B.C. Boat and Sportsmen's Show
Early Season Stillwater Success

By D.Ryan Pohl

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day fly fishing one of our interior lakes with Lamiglas prostaffer Phil Rowley. If you recognize Phil's name its probably because his many articles and photo's have graced the pages of such magazines as : American Angler, Fly Fisherman, Fly Fishing, and Fly Tying to name a few! However, anytime I get to fish with someone who gets as excited about hatching chironomids as I do, it's a pretty safe bet the fish gods will be shining down.

After we powered up at the Home Restaurant in Hope we hit the Coquihalla. As we pulled up to the toll booth we were greeted in the distance by clear blue skies.

We arrived at the lake at about 10:00 am. and were surprised to see it flat as a pond. We quickly put the boat in and made our way over to the "spot". Phil had talked to "stillwater guru" Gord Honey before we had left and he had suggested a good place to start. On our way over we noticed a number of swallows working the shoreline. We decided on our spot and quickly anchored up. Phil opted for an intermediate line and one of his shiner patterns. I selected a WF-6 in floating and tied on one of my never fail bead-head leeches.

After about two hours of casting and retrieving with only two weeks to our credit, it was time for a new plan. It wasn't much of a plan however because the chironomids were hatching everywhere, so we moved up the shoreline about two hundred yards, attached a couple of indicators and chose our weapons.

Since we were anchored in only 5 ft of water we adjusted our indicators about 3 ft. above our flies and each made a cast. Phil hooked-up first, after I was kind enough to point out that his indicator was down! It was a plump little "Blackwater" bow. About 16 inches long. We were excited because we now had a sampler. Phil quickly grabbed his esophagus pump and got a quick sample and the fish was released unharmed.

As we suspected the fish had started feeding heavily on chironomids, most of which ranged in size from #18 -2x to #14 - 2x. I looked above us and there was easily 200 swallows feeding on emerged adults! Our next casts resulted in an almost simultaneous double-header.

My fish went left and Phil's right, which was bad mainly because they were both about 6 lbs. and totally uncontrollable. My tippet parted and while I tied on a new tippet and fly, Phil's fish got tangled in an old fence that was partially submerged, (snap)!

My next few casts had similar results so I finally stepped up to 8 lbs. tippet and began landing some fish, some of which were hogs. For the next few hours it was a fish a cast and I quit counting after twenty.

A truly exceptional day for so early in the season. On the way home we kept re-playing fish hooked and fish lost scenarios. If that day was at all indicative of what the stillwater season holds, then make sure you've got lots of flies tied!

Level-wind Reels
How the popular models perform

For freshwater river anglers, the levelwind baitcasting reel seems to be the standard reel of choice. Almost every reel manufacturer makes at least one model of level wind reel, sometimes with several variations and quality levels of the same reel.

For this article, we asked 100 angles which level winds they preferred or would like to own and we came up with 4 main answers: Shimano's Calcutta, Abu Garcia's Ambassadeur Ultra Cast, Zebco's Quantum Iron & Daiwa's New Millionaire. We approached each company and they gladly supplied us with a new model of each for the test, along with a matching 10'6" drift rod. Then we put them to the test on the Big Qualicum River on Vancouver Island, our quarry being the plentiful October run of coho.

It was very difficult to concentrate on the performance of the equipment as the fishing was fast and fantastic. The coho were all in the 6-14 lb class, and fresh from the ocean as the Big Qualicum Hatchery is only 2 km from the ocean. With multiple hook ups and takes on almost every drift, we really put the reels to the test, here's what we found:

The Zebco Quantum Iron level wind reel is a very solid product. The name Iron is very suited to this reel because of the anglers we talked to in regards to their favorites, the Quantum Iron had a few good stories. One angler has said, "I was hiking into the Chehalis River canyon last winter and my spare Quantum Iron reel slipped out of my vest pocket and went tumbling and smashing down the side of the cliffs to the gravel bar down below, about 100' down, I was sure it was history. When I got to the reel, I picked it up and to my surprise, other than a few little scratches on the finish and a small nick out of the end cap, the reel wasn't damaged. I gave the handle a few turns and it wasn't even bent. I took the Iron off my rod and put the spare on and decided to give a cast to see if it would still function casting and drag wise. To my surprise and delight, the Iron casted as smooth as ever and upon hooking and landing an 8 lb steelhead on that same cast, the drag system wasn't even fazed."

