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Scientific Anglers Sharkskin Magnum
A Product Review By Joe Cornwall

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It’s a rare event when a fly line becomes the talk of the industry.  Lines simply don’t carry that level of panache.  For the most part, it hasn’t happened since Scientific Anglers introduced the first Air Cel line back in 1954.  Today the same company that can be credited with introducing the modern fly line to the angling community, an achievement that has had the most profound effect on the sport since the invention of fiberglass, is back. Scientific Anglers has reclaimed the spotlight 55 years later with the Sharkskin Fly Line.  In particular, I was given the opportunity to evaluate the Sharkskin Magnum, in a 6-weight configuration, which is the newest of the Sharkskin selection of fly lines.

 

A lot has been written about this line of… well… lines.  Since its introduction at the 2007 Fly Fishing Retailer trade show much of what’s been written has focused on the nearly unprecedented price of this super-premium fly line.  The Sharkskin retails for $99.99, some 20% to 35% more than nearly any other competing premium product.  But to talk about price necessarily dictates talking about value, as the two are intimately intertwined.  In the words of Warren Buffett; “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”  Thus no discussion of the price of the Sharkskin is valid unless it is accompanied by a detailed understanding of the product’s deliverables.

 

There are two major attributes that will determine the short-term performance of a fly line; the nature of its taper, including mass and profile, and the nature of its surface including its “slickness” and vulnerability to changes in temperature.  The ability of a fly line to keep performing season after season is a function of the toughness of its coating and the nature of the bond between core and covering.  Much of what the Sharkskin line does is grounded in these objective parameters.

 

From a marketing perspective the key feature seems to be the line’s ability to shoot for the moon.  Experienced anglers are likely to agree with the sentiments of James Oppenheim who said; “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet.”  Distance sells, but it doesn’t necessarily catch fish!  Never the less, much of what is being said about the Sharkskin line revolves around its ability to delivery the long ball.  In this regard there is a strong analogy between the technology seen in competition swimsuits, like the Speedo LZR, and cutting edge fly lines like the Sharkskin.

 

A fly line’s purpose is simple to define; it must deliver a nearly weightless fly to a target with accuracy and deliberate delicacy. This short job description is deceptive.  The product needs to balance stiffness and specific gravity with strength and durability while adhering to extremely tight manufacturing tolerances.  It’s not easy to make a good fly line and there’s a lot there to lose sleep over if you’re the engineer responsible for building what appears to be a simple length of cord. 

 

The Sharkskin fly line is named, quite deliberately, in reflection of the nature of its texture.  Like the skin of a real shark, the Sharkskin fly line has a unique feel based on a suface geometry that delivers some important performance advantages.  “Scientific Anglers Sharkskin technology is a precise texturing process that embosses the surface of the fly line coating with a repeating geometric micro-pattern. The finished surface is no longer smooth, no longer exhibits unwanted line flash, and can be optimized via the engineered shape, depth, and frequency of the pattern to yield greatly improved line-to-water floatation, casting performance, and overall line suppleness and durability.” 

 

Floating fly lines should do precisely that; float.  Many times they don’t.  In fact almost every fly line I’ve ever used tends to exhibit “tip sag” in the water.  The Rio Gold, until now, has been one of the best with the tip always staying right at the meniscus and not causing a loss of control on the drift, or worse.  Well the Sharkskin may have bettered it.  According to the Scientific Anglers white paper; “The micro-texture greatly increases the upward meniscus force through a combination of the water’s interaction with the new surface and the trapping of air into the valleys of the texture. The result is an over 200% improvement in resistance of the line to be forced into the water… effectively improving “floatation” of the line significantly beyond anything that can be achieved through the addition of glass bubbles or surface chemistries.“   Truth in advertising is a rare thing, but the Sharkskin performs precisely as advertised.

 

Finally, I like the line’s color and brightness.  It’s easy to see, but it’s not shiny.   If you fish for carp, more than virtually any other species, you’ll come to love this aspect of the Sharkskin.  The line doesn’t flash in the air and spook fish.  Again from the S.A. white paper; “The micro-texturing process virtually eliminates surface glare, the finish is completely flat.”

 

The Sharkskin Magnum weighed 92 grains at the 15- foot mark inclusive of the very short tip. This is a close-in cast, but one that’s not unusual in bass fishing.  Often I’ll find myself having to make repeated, accurate short-distance casts to tight cover.  There is a very short, level tip, a 4-foot long front taper, and then a straight length of casting head that gradually increases in weight proportional to length somewhat like a delta line design.  This makes for a great roll-casting line, especially one that’s a bass bug taper!

 

At 30-feet I found the line to come in at a chunky 182 grains.  Exclusive of the level tip, the AFFTA standard places 6-weight fly lines in a range of 152 to 168 grains.  Because I measure the weight inclusive of the tip, my weight might even be just a little less than the standard method of measurement would show (if the tip is 1-foot long, my measurement sacrifices one foot of the casting-head of the line).  At 35-feet, which is close to the end of the back taper, the full weight was 208 grains.  There’s a linear build-up of mass along the length of the line which, again, contributes to its outstanding roll casting and mending capabilities.  At its measured weight, the Sharkskin Magnum 6 falls directly into the weight range of an AFFTA 7-weight fly line classification.

