2012 Kudo Awards

2012 Kudo Awards

Our 26th year of bestowing praise on noteworthy products and services.

  • By: Zach Matthews
  • , Greg Thomas
  • , Buzz Bryson
  • and Darrel Martin
2012 Kudo Awards


Kudos (koo-dohs) n. [Greek Kydos,
akin to Greek akouein, to hear]
1. award, honor; 2. Compliment, praise

Jack Charlton’s Mako Fly Reel

The best reel ever?

Mako 2.In my opinion, the late Jack Charlton’s legacy is that he designed and built the two best fly reels ever made. Ever. We could debate that over a single malt, and I acknowledge there are exceptional fly reels other than the Mako—and its predecessor, the namesake Charlton reels—but I don’t know anyone who thinks he can trade up from a Charlton.

Jack’s original reel, introduced in 1993, quickly became a favorite, particularly among big-game anglers. The Charlton was machined and finished as precisely as a Swiss watch, but was as tough as a bank vault. Jack eventually sold the Charlton Reel Company, and subsequently reentered the market in 2005 with the new Mako reel. The Mako’s appearance is distinctly different, but the fit and finish is equal to, and some would say even better than, that of the Charlton. Another point of fireside debate. Further, the Mako’s beauty, as with the Charlton, is more than skin deep; its toughness goes to the core.

At that core is a drag system that reflects Jack’s background of machining precision components for the aerospace industry. The ubiquitous cork disk-drag design found in most premium fly reels is a proven system, and in fact Jack’s original plan incorporated such a drag. But Jack knew there was a better material, and a better design. Thus, virtually all Charltons—and all Makos—utilize a sealed, multi-disk carbon-fiber, self-compensating drag. The thought put into the drag system begins with the hand adjustment; there is no fumbling for a drag knob the diameter of a nickel. One full rotation—360 degrees—takes the drag from full-off to full-on. And full-off isn’t quite free spool, to prevent over-rotation and the near backlash that can result. Full-on gives about nine to 19 pounds of drag (depending upon the model), which is all any reasonable fishing would require. Perhaps most important, with each on/off rotation of the drag the mechanism detects any wear, compensates accordingly and resets exactly. In other words, if a one-quarter turn of the drag gives you a measured four pounds of drag, that same one-quarter turn will give you that same four pounds of drag the next fish, the next trip, or the next year.

The stacked carbon fiber disks provide a uniformity of pressure and resistance to fade that’s really tough to equal. Consider that your great grandfather’s wagon might have used a wooden, leather or cork drag bearing against the wooden wheel or steel rim to slow it down. Contrast that to a contemporary Formula 1 car, with carbon-fiber pads against a ceramic disk. Cork works well at the relatively low pressures we put on fly reels. Carbon fiber works well to stop an F1 car from 200 miles per hour and dissipate the enormous heat generated.

A hypothetical gain? Well, no. If Captain Jake Jordan hasn’t personally caught more billfish than anyone else, then almost certainly one of his Mako 9550 reels has. Its serial number is BETA, which is telling of Jordan’s relationship to Jack, and has been used by Jordan and others to catch more than 5,000 sailfish and more than 100 marlin. After the first 1½ years of use, Jordan sent the reel back to Jack to check out. Jack took it apart and found nothing that needed fixing. He sent it back to Jordan with the admonition, “Send it back in 20 years!”

Need more convincing? Jordan recounted that an angler lost a Mako reel overboard. Amazingly, a diver found it after it had “lived” on the ocean floor for 10 months, being knocked about and encrusted with barnacles. The diver sent it back to Jack; after removing the barnacles, he found the Type III anodizing intact. Jack replaced the battered wooden handle, gave the reel a good clean and lube job, and sent it back. Jordan swapped the angler a new Mako for the “recycled” one, dubbed it Ugly Betty, and he and clients have since accounted for 200 more sails and a few marlin with it.

The Mako is available in four models, ranging in sizes from a 4-inch 9500 for 8/9-weight outfits up to the big 5½” 9700 for the largest fish you’d care to challenge.

Judy, Jack’s lovely wife, now operates the shop and produces Mako reels. Jack recorded every dimension and machining process on disks, and recorded every manufacturing step on HD video. And the experienced staff remains as committed as Judy to continuing the quality standards Jack set.

The Mako is a logical evolution to the original Charlton reel. The design, construction and performance are benchmarks for other fly reels to aspire to. www.makoreels.com —Buzz Bryson

Simms Guide Wader

The return of the Classic.