When we put the Zebco Quantum Iron to the test on the Big Q, we found the same results. The casting drag adjustment was fine enough to keep the reel from back lashing on short and long casts and the star drag adjustment was sensitive enough to keep smooth drag applied to a fish without that "jerking" that happens with the cheaper drag systems of low quality level winds when you have to lighten down a bit on a larger fish.

On a Low - Middle - High end scale, we rate the Zebco Quantum Iron as a Middle end product with a low - middle end price. This reel retails at approximately $160.00 Canadian funds depending on the model you purchase and is a good quality product for that price.

From the anglers we talked to for this comparison test, we heard words like Cadillac, silky, oooh.....expensive. Well, our opinion is you get what you pay for when it comes to Shimano's Calcutta series level wind reels. Obviously from some reactions, this is a higher priced product but for the ardent angler, it's a necessary piece of equipment.

The Calcutta comes in a variety of shapes and sizes from a 150 series right up to the 700 series. The model we tested was a 250 which is well suited to smaller rivers with pocket water or short runs, perfect for the Big Q.

From its gold anodized finish, to its fine edged casting, the Calcutta is a thing of beauty. On the Q, we hooked and landed a 14.5 lb coho still covered in sea lice. This fish hit hard, fought like a train, and ran like a stream in spring freshet. The drag system on the Calcutta handled it beautifully on one setting. We never found it necessary to adjust the drag differently for different sized fish, nor did we have to adjust even once, the casting drag adjustment. As far as problems with backlash...non. We were quite easily able to cast light and heavy weights with barely any thumb controlling on the cast. You simply have to try one to see what we mean. Ergonomically speaking, the Calcutta was one of the most comfortable reels to use.

The Calcutta series reels vary in retail depending on your area and make and model. For the 250 we tested, the average retail price is approximately $260.00. We rate this reel as a high end product with a middle-high price point.

Again, amongst the anglers we talked to regarding level winds reels, about 50% of them all mentioned Abu Garcia Ambassadeur reels. For over 20 years the Ambassadeur line of reels from Abu Garcia have been the most widely used level winds on B.C.'s freshwater rivers. I don't think there was an angler that we talked to that didn't mention Ambassadeur.

For our test, we were supplied with an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Ultra Cast from Pure Fishing. Pure Fishing is the company which encompasses Abu Garcia, Fenwick, Coleman, Berkley, Red Wolf, Johnson, Mitchell, Spider cast and Spider line.

The Ultra Cast is a beautiful level wind reel. The matt-silver finish along with the light grey handles and casting bar and the chrome strip finish make it a nice piece of equipment. The Ultra Cast family also comes in a variety of sizes for different applications as well as being available in left or right hand retrieve, depending on the model.

What we found impressive about the Ultra Cast is the instant antireverse. This is a term used for the mechanism which keeps your retrieve constant even from an at rest or non-turning state...you have to try one to see what we mean. Most models of level winds reels have picked up on this feature but the Ambassadeur reels seem to have it mastered. The line capacity is excellent, which makes casting a breeze. The casting drag adjuster was the best of the reels we tested, having a fine thread adjustment that never became too tight or too loose with use.
The Ambassadeur Ultra Cast we tested retails at approximately $189.00 - $229.00 depending on the size and model. We rate this reel as a high-end product with a middle price point.

Daiwa has come back to the level wind market with an old favorite that has a new look. The Daiwa Millionaire is regaining its once popular status as the reel of choice for river angling. Some anglers may remember the old blue finish reel, while the new one sports a bright anodized and matt gold finish.

