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Category: Tackle Reviews

Fly fishing tackle reviews by Walter Wiese

2019 Breakout Flies: Smethurst’s Stone Bomb and Twenty Bomb

2019 Breakout Flies: Smethurst’s Stone Bomb and Twenty Bomb

One of the moves everybody who guides for PFS except Richard is making is towards heavyweight flies that can be fished without additional weight. Most of these flies are tied jig-style, rather they’re derived from previous Euro-nymph designs or adaptations of standard patterns. We like these flies whether we’re fishing them as droppers beneath big dries, Euro-nymphing, or fishing with indicators. Regardless of technique, the advantages of flies that plummet to the bottom yet don’t hang up too bad are clear: a fast sink rate gets the flies to the fish, leaving off additional weight is more efficient (both in casting and in rigging) and also puts you in direct contact with your flies (or direct between indicator/hopper and fly, if not Euronymphing), so strike detection and drift control are easier than with lighter flies aided by shot.

It’s consistently difficult to find good large (#6 through #10) stonefly nymphs that fit this bill. Sure, there’s always a Girdle Bug (Pat’s Rubber Legs), but in large sizes these typically ride hook down. I tie some Girdle Bugs upside-down, but it’s hard to find jig nymph hooks in the sizes we need, which are generally big and at least 2x long shank. Another problem is that Girdle Bugs are also the most popular nymphs around these days, probably, so the fish are seeing too many of them. So a stonefly that both looks a bit different, a bit snazzier, than the Pat’s, but doesn’t hang up as much and still checks the same boxes has been a sort of Holy Grail the past couple years.

That’s where the Stone Bomb and Twenty Bomb come in. We started fishing these patterns back in 2018, but fished them a lot harder in 2019, in a lot more places. Simply put, they knocked it out of the park on guided trips on the Madison, Yellowstone, Stillwater, and especially the Gardner and the Boulder. On the latter two rivers, these flies were godsends because of the tendency for normal-orientation flies to hang up, the abundant stonefly populations, and the need for flies to get down quick in small pieces of deep, turbulent holding water.

The Stone Bomb is a brown nymph that fills the same niche as the classic brown Girdle Bug, but has quite a bit more going on. Here’s a side view. The top view is comparable to that of the Twenty Bomb below. We found the Stone Bomb to be most effective before the Salmonfly hatch and again in the fall, when chasing fall-run browns.

illustration of stone bomb stonefly nymph

The Twenty Bomb looks somewhat like the Nocturnal or Midnight Stone, and is also an excellent attractor in the same vein as the Mega Prince or Twenty Incher. The latter pattern is obviously the source for the Twenty Bomb, hence the name. My clients and I caught fish on this one through most of the season, on many sizes. In June we ran #8s under indicators on high water Boulder River floats (the Boulder has the shortest runoff season of any of our freestone rivers, FYI). In July, it was #6-8 early on on walk trips on the Yellowstone and Gardner, suggesting big stoneflies, while later in July #10s under giant hoppers worked well on the Yellowstone. In October, it was back to the #6-8 flies on the Gardner for fall-run browns. Believe it or not, I went three trips using Euro-nymphing techniques without losing or tearing up one of the flies too badly to fish it, which on the Gardner with its abundant boulders is miraculous.

pic of twenty bomb fly

We’re looking forward to fishing these even harder next year, and will be stocking them in a wider size range at least in our guide boxes.

2019 Breakout Flies: Upbeat Mayfly

2019 Breakout Flies: Upbeat Mayfly

illustration of upbeat baetis mayfly
Upbeat Baetis

Unquestionably our top new dry mayfly in 2019 were two colors of the “Upbeat” (or Upright) mayflies by Bucky McCormick from West Yellowstone. We originally purchased the Baetis version pictured above for use in late summer and fall on the Lamar River and its tributaries and in the fall on the Firehole, but after Kody found great success with it, we started experimenting with other colors. Given the time of year we started “playing,” typical fall-colored bugs were the most effective. The purple version pictured below was a runaway success on the Yellowstone and Gardner on late season trips. On my last trip of the season (working through a Bozeman outfitter I do a few trips for each season), the purple version produced ten times as many trout for the single angler in my boat during a sparse, brief BWO hatch as two anglers caught in the other boat! Some of this was skill, but a lot was the bug, too. Some of these were fat, solid 15-17″ trout, too, and the tiny (#20) hook held up just fine. In fact, we never had to change bugs except after a single breakoff.

