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Tools of the Trade: TFO Blue Ribbon Series

Last year, TFO introduced three new fly rods, one of which was the Blue Ribbon series. While the series name might seem like this tool is intended for cool water trout streams, its components and moderate fast action have proven to be able an excellent choice for targeting warmwater species as well.

The Blue Ribbon’s precision and ease of casting make this rod a joy to cast and even more fun when fighting a fish. The 11-rod series has something for every freshwater angler.

TFO Fly Fishing Category Manager and designer of the Blue Ribbon series, Nick Conklin, shares a little bit more about this new series.

Briefly describe the Blue Ribbon series. What is it and who is it for? 

The Blue Ribbon was designed for the freshwater angler who needs to effectively cover water with repeated casts over the course of the day.  Think easy loading, powerful and accurate.

It is an 11-rod series from a 7’6” 2-weight to a 9-foot, 7-weight. We also offer 10-foot models in a three, four and five-weights.

In these situations, the successful angler is the one who has their fly in the water the most and can land that fly accurately and repeatedly.

It is all about efficient use of energy and casting time. We utilized some special components and finish out for the intermediate angler, who fishes for trout and warmwater species. The series spans everything from small dries and nymphs, up to multi fly rigs, (hopper-droppers) and larger articulated streamers.

Photo: Nick Conklin
Photo: Tom Wetherington
Photo: Braden Miller
Photo: Nick Conklin
Photo: Nick Conklin

How did the Blue Ribbon series come about? Is this series based off a pre-existing series? If so, what changes did you want to imply or what did you like about previous series that was carried over? 

While not based off anything in the freshwater line-up, we felt the need to offer a well thought-out freshwater/warmwater specific fly rod. Again, a rod with a moderate fast action, but also plenty of power in the butt section to carry longer lines and deliver accurate presentations. We did bring over the TFO Line weight ID system, and our built in hook keepers, (from some saltwater series). We also offer some of the 10-foot models, in a full wells grip for a more comfortable feel.

Photo: Todd Kaplan
Photo: Todd Kaplan
Photo: Todd Kaplan

Any key ambassadors or TFO staffers that helped with the prototype phases?

During the design and development phase, we utilized our vast and experienced network of guides and outfitters. We have some great, hardworking guides that spend hundreds of hours on the water and really put rods to the test. This was exactly where we envisioned the Blue Ribbon series to fit. A well-built, smooth casting tool meant to be fished hard by anglers. A functional tool that anglers of varied casting preferences and experience can pick up, quickly load, and accurately unload to a fish.

Talk about the 10’ options. Aside from having extra length for nymphing, what makes the 10’ option more advantageous compared to a 9’ model? 

The ten foot models have always been critical across the TFO line-up and it was important that we offered some “longer levers,” to help aid in line management and fly placement. The longer level makes the process of picking up and repositioning lines much more efficient.

Not only are these tools great for those tightline or high-stick nymphing, but they also enable easier and more efficient casting while in a drift boat, kayak, or while wading deeply. One of the great insights that came out of the development phase was learning about all the drift boat guides that have found many advantages for anglers with the longer rod. It’s all about efficiency and aiding in providing a great fishing experience.

Photo: Oliver Sutro
Photo: Oliver Sutro
Photo: Tom Wetherington

Do you see the Blue Ribbon lineup expanding someday? 

There is always an opportunity to expand any fly rod series. It comes down to the needs of the anglers. We take extreme care in selecting the rods we introduce in a series, but, as techniques evolve and anglers find new and fun ways and places to fish, there will be opportunities to improve models and add to a rod family.

Photo: Nick Conklin

Check out the all new Blue Ribbon series at your local TFO dealer today! Find out more about the Blue Ribbon series here.

Why You Need A 7 Weight

Let’s talk 7 weights. Yes, 7 weights.

Wait, so you’re going to stand there calling yourself a fly angler, and you don’t have a 7 weight?

Well, maybe this will open your mind to a different rod weight.

Often skipped over by the fly shop employee for the more commercially popular 8 weight, and not as common in a drift boat as the old-school, six-weight with a half-wells grip.

The 7 weight serves an important purpose for both the fresh and saltwater anglers.

And frankly, they’re a lot more fun to fight a fish on and can deliver a big fly just as well as the heavier rods in the line-up.

By adding a 7 weight to the quiver, you’ll be able to cover just about everything from large trout, to bass and carp. Don’t forget steelhead and a few inshore saltwater species.

With most anglers already owning a 5 weight, the 7 weight is a perfect next rod to have. Already have a little 3 weight for small flies? Boom, 3-5-7, a perfect way to go, and you are covered for about every scenario.

Let’s breakdown some of the current TFO 7 weights, and see which one might make a home in your line-up.

The Blue Ribbon + BVK-SD reel. Photo: Cameron Mosier

7904 Blue Ribbon, (That’s a 7weight., 9-foot, four-piece rod for those unfamiliar with the TFO model lingo):

New to the line up this year, the Blue Ribbon series has been an all around hit, but the focus here is the largest rod in the series.

