Product Review: Airflo Super Dri Ballistic Fly Line

When it comes to fly fishing, I like to use products that I know and trust. In fact this rings true with any type of fishing. I remember a few years ago, before a beach holiday with friends, trying to advise one of my mates on what surf casting set to buy. I have a reasonably good rod, and more importantly, an exceptional reel (the Shimano Baitcaster 650). My friend however ignored my advice, and instead picked up a “bargain” set for $70.00. Rod, reel, line, and some terminal tackle. On his first cast on our first day of the holidays he got a bird’s nest, which resulted in the reel jamming. When he tried to wind in his line, the reel moved freely, despite the line being jammed. A quick inspection revealed that the internal mechanisms of this reel were made up mostly of plastic components – most of which were now in multiple pieces. His fishing on this holiday was over before it started – with the nearest tackle shop some 120 km away. It kind of reinforces the saying “no one ever complained about paying for quality.”

My first Hutt River fish. A nice little brown taking on a #12 Bead head Hare and Copper.

“No-one ever complains about paying for quality” – especially when it comes to fishing tackle.

This is a mantra I have more or less followed over the years. I use Sage rods, Simms waders and clothing, and Lamson reels, simply because they have such an exceptional reputation. Sure, they cost a lot more than other “leading brand,” but then you tend to get a lot more life out of them (especially with lifetime unconditional warranty that Sage offers).

So, for the last 10 or so years I have been using Rio fly lines. Why?, well, because when I first started seriously fishing the Tonagariro river I went into the biggest outfitters in Turangi, and asked “whats the best line for nymphing the Tongariro?,” and the Rio Indicator floating line was what I walked out with.

Now, before I go any further it probably pays to explain that “nymphing the Tongariro” involves a whole different style of fishing. This is not you delicately tiptoeing along the side of chalk-streams, casting spiderwebs from a toothpick type of fishing, no, this is hurling 8 weight lines across deep boiling pools, or fast running stretches of river in the search of “the big one” that may be lurking in the depths. To get down to where the action is requires weight, a lot of weight. Nymph rigs often have a tungsten beaded “bomb” as the lead fly whose sole purpose is to sink as fast as possible to the river bed, dragging the smaller natural or egg pattern nymph behind it. This bomb may weigh up to 1oz or more. Add to the equation a big fluffy strike indicator to the end of the fly line, so the angler can keep track of the drift, and any strikes, and you have a rather unwieldy setup. But, in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing these heavy rigs can be cast almost effortlessly across the river in search of trout.

Watching for the strike. A Tongariro-style strike indicator in action.

Watching for the strike. A Tongariro-style strike indicator in action.

A big part of being able to do this however lies in the fly line itself. So, on being told that the Rio Indicator was the “way to go” I bought the sales pitch, hook, line and bomb. Since that day I have replaced my line three times with another Rio Indicator line. This line is good. It was designed in conjunction with Rio for casting heavy bombs on the Tongariro. It comes in a nice dull green, and has a bright orange indicator tip on it, ending in a welded loop. Most importantly, it has a lot of weight forward in the line, which helps when trying to punch into a strong head or side wind. I liked this line so much, that I bought a 6 weight version for my “not Taupo” fly rod, and it works a treat on some of the smaller rivers I fish. In short, I rate the Rio Indicator as a top tier fly line.

However, a few months ago I went to a presentation by a bloke named Rene Vaz. Rene is the owner of Manic Tackle, who are now the New Zealand and Australian agents for Simms, Lamson-Waterworks, and Scott – all top names and brands whose products  I have at one point or another owned. I also knew Rene’s name from fishing magazines and books within New Zealand. He is well-known in the fly fishing community, so I was interested in hearing what he had to say. One of the other brands that Manic look after is Airflo.

Now, I know a little less about Airflo, and my one experience with their products was not good. Several years ago I bought one of their reels from the UK. It looked cutting edge, had an offset real mount, and lasted one fishing trip before the drag broke. And a quick look at this revealed this was proper broke. There was no way of tightening up from what was essentially “freespool” mode. I got wise and bought a Lamson Litespeed instead, and have never looked back.

Airflo also brought out a ridged line a few years ago, and I nearly bought one. The idea was that this ridged line decreased the contact area between the line and the line guides on the rod, thus decreasing friction and increasing distance. Sounds good in theory, right? But the issue with this line in places like Turangi (or all of Taupo) is the volcanic ash and pumice grit that has a way of getting caught in the ridges and thus decreasing the performance of the line. Thankfully I had read a number of reviews about the unsuitability of this line for the places I fish, and so did not in the end buy one.

But Rene was quite enthusiastically promoting the virtues of Airlfo’s new Super Dri fly lines. Terms such as “slickness,” “water-repellent,” and “world-leading,” were used. But more interesting Rene was talking about how he had some input into helping design the line to suit New Zealand conditions.

