The Vapen Red is a fly rod I didn't want to like. I'm just being honest. While I'm most certainly gear addicted, and particularly giddy about the next new thing, there was something that rubbed me wrong about the Vapen as soon as Redington introduced it. The Vapen introduces two entirely new technologies into the world of fly rods, with its X-Wrap blank construction and -- of course -- the bright red polymer handle that Redington co-developed with golf club grip manufacturer Winn Grips. For some reason, the combination of the two made the Vapen Red feel gimmicky rather than innovative, so I was prepared to be disappointed when the rod landed on the front steps.
While I consider myself quite adept at quickly judging the character of people, never let it be said that I am adept at doing so with fly rods. I've been fishing the Vapen Red for many months now, on everything from small Pennsylvania spring creeks to big Alaskan rivers, and in that time it has become one of my favorite rods currently in my quiver. That's not to say the Vapen Red is right for everything, but it is a very versatile rod that impresses in many arenas. And, despite my holding out as long as I could, I've even come around on the grip.
The Rod: X-Wrap
I'm no expert on blank construction and design, on the nitty gritty of graphite formulation and tapers. But, like anyone who casts a fly rod, I can judge the results of different types of blank construction and design. I can judge differences in the way a rod loads, the way it delivers power, how much torsional stability it has and -- most importantly -- what all of that translates to in terms of my cast. Perhaps half of the time I'm making these connections about blank construction and performance I'm cooking them up in my head, but at the end of the day, understanding why a fly rod does what it does is less important that how you feel it allows you to perform on the water.
According to Redington, X-Wrap construction involves adding "super-high density carbon ribbon" to a more traditional graphite blank. There are two layers of these carbon ribbons. One layer inside the blank and another counter-wrapped on the exterior surface. And if, like me, the whole thing sounds gimmicky to you, be aware that you can see the carbon ribbons. While that shouldn't be enough to assure you that it actually does anything, it's at least reassuring to know it's not all smoke and mirrors. For my part, after fishing the Vapen most of the summer, while there's little I understand about the technical aspects of Redington's new X-Wrap technology and its carbon fiber ribbons, it has become evident that it allows the Vapen Red to perform exceedingly well in a variety of ways.
Whether the Vapen delivers on Redington's unabashedly promoted claims of power is one of the first inquiries most people make about the Vapen. As noted, Redington hasn't shied away from touting the Vapen's power. Vapen, after all, means "weapon" (in Swedish). For what is a considerably light stick, especially for a rod at the Vapen's price point, the Vapen unquestionably delivers power. Throwing long casts is easy, and doesn't require excessive false casting. As a relatively average caster, tossing 50 or 60 feet of line with the Vapen Red 5 weight was fairly effortless. If power is what you seek, I can't imagine needing more than what the Vapen provides.
A powerful rod that throws sloppy, inaccurate casts isn't much good to anybody, so being able to trust your rod to throw long and accurate casts is important. The Vapen, for its part, throws noticeably accurate casts. Rather than trying to quantify how accurate it is (which is likely impossible), suffice it to say that when a rod makes you remark at its accuracy, it is doing its job.
In my initial thoughts on the Vapen (which is worth reading for some additional thoughts on the rod) I noted how, after toting the Vapen along to a small stream that a fast action rod isn't appropriate for, the Vapen found a way to impress by allowing me to confidently throw casts (even long ones) under an incredibly dense tree canopy thanks to its accuracy. Presumably due to good torsional stability, your line travels along the path you send it both forward and back. Additionally, loop geometry is incredibly tight. As also noted in those first impressions, I don't typically throw the tightest of loops and have a bad habit of throwing tailing loops. The Vapen helps considerably in both areas. Casts that have tight loops and travel in straight lines are not only better casts, but are more versatile in challenging conditions because they give the added confidence of control.
Stiffness and Feel
The engulfed-in-flames, runaway train from War of the Worlds that is the industry trend towards ultra-fast action rods may not be slowing down, but it is changing. Rod manufacturers are realizing that they've been turning out what are commonly called "broomsticks", overly stiff rods which lack feel and personality and which serve well in only limited applications. The current hope, is that anglers can have more in a fast rod, and manufacturers are trying to deliver it: fast rods with feel and sensitivity.
