Fishing the Older Gentlemen

F.E. Thomas Bangor 8’6″ 3/2 Dry Fly Rod made in 1939

Sunshine and wind, its a bright blustery morning in the Catskills! I call this an improvement over yesterday’s 2 1/2 inches of fresh snow and dark foreboding skies. Now if that wind would just dial it down a bit…

I was outside playing the line game: trying a variety of fly lines on a classic rod, one of the “older gentlemen” I enjoy fishing. It was the history of fly fishing that drew me first to the Cumberland Valley and soon after to the Catskills, and I truly enjoy connecting with that history through a classic fly rod.

The line game passes the time outdoors, and it is productive when you seek to maximize the performance of an older rod. The Thomas I was working with dates from 1939, a lovely old Bangor. The simply appointed Bangor was Thomas’ lower grade rod, though the bamboo and craftsmanship is every bit as fine as the higher priced Specials and Browntones. That is one of the things I like most about both Thomas and Granger rods, the fact that the working man could afford one without accepting any compromise in quality or performance.

This Thomas is a 5 7/8 ounce, fast dry fly rod, and it is most effectively cast with a 6 weight line. The line game is a necessary function of the fact that these older rods were all designed to cast the braided silk fly lines available in those time periods. Silk lines were much smaller in diameter than modern plastic coated fly lines and thus the snakes and stripping guides on classic rods are much smaller than those found on modern rods, either bamboo or synthetic. The significantly larger diameter of modern lines means more air resistance too.

When I first acquired this Bangor, I tried a few DT5 lines which proved to be far too light. WF 6 and a WF7 line were next on the block, with the seven being a bit too much, though the rod cast that line just fine. Narrowed down to a six weight, the task becomes finding which six. I tried a couple of lines that worked but failed to make the Bangor “sing”. That’s my own term, appropriate as the effect is immediate when you hear a singer versus noise.

The last time I thought I had this rod ready to make music, I had decided that a DT6F 406 brand fly line I had was going to be the winner. These Montana made lines use modern materials and classic tapers and are favored by many anglers fishing cane. That 406 was a great line and the Thomas liked it, but it didn’t sing.

Today I tried a Wulff Triangle Taper line in WF6F, the line that makes my Wright & McGill Granger 9050 sing, and then a Scientific Anglers Mastery Expert Distance line in WF6F. Again, both cast very respectably, but the diameter seemed to be holding back the music. I moved to a Cortland Sylk in WF6F and think I may have found the answer, though I want to try a Sylk DT6 to be certain. The 20+ mph wind gusts make it harder to judge the rod’s performance.

To some people, this may sound like a lot of effort, particularly if you understand that all of these lines would cast to 60 or 70 feet on my Bangor. Its worth the effort though when you find “the line” for a classic rod. Fishing the larger Catskill Rivers most of the time, I like to have the ability to easily reach out and make a fine presentation at 80 feet comfortably, as there are times you simply cannot approach closer. If I need to exceed that, as can happen with early season high flows, I am relegated to graphite.

I won’t encourage anyone to go out and buy half a dozen new fly lines to experiment with a favorite bamboo rod, certainly not with lines hitting $100 and more these past few years. Thankfully the Cortland Sylk and original 444 peach colored lines, as well as the 406 lines are significantly more affordable. Borrow a line or two from a friend for a little backyard casting. You’ll like the music!

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