My last post was an introduction to the topic of fly-line backing. Read here.
The primary issue discussed was that backing has to provide both sufficient quantity and strength for the type of fishing to be done. This becomes critical when one fishes in an area where there are choices of fishing (e.g., both trout in freshwater and sea run trout and salmon in saltwater) or when one wants to travel to a tropical destination.
There’s now a type of backing that provides the answer to all the above issues. That is Hatch Premium Braided Backing – made by Hatch Reels.
Hatch backing is as supple as Dacron. But where Dacron is made up of three to four strands, Hatch has eight micro strands. This bolsters strength while cutting down on its profile.
To get specific, 20-pound Dacron has a diameter of .018 inches (.46 mm). Hatch backing has a diameter of .014 inches (.36mm). Impressive. But consider that it’s also smaller than either 30-pound Dacron [.024 inches (.61 mm) or 50-pound Gel Spun [.016 inches (.40 mm)].
That translates into more backing on the reel. As an example, an Orvis Mirage IV reel used with an 8-weight line holds 200 yards of 20-pound backing or 250 yards of 35-pound Gel Spun. It’s likely one could get up to 275 yards of Hatch on the same reel.
But then there’s the other advantage of Hatch and that’s its strength, rated at 68 pounds!
So one backing solution is available that is thinner than gel spun, soft as Dacron, and stronger than anything else (except wire).
I think for line weights 6 and above it’s a no brainer.
Yes, the first is that it’s expensive. 100 yards of 20 pound Dacron costs approximately $9.00. One hundred meters of Hatch backing is about $29.
That may seem like a lot of money for backing. But consider… think about having all of your $80 fly line out beyond the rod and relying on your three-year old 20-pound backing.
The second is that you can have any color backing you want as long as it’s white.
That may not mean much, but I like colored backing – particularly orange. Still I’ll sacrifice the color to get high-strength backing on my reels.
I’m putting it on all my six-weight and above reels.
If there is one component of a fly-fishing rig that is given little more than passing thought, it is the fly line backing. Fly fishers obsess over reels and rods; analyze the performance of fly lines and leaders, but backing – never. Buy a new reel, and the backing is often thrown in for free.
It’s helpful to remember what backing does. Fly-line backing has at least four functions. The first is that it raises the level of the fly line to near the top of the spool. By some accounts, that improves casting. And it also improves the retrieve, allowing more line to be taken up for each rotation of the reel (recall your high-school geometry).
The second purpose is that it adds weight to the fly reel, helping to improve the balance (or sense of balance) that a fly fisher feels when holding and casting the rod. Properly balanced, the rod and reel will feel neither tip-heavy nor reel-heavy.
A somewhat arcane purpose is that it actually helps with heat buildup. As that reel is spinning it’s generating heat through the friction of the drag or the line being taken in. The friction can be enough to damage the coating of a fly line.
Finally, the backing provides additional line for fighting a larger fish. Most fly lines are approximately 100 feet in length. A big fish can easily strip that amount of line when it runs. Without backing, the tippet will be quickly broken as the drag setting of the reel becomes irrelevant and all the fish’s fighting will be absorbed by the tippet.
Given all that it does, one would assume that people would give careful consideration to the backing on their reels.
Unfortunately, that is not true. Trout and bass fisherman often use whatever 20-pound test Dacron backing that is put on their reel at time of purchase Larger species mean use of 30 pound (or more) backing. And with larger species, more capacity is required, resulting in gel-spun backing being substituted for Dacron.
And yet gel-spun has its problems. One, it’s not as supple as Dacron, and it will readily slice unprotected fingers or hands. And it’s more brittle than Dacron, which can lead to failures in backing to fly line knots.
Fortunately, there’s a new backing material now available that can be a single backing solution for all the issues and requirements discussed above. More on that in my next post.
Climate change is claimed by some to be pseudo-science, as if belief in magic, cynicism, and ignorance represent sound scientific thinking; yes, I’m talking about religious conservatives; paid flacks of the fossil fuel industries; and corporations planning revenue streams based on climate change. They represent a toxic mix that stifles any serious debate about the seriousness of the climate crisis and the steps necessary to minimize the inevitable changes underway. The public is left confused, in spite of the increasing evidence of radical weather (think Hurricane Sandy and the floods in Colorado) and the ongoing drought in the Midwest.
