Bobs 690C Carbon Fibre Fly Rod Review
So this obviously looks like a jackup, those that know me know that Bob Wyatt and I are good mates - and although he lives about 3 hrs away, we try to fish together regularly. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case this season - workload and a busy schedule have conspired against my attempts to hookup with Bob.
We did fish together for a day or two at the start of the season - and Bob took a shine to the new fly rod we were about to release - So I left an Epic 690C (Carbon Fibre) with him to test out.
About 3 months later I received an email from Bob, totally unsolicited. Here’s the opening paragraph:
“I fucking love this rod! Had it out on the middle mataura yesterday, no hatch to speak of, very few fish rising to whatever. Gusty cool westerly put paid to the spinner fall we expected. I just ran a skinny no-hackle snowshoe with a hare's ear/seals fur body and managed to catch the three fish I cast to. So it wasn't great fishing but the rod just made it for me. I've never cast so smoothly in my life, lovely feel throughout the stroke, dead accurate, and plenty of grunt when you hook up.”
Bob had all sorts of great feedback - but due to the amount of expletives and colourful language there wasn’t much that could be repeated - at least not publicly.
So, I asked Bob for a full, honest and formal review - something that I could publish.
So, here it is. You’ll obviously temper this with the fact that Bob is an old mate. But also consider that Bob is not one to pimp gear (he never has), he’s been fly fishing for over 60 years and has purchased a new fly rod (at least one) every year - or at least every year that I’ve known him. Lastly, folks that know Bob will also know that he’s not one to talk shit - at least not about fly fishing.
The Epic 690-C, carbon fly rod:
In my opinion, outside of a custom job by a top rod builder, this is undoubtedly the best made fly rod on the market. Certainly steps ahead of the other high-end 'production' fly rods on the market. Because fly rods make up such such a tiny portion of the fishing tackle industry, all the high end rod makers tout their products as more or less hand crafted. This is true. There's just no way to finish a high quality fly rod through some kind of mechanised process. It takes hand work. Hand work takes care, and time. On the cheaper rods, usually made in Asia, this shows. Low cost components put together with little quality control. Not that you can't get a decent rod for very little money these days, but you won't get a really fine instrument like the Epic 690-C. So for those anglers with an eye for quality and fine craftsmanship, as well as value for money, you need look no further. There is no detail overlooked by the two full-time rod builders at Epic. No assembly line here. The build on this thing is superb.
The first thing you notice, and feel, is the grip and reel seat. Both are exceptional. The quality of the cork is outstanding, there is no better out there, and Carl McNeil promises that this is going to get even better. He's got a line of the best cork available, smooth and fine, and very 'squeezable', with no sign of the extensive filler found on all other high end fly rods. The distinctive grip shape grabs your attention. I love the size and feel of the full wells grip. Grips that are too narrow cause me to squeeze too hard and at the end of a long day I can feel it. The Epic full wells nestles comfortably in my hand and the palm swell is perfectly situated. The Epic full wells has a unique, thoughtfully designed rather than traditional, look to it. 'Form follows function' here beautifully.
I've got a thing for reel seats. Most of us who have been around the track do. There are some beautiful custom seats out there now, but the Epic remember is a 'production' rod. The Epic seat is a robust, all metal, all machined job that really looks and feels the business. Over the past few decades, high end and custom rods usually sport a decorative wooden barrel insert, usually of some rare-ish species. Personally, I always go for the all metal type, always black, normally double locking. The Epic has a single screw lock up, but its rock solid. The threads on the uplocking seat look look a tad long behind the reel, to my taste, particularly with the cork butt added, but this is nit-picking on a very fussy level and is only apparent with a small diameter reel. With my Abel Super 6, for instance, it looks perfect.The extended length with the 'fighting' butt keeps the reel out of the dirt, which, after all, is its main function. The cork butt on the Epic is the nicest I've seen. The handle cluster is finished off with a beautiful metal, not plastic or rubber, ring that matches the reel seat and discretely displays the rod serial number. A nice touch, and its these details that add up to a high quality rod. The whole thing has a beautifully designed, no-nonsense look to it.
The guides are the best there is: titanium strippers with Silicon carbide inserts and Snake brand snakes and tip ring. All in black. There's a Bugatti thing going on here.
For the past forty years, like most of us, I've been in love with stiff fly rods. They kept getting stiffer and faster, and they couldn't get fast enough for me. Recently, the top end rod makers have been offering softer, gentler, more 'fishable' actions. Maybe its because al lot of us are getting older and our pace is slowing a bit, but a lot of young anglers have been taking the slow lane as well. One reason is, simply, that the stiff rods are too hard to bend. They lack the cushioning feel of the classic medium action and demand a fine tuned sense of timing and a sophisticated stroke. The Epic 690-C, and it's little sister, the 590-C, have been a revelation to me. It combines a lightening recovery speed with a sexy, smooth as butter feel that you just don't get with the usual gun fly rods.
Carl has brought his casting expertise (IFFFMCI) and 'fishy' designers sensibility to bear in the Epic 690-C. As a Certified Master Fly Caster and fly rod nut, he knows what's required to get both crispness and feel out of a rod, not to mention good looks, and he's done it here. (all the techy specs are available on the Swift website). Until I got the Epic in my hands I regarded the Sage One as probably the ultimate casting machine, and believed it too. No mistake, the One is a serious rod. There are others of course, all good rods and some great, but the Epic is a game changer, and I'd put it up against any of them. I've had a minor revolution in my thinking. With the Epic I'm getting pretty much the same distance and all the handling capabilities of the One 691, but achieving it with less punch, and way more pleasure. One reason is Swing-weight. Despite a much tougher and solidly built reel seat, the Epic feels ounces lighter in the hand than the Sage One 691. While the Epic blank itself is lighter, it has a thicker wall than the Sage. It isn't that much, I suspect, but the extremely narrow blank on the Epic makes the Epic feel like a five-weight, or the One feel like a seven or eight weight, almost ponderous, by comparison. The build quality, I must add, doesn't compare.
The big thing for me is the smoothness of my casting with the Epic. I've adjusted my stroke, throttled back on the power a bit, and out it goes, just as far and with no choppiness or tip bounce. Roll casting and single speys are a doddle with the Epic, the mid-to tip action loads up beautifully and with plenty of grunt as it begins to lock up just below the half way point. With a 'medium-fast' action like that you'd expect some noticeable swing weight and tip bounce, but the Epic is lightning fast and crisp as a crisp thing, recovering to straight in an in an eye blink. With a decent fish on, the rod really comes into its own, the lower sections have loads of reserve and while you can feel every throb of the fish out there, right into your hand, the rod is hooped in a perfect classic progressive parabola. That's great fly rod design. The thicker wall of carbon cloth allows extreme over all thinness in the blank, but gives it incredible strength. It looks so delicate and fragile, but it’s deceiving. Although you don't want to push its limits - it is a carbon fibre rod after all, not glass - I found myself doing things with this rod I wouldn't dare with any of my other rods - I've had more than a few rods explode on me while landing fish.
Casting, line management, fish handling and, best of all, the build quality - the Epic 690-C is the nicest carbon/graphite fly rod I've ever used. End of story. Now to get one of those sweet little 590s.
- Bob Wyatt. Author, Angler, Artist, IFFF Certified Casting Instructor
- Carl McNeil