The 2008 Kudo Awards

The 2008 Kudo Awards

The best gear in fly-fishing.


Selections for the 2008 Kudos were made by a panel of angling experts that included Barry and Cathy Beck, Buzz Bryson, Jim Dean, Brad Jackson, Steve Kantner, Ted Leeson and Darrel Martin. They're some of the finest and most experienced anglers in the field, and we thank them for their efforts. We also want to thank the many FR&R readers who sent in nominations for the 2008 Readers' Choice Award.

In addition, we're also honoring the 2008 Angler of the Year in this issue.This year's AOY needs no introduction to FR&R readers who have read his comprehensive gear reviews over the years, nor to the thousands of anglers who have been educated or touched by one of his many excellent books. Our heartfelt congratulations go out to Ted Leeson, the 2008 Angler of the Year.
-The Editors

Hyde Drift Boats

They work and they last
You see Hyde drift boats virtually everywhere drift boats are used, and there is an easy explanation for Hyde's popularity and ubiquitous presence. Simply put, they work. Hyde has developed an ingenious, versatile, maneuverable, innovative, flexible and durable lineup of boats that addresses almost every conceivable driftboat application.

Hyde has boat models at all price points and all possible designs. Most have an identical footprint, but you can vary hull construction and materials based on what kind of durability you need (in other words, the number of encounters with rock and gravel you anticipate). Regardless of the design, however, Hydes don't disappoint when it comes to rowing and handling. The timeless hull rows, turns, back-ferries, glides, slithers and skates with ease. Ultimately, the class of rivers you row (and the type of fishing you plan to do) will dictate which boat you choose.

For gearheads, the accessory, seating and storage configurations number more than 1,000. The configurations will stir your acquisitive juices and impress (and perhaps even intimidate) you with the number of seat, storage box, anchor, oar, cleat, oarlock, motor bracket and rail choices. If you can dream up an internal design, you can probably achieve it with Hyde's modular approach.

If you haven't owned a drift boat, be forewarned of the importance of trailer durability and function. Your trailer can really reduce launching inconvenience, boat beatings, and wear and tear on your own inevitably aging body. My Hyde trailer has withstood 10 years of thorough abuse and still works great, and the new model has plenty of additional features.

I must sadly confess that I bought my own Hyde before the advent of the clever walk-around seat design, which I covet. This outstanding option will drive me to trade in and upgrade my faithful boat. The walk-around design lets you navigate around the boat, change seats or oarsmen, chase fish from bow to stern, or grab a sandwich from the ice chest without hopping back and forth over seats and storage. Combined with side storage, the walk-around is a choice that every Hyde shopper should carefully consider.

Hyde boats work, they last and they keep getting better. $6,463 for the Skiff model up to $10,574 for the LH Limited Edition model (prices include trailers).
-Brad Jackson - (Brad Jackson co-founded The Fly Shop in Redding, California, as well as Fly Water Travel, and is a longstanding contributor to FR&R).

Sage Z-Axis Fly Rods

The best Sage ever…?
I bought a Sage Z-Axis for my son's birthday, but I never gave it to him because, after casting the Z, I lusted for it myself. The rod was alive and I was weak. How could I part with its light, spirited power? The Z-Axis rod, which replaces the popular XP, will replace many other rods as well.

For the record, there is a Z-Axis: it represents the thickness of the blank's wall and is not just clever marketing. Here's the deal on the Z-Axis technology: Woven fiberglass usually forms the scrim of a rod blank. However, with Sage's new G5 technology, most of the glass is removed, leaving only a fine glass-carrying agent that is a mix of pure graphite and a proprietary resin. The result is a light, tight blank. And light it is. At 37/16 ounces, a 9-foot, 6-weight, 4-piece Z-Axis is lighter than the rod it replaces-the XP at 39/16 ounces. The 9-foot, 3-weight, 4-piece Z-Axis weighs a mere 3 ounces.

