When I first started to organize getting this fly shop off the ground, I had multiple options and brands to consider. I came from a background of selling a lot of various manufacturers, but I truthfully only fished a few. This essentially helped lead me to my shop's motto of only selling gear that I know intimately or use myself, but it also made it tough as I had to make some important choices as to who/what brands I should actually bring into the store.
Thomas & Thomas fly rods were one of the only companies that I did not sell previous to opening All Points. I had heard a lot about them, I had cast some other people's T&T rods, and they are made here in New England, but my knowledge of their brand as a whole was limited. So after hearing a lot of the hype, especially now with new CEO in Neville, I decided to drive down to Greenfield, Massachusetts and see for myself.
I met up with rod designer Joe Goodspeed and after a gracious tour of their facility, we headed out back to the casting pond. Joe brought all the latest and greatest rods they had been working on. I brought with me lots of my own personal lines and began to get familiar with the Thomas & Thomas lineup.
The first rod that I picked up and began casting was the Exocett. This is T&T's newest saltwater rod. I rigged up the 8, 9, 10, and SS 350 and started to dial in how these rods felt and how they reacted to various lines. Wow! The one clear thing is - these rods have a lot going on within their design. To put it simply, they are a combination of a "softer" (more true-weighted) rod but with extraordinary power and strength. Seems pretty contrasting, but these rods pull it off. The first one I cast was the 8wt. I brought with me a Scientific Anglers Mastery Bonefish WF8F line and I am NOT lying when I say this - the 8wt Exocett rod is probably the best bonefish rod on the market. That SA line matches up perfectly with this rod and the cast-ability and accuracy of these two (rod/line) combined is unparalleled. This is my new bonefish rod...NEXT!
Now the 9wt - I am very familiar with 9wt rods. It is my rod of choice for striped bass here in Maine and also my "New England Saltwater Rod" (Stripers, Bluefish, False Albacore). It is also the weight rod I use for permit in the Caribbean. The first line that I put on the 9wt was a 30ft head/350gr line which I had used on a faster/stiffer 9wt in the past for stripers. Seeing as these Exocetts are matched to AFFTA standardization, 350 grains was too much for this rod. It overloaded the rod fairly easily and most longer casts ended up just piling up or not turning over well. So I backed it off to 300 grains. BOOM! Not only was I able to cast just as far as my previous setup, but it required less energy! 300 seemed to be the magic number for specifically for striped bass fishing here in the Northeast. It allowed me to throw heavy enough sinking/sink tip lines to fish deep, didn't need many false casts, and didn't totally overload the rod. I might back it off a little when doing strictly flats/sight fishing but that 300gr was the sweet spot this summer/fall. The slightly slower action provided a forgiving casting experience and has allowed me long days on the water with less shoulder soreness. Plus, almost most importantly, it gives an incredible amount of accuracy. I'm looking forward to trying this out on a tropical flat..
Lines that have worked well on the 9' 9wt Exocett here in Maine for striped bass:
- Rio InTouch Striper 300gr (30' sink tip w/ intermediate running line)
- Scientific Anglers Sink 25 Cold 300gr (25' sink tip w/ floating running line)
- Scientific Anglers Sink 30 Cold 300gr (30' sink tip w/ int running line)
- Scientific Anglers SONAR Titan Full Intermediate - WF9I (NOTE: this ended up being the intermediate line that I used often, although if I had anymore than the head of the line out it would quickly start to overload. But, it proved to be a decent "shooting head" type line if done right requiring only 1-2 false casts).
- Airflo Coastal/Striper WF9I - If there was a line made that is somewhere between this and the SA Sonar Titan Full Intermediate, that would be the perfect Int. line for this Exocett. Although this Airflo cast alright, it just didn't behave well especially when fishing from shore. Out of a boat it was a little better.
- Rio InTouch Striper WF9F - A proper matched floating line for cold saltwater (for the Exocett 9wt) is still up in the air. This line was serviceable on the Exocett but not ideal...It required a little more false casting than I wanted.
