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Diamonds and Sylk

By Joe Cornwall


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It was Terry Pratchett who said “Sometimes glass glitters more than diamonds because it has more to prove.”  I can only imagine that Terry wears his trademark large, black hat to protect his noggin from the errant cast of a fly rod.  Imagining that Mr. Pratchett is both an accomplished fly caster and a brilliant author is more than my mind can handle, so I envision him trying hard not to toss a tailing loop.  Of course it’s possible that Pratchett doesn’t fish at all, but being bright, successful and witty I have to assume he has at least one shortcoming.  Fly fishing must be it.  Further, I also imagine that he would grab first for a Diamondback Diamondglass rod, both because the educated trout of England’s chalk streams demand such refined tackle and because Diamondglass has proven itself.  In the 21st Century fiberglass had better prove itself - it has more to prove. 


The Diamondglass GLR-663 was destined to be mine.  Only fate could have made a purchase happen so easily.  The phone rang.  I answered it.  Tim Wise of the Stillwater Bass Club was on the other end.  He’d called to invite me to speak at a SBC event to be held at the local Gander Mountain sporting goods store later in the month.  I agreed without hesitation (you don’t say no to Tim if you want to know the current hotspots on the Stillwater).  That’s where fate played its hand. 


Gander Mountain sells the Diamondback line of rods, and had several Diamondglass models in stock and marked down.  After a successful presentation, the manager of the fishing department took a few moments to say hello and exchange pleasantries, which included pressing a 6’6” 3-weight gem of a fly rod in my hand for a waggle.  My heart skipped a beat.  He smiled and mentioned something about the rod selling for $100 below list.  My heart skipped another beat.  A few minutes calculation, a quick mental inventory – "I don’t own a 6’6” 3-weight, so I need this" was how it went – and I committed.  Of course one can’t buy a new fly rod and not get a reel and line for it.  I’d recently spied a classic Pflueger 1492 complete with sculpted pillars and round line guard at the local shop.  The shop was on my way home.


Well, I stopped at the Rusty Drake on the way home and purchased the reel.  I mentioned to Tom that I had the new rod and that the reel would look perfect on it.  “You’ll need a new line – the Sylk line is a great match.  I think I have a DT3 in stock.”  He did, and I was well primed to say “yes.”  “YES.”  “Hell YES.”  I got the line, too.  I didn’t even blink when he held up the furled leader that would bring the package together in one shining moment of piscatorial perfection. 


It only took four days for me to sneak the rod, reel and line into the house.  My wife has eyes in the back of her head.  And she doesn’t trust me when I come home from a presentation at a sporting good shop empty handed.  If I was thinking things through I would at least have brought in the bag with the leader.  Another week went by before I had the time to set up the rod.


The Diamondglass GLR-663 is a two piece S-glass rod.  The Diamondback company says "Diamondglass rods are magnificently finished in black gloss with highly polished rosewood reel seats and stainless chrome guides with a hialoy insert in the stripping guides" and for once the advertising copy is dead-on. The rod is beautiful.  The cork grip is perfectly sized for a small rod without being uncomfortable for an average hand (I wear size 'L' gloves) and the quality of the cork is inspiring.  Like a fine European sports sedan, this little rod is perfectly proportioned and functionally elegant.


The very first time I cast the rod-reel-line set-up I knew I was onto something special. In the early spring the water is cold and the air is cool, but the anticipation is always hot.  I wasn’t able to fish, so I found half an hour to stop by a small duck pond in the local park. Casting without water is like barbeque without beer, I can only handle it for so long.  Strung up and wet I found the mustard yellow double taper capable of magic tricks in my barely competent hands.  Roll casts to 25 feet were accurate and easy.  A roll cast pickup brought the fly straight up and out of the water as though it were launched from a miniature submarine missile silo.  Overhead the little rod showed the guts to handle a double-haul cast. I even held some 40 feet of fly line in the air for repeated false casts.  Here was the shortest fly rod I had ever cast and it was behaving like an old friend.  I couldn’t wait to feel it thrum with the vibrations of a fish!  A week is all I waited.


Rush Run is a 38-acre impoundment in southwest Ohio that is managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as quality panfish water.  Twice a year they even stock put-and-take trout.  Loaded with standing wood and rich in deep water, Rush Run is the ideal home for a canoe, kayak or float tube.  It’s far too small and obstructed for anyone to even consider dropping a big motor and until last year it was rated for electric trolling motors only.  Now, gasoline motors to 10hp are allowed.  Way to go, guys…  I arrived on the water shortly after 8 and had the canoe rigged and ready in minutes.  With water temps in the lower 60’s I knew the fish would be shallow, but not on the ceiling.  I tied on a size 10 weighted Crackleback Wooly Worm. 


