Words can’t describe the feeling of connection the one has with nature when wading through water with a fly rod in hand, and for me, the smaller the stream, the more intimate that connection seems.
I was delighted to receive some kit a few months ago from Xplorer, including the 7’9’’ Guide II, 1wt (for light dry fly work), and the Guide II, 3wt Xtenda (for Euro nymphing techniques) as well as an Eclipse reel to match the 3wt outfit, along with a myriad of other little nik-naks and terminal tackle. My intention was to fish these rods exclusively on the small streams on which I guide in Counties Down and Antrim in Northern Ireland. I have since been out on numerous ventures onto my local small waters, and what a joy it’s been.
Aside from (and equally important to) the connection one has with nature when out on the water, is the connection you have to the fish. By this I’m talking about the literal, physical connection of rod and line. It’s the job of the rod to bring that connection to life, and some fly rods do it way better than others!
So how does the Xplorer Guide II fare in the “fishability” department? The answer to that is quite simple really…
THESE RODS ARE AWESOME!!!
Let me start with my opinion on the 1wt. Unlike some other ultra-light rods I’ve come across, I find it true to its rating as a 1wt. I’ve strung and cast a few different lines through it, from a Sage quiet taper 0wt, through to the Rio LT 1wt and 2wt DT lines. It casts all these lines beautifully and apart from very minor adjustments to my casting stroke and speed, the rod coped effortlessly with all three. I have kept the Rio LT 1wt line for use with the Guide II 1wt, as I feel it is the perfect match. It’s a little ‘wand’ and it really does make magic! I find myself constantly smiling while fishing this little rod and nothing can quiet compare to the feeling of a fish on the end of it.
You can almost feel every muscle in the fish flexing! Don’t be fooled into thinking that it has no power reserve though, I recently took it to my local Stillwater fishery – “Just for the craic”, as they say here in Northern Ireland – to prove what this little rod can do. I stalked, hooked and landed a few good rainbows, the biggest weighing 4 pounds, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have netted them any quicker if I had been using a 4wt outfit! In fact, this delicate rod better dampened any sudden lunges from the fish which, should I had been using a 4wt, would probably have parted the 3lb b/s tippet! The trick is to apply the appropriate amount of power to the correct part of the rod.
So, it’s beautiful, soft (but by no means a noodle), subtle and powerful lower down. What more could anyone ask for in a 1wt!
The Guide II 3wt still baffles me. Usually with any “converter” rod there is a compromise to be made. You do get the best of both Worlds – a decent dry fly rod, and a decent nymphing rod. Most other converter style rods that I’ve used were just that, and no more. Decent, but certainly not spectacular. Most were great casting rods at 9ft, but only mediocre when set up to 10ft in length, mainly to do with weight issues and the increased “swing weight”. What baffles me with the Guide II is that it’s phenomenal as a 9ft casting rod, and just as great extended to 10ft! Ideally a 3wt casting rod (or dry fly rod, if you prefer) should be light and crisp in action with a quick recovery.
The 3wt Guide II Xtenda, set up at 9ft, is just perfect as a general casting tool. Once you insert the 1ft extension, everything changes! The lower half of the blank stiffens up and becomes more “beefy” and alternative to purchasing two different “specialist” rods. In fact, it IS two different specialist rods… in one!!!
With regards to fly lines on the two different setups, simple is best. I find that the Rio Trout LT, 1wt Double Taper line matches the Guide II 1wt perfectly, the presentation achieved is super-subtle and pin-point accuracy casting is effortless. The major advantage here is that being a double taper line, I have cut it in half and reversed the rear half of the line onto the 3wt nymphing outfit. Standard fly lines are not favoured when Euro nymphing and 99% of the time the line doesn’t even meet my rod tip guide. I favour ‘longish’ French leaders (usually around 6-9 metres in length) and it is still possible to extend a few metres of the fly line beyond the rod tip if you really need to. The advantage of the 1wt DT line instead of a 3wt line (to match the rod’s rating), is that the lighter, lower diameter 1wt line is held up much easier and as a result, direct contact with the nymphs is maintained. Casting a 1wt line on the 3wt (in its 9ft configuration) is also not as unpleasant as it may seem. Just speed up and shorten your casting stroke a little and Bob’s your uncle. Under-lining a rod in this way is an often practised technique throughout much of Europe. I have found myself casting dries on this setup and easily managing a 40 foot cast where necessary. So you get 2 totally different applications, on two totally different setups, using only one line – and you’ve managed to save a few bob in the process!