Reviewed this week

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ABEL

SDF fly reel

Based on the SDS (Sealed Drag Salt), the SDF (Sealed Drag Fresh) is a scaled-down version of the award-winning saltwater titan featuring similar porting and a stainless steel/carbon fluoropolymer drag system.

And just like the SDS, the SDF is overbuilt. I tested a size 4/5 – the smallest of three available models – and it has stopping power to spare (10 pounds of drag resistance, as per Abel literature). That said, the main reason why three testers loved the SDF is due to its smoothness: in/out spool rotation, drag set knob, outgoing line (at all drag settings) occurs in what appears to be a drag system sealed in a buttery bath.

This drag system is uber-smooth - think Rolls Royce on a freshly paved stretch of road.

Designers didn’t skimp on porting: lots of that aircraft grade aluminum was machined out, resulting in a strong (large arbor) spool and frame that allows for quick retrieval and quick drying of line/backing. That porting also results in serious cosmetic appeal. For fans of streamlined design, take the reel apart and you’ll note a clean, fool proof, dirt-resistant drag casing.

Few reels boast this high a level of performance, specifications and crafting tolerances. The Abel SDF is an outstanding product at every level.

Fit and finish is Abel standard.

Quick change spool.

Made in USA.

Highly recommended.

PATAGONIA

Middlefork

packable waders

Patagonia is a leader in streamlined design, and their Middlefork waders are a hallmark of that commitment.

Despite knowing that these waders were conceived and built to be ultra-light, it still doesn’t lessen the surprise of unpacking them for the first time – they’re otherworldly light.

Expectedly, materials are reduced to the bare essentials: there’s support via minimalist, adjustable and stretchy suspenders and wading belt (fitted with a secure clamp-down mechanism). The upper body is built from 3-layer, H2No high performance fabric with a waterproof/breathable barrier and a DWR finish, seat and legs are 4-layer, 4.5-oz 100% polyester, including heavy-duty scuff guards. The entire package boasts newly developed seam tape and single-seam construction (thousands of R&D hours, as per the press release – entirely evident upon close inspection).

The seamless booties are the most impressive feature. Zero in on the low-bulk, seamless synthetic rubber and you’ll immediately understand why these waders pack down to a compact 8″ x 13″ stuff sack and weigh in at just 26 ounces. The fact that they are seamless eliminates common points of failure. They are both strong and stretchy and they impressively up the level of comfort to that of a thick cotton sock. One Patagonia director described the booties as “sort of a liquid neoprene.”

Seat and legs offer a great fit via articulated flex points. Waders generally constitute large, heavy gear that you want to remove the moment your fishing day ends.  Conversely, there are moments you just about forget you are wearing these. Middle Fork waders even assist when they’re not worn: in hiking and air travel, size and weight matter, and at their most compact crushed-down volume, they’ll allow for extra backpack or luggage space. These can easily qualify as your primary waders for warm water wading, or just a second take-a-long pair for when the temperature makes an unexpected turn upward.

If you’re carrying a camera or PCD, the interior TPU-welded, a waterproof pocket rounds out this outstanding package.

Finally, step back to consider everything that Middle Fork waders offer, then factor in pricing and you’ll quickly realize that they constitute one of the best wader values currently available.

Highly recommended.

UMPQUA

Dream Stream Plus

7-Piece tying tool kit

“Whatever you do, don’t buy a packaged kit!” So goes the usual refrain when one enquires about what tools to get when entering the world of fly tying. I couldn’t disagree more.

Mostly, I think, this has to do with the mistaken impression that if it’s prepackaged, it must be of inferior quality. Not so with this innovative tool kit by Umpqua. All the basic tools needed to tie your own flies (save for the vise), are included in this practical, compact carrying case.

The first thing that stands out when opening the case the unique texture and finish on the tools. Whereas most other maker’s tools have smoothly finished handles, Umpqua has designed this series with a textured diamond pattern coated in a luminescent blue anodized finish. Pick one up and you’ll find that they have some heft to them. They balance beautifully in your hand, and thanks to that textured finish, your hand can remain relaxed, as it should be, as you perform the detailed work of attaching fur and feathers to a hook. 

Made from surgical grade Japanese stainless steel, the kit includes a bobbin, bodkin, whip-finisher, threader, 2-inch hair stacker, hackle pliers and 4-inch scissors with micro-serrated blades (the box label incorrectly lists them as 5-inch scissors). The first 4 have a small knob protruding from the base to keep them from rolling off your tying surface. The tools are neatly organized in a quality black foam insert. You may eventually need, or want, to add other tools to your stable, but these are definitely keepers.

Highly recommended.

reviewer: Nick Cefaratti