Saturday, January 6, 2018

Cortland Compact ~ A Fly Line for the Surf

Cortland Compact Line Review

Anybody who has stood on the West Coast wet sand casting into a 15-knot or better wind knows the advantage of an integrated line when fly fishing the surf. Sure, an integrated line can be stripped all the way to the leader connection without the irritation of loop-to-loop line connections catching through the guides, as with a head system, but the major advantage is: the heavier running line of an integrated design is less apt to be picked up by the wind and spilled from the stripping basket, which is a problem with the lighter shooting/running lines used behind shooting heads. Those who fish north of Point Conception will nod.  

Fly fishing the West Coast surf, having the right line can make the difference between a couple smallish surfperch and a 30-fish day. I’ve had that fact illustrated and handed to me, having been on the short side of that equation more than once, I admit. Whether casting for surfperch or cruising corbina, energetic surf conditions don’t allow much time to fish the fly in the sweet zone. The fly must get to the bottom fast. And stay there. The faster everything gets to the bottom, the better. And regardless what anybody says about fishing close for perch, we want a line that will cast far. More often than not, the fish will be a long cast out there, and if fish are close, the long cast will fish through that zone as the fly is stripped in. Full-sinking integrated lines aren’t the best long-casters, so a sink-tip gets the nod. I like at least a 15’ sink tip, and longer is better. Sink-tip lines with full-floating running line aren’t my first choice for the surf, as the floating portion rides on top of the waves and gets picked up and pushed, so I prefer an integrated, sink-tip line with a slow-sinking running line, as this type penetrates the waves, allowing the fly to sink quicker and fish slower, and with more direct contact with the fly.

Saltwater junkie that I am, I’m always seeking a better surf line. Going into the winter surfperch season I lined-up with a Cortland Compact Sink Type 9, and after a couple of months of fishing this line I’ve come to the conclusion it is the best surf line I’ve tried.

The Cortland Compact is an integrated, slow-sinking line with a 28’ fast-sink head. The slow-sinking running line is light blue in color, while the 28’ sinking head is black.

The Compact lines are available in several sink rates, though the fastest sinking, Type 9, with a sink rate of 9ips (inches per second), is the best choice for the surf. The long 28’ sinking head gets the fly down quick and is less subject to wave lift than shorter tips.

This is a very nice casting line, possessing an aggressive front taper that turns over and lays out heavy Clouser-type surf flies with ease. First time out I was impressed with the castability of the Cortland Compact. This line casts well with both single-hand and two-handed rods. Cortland prints the grain-weight of the line on the package, a great help to those seeking a line for a two-handed rod. An average caster, I’m fishing a 475grain Type 9 on my #5 Spey, and have no problem throwing the entire line (100’ to 120’).

Though it is ideal in the surf, the Cortland Compact with 28’ sinking head is an essential line with a number of saltwater applications, including fishing the kelp or offshore, and also for dredging lakes with Bugger and Leech patterns. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Fly Rod for Barred Perch & Corbina ~ the Red Truck 5110-4 Switch

Red Truck 5110-4 switch with 7/8 Diesel Reel
   Fly rods are like golf clubs – ideally you need more than one. Also, like golf clubs, some rods are more versatile than others. Still, there's always one in the bag most appropriate to a given situation.

In my last post we took a look at the Red Truck Diesel fly reel as a designated beach reel. Red Truck Fly Fishing Company is a small California based outfit owned and operated by angler-designers committed to offering high quality gear at fair prices. Devotees of fly fishing tradition, Red Truck has an eye for classic styling as well as quality construction, and that is evident in the Diesel reels -- and fishing the Red Truck 5110-4 switch in the surf, I found that to be true of this rod as well. 
In my work as a guide I get to cast a lot of rods, on-stream and in the surf (I’m a saltwater junkie). As more fly fishers discover the California wet sand, I meet other fly fishers on the beach and the conversation invariably turns to rods, and what constitutes the ‘ideal’ rod for surfperch and corbina.     