The Z-Axis is a fast rod and delivers quick acceleration and power-a .30-06 without the recoil. During the cast the rod tip travels in a straight line that encourages a long, flat trajectory. There is no erratic tip movement common to fast-action rods, just instant damping and sudden stops that promote straight casts. Though the casting tempo is similar to the discontinued XP, the Z is lighter and more spirited.

According to Sage, the response to the Z-Axis has been overwhelmingly positive, and even the traditionally modest sales of 7-weight rods have soared in the Z-Axis series. I added to those sales by buying another Z for my son's birthday-and I swear I gave it to him this time.

There is a Z for all occasions. The 2-piecers-a 9-foot 4-weight; an 81/2-foot 5-weight; a 9-foot 5-weight; a 9-foot 6-weight; and a 9-foot 8-weight-range in price from $585 to $595. The 4-piecers-27 models from 3- to 10-weights-range from $645 to $670. Also available are Z-Axis Spey rods: a 121/2-foot 6-weight; a 131/2-foot 7-weight; a 14-foot, 3-inch 9-weight; a 15-foot 10-weight; and a 16-foot 10-weight-range in price from $720 to $850.
-Darrel Martin - A retired teacher and casting and fly-tying instructor-has angled and traveled widely. His latest book, The Fly-Fisher's Craft (2006, Lyons Press), explores our angling past.

RIO Super Floatation Technology

Floating higher, longer
Floating lines don't float forever; eventually, they begin to sink. Some sink sooner, some sink later. The first thing to go under is usually the tip, which gets really inconvenient, in fact downright annoying, in short order.

Enter RIO Products' Super Floatation Technology, which they say allows them to make higher-floating fly lines. Here's the claim (which I believe is spot on): Your fly line tip floats, it floats longer, and it floats higher. All of which means you're less apt to pull your dry fly underwater when you mend, you can lift line off the water with less effort, and you can set the hook with less slack. Honestly, the bloody tip of the fly line really floats longer. And if your tip keeps floating, fishing (and life) is less complicated.

RIO says that an "exponential leap" in the manufacturing process resulted in a super-buoyant undercoating with a super-smooth outer coating. Call the RIO lab coats if you really want the gory details of how this process works; I'm no chemical engineer, but I'm telling you that my RIO floating line with Super Floatation Technology really floats better.

I realize this is not a permanent fix. Eventually, this line (and tip) will sink just like the rest. It just won't sink as soon or as often. In the interim, I will spend less time dressing my fly lines, knotting them to backing and tying on new butt sections, which means I'll have more time to fish.

Simple works for me. Floating tips on floating lines work for me. The longer the tip floats, the happier I am. Super Floatation Technology is available on RIO Gold, RIO Grand, Selective Trout, Nymph and WindCutter II lines. $64.95.
-Brad Jackson


R1 Flash Pullover 'The single most versatile piece of fishing clothing I own.'
When you get right down to it, fly tackle can be divided into two categories. Most of it belongs to the "contingent" group, the gear required for a specific outing-rods, lines, fly patterns and so on that are appropriate to particular fish, water conditions and angling methods. Then you have the "core" category, a much smaller number of highly select items, the functional necessities or indispensable precautions that are permanent fixtures in your tackle bag. For instance, I am never without a breathable rain jacket, polarizing sunglasses and, for the past few years, Patagonia's R1 Flash Pullover, an insulating base-layer shirt that has become as essential to me as the other two.

The interior surface is fashioned with a network of gridlike channels that trap warm air for insulation but, at the same time, allow it to migrate and distribute heat around the torso and upper body. This architecture has three happy consequences. First, under a wind-blocking shell, the R1 offers superior insulation, which means in cold weather you can get away with wearing less. Second, without a shell, warm air and moisture dissipate rapidly through the microfiber outer yarns, which makes it perfect when worn alone on cool days. And third, by achieving warmth with wafflelike spaces instead of additional thickness, the R1 Flash is pleasingly packable, which is why I take it everywhere.