One of the big surprises of this pattern, which is more or less a synthetic-winged Comparadun with a thread abdomen and flashy Ice Dub thorax, is that it floats great. Now, you aren’t going to be hanging nymphs under the fly, but it holds its own in a two-dry rig. It’s visible, too!

We are really excited about this fly for 2020 and will be stocking it in the original Upbeat Baetis configuration as tied by Montana Fly Company and in the following colors tied in-house: purple, PMD Yellow, and (at Kody’s insistence) copper and Trico black.

illustrates purple upbeat mayfly

2019 Breakout Flies: Dornan’s Water Walker

2019 Breakout Flies: Dornan’s Water Walker

In November and December, I’m planning to make a series of sort of “year-end” posts going over the surprises, highlights, and lowlights of the 2019 season. One part of these series of posts will be highlights of some flies that really broke out for us in 2019. Some of these patterns are brand new, some just new to us.

Because nothing says “hopper fishing” like a rainy day in early November, I’ll start with a hopper/stonefly/attractor pattern that hit it out of the park for us in 2019: Dornan’s Water Walker.

image showing dornan's water walker flyAs you can see, the basic pattern has a Chubby Chernobyl’s profile and flash, but a lower-profile wing composed of thin foam. One thing I’ll be harping on all winter is the continued trend towards sparser flies in the region, largely a result of fishing pressure I believe, and the Water Walker fits this pattern. In effect, it fulfills the same role as a Chubby does, without the big floofy wing. The thinner wing is almost as visible and buoyant as that on a standard Chubby, but it’s less obnoxious when seen from a trout-eye perspective, easier to cast since it’s less wind-resistant, and just enough different from a Chubby that it works better on fish that have seen one too many of the more-popular pattern.

We’ll be loading up on these next year. Truth be told, the shop didn’t actually stock any of these in 2019. I started using them on my own volition after seeing some in another shop and thinking they looked good. While I tried six or seven color combos, the one pictured above worked best. It’s the “Micro Peanut” variation, which is tied with dark yellow foam and a brown underbody. This was the best year for yellow-brown hopper patterns (which probably also look like Golden Stoneflies and late summer Midnight Stones) since 2008 or 2009, and this was my second-best producer after a new color mix of my Bob Hopper, and the difference may have just been the fact that I could tie the Bobs for pennies rather than paying guide price or even full retail for the Water Walkers since I didn’t have any foam thin enough to tie the wings on these.

Here’s to hoping this one isn’t a flash in the pan. I doubt it will be.

ECHO Fly Rods, Reels, and Combos… Product and Company Review after Our First Season as a Dealer

ECHO Fly Rods, Reels, and Combos… Product and Company Review after Our First Season as a Dealer

2018 marked the first year Parks’ Fly Shop has stocked ECHO fly rods and reels. We picked these up after playing with Rob Olson’s low-cost nine-foot five-weight Base model he has for client use, and finding it a remarkably good rod for the low, low MSRP of $89.99.

Here’s a brief rundown of our thoughts on the various Echo rods, reels, and combos we stocked last season or that our guides picked up for their own use, followed by our comments on Echo as a company. Long story short, we’re pleased all around!

Base Rod and Combo

echo base rod
Echo Base Rod

With the exception of a couple of Walmart-grade blister-pack garbage outfits we stock for customers who just do not want to spend more than a few bucks but nonetheless want to buy a fly outfit,the Base rod and its associated combo are our entry level outfits. The rods MSRP runs $89.99, while the combo with a Base reel, a rod/reel case, and an Airflo line runs $169.99. Even at this low price, the rod includes a full lifetime warranty. You break it, they’ll give you a new one at $35.00. This is the cheapest rod we’ve ever found that includes a full warranty rather than just a short warranty covering materials and workmanship.