Devoted beach casters know the advantages of using switch rods in the surf – rods that may be cast both two-handed and in the single-hand modes. Light, ‘trout model’ switch rods of 10’ to 12’, throwing the 7 to 9 weight lines popular for the surf, are ideal for surfperch and corbina. The long rod casts farther and affords commanding line control in the surf. I’ve cast a spectrum of rods in this class from various makers, and the problem I have with most of them is they perform best in two-hand mode, while tending to be awkward and tiring in the single-hand mode. Which is okay for those who have mastered a couple Spey casts – yet not so good for those who want the length, but would prefer to cast with one hand.
Red Truck 5110-4 ~ two-hand mode

Enter the Red Truck 5110-4 11’ #5 ‘Trout’ switch rod. This one comes with both a rear grip for Spey, and a short butt for converting to single-hand. No switch rod I’ve cast performs Spey casts as well as a full-on Spey rod. And, as I pointed out, they tend to be clunky cast with one hand. A switch rod is usually a compromise. But I was pleasantly surprised to find the Red Truck, as a two-hander, good as the best I’ve fished in its class – and by far the best I’ve used in single-hand mode. Lined with a 7wt sink tip, I cast the Red Truck as a single-hand through a four-hour session in the surf, and it is a pleasure.

For its class, the Red Truck possesses a fairly wide grain window due to its length, coupled with a semi-parabolic, progressive action. I would call this rod a medium-fast action, yet it holds its load well, which makes it forgiving and friendly to those with a slower casting style.
Red Truck 5110-4 ~ single-hand mode

 I am very impressed with this rod and love using it in the surf – though, a nitpick, I think the ambiguous #5 weight designation is confusing, as the rod is neither an AFTMA 5wt or a #5 Spey. (I wish rod manufacturers would make it easier on potential customers and themselves and simply print the rod’s grain window on the rod). After casting the Red Truck #5 with a number of lines, I determined its grain window to be 150-280 grains (I emailed the Red Truck rep and he confirmed this). In single-hand mode it will throw an AFTMA 5wt line in a (hypothetical) pinch. But it starts to come into its own loaded with a 6wt – making it useful for fishing big dries, nymphs and bobber set-ups on big water. For me, casting single-handed in the surf, the Red Truck performs best loaded with a 7wt or 7-1/2wt line – good for swinging streamers on big water – and perfect for turning over the heavier flies required for surfperch and corbina. In Spey mode, the Red Truck switch performs like a rocket launcher lined with a 23’ short-head weighing 260 grains – that’s roughly the equivalent of a 9wt AFTMA rated line. As a compromise, the rod performs competently in both single-hand and double-hand modes loaded with an 8wt line. 

The Red Truck switch is elegant, well-appointed with top quality guides and components. The blank is an understated gray. Guide wraps are claret with blue-ish silver tips to match the gunmetal blue reel seat. The interchangeable rear grips are mounted on light, aircraft-grade aluminum thread stock and bolt seamlessly into the aluminum reel seat. Red Truck thought of everything – the 4-piece rod comes in a heavy cloth bag with pockets for the two rear grips, in an aluminum storage tube with a bottle opener built into the cap.     

If you are considering a designated rod for SoCal surfperch and corbina, or a light switch rod for trout, I’m fairly confident you’d be more than happy with the Red Truck 5110-4 11’ #5 switch. Frankly, you can spend a lot more money on a light switch rod, but I would rate the 5110-4 as equal to or better than any I've tried, in any price range. And the Red Truck Diesel 7/8 reel perfectly matches and balances the 5110-4 switch for a sweet outfit.  

You can check out the Red Truck rods, reels, and stuff here:

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Fly Reel for the California Surf

Red Truck Diesel 7/8
The Red Truck Diesel Fly Reel

     Seems every year I meet more fly fishers on the beach. You recognize the initiated. The ones using the right gear. But then a considerable number who are just getting their feet wet, flogging into the wind and surf with their 5wt trout rods (perch are small, right?) and up against the learning curve wondering, asking the question: What might be the ‘right’ gear for this?

