Ever find yourself having a hard time trying to decide which set up (rod, reel, line) to choose when you are heading out on your next surface steelhead excursion? As a dry fly steelhead fanatic who also happens to be a pack rat, I have come to be a 56 year old equipment hoarder with self-imposed, yet unnecessary complexities in choosing what to wear for the day as to equipment. This is akin to women who have an amassing of clothes and shoes who just can't decide what to put on each day. Sometimes I envy the inherent simplicity of being a newbie to this sport. When I first started out in fly fishing I had a single fly rod, reel, and line so the choice was easy. Similarly, when I got into two handed casting in 1995, I had just my single Sage 9140 brownie, Orvis Battenkill reel, and DT line.
Of course as time went on and my experience and passion grew, I realized that I needed new setups for certain situations. For instance besides a general purpose 9' 5wt for trout, I also needed a 4wt for dry fly fishing, lighter/shorter rods for small streams, a 9' 7wt for streamer fishing, etc. I actually started off with a 9 1/2 foot 8wt Sage RPL for steelhead in the early 90's before getting into the two handed game in 1995. My two hand rod collection continued to grow with a Sage 8136 IIIe being added to the mix in 2004 and then the trend towards shorter/lighter two handers resulted in the 6126 Echo Classic and 6126 Decho being added to the fold around 2008.
I went crazy for old single hand Fenwick glass rods around 2011 to 2012. I was combing through ebay constantly as I built up my collection of these classic rods. I had great fun returning to single hand casting. The use of Wulff Ambush lines made single hand spey casting on these glass rods an absolute blast. These setups worked quite well both for summer and winter steelhead. It was fun to be doing something that no one else I knew was doing (I do seem to enjoy being different). It was also during this timeframe when I fully converted over to vintage click/pawl reels. Hardy's and JW Youngs became the mainstays of my reel collection.
|Vintage Fenwick at work|
In 2014, I discovered the inexpensive, yet great performing Cabela's TLR line of rods. I stared off with the 11' 6wt switch and was so impressed with the performance of this bargain priced rod (purchased on sale for $79.95), that I continued watching for sales as I continued purchasing the majority of the other TLR rods in the line up. My collection ended up including everything from the 11'6" 8wt down to the 9' 4wt. There were times when these rods were on sale for as low as $59.95. I felt badly for purchasing all these big box rods rather than saving for a single high end rod by our well known custom builders, but I was having too much cheap fun.
By late 2018, Cabela's came out with trout speys and when the 11' 3wt Vector went on sale at my local Cabela's, I promptly picked one up. Of course I routinely use "trout tackle" for steelhead so this rod promptly went to work after dry fly winter steelhead. I caught heat on social media for proclaiming that I intended to fish for winter steelhead with this light rod, but I reminded folk that light gear can be used for steelhead as long as appropriate steelhead tippet is being used and the steelhead is fought aggressively using a lot of manual drag on the reel and a low rod position, using the power of the lower section of the rod. I proceeded to raise, hook, and land a bright, 8/9lb winter dry fly steelhead on December 30, 2018 using the whispy rod - elapsed fight time: 5-7 minutes.
|Dry Fly Winter steelhead on 11'3wt|
The ll'4wt Cabela's Vector went on sale in March 2019 and it was promptly purchased as well. I was having a lot of fun fishing with both of these trout speys so of course, I continued fishing with them through the remainder of the summer/fall season. Summer steelhead up to 12/13lbs (on the 11' 3wt) were raised, hooked, and landed with these rods with no problems at all. I found OPST commando heads with 10' floating steelhead tips to work very well with these light rods.
|Dry fly steelhead on 11' 4wt Vector|
As the above paragraphs illustrate, I have quite the amassing of equipment! As I tend to keep accumulating equipment, my collection just continues to grow. I envy friends who do well with the self discipline to sell some equipment if they are buying new equipment. I don't' often sell stuff because I worry about the regret I may have if I let go of something I should have held on to. Every now and then I hear of those folks with the better self discipline, who have regretted selling a rod or reel that they wished they had kept. Those situations just confirm why I need to continue my sick hoarding behavior.
So, what's the problem with all these rods, reels, and lines coming out of my ears? Well, sometimes I nearly have an anxiety attack trying to decide which rod/reel/line combo I should use for a coming day's fishing. I have worries about equipment going too long without being used, thus being wasted; and I also seem to attach human emotions to equipment - worrying about stuff feeling neglected. All irrational stuff: I probably need a good therapist, maybe even meds.
What I do find happening is that I seem to go through phases. If there is certain setups that I am just having fun with, I keep using them. Like when glass rods were the flavor of the day for a couple years, or when those TLRs were the thing because I couldn't believe I was having so much fun for so little money. Or the trout spey phase where I was once again proving to myself that I could make trout class gear work for steelhead.