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Fast forward a couple of months and I am standing on the side of the Tongariro, struggling to get my line out to the piece of water I am aiming for, and constantly hitting myself with the bomb as I struggled to get my timing right. As I was retrieving my line I looked down and saw tiny cracks in the portion I held in my hand. Closer inspection revealed this was the same along most the length of the line. Essentially, it had come to the end of its life. The cracks were attracting extra friction when casting – meaning I wasn’t getting the distance I was normally getting – and they wouldn’t be helping the lines floating qualities.

I fired a quick message off to Manic via Twitter (and this is another thing I like about these guys – easy access, great use of social media, and quick responses) asking what the best line would be for nymphing the Tongariro, and got a message back the same day advising me to pick up a Airflo Super-Dri Ballistic line from Creel Tackle House in Turangi, which I did then next morning when they opened.

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Creel Tackle House has been around in one shape or another since the 1920s, and is the oldest outfitter still operating in Turangi. Now under new ownership they have now expanded to include a small cafe out the back of the shack, which does exceptional (probably the best in Turangi) coffee, and great counter food. So, not only could I get my line replaced, but I could also get that all important espresso to kick off the day.

Twenty minutes later, and the new Airflo line was loaded onto my reel, and I was heading to the river.

Airflo Super-Dri Ballistic floating line loaded up and ready to go. A nice welded loop at both ends means and easy way to change lines for those who can't afford multiple spools.

Airflo Super-Dri Ballistic floating line loaded up and ready to go. A nice welded loop at both ends means and easy way to change lines for those who can’t afford multiple spools.

So, whats the line like?…well, I immediately noticed that the line loaded the road with ease. In no time I was getting some serious distance with my cast. Now, I’m no expert when it comes to describing rod actions. The easiest way to describe it was that it just felt “right.”

The other thing I noted was how high in the water this line sits. This is one of the selling points on this line, its high-floating abilities. Looking at the line as it drifted down the current it almost looked like it was sitting on top of the water, as opposed to in the surface film. This in turn makes the line remarkably easy to lift off the water to mend, or to cast.

The line colour, while still stealthy in a light tan colour, was much easier to pick up on the water than the dull green of the Rio line, which tended to get lost against the often green waters of the river. This makes it easier to control the line to ensure a natural drift. The line changes colour behind the belly of the line, which is a good visual aid when trying to judge how much line is too much during the cast, before you end up losing power and bellying out.

So, what could be improved? Well, not much at this stage. Obviously this a new line so it is in optimum condition, how it will fear as it gets older remains to be seen. Perhaps the only suggestion I would have would be to colour the last foot of the line in bright orange, similar to the Rio Indicator line. There have been times when casting to fish in very clear water that I have not wanted to float a large indicator over the top of them. An indicator tip in these circumstances proves useful, although ultimately not essential.

So, thus far this line rates 5 out 5.

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What ever happened to the great New Zealand Fly Rod?

I grew up in a trout fishing-mad family. As a kid, my parents relocated to Taupo so my father could take up a job with the Taupo Council. The real reason for the move, however, was so that he could be closer to the lake and the rivers that he loved to fish. I  don’t remember much of those years, however I do remember the rods my father fished with. Kilwell, without exception.

Made in Rotorua, New Zealand, these were the “go-to” rods for a lot of Kiwi fisherman, and so it remained that way for a long time. When I bought my first rod as a 16 year old, it was a Kilwell “Silver Fern.” In later years, before his death, my father was living on the sickness benefit in Taupo, a permanent resident at Waitahanui Lodge, and then Windsor Lodge further down the road. He was “fishing for the government” as he liked to put it, and most days were spent either at the famous “picket-fence” or, upstream on the river itself, looking for the monster browns that frequented the river. Again, he was fishing a Kilwell rod – a 9ft, 8wt Kilwell “Lake Fly” to be precise.

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Fig 1. – Anglers at dusk. “Picket Fence,” Waitahanui River Mouth, Taupo, New Zealand

As I became more absorbed in fly-fishing I upgraded my gear. First it was a monstrous 9ft6 9 wt IM7 Composite Developments rod bought with the sole intention of fishing the big waters around Taupo. A move to the south island saw this rod sold off and replaced by my first “non-NZ” rod – a 6wt Scott S4 purchased for a steal off trademe. A move back to the North Island saw me do something I have regretted ever since – I sold the Scott in order to purchase another “big rod” for fishing Taupo (times were hard, and money was tough – to justify buying a rod, I had to sell another one). Trademe saved me, and I picked up the same Composite Development model that I had sold several years earlier. But something had changed. The rod felt awful to cast, like trying to cast a broomstick. The Scott had changed how I cast.

After several months, I bought my first real “expensive” rod. It was a Composite Developments GHR. CD, like Kilwell, is made in Rotorua, New Zealand. Back then (the early 2000s) they were picking up all sorts of awards. The GHR was being heralded as the best rod for New Zealand conditions, and was backed by a lifetime guarantee. And it had a price tag to match. As luck would have it though, an outfitters in Turangi had a bunch of them going cheap. It was becoming an obsolete model, but still a fine rod. I purchased one, a 9 ft 8 wt,…and then I purchased another from a sports store going out of business – a 6wt. The 8wt has had significant use – as 90% of my fishing is done on the Tongariro. The 6wt gets dusted off for the occasional outing when in Napier for family holidays, or the odd evening at a stream mouth on Lake Taupo when there is no wind, and I want to have a bit of fun on the big ‘bows that show up after dusk.