Simmsclassicguide.We’ve all heard the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Back in 2007, that was an especially common utterance among guides and anglers, as Simms Fishing Products chose that year to discontinue their Classic Guide Wader, one of the staples of Western fly-fishing since the advent of Gore-Tex.

The Classic Guide had five layers of brush-busting Gore-Tex from the stockingfoot to just above the knee, with three layers above. It was the first wader to get Simms’ patented “exploded microfiber finish” (in which the exterior polyester “face fabric” is woven with its threads coated in a soluble substance, which is subsequently washed away, allowing the fibers to “explode” into a soft but durable finished product). A no-frills piece, the wader lacked zippers, bangles, gewgaws and—most important—an exterior chest pocket. The only real “features” to be added to the wader since its inception were a pair of built-in gravel guards and a new stitching configuration that eliminated the side seams on the legs, both introduced in the waders’ last iteration back in 2006. While front chest pockets and tool holders certainly have their place, for many guides and hiking anglers who like to roll the top of the wader down to waist-high (and who don’t want to pay for things they won’t use), the absence of embellishment has long made this a wader of choice.

“We learned from our wader rental program, which features no-frills waders similar to the Guides, that there was still a real demand for this style,” says Simms’ spokesman Matt Crawford. “So they’re back! The legs are going to be a bit roomier, and the breathable fabric is now the latest Gore-Tex Pro Shell. But otherwise it’s the Simms Guide we’re all familiar with.” At $399, it makes the highest-grade Gore-Tex more accessible to the common man than its $500-plus brothers, and it pays for itself every time its owner crosses a barbed wire fence or scoots his butt over an old log.

“This wader changed the way I fished,” explained one longtime Arkansas guide and shop owner. “It’s a no-fear scenario, like hunting in snake-proof boots. It just makes you willing to go farther, and that makes you a better fisherman.”

We queried guides, serious anglers and shop owners, and all agreed: This wader fits the bill for a Kudo. “I’d estimate I fish 60 to 90 days a year and hike three to six miles a day on average,” said one Appalachians-area fly fisher. “I get between five and six years on a pair of Guides; that’s over 2,500 hours of hard fishing. I can’t think of any other garment I own that can handle that much abuse.”

We agree. A Kudo to Simms. Long live the classic. www.simmsfishing.com —Zach Matthews

Sage’s ONE

It punches above—or maybe that’s below—its weight.

Sage One series fly rod.I have a friend who once believed that every fish could be taken on a five-weight rod, much to the dismay of friends, guides and—most of all—those fish he tortured through elongated battles. Then a migratory Keys tarpon just flat-out wrecked his outfit and that “five for all” mentality changed.

These days he’ll throw any rod that works, but he still takes pride in snapping sticks and does so in stride, as if that awful crack was the first songbird chirp of spring, as if hand-lining fish after weaponry failure was admirable, as if these modern rods cost little more than a fifth of his beloved Knob Creek rather than $500 and up.

Still, it’s difficult not to catch this friend’s enthusiasm for snapping rods, despite a disparity between our income levels. He’s an Alaskan lawyer, I’m simply a gear-mooch. So, when I was fishing ultima Thule in July, way out past Cold Bay at the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula, I put such a bend in Sage’s new ONE rod that I thought it would surely break. The quarry was king salmon, gear-wreckers extraordinaire. I set hard on fish. I put everything into legs, back and shoulders, trying to turn fish away from in-river obstructions. I cranked the drag to train-stoppage. And, get this, the rod held, for a week straight, on at least 20 fish that ranged between 18 and 30-some pounds. My friend, on the other hand, snapped two 8-weights from notable brands.

The rod I fished, and that survived, was Sage’s new 9-foot 9-weight ONE, which weighs in at a svelte 3¾ ounces. I threw large flies off floating lines; I threw large, weighted flies off sink-tips; I threw both offerings into winds that blasted my face at 50 miles an hour or more. And the rod performed admirably.

After Alaska I took this stick to a lake in Montana where some 10-pound rainbows and browns are sometimes found. I handed it to a trout-savvy engineer friend and said, “Don’t look at the description. Tell me what weight this is.” He threw and said, “Six.” I laughed and told him the answer. I can’t transcribe his remark, but it ended with the word “me.”

