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The Return of Hardy Glass - The Trout Fisher

Review and Photos by Joseph Cornwall

 

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In the world of sport fishing there are very few companies that have spanned the turning of a century more than once.  In America the only company with such a history is Orvis.  In England the company name is equally iconic; House of Hardy.  Hardy is one component of the multi-faceted Harry and Sheldon Group, a corporation with diverse interests including real estate and investments, composite materials development, electronics manufacturing and sporting goods.  William Hardy, a gunsmith, originally founded the company in 1872 in Alnwick, Northumberland.  Shortly there-after, in 1873, William’s brother John joined the company.  Hardy began offering fishing rods with William’s participation.  Initially a side business, the first Hardy rods were made in the traditional manner of lancewood, hickory and greenheart construction.  By 1880 the first Hardy bamboo rods appeared and gradually fine angling products displaced the gunsmithing operation.

 

Hardy continued to prosper, converting to a munitions manufacturer during World War II.  By the late 1940’s the post-war population was anxious to resume fishing, and the tackle trade flourished. Hardy continued to dominate the British angling goods industry.  All was not well for the rod-building companies, however.  A1950 embargo on trade with China included Tonkin cane. Many manufacturers could not make the transition to synthetic materials and one by one closed their operations.  Always dedicated to maximum performance and quality, Hardy faced the same difficulties in obtaining quality Tonkin cane as rod makers everywhere.  But the first synthetic rods, manufactured from the fiberglass materials forged in the crucible of wartime innovation, were taking the industry by storm.  Hardy, as was its tradition, would lead the way.

 

J. Kennedy Fisher, and American manufacturer, was producing some of the finest fiberglass fishing rod blanks available.  Fisher had as its advisor a famed member of the San Francisco Casting Club, Jon E. Tarantino.  Using Fisher as a springboard, Tarantino found himself designing fly rods and fishing rod blanks for Fisher, Scientific Anglers and Hardy.  While working with Hardy, it became evident that shipping Fisher blanks back and forth from the United States was an untenable solution.  Hardy contracted with Fisher to duplicate their production plant in England.  The result was the legendary series of Hardy fly rods known as the Glaskona and the JET series (for Tarantino’s initials). 

 

Fiberglass remained an important material for fly rod construction until the late 1970’s, when graphite began to provide a viable alternative.  Graphite is stiffer, lighter and in some ways stronger than glass.  By the end of the decade the writing was on the wall.  By the middle of the 1980’s fiberglass as a fly rod material was all but dead.  The last fiberglass rods made at the Alnwick factory were the Hardy Perfection and the little known Zephyrus, introduced in the late in the 1990’s.  But the death of fiberglass proved to be premature.  If you’ve been reading Fly Fish Ohio for any length of time, you know that I’m a big fan of fiberglass for rods that need to move a line at lower speeds for a more stealthy or accurate presentation.  Glass, in many ways, does things graphite cannot. And because of that, glass is now making a come-back.

 

Hardy has introduced a new line of fiberglass fly rods for 2009.  There are five rods in the line-up, and they are something special.  The selection includes the Aln, a 5-foot 2-weight, the Brooke, a 6-foot 3-weight, the Stream, a 7-foot 3-weight, the Test, a 7 ˝ - foot 4-weight and the Trout Fisher, an 8-foot 5-weight.  It’s the later, with its MSRP of $399 that’s at test here, but the entire line-up has serious “curb appeal” and an interesting back story.

 

Hardy Product Manager, Howard Croston, explains; "Glass fibre has been largely ignored over the last twenty years in favour of lighter and faster carbon fibres. It's true that carbon is a superior material for lots of rod construction purposes, but not all. Adding glass to the mix gives the rod incredible durability and resistance to impact - making it ideal for the toughest fishing on back-country rivers and streams. By mixing glass to carbon we have achieved an easy loading, smooth action, with controlled, well damped recovery. The easy loading nature of these rods makes them sensational. They allow short range, controlled presentation with the absolute minimum of fly line beyond the tip ring. For the light, stream angler working in the tightest situations, Hardy Glass is the perfect choice.

Built in China, these new Hardy Glass rods are much like the earlier Zephyrus rods in that they contain 10% carbon fiber to increase hoop strength. This hybridization of glass and graphite is a technology also used in the TL Johnson series of fly rods. The similarity ends there and, considering they’re rated for the same lines, the TLJ and Hardy rods couldn’t be more different.

