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August 29, 2011 / flogginwater

New Toys, Adventure Awaits

So my first two adventures in rod building are officially complete. The repair seems to have taken on my big rod, and the little rod, well, it’s a neat experiment.

I took the little rod with me to work yesterday, with a couple of purposes in mind. Firstly, I wanted to possibly obtain a new reel for it. I’d stopped over at a Big 5 during a slack period on Tuesday just to have a look – see if there was any low-priced crap I couldn’t possibly live without. Surprisingly – there sort of was. Sitting in the glass case surrounded by what passed for their higher-end spinning and casting reels, were a brace of Okuma Vashon 3/4 weight large arbor reels. Everything I’ve read about the Vashon was good – and doing some digging on various Interwebz sites, and good ol’ eBay – I discovered the Vashon’s typical price range is $99-$150, with some suckers on eBay paying upwards of $180 for them. The Big 5 in question was closing out their pair of Vashons, regularly marked price of $99.99 for $44.99. Playing with the little reel, I was duely impressed. No surprise – I’ve been a fan of Okuma’s rods and reels for years, having owned almost a dozen of their rods since buying my first, and I’ve owned a number of their entry level Sierra reels ($30 standard arbor cast aluminum reels with counter balanced spools and honest to god disc drags), two Integrity reels, and a Helios reel. The later two were mid/large arbor reels, also with disc drags. The Vashon continues in that vein – it’s a large arbor design with a cork disc drag, and two tone appearance (black frame, polished titanium gray spool). It was very light, and barely covered my palm. I really thought it would be a perfect match for my little 5’6″ rod I built – given I intended to use a truncated Scientific Angler’s #5 line on it. Turns out that it wasn’t going to quite work great on the new rod – BUT – the good old Argus Flight III (that was already spooled with a 5 weight line) balanced the rod better. So now what? I bought the Vashon anyway – figuring that if it wound up *not* fitting on any of my rods, I’d just ebay the damn thing for double my money.

Later that afternoon on a lunch break, I gave my little rod a try. With only about twenty minutes (give or take) to fish, I headed to a small (could jump across if you got a running start) stream that runs through a neighborhood, passes through a small park, and is home to small, wild, pretty cutthroat and rainbow trout, along with a few squawfish (northern pikeminnow) and the odd warm water fish.

Getting to the water, I found it was down. No surprise, all the streams around are running lower than normal right now. I snuck down the little trail upstream of a foot bridge where the paved path crosses the stream. I saw dimples of small fish eating something – could’ve been bugs, could’ve been seeds, or air bubbles.

Now, I’d not only taken my rod with me this day – but the new little Allen chest pack I’d gotten from Cabela’s in my last order. It’s your typical Chinese made rig – not fancy, but not complete junk. It’s definitely entry-level (this is the same pack they sell with their Prestige beginners outfits), but serviceable. There’s a large main pocket – that fits my main fly box, along with a small Plano single side box, and my small Perrine box, plus a bottle of Gink and Xink each. A square flap velcros over it to close the main compartment. There is a small compartment between the main compartment and one’s body that fits a few leaders and a pack of Thingamabobbers; and a mesh compartment on the opposite side of the big compartment to fit a pair of tippet spools. On the (body) right side is a small compartment with a velcro strap closure. This was perfect to hold a small round of soft lead shot. Opposite that was a taller compartment that could hold a flash light, bottles of floatant, tools, or, if you so choose, a double stack full size pistol magazine (though I wouldn’t, since this compartment lacks the velcro closure of the smaller compartment). The thing has 4 D-rings to attach the neck/shoulder strap, and two nylon straps (which you run the chest/waist belt through) for attachment points. The included chest/waist belt didn’t work for me when used as a chest pack. It’s too small to go around my back boobs. However, when I extend the neck/shoulder stap, I can carry it like a purse (european shoulder bag, murse, man bag, whatever). Attach the chest/waist belt, and it actually fit around my belly, and holds the pouch securely to my side, so if I were to lean over (say to release a fish, untangle a fly, tie my shoe laces, etc) it won’t fall into the water. I like this little bag, and I’ll probably give it it’s own gear review after I’ve had a chance to properly torture it.

Getting back to the rod – I grabbed my wet fly box and tied on an orange body soft hackle – a go-to small stream fly. I swing the fly down through a small rapid – felt a number of plucks from the small fish, but didn’t get any solid hook ups. Casting into a small section of water between the current tongue from the plunge, and a large fallen limb that was bathed in sun light, I watched as a 5″ trout shot from the depths and grabbed at the fly – but couldn’t get a hook up. OK, maybe the #12 hook was too big for them right now. I clipped off the wet fly, tucked it safely on the ripple foam drying patch (which velcros to the front of the pack by the mesh pouch) and picked a #16 rust body no-hackle spent-wing dry fly. I cast it first into the white water – then into the sun drenched part of the pool then by the wood. Strikes abounded, but I still couldn’t get a hook up before it was time to call it quits.