The rod itself features a medium-fast action and plain hardware. No surprise in either case given that a medium-fast action is the best choice for beginners and costs have to be cut somewhere to price a rod at ninety bucks, even if it is made in China. Performance is excellent at medium and short range, especially given the price point. Performance at long range is poor, as the rod just runs out of guts at about 45 feet. That said, your average rookie isn’t going to be casting beyond 45 feet anyway. The lack of guts also hurts this rod in the wind and when fishing heavy nymph rigs.
With lower-grade outfits, our usually metric is whether or not the gear is good enough so that it grows with the angler. The worst outfits are so bad that they hold beginners back, making learning more difficult (see above about Walmart-grade stuff). Solid beginner outfits don’t hold rookies back, but also generally don’t grow with them. In other words, most rookies will want a different outfit pretty soon if they find themselves taking up the sport. The very best rod for a beginner will grow with them: be easy enough to learn on, while still providing good performance as they progress and remaining in good condition as they do (particularly the grip and guides). I don’t think the Base rod rises quite to this level. Then again, this is a pretty high bar for a rod retailing at under $100.

In sum, I heartily recommend the Base rod as a first rod for beginners of any age, particularly for those fishing on foot or otherwise in situations where they won’t have to deal with wind or fish heavily-weighted nymph rigs. That said, we don’t send out Base rods with any of our trips except for those Rob takes, and the Base is primarily a backup rod for his beginner trips.
The less said about the Base reel that comes with the outfit, the better. It’s your run of the mill bargain basement ($35 when sold separately) composite reel. With trout fishing, saving money on the reel is the way to go, but unless opting for the Base outfit, I suggest jumping up to the Ion or comparable reel at twice the price, if possible.

Carbon XL Rod

Carbon XL Rod
Echo Carbon XL

The Carbon rod is the next step up, and it’s a good one. I bought four of these at the start of last season for my clients, a pair each of nine-foot five and six-weights, after having demoed them in the fall of 2017. These are medium-fast rods, but they’ve got a little more muscle than the Base and much nicer appointments. While still not distance rods, they’re excellent all-purpose rods on smaller water (the five), on foot on big and brawling water like the Yellowstone (the sixes), and are my preferred dry fly and dry-dropper roads out of the boat (the sixes) when clients don’t have their own gear. Like the Base, these have a full warranty. They come with a standard rod sock and a fabric-covered PVC tube at a price point of $149.

While generally good rods, they don’t have quite enough backbone for fishing big nymphs and streamers out of the boat, especially when the wind’s blowing. On the flipside, this make them better for delicate presentations and protecting tippets, which means they’re better-suited to places like the Lamar, Firehole, or Paradise Valley Spring Creeks than some stiffer rods.

For what it’s worth, on a day last June when I met clients down on the Gibbon for a morning half-day and had time to fish for myself afterward, I didn’t bother rigging up the (much more expensive) rod I’d brought along for myself and instead fished with one of the five-weight Carbons I’d brought for my clients. It’s that solid a rod. For that reason, I heartily recommend this rod for a multi-purpose backup for anybody who doesn’t expect to be chunking heavy nymph rigs or streamers most of the time. For smaller nymph setups, dries, or dry-dropper, particularly for anglers in the East where there isn’t as much wind, this would be a great choice for a backup rod or even a main rod for those on a budget. It’s also an excellent beginner rod, for adults or kids alike. In fact, it’s THE rod I’d recommend right now for beginners who can take a step up from the Base or similar rods that retail at around $100.

Match these with the Ion reel or a comparable “budget but not garbage” reel and a standard-weight fly line like the classic Cortland 444 or Orvis Hydros Superfine or RIO Gold for good performance.

