Each year, in the weeks and months following IFTD/ICAST in Orlando, we get to hear a lot about the products that walk away with "best of" honors at the show. This is with good reason. These often innovative and superbly crafted products captivate and excite. But they're not the only show in town. Hundreds of products debut each year at the show, many of which get significantly less time in the spotlight.
Rods and reels are usually the products that get more attention than everything else. This year Sage's MOD and Scott's Meridian earned top honors for best freshwater and saltwater fly rods and Nautilus' X reel took both best new fly reel honors. But there were a number of other standout rods and reels this year in Orlando, many of which bring unique, innovative features and technology to the table and manage to do so at exceptional prices.
Redington has earned a well-deserved reputation for thinking outside the box. Redington continually seems willing to break from the status quo to deliver products to the market that offer exceptional value, why-didn't-anyone-else-think-of-this features or both. This year's two-hand offering from Redington, its new Chromer series of rods, brings to the table a smooth and not-overly-fast action, a smart down-locking reel seat and a very nice matte finish. But what sets the Chromer apart is Redington's continued innovative use of polymer grips that it debuted a few years ago on its successful Vapen series. The Chromer doesn't get the full polymer treatment, but rather uses a hybrid cork-polymer grip that features polymer sections at the top and bottom of the handle. The Chromer's polymer grip is a bit tackier and has a richer hand feel than the Vapen's variant. It's the top, "pinch grip" section that's the standout here — as it is likely to be a great asset to two-handed casters' running line management, especially for anglers that often fish in frigid, icy conditions and/or those that use mono running lines.
Orvis Hydros SL
Orvis has gone nerdy on reel design and the result is one of our favorite products from IFTD 2015. In its new Hydros SL (update: full review here), Orvis has engineered a reel with a fully machined frame and spool, a fully sealed drag, at or near best-in-class line pickup per revolution, buttery-smooth startup inertia and thoughtful design features like a narrower spool that reduces line stacking. But the Hydros SL's best feature may be its price, which ranges from $198 in the trout weights to $259 in burly saltwater weights. At a show where value-for-price was a standout for many products, the Hydros SL may have them all beat.
ECHO ION XL
Watch ECHO owner and product designer Tim Rajeff line up a noodly, 3 weight fiberglass rod and toss a cast that sails clear over the IFTD casting pool, and you'll know that Tim is a guy you want designing your fly rods. Rajeff has long kept ECHO at the forefront of brands that offer high performance products at exceptional values and this year's revamped ION rod is no exception. The ION XL for 2016 is lighter and more responsive than its predecessor, thanks to technological advancements in the industry that Rajeff says allowed him to redesign the well-liked ION series (and ECHO's best-selling Carbon series). At $159, the ION XL is a standout in a slowly building tide of products that are geared for the saltwater but not geared towards draining bank accounts. This is a high performance, well crafted rod that anglers can fish in demanding environments, without feeling the need to drop loads of cash on a product they might not use often enough to justify breaking the bank.
There's a lot more to talk about with Redington's new Behemoth than we'll endeavor to get into here, but in continuing Redington's aforementioned propensity for breaking from the status quo — the Behemoth is one-of-a-kind. The Behemoth is a new reel that offers the most powerful drag in its class at a hard-to-believe price point ($109 to $129), by virtue of its die cast construction. The Behemoth is the brainchild of Redington product designer Paul Richardson, who has created a unique cross-spoked frame design. The frame design, which is so intricate that it cannot be machined, increases structural stability. Combined with the Behemoth's bar-stock reel foot, it leaves the Behemoth up to even the biggest of tasks. We've fished the Behemoth for species small to large, including bruising quarry like false albacore and even fought a dolphin with the Behemoth's drag, and we're impressed.
Cheeky Boost Triple Play
Cheeky is another brand that is synonymous with providing quality products at lower-than-expected prices. Its successful Boost series of reels isn't new for 2015 (Cheeky introduced it last year), but Cheeky is now offering what it is calling the Boost Triple Play. The Triple Play combines a Boost reel with two spare spools and a Fishpond Sweetwater Reel case. The Boost has proven its worth and value on the water over the last year, and now anglers can get even more value with the Triple Play which at $320, offers about $100 in savings.
G. Loomis Pro4x LP
Loomis's NRX has for year's now quietly sat atop many an angler's list of industry leading fly rods, without much recent fanfare. The introduction of the NRX LP (light presentation) in 2013 brought to market a rod that many consider the best trout rod ever made. Loomis' Pro4x line may be best described as the NRX's little brother — offering a design based on the NRX blanks but using more affordable materials, allowing anglers that can't or are unwilling to step up to the NRX's premium price point to get as much NRX as they can for their money. This year, Loomis debuted the Pro4x LP, and the response has been very positive, with many a tester unsurprisingly likening the Pro4x LP's action to its wildly popular big brother.