This is a product review of the Airflo Rage Compact Spey Line. This fly line is the Airflo Solution to help us Spey fishers who want to retain the key elements of our Skagit casting skills acquired over 75% of the year when we are chucking sink tips and swinging big flies for steelhead and salmon. The challenge we face is making the transition from our place of confidence casting a heavy, easy to feel rod-loading line, and suddenly making the delicate, seemingly weightless cast with a Scandi Compact or such line (yes, Rio’s AFS is an analog to Airflo’s Scandi Compact, and is a fine dry line for summer steelhead fishing as well).
So here’s the Airflo Rage Compact story. I headed out to BC to hunt the elusive summer steelhead last week. Oh yes. Amazing trip. Six straight full days standing in the water, falling in the river, complete with opportunities to fish different rods, reels, and lines – practically heaven on earth, plus scenery and fish to boot.
BC offers, among other pleasantries, wonderful opportunity to catch summer steelhead on dry or damp flies. Real honest dry line steelhead. 90% of my dry line steelhead Spey fishing prior to this trip was based on fishing the Airflo Scandi Compact. My baby-blue buddy. The Scandi Compact is a joy as it is, and I normally add an Aifrlo Polyleader with some #8 , #10, or #12 Lb Maxima Ultragreen tippet and make the cast.
On occasion, especially in wind, I struggled to keep my presentation straight. OK, fess-up time. My closest friends know that almost every cast I make is an adventure, a roll of the dice, a real-life example of Chaos Theory. Bottom line, my use of the Scandi Compact, was entirely pleasing and delivered my damp fly or Muddler to great distances, even though my presentation was not always as straight as a surveyor’s tape. My issue, aside from less than perfect casting mechanics, was that the wind would occasionally send my leader and fly upriver, the main body of the line downstream where I had intended to deliver the entire package. I was always able to salvage the moment, by making a big mend, and then letting my fly swing after the mend. But I wished in my heart for a better presentation, a more arrow-shaft like shot straight to the fishing water, thus reducing the need for a big mend.
I was hurt, but only a little, and certainly not deeply, that Airflo did not rely solely on me to advise the development of the Rage Compact. I could have told them to make a Spey head a little shorter than the Scandi Compact. I could have told them to give the Rage a little more aggressive, slightly less tapered front end. I could have told them to put a nifty little label on the front end of the Spey head so that I wouldn’t need to refer to my handy color-coded chart to figure out the grain weight of each head. But no, they consulted with the likes of Tom Larimer, probably because he is more famous and is actually an expert Steelhead Spey Caster, not just a hack like me.
Get to it, Jay. The Rage is a winner, a solid performer that elevated my dry line steelhead presentations from modest minus to modest plus. It is what it is folks. Tom Larimer and Jeff Hickman, among others, make those bullet sharp, narrow loop casts and I just do not, on average. That said, the Rage Compact was a pure delight to fish, from the first Circle Spey to the last Double Spey of the week. I fished the Airflo Rage Compact 480 gr line with a 14′ Airflo Floating Polyleader strung on a Burkheimer 7127-4. This combination of line and rod was stunning in the virtually effortless ability to make long and short casts. I encountered fishing situations with brush close at my back. In these locations, I was able to place my anchor in front of me out in the river and keep my D loop from hanging up on the brush. I fished in glass calm mornings over slick-slow tail-outs. I fished choppy water (if that is even comprehensible) over sunlit boulder gardens on breezy afternoons. I closed my last evening in BC fishing a wind-riffled tailout with snow-capped mountains in the background.
My friend Tom Larimer suggests fishing a Rage Compact that is about 30 grains on the light side from a Skagit Compact. I defer to his advice cuz he is probably right. That is exactly what I do when choosing a Scandi Compact Spey head for dry line fishing. Funny thing is, I fished a 480 gr Rage Compact on my 7127-4 when i normally fish a 450 gr Skagit or a 420 gr Scandi Compact. This probably speaks to the wide grain weight window that characterizes many of the fine Spey rods on the rivers these days. My reason to mention this anomaly is that I guess we sometimes over analyze our line weights from time to time. I fished the 480 because that was what I had available on two day notice for my BC trip. Basically, I called my friends at Rajeff Sports on Friday, pleaded and pleaded, and they shot me a couple of these new Rage Compacts in a hand written envelope, just barely making the mail pickup, and I got them on Saturday, with my flight to BC on Sunday.
