Gray’s Best 2019

Summer Camp, by Chet Reneson


[by Miles Nolte]

Orvis Helios 3 Fly Rod

Upon first seeing the newest Orvis rod at the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show, the color scheme struck a chord of familiarity. It reminded me of a Daiwa spinning outfit I owned in the ’90s. Orvis’s redesigned Helios (beginning at $849) sports a bright white wrap rising several inches up from the cork, an appearance that’s easily identifiable on the river. It’s either iconic or an eyesore, depending on your tastes. I’m not much of an aesthete. Fly rods, like just about everything else, should be judged on their function, and this rod functions exceptionally well.

Orvis touts the H3 as the most accurate rod it has ever built. Of course, any rod can only be as accurate as the person casting it, but some do tend to track truer than others, and my experience with the H3 supports the company’s claims. I fished this rod all over New Zealand, where pinpoint placement of the first cast is often the difference between a fish that eats and a fish that spooks. The H3 didn’t bewitch perfection upon every presentation, but it outperformed all the other rods I took. In fact, I used the 5-weight H3 almost exclusively, even in situations that called for a 6-weight. I liked it that much.

The Helios 3 comes in two models: the F (for feel) and the D (for distance). Though I generally prefer a fuller-flex rod to a faster one, I think the D model fishes better than the F.

High N Dry Liquid Floatant

For years, I have faced a floatant dilemma: use the environmentally friendly stuff that requires reapplication every other cast or the stuff that keeps my feathers cork-buoyant but smells like jet fuel and leaves shimmering rainbow rings on the surface film.

Last year I ran into a sales rep friend of mine at the best taco bus in Montana. (If you’ve been to Dillon, you know the one I’m talking about.) Over delicious carne asada, he introduced me to the new High N Dry line of floatants. The company was founded by a group of semiretired chemists who shared my love of fly fishing and my floatant dilemma. These gentlemen applied their decades of chemical wisdom to the problem and created a new line of environmentally friendly products that actually work.

Throughout the entire 2018 guide season, I dipped every dry fly in High N Dry Liquid Floatant ($12) and can report that it works just as well as the stuff that smells like paint thinner. Oh, and by the way, that stuff that smells like paint thinner is essentially paint thinner. Let’s keep that out of the trout streams.


Simms Solarflex Armor

You may have noticed a distinct shift in upper-body fishing apparel the past few years. Buttons and collars are going the way of tweed jackets and ascots. While I’ll be the first to admit that airy fabrics and sun hoods don’t make for the most flattering attire, they sure are comfortable. They also help prevent the exhaustion that comes from long days under relentless sun, not to mention the C-word.

Skin cancer is the leading killer of fishing guides (yes, even more than cirrhosis of the liver), and you’ve probably noticed that most serious anglers are covering up these days, myself included. But I was disappointed when Simms replaced its line of sun shirts that featured built-in gaiters with sun shirts that featured hoods. Hoods are nice but don’t protect the neck and face from the sun as well as gaiters do. Simms has now fully redeemed itself with the Solarflex Armor ($130).

It’s the only shirt on the market with an integrated hood and neck gaiter. The shirt boasts a sun protection factor of 50, comes with mesh side panels for ventilation, and also has a sewn-in cloth for cleaning glasses. This really is the Cadillac of sun shirts, and if you fish in hot, sun-soaked climates, you should invest in at least one of them.

Stealth Master Tyer Hook Sets

Have you ever spent a half hour on hands and knees, squinting into the carpet, searching out the dozen minuscule hooks that you scattered, like so many dandelion seeds in the wind, when your elbow knocked their tiny bag off the tying table? I know I have. More than once.

Readers familiar with my choices for Gray’s Best will know that I especially appreciate thoughtful redesigns of essential gear that is easily taken for granted. Case in point, hooks and their packaging. Stealth has reimagined fly tying hooks, how to produce them, how to select them, and how to store them.

Its wet and dry fly systems ($150 and $95, respectively) start with hook “vaults,” larger vessels organized with a slotted foam insert that can hold 16 boxes. Each box contains a magnetized dish that holds 25 high-quality hooks. These hooks fall into one of three categories: D for dry flies, N for nymphs and streamers, and C for curved hooks that imitate scuds or emergers. That’s it. No confusing numbers or complicated codes.

The inside cover of the “vault” features a printout showing which hooks (and sizes) are appropriate for imitating which aquatic insects. It’s all clear and user-friendly. The hooks themselves come in a black finish, which Stealth designers claim helps to fool finicky fish. I can’t attest to that one way or the other, but I can say that the hooks are wicked sharp out of the box and hold up well.