So I’m thinking it might serve to answer the question by outlining what I consider the ideal, all-around outfit for meeting the West Coast surf. Each item being integral to the whole, we’ll look at one item at a time. In my last post we considered effective terminal gear. In this one we’ll discuss what constitutes a good reel for the surf and take a look at the reel I’m using right now. I should qualify this by saying that I don’t shill for any tackle manufacturers, and refuse to endorse anything I don’t love. In my guiding work I get to try a lot of gear, and the cream does rise to the top, so, in the interest of improving my reader’s game, I’ll share what I’ve found, taking into consideration, function, form, and value. And my apologies to Red Truck Fly Fishing Co. for flogging their gear so mercilessly.
When true simplicity is gained. Showing adjustable click-pawl
drag and bulletproof hardened & ground center pin. 

Anybody who takes an expensive disc-drag reel to the beach and grinds the guts out of it within a few trips to the wet sand soon learns that a designated beach reel is the way to go. Considering the species of fish encountered in the California surf, my preference is a click-pawl, rim-drag reel, as this type is sufficient to the task while least affected by the inescapable sand that is the corrosive reality of the beach environment. Simple click-pawl reels have fewer mechanisms to retain and become damaged by sand and will rinse thoroughly after use. And there is no drag system as sophisticated and intelligent, as capable of nuance, as the human hand, fingers or palm, set against a reel rim. A profoundly simple braking system, involving a challenging and satisfying skill set. And I admit the mechanical scraw of the clicker when a good fish accelerates against it does provide an additional element of excitement. Our most plentiful quarry, barred perch, seldom “get you on the reel”, so drag isn’t really a factor with them, the clicker alone usually sufficient. But I routinely catch halibut and stripers on the click-pawl, rim-drag reel, no problem, and the occasional sporty leopard shark, four feet long or better – once, a 6-footer. In my own experience, a click-pawl reel gets the nod as a designated reel for West Coast beach fishing.                         

 I like gear that exhibits both workhorse functionality and timeless style. Function is first priority but, that covered, I admit an aversion to gear that makes me look like a spaceman (or stock car racer). We all have our quirks.  But you live with the gear you buy. You have to look at it while you’re using it. Aesthetics are important. So, not being a spaceman, I’m usually no consumer of fly reels that look like futuristic space gear. And, as makers compete for the ambiguous grail of lightness, some newer reel designs are so radically machined-out and spindly if you drop them once they are toast. So much for the future. You can only remove so much aluminum.

I met the Red Truck Diesel reels when I saw something that looked like a Spey-sized Hardy Marquis mounted to Jack Mitchell’s Spey rod. He said he loved the reel. It was so well-crafted and elegant I couldn’t quit looking at it. Quality, simplicity, timeless styling. It was everything I like in a fly reel.
The Red Truck Diesel reel sports an ample, well-shaped
winding knob, an important feature in the surf where hands are
often wet and slippery.  

A fairly new tackle company based in the Bay Area, Red Truck Fly Fishing Co. is committed to offering a quality line of elegantly designed gear that functions as good as it looks. Red Truck offers the Diesel reel in five sizes, matched to appropriate line weights: 0/2; 3/4; 5/6; 7/8; & Spey. The timeless design of these reels is a perfect match to fine bamboo or glass, as well as graphite rods.

As a reel for beach fishing, sized right for the most popular line weights used in the surf, the 7/8 Red Truck Diesel is about as close to perfect as I’ve found. I like 30lb test mono backing on my beach reel because, unlike braid, it doesn't soak up and hold saltwater that will corrode the spool, and the 7/8 Diesel holds enough to handle a bigger fish that might want to run some line off. And for those throwing lines heavier than 8wt, the Diesel Spey sized reel fills the bill.

Red Truck Fly Fishing Co. also builds a line of fine rods, with several models of particular interest to beach anglers. In my next post we’ll take a look at the Red Truck 5110-4, 11’ 5wt (140-280grain) 4 piece switch rod destined to become a star on the California beach scene. 

You can check out the full Red Truck line here: