12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas – Sweaty Waders Style – Day 6

A Beginner’s “Kit”

Does your gift recipient already have a rod, reel, and line? That’s not quite all they’ll need to get started in our great sport. Or maybe you’re looking for a lower-priced gift or some stocking stuffers for a beginner or intermediate angler. Read on. Today we’ll point out some of the essential gear that every fly angler needs. Think of it as a beginner’s fly fishing kit, in both senses of the word. Some of these gifts would also be great gifts for a more advanced angler who already has the basics. We’ll try to point some of those out as we go.

OBOOK_DOUGS_104248Let’s get started with instruction. Nothing is quite as good as a patient personal instructor, whether that person is a parent, a fishing buddy, or a paid instructor (more on that in a later post). But books and DVDs are great augmenters to such instruction. There are a number of very good instruction books out there for the beginning angler, including manuals by Orvis and L.L. Bean. The Curtis Creek Manifesto is one book that is surprisingly good in spite of, or perhaps because of, its comic-book format. It goes over all of the basics in a humorous presentation. Want something more serious and in-depth. We really like An Introduction to Fly Fishing for Trout, by Mark D. Williams and W. Chad McPhail. It’ll get the starting fly fisher on the water quickly, but also has great tips for the more advanced angler. Books can help the beginner learn to cast, but DVDs might be even better for that part of the learning process, as they visually demonstrate the necessary techniques. Joan Wulff’s Dynamics of Fly Casting is one such DVD, but there are numerous other good ones out there.

Royal Wulff

Royal Wulff

In order to fly fish, you need flies! And no angler can have too many, so flies make a great gift for even the most advanced angler. Pick out a good selection for the local area, or, if you’re not confident at doing that, have a fly shop employee do the selecting. Give them a number or a dollar value and let them choose some favorites. That’s why they earn the big bucks! Present the flies in a nice fly box and you’ve got yourself a gift that will be appreciated by any angler.

Abel Nippers

Abel Nippers

A few small accessories are also helpful, or even necessary, to fly fish successfully. Leaders and tippet, nippers, forceps, dry fly floatant, strike indicators, split shot, and the lot. Don’t know what any of these are? Again, feel free to go into your local fly shop and ask them to point you in the right direction. Or, again, you could give the fly shop employee a dollar value and ask them to put together a beginner’s package. Looking for a good stocking stuffer for an avid angler? Consider getting them a more expensive version of a basic tool than the recipient would purchase for himself or herself. For example, Abel’s nippers ($50-60) are sturdy, finely machined, look sweet (they come in multiple colors), and can cleanly cut even the thickest tippet material. Functional and pretty; better than the glorified fingernail clippers that most anglers use.

Fishpond Waterdance Guide Pack

Fishpond Waterdance Guide Pack

Finally, your angler will need something to carry all of this stuff. The classic fly fishing vest used to be the thing, but most anglers these days opt for a chest or hip pack. A beginner won’t have accumulated quite as much equipment or a bunch of boxes of flies. So he or she could go with a relatively simple, smaller pack such as Fishpond’s Flint Hills Lumbar Pack ($54.95). Someone who has been fishing for a while will probably need more room. Fishpond’s Waterdance Guide Pack (99.95) is one of our favorites. Waterproof packs are very nice and keep your gear dry in the rain (or during a short unplanned swim). Consider Sage’s Technical Small Waist Pack ($150; or its large cousin, $250), as well as waterproof packs by Fishpond, Simms, and Patagonia.

Catch you tomorrow (ouch!).

12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas – Sweaty Waders Style – Day 5

The Reel Deal, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, Paul explained some of the things to think (or ask) about when making a reel purchase. Today, I’ll mention a few specific reels that we like here at Sweetwater Fly Shop. As with our post about specific rods to consider, this represents just a sampling of the quality reels that are on the market. But it should at least give you an idea of what’s out there, what you’re likely to pay, and the like. I should mention that all of the reels I’ll talk about today have disk drags. Click and pawl drags are pretty specialized for smaller fish on smaller creeks or lakes. We’re assuming here that you’re looking for a more versatile reel that can be used for a variety of fishing situations.

