The State of Ultralighting
article and images by Bill Byrd
This article is written based on my current definition of ultralight fly rods, i.e., fly rods 1-weight to 3/0-weight being ultralight. I consider 2-weight and 3-weight fly rods light -- not ultralight fly rods. When the 2/0 and 3/0-weight rods came out I consulted with Jerry Siem at Sage and Jim West at Orvis and they agreed the new definition of ultralight made sense to them. Hence I've been using this definition ever since. While 2- and 3-weight rods are mentioned in this article, they are not the focus of my article. I can assure you that I spend many hours each year fishing 2- and 3-weight fly rods when circumstances dictate.
In 2009 ultralight fly fishers will see some new products introduced and lose some consistent performers.The 1 ounce weight barrier has even been broken. On balance the news about light/ultralight fly fishing is still OK.
In 2009, I can say this: Most of the fly fishing industry is still fixed on 3-weights and heavier systems. At least one third of manufacturers offer some form of 2-weights, but only a VERY few rod manufacturers and builders offer 1-weights. Only Sage offers ought, double ought, and triple ought-weight fly rods.
In the beginning Orvis Company rod designers and builders Howard Steere and Jim West actually created ultralight fly fishing in the early 1980s by building the first Ultrafine 2 weight fly rod. The next year they created the Superfine 1 weight, a truly ground breaking fly rod and gave the fly fishing world its first 1 weight fly rod ever.
Orvis led they way into the late 1990s until Jerry Siem at Sage convinced his company to redefine ultralight. Initially the Sage SPL rod series co-designed with their own very special Quiet Taper line were amazingly light, beautiful casting, and incredibly sensitive fly systems.
The original Sage SPLs even included an Ought weight and the envelope had been pushed back once more. Over the following years Siem did it twice more adding the 2/0 or double ought weight and finally the 3/0 or triple ought weight rods from Sage. That brings us to today.
All of these innovative new fly fishing rods have allowed many fly fishers to use real stealth catching more fish and even more bigger, smarter fish. All the while the "Party line" has pushed the idea that a 5-weight or 6-weight is the best all around rod choice, and a 3-weight is really ultralight.
In 2009 we ultralighters are seeing product gains AND losses but we are still better off than we were in 1982 when the only available 1 weight fly line was a DT1F and it didn't match the only 1-weight fly rod available -- the Orvis Superfine 7'6" 1-weight. If you simply examine what companies offer what product, you'll quickly conclude that even today there is NO industry wide support of ultralight fly fishing.
The 2009 rod line-up.
In 2009 Orvis and Sage are still the two major manufacturers who support production of true ultralight rods (1-weight to 3/0 weight). Orvis created the ultralight age and Sage currently leads the way with the greatest line-up of true ultralight rods with a true 1-weight to 3/0 weight.
Sage's shifts in fly lines in 2008 eliminated the WF version of their lines 1-weight through 3/0-weight, with only DTF lines for rods 1-weight to 3/0-weight. In theory that doesn't matter because the Sage TXLs are designed for a super stealth presentation. Some of us like a heavier rod load so the WFF line would be a nice choice to still have.
Orvis went for over a year without a 1-weight in their rod lineup in 2007, however, in 2008 Orvis added the Trout Bum 1-weight, a 7 1/2 foot 4 section 1 weight fly rod in the "Trout Bum" tradition. 1 weight trout bum rod This 7'6" rod is made with Orvis exclusive thermoset thermoplastic resins found in the Helios and Zero G rod families.
The Trout Bum 1-weight weighs 1½ ounces -- one eighth ounce more than the original Superfine 1-weight of 1982, but I doubt many will ever notice the weight difference. Like the original, the Trout Bum 1-weight features a cork and ring reel seat. Teamed up with the black or natural Orvis BBS-1 reel and your choice of the new Generation 3 WF1F lines or DT1F line makes the perfect Orvis based 1-weight system.
The Trout Bum 1 weight compares very favorably to the original Orvis Superfine 1-weight with a modern look and feel. It isn't a major difference, but to my hand the Trout Bum feels to be 25 to 30% faster action because of two more ferrules and the later generation materials in it. I fished over 1200 hours on my original Superfine1-weight. Comparing the flex point on my original to the Trout Bum 1-weight, the Trout Bum flexes farther up the rod shaft, than my original Superfine 1-weight. A little extra speed isn't a problem for me when I'm fishing bulky subsurface flies. With subtle dries -- it does a very nice job.
I see that subtle difference as a positive. There are times when I'd be happy to be casting an Orvis tip flex 1-weight!
ORVIS: For 2009 Orvis has reached one of their goals by creating the world's newest physically lightest fly rod for today -- the Orvis ZG Helios ION 6 foot 4 section One Ounce rod that actually physically weighs in at 7/8ths of an ounce. This is a strong light weight fly rod. Don't be fooled by its physical weight. In experienced hands a fly fisher can cast a 1, 2 or even a DT3F line on this rod. It has backbone. See this rod at Helios ION 2 weight medium flex rod on the Orvis website.
I have fished this latest Orvis rod, and even though I don't normally fish 6 foot rods -- this rod is interesting and special. You can almost stick it in your pocket, and it has serious LIGHT POWER! The Helios ION 2 weight's casting timing is quick, one can physically move it fast for a sweeping hookset, and it has big lower end strength. It is very sensitive and passes a lot of biofeedback from your fly to your hand. It is pricey and an interesting fly rod.
For more information on Orvis' new Helios ION 2 weight medium flex rod, or to cast one in person, please drop by or call Orvis Atlanta, GA. at 404-841-0093 and ask for Shannon Ward, fly fishing manager, or any of his staff. He has the new Helios ION 2 weight medium flex rod in stock NOW. You can order by phone. Shannon, himself an avid ultralighter, knows and fishes Orvis rods, lines, leaders, and tippets on true ultralights.