 

Weighing the first 45-feet of the line, the Digiweigh scale read 238 grains, which is a near ideal 9-weight load.  The rear taper is abrupt enough (the entire head length is specified at 37-feet on the Magnum 6) that I wouldn’t want to try to aerialize this much line in a false cast.  But if you shoot line into a back-cast and haul on the forward, this line will launch itself like a rocket.  The Sharkskin Magnum is a fairly aggressive bass-taper line.  The longest length of this line that should be false cast with the 6-weight version of this line is about 35-feet.  Total head length on the Magnum series varies from 33-feet on the WF4 to 45-feet on the WF10.

 

Appropriately, I spooled the Scientific Anglers Sharkskin Magnum on a vintage Scientific Anglers System 8 fly reel (made by Hardy) and used the combination on a wide variety of rods. Amongst others, I fished the line on the Scott Warmwater Special, an Orvis Silver Label 906/4 mid-flex, a vintage Berkeley PD40 Parametric 8-foot 6-weight, a McFarland Spruce Creek 8-foot 6-weight, a Browning Silaflex 322980 and a vintage Garcia 2404.

 

On the Scott 806/3 Warmwater Special, the combination was positively addictive.  The heavier-than-standard line loaded the rod perfectly.  Snake-role and single Spey casts, as well as simple overhead casts either with or without mends, were easy to execute and control.  With the 8-foot fly rod my maximum useable casts were approximately 70-feet, roughly the same as most other premium lines.  What I found unique, however, was the line’s suppleness. The Sharkskin is the most “silk-like” fly line I’ve ever used that wasn’t silk!  And it maintained this suppleness in water temperatures from 55 degrees to 80 degrees!  This is a truly amazing property. Real silk lines can cost upwards of $250 and nothing made of plastic, including the Berkley Sylk, comes even close.  I have a "real" silk 6-weight fly line and the similarities are spooky. Here we have a thoroughly modern line with no special maintenance needs and it's running neck-and-neck with the classic at about half the price!

 

For those who like vintage fiberglass, the Sharkskin and the Berkeley Parametric were an enormously successful combination.  The rod has a reputation for being a cannon, but I was never able to get it to feel comfortable in my hands. The Sharkskin loaded the rod (rated as a 6/7) with authority.  It was love at first cast. The Browning too, a 6/7 rod, benefited from the aggressive taper and easy casting performance of this hot, new line design.

 

The McFarland Spruce Creek, while acceptable with the Magnum, didn’t have quite the same level of synergy.  The Spruce Creek is more a 5/6 fly rod and the Magnum, being a true 7-weight fly line, presented too much mass.  I wish manufacturers (both rod and line) would be a bit more attentive to the AFFTA published standards.  And I wish AFFTA would be a bit more proactive about keeping those standards standardized!  If you have a fly rod that really wants a true 7-weight fly line, the Sharkskin Magnum 6-weight is it.  If your 6-weight fly rod, on the other hand, really wants to see the 160-grain load of a proper 6-weight fly line as does Mike McFarland's accurately rated rod, you might want to step down one size.

 

Two areas of performance often commented upon are the sound the line makes and the abrasive character of its finish.  Yes, the line sounds like silk.  You’ll come to love the “zing, zing” through the guides.  And yes, you’ll rub your trigger finger raw if you strip a lot of line.  Don’t worry about your guides, even the softest snake guides are far tougher than a fly line and the possibility of wearing a groove into a line guide is remote even for someone who fishes 100 days a year.  Also, I found no evidence of the surface of this line picking up detritus from the water, this line got no dirtier – even in heavily stained Midwestern flows – than any other fly line I use.  A quick pass with a facecloth and soapy water, followed by a clean water rinse, is a ritual that will keep any line performing at its best.

 

So what does all this mean?  Is the Sharkskin really worth $100?  Is it really that good?  In a word, yes. The Scientific Anglers Sharkskin is a development in fly lines that breaks new ground and defines the current state of the art.  The last 5% of performance is always the most expensive, and that’s just what this line is delivering. It’s amazing in its suppleness under all temperature conditions, leading to great control in mending and roll-casting.  It’s dependable in its ability to float and stay floating.  Its ability to deliver the package at long range is the equal of anything available.  Finally, its ability to perform with delicacy and precision, even in a rather coarse taper designed for large flies and demanding conditions, is exemplary. 

 

I think Sharkskin technology will find its greatest synergy in trout-sized double-taper lines where its strengths are most palpable.  The Magnum, however, isn’t a trout line.  It’s a bass taper, and it works really well in that capacity.  In fact, it is the best creek smallmouth line I’ve yet used.  On lakes and ponds I might not be as enthusiastic because its formidable strengths wouldn’t be nearly as important there, but for those of us who practice the sport on flowing water the Sharkskin is ultimate.  It is the best fly line extant. If value is, after all is said and done, what you get, then this fly line offers real value.  Highly recommended!

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