The Daiwa Millionaire is a great level wind reel for the angler who has used a level wind reel before, but hasn't mastered it yet. It is very simply constructed for ease of use, and ergonomically is a very comfortable reel. As well as being an attractive piece of equipment, the Millionaire is gutsy as well. One of our better anglers putting the reels to the test was easily into over 20 coho on the Millionaire in one afternoon and this is what he has to say..."This reel was so comfortable to use, I didn't even notice it was there...and that's saying something. I never had to fuss with the components, nor did I have to look to find any of the adjusters while playing a fish, everything was right where it should be and the drag system was quite good for the price point of the product."

The Daiwa Millionaire retails at approximately $139.00 depending on size and model. We rate this level wind reel as a middle-end product with a low price point.

There are hundreds of level winds to choose from out there, and depending on what application you need it for, you could have one for every size and species of fish in the world. But that would probably be just a tad ridiculous. There are a lot worse and a few better level winds reels available on the market today, but the reels we tested are the favorite, most widely used models by BC freshwater anglers. (In the opinion of the 100 anglers we talked to). The manufacturers of these reels have designed them so that you can choose a make and model suited to the size of fish and water you are fishing to make your choice easier. As well, when making your purchase, discuss what application you need the reel for with your local tackle retailer, they have the knowledge to put the right product in your hands.

As for our opinion, each reel in this comparison would suit any application we could think of with an assurance of quality and performance suited to BC freshwater fishing.

Flyfishing All Categories
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15. Fly Spaced Out Flyfishing, Flys Feb 2011
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17. Fly Casting Flyfishing, Technique Jan 2011
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19. Fly The Steelhead Nightmare Flyfishing, Flys Jan 2011
20. Fly Koenig's Alevin Flyfishing Jan 2011
21. Fly The Pink Worm Flyfishing, Flys Jan 2011
22. Fly Black Egg-sukin' Conehead Leech Flyfishing, Flys Jan 2011
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24. Fly Fishing for Salmon Jul 2008
25. Gravelwalker Flyfishing, Salmon, Steelhead, Tackle, Trout Jun 2008
26. Black Spey Salmon, Steelhead Jan 2008
27. Tying the Green Butt Skunk Flyfishing, Steelhead May 2007
28. Don't Forget the Little Guys Flyfishing Apr 2007
29. Six Important Fly Patterns for B.C. Success Flyfishing, Tackle Apr 2007
30. Large Central Interior Lake Rainbows on the Fly Flyfishing, Trout Apr 2007
31. Bug Eyes Apr 2007
32. Early Season Fly Patterns Flyfishing Apr 2007
33. Early Season Fly Strategies Flyfishing Apr 2007
34. Chironomid - Fly of Choice Flyfishing Apr 2007
35. Flyfishing Destinations of British Columbia Flyfishing, Salmon Apr 2007
36. The Hemoglobin Emerger Flyfishing Apr 2007
37. Early Season Stillwater Success Flyfishing, Tackle Apr 2007
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40. Tying the Chaunigan Carey of Pheasant Flyfishing Apr 2007
41. Fly Fishing Steelhead a “Spring Primer” Flyfishing, Steelhead Apr 2007
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43. Tying a variation of the Kitimat Kombo Flyfishing, Steelhead Apr 2007
44. Tying the Green Chum and Pink Flies Flyfishing Apr 2007
45. Tying the Egg Sucking Leech Flyfishing Apr 2007
46. Tying the Christmas Tree Fly Flyfishing Apr 2007
47. Tying the Kitimat Kombo Flyfishing Apr 2007
48. Tying Manny’s Minnow Flyfishing Apr 2007
49. The Pink Solution Flyfishing Apr 2007
50. Knot Tying Flyfishing Apr 2007
51. Trolling a Fly with your Spinning Rod and Reel Flyfishing, Tackle, Trolling, Trout Feb 1999
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