With close to fifty years experience of saltwater fly-fishing both the east and west coasts I’ve had ample opportunity to fish fly rods from most of the major US manufacturers. If there were one observation that captures the evolution of the rods that have been produced in that time span, it would be the continued improvement in materials and design. As is the case for so many manufactured items (cars are a prime example), in the fly-fishing community there is some nostalgia for rods of the past and collectors actively seek out some of the early examples that still may be available. However, most of these vintage sticks are valued more for their novelty, not for their efficiency as fly- fishing tools.
More so than conventional and spinning rods, the balance between casting and fish fighting effectiveness is far more critical with fly rods. And there is no denying the fact that today’s state of the art fly rods are far more effective in this respect than ever dreamed possible. Today, it is difficult to purchase a truly bad fly rod, a fact that simply was not the case years ago. And because there are so many products out there, choosing a rod that best suits your fishing needs can be more challenging than it was in the past where there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from.
The rule of thumb I try to drive home to anyone about to make a purchase is whenever possible, try to cast the rod beforehand. But even if the opportunity arises, there is the potential issue of one’s casting ability. Over the years I’ve witnessed countless instances where folks who didn’t cast well criticize the rod where the fault really lies in their less than proficient casting technique. So, in the process of selecting a rod, make sure you can at least cast well enough to make a fair assessment of the rod’s performance.
That said I would like to provide my assessment of TFO’s Axiom II fly rod. This has become my rod of choice for most inshore saltwater applications. The three models I use the most are the 6-weight and the 8 and 9-weights. When fishing the beaches of Southern California for barred perch and corbina, I prefer the Axiom II 6-weight. As far as inshore saltwater species are concerned, the perch and corbina are not large, and the flies tend to be on the small side – many of bonefish-like configuration. In streamer configuration, small two to three-inch Clouser patterns do the trick. In Long Island, when chasing stripers and blues, I often opt for the 9- weight because I’m frequently casting heavily weighted flies with fast sinking shooting heads in strong rip currents. This is basically the same setup I also use on the west coast fishing the breakwaters and kelp beds.
What really impresses me with this rod is the ease with which it casts and its ability to muscle strong fish from the depths. I have never fished a rod that handles so well with a variety of flies and fly lines. Running the spectrum from fast sinking shooting heads to full-length floating fly lines the Axiom II performs effortlessly. Of course your casting stroke will vary according to the distance you want to achieve and the type of fly you’re fishing. But regardless of the situation, this rod responds precisely to what you demand of it. That’s something you can’t say about most rods on the market today.
My favorite fishing on the eastern shore of Long Island is sight fishing for stripers and when this opportunity presents itself I mostly drop down to the 8-weight Axiom ll. In this case I’ll use either full floating or intermediate fly lines. The streamers I’m fishing generally vary in length from three to seven inches, but they are not weighted and the 8-weight is an ideal choice. Southwest Florida is another location where this rod really shines. Here I’m using full- floating lines almost exclusively. The species I set my sights on are snook, school size tarpon, jacks, and redfish. Though often underrated as a game fish, of the aforementioned mentioned species jacks pull the hardest and if you want to test the fish fighting ability of a fly rod tie into a double-digit size jack.
With the Axiom II, I find it has the backbone to enable me to thoroughly pressure the fish after it makes its initial line-blistering run. If the water has any depth, jacks can really dog you – and as is the case with most game fish – to land it in a reasonable length of time, you have to constantly and thoroughly pressure the fish to turn it and get it coming your way. Prolonging the battle with a fish greatly reduces its chances of survival when you release it. Inshore fly-fishing in this region presents a set of conditions where accurate casting and fish fighting efficiency are the order of the day. Boat docks and mangrove islands where you have to present the fly in limited areas free of structure can present challenges to even accomplished casters. I’ve fished this area for over 20-years and thus far the Axiom II is the model rod I prefer most for these conditions.
There are ample sight fishing opportunities, but much of the time the scenario consists of blind casting to structure trying to sling the fly under boat docks or in clear pockets in the mangrove bushes. The Axiom ll is simply a great casting rod and its comparatively light- weight doesn’t leave you fatigued after a long day of tossing flies. The presence of structure not only poses casting challenges, but it will also test a rod’s pulling power where you have a tug-o-war contest with a fish that wants to go where it feels safe. Big snook are particularly adept at cutting you off or entangling you around dock pilings or mangrove roots in their effort to escape. Here it’s important have a rod that will have the muscle to turn them your way. You will lose some of the contests, but that’s why we keep coming back for the challenge.
Article written by TFO Advisor Nick Curcione. You can find out more about Nick here.