Ion XL Rod

Ion XL Rod
Ion XL Rod

For nymphs and streamers, this is the one I’d suggest over the Carbon XL. I bought a pair of these in nine-foot six-weight configuration, and they’re my preferred “boat rod” I always bring along on float trips, regardless of whether or not my clients have their own gear. At least in six-weight configuration hey are FAR better nymph and streamer rods than they are dry fly rods, especially when things get delicate. They are fast-action and the six-weights have fighting butts, both of which are nice when things get hot and heavy, but not ideal for small dries. That said, they’re excellent at chunking big and/or heavy stuff, at short range or long. I first fished with one of these in 2017 in Alaska, fishing flesh and eggs for big rainbows, so that ought to tell you how much backbone they have.

Unless you plan to use these for light saltwater applications or other situations where distance casting is key, I suggest using a line that’s a half-size heavier than standard on these. Otherwise they just don’t load up well at ranges under about 20 feet. I use the Orvis Hydros HD Power Taper, but the SA MPX or RIO Grand (which is a full size heavy) are also good choices, as I imagine the Airflo equivalent to these lines would be (Airflo is part of the same ownership group as ECHO). The ECHO Ion reel matches these rods well, no surprise given they share a name, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use this rod with a snazzy machined reel like the Orvis Battenkill or Hydros SL, if you’re in a situation where you need more durability or stopping power.

I have not used these in line weights lighter than six, and I don’t think any of our other staff have, either. In fact, Trevor and Kody like these in seven-weights as streamer sticks. All in all, I think this is the right mindset: opt for these rods when you’re fishing big and/or heavy stuff, especially subsurface. I have not used these rods for bass, steelhead, or in the salt, but I expect they’d excel for these applications.

I would not generally recommend these rods as all-around beginner rods, or for kids, since they’re stiff enough that they’d be frustrating for beginners to cast except with a lot of weight to help them “cheat.”

The Ions run $169, including a full warranty and a Cordura-covered PVC tube. Note that ten-footers are available. This is about as cheap as you can go and still get ten-foot rods. This is a great length if you’re looking for a nymphing stick.

Dry Rod

This is a great stick if you pay attention to their marketing. They are intended for fishing modest-sized dry flies at short to moderate ranges. At this, the Dry excels. It’s also good at dry-dropper rigs at modest ranges. Anything else, particularly heavy nymph and streamer rigs or wind-resistant dry flies like the omnipresent Chubby Chernobyl, and they fall apart. This is because they qualify as true medium-action or even medium-slow action rods. They just don’t have enough spine for the extra “oomph” needed to propel big ugly flies, or at longer ranges. They’re also poor at casting into the wind.

Trevor has a nine-foot five-weight in this series, and he loves it for its intended purpose. He took this rod when I floated him through Yankee Jim Canyon on a windy day, when we needed to double haul to punch into a stiff north wind, and he hated it in that situation. So did I. The basic problem was that the rod folded like a wet noodle when we tried to double haul it and seldom turned over the entire cast. We were fishing modest-sized hoppers and attractor dries this day, nothing larger than #12, so wind resistance wasn’t the issue. The rod just didn’t have enough backbone. The six-weight version would have been better, but not much.

Where these rods excel are on small to medium-sized, flat, delicate waters: spring creeks and places like the Lamar Drainage. They’re all nine-footers (even the two-weight!) so they have plenty of reach to mend and otherwise control line in the tricky currents common on such streams. In the rare instances nymphing deep is required on these streams, it’s done with small bugs that the Dry series can handle.