The rod itself performed pretty well. I was casting 10-20 feet of line. This rod is stiff – to say “fast action” is an understatement. It likes having some line out. It *will* cast just a leader, but it doesn’t do it as easily as my 8′ Grigg, or my 8’6″ Cabela’s rods do. With 5+ feet of fly line out, the rod starts to load up, and with 10-15 feet of fly line out, it starts really performing. A parking-lot casting session showed me that the perfect fishing/casting range for this rod is 10-30 feet. Over 30 feet, and the rod feels a bit over-powered. 35 feet was the furthest practical distance I could get before problems – like the line slapping the ground on the back cast, and the forward 10 feet of line + the leader piling up on the fore cast started happening.

It’s definitely a specialty wand. The grip, while a bit ugly and plain (since it’s almost straight, with a notched thumb shelf) is comfortable, and none of the guides or the reel seat fell off (yay for me not screwing up!)

When I got home that evening, I decided to cast it – and the big rod, with a variety of lines to see what it really liked. I was surprised that the little wand likes a WF4 line, and cast it just about as well as it did the 5. Going to a #6 line actually over powers this rod with anything beyond a 15′ cast. Shocking really, given how stiff this rod is. Goes to show that casting a taped line to the tip is much different than casting a fully assembled rod. If I had to do this one over again, I might actually build that one as a 3 section, 8 footer – and pick up a purpose-built short rod. I’m going to fish this rod with a 4 weight on it’s next outing, to see if that’s the line I’ll stay with for it. The 4 weight should give a bit more delicacy and less line splash than the 5. Wind isn’t an issue on most of the streams this rod will see either.

The big rod was more fun to cast, and I think in general it’ll be more fun to fish. This rod casts well with the #5 and 6 lines, and for grins I slapped my big reel with a #8 line on it – and I even enjoyed how that line cast with the big rod. I feared that the fiberglass tube repair of the #2 section would’ve hindered casting, but it doesn’t appear to have done so. It still casts nicely, and works well from a rod length out to 50 feet. If I were a better caster I might eek more distance out of this rod – but really, 50′ is plenty for *me*. I don’t fish water that regularly (or has ever) required me to thunder out a 70, 80, or 100 foot cast just to get my fly in front of a fish. Most of my fishing is done within 30 feet – and this rod shines at 30′. It’s main use is going to be swinging nymphs and soft hackles on tight lines anyway – and being 11′, I’ll have more reach with this rod, and keep more line off the water than I will with my 8′ and 8’6″ rods. If I ever have one of my “special” days where I forget my reel, I can always loop 11 or 12 feet of line to the tip top and fish Tenkara style with this thing, and still reach some fish.

During my casting session I also wanted to try fitting the Vashon reel to one of my rods – thinking that since it doesn’t balance the little rod like I’d hoped, it might balance one of my other light rods. It did – with the Grigg. Honestly, it also did the Cabela’s, but it holds a 3 weight line with backing a bit better than it does a 4 weight. So I spooled up my DT 3 line onto the Vashon, and lovingly placed it on the Grigg – which I really need to fish soon, as I’ve neglected it too much since I got the Wind River rod from Cabela’s. The Ross that the Grigg used to wear now resides with the Cabela’s rod, and is spooled with that truncated #5 line I usually fish with it (and that I tried on the new little rod.) The Ross looks good on that Cabela’s rod.

The #6 line on the Cortland reel will reside on the big rod now, and my Diawa reel that I picked up a while back is going to get spooled up with another #6 line and will reside on my Grigg glass rod.

Gear reviews shall come for the new Vashon, the new chest pack, and smaller reviews will be done for my newly built rods as they get more real fishing time with them. I’m already starting to plan my next rod build. My 30th birthday is next month – and as a birthday present to myself, I’d like to build a nicer rod, on a good blank. I’m really leaning towards a Steffen Brothers fiberglass blank at this point – he’s got too many models to choose from, a 7′ 3/4 weight would be cool. A 6′ 1-2 weight would be super for small streams (then again, so would his 6′ 2-3). An 8′ 4-5 or 5-6 would be a better all-around rod. I guess I’ll really decide once I get the cash scraped up for the blank and components.

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