OLDER ORVIS RODS: Many ultralighters are finding used Orvis Superfine 1-weights and 2-weights still available out there. The good news is that Orvis still supports most of the original Superfine series rods for repair. The Orvis TLS series 1 and 2-weight components are gone, but sometimes simple repairs can be made even on those rods.
I was interested to learn that the Orvis rod repair department can build ultralight enthusiasts original styled 7'6" Superfine 1 and 7'9" Superfine 2 weight rods from their remaining stock of components. Call Jim West at 802-366-8235 -- extension #6540 Monday thru Friday 830AM to 330PM for the Orvis rod Building and Repair Department to find out what ultralights they can build or repair for you. The best time of year to contact the rod building department is during their less busy season -- August to early March. Please tell them Bill Byrd sent you.
SAGE: Sage continues in 2009 with the widest variety of true ultralight fly rods currently in manufacture -- the TXL rod family including 1 weight to 3/0-weight rods.
According to Jerry Siem, Sage master rod designer, the only new light/ultralight addition for 2009's lineup is the new Sage 8 ft 2 weight 280-4 ZXL -- the first 4 section 2 weight that Sage has created. The TXL family of rods remains as it did in 2008, the top full lineup of ultralight fly rods made.
When the Sage SLTs first replaced the original Sage SPL rods, their rod repair department told me they could support the original SPL series rods for a few years to come. In 2009 the TXLs are still the latest Sage ultralight rod series. Many are finding used Sage 1-weights thru 3/0-weights and are buying them. According to Jerry Siem the Sage SPL and SLT ultralights are still supported by the Sage rod repair department.
TEMPLE FORK OUTFITTERS: TFO has offered 2-weight rods for several years, and continues to offer the TF0 273-4, a seven foot three inch 4 section 2 Wt. IM6 Graphite rod weighing 2.5 ounces for $179.95. THE BIG NEWS is that in 2008 TFO added a 6 foot nine inch 4-section 1-weight IM6 Graphite rod for $179.95 and it is still in the lineup in 2009. This product in TFO's lineup virtually makes them the medium priced 2- and 1-weight rod solution. See these Finesse series rods at TFO Finesse rods.
The TFO 6'9" 4 section 1-weight is a true medium slow action 1-weight. I fished it with a Sage QT WF1F line and a size 14 leggy nymph and the rod handled the task just fine. In 45°F water I could feel the really subtle takes. As light as the rod is I could move it quickly for a sweeping hookset. A 1 pound bass felt very fun on it. In all it is a nice rod.
According to Collins Illich, a TFO employee and fellow ultralight fly fisher, TFO is a light/ultralight fly fishing friendly company. Collins fishes the rods so he knows the fun of it all.
THOMAS & THOMAS: The Thomas & Thomas PA-821 is a smooth, strong 2 section rod with a typical T&T feel to it, but a look at T&T's updated website shows an absence of their LPS family of rods, and the PA-821 -- the only 1 weight they've ever offered. According to an employee T&T has dropped the PA-821 1-weight rod, and the LPS line was dropped last year as well. The Whisperlight series is similar to the LPS series but features nothing lighter than a 3-weight rod.
CABELA'S: Eight seasons back Cabelas added their Clear Creek 7 foot two section 1-weight fly rod to its catalog and it was still in the Cabela's Fly Fishing catalog for 2008. I verified the rumor that the Clear Creek rods are discontinued even though they are shown in the 2008 Fly Fishing catalog. Being a true 1-weight for $99.00, and one that fishes well, I was very disappointed that Cabelas dropped the line including a companion Clear Creek 7 foot two section 2-weight for $99.00. But according to a company manager the series had run its life cycle.
Generally the other "top" US rod makers including Scott, Winston, St Croix, Hardy, do not manufacture a 1-weight, but they all offer at least one 2-weight rod. The lightest rod manufactured by the rest of the industry is still a 3-weight. Rodmakers like Cabela's, Thomas and Thomas, Fenwick, Cortland, Redington, and Global Dorber offer a broader selection of rods and lines 3-weight or heavier as everyone did in 1981 -- before Orvis opened the ultralight door.
Buying ultralight fly lines.
Line choices for true ultralights have not changed much since 2008.
For 2009 Orvis still has a selection of 1-weight fly lines. Orvis offers two WF1F lines -- one their standard WF has an aggressive WF taper, and the other called "Superfine" has a less aggressive WF taper. In addition they offer a family of DT1F lines in their Generation 3 formulation. Orvis website trout line. For information on these lines please call Orvis Atlanta, in Georgia at 404-841-0093. Ask for Shannon Ward, fly fishing manager. You can order by phone. Shannon himself an avid ultralighter, knows and fishes these lines.
Sage offers DT-F lines this year 1-weight to 3/0-weight. Sage website trout line.
Rio offers trout lines -- a DT1F line, plus a WF1F line. Both are shown on-line at Cabelas. Rio website trout line.
Cabelas carries two Rio Trout lines -- a typical DT1F line, plus a WF1F line. Both are shown on-line at Cabelas website Rio trout lines.
I checked the Cortland, Wulff, Teeny, 3M-SA, Varivas, and Tier websites and found no fly line as light as a DT1F. If you know of any other reputable fly line companies making readily available fly lines 1-weight to 3/0 please email me.
You'll have to look for it, but limited ultralight product is available. I'm slightly encouraged this year, but the industry as a whole is NOT interested in fly rods or associated product 1-weight to 3/0 weight.
If you want to see what product we have in this area of fly fishing continue to be available -- contact the companies that DO carry product and thank them for doing so. Be sure to spend money with THEM to encourage ultralight involved companies to keep making that product.
-- Bill Byrd.
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