To be honest, I think ECHO missed a bit with this one. Not in making a soft-flexing rod that can’t handle wind, big dries, nymphs, or streamers. There’s a place for such rods and they’re honest in the marketing that these rods aren’t designed for burly techniques. Where they really missed was not making these rods in lengths shorter than nine feet. If they had, say making several rods from three-weights through five-weights in seven to nine-foot lengths, they would have expanded the range of waters where these rods make sense to include small, brushy streams and creeks. While such streams are more common in the East, there are some in the Yellowstone area and I love fishing them on my days off with my 7’6” two-weight Redington Classic Trout where the trout are all dinks or 7’9” four-weight TFO Finesse series where there’s a few bigger ones. These are both rods at about the same price point as the Dry ($229), and there are plenty of more-expensive rods that fit the same mold, for example Orvis’s Superfine, assorted light Sages, and of course short, light Winstons. So there’s a market out there for short/light rods with a taper similar to the Dry. The problem is that the Dry doesn’t cover this market. My guess is that this was a conscious decision by Echo, to avoid competing with their fiberglass rods that fit this niche, but as somebody who just loathes fiberglass rods, I think it’s a mistake.

I don’t mean to turn anglers looking for a modest-action and modest-price dry fly rod for modest ranges on modest-sized streams with modest currents (sorry about that) away from the Dry. Far from it. I think it’s a great rod at the price point for such situations. It’s just that this is a pretty narrow set of conditions. Therefore, I rate this rod a poor choice for beginners or anyone looking for a “one rod quiver.” If you are looking for a rod of this sort, the Dry begs to be matched with a classic or classic-inspired reel: an old Hardy Princess or Lightweight, a used Orvis CFO or Battenkill, a new Orvis Battenkill click-pawl, or even an old Pflueger Medalist. Use a standard-weight line, either a classic like the Cortland 444 Peach or a newer-design optimized for delicacy. Double-taper lines are definitely better than WF lines with this rod. In fact, I’d cut the double-taper in half at its midpoint and then only attach half the line to save wear and tear on the unused half. This rod doesn’t need or like to be cast more than the 45 or so feet of half a standard DT line.

Badass Glass Rod

Bad Ass Glass Rod
Bad Ass Glass Rod

This is one I haven’t personally fished with, but Trevor loves his eight-weight for hucking streamers. This series of rods is definitely fills a small niche: that of fiberglass rod freaks who want to chuck big, articulated streamers (or fish for bass, pike, carp, or saltwater species). Available in six through ten-weight, all in eight-foot lengths, most anglers need not apply here.

That said, if you’re looking for a special-purpose rod, this isn’t a bad choice. Short rods for stripping streamers (or other techniques in which mends aren’t required) offer the advantage of faster response, greater accuracy, and lower arm fatigue due to reduced swing weight (basically, how heavy the rod feels due to tip-heaviness). All short, aggressive fly rods share these advantages, but graphite doesn’t give you the feel of glass. Simply put, you’ll feel the rod load all the way into your hand with the B.A.G., and when you stick a big fish, you’ll feel it all the way into your hand, too.

The B.A.G retails for $279.99.

Ion Reel

Echo Ion Reel
Echo Ion Reel

Now this is a good buy. The Ion is either a cheap, decent reel, or a decent, cheap reel, depending on where you draw the line. Since it’s a hybrid cast aluminum and composite reel, rather than a machined aluminum reel, I put this on the “cheap” end. Echo claims there are machined components in this reel, but I can’t find them and don’t expect to given the price point. The only remaining machined reels that I know of that retail under $100 all feature click-pawl drags, while the Ion has a sealed disk.

For my personal fishing, I exclusively use machined reels due to their greater durability and reliability over cast reels, but I prefer to use reels in the Ion’s bracket on client gear because beginner and novice clients tend to abuse gear, reels most of all. I tend to treat client reels as expendable, for this reason. That said, I paired all my new client rods with Ions before the 2018 season, and the Ions never failed me. I’ll be running the same quiver of rods and reels next year.

Ion reels feature a heavily-ported design to reduce weight (always the bane of cast reels), with a plain black finish and appointments. While nominally a large-arbor reel, the arbor on the Ion is quite deep, making it more akin to many “mid-arbor” reels. The spool is slightly taperered on the inside, which makes it easier to reel backing and line onto the spool evenly. The drag knob is large and textured for easy grip.

