Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fly Rod Thoughts: Swift Epic, Redington Butter Stick, and Sage ONE

The hand makes things clearer


To quote our current POTUS: "Let me be clear: ..."  This is not a product review of any kind.  These are the observations, musing, and otherwise random thoughts of a guy with a progressive neuromuscular disease who knows very little about casting a fly rod.


Six weeks ago, we started our sequence of six consecutive camping weekends in the Mobile Hotel®.  That first Saturday morning, my daughter and I set out for a few hours with two fly rods: my St. Croix Imperial ( 7 foot, 3 weight) and the rod now known as Mellow Yellow, a 7 foot, 6 inch Redington Butter Stick in 4 weight.  I started out with the Butter Stick, but switched over to the Imperial to "demonstrate" some basic tight-quarters sidearm casting.  With all apologies, the very short Imperial felt cold and lifeless.  I grabbed Mellow Yellow back and felt communication: loading and unloading.  So, I spent the next couple of weekends fishing with yellow fiberglass, learning to slow down and feel.  This rod is paired with a Rio Trout LT WF4F, with a long front taper.  I could feel the rod load with even short amounts (3 to 5 feet) of fly line.  I even, on occasion, managed to roll cast out 20 feet.  Streamers were a complete no-go, and dual nymphs with indicator were an aerial disaster.

Pure custom, including inscription!
(click to enlarge)
While this exercise was going on, I had my Father's Day present on order: a custom built rod.  Following my time with a Epic 686 FastGlass® rod on the Missouri River, I decided I wanted one.  The idea was to have something that would help me wrestle some of those wonderful 20" to 24" Missouri Rive trout (hence, fighting butt) and toss streamers, but perhaps also toss size 18 mayflies on Driftless spring creeks.  I was referred to Bill Hickey at W. Jude Fly Rod Company.  He's a custom build partner for Swift Fly Fishing.  I wanted a Swift 686 in the glowing "So Blue" color, and then worked with Bill to design the rest of the 6 weight rod.  More on this in the future.  I was giddy when it arrived 2 weeks early, and I'm still smiling.  I sidelined Mellow Yellow, christened the Epic 686 with the title "Monday" and hit the brookie run.  W. Jude's "mascot" is a brook trout, so it was only fitting that my first catch was a 6-inch brookie.  As expected with a 6-weight rod, I could reach 20 feet and beyond with much less effort.  On the short-range side, I could also make fairly delicate presentations with light casts.  Trials with dual nymphs and a streamer were acceptable, though I need much help casting those with ANY rod.  For now, I've paired it with a WF6F Rio InTouch Gold line on my Sage 3850 CF spare spool.  I like the "SureFire" color scheme, with the first and second 20 feet of line each colored differently.  I have not had a chance to compare the new Epic with Zed (see Glossary) but am worried that it might replace him as lead dog in the Armoury.

[Update - October 14, 2016: I finally got around to sharing more thoughts on the Epic 686.  See Four Months with My Epic 686, Plus Backstory.]

Yoda warned of the Sage ONE:
"Once you start down the Dark Path,
forever will it dominate your destiny..."
Then, just for fun, I assembled Mrs. FA's Sage ONE.  This is a dark, intimidating 9 foot specimen, labeled as a "5 weight."  After casting it for a while back in January, I started wondering... Well, wonder no more!  I attached the spooled-up Rio Gold 6 weight to the ONE and took it for a spin on my last outing Sunday evening.  Do you recall the Mars lander that NASA scientists managed to pile-drive into the surface of the planet?  That's what was happening to a size 16 elk hair caddis: the fly was smashing into the surface.  On the plus side, it repeatedly went EXACTLY where I wanted it to go, just too freakin' fast!  I tried softening my stroke and aiming for a point above the bank.  Even then, the line speed was still causing causing temporal distortions in the fabric of spacetime when it approached the Universal Speed Limit.  This "overlined" combo needs only one word: laser. Accuracy requires no effort with this combo.  It's not for canopy-covered spring creeks, but will be a royal hoot on bigger waters.  Where's my kayak?  Point me to some bass!

Summary Thoughts

The muscle stiffness that comes with Parkinson's Disease causes many problems, such as pain, weakness, and loss of coordination.  Over the past six weekends I have learned one thing for certain: a heavy line weight makes casting easier for me.  Much of the time, I didn't have to think about casting with my new Epic 686.  It was usually an intuitive experience, as long as I relaxed & let the rod do the work. And I had to do almost nothing to generate impressive line speed with Mrs. FA's 5-weight Sage ONE overlined with a 6-weight Rio Gold.  I think I'll call this combo "Rod 156."  Perhaps "Darth Sage"?  One other little note:  when I hooked that last 9-inch brown trout Sunday evening, I felt every little twitch, shake, roll, and tug.  I honestly thought I'd hooked something closer to 14 inches from the feel of it.  The fish wasn't foul-hooked, so it was a legitimate fight.  The ONE communicated every fishy movement with sensitively I don't recall from any other rod, almost amplified.  Such a sexy thing, all dark and shiny.  I'm drawn to it like The One Ring in Tolkien's novels.  The Precious. My Precious... Snap out of it, man!  Thou shalt not covet thy wife's fly rod.

