Gray’s Best awards are anticipated by long-time readers of Gray’s Sporting Journal and coveted by hunting and angling manufacturers. The reason? Gray’s Best carries the weight of authenticity. Many sporting magazines publish an end-of-the-year roundup of new products. Gray’s publishes a distinguished selection.
Our editors cover areas of expertise and experience—Angling, Shooting, Apparel and Accessories—and select gear that not only makes good first impressions, but also satisfies during repeated use. We make choices of our own volition, absent encouragement and incentive from the manufacturers. Further, Gray’s Best winners deliver on the claims of their makers but also have an extra attribute, an extra something that triggers a tenor of feel, remembrance or aesthetic and can be defined only as…satisfying. Much like Gray’s itself.
by Scott Sadil
ST. CROIX EVOS FLY RODS
Although increasingly sophisticated attempts are devised each year to quantify the performance of fly rods, most of us still fall back on the squishy, subjective criterion called “feel” when it comes to expanding or enhancing our quiver of these, our most treasured fly-fishing tools. After watching Brian O’Keefe hurl fly lines out of the far end of the casting pond at this year’s AFFTA Confluence, I asked him which rod he liked best: “The new St. Croix,” he said. “Butter smooth.” I wasn’t surprised. After doing so much to help upgrade the fly rod line at G. Loomis, and then going on to develop some of the most versatile and easy-to-cast Spey lines for Airflo, Tom Larimer has taken over as fly fishing brand manager at St. Croix, heading up a talented design team with the express purpose of regaining the sort of high-end fly rod prestige the company enjoyed in years past. Larimer, I should also note, has one of those clean, elegant, seemingly-effortless casting strokes, with either one-hand rods or two, that has been my goal throughout my half-century fly-fishing career; little wonder I would enjoy the feel of the new EVOS Series ($975 freshwater, $1025 saltwater), even as I continue to throw irrepressible tailing loops, at critical moments, with the frequency of my mis-conjugated Spanish verbs. Too many sophisticated technical elements to mention here; better, anyway, to cast one and feel for yourself. www.stcroixrods.com
SIMMS G4Z WADER
We know they all leak. Eventually. The good news is that our friends at Simms, still making waders in the heart of Montana trout country, have put their considerable talents into designing and fabricating the new G4Z ($999.95), a wader that seems likely to set the standard for durability, as well as comfort, for years to come. The upgrades and refashioned details incorporated into the G4Z, too numerous to list here, will only enhance the well-known Simms reputation, long established amongst amateurs and guides alike. But here are some highlights: extended four-layer Gore-Tex pant legs, three-layer uppers; waterproof front zipper for on and off ease and quick streamside relief; new integrated suspender system with easy to adjust cam-lock straps; interior waterproof pockets; exterior fleece-lined handwarmer pockets; improved belt and belt loops; easy system for waist-high conversion; compression molded stockingfeet that feel more snug inside your boot, without the tight grip that often leads to poor circulation and cold toes. That’s all only my early takeaway, now well into steelhead season, when any design flaw or other shortcoming is sure to reveal itself as you work your way through the next 9,999 casts. It’s too depressing to think that these might be the last waders some of us ever buy, but the possibil- ity seems real enough. The fact is, I’ll feel lucky if I live long enough for my G4Z waders to end up leaking, just like every other pair I’ve owned. www.simmsfishing.com
HARDY FORTUNA REGENT 10000 FLY REEL
I may not be the first to tell you about Hardy’s Fortuna Regent (voted Best Saltwater Reel at ICAST 2022), but I’m one of those old-school critics who actually uses new equipment, and puts it through its paces, before giving it a thumbs-up. Both on tarpon in Belize and big roosterfish in Baja, plus a couple of 40-pound dorado along the way, the Fortuna Regent 10000 ($850) matched exactly the kind of saltwater fish I’m after. The weight balances my ten-weight rods (there is a larger and smaller size, as well), and the large diameter spool makes for a wicked-fast retrieve when fish turn and run your way. The spool is also narrow, allowing retrieved line to fall neatly into place rather than piling up on one side of the spool or the other. The drag may not stop a 40-pound tuna, but I’m one of those old-timers who still believes in feathering the spool with the palm of my hand, especially if a fish rips off 200 yards of backing and makes a left turn, which can break light tippets against the force of a too-tight drag and all that line dragging through the water. Smooth is what I’m after. Add that to a sturdy high-profile handle to crank on, an easy-to-grab knob that covers the full range of the drag with one complete turn, simple left-hand to right-hand retrieve conversion, and you have a big game saltwater reel I’d fish anywhere, for any prey. www.purefishing.com
FISHPOND USA NOMAD CANYON NET
I’ve never made my peace with nets. One more thing to fiddle and fuss with, to snag on bramble and brush, to lose God knows where – plus, a prop for pratfalls and other forms of slapstick comedy that my buddy Joe Kelly enjoys more than he should while watching me streamside or climbing, with wading staff, in and out of a raft. But nets are good for fish – quicker landing time, less gripping and squeezing and other forms of manhandling for the requisite photos – and for years now our friends at Fishpond have helped make life easier with their full line of Nomad composite nets. The newest addition to the series, the Nomad Canyon Net ($149.95), fits neatly between other, shorter-handled models and those with larger baskets – a net for the trout most of us see in our day-to-day fishing, with a handle long enough to bury in belt or holster, or grab when the top of the net is hung from a magnetic tender. Like all Nomad nets, the new Canyon model is made from a light, durable carbon fiber and fiberglass composite, impervious to water and sun, buoyant as a strike-indicating bobber. Baskets feature a soft rubber mesh that minimizes harm to fish while refusing errant hook points and flies. Best of all, baskets are easily replaceable, a feature I especially like after yet another seemingly impossible stunt that leaves me nearly strangled by or dangling from my net. www.fishpondusa.com