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Run What You ĎBrung

Or 'The Surprising Things You Find Out When Being Told To Fish'

By Jim Stuard


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When I review a rod, or any other kind of gear, I usually try to stay near home. Invariably, you need some other kind of line or fly or whatever kind of accessory to make the review process a smooth one. While I was talking to Brian Chavet at Elkhorn rods, about ultralights for The Great 2-Weight Shoot Out, the topic wandered until we ended up talking about the Sage Smallmouth rod.  Brian felt he had a rod in the Elkhorn line-up that was a worthy competitor.  Into the package of 2-weights he added the 3 piece, EX Series 6/7-weight.  I certainly never thought I'd review this rod, on the road, with only a hastily tossed bunch of gear as my back-up.  But when one is told to go fish, one must make do.

My father recently had open heart surgery at a top hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.  The operation demanded that I make an extended  trip to be with him. He was actually the one who suggested I bring up some gear, and he was prescient in his suggestion. I had originally planned on running errands and dealing with hospital staff, but everything went so well, so successfully and so quickly that I ended up doing a lot of sitting around watching TV with my old man. I hadnít really planned on going fishing, but when my father asked if Iíd brought gear, and I said yes, I was politely shown the door. The Chagrin River is just east of Cleveland, and that's where I ended up.  It was a great opportunity to take a deep breath, relax and get focused on something a bit less serious than life-and-death.

I have to say I was very surprised with the build quality of the EX Series rods. Theyíre understated, but very handsome with their clear green wraps and well done tipping and hardware. Iíve seen far too many rods with screw-on tops and bags (too many parts for a slob like me to lose) and I have to say that the inclusion of a divided, Cordura, zipper-top tube was an especially welcome addition. My only dings would be the use of single-foot guides and the rod being a 3 piece. Single-foots are hard to wrap straight; besides which Iím a sucker for traditional snakes. The savings in weight would be minimal on a headhunter like the EX. That said, it may have let the rod flex a tad more which is a perfect fit for my medium-action wheelhouse. As far as the three pieces, I find the rods are just bit difficult to travel with. Both complaints are superficial and relate only to personal taste. They didn't affect my evaluation of the performance of this fly rod.

The EX does an adequate job with a 6-weight line and would be a great choice for firing a hopper/dropper tight to grassy banks at drift-boat distances, but when the opportunity to fish came up  I ended up swinging some big-ass flies and really needed the torque of a 7-weight line to be effective.  It turned out that that's not a problem with the EX. It loaded "danger close" with a 7-weight Rio line and afforded me the ability to swing some insanely large Clousers over likely cover. Most contemporary rods can benefit from a half to full line-weight of up-weighting and the Elkhorn is no different.  I really wish manufacturers would publish multiple weight ranges for their rods, sometimes there's a real diamond-in-the-rough that will be polished by the right line selection and encouraging experimentation is good for everyone - especially the angler!  Because of the large flies and small waters found on the Chagrin, I found the Rio 7-weight to be a much better match than the suggested 6-weight fly line, which left me feeling like the rod was a bit under-loaded and lacking in feel. If I'd been fishing the surf of Lake Erie and carrying 45-feet of fly line in the air as I false cast and hauled for the moon I might have found room in my heart for the lighter ammo, but on this trip the Elkhorn loved the 7.

I really like this rod. I had no trouble dead-sticking a two fly rig weighted down with lead.  It was equally easy to swing anything from a #4 to 2/0 Clousers. The shape and finish of the grip was "all day" comfortable and the hardware held the reel with a kung-fu-like grip. I ended up hooking three and landing only a single steelhead on the Chagrin River, but the Elkhorn was happily bent to the cork while doing so.

Later in  May the Elkhorn got another great workout.  This time on the lake run smallmouth heading upstream from Erie in the Buffalo region. In three days I hooked and landed nearly a hundred fish.  If ever there was a time when I could almost expect a fly rod to fail, this was it.  The Elkhorn showed its true colors and came through the battle unscathed.  Iíd happily recommend the Elkhorn EX for anyone serious about big carp, smallmouth, or hybrid stripers. It's a solid four-fly player and, at $239.00, itís a highly recommended bargain!

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