What does this mean for Mellow Yellow?  I mentioned to my wife on Sunday that I was considering selling this Redington Butter Stick 476.  (Easy now, Howard!  I said "considering"...)  The thoughts and feelings here are conflicted.  I want to like this rod.  Given the newfound wisdom that a 6-weight seems to be a better fit for a guy with Parkinson's, should I let it go?  Perhaps the Rio Trout LT, with it's long front taper, isn't working for me... Would a different line help? A Rio Gold, or a WF4F from 406 Fly Lines?  So many variables in the Calculus of Fly Angling.  Some of the other Little Voices® whisper about trying the Butter Stick 580 (5 weight, 8 foot), or maybe an Echo Glass (except the thing is just so ugly...)   I'm stuck.

The Sage 3850CF reel looks terrible on that beautiful custom Epic rod.  The "So Blue" blank color paired  with titanium chrome hardware is begging for something else in shiny titanium.  My wife is partial to the Orvis Access reels in titanium, but that Sage reel has taught me the value of a large arbor, especially on the Missouri River when the big boys like to run into your backing on occasion.  Then again, I'd love to have a nice, American-made Lamson Litespeed.

My hopes that the Epic 686 would work as an all-around rod have not been deflated.  I can toss small dry flies on these SE Minnesota spring creeks, and I had fun throwing a big skwala pattern on the Missouri River back in April with a test rod.  Time will tell if it's a good fit for streamers, too.

This was far too much rambling for a single blog post, but I had to get this info out of my head.  Perhaps now, the Little Voices® will give me some peace.  

Yeah, right.  

Hush, I'm writing.


  1. I'm one to let rods go that just don't feel right or serve a specific purpose. Nothing against Mellow Yellow... Too many good rods out there to be fishing one that hasn't found it's place. BTW, loved all of the extra context added to this post, made it an extremely enjoyable read.

    1. Feedback and suggestions very much appreciated, Micheal. I'm happy to hear that my nearly aimless rambling might have amounted to something! It was fun having the chance to work with different pieces of our Armoury over consecutive weekends. The Butter Stick is definitely the 'odd man' in the collection, especially being a there piece. I have to carry the tube instead of tossing it into the multi-rod case that hauls everything else.

  2. I agree with Michael...........
    I have owned and fished with many different rods from some of the best available out there. Eventually, sold or passed most of them on, during my fly fishing journey which covers some (30) plus years. Fish what works for you and makes you the most happy. The fish don't care!

    1. I hope I can reach 30 years of fly angling, too, Mel. And it all makes me happy. I'm a science, math, and physics nerd, so I have plenty of fun experimenting and analyzing the experience of each rod. Now that I'm developing some competency in basic casting, I can appreciate some of the differences in rods and lines. I drink in the data and enjoy thinking and writing about it.

      Unfortunately, that Lamson Litespeed reel is spendy, as are spools. Selling the Butter Stick would perhaps get me halfway to the reel...

  3. Great read! Im with you.....been leaning towards the 5/6 weights more these days. I feel them more. And cannot have too much glass. 😉

    1. Thanks, Ralph. Appreciate the feedback from the pros. :)

      So your experience is similar, in terms of tightening/slowing muscles?

      I think I've sated the rod buying urge for a while. I've got everything covered for now, unless Mrs. FA follows through on her thoughts of going musky stalking on the upper Mississippi this Fall...

  4. Chris, the number one ailment among fly fishermen is seller's regret.

    1. Can I challenge that one? Isn't it "why didn't I fish more when I was younger and it wasn't so dang difficult to move, thread tippet into a size 18 hook, and tie knots?" :)

      Perhaps I'm confusing "ailment" with "regret"... I bet Mrs. FA would say the #1 ailment is "Obsessive/Compulsive desire to go fishing and buy new fishing stuff!" I only had a half-track mind to begin with.

  5. I have just found your blog. It is encouraging to one like me, who has had PD 8 years and loves to fly fish the small streams of the central Sierra's west slop.
    I still have and for memories sake occasionally use the first fiberglass rod received as a gift when I graduated H. S. It is the 4 piece yellow trailmaster eagle claw combo rod made by Wright & Mcgill, out of Denver.
    The fly rod I use now is a 22 year old sage 9/5 wt, at the time it was a low end Rod as, Sage rod go.

    Because of the fun of fly fishing with PD, more entertaining to the guys with me, I need to buy a better suited rod so my fly is on the water more than I am on the ground.

    The Epic 686 sound great. But, my budget thinks it sounds a little high. Do you have any suggestions for a less expensive rod with similar attributes.

    Thanks again for the blog and please don't stop writing.


    1. Dave - Welcome!!! Boy am I glad you came here, and I hope we can have some other conversations soon!

      I need to be brief, because Parkinson's is, frankly, messing with me pretty hard this week and it hurts to type. I'm sure you understand. :)

      No doubt that an Epic 686 is not easily within the reach of every budget, so I was also pondering what else I need to look at. I have been pondering how to branch out and look at some other stuff that might be more budget friendly. Unfortunately, I don't have any good info or opinions yet. Maybe we start a joint project? Maybe Ralph might help. (I need to be careful. I'm prone to episodes of delusional grandeur.)

      I hope you stick around and join the fun. Very happy to have another Fading Angler in the conversation!

    2. Dave - one other thought: My first experience with the Epic 686 was to borrow a loaner from Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig, MT. After I borrowed it, co-owner John Arnold mentioned that he might be selling his current Epic demo rods. I passed on it because those are original 3-piece style. I wanted a newer four-piece rod. I also REALLY wanted blue... :)

      So, that might be an option.