When I first moved to Indiana, I did what any dedicated surfing fly fisherman from the West would do. I moped around and felt sorry for myself. Of course, as a father I sometimes do things I should do, even if I don’t want to do them, and I didn’t move to a “fly-over State” for my own sake. But that’s beside the point. The point is: I found myself in a trout-less, wave-less land that held very little appeal for me.
Hoping to ease my woes, I began looking for local fly shops, because I knew all-to-well that there weren’t going to be any surf shops here. To my dismay, the only fly shops (or even “Big Box” shops) I could find, were in the greater Indianapolis area. Which meant a drive of one-and-a-half to two hours one way.
“Great!” I thought to myself sarcastically.
For awhile I occupied myself with learning the local waters and the joys of warm water fishing, which is something I had basically avoided until this relocation. But eventually I made the trip to check out the fly shops “up north”.
One of these shops quickly became a favorite, and I wasted no time in spending some of my hard earned money there. Winston, Hardy, Scott, Sage, Orvis, Abel, well, you get the picture. If you want it (and even if you don’t) they probably have it, including bamboo rods from a local Maker. Yep, the real gem that lay hidden in this barren wasteland was a local Maker of fine bamboo rods named Randall Fridlund.
Randy operates as Amabilis Rods, and I have transacted business with him on a number of occasions. As such, I will be the first to admit that this “review” is going to be favorably biased. But that’s as it should be, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t true or factual.
Simply put, Randy makes a fantastic rod, and I have never been let down in my expectations. I’ve gotten rods from him “off the rack” and I’ve had him make exactly what I was after.
The latest rod I received from him is a 6′-3″ 3 weight 2 piece, with two matching tip sections. Or in the shorthand so many of us know and use: A 633 2/2. This rod is an adaptation of the venerable Paul H. Young “Midge” taper, and was selected on the hope that it will handle 3 and 4 weight lines should the need arise. It certainly does just that, and I’m happy casting lines that fall within the standard AFFTA line ratings from 2 through 4, though the 2 weight lines require some line out and a bit more effort on my part to perform. Randy adapted the taper to specifically cast three weight lines, and they are certainly a joy to cast and fish with this rod. But if you like a little slower action, and/or are fishing shorter distances, the four weight lines are also wonderful. For my money though, a 3 weight, or “heavy” 3 weight line are where this rod really shines. Currently my preferred pairing for it is a Cadno DT silk line that weighs in at 102 grains. A Scientific Anglers Mastery Trout DT 3 is also a great match for the rod.
This is the first rod I’ve ever owned that had a wood grip, (birds-eye maple in this case) and I’m not sure I’d order another one. Not because of any sense of inferiority or functional issues. In fact, having used it now for awhile, I’m convinced that in some ways it’s superior to cork. Especially from an aesthetic or “wear” point of view. It doesn’t suffer from the indentations and “gouging” that can occur with cork. (At least it isn’t as easily damaged, or showing wear.) It doesn’t accumulate “grime” like a cork grip does, and it easily cleans up with a simple wipe. Additionally, being finished with tongue oil, a quick wipe with some oil can bring the finish back to “like new”. It’s actually a fantastic grip, and I’m not unhappy with it at all. I just prefer the feel of cork beneath my fingers, and that’s probably because it’s familiar and what I’ve always had, not because I think it’s better. So this isn’t in anyway a criticism or indictment of wood grips. I’d recommend them highly, as long as you understand that they feel different, and you may or may not like the feel.
Speaking of feel… One of the reasons I went with a wood grip was to test the theory that they don’t dampen vibrations like a cork grip, and should (in theory) provide more feedback (sensitivity). Maybe a scientific instrument, or someone much more competent than I can feel (measure) a difference, but I truly didn’t find it to be the case. It isn’t really any better or worse than a nice cork grip when it comes to providing feedback. At least it isn’t for me.
The other issue often cited as being a negative with wood grips is the supposed increased weight they have. I don’t know what the actual numbers are because I didn’t weigh my grip and compare it to a comparable cork one. But my little rod doesn’t feel heavy at all, and even if there is a weight increase, it is located right under my hand. So any impact it may or may not have is way beyond my abilities to detect. My rod feels every bit as lively, light, and sensitive as one with a cork grip.
One of the things I love about this little grip is how Randy shortened everything up and allowed the grip to flow into the reel seat. There isn’t a “step” from grip to seat, and since it is all wood, the seat itself is shorter than normal because it borrows space from the grip. The whole thing is only 8 inches from butt cap to winding check.
Randy makes that winding check, and typically all the other reel seat hardware. But in my case, I specified a pocketed butt cap, and that’s something he needs to outsource. Otherwise, the hardware would likely have all been made in-house.
For the blank itself, I requested a blonde as opposed to a flamed rod. I know flamed rods seem to be the fashion these days, but I guess I’m a bit of a sissy, because my favorite color has always been yellow. But loud yellow wraps on a rod just seem wrong, and especially on a bamboo rod. I also have a predilection for elegance in my belongings, so Randy sought to give me both. The result, as you can clearly see from the photos here, is a rod that is light in tone, with an understated elegance and an appealing playful simplicity. I have rods that are much more elaborate and arguably more elegant (See two of them here: Sisters) but I do not find their aesthetic any more appealing to me than what Randy has pulled off with this rod. My wife would disagree with me on that, but none of these rods are my wife’s, nor are they ever likely to become so. In short, I believe Randy could not have executed this color scheme more effectively or more to my liking. About the only thing I can think of that might improve on it (but might also ruin it) is intermediates. But that’s only because I’m a sucker for a rod with intermediates.
The PHY Midge is generally considered to have a somewhat parabolic nature, and I guess I can concur with that appraisal, though I’m never quite sure what that really means. So rather than get into semantics and/or debating what constitutes a parabolic rod, I’ll simply state that the rod has incredible power for such a tiny wand. You can cast a few feet and it just does it without complaint. As you add more line, it just adapts to it, and before you know it, you’re casting to the far bank that you’d typically use a much longer stick for. It’s as versatile a short rod as I’ve owned, and can probably make a believer out of many “long rod” enthusiasts that would typically dismiss any rod under seven feet in length as a toy.
That being said, it does require that you cast to its tempo and not try and power it yourself. If you are one of those casters that powers a cast, you likely won’t get along very well with my Midge. At least not once you’ve got a little line out. In close you’d likely be just fine, but when reaching out, you really need to let the rod do its thing.
A fish on is as fun as you’d expect in a light sensitive rod, and I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed in the feedback you receive from this rod. But it also has surprising backbone, and I wouldn’t hesitate to fish this rod where the occasional big fish might be taken.
In summary, I believe that the PHY Midge taper is simply superb. It is very different from other small rod tapers I love (6’8″ FET, or Dickerson 6611 for example) but it is probably the most versatile of the short rods I’ve owned. And being a short rod enthusiast, I’ve had a few, so perhaps that is saying something.
Irregardless of the taper, qualities, or aesthetic you might desire in a rod, I think you can see that Randy has the skills and knowledge to execute it. He doesn’t toot his own horn, and he seems happy enough to allow word of mouth to advertise for him. That and the occasional landlocked surfing fly fisherman that happens across his workmanship in a fly shop. But even the ads you might see here he didn’t ask for. I just thought that for donating a bamboo rod to the Dry Fly Guy Gear Giveaway, and for the support he has provided me over the years, he should be given a little consideration for his efforts.
So if you are looking for a new stick to play with, please consider contacting Randy. I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed if you do.
Here’s a link to take you to him: Amabilis Fly Rods