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Fig 2. Tongariro Brown and Rainbow taken on a CD GHR with a Kilwell Reel – the old set-up.

And then it happened. I bought a Sage.

The GHR was getting a bit tired, and I was now earning a lot more. I had become more obsessive about my fishing, and was now getting pleasure out of not only the fishing itself, but from owning and fishing with nice gear. I had often thought about buying a sage, but at over $1000.00 for a rod, it was hard to justify. Then, an overseas trip enabled me to purchase one direct from the US. Taking advantage of the high NZ dollar, and the lower cost of fishing products in the states, I managed to pick up a Z-Axis 8wt, and while I was at it, a Lamson Litespeed 3 reel. Now, I do not profess to be an expert when it comes to describing the feel of a rod, but this definitely felt more lively than the GHR. Another factor in buying the Sage was the warranty that comes with it – a lifetime, unconditional warranty. In fact, as I write this, my rod is sitting in Montanna somewhere having a cracked stripping guide repaired. It will cost me $50.00 in postage,….but thats a small price to pay.

CD also had a lifetime warranty on their rods, which was a factor in my decision to purchase the CDs that I have owned. I have used the warranty twice – once after a girlfriend slammed the tip of a rod in the car door (and not long after, became an ex-girlfriend), and once when an errant cast caused a tungsten weighted nymph to shatter the shaft. However, CD have since changed their warranty to a 5 year unconditional warranty. I am not sure what the reasoning was behind this, but I am picking it was driven by cost. Personally, I wont spend over $600.00 on a rod that doesnt have a lifetime warranty these days, so that pretty much rules CD out for me.

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Fig 3. – The new set up. Sage Z-Axis and Lamson Litespeed 2 reel, with a prime condition Tongariro Raibow.

Now, a move of locations has seen me focus back on the smaller waters. The 6wt GHR is fine, but the reel (a cheap Kilwell Genius) has seen better days. Again, I have turned to the US, and have purchased a Lamson Litespeed 2 for the smaller rod,…and now I am contemplating upgrading the rod.

Again, I find myself looking at the offshore brands for a solution. Part of the reason is they seem to be everywhere. And Kilwell and CD are conspicuous by their absence. Walk into most outfitters and you will see displays set up showing off Sage, Scott, GLoomis, Temple Fork Outfitters, Airflo, and other brands from overseas. One can also turn to the internet an access rods not available in New Zealand. One of the Fly Fishing Film Festival movies featured a film called “Reverb” about a Chicago punk-rock band who are also fly-fishing fanatics. The lead singer has gone as far as setting up his own rod business – including having the blanks custom made for him. The rods sell under the name of Flying Pig for around $200.00USD. A quick search of the internet reveals a number of very positive reviews for this rod, including this one by Field and Stream. And at that price – even if it doesnt have a lifetime warranty – then who cares?… but guess what, it does. I am seriously considering purchasing one of these rods.

So what has happened to the great New Zealand flyrod?

You might be lucky and find some CD rods in your local outfitters,….and even luckier still to find some Kilwell. But their grip on the NZ market seems to have slipped. And so has their ability to promote their products.

A quick look at Composite Developments website reveals a site in serious need of an overhaul. I – and I’m sure I am not alone – like to arm myself with some research before shelling out a considerable amount of money on new gear. Often the first place I will turn is the manufactures website. CD’s website offers very little in the way of information. It is messy, difficult to navigate, and many items lack pictures (and a picture paints a thousand words). Its as though the website is stuck in 2004.

Kilwell’s site is better, and at least there is information on their flagship rod, the Innovation II, but compared to others, it’s still pretty sparse. Take a look at Sage’s site set up to promote their ONE rod, and you will find technical data – for those who want to geek-out on details, as well as videos and other useful information.

It seems that New Zealand’s rods are being left behind. The internet is partly to blame for this. Consumers now have so much more information at their finger tips than they used to. They are no longer solely reliant on the salesman in the shop, or the ads placed in local fishing magazines. They can instead do their research first online, and make the decision on what they are going to buy before even setting foot in a shop.

Are CD and Kilwell any better or worse than Sage or Scott??, I honestly don’t know. I am not “anti” Kilwell or CD.  What I do know however is that I am unlikely to buy one of these rods again in the foreseeable future. To me, they are no longer the premium brand that they once were, and this is largely due them taking their “eye off the ball” while the other brands pushed forward with research and development, interactive websites, and aggressive marketing. I don’t know much about their current rods, because they don’t seem to be promoting them. Simple as that.

I am not sure what rod my father would be using were he alive today, but I am picking their is a high chance that it wouldn’t be manufactured by the Kilwell brand that he held in such high regard throughout his years of fishing.