First off, what do you get by paying more? Less weight, for one. As with rods, more expensive reels tend to be lighter. That’s going to be particularly important if the gift recipient has a light (more expensive) rod. A reel should balance well with the rod that it’ll be used on. Think of the rod as a lever with the grip hand as the fulcrum. It’s going to take less weight at the reel end to balance out the weight of a light rod. Ok, enough physics. You’re also going to tend to get a more complex drag system, and a sealed drag as well. That doesn’t always translate into a better drag, but it sometimes does. A better drag tends to be smoother, with less start-up inertia. To put it another way, it’s less likely to “grab,” potentially breaking the leader when there’s a big fish pulling on the other end. Finally, there’s aesthetics. More expensive reels tend to look fancier, and less purely functional. If beauty is one of your considerations, you’re likely to pay a bit more. By the way, the prices quoted below, except for saltwater reels, are for the reel model sized to hold a 5-weight line.

Most reels sold today are large arbor reels. Which is to say that the spool around which the line is wound is bigger (wider) than on a small arbor reel. That allows faster line retrieval and helps prevent the line from “setting up” in loops. The primary downside is that a large arbor reel doesn’t hold as much backing. Some purists prefer small arbor reels, but such reels are relatively hard to find and in general the advantages of a large arbor reel outweigh the disadvantages.

What’s the bottom end of the price range? I’d say it’s right around $100, if you want to give a reel that’s unlikely to cause the recipient any difficulties in the near future. You might find a perfectly good reel for less than that, but it’s going to be hit or miss.

Redington Surge

Redington Surge

What can you get for around $100? A perfectly decent reel, especially for trout fishing. It’s likely to be cast, rather than machined. One such reel that we’ve had good luck with is the Redington Surge ($79.95), which has proven to be durable and comes with a lifetime warranty. Another reel worth looking at is Lamson’s new Liquid ($99.95), which can be outfitted with a colored “sleeve” ($9.95) for extra color “pop.” Extra bonus – the drag components are made in the U.S., though the rest of the reel is imported. You might also consider the Ross Flyrise ($110.00), which has the same drag system as some of Ross’ much more expensive reels.


Ross CLA

Spend a bit more, and you’re likely to get a fully machined reel and one that is a bit more pleasing to the eye. The Redington Rise is a workhorse that sports many of our rental rods. And it comes in 3 different colors, if your recipient might want to make a statement. The Ross CLA ($200) has been a best-seller here at the shop and possesses many of the features of their higher-end reels. If you’re looking for an affordable saltwater reel, take a look at the Redington Delta ($199.95-$259.95), which has an anodized finish to resist corrosion.


Hatch Finatic

 We’re getting up to the premium reels, a gift that would thrill a more experienced angler. High on our list is the Ross Evolution LT ($299), a very light and stylish reel with a bomber drag. Want a little edgier look? The Nautilus FWX  ($275) is another reel that we’re high on. It, too, is extremely light and has a very smooth sealed drag with very little start-up inertia. Want to give your angler a truly “lust-after” reel? The Ross F1 ($530) and Hatch Finatic ($450) are both machining masterpieces that boost the latest and greatest in drag design and that look pretty sweet as well. They also both come in larger sizes that make them great saltwater reels.

Any questions about rods or reels? Feel free to email us here at Sweetwater Fly Shop.

12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas – Sweaty Waders Style – Day 4

The Reel Deal

Reels, like rods, come in several price points from inexpensive to, sometimes, pretty expensive. So, how do you know where to begin searching for a reel-y good Christmas present (That was bad, I know).

Nautilus FWX

Nautilus FWX

There are several ways to begin your search. First, determine how much you want to spend on your loved one (maybe your favorite loved one is yourself, then this will be easier).

Second, think of where that loved one likes to fish. Is it small water for small fish? Big rivers for larger fish? Saltwater? What kind of fish do they most often pursue: warmwater species, trout, salmon and steelhead? The answers to these questions will help you find the perfect reel.

If inexpensive is your primary factor then either you’re being a smart, frugal shopper or you may want to call the person for which you’re shopping a liked-one rather than a loved-one. Being honest is always the best choice.

Reels can be broken into two categories a couple of ways: type of drag system and method of construction. Their are two ways to construct a metal reel: pour a cast reel into a mold or cut one from a solid piece of metal (machined).

Cast reels are less expensive than machined reels because machining is more labor intensive. Machined reels are generally cleaner looking than cast ones. But the primary supposed advantage of a machined reel over a cast one is strength of materials. Machined reels are stronger. But 99% of the time that really doesn’t matter. And if you run either type of reel over with your car, you’ll be crushed and so will they.