 

I first saw the new Hardy at the Cleveland Fly Fishing Expo, an event sponsored by the North Shore Fly Fishers, in January of this year.  At the end of the show Dave Rousch, the owner of Whetstone Fly Fishing Outfitters, slipped the rod into my hand.  “Hey Joe, why don’t you take this with you and give it a try,” he said with a sly smile.  “If you like it, buy it.  If it’s not your game, just send it back up to me because I’m getting one for my personal use anyway.”  I love shop owners who know how to push my buttons!  New glass, no pressure, a nod and a wink that say “this is really something you don’t want to miss” typically end up with me sneaking something new into the house while my better half sleeps.  I’ll go to my grave insisting I’m not a gear whore, but you can draw your own conclusions.  It’s a free country, after all!

 

Standing there in the show hall, booths being torn down all around me, I was immersed in the soft action, the deep, rich olive color and the soft, fine feel of the grip.  The snow was piling up outside and I knew it would be more than a few weeks before I’d be able to put the Trout Fisher to the test.  Even through all of this, the rod had connected; on an emotional level I was sold.  I wanted this to be a great fly rod, and it took the deepest reserves of my inherent skepticism to remind myself that holding and wiggling a fly rod at a show, under the unfishable conditions of a Cleveland winter, was not a logical way to come to a defensible conclusion.  The rod would have to wait for its trial by fire – or water, as the case may be.

 

The winter of 2009 has been long, cold and barren of fishing opportunities for me.  It would be two months before I’d have a real chance to do any more than cast the rod in my back yard.  A business trip to Dallas offered the opportunity I needed when Les Jackson offered to host me on Kee Branch, his home waters.  For its maiden outing I paired the lovely Hardy with a warhorse reel, a vintage Ocean City 76 with the infamous “silent drag.”  The reel was filled with a Scientific Anglers double-taper 5-weight floating line.  I selected the reel because, in my backyard testing, it perfectly balanced the weight of the rod, providing a fulcrum point directly under my index finger.  Beyond this I think the reel looked great in combination with the rod.  But the road to perdition is paved with the best of intentions, and my partnering was off. 

 

Hardy has one of the more unique reel seats in the industry. A two-piece affair, the lower capture for the reel foot is a hood, secured with two screws on each side.  This leaves the butt cap extending about an inch from the reel; enough to protect it when you put the rod on the ground to string up the line.  The upper capture is a traditional slip ring.  The reel seat fits my Orvis Battenkill reels, my Pflueger Medalists (old and new), my Hardy Marquis (of course) and most other reels just fine.  But the OC was a bit too thin, and under the torque of constant casting I found the reel working loose.  It wasn’t a huge problem and if I insisted on using the OC with the Trout Fisher I could remedy the situation in seconds by simply adding a strip of felt tape to the bottom of the reel's foot.  Certainly this challenge says more about my fascination with gear old and new, and it’s unlikely to be a legitimate concern to 90% of the folks contemplating this rod.  I mention it only for the sake of completeness.

 

The Hardy Trout Fisher will not fully reward its owner if it’s matched with the lightest available reel; it takes a bit of weight to bring the tip of the rod  to as lively and responsive a feel as its capable.  In the hand I found it to feel more massive than the McFarland Rod Company Spruce Creek and even a tad bit more so than the TL Johnson.  It shares this attribute with the Scott 754/3 fiberglass rod, another fine tool that delivers more mass than its svelte appearance suggests.  Match this rod with a solid mid or large arbor reel (or a nice “old school” machined standard arbor) for best results.  The Orvis Battenkill 5/6 (left) balances acceptably, but its just slightly lighter than perfect.

 

The cigar grip on the Trout Fisher is nicely shaped, slim and comfortable to the hand. The quality of the cork is good, but not great, with an acceptable number of voids and valleys for a fly rod at this price point.  The finish of the grip is very good and the machining of the rings and seat is well beyond adequate, but not nearly at the level of jewelry.  This is clearly designed to be a fishing rod, and not ultimate eye-candy.

 

Another interesting idiosyncrasy of the Trout Fisher is the ferrule plug.  I don’t own any other rods that come with a ferrule plug.  This is a feature that’s been a part of Hardy rods for many years.  The sculpted plug is made from machined aluminum, and the internal rod sock features a little, tiny Velcro-closed pocket in which you can store the ferrule plug while the rod is in use.  This is a nearly unprecedented level of attention to detail for a stick that sells for under $400!

 

The finish work on the Hardy glass is beyond practical reproach.  While not perfectly flawless, it’s certainly up to any reasonable expectation for a production rod.  When I compare this rod with my Redington RS4, for instance (also made in China), I find the Hardy's finish to be a bit glassier with thinner build-up and a cleaner final application.  The guides are of good quality and the markings on the rod present a very chic package.  The Trout Fisher looks as good as its pedigree suggests it should.