Pre-spawn bluegills have a unique take.  There is seldom a tap.  Or a stutter.  Or a twitch.  In my experience the fly simply stops.  On minute you’re twisting a slow, smooth figure-eight and the next the line is tight.  That’s how the first fish came.  And the second.  And the third.  The Diamondglass made every one of them feel like a champ.  The soft, full flexing design never had me worrying about the 2lb test fluorocarbon tippet, while the light weight of the petite rod let me feel every bulldogging tug. 


All was not sunny and delightful, though.  Shortly after I’d started fishing I noticed that I seemed to be working very hard to deliver the fly the requisite distance to the shoreline.  It seemed as though the rod couldn’t quite develop the speed to propel the line with an air resistant fly attached.  It was a while before I realized that the problem was in the line, not the rod.  A quick switch to an Elite reel and WF3 Orvis Wonderline had me back in business with effortless casts and more than adequate line speed.  I determined to clean the Sylk line of whatever I’d contaminated it with and return again the following week.


I cleaned my new Sylk line with soapy warm water and rinsed it with clear water. Nothing seemed amiss and nothing spotted the cleaning cloth to indicate contamination.  I didn’t dress the line with any floatant, after all it was brand new and nearly unfished.  I did reverse the line, though.  A couple weeks later and I found myself on Rush Run again.  The results were the same.  The Cortland Sylk line stuck to the guides like lint to a sweater.  It was supple.  It floated well.  It rolled a path in the sky like I drew it there with a marker.  But it wouldn’t shoot.  I wrote an email… to Cortland Customer Service.  Two days later I got this response;


Dear Mr. Cornwall,


Thank you for your e-mail requesting information. We were sorry to hear of the problems you had with this line. We did have one batch of the 444 Sylk fly lines that did get slightly sticky with use. However, this issue has been corrected and is something that we monitor very closely. Please return the line to us for inspection and possible replacement. Please return it to the address at the bottom of this e-mail.


Please let us know if you have any questions.


Again, thank you for contacting the Cortland Line Company, Inc.”


My first reaction was one of skepticism about the "possible replacement" part. Send it to us and we'll decide what to do about it isn't generally the customer service oriented answer I look for. Plus I got to pay for the line and then to pay shipping and wait on something that shouldn't have been broken to begin with.  My hackles were raised.



I fished the Diamondglass with the Orvis line and Elite reel some more.  They worked well together as a casting system.  When compared with my 2/3-weight Performance rod, built on a graphite Pacific Bay 7½ -foot blank, the DG was slower and softer in the tip.  The DG bends into the lower half of the rod while casting at normal distances, the Performance rod remains firm until the upper third of the blank.  The graphite rod also feels lighter in the hand, perhaps startling so considering the fractions of an ounce in physical mass we’re considering.  But for all its material advantages, the carbon stick simply couldn’t communicate “life” to the same intensity as the glass rod.  The Performance/Pac Bay felt quickly responsive and rapier-like; the Diamondglass felt more in tune with the timing of my cast and more like an extension of my casting arm.


Three weeks after I sent the questionable line to Cortland I received a replacement in the mail.  It was a fresh Sylk line.  There was no packing slip, no explanation.  I honestly didn’t expect one.  I’d taken this problem through an unusual route; most purchasers simply would have taken the line back to the fly shop.  I’d gone direct as a kind of experiment.  A test.   Cortland passed, marginally.  While not exactly setting the record for obsequious rapid response, the company did what I’d asked and replaced the line with a new, verified model of the same design.  I was quick to saddle it up, this time on a Pflueger 1492DA of slightly newer vintage.


I’ve since fished this combination for bluegills, rock bass, crappie and trout on moving waters and still. I’ve fished hackled dry flies, traditional wet flies, emergers, bead head nymphs, small cork poppers and soft-hackles.  I’ve used furled leaders and hand-tied monofilament leaders. 


With flies up to a size 8 wet or a size 10 dry, I find the rod to be a more-than-capable performer out to 40 feet.  I don’t like forcing the shorter rod to work at longer distances; line handling and mending become especially challenging for me.  Inside of 40 feet the Diamondback fiberglass rod delivers the goods, though.  Reach casts, curve casts and stack casts are all easily executed and there was plenty of power to control the process.


The Berkley Sylk line is ever so slightly thinner and denser than the Orvis Wonderline.  I didn’t take a micrometer to them, so this is a subjective opinion only.  To me, the Sylk line feels like a sinking line feels during the cast.  Only it floats.  I won’t say that I can cast better with a Sylk line than I can with a Wonderline –  or any quality line for that matter.  But I will say that the Sylk line feels different.  You may like it. I do.


Together the delicate Diamondglass rod and the supple Sylk fly line dance.  This is a great combination.  Even my wife likes it.  She eventually noticed it and I told her it was a surprise.  I told her the rod was a perfect fit for a a lovely lady and that I was only thinking of her.  I think she believed me.


Editor's Note: The Diamondglass series of fly rods was discontinued by Cortland in 2006. Rods are occasionally available on the used market and are well worth watching for.

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