If the person you’re shopping for is primarily a saltwater fisher then a cheap reel really isn’t an option. Salt water is corrosive, quickly destroying metal that isn’t design to withstand it. So at the very least, you’ll want an anodized reel with a sealed drag system. These reels are almost always machined.

Anodizing creates a coating on the metal’s surface, through a chemical process, that protects the metal from scratches and dings, but also from salt water. Sealed drag systems prevent sand on other objects from entering the drag and destroying it.

Saltwater fishers and those who fish brawling rivers for salmon and steelhead also need reels with a greater capacity for holding backing and fly line. These big fish have more room to run in their larger watery abodes, and you don’t want your reel to run out of line.

Larger reels with great capacity generally cost more than smaller ones. You’ll also want to make sure the reel has a strong drag with a large surface area. Big fish in big water pull harder and longer than small fish in small water. That makes a reel’s drag system very important for these types of fly fishers.

Knowing all of this, you still don’t have to break the bank to buy a reel for a saltwater or steelhead and salmon fisher. But be aware that it will probably cost at least a couple hundred dollars for a decent reel in this category, though you can spend much, much more if you want to.

There are many more reel options for the trout and bass fisher. I know some fine anglers who insist that a trout reel is little more than a line holder and that drag systems are unimportant. And if you fish small water for small trout, that may be true. But even if you only hope of catching a large trout or bass someday, then your reel’s drag system should at least be considered.

There are two main categories of drag systems: click and pawl and disk drags. There are many types of “disk drags” but for our purposes here we’ll lump them all together.

Click and pawl drags are the simplest type. They are often (but not always) built into inexpensive reels. They basically work like putting a baseball card into the spokes on a bicycle. Only in a reel, the card is meant to cause friction against the spokes, causing the reel to turn slowly thereby tiring a fish.

Disk drags come in many forms. Just like building a better mouse trap, it seems as though each year another reel company hits the scene with yet another disk drag built a little differently or out of supposed better materials. But all of these reels usually have one thing in common: they cost more.

Reel prices generally run from around $100 to $500 or more, depending upon brand, drag, and cosmetics. Some reels from companies like Abel and others can be purchased with graphic images built into the finish and this adds to the price.

Next time we’ll look at some specific models from a variety of companies and try to give you the best options to fit your needs and budget.

12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas – Sweaty Waders Style – Day 3

Rods for Every Budget

Yesterday, we talked about some general things to consider when purchasing a rod as a gift (especially for a beginner or intermediate angler). Today, as promised, we’ll highlight a few of the specific rods that are available. There are a plethora of good rods out there, and we only have room to focus on a few in each category. Think of this as a sampler. Just because we don’t mention a rod here, doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering. But this post should give you a taste of what’s out there at a few different price points. And yes, we’ll spotlight primarily rods that we carry here at Sweetwater Fly Shop. It’s not all self-interest. These are the rods that we’ve had a chance to cast. And we only bring in rods that we like; we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot if we tried to sell you a dud.

Echo Carbon

Echo Carbon

Let’s begin rods for beginners (and never-evers). As I mentioned yesterday, medium-fast action rods are usually best for learning to cast. There are very good beginner rods at a couple of different price levels. For the budget-minded, we like the Echo Carbon ($169.99). It’s a smooth-casting rod that performs above it’s cost. It’s a little heavier than some of the higher-priced rods, and isn’t fancy looking, but it gets the job done. Though I can’t vouch for them personally, we’ve also heard good things about comparably priced rods from Temple Forks Outfitters. If you’ve got more to spend, you might go with the Sage Approach ($295). Like the Echo, it’s a medium-fast action rod that is ideal for learners. Unlike the Echo, it’s made in the U.S. and, in our opinion, looks a bit more “upscale.” It also feels a little lighter in the hand.

Sage Approach Outfit

Sage Approach Outfit

All-in-one outfits are another great option for beginners who are just starting out. They typically include a rod, a reel matched to the rod, and a line already spooled on the reel, and are priced below what you would pay for the components separately. The aforementioned Sage Approach comes in an outfit ($495) that includes a very nice reel and line for the price. If money is tight, the Redington Crosswater outfit ($119.95) might fit the bill. It’s probably a bit too low-end for someone who’s going to fly fish a lot, but adequate for the angler who’s only going to use it a few times a year, or as a starter setup that is likely to be replaced in a couple of years (unlike all of the other rods we mention, it only has a 1-year warranty).

