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March 19, 2012 / flogginwater

Gear Review: Echo SR 4106

Last year I focused a lot of my fly fishing efforts on perfecting my wet fly fishing techniques, especially for trout living in streams. I love trout fishing, and for me – the pinnacle of trout fishing isn’t going after huge browns and rainbows that live in big, deep rivers or massive impounded lakes – rather I’m more of an oddball. I love smaller waters, and cutthroat trout. Sea run cutthroats are about as big a cutthroat as you’ll find in Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest in General. And it’s natural, living 70 miles from the coast, and living in a valley nestled between the towering Cascade range, and the more gentle Coast range mountains – that I’m drawn to the waters draining those mountains and their wild, native coastal cutthroat trout.

I spent more time swinging flies on coastal streams last year than I had the previous two – and I was sparked with the desire to find a better (read, funner) rod to chase these fish with than my 8’6″ 4 weight, or my heavier 5/6 weight rods. I wanted a rod that would let me fish wet flies swung on a tight line, but give me a bit more reach than the 8’6″ rods would provide – and so I set out on a quest to find a rod of at least 10 feet, that cast a #4 line – the 4 weight being what I consider the best general trouting line for the average size fish (12 inches or less) normally caught.

I took to the Internet – oh great wonder of wonders – and began researching rods for both price and utility, reading reviews and hunting for bargains. I originally set my sights on a Cortland Brook rod – it’s been a while since I’d had the pleasure of owning a Cortland fly rod – but the Brook eluded me. It was also a bit pricier than I realistically could afford.

I wandered in to my favorite fly shop – River City Fly Shop – in Beaverton, Oregon last August to pick Don’s (the owner and proprietor) brain and see what he had. No Cortland Brook rods – no Czech nymph rods – but he said he did have one long, light line rod that should fit the bill for me – in the form of an Echo SR Switch Rod. The tube he handed me said 10’6″, #4 line. Okay, that was exactly what I was looking for, wasn’t it? But a being a switch rod, I was a bit nervous. I have wanted to learn how to cast a double-hander for some time, but they’ve always seemed so expensive – the internet gurus made it seem like one wouldn’t be properly outfitted with a two-hander for anything less than $500.

Don found a Cortland reel that he’d spooled up with an Airflo Ridge 6 weight tactical trout line, and put it on the rod. You may be asking yourself, “WTF” at this point – “I thought you said it was a 4 weight?”. I did. And the tube, and rod, say #4 line on them. But here’s the deal – Switch Rods – which are just short Spey type rods, are meant to be cast with heavier lines than they are rated. It’s wonky, and I’m not sure I really get the reasoning – but Echo has published line recommendations for every rod they make – and it said right in the book that they recommend either a #6 weight forward floating line, or a 240 grain compact Scandinavian style line for it.

I took the rod out back behind the shop and cast over the grass. 5 minutes of casting – both single, and awkward double hand, overhead, roll casts, sidearm casts – and I was back in the shop waving my debit card in front of Don. I *had* to have the rod – damn the price tag. Yes, it was a few bucks cheaper than the Cortland I was originally looking for, but not by much.

Don, being the awesome guy he is, gave me the Cortland reel and the Airflo line for free. I took it home and cast it in the backyard that evening. Sometimes I’ve been struck with buyer’s remorse once I get an item (especially an expensive item) home. Not so with the Echo – the sweet, sweet casting of this rod just solidified my lust for it more. The longest practical cast I can make in my back yard is about 70′ – and double hauling with one hand, the SR rod did it with ease. My shorter sticks tend to be good out to 50′ before I start having problems (I never claimed to be Tim Rajeff, I just love the rods he makes). I had to take this rod fishing.

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So I did. I hit up my favorite coastal river in search of sea run cutthroat, which were migrating back into the river from their saltier feeding grounds. While I didn’t find scores of sea run fish, I did find plenty of resident fish to help pop the cherry of this rod. What I was more concerned with though – was how the rod cast. Could I duplicate my back yard efforts with flowing water? In a word – yes.

The Echo really was like a magic wand for me – it honestly added distance to my cast, without me changing anything in my casting stroke. It was easier to cast than any other rod I had in my collection at that point – and it wasn’t the lightning fast pool cue that most rod companies push at you to do it. Echo calls the SR a “fast” action rod – but it isn’t. I’d honestly say it’s more of a moderate or parabolic action – but whatever it is – it’s good for me and my casting.