The Vapen, whether Redington intended it to be or not, is one of these rods. While Redington classes the Vapen as a fast-action rod, and it is decidedly that, it isn't overly fast. With certain rigs, it almost feels medium-fast sometimes (almost). You can feel the rod load and transmit power through the whole blank, and you don't need to have 40 feet of line out to load it. That said, the Vapen is definitely not the rod for a creek where 15-25 foot casts are the order of the day. In those situations you will be frustrated by the Vapen's stiffness, as you well should be for bringing a gun to a knife fight. But in what I'd call your typical stream experience, a mix of short and long casts, a mix of dry, nymph and streamer fishing, the Vapen is fast enough to provide power but not so fast as to limit itself to only a handful of applications. It has proven to be a surprisingly versatile rod.
One of my gripes with many fast action rods is that they're poor roll casters and, as a result, poor nymphing sticks. The Vapen, while still delivering plenty of power, manages to be a pretty good roll caster. As long as I'm not fishing an overly-long leader, turning over relatively heavy double-nymph rigs works well. Roll casting lighter rigs is a pleasure.
Fly rod grips don't typically get their own section in a review, but they're not usually something entirely new. In the Vapen Red's case, it is. The Vapen Red features a red grip that Redington describes as an "advanced polymer ... that won’t slip when wet, feels soft in the hand and reduces fatigue ... and helps amplify casting power."
When Redington announced the Vapen Red, some people were really excited about the new grip and really wanted to like it. I wasn't among them. I love cork. Cork is pretty. Cork handles are hand crafted. Cork, more than any other aspect, has remained a staple of fly rod construction throughout the history of the sport. Who wants to replace it? More importantly, however, was that Redington's new grip seemed like a solution seeking a problem. Throughout my years of fishing, I couldn't once remember thinking to myself that I wished someone would come up with a better handle for my fly rod. And so I spent the first couple months fishing the Vapen Red while dismissing the handle. I poked fun at it, noting my opinions to others. I ignored it, for the most part, because I had already made my mind up. Then, I went to Alaska.
Fishing days in Alaska are long. The sun rises when you'd expect it to, but sets around midnight. And, you've traveled all the way to Alaska -- a fishing mecca -- so you maximize and cherish every moment on the water. After fishing the Vapen throughout my 3-week stint of mostly 12-16 hour fishing days in Alaska this summer, it turns out, like all of my immediate impressions of the Vapen, my book-by-the-cover judgments of the Vapen Red's handle were wrong.
In Alaska, the fishing conditions varied widely. Pink salmon on a forested, medium-sized fast-flowing river one day, dolly varden on a small creek flowing through a coastal floodplain the next. Pike in the corners of the lakes in Wood Tikchik state park one day, big rainbows on the Agulupak the next. As a result of the varying conditions, I fished a different rod virtually every day. And switching back in forth from a cork handle to the Vapen Red's handle was a noticeable pleasure. After a morning and afternoon of casting pike flies on a cork-handled six weight, returning to the river and gripping the Vapen Red for an evening of dry fly fishing was like slipping into a pair of fuzzy rabbit slippers after scrambling over boulders in hiking boots all day. If you're a person that typically suffers hand fatigue from casting (which I'm not), this difference will likely be noticeable on a daily basis.
Do I love the red handle? Nah. But I like a lot of what it brings to the table. I still vastly prefer the feel of cork when wet, but Redington is accurate in its claim that the Vapen Red's grip doesn't turn into a slippery mess when wet. Whatever they're trying to accomplish with the Vapen Red's grip, they've seemingly done it without spouting nonsense.
Importantly, it is worth noting that the Vapen Red can be had without the fancy red grip. The Vapen (no "Red") comes with a traditional cork handle, and even features a small price savings.
I have fished the Vapen with both 5 weight lines and 6 weight lines. In most situations, I found the 6 weight line preferable, but by no means did the Vapen need the heavier line to load properly. Many of you might find something in between, like the RIO Grand (which is a half-weight heavier than its line class), the best fit.
All of this is a exceedingly long-winded way of saying that the Redington Vapen Red is a fine fly rod. When you consider its price point of $349 (the non-red version is $299), it is time to start wondering whether there is a better value in fast action rods currently on the market. Redington, despite its flashy marketing of the Vapen, delivers on its promises. If you're willing to venture into the world of the new, you're unlikely to be disappointed with the Vapen.