Now National Geographic has written an excellent, if disturbing, article on the impacts of climate change on fishing streams across the country. Many of us may be dead or decrepit before many of the worst impacts are felt – or maybe not. But our children and grandchildren will live in a world unknown to most of us. And our hopes and dreams about passing on our love of fishing (whether fly or gear) may be dashed. To quote only item from the article, a scientist at the National Wildlife Federation said, “The science is telling us that in the lifespan of a child born today, 50 percent of the habitat suitable for cold-water species of fish will no longer be suitable for them.”
The article can be found here.
I’m always looking for ways to reduce the amount of gear I have to take beach fishing. I moved from a vest to a sling pack several years ago; take only a few flies in a small case; and carry only one or two sizes of tippet material (typically 1X and 2X). So I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using only one fly line along with poly leaders to cover most of the fishing situations encountered on the beach.
My favorite and primary fly line for beach fishing with my six-weight Winston is an Airflo 40+ Floating/Intermediate line. Its 35-foot transparent slow intermediate head settles nicely beneath the water surface. And it nicely loads my 9’ 6” rod and allows me to easily cast out to 50 feet with no hauling.
Still, there are times when I’d like to cast surface flies (e.g., popper) with a floating line. I’d carried a spare spool loaded with floating line for those low-tide low-water situations in which a surface fly excels.
Consistent with my goal of reducing what I carry, I’ve been considering the use of floating lines with poly leaders as a one-spool solution for my fishing needs. Given that poly leaders come in a number of densities (from floating to fast sinking), I thought that might be all I’d need.
Yesterday I went to my local beach on a falling tide (and no wind) and brought along two six-weight fly lines: a Royal Wulff Ambush and a Rio Outbound (OB) Short Floating. The Ambush has a 235 grain weight 18 foot head; the OB Short has a 265 grain weight 30 foot head. I also carried an Airflo Slow Intermediate 10-foot poly leader.
First up was the Ambush. I used the poly leader along with a five foot length of 1X tippet (the fly was a tube fly with a size 4 hook).
The Ambush roll cast very nicely. It provide a nice D-loop and gave a nice crisp cast.
It did also work in overhead casting. With one or two false casts, I was able to shoot line with no problem.
But there was something about it that wasn’t clicking with me. It may be that the line itself is very large and it felt clunky. And I found that if I did a poor cast the line would collapse.
I switched over to the OB Short, including the poly leader / tippet combination described above. Roll casting was near that of the Ambush, but I think the Ambush was slightly better.
Overhead casting was no comparison. The OB Short was a much easier casting line for me. If I made a bad cast, the line still performed and didn’t collapse. I also had the sense the line moved through the rod guides a good deal smoother than the Ambush. I easily was able to get out to 40-50 feet with no effort. In that regard it felt a lot like casting my Airflo 40+ line.
So have I found a one-line solution for the majority of my beach fishing with my 6-weight rod? I’d have to say not yet.
I know if I was dealing with a high tide condition with no room for a back cast I’d want to use the Ambush.
For most of my beach fishing where there’s some wind and surface chop (and I know I’ll not be doing any surface flies), I’ll stick with my Airflo 40+.
But on days where I might want to go either surface or sinking, I think the OB Short is a great solution when combined with poly leaders from either Airflo or Rio.
Could I get to the point where the OB Short would replace the Airflo? I’m not ready to say that. I’d need to cast the OB Short more to say that. And it might take a beach shootout in conditions that favor the use of the Airflo.
There have been a number of announcements through 2013 related to consolidation in fly shop ownership. At first glance, the announcements may be interesting to customers of the different businesses. But I think they say something about the future of retail fly-fishing shops.
Grizzly Hackle, a very successful brick and mortar and online fly shop from Missoula Montana announced its purchase of Kiene’s Fly Shop of Sacramento California on January 1st, 2013. This was followed by its purchase of Bob Marriott’s fly shop in Fullerton California in early May.
