the fragmentation and diminishment of the marsh/lake/stream systems. Basin floors were developed for agriculture, which included extensive damming, channeling, draining and loss of marshlands. Irrigation diversions were constructed on most streams causing de-watering and physical blockages for both upstream and downstream migrating trout. Cattle grazing also contributed to channel destruction in some locations. In several cases, the loss of adjacent marshlands appears to be related to increased alkalization. Lake and marsh rearing habitat and functioning migration corridors have been lost as a result. Exotic warm water species have infiltrated and spread.
Little Kern River Golden Trout: This colorful rainbow trout subspecies is native only to the Little Kern River drainage. In 1978 this species was listed as threatened. However, because of long and expensive restoration efforts, the Little Kern golden trout is now restored to 80 miles of stream habitat. It is likely to be the first species in California to be de-listed. Because of unauthorized plantings of exotics this may cause a delay in this de-listing.
Kern River Rainbow Trout: This rainbow subspecies formally occurred throughout the Kern River drainage but is now limited to the mainstem, upstream of the Little Kern River where it occupies about 30 miles of stream habitat. The Kern River rainbow is a State Species of Special Concern primarily as a result of hybridization with planted rainbow trout. The current population is relatively stable and is not federally listed.
Coastal Cutthroat Trout: The coastal cutthroat trout's range occurs from the lower Eel River north to Seward, Alaska. To date, 182 populations occupying 650 miles of stream habitat have been documented in California. In addition, they occur in five coastal lagoons with 4,500 acres of habitat. The best population occurs in the Smith River drainage where 14-18 inch fish are common. This population is considered stable and is not federally listed, but is listed as a State Species of Special Concern.
Want to get started fly fishing. There are many books and DVD's the consider. However, the best-selling fly fishing book ever made is the Curtis Creek Manifesto. Whether you're seven or ninety-seven years old, this book will get your started fly fishing for trout the right way.
BOTTOM LINE- Another incredible fishing tool from Sage,
sure to open up new opportunities for successful fishing, and all the
fun that entails.
Check out the best Sage Switch Rod.
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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