Way back in the eighties, the few cheap Asian fly rods available were generally limper than a Singapore noodle and sucked more than Dracula with his Dyson. Meanwhile, the American rods of the time were just starting to get it together, but you had to be more Gates than Gandhi to buy one.
Then in the late nineties, like some kind of magic pudding made of unicorns, mid-priced brands like TFO came along with the promise of the same power and performance as the high-speed American stuff, but at a third the price. Asian rods changed from being totally useless noodles to nearly useless broomsticks unless you over-lined them or your casting abilities, if expressed as musical talent, were more Queen than Kanye. Obviously, we were on the road to cheap fly fishing thrills, but still had a fair drive ahead of us.
Now, thankfully, you really have to be pretty clueless or at least very unlucky to get any new fly outfit at almost any price that’s truely useless, and everything that’s come through my door for review has actually been quite good. Sure, I could pick differences between $200 rods and $1000 rods in build and materials, but in reality, they all seem to do an ample job on the water where it counts most. As my mate Ant Bentley from High Country Outfitters recently said: “In a market previously dominated by premium-priced product for many years, fly fishing is no longer the realm of the wealthy and elite”.
The Airflo Blade is among that new school of mid-price Asian rods that are not copies of anything as much as their own breed. Specifically, the Blade range was designed by Rene Vaz of the Manic Tackle Project as an all-rounder rod option for New Zealand and Australian trout.
With those general trout duties in mind, I test-cast the 9’ five-weight with my usual RIO Gold and Perception stiff-cored lines, WF5 and WF6 full sinking lake lines and the recently arrived Vision Tane WF5 floater. It felt settled with all and clearly doesn’t need over-lining to feel bent, though the heavier sinking line was a standout for quick, single-haul slingshot distance casts. The WF5 sinker also went really well and I can see the Blade becoming my new best friend out on the kick-boat when dredging the bottom of Three Mile Dam where the bigger fish while away summer.
The action of the Blade is well suited to bigger-water trout fishing and is robust enough to cover big water with double rigs and feely enough to flick hoppers in close and accurate along the bank.
Is it fast? sure enough, but no so fast you need to think about every haul, backcast and loop to get the most out of it. I would rate the rod fast or medium-fast were there such a grading system.
If you can cast, you can hammer away at this thing like Thor. Had it an eye, it wouldn’t blink while chucking out tight loops at the end of seventy-plus feet of line. In the hands of the more experienced, this is something of a big-distance budget rod king and would be well suited to a windy day on a big South Island river or one of those Snowy Mountains hurricanes that always seems to pop up when I go stalking the banks of Lake Eucumbene.
As the name ‘Blade’ might suggest, the build of the rod is more Transformers than tweed and is in-your-face with black wraps over a matte-black blank with thin red accents. I don’t know Rene all that well, but looking at the rod I would guess he’s a Darth Vader fan. The grip—a combination of composite and cork with a solid turned anodised alloy reel seat cut over a timber insert—looks very sci-fi and quite spiffy as well. Normally, I’m not into extrovert fly rods, but this one pulls it off.
The Airflo Blade, at a whiff under $350 is a bargain given its power, poise and the quality of the reel seat. It comes complete with a Cordura tube, an extra tip section in its own mini-tube and Manic’s ‘Quick Fix’ warranty. Blades are available in 9’ lengths from five- to eight-weight and also 9’6 eight-weight for sinking lines and 10’ six-weight for big nymphing jobs.