Sage Response

Sage Response

Is it time for your angler to step up to an intermediate-level rod? Yes, you’re going to pay a bit more, but you don’t want to get them a rod that they’ll quickly grow out of. All of the following are fast-action rods, which tend to be the preference of more advanced casters. At the bottom end of the price range that we’d recommend is the Echo 3 ($349.99), which we recently reviewed. It’s a short step up to the Sage Response ($395), which is U.S. made and a very nice casting rod. Both of these rods have higher end finishes, like wood reel seats. Either of these would win you much admiration from the recipient.

Winston Nexus

Winston Nexus

Want to really up the ante? The “mid-priced” rod category has recently added a couple of rods that we wouldn’t hesitate to give to an advanced-intermediate or even expert angler. The first of these is the Sage Accel ($595). It’s a little on the slower side of the fast-action rods, so it could even be given as a really special gift to a relative beginner. Alternatively, it would be an exceptional rod for an expert who has a somewhat slower casting stroke. How do you know something that specific about your angler? Maybe they’ve told you (and you happen to remember). But more likely, they’re going to have to try the rod (see below). Our second suggestion is a rod we just received, and one that has us really excited. It’s the Winston Nexus ($485). It casts a smooth as silk, but has plenty of power to handle big fish and to make long casts into the wind. Any of us at the shop would be thrilled to receive either one of these rods.

What about the top-end rods? Those rods costing in the $800 range. Well, we’re not going to cover those today, as this post is oriented toward beginner and intermediate anglers. Perhaps we’ll do another post later about “lust after” gear. Who knows; we’re making up this gift list as we go.

ChrisOne final note. Especially as you get up higher in cost (and angler expertise), choosing the right rod becomes a matter of matching the rod to the caster. Different rods are better for casters with different styles, and better is primarily subjective. Even the most expert fly shop employee isn’t going to be able to tell you which rod you should give to a particular angler, especially not being able to see that angler cast the rod. Best that the recipient should try several different rods and end up with the one that feels best to them while they’re actually casting it. What does that mean? Perhaps a fly shop gift card that would cover the cost of a rod in the price category you’re comfortable with would be the way to go. Yes, there’s nothing quite like watching that special someone unwrapping a brand new rod. But you also want that someone to end up with a rod that they’ll cherish for many years.

12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas – Sweaty Waders Style – Day 2

Don’t Skimp on a Rod (But No Need to Break the Bank)

Echo 3

Echo 3

Let’s say you’re thinking of buying a very nice gift for a beginner or intermediate fly fisher, a new rod. Kudos to you! But it can seem a rather daunting task, particularly if you’re not an expert angler yourself. Maybe you’ve read some rod reviews. Confusing terms abound – line weight, rod action, graphite modulus, loop size…. And the price range, from (relatively) cheap to the sky’s-the-limit. What to do? Today, we’ll talk about some general considerations and tomorrow we’ll make some specific recommendations.

The first thing to consider is that in trout fishing, the rod does the majority of the work – casting, line management, playing the fish. The reel is to a certain extent a nice-looking line storage device. If you’re going to cut your costs anywhere, do so on the reel, not the rod. Yes, the $50 price tag on that Cabela’s rod is appealing, but you don’t want to set the recipient up for a thoroughly frustrating experience. You want to give a rod that is going to be enjoyable to cast, over and over. That the recipient will grow into, not quickly grow out of.

If the rod you’re purchasing is going to be the recipient’s primary or only rod for trout fishing, get a (9’0″) 5-weight rod. That’s the most versatile weight and length and will work well in virtually any situation, from smaller streams to big rivers. And get a 4-piece rod (most are, these days). They break down into a good length for carrying and travel and you don’t give up much, if anything, in terms of performance, relative to a rod with fewer pieces. There, that was easy!

What about rod action? To simplify a fair bit, action refers to the stiffness of the rod. A fast rod is the stiffest and bends the least during the cast. A slow rod, on the other hand, bends deeply during the cast. A faster rod tends to result in tighter casting loops (generally a good thing), longer casts, and better casts in the wind. On the other hand, a relative beginner will probably do better with a medium-fast rod. A little slower rod allows the caster to better feel the rod “load” (bend) during the cast, which helps the caster develop the timing which is so important in learning to cast well.