I fished my Rage Compact fly lines up in BC, mostly, with a 14′ floating Airflo Polyleader with 6′ of Maxima #10 Ultragreen. Tom Larimer, Mr. Expert, (you know I love you Tom, right?) recommends a 10′ intermediate Polyleader. Maybe I need to get on the Deschutes with Tom, ply him around the campfire with tongue liberator, and debate the merits of our two approaches. Just thought you might want to know that many possibilities of terminal tips are out there.
I also fished a 540 gr Rage Compact on a Burkheimer 7134-4 tipped with a Burkheimer Rio 15′ Type 3 Versileader and found that it cast very well, thank you, with a soggy, un-weighted, size 6 deer hair Muddler. The point here is that the Rage will push sinking tips of modest weight if you need to get down a few feet, without changing out for your Skagit Compact. This versatility is going to be very welcome from spring through fall, when full-on dry tip, intermediate tip, and modest sink tip presentations may be called for during the days. Winter’s flows, temperatures, and fish temperament will see me looping on my trusty Skagit Compact, though.
In all of these conditions, my casting was intuitive, it was so effortless that it made me want to fish dry line year-around, and my ability to cast a pretty much straight line to my intended target was better than when I had last fished the Scandi Compact.
By the way, and not inconsequentially, I LOVE the new line labeling systems that our favorite fly line makers are using this year. To be able to actually read the tip of the fly line and know its weight is fabulous. This is no tiny issue for those of us who fish several rods, reels, and lines. The process of figuring out which line is which is not a simple matter, and that is a very nice touch.
None is this is intended to be adversarial to the Scandi Compact or to Rio’s AFS Spey heads. The fact (that I often re-state) is simply that I am an average Spey caster, and if a fly line helps me be a better angler, it is a boost. I ain’t tossing out my Skagit compacts, because these are unequaled for big sink tips and weighted bugs. I also ain’t letting my Scandi Compacts out of my sight, because for breeze-free, small fly fishing, they too are a joy to sling across the waters.
This is one of the places I was fortunate to be able to fish the Airflo Rage Compact. Think about 9 AM. The sun is barely on the water. There are summer steelhead raising to an occasional mayfly drifting along the rock wall; the water narrows and tails out at the downstream end of the pool, creating a mirror smooth surface. Imagine me making a laser-like presentation to the head of the gravel, downstream of the rock wall. Imagine a slow swing across the tailout. Imagine a dimple, a bulge, and a singing fly reel. Imagine the smile on my face. It’s a beautiful memory.
Here is some tech stuff for you Spey junkies to yum yum on. Let’s take a 540 gr Airflo Spey head in Skagit Compact, Rage Compact, and Scandi Compact configurations. The Skagit compact total head length is 25 ft; the Rage Compact head is 31 ft; and the Scandi Compact head is 34 ft long. Looking at the Rage Compact versus the Scandi Compact heads, the front taper on the Rage is 28.5 ft compared to 32.5 ft for the Scandi and it does NOT taper to as fine a tip; this is what gives the Rage significantly more authority to push a size 4 wet fly into the wind, turn over a wind resistant steelhead bomber, or even handle a modest sink tip (Airflo Polyleader or Rio Versileader). Make sense? Sure it does.
Look into my eyes. You a Spey fisher? Yes you are, or you would not be here on this line. You fish dry line, damp fly, dry fly? Of course you do. Listen to this. You need an Airflo Rage Compact. You need one for every Spey rod you own. Buy these from the Caddis Fly Shop. You will help the US economy. You will increase beer and coffee and hawiian takeout and burrito sales in Eugene Oregon. You will help the fine people at Rajeff sports. You will help the world economy. You will be happier if you purchase many of these lines than if you do not. You will be even more happy and at peace with your inner child if you purchase several new Spey rods and then many fly lines of all styles and backing and fly reels and running lines and flies than if you simply buy a dozen Rage compacts. Please forgive me. Just had to try.
By the way, I was also able to fish the Airflo Skagit Switch fly line while in BC. This will be the topic of a soon-to-come product review. Preview? Amazing performance on a Burkheimer 7115-4 and an Echo Switch rod. Oh still thy beating heart.