You can think of the R1 Flash as cold-season equipment-and it certainly is-but it has also saved my bacon on unexpectedly chilly August dawns in Montana, suddenly blustery late-summer days in Oregon, damp and foggy July mornings on the Maine coast, and even in the tropics, twice, in squalls so cold I swore it would snow. It's the single most versatile piece of fishing clothing I own. The R1 isn't exactly cheap, but I long ago decided that core gear is the last place where you want to cut corners-you just use it too much. $115.
-Ted Leeson - (Ted Leeson is the 2008 Angler of the Year).

Mustad Hooks

An old company that continues to be new
This year Mustad (pronounced roughly mew-stah) celebrates 175 years of production and 130 years of hook making. The company formed in 1832, when Hans Skikkelstad began making nails and wire. Hans' son-in-law, Ole Mustad, acquired a hook-making machine and, as they say, the rest is history.

Mustad has not rested on its heritage, though. It has continuously and creatively upgraded its hook line. Throughout the 20th Century Mustad expanded its operations across Europe and around the world. Ernest Schwiebert, in Trout (1978) noted its influence: "Mustad rapidly filled the vacuum in the postwar fishing world, and now thoroughly dominates the trade, in spite of hook manufacturing in Japan, France, and the United States." And in Africa, the word "Mustad" was a native word for "hook." In 1996, Mustad bought England's Partridge of Redditch, whose hooks continue to be sold under the Partridge label.

If there is one fly hook for which Mustad is best known it is the 94840, in sizes 4 to 28. For decades it was the world's ubiquitous hook, and its proportions and grace still influence modern fly-tying. Such traditional axioms as "wing length equals shank length" and "begin the body directly above the rear of the barb" came from the 94840.

In the modern market, hook styles are numerous and competitive, yet Mustad stands out. Mustad, the only manufacturer to draw its own hook wire, produces more than 213 Mustad Classic hooks, including the 94840 and the 94845 barbless. The Mustad Signature Series, with models designed with tier input, includes saltwater poppers (CK74S), the innovative circle streamer (C71S), and the stinger (C52S). The Partridge hooks, with 58 models, include the Bartleet traditional blind eye (CS10/3), the 10X-long Carrie Stevens Limerick Streamer (CS15), the Marinaro Midge (K1A), and the Czech Nymph (CZ). There are also innovative bends like the 1979 Swedish dry fly (K3A) and the 1970s Yorkshire fly body (K10).

Marvin Nolte, master tier and angling historian, favors-as I do-the newer R50 hook with a chemically sharpened "signature point" and micro-barb. He also likes the R90 with micro-barb. The popular R30 (dry), R48 (caddis), R52S (universal) and R72 (long nymph) form the basic kit for any fly tier. As a side note, I would like to see the 94840 with a micro-barb and "signature point," as well as the return of Partridge's discontinued J1A Limerick wetfly hook.

Finally, in recognition of over a century of excellence and innovation, this Kudos goes to an old company that continues to be new.
-Darrel Martin

ClackaCraft Drift Boats

An ideal union of form and function
There is a special place in my esteem for those comparatively few things in life that are nearly perfect expressions of their own first principles; they are dependable, genuine, well made, pleasing in materials and design, ideal unions of form and function that can be counted on to deliver the goods. Among them are: Waterman fountain pens, cast-iron skillets, Filson Tin Cloth hats, the blues, 1950s-vintage Delta table saws, the Oxford English Dictionary, Coleman steel coolers, red cotton bandanas-and ClackaCraft drift boats. To be sure, there are many fine drift boats being made now-a kind of Golden Age, really-but for the integrity of manufacture, the utility of design and performance, I can certainly think of none better than Clacks.