The latter announcement was followed that same month by the announcement of the May 17th merger of Grizzly Hackle Holdings (which owns the three fly shops) and the very prominent Fishwest Incorporated, an e-commerce fly-fishing retailer, which also owns one shop in Utah.
The businesses above are all quality companies. At one time or another, I’ve bought from all of them. They are all reputable and are staffed by people who care about customers and the sport of fly fishing.
Each of them will carry, more or less, the same brands from the top suppliers in the business (e.g., Scientific Anglers, Simms, Sage, Winston, and Patagonia – to name only a very few).
And so far, five to eight months on, each of the fly shops still market under their own name, maintaining both a brick and mortar storefront along with a web presence. It will be interesting to watch whether their business models change over the next year or two,.
Perhaps more thought provoking is an attempt to understand the whys of the mergers and speculate what it says about the future for many of the fly shops that remain.
I think there are three reasons. The first is related to aging of owners. The other two are related to economic factors and economies of scale.
The sales of both Kiene’s and Bob Marriott’s, both of which have been in business for well over 30 years, were driven at least in part by the owners’ stated desires to move into semi-retirement and give up the day-to-day hassles and pressures of running a business.
Whether there was store staff with the desire, or more importantly – ability to raise capital, to buy the stores is unknown. It’s certainly true that capital availability has been a challenge for the last five years since the economic meltdown in 2008.
The industry is very small. As I related in a previous post (see here), the total annual sales in fly fishing gear is $750 million, less than some brands of candy. A related post (see here) shared the results of an AnglersSurvey study that showed the majority of sales were flies, followed by tippet and fly line.
Now think about how easy it would be to raise capital to buy a fly shop when your primary revenue stream will be based on a two to three dollar fly - and in a market that is not demonstrating rapid growth. Selling an $800 fly rod is certainly more lucrative, but the question is how long that rod has to sit in a store’s inventory before the sale is made; otherwise there is the cost of maintaining inventory.
Unless interested parties can self capitalize or the shop in question is demonstrably a moneymaking success in its local market that overcomes banks’ fears of business loans, I fear we will see many fly shops going out of business as the original owners retire.
A related challenge is dealing with the manufacturers. A small fly shop is at the mercy of the companies and the sales reps that represent them. There are requirements for required volumes to be carried; promotional placements; and terms of sale that a small shop has to exist under.
And from the perspective of the manufacturers they have legitimate concerns about tying their brands to small fly shops that are struggling or only able to carry the minimum required inventory. It’s becoming much easier for them to put at least some of their inventory in a big box store (witness Winston and Sage rods in Cabelas).
Now consider the merger discussed above. It puts all three fly shops, together with Fishwest’s e-commerce site on firmer financial footing with a stronger multi-channel sale network – particularly with Bob Marriott’s, Grizzly Hackle, and Kiene’s all having both brick and mortar and e-commerce sites.
I suspect (but can’t verify) it puts the new company in a position to better negotiate terms of sales, volumes, and promotional support. And it gives a manufacturer the multiple-channels to get the hot new product out to its customers. They understand the critical importance of brand loyalty. It’s a win-win for both the retailer and supplier.
If you’ve gone into a fly shop to get a new just announced Sage rod (as an example) and you’re told they have no idea when they can get one in – how many times does that have to happen before you stop going in looking for the new products?
Fundamentally I think it is these economies of scale that will drive the transition away over time from the small locally owned fly shop to the horizontally integrated companies described above. Only they may have the ability to compete with the big box stores in the manufacturer’s competition for market share.
The passing of many of the fine fly shops that operated over the years has been and will be a sad thing to observe. But there can be hope in the new model discussed here.
It may be a transition away from local ownership but done right local color and knowledge will be retained. It’s the smart business move and it will be good for fly fishers.
I had never used a net while wading in either rivers or saltwater. I thought nets were cumbersome and difficult to keep out of the way – particularly with a sling pack, which I use.
However, after my last trip to the saltwater, I’ve decided I need to use a net, difficult or not.