The 7 weight in particular has the ability to cast a big, air resistant fly repeatedly with minimal work. Paired with a thick diameter fly line, like the SA Mastery Series Titan, big flies are an ease. This series was based off of the popular Mangrove fly rods. Medium-fast action. Medium stiffness. This rod has plenty of power in the butt to pick-up and move heavy rigs, with minimal back casts.

For those considered this isn’t “enough rod,” or why don’t you have an 8 weight?

Believe me, this rod has the power. It can even handle some of this silly-multi streamer rigs thrown out west…Yes, I am looking at you Colorado anglers.

Outside of a great action for repetitive casting and quick shots along the bank, this rod also features the built-in hook keeper. A neat little aid for quickly attaching your fly.

While this was designed as trout rod, I’ve fished it for a few summers with big popping bugs for bass. Carp anglers, here you go. Perfect for those hulking brutes, (in really arm climates, check out the SA Grand Slam line) it’ll move the big flies and not get so kinky when hot out.

Pairs well with the NXT BLK III or BVK SD III.

7wt LK Legacy with BVK-SD reel. Photo: Nick Conklin

7904 LK Legacy:

First, we designed it with stronger top sections.

What does that mean?

For those that get in bad fish fighting angles, (Seriously, keep the rod tip low! They are designed to carry a fly line, the butt section is for fighting the fish!). The reinforced top sections will help fight against high-stick breaks.

The rod also has a faster style action. For those like something with a little quicker response and stouter butt, this 7 weight is for you.

Whether fishing floating lines, or sink-tips the LK Legacy will respond quickly and help aid the angler in an accurate fly delivery.

This rod, with a 10-foot sink tip beat the banks hard this fall in search of Montana trout. It handled the more dense tip and all kinds of articulated and feathery, peanut envy’s, sex dungeons, husker-dos, husker-don’ts and just about everything I could chuck out there.

Salty folks may want to consider this on your next trip. Whether it’s reds or specs, this rod can more than handle bonefish. Rig it up with a RIO Bonefish or Redfish style line, you won’t be disappointed.

Pairs well with the NXT BLK III or BVK SD III.

Axiom ll with the Power Reel. Excellent smallmouth rod. Photo: Jim Shulin

7904 Axiom II:

Looking for a step-up in power, and something a little faster, but still have a little soul to feel the rod do the work?

Enter the 7904 Axiom II.

This rod definitely how the power in the butt section to fight, much larger than advertised for a seven, it also allows the angler to load and unload efficiently, especially with big flies.

The striper folks out in the Calif., Delta have put this rod to test the last few years, with great results. This rod can definitely handle the west coast stripers.

Pairs well with the BVK SD III or the Power II reel.

7wt Axiom ll-X paired with the BVK-SD reel. Photo: Oliver Sutro

7904 Axiom II-X:

This is the big dog in the seven-weight offerings from TFO.

The fastest and stiffest rod in the line-up, this is for the angler with a fine-tuned cast that likes power and quick recovery.

While it excels at distance, maybe you’ve seen the photos of Blane Chocklett laying long, delicate casts, it more than stands on its own with quick shots and big flies.

Another rod that does well with heavier sink-tips and even the super long 20 to 30 foot sinkers. Striped bass anglers should be fired up about this one, long heavy sinking lines and big Clouser style flies are fun on this rod. The SA Sonar series pair very well with the A2X.

Pairs well with the BVK SD III or the Power II reel.

Blane Chocklett Talks New TFO LK Legacy Rods

Next Monday marks the release of four new rods to the TFO family of fly rods: the Stealth – TFO’s first ever true Euro-nymphing rod; the Blue Ribbon – a medium-fast action western style of rod designed to handle heavy indicator rigs, hopper-droppers and streamers in harsh, windy conditions; and the LK Legacy and LK Legacy TH– a tribute to Lefty Kreh’s most popular rod he helped design and TFO’s best-selling rod, the BVK.

Over the year, we sent several prototypes of the LK to our advisors and ambassadors to help us dial in what Lefty would be pleased to be the evolution of the BVK. If there’s any angler on our team that has been raving about it more than others – it’s Blane Chocklett. Here’s what he has to say about it.

What do you notice right away when fishing with the LK Legacy?

BC: It’s a true fly caster’s rod. You can immediately feel that and appreciate it. Anybody that likes a faster rod and technical casting tool – this is it.

As a tribute to Lefty Kreh (LK Legacy), and evolution of the BVK series, how do you feel he might have felt about the outcome of this rod?

BC: I think he’d be very proud of it. I think it’s a continuation of what he built in the BVK series. It has some similarities to it, but it’s a definite improvement in one of TFO’s best selling rods ever.

He would be absolutely pleased. It’s everything you’d want in a rod, and everything he’d want in one as well – especially someone that can appreciate casting like Lefty did.

What species have you been targeting with the LK?