The 10wt followed suit with grain weights and I was continuously pleased with this as well. An additional note about the 9wt Exocetts and above (10,11,12) is that T&T reinforced these rods with a more substantial butt section. This is not only great additional strength for fighting larger fish successfully, but it also gives a little more backbone with casting sinking lines. You can really feel this in both situations and it helps a lot.
The SS 350 - This is a canon! This is a faster/shorter version of the 9' Exocett and it's main use is large flies, big fish, heavier lines, and/or tight quarters. These SS rods lift line off the water with ease and can send out sinking lines easier than longer rods. They are also very accurate. Inherently a shorter rod is more accurate, so expect these shorter Exocetts to be bullseye. I cast an Airflo Bruce Chard Tropical Punch and also some Scientific Anglers sinking lines and it did well on all of them.
The Exocett Predator - This was one rod that I was unable to cast while at T&T. The main objective of this rod is to create a longer rod that has all the power of a shorter rod, but with the added advantage of a longer rod (confused?). The Predator is capable of fishing 350-500gr lines and allows anglers to get longer overhead casts and fish flies deeper because of the added length. A stiffer tip (than the regular Exocett) gives better control over sinking lines and helps to lift line off the water. The grip/cork is even designed to give better "figure 8" retrieves...Think muskie....
Next up at the casting pond was their new freshwater/trout rod: the Avantt. I lined it with some Scientific Anglers GPX line (now replaced with MPX). In a similar fashion to the Exocett, the Avantt did not want a lot of unnecessary extra weight. It is more of a true-to-grain rod and with the MPX being about a 1/2 of a line size heavy, it proved to be a little too much - noticeably more on longer casts. It cast well at distance for sure, but I found that going to the Scientific Anglers Mastery Trout line with this Avantt proved to be a better match in my opinion especially for dry fly/soft hackle fishing. This is a great accurate rod, can cast longer distances if needed, but is really dead-on at about 50ft and closer...trout range...
I can see this Avantt becoming a favorite with dry fly and soft-hackle/wet fly fisherman. The softer tip allows sensitivity and presentation. I also have fished the G Loomis NRX LP for about 4 years and it reminds me a little of that rod in it's accuracy and progressive action (but with a slightly stiffer butt + mid section) -- a rod with a softer tip but can handle a nymph rig or streamer if needed. This is what a modern 5wt trout rod should feel like. There are longer casting trout rods available, there are better rods at 25ft., but we all know trout fishing is mainly within 30-45ft, and most dedicated trout fisherman carry two rods for this exact reason. Something to think about.
Do you like to nymph? Do you find yourself specifically doing a fair amount of Czech/French style nymphing? This new Contact rod from T&T is their longer nymphing stick. Made in 10' 4" 3wt, 10' 4" 4wt, and 11' 3" 3wt configurations, this is certainly a rod to keep on your radar. The trick with a nymphing rod is to get it soft/responsive/sensitive enough so that you can feel the "take" from the fish but still have a rod that can actually cast the nymphing rig you're throwing! Some rod manufacturers try to design a rod that has tons of sensitivity in the tip, but a stiff butt section (for the weight), but what happens with this is that the "feel" stops at the butt section and you really don't have a great idea what's happening at the end of your leader/tippet. This Contact rod has seemingly joined best of both worlds. If you are a die-hard nymph fisherman or wanted to see what the fuss is about, this might be the first or last nymph rod you buy. The inclusion of a small fighting butt is a big help with arm fatigue with is a common concern for nymph fishermen, and also helps to counter balance the longer rod.
Fly fishermen specifically here in Maine who fish a lot of pocket water find that longer (10ft+) rods have made a big difference in their fishing. These rods are an added advantage in not only covering more water with your rig, but the ability to mend line easier makes longer trout rods advantageous in the right scenario.
These are the new offerings from T&T for the 2017 and upcoming 2018 seasons. As you can see there has been quite a bit of movement over there and lots of great things are coming out of this Massachusetts based fly rod manufacturer. Even further, they will be moving into a new facility soon which will be a partnership with a local brewery...so clearly these guys are onto something!