Yesterday, I hooked and caught my first sea run cutthroat trout. It was a beautiful fish that was about 11 inches long – by anyone’s standard, a very nice size for this species.
I was understandably excited and wanted a picture. As I was fishing alone, I had to be the photographer with one hand at the same time I was trying to control the fish with the other (rod hand)
I had considered backing up to the beach, but I thought the distance (about 30 feet) would have meant keeping the fish too long on the hook.
So I kept the fish struggling on the hook while I got my camera out of my pocket. I then got the fish up and set him in my stripping basket – violating the rule that a catch and release fish should not be lifted from the water. I thought I could do it quickly, but I was thinking more of my picture than the fish.
I got the photo, removed the hook and held the fish in the current of water to get him moving. I thought I held it long enough so he’d swim away – it seemed as if it was ready. But when I released it, it drifted slowly away with the current. Thinking back, I should have given it more time to let the water move over its gills until it began swim out on its own. I knew it before and I know it now. I don’t know why I forgot it in the moment I needed it.
As I watched it drift away, I felt really bad about that fish.
Hopefully it survived. But I don’t know.
Perhaps the only thing I can do now in addition to carrying a net is to relearn the lesson that our actions have consequences and as such we need to understand the consequences before we act. And protecting the fishery is more important than a photo.
So I will carry a net and focus on the fish I catch – quickly returning them to their environment whether a picture is taken or not.
I owe it to that fish.
Walk into any fly shop, even one loaded with high-end gear, and you’re looking at a very small business. The industry itself is very small.
Field and Stream’s Fly Talk blog (see link) reported last year that a study done for American Fly Fishing Trade Association found that sales for the entire industry were only about $750 million – less than some brands of candy bars.
And do you know what sells the most? The study found it was flies. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. I noted in a recent post (see here) that the highest percentage of sales in May/June 2013 was flies, followed by tippet.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to a shop I may buy three each of three or four patterns. Even for the saltwater patterns, that’s looking at a total purchase of less than $60. And I’ve seen plenty of people walk in, look around, and leave. I don’t always buy. Sometimes it’s nice to just go in, listen and see what’s new.
My point in the above is that every fly shop is hungry for customers – lots of customers. Because for every $800 Orvis, Sage, or Winston rod they sell, they’re looking at lots of sales at less than $100 – often much less.
Fly shops have to compete with each other implicitly whether they want to or not. When a customer can buy the same rod in two or three places (or from an online retailer) a fly shop wants that rod to be sold at their shop. Brands carried, events, classes, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a loyal customer base are needed to survive. And it is survival – with rent and utilities to pay, salaries for the hardworking but underpaid staff, and maybe being able to stash some money for one’s growing family.
So why do I bring all this up? It’s because of the event I attended today.
Many fly shops hold demo days – events where manufacturers reps are on hand, rods are available for casting, and everyone talks fly-fishing. Many times there are giveaways and prizes. And sometimes there’s even free food!
But not every shop hosts an event that includes other fly shops. Often fly shops will be at the same event that’s hosted by some other organization. But an event where a fly shop invites other fly shops, that’s something unique. And maybe it’s something we need more of in this increasingly hyper competitive society.
Puget Sound Fly Company (Tacoma Washington) hosted a demo day today with two other fly shops invited. When I got there later in the day, Orvis was still there along with Puget Sound Fly Company.
The shop owner from Puget Sound Fly Company (Anil Srivastava) was there. Orvis was ably represented by the beach fishing legend, Leland Miyawaki, and Jason Cotta, their fly fishing manager.
So here’s a couple of fly shops, admittedly separated by 40+ miles, still sharing an event and demonstrating that one can be friends with other people you’re competing against. The thing about it is that the only way all shops will survive is to promote fly fishing. It may mean a lost sale, but the more fly fishers there are, the more all will thrive.
On a planet of diminishing resources, two fly shops in the Seattle / Tacoma demonstrate the wisdom of cooperation in which all win or all lose. As individual, regions, and countries that might be a good lesson for us all.
AnglerSurvey.com has just released its latest angler trends media report, covering May-June 2013. The results are captured in the graphic below.