BC: I’ve been playing around with the prototypes for about a year now I’ve caught a variety of stuff on them from stripers to redfish, speckled trout, spanish mackerel, albies, largemouth, smallmouth, snakehead, bowfin, pickerel – pretty much everything but musky and trout.

The LK has done extremely well with handling floating and intermediate lines, which is pretty much what I have been using.

Photos: Blane Chocklett

What has been your Go-To size/model?

BC: I’ve been fishing specifically with the 6, 7, and 8 weight models. I really like all of them. They all fish and cast like the lines are supposed to. I haven’t noticed any change in line sizes – like the rod just doesn’t feel the same in the 6wt as it does in a 7wt. It’s a continuation of each, so it reflects each line weight appropriately.

I’ve been using a 7wt probably the most with it being smallmouth season lately and all the cicada stuff that’s been happening this summer. I’ve definitely been using the 8wt quite a bit, too. I use those two more so than the 6wt.

Photos: Blane Chocklett

Have your clients been using them? If so, what has been their reaction?

BC: Oh yeah. Everybody that I’ve had in the boat is going to buy one.

I’ve been fishing the Axiom ll-X a lot. It’s a great casting tool, but it’s also more of a fish-fighting tool. When my clients pick up the LK Legacy, they notice how light it is and they notice how accurate and easy to cast it is -even though it’s a faster rod. A lot of the times it has to do with them throwing a floating line so they don’t have to feel the weight of a heavier sinking line and can feel and appreciate the cast of the rod better.

The LK Legacy an be used in many different scenarios. It could be used by the guy chasing bonefish on flats, the sight fishing red fish angler, and the trout angler that likes to fish larger dry flies. It does fine fighting fish, too. It’s much stronger than the BVK. It’s an extremely versatile rod, but it’s more of a casting tool for sure.

TFO’s Bob Clouser Talks Carp on Fly

I’ve never caught a bonefish. It’s on my bucket list, but the tropics may have to wait a few months. Fortunately, I’ve got a freshwater option close to home.

Carp.

They’re just as wily as a bone. And pound for pound they fight just as hard. And they’re cheaper. Many freshwater ponds, lakes and rivers in the continental U.S. have carp. There’s no need for a week-long trip to the Bahamas.

Once summer arrives and the water warms, it’s easy to take a break from trophy trout for carpin’. To develop a firm game plan, I turned to TFO advisor Bob Clouser, who touched on a few basics during a phone interview after taking a break from shoveling snow at his Pennsylvania home.

Patience

Carp are not easy to catch. They don’t always eat and when they’re willing to eat, they can be super spooky. Even if you make the right cast with the right fly, the stars have to align for an eat. And if you do hook up, landing one is not a given. Be prepared for a lot of trial and error along the way.

Required Skills

You need to make long casts. Forty feet will do. Sixty is better. However, distance is just one factor. Accuracy matters, too. Ideally, you want to put the fly in front of the fish and let your quarry find it, preferably near the bottom since carp like to forage in the muck.

“You don’t need to work the fly at all,” Clouser said. “You have to observe the carp and watch his lips. When they’re mudding, it’s hard to see their face. You can see their lips when they’re open. It has kind of a chartreuse look to it. It’s hard to see. There’s a saying, ‘When the light goes out, you set the hook.’ If you hesitate at all, he’ll spit that fly out. They don’t run off with it. It’s a different type sport to catch that fish.”

Reading the Fish

In trout fishing, you read the water. With carp, you read the fish. The beauty of carp fishing is its reliance on sight fishing. Look at the fish. Decide if it’s interested. Carp will sun. Ignore those. Carp will cruise. Ignore the speedsters. Take a shot at the slower fish. But even that’s a long shot. If you see a tailer, that’s the fish you want. Tailers are active feeders. Ever seen a tailing red? It’s a similar scenario. Once you discern the fish’s path, make your cast count, because chances are, you won’t get a second opportunity.

“’You have to watch them, observe them and see what they’re doing before you even cast,” Clouser said. “They are so spooky. A carp has two lateral lines. Most fish only have one. A carp has two, which makes them so sensitive. I have no idea how far they can see, but they can hear over 200 yards.”

The Gear

You’ll need a fairly sturdy rod — a 9-foot, 6-to-8-weight. Leaders, in general, need to be long. A 12-footer is not too short, but you can get by with a 9-footer, if you’re a good caster.

Try the TFO Power reel to handle those long runs. The TFO Clouser or Axiom ll-X series in an 8-weight are good complements.

“It’s (Clouer rod) easy to cast and soft enough for light tippets,” Clouser said. “It won’t break your 6 and 8-pound tippets. And I fish an 8-weight. An 8-weight will handle any size fly you need.”

Carp are primarily subsurface feeders. Crayfish are a big part of their diet. A brown or black woolly booger usually will get the job done.

That said, carp can feed on topwater or just under the surface. I hooked one — briefly —- on a berry fly. South Florida grass carp, I learned, feed on streamside berries from ficus trees. The moral of the story: Fish don’t follow a rule book. They feed on what’s available.

Thoughts on fly fishing for carp? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.