Most saltwater fly fishers don’t care about presentation. Whether you take that to mean most individual saltwater anglers in general, or most anglers fly fishing in the salt on any given day is up to you. But the fact remains that, most of the time, presentation isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of concerns of the saltwater fly fisherman that’s preparing to make a cast.
Quite simply, this is because other concerns are more important — primarily wind and haste. Presentation goes right out the window when the wind conspires to complicate your day on the water, as it does more often than not on flats and bluewater across the globe. And even when the wind lays down and you can concentrate on the finer points how you deliver the fly, it won’t matter one lick if you lay down a beautiful cast that gently caresses the water’s surface if the tailing bonefish, cruising permit or patrolling barracuda you’re targeting has come and gone by the time you do so.
The above is precisely why most fly rods geared for the salt are designed with these primary concerns in mind and less with other matters such as presentation. This means fast, stout rods that can pick up line quickly and punch it through the wind.
None of this is to suggest that presentation never matters in the salt. It often does. Try slapping a cast down on top of a school of finicky bonefish in skinny water. Or sloppily toss your fly at a single, flats-cruising striper in the gin-clear waters off the coast of Cape Cod. Good things are unlikely to happen. In fact, poor presentation in these situations can quickly and easily lead to a day that ends with empty hands.
These sorts of situations, however, despite not being uncommon, are the minority, and by no small margin. Moreover, anglers that choose to pursue fish in these more challenging conditions are typically more experienced and thus also are fewer in number. And so, again, most of the tools available on the market are designed to meet these most common of needs. These tools are effective, but not particularly versatile.
Thankfully, recent years have seen the introduction of saltwater-focused rods that are trying to have their cake and eat it too — rods that offer power and feel. I could tell you that this is due to advances in technology or materials, but I’d just be regurgitating marketing prose if I did. Plus, I suspect it is mostly due to a change in design philosophy rather than technology.
The Stickman T8, the first production rod offered by 3-year old European rodmakers Stickman Rods, a rod which I've been fishing off and on for the past two years, exemplifies this trend.
Stickman’s T8 has a great deal in common in terms of character and feel with its five-weight baby brother, the P5, about which I’ve unabashedly gushed. These are versatile, lively rods that offer the angler a great deal of feel without sacrificing power.
Like all of Stickman’s Rods, build quality is excellent. As with other brands that are known as hallmarks of build quality, high-end components (such as Lemke Concepts reel seats, Hopkins & Holloway tip-tops, titanium recoil guides and premium cork) are used. Wraps and finish are near perfect. In fact, the “Deep Blue” variant of the T8 is such a handsome piece of craftsmanship that it nearly compels you to buy it on looks alone. The T8 isn’t just a fine fishing tool, it’s a show piece.
There’s little point in spending a lot of time here, but know that the T8 is light, undoubtedly one of the lightest-in-the-hand eight weights. I always like to stress that rod weight shouldn’t be taken all that seriously, but as you get into the higher weights and fishing environments where you’re fighting bigger fish, it does help reduce fatigue as the day wears on.
As mentioned above, design philosophy in the world of saltwater rods appears to be shifting. More than one manufacturer has delivered rods to market over the last year or so that tout the ability to offer the angler power and feel. Backbone and sensitivity. Brawn and touch. And these rods have been received with a massive amount of fanfare.
Mostly, this trend amounts to building light, fast, responsive rods that still bend — especially in the tip. And all of these things describe the T8 — which Stickman has been quietly building for over 3 years now. Being first to the party doesn’t necessarily make you the best, but I’ve yet to cast an 8 weight (and I most certainly haven’t cast them all) that exemplifies the power-with-feel ethos more than Stickman’s T8.
The mid and butt sections of the T8 are noticeably stiffer than those of the freshwater-geared P5, as you’d likely expect. But, much like the P5, the “Stickman feel” is there: the rod transitions power very smoothly from the tip to the butt section as the rod loads and recovers with a surprising amount of zeal. Stickman calls the T8 a fast action rod, and it may be, but it often feels more like a medium-fast rod that consistently surprises you with its power.
The shift to rods that offer muscle and feel is driven by the desire to make better tools. Rods that do so, like the Stickman T8, can simply do more. These rods can tackle the primary concerns of the saltwater angler mentioned above — wind and haste — but can also tackle technical and graceful presentations, putting those finicky bonefish and wary stripers back on the menu even for anglers that aren’t saltwater aficionados.
Not to be underrated is the ability to handle shots in close. The need to cast for distance in the saltwater world is, in my opinion, so overstated that it has almost become a misnomer. Across years on the flats, I’ve thrown more countless more casts at and have caught vastly more fish at distances between 20 and 50 feet than I have at distances over. Rods that are overly stiff can’t toss short casts worth a damn. They’re difficult to load with short lengths of line off the rod tip and are inaccurate to say the least.
Pressed to choose between a rod that excels at throwing 25 foot casts versus a rod that excels at throwing 75 foot casts, I’ll choose the latter every time. In the best of worlds you get a rod that does both, and the T8 is just that.
What the T8 can’t do might be better classified as what a proper 8 weight can’t do. It wouldn’t be my first choice for tossing the heaviest crabs or shrimp at permit, though I’ve done so and it has handled the job, and it wouldn’t be the rod I’d pick for throwing burly, lead-eyed clousers or sinking lines at bluefish off a jetty. But that’s just common sense.
Whether Stickman pioneered or was the first to embrace the “power plus feel” design is an unanswerable question, but it is safe to say that they were on the forefront of the current trend. The Stickman T8 is a lively, versatile rod that can handle virtually any saltwater task you can throw at it and one that will excel at almost all of them.