It’s interesting but should be obvious that the top two types of items purchased are flies and tippets. Those are basically consumables that have to be replaced as previous purchases are used up (tippets) or lost (flies). Rods and reels in comparison represent about one-third the percentage purchases of flies and tippets. That’s to be expected given the several orders of magnitude (100X) differences in price. What wasn’t reported, at least in the publicly available report, was where those items are purchased.
The perceptions of many commentators I’ve read, and believe, is that most purchases of flies and tippets are done locally, but many purchases of rods and reels are done online, where prices are better, taxes are avoided, or there’s something free thrown in (e.g., a fly line on a reel). The challenge for local fly shops is to capture as much of those 20% of sales (rods and reels) as possible. Or we will soon lose more local business – in this case our local fly shops.
Last Sunday I spent the last hour of an ebbing tide fishing at a local state park beach that I had not fished before. In that time I had at least 6 firm strikes on my popper with two to three other probable, but was unable to land any of them.
That in itself isn’t remarkable or noteworthy. Many fly fishers get strikes but don’t get the hook set before the fish looks for a meal elsewhere.
What was remarkable to me was the frequency of the strikes indicating the fish were there. Failure to land could have been timing, technique, or fly size.
The popper had a size four hook and it’s possible the fish weren’t getting the hook far enough into their mouths. But I’ve seen photos of small fish with large flies (and hooks) in their mouths, so I think that can be discounted.
Timing is the same as in fresh water: feeling the fish take the fly and then setting the hook. There was wind on Sunday and I was using a floating line in the very shallow water and it’s possible I was missing the first tug due to the rippled water. But that’s too easy an explanation.
That leaves technique, or lack of it, as cause. The standard technique for setting the hook with fresh water species is the rod set: feel the strike and quickly raise the rod on the tight line, setting the hook. In saltwater, a strip strike is used: the rod is kept pointed at the fish and line is stripped to set the hook. The strip strike is thought to be more effective with the harder jaws of saltwater fish. I did see one of the strikes at the surface. It was a small eight inch or so cutthroat trout. Given that, I think I should have been successful with a rod set.
That I wasn’t means I didn’t maintain tension while stripping in of the line. After I got home and thought about it, I recognized I wasn’t using my rod hand and line hand in proper sequence. As I was stripping I released the line pressure with my rod hand. Then, as I came to the end of a strip (short or long) I should have used the index or middle finger of my rod hand to maintain a tight line as I repositioned my line hand for another strip.
The obvious cure for that is practice, practice, and more practice.
And the noteworthy thing? To me it was that I was having a blast even without landing a fish. The excitement of feeling a connection with a living thing at the end of my fly line was incredible as always. It’s been the same every time whether I bring the fish in or not. I think it’s the sense of connecting with something natural and wild.
So it was a good day of fishing. I had fun and I taught myself a lesson.
Still next time I think I will use a smaller fly.
Tom Morgan is a custom rod builder, and is the former owner of Winston Fly Rods (1975-1981) where he built the reputation of Winston rods first in bamboo, then in fiberglass and graphite. But he is more than a good businessman; he is an artist of the highest order. To own a Tom Morgan rod, which I do not, is to hold an object of art that links one back to a tradition of master craftsmen.
Tom Morgan would be renowned as a fly rod maker alone, but what makes his life special transcends the mechanical aspects of rod building. For you see, Tom Morgan has Multiple Sclerosis and hasn’t touched one of the rods he builds in many, many years. The rod building is done by his wife Gerri Carlson and two other workers. She is now the master craftsman of Tom Morgan rods – a journey that started with her knowing nothing about rod building when she met Tom.
And in addition to demands of filling the orders that come in from around the world, Gerri takes care of her husband through the daily struggles of supporting someone unable to do even the simplest of things most of us take for granted. From shaving to the “poop wars”, she embodies unconditional love.
There is a remarkable article about Tom and Gerri on ESPN.COM. It is inspiring and touching. Read it and think about the tears in Tom’s eyes as he watches a friend cast, wishing he could pick up a fly rod and cast just one more time. And read about the remarkable woman who loves him and builds Tom Morgan rods.
The article is located here.