No boat is better than its hull, and the Clack chassis is laid up by hand of strong 24-ounce woven roven, with collision-forgiving radiused chines, to produce the kind of durability that comes with a 100-year guarantee against leaks and punctures on the bottom. The company motto, "Fear No Rock," is more than just a figure of speech. In some respects, building a hull like this is no great task; the skill lies in engineering it to be light in weight with the proper proportions and lines to handle well. And Clacks handle superbly, maneuvering deftly and surely, tracking true, rowing and holding, all with astonishingly little effort, even with two passengers fishing. Fore and aft, the hull balances equally well with one or two anglers; the upswept transom rides high out of the water to eliminate plowing and promote responsiveness. Lateral stability is exceptional, so you won't get hoarse begging your sports to "Center up!" And the fly-fishing specific models have low sides to minimize broadside surface and improve performance in the wind.

Clacks are just as impressive to fish from. With rod racks, plenty of dry storage, knee braces front and rear and cushy seats, the cockpit does not want for amenities. But at the same time the layout is uncomplicated, and unburdened with eye-candy doodads that catch fly line and snag waders. Raised decks in front and back are flat for sure-footed comfort, and all the interior components-seat pedestals and benches, fly deck, trays and racks-are molded into the hull rather than glued on, making the inside of this boat as rugged as the outside.

ClackaCraft builds a number of different models, though in my opinion, the 15LP, a 15-foot low-profile version, is the bread-and-butter of the fleet and my personal gold standard in drift boats. But frankly, they're all nice. So kudos to ClackaCraft for low-maintenance, high-quality workhorses that are designed to give service rather than require it. $7,995 for a complete 15LP package, including trailer.
-Ted Leeson

Readers'Choice Award

Winston's Boron IIx Rods

A useful blend of delicacy and power
It is always gratifying to have one's own conclusions independently validated; it makes you believe you actually know something. Once again, I find myself in complete agreement with FR&R readers, who have selected Winston's Boron IIx rods as the recipient of the 2008 Readers' Choice Award.

I suspect we appreciate the same qualities. First and foremost is the phenomenally smooth casting feel-a longstanding Winston hallmark-in a rod with a quicker casting tempo and impressive power without the slightest whiff of stiffness or clubbiness. It has all the virtues of a faster rod with none of the drawbacks. Credit here goes to Sam Drukman, who designed an extraordinarily lightweight, narrow-profile shaft with extremely fast recovery that virtually eliminates residual vibration. The rod tips are supple and sensitive without being wobbly or soft and offer that deft, point-and-shoot feel that makes the trout weights exemplary dryfly rods. The boron fibers used in the butt section, however, make these delicate rods deceptively powerful and strong, and even the lighter line models can deliver remarkable distance. Yet they don't demand the kind of shorts-ripping, double-hauling overexertion required by some rods designed primarily, and sometimes exclusively, for throwing the long ball. To start short and progressively work out a longer line on a BIIx is to have the rodmaker's ideal-the seamless transfer of energy-demonstrated to you indisputably.

The upshot is a wonderfully versatile rod-small flies and big ones, surface and subsurface-with a light, balanced feel in the hand that makes even heavier line weights almost effortless to cast all day long. Last summer, I took three BIIx rods on a sinfully extended trip to Montana and passed them around among fishing friends. Their unanimous and unprompted reaction matched my own first impression-they are easy rods to cast and pleasing to fish with.

I haven't tried every line/length combination, but I have used a fair number of them from 3-weight to 10-weight, and as always, one has favorites. The 4-piece, 9-foot 5-weight is as fine an all-around trout rod as I've ever had in my hand, with a deeply useful blend of delicacy and power. The 4-piece, 8-foot 5-weight is perhaps my favorite rod in the line, with exactly the kind of lively responsiveness I value in a dryfly rod. The 4-piece, 8-foot 4-weight is not far behind. The real surprise to me, though, was the 4-piece, 9-foot 7-weight; cast it blindfolded, and you'd swear it was a 5-weight. I borrowed one of these for bonefishing in Belize, and despite its trout-rod-like feel, it had all the guts necessary for the windy flats and the fish. When I got back, I did what any sensible person would do-I bought one. It is my third BIIx.

So congratulations to the folks at Winston for crafting another superb fly rod and for earning this recognition. Your public has spoken. $645-$705.
-Ted Leeson