As an experiment, I climbed a rocky bank (this was low water in August, mind you) and stood above the river, and peeled off most of the line from the reel (only had one or two wraps left on) and began to cast. Two false casts and a release, and the line straightened out ahead of me. I almost shit my pants in amazement. 70+ feet of fly line laid out before me – a feat I’d had to work hard for with other rods.

I tried a two-handed overhead cast, and found that I could cast as far, with less effort from the ol’ casting arm. I was hooked for life on this SR rod.

Now, single hand casting wasn’t all I’d done that day. I’ve spent hours watching videos and pouring over illustrations in fishing books and magazines on the mechanics of certain double hand casts – and I did my best attempts to recreate them for someone without any formal casting instruction. The SR didn’t seem to mind, and was forgiving enough that even my craptastic casting form – I could roll a team of wet flies out, or turn over a woolly bugger. Double hand casting is said to be harder with a shorter rod – but I’ll tell you this – my arms and elbows hurt less at the end of the day on the water casting with both hands, than they usually do after a good day on the river with my single-hander. That, in itself, is worth the price of admission.

Over the course of what was left of summer, and the fall that followed – I fished as hard and often as I could – and not long after buying my Echo SR, I found myself back on that favorite coastal river, swinging flies for sea run cutties again.

I found one run that was a dream for me – a nice long, smooth, deeper run that fed into a still, glassy pool right above a rapid, and another long pool below it. I fished the top run, getting some nice chunky little cutts. Then I noticed a GOOD fish boiling over in the slack water. I figured it had to be one of the piggie sea run fish I was looking for, so I shot a cast out, fishing a #12 black Woolly Bugger on a 5x tippet. The fish ate it, I set the hook, and the fight was on. The SR rod bent down to the cork as the fish ran upstream into the top run. I got the fish close enough, that when he flashed on the surface, I saw that it wasn’t a cutthroat at all – but it was a steelhead (sea run rainbow) – I was elated!

The steelie did an about face and ran downstream – I had to wade into water that I hadn’t tested, and didn’t know how deep it was in order to follow – as I’d made the mistake of letting the fish get into the fast water between pools. Running through the rapid, I was glad the water didn’t get higher than the tops of my waders. The fish got into the lower pool, and I fought it back to the top of that run where I landed and released her, a fat little 20″ summer run steelhead. I don’t know if I would’ve landed that fish as quickly as I did with any of my other rods, if I landed it at all. The cushioning that the SR provided, and the extra length over which to absorb that energy, protected that whimpy 5x tippet enough to keep that steelhead on the line, even with her mad dash through the rapid.

If I’d had any doubts about the SR’s abilities – landing that fish washed them away. Now I’m looking forward to hitting up the Deschutes River again this year, and taking the SR along to chase some of those wild, fat redband rainbows it’s famous for. The SR4106 is quite a versatile rod – I’ve nymphed with it, swung wet flies and streamers with it, and fished dry flies with it. I might even break it out and fish poppers for bass with it this year, just because.

The only “complaint” I could lodge about the rod is that it’s looks belie it’s abilities. The Echo SR rods are very plain in appearance – but that’s honestly something I prefer in a rod. The blank has a matte olive-gray finish, the reel seat is black metal, the single foot guides are wrapped in light gray thread, and the cork foregrip features a front section of composite rubber-cork, which first takes some used to in the visual appeal department, but it quite quickly grew on me. Tim Rajeff knows how to design a fly rod for sure. He and his team design rods to be utilitarian casting and fishing machines – and leave the flashier looks to other makers. I like it. I don’t have to pay for flashy looks – I pay for performance. Consider it the difference between a Mazda Miata and a Porche 911. Both will go fast and you’ll have fun driving them – but the BMW is flashier, prettier, and more expensive.

I for one like the matte finish on the rod – it prevents glare that spooks fish in low clear-water conditions (like I was fishing with this rod). I also don’t mind single foot guides – I know some guys get all bent out of shape over their use on a flyrod, but I understand that it keeps both cost and weight down on the rod – and I’m all for that.

The composite cork grips might look a little funny, but they do feel good – and they’re another one of those cost-savings measures that I don’t mind – good quality cork is only getting more expensive – and those expenses get passed on to the consumer. Hell, if it took $20 off the price of the rod, I’d buy it with the entire grip made from composite cork.

I honestly can’t complain about the SR4106. It was my first Echo rod, but not my last. I liked it so much, that I bought an Echo Ion 8 weight as a birthday gift to myself, and, should I find myself gainfully employed again soon, I’d like to add a couple more Echo rods to my quiver.

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