 

One of the more unique and striking aspects of the Hardy glass rods is the rod tube and sack.  The Hardy rod tube features a varnished, sculpted cork stopper (!) instead of a screw cap. The entire rod tube is outfitted with a form-fitting sock complete with a drawstring closure at the top.  It’s a very classy package.

 

Fishing the Hardy Trout Fisher is eye opening.  The rod is quite different from the TL Johnson, with which it shares some technology.  Both are 8-foot models and both are specified as a 5-weight rod, but the similarity stops there.  The Hardy is equally different from the McFarland Rod Company Spruce Creek model.  One is reminded of the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  "This fly rod is too fast!" Goldilocks might have exclaimed after casting the TL Johnson.  “And this fly rod is too slow," she may have said upon waving the McFarland.  Certainly Goldilocks would have followed true to the tale and, after casting the Hardy, proclaimed "Ahhh, but this rod is just right."

 

The Hardy Trout Fisher is a rare rod in that it begins its cast from the middle third of the rod.  The tip is stiff enough to provide ample control and power.  The butt is strong enough to win the battle.  But it’s the middle that delivers the finesse. And finesse this rod has - in spades! Rated for a 5-weight line, the rod is matched perfectly by a true AFFTA 140 grain 5-weight fly line.  I found a double taper to be an excellent choice.  The Trout Fisher doesn’t feel like this should be so, it feels “wiggly” and softer than its rating.  This is a characteristic of fiberglass.  In fact, the Trout Fisher will happily cast a 6-weight line, albeit with a less authority than the western-minded TL Johnson.  Still, don't overlook the possibility of over-lining the Trout Fisher to deliver slightly more air resistant flies in close quarters.  Think "hopper-dropper" in a good sized creek.

 

I love the way the Trout Fisher handles a roll-cast.  It is certainly one of the better contemporary designs in this respect, and is on par with the suave McFarland.  I believe it to be a shade better than the slightly shorter Scott 754/3.   In the cramped quarters of Kee Branch, I often needed to place the fly quite precisely on a seam, 30 to 40 feet out, to tempt one of the resident green sunfish.  The Trout Fisher drove the fly line with a level of control reminiscent of Maestro Juan Manuel Fangio in his 1957 Maserati.  And like Fangio, the Hardy seems to embrace a philosophy of ‘winning at the slowest possible speed'.   The effect is addictive.

 

There’s plenty of power to deliver a fly at distance, too.  50-feet isn’t a problem. Nor is 60.  I think the rod might reach its limits beyond this, The rod isn't designed to produce the kind of line speeds necessary for those long distance applications.  70+ feet was unattainable on anything like a regular basis in my hands.  Then again, those who’ve seen me cast would consider a dependable 70-footer from me to be the fly fishing equivalent of a holy apparition - if you see it more than once you should probably prepare for the rapture!  Coming back to reality, if you need to fish at 60-feet and beyond you probably shouldn’t be shouldering a gun as light as an 8-foot 5-weight - or you should be carrying a high-line-speed rifle.  Within the realistic range of 10 to 50-feet the Hardy Trout Fisher performs at a level far beyond 'competent'.  The Trout Fisher most certainly won’t be the choke-point of practical fishing performance.

 

The Hardy Trout Fisher displays a rich, liquid Yin to the sharp, nearly sterile Yang of most similarly-rated graphite rods.  Should you consider the Hardy if you already own a graphite 9-foot 5-weight?  Of course you should (references to my proclivity towards gear-whoredom may be appropriately uttered at this point).  The two are designed for very different applications.  Rods designed to cast higher-mass, lower velocity fly lines, like the Trout Fisher (and most other bamboo and fiberglass fly rods), are the perfect tool to move and control flies from the very, very small to the meaty, beaty, big and bouncy (with my apologies to The Who) at short to mid-distances under typical conditions.  A 'tactical' graphite rod with extra fast action will trade the "short and mid" part of that description for "mid and far."  And the typical fast graphite fly rod will also have a size or two smaller upper limit on the fly size when compared to an equivalently rated glass rod, in my experience.

 

The House of Hardy has gone where few manufacturers dare in today's marketplace.  They've created a practical, pretty, and well-thought-out solution for presenting realistically sized flies (to size 4) accurately and delicately, and then beating the fish that's fooled.  That capacity alone makes the Hardy Trout Fisher an important addition to the avid fly fisher's tool kit.  Add in the rod's good looks, impeccable pedigree and reasonable price and you get a strong, competitive solution. This is an excellent fly rod for "swung" fly techniques and precision top water presentations.  Very highly recommended!

 

For more information or to find a dealer near you, visit Hardy on-line.

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