After Montana I went to the Big Easy and sneaked away from the city for a day on the marsh. I was suffering with a minor hangover (thanks to Bourbon Street and the Old Absinthe House) and packing a 9-foot 8-weight ONE. I threw it all day for redfish, got one 10- or 12-pounder and landed a few other babies. And then I decided to try a mid-level saltwater rod from a competing brand; I picked it up and by the second backcast I wanted the ONE back. My companion on that trip tried the secondary stick, too, and her casts turned to goo. We rod-tubed our research and just got greedy—for the rest of the day we threw that ONE, snapping off long-reaching and accurate casts within inches of the banks.

Accuracy. That’s what Sage really touts in its ONE marketing material. I’m always a skeptic of these pronouncements—hey, I’d say something catchy, too, if I were trying to sell a rod—but this thing is accurate, a serious noted improvement over the other rods I use. I’m no engineer, so the following words may mean more to you than me, but here is the nitty gritty on why this rod is so light, fun to cast and, as billed, accurate: it’s a fast-action stick that uses new Konnetic technology in its construction and touts a sweet spot that I felt while using it; it carries high-end Fuji ceramic stripping guides; it has hard chrome snake guides; when fishing this stick you’ll wrap your hand around a high-grade, custom-tapered and shaped cork handle; the rod looks beautiful with a walnut wood and golden-bronze aluminum anodized reel seat and unique, black blank coloration.

There. You’ve got the specs. For me, none of that matters. I just know, from hard use in the field, that this rod stands out as one of the smoothest-casting sticks I’ve ever thrown, if not the smoothest. It’s sweet looking and offers all the punch and fighting power of the line weight it’s rated for, while casting like a stick that is, say, two line sizes lighter. All the power of a heavyweight minus all-day drain on the throwing shoulder. Come on, guys, can I have that demo rod back? www.sageflyfish.com —Greg Thomas

Royal Wulff’s Ambush Fly Line

For beginners and experts alike.

Royalwulffttam6f_ambush_sm.Royal Wulff’s Ambush Triangle Taper fly line, developed by Gary Sandstrom in spring 2008, grew from fishing off the bushy banks of Oregon’s Deschutes River. Sandstrom needed a specialized line that would load close and shoot far. With persistent experimentation, he created a line that would rollcast 30 feet or more with minimal line drape and only 20 feet of watered line. It could also lob a brace of heavy nymphs and shoot a long overhead line. Moreover, a heavy head made shooting a long line on the roll possible. In this age of unique fly lines, the close-quarters Ambush series (with 20’ to 29’ heads and 70’ to 90’ running lines) has become popular for trout with single-hand rods. In addition, these lines are popular for switch and Spey rods when chasing steelhead and other anadromous quarry. All these lines have super-slick J3 coating and welded front loops. The first lines, weights 4 to 6 (195 to 235 grains), were designed for “trouters.” As switch rods became popular for light steelhead fishing, the Ambush appeared in sizes 7 to 10 (266 to 400 grains). Now the double-handers have 11- to 14-weights (450 to 600 grains) for tight and close casting. The visible two-tone colors—chartreuse heads and blue running lines—locate the proper loading point. The newest Ambush is the Clear Head TT. These 5- to 8-weight lines have clear sink heads (1.25 to 1.75 inches per second) and chartreuse running sections.

In addition to being versatile fishing lines, the Ambush serves well for casting instructors. Like many instructors, I teach Lefty Kreh’s double-haul lawn or ground method. In brief, a student lays out about 20 feet of line on the ground in front and, with a horizontal side-cast, hauls and shoots the line to the rear. After the line falls to the ground, the caster then stops to review, to evaluate the stroke before a return haul and shoot. The line drop and pause allows students time to think and learn. Originally I used over-weighted rods, such as an 8-weight line on a 6-weight rod, for my students. This was an improvement over the standard subtle rod-line match. An Ambush line, however, exaggerates the rod bend and line tug of the double-haul. Faster learning occurs when students really feel the language of rod and line. I now use the Ambush TT AM6F line—with the extreme 20-foot, 235-grain head and ultra-thin 70-foot running line—on 6-weight rods. The weighty head and the thin, light running line amplify every haul and shoot. Within a few minutes of ground practice and the resulting muscle memory, most students are able to raise their rods and lines into smooth, overhead double-hauls. Sandstrom’s Ambush TT fly line deserves a Kudo on the ground as well as on the water. www.royalwulff.com —Darrel Martin