This deep arbor provides exceptionally high backing capacity, 150 yards with a WF5 line in the 4/5 and 150 with a WF7 in the 6/7. Most price-point reels offer no more than 100 yards until you get into the larger sizes. This is the single biggest reason I picked up these reels. I wasn’t worried about total backing capacity per se, since when trout fishing it’s unlikely you’ll ever need more than 50 yards, but because larger backing capacity allows the angler to spool the reel with an acceptable amount of backing while still leaving a portion of the spool unfilled. You’ll never wind a line back onto a reel as tightly as you do the first time, especially while you’re playing a fish, and it’s bad for lines, playing fish, and potentially for tangles to reel onto a spool until it’s brim-full and jammed against the reel frame. On my client reels, I run about 75 yards of backing on the 4/5 Ion with a five-weight line and 100 on the 6/7 Ion with a six-weight line. This leaves almost a quarter-inch of bare spool in both line sizes, plenty of slop if a client winds the line back onto the reel unevenly.

Reel performance has been excellent even on some rather large browns, with easy drag adjustability, no breakage even under hard treatment, etc. Granted, my clients are using this rod solely for trout, so I can’t speak to how well it’d hold up for bigger and harder-fighting fish, but I suspect that in fresh water at least it would be fine for all species, both as a budget primary reel and as a backup.

In the trout sizes (2/3, 4/5, and 6/7), the Ion reel retails at $79.99. Jumping to the 7/9, 8/10, and 10/12 for big game, saltwater, and two-handed applications jumps the price to $99.99.

Warranty Repairs and Customer Service

Knock on wood, but here is a place where ECHO has really shined, so far. First I’ll discuss their general repair/replacement policies and procedures, then move on to how the company has treated us and our customers.

A full description of ECHO’s warranty and repair procedures are discussed HERE. Simply put, there are a lot of options. Standard mail-in repairs, which given that these are rods mass-produced overseas generally means “replacements” cost $35.00, in line with most budget fly rods and cheaper than high-end rods. My Orvises and Sages cost a lot more nowadays. The entire rod must be sent in for standard warranty work, which of course adds shipping costs. Another option on some rods is ordering a spare or replacement tip section. This option is available on all rod series discussed here, but not on some higher-end rods. These replacement sections run $17.50, and will lead to a faster turnaround time than sending in the entire rod. In addition, if you have a few extra bucks around, ordering a spare tip before your big fishing trip would not be a bad idea, since the tip sections of four-piece rods are what tend to get eaten by car doors and tree limbs. Finally, ECHO offers walk-in service if you happen to be located near their base of operations in Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia from Portland. While this still runs $35.00, it would obviously slash turnaround time if you happen to be within a few hours of Vancouver.

As far as service speed, it’s fast. I should add the caveat that none of our staff have broken their own ECHO rods yet (which should say something towards their durability), but we have had customers break rods shortly after purchasing them and send them back through our shop. This is not normally the way to get warranty service, but when somebody comes in with a busted rod four hours after buying it, most rod companies bend over backwards. ECHO has been no exception. One instance stands out. A customer who bought a BASE outfit came back in the next day after breaking it while stringing it up the second time he fished with it. From the description of how the rod broke, plus the fact the guy changed his story three or four times when pressed, it was clear that either he hit the rod with a heavy streamer the day before or had held it by the tip section without supporting the reel while stringing it up, both of which will always break a rod. Despite this, ECHO agreed to let us simply hand him a new rod and sent us a replacement for it, rather than forcing the customer to go through the normal process.

In addition, standard service has been very fast. I don’t think we’ve ever had to wait more than about a week for an order. While we’re wholesale rather than retail customers, I have no reason to believe such speed wouldn’t carry over to repairs or other retail customer needs.

Conclusion

We’ve been very happy with our first season as an ECHO dealer. While some of the products we’ve tried have been more broadly applicable than others, we’ve generally been pleased with everything we’ve used and/or sold. In addition, the company itself seems top-notch. If you’re in the market for a budget or mid-range rod or reel, take a strong look at ECHO. We obviously hope you’ll consider ordering from us…