Saturday, April 23, 2016

Trout Trek Part III - Slowing It Down with Epic FastGlass®

Epic stuff.
Photo credit: Headhunters Fly Shop
It's no secret I've been thinking about slower-action rods for a while.  We've got a couple of Sage rods around here at the Angler residence, and most of it is fast-action stuff.  I like to tease Mrs. Fading Angler that her Sage ONE 590 feels like an ultra-light piece of rebar.  I started thinking about something more moderate after using a guide's TFO Lefty Kreh Finesse (quite a model name!) last summer.  One of the hallmarks of Parkinson's Disease is slower movement, so maybe a slower rod would be a better match for my casting style (or, more accurately, lack thereof).  Sage announced their new lineup late last summer, and I've had MOD-on-the-brain ever since.  I got a brief chance to cast a 5 weight Sage MOD at Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig, Montana before we pulled out of their campground last August.  It was the first rod that ever let me shoot a little line out at the end of a forward cast, which made me shiver.  So did the $850 retail price.  But maybe this idea had merit.

Watching a skwala fly drift across the edge of a gravel bar, waiting for a monster
brown trout to eat.  Tossed using the Epic 686 from Swift Flyfishing Co.

Early in 2016, I stumbled across the line of Epic fiberglass rod blanks from The Swift Flyfishing Company.  People everywhere around the Internet praised their FastGlass® technology, providing a faster action than "regular" fiberglass but still handling more like glass than graphite.  It seems that the Epic 686 (6wt 8'6") model was well-liked among the 'glass community. I learned that Cameron Mortenson operates The Fiberglass Manifesto site and offers a surprising service: a loaning library of different fiberglass rods.  I contacted him before my recent trip back to the Missouri River in Montana, on the off chance that the Epic 686 was available for a trial.  Cameron told me there is a loooong line of people waiting to try the Epic 686 via the loaner program, but he had another idea where I might be able to find one to try out.

His suggestion sent me right back to Headhunters in Craig, MT.  Apparently, Cameron and John Arnold, Headhunters co-owner, spent some time fishing together on the Mo' in 2014.  John set me up with an Epic 686 in Salsa, an orange hue that glows impressively in the sun.  ("*I* am your father...!")  I had intended to pick up the 686 Friday afternoon, but my itinerary got a little messed up when a spring snow storm prevented my flight from landing in Great Falls.  I finally picked the rod up just after 7 AM Sunday morning and had the chance to use it several times that day.

Joe tied on a big skwala pattern.  We didn't have a chance to target any rising fish that day, but there was always a chance something large might not be able to resist a big floating snack.  Besides, the goal was try the rod.  We moved back upriver a short distance after lunch and anchored.  Joe and I waded out where he proceeded to show me how he works a gravel bar with a big dry fly on the Missouri River.  He said that the 686 was definitely the fastest fiberglass he's ever used.  My turn came and he talked me though slowing my stroke, starting with my left arm.  When I found the rhythm, I noticed that a really short, abbreviated stroke got the best load feel and distance.  Any bigger movement just got sloppy and fell apart.

Using the 'glass to probe the edge of another bar

I've read several claims on the 'net that the Epic 686, even being fiberglass, still gives people enough "punch" to be able to cast into the wind.  True, even for me!  Casting upstream was also casting upwind.  It was breezy, and I was able to lower the angle and unroll my loop low into the breeze.  Hank Patterson would be proud of how I slapped that skwala down...

The real test came when I switched over to my right arm, my "Parkinson's side."  Very natural feel.  The rhythm was easy to find.  I managed some distance and wind resistance.  Better than my Sage Z-Axis with the Slow Hand.  So far, the data support the hypothesis.

I swapped a couple of emails with John after the rod was returned.  I explained my experience with the 686, and his reaction reinforced my experience:

It does take a minute to get used to. The shorter length (compared to most 6’s) makes it feel like it needs a quicker stroke, but the glass needs slower. The [480] and [580] feel a bit more “normal” to me. I love the 6, however. Especially for streamers and larger dries like the Skwala.

Considering I don't yet own a 6 weight and I'm looking for a streamer rod that can multitask, it's very likely I'm going to have one of these before very long.  Where's my tax refund?

Glass Is Not Dead.

My thanks go out to to Cameron Mortenson at The Fiberglass Manifesto,  and huge thanks John Arnold and the staff at Headhunters Fly Shop for setting me up with the Epic 686!

This was part III in the Trout Trek of April 2016.  Feel free to rewind to Part I (Louis and Clark found Great Falls, but Delta Airlines Can't)  and Part II (Day 1 of Fishing the Mo').  In Part IV, I talk about some unexpected effects that a good day of fishing (and catching) had on my Parkinson's symptoms. Part V is Day 2 of fishing.


  1. Ladies and Gentleman, we have another convert! Chris, I gave up graphite in about 2009 after meeting up with Cameron on the Fiberglassflyrodders. I've never looked back and said, gee I wish I hadn't gotten rid of them. Orvis, Sage and Loomis. I don't miss them at all.

    I'm not one to name drop, but if you ever get a chance to try out the Redington Butterstick you'll also see what the excitement is about. I fish with a 7'6" TL Johnson Synergy 4wt. made here in Colorado. It's another sleeper since I don't know if Terry makes them any more. The only thing missing is the sticker price. Cam, if you're reading this...well done. Same to Headhunters Fly Shop.

    1. Easy there, Father Fiberglass! When spreading the Gospel of the 'Glass, don't try to separate the unconverted masses from their traditions. Even the early Roman Catholic Church recognized they could convert more heathens if they adapted to the traditions of said masses. Fastglass® is just such an adaptation!

      You could try to pull my Sage Z-Axis from the rigor of my cold, dead fingers. You shall not succeed. I intend to be buried with that rod.... unless my daughter really wants it. I just hope she doesn't toss an Ugly Stick® into the casket, instead.

  2. Chris I really appreciate your articles as my dad and I keep looking for ways to keep him on the water and fly rod in hand. Going to tie up some black jack steels on those larger eyelet hooks you posted this winter and order up an Echo glass rod for him. Have you noticed any difference in line weights you prefer?

    1. John - Thanks for stopping by and leaving some feedback! I love hearing from folks like this, and it is a privilege to potentially be able to help someone. Regarding line weight, yes, I have noticed a difference. I can cast the 6 weight more easily. I've never tried an Echo Glass, but if I were going to, here's what I'd do: go for the 6 weight. Try it with an inexpensive 6 wt DT line. If it's too "floppy" then back down to a 5 wt line.

      Please keep in touch. I'm finding that I need the company of other fading anglers more and more these days. Email me at fading dot angler at gmail dot com. Good luck!