With the low water conditions of last fall, I went back into Long Rod/Long Line mode since the broad stretches that abound in these conditions allow for big D loops with lots of space for the bigger setups to shine. Among my other longer rods, my 1st two hander, the 24 year old Sage 9140 brownie, has come back out from oblivion to reenter the rotation of gear I have been using. The vintage rod still casts a Delta or Beulah Aerohead like butter and is still such a pleasure to fish with.
I just love having a wide array of gear, even despite the space it all takes up. I have been able to manage my anxiety over which setup to use by defaulting to what my mood leads me to, secondary to what river conditions dictate.
Due to the sheer amount of time that I spend on the water, I am able to transition pretty readily between setups that are radically different from each other. On a fall trip to a desert river I alternated between my 11' 3wt with a short head and my 15' 10/11wt with a long line. At other times, I may fish a single hand rod one day, then a switch rod the next, then a long rod with longer line after that.
It is generally good advice for beginners to become proficient with a given set up and casting style before moving onto another setup and casting style. I have found it very useful to have learned to cast various rod/reel/line combinations over the years as it adds to my fun and versatility with my fishing. Spending lots of time fishing and casting keeps me somewhat in the groove where I can adjust to using a single hand rod one day, then going to one of my longer rods with a longer line the next or anything in between. It is a true blessing that life (and my wife) allows me to maintain a regular diet of river time.
In July of 2019, an unbelievable deal literally fell into my lap. I was in the market for new waders as my frequent forays to the river was wearing my bullet proof Simms G3s to shreds. My birthday was coming up and my dear Wendi informed that she would gift me with new waders to celebrate my 56 years on earth. I had just submitted my special order form to Simms for new custom made G3s, when I received a message from a friend who was wanting to unload a new in box set of Simms G4s, a like new Winston 7129 BIIITH, and a gently used Sage 6129 VXP, all for less than what my replacement G3s were going to cost. I quickly canceled my order with Simms and promptly went over to my friend's home to take delivery of my new treasures.
The G4s fit perfectly and were brand new as advertised. I wasn't in the market for more rods but since I had two more in hand, I had to at least test cast them. I took the Winston out for a quick test drive and instantly became enamored with the unlikely acquisition of such high end gear. I could not help but find humor in the irony that the high end stick I was holding was worth more than the combined value of the dozen or so bargain rods I had purchased over the past several years!
The Winston cast effortlessly and beautifully. It has a buttery smooth action and lots of reserve power. It's as if it was telling me, "we can take it easy, or we can kick butt if you feel like it". My friend told me the rod has mojo as he got a winter steelhead on the North Umpqua the first time he used it. I suppose he was right about the mojo as I got a dry fly steelhead within an hour of taking possession of the rod.
|Breaking in my first Winston|
In February 2020, I ended up with another Winston when my good friend Tony Torrence gifted me with his 13'3" BIIX 7/8wt as a token of friendship. I was in awe of this generous gift from my dear friend and I could not believe that I was in possession of another high end rod in a short time.
Of course, this Winston was taken out the very next time I was on the river. I was totally blown away by the way this rod cast and came away feeling like the 13'3" BIIx was probably the sweetest two hander I'd ever cast.
About a month later, I happened to notice that a Winston 14' 8/9wt BIIX was on sale on Speypages classifieds for a reasonable price. With how sweet the 13'3" BIIX is, I was betting on the 14'er being similarly appealing. Well, I didn't quite have enough mad money on hand so I hurriedly tied up more of my zany surface flies and put them up for sale. Thankfully, there are people who are actually willing to pay for my crazy ties and I had enough funds to purchase the rod in a short time.
The immediate field testing of the 14' BIIx confirmed my bets on it being a great rod. So clearly, I have re-entered a long(er) rod phase. With my homewater being on the medium/large scale, the longer rods actually fit in well and allow me to cover more water.
To take the irony of a cheapskate owning three Winstons within 8 months even further, I continued on an impulsive buying spree. I continued in a frenzy of tying and selling more of my Steelhead dry flies (blame the pandemic and lock down insanity). Over the course of the next month or so, I added more toys to my collection:
- 3 3/4 prewar Perfect (a very nice vintage reel)
- English made dark faced Hardy Salmon 2 in pristine condition
- Hardy made Scientific Anglers System 11 (a unique reel, 4 inch diameter, falling between the Salmon 1 and Salmon 2)
- used 8/9, 52', 575gr Beulah Aerohead line.
|Prewar 3 3/4" Perfect. The long foot calls for electrical tape.|
|Signs of maddness|
|Unique 4" Hardy made SA System 11|
OK, I think I'm good with equipment.....for now.