All that said, there’s still a pretty wide range of rods to consider. First off, for a beginner or intermediate angler, you don’t need to go with the very top end of the price range, unless you’ve got money to burn. A top-end fly rod is a bit like an expensive bottle of wine; it takes a true aficionado to appreciate its nuances. Just don’t settle for that bottle of plonk, either, to stretch the metaphor. That still leaves you with a couple of different price points to consider.

What do you get for more money? To start, you’re more likely to get a rod made here in the U.S.. Most low- to mid-priced rods are produced overseas. Most mid-high to high-priced rods are produced in Montana (Winston), Colorado (Scott), Washington (Sage), or elsewhere here at home. If that’s important to you, you’re going to pay a little more. In addition, you’ll pay more for less weight. In general, the more you spend, the lighter the rod. The differences are in fractions of ounces, which doesn’t seem like much, but which adds up over hundreds of casts. Arm fatigue is a real concern. Finally, there’s the look of the rod. You pay for more expensive finishes – fancy wood reel seats, better grade cork in the handle, and other primarily aesthetic touches.

 One thing that you won’t pay a lot for is an unconditional warranty against rod breakage. Rods break. They get stepped on, caught in car doors, break while fighting fish, you name it. As long as you are willing to spend approximately $150 or more for the rod, and you’ll get a (relatively) free pass. The rod company doesn’t care how you broke your rod. Just send in the broken rod and pay a $35 to $50 “shipping and handling” fee, and they’ll repair it (or replace it, if necessary). We at fly shops have a love-hate relationship with the unconditional warranty, but for the consumer they’re a plus, and another reason to avoid bargain shopping. All of the rods that we’ll recommend tomorrow come with such a warranty.

Stay tuned….

12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas – Sweaty Waders Style – Day 1

Take a Kid Fishing!

photoOur first day is all about giving, more than receiving. It’s really a gift of yourself, your time, your patience. It’s the best gift you can give a young person, better than any toy or trinket. Give it to any youngster in your life – daughter or son, grandson or granddaughter, niece or nephew. Think of it as the ultimate stocking stuffer.

For most of us in the Northern latitudes, this gift will involve waiting, waiting for the seasons to change, for the fishing season to open. What to do? Open up your word processor and make up a gift certificate. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Just something that the recipient can hang on to for a warmer day in the future.

Kid's-Gift-CertificateThen, when the gift certificate is presented, honor it fully. Drop everything. Call in sick. Run your errands another day. Turn off your cell phone. Head out to a local stream or lake and spend the day fishing, catching bugs, skipping stones, however the recipient wants to spend his or her time with you.

It’s a gift both of you will remember, long after the toys are broken and forgotten.

12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas – Sweaty Waders Style

Christmas BrownIf you’re like us, you’ve seen a plethora of them by now. Fly fishing gift lists, that is. You’ve been emailed one from every fly shop that’s ever gotten ahold of your email address (yes, we’ve sent one out ourselves). Every blog you read has one. Your Facebook wall. Your Twitter feed. They’re inescapable this time of year. Unlike you, perhaps, we read them. We’re gear junkies, after all. They’re surprisingly similar. The latest and greatest (and often most expensive) rods, reels, and other fly fishing toys. The items that your local fly shop bought too many of last summer and would dearly like to get rid of. Stuff like that, but not necessarily what the angler in your life (or you) would most like to receive this year.

Well, why fight the tide? We’re a fly fishing blog, after all. So we decided to do a little list ourselves. But rather than simply rattle off 10 (or 12, in this case) products that you should run to the store and purchase, we’re going to take a bit more unconventional route. For the next 12 days, if our inspiration holds up, we’re going to post some of our own ideas. Yes, some will be products (or product categories) that we’ve “distilled” from the lists we’ve been reading. We’re not too proud to borrow the good ideas of others. Others will be a tad more off-the-beaten-path. Admittedly, we’re flying blind here. Even we don’t know what we’ll come up with yet. Feel free to help us out. Leave a comment or send us an email. What are you most hoping to unwrap (literally or figuratively) this year? Like we said, we’re not above using the ideas of others.

The list starts tomorrow. Check early, check often!

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