ROD REVIEW – EPIC FASTGLASS 888 FLY ROD

Recently I was given the opportunity to test an Epic Fastglass 888 fly rod made by the Swift Fly Fishing Company. Swift is based in Wanaka New Zealand and sells premium quality fibreglass and carbon fibre rod making kits and studio built fly rods. The studio built rods are handcrafted and made-to-order.

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Like many anglers I learned to fly fish with fibreglass rods and while the traditional rods were often heavy and sloppy to cast they metamorphosed into something special once a fish was hooked. A beautiful shock absorber to cushion the tippet from the lunges made by the fish. If it were possible to improve the cast ability of a fibreglass rod and retain how it comes alive when playing a fish then the rod would be a joy to use. Could the Epic Fastglass 888 do this?

My interest was originally piqued by the statement made by Swift Fly Fishing that the Fastglass 888 was not “your papa’s fly rod” and the unidirectional S-2 Glass fibre from which it was constructed was truly something special. They claim that:-

“Epic fibreglass fly rods are unique in that they were the first, and still one of the few, production rods in the world to be constructed using a fully unidirectional S-2 Glass fibre material. Even today, most fibreglass fly rods are constructed using older E-Glass material – And of course that old school glass feeling is a very real part of the affection many anglers have for ‘glass’.

Unidirectional S-2 Glass is a modern composite material that exhibits high damage tolerance, high tensile strength, high flexural strength and is extremely well suited to advanced fly rod construction. Modern unidirectional S-2 Glass is primarily used in the construction of wind turbine blades, helicopter rotor blades and militarily aircraft. The  Sikorsky Helicopter Corporation even have a patent on it’s use. We use it in our fly rods for the very same reasons.

With the majority of fibres running longitudinally – where they are needed most – we can produce fly rods that are not only very strong but are very light and have faster recovery speeds than conventional E-Glass or even standard S-2 Glass. In short, because our FastGlass is so strong we can use less material, this gives us a very strong blank that is light and extremely responsive. Epic FastGlass fly rods still exhibit the full flexing feel, strength and casting goodness of fibreglass, but without the associated weight and that ‘Noodle’ feeling we all know”.

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I thought it would be interesting to test the Epic Fastglass 888 alongside my “papa’s old Kilwell Customline 52-114 (9’6” 2 piece #9 weight) to see how the two compared. Back in the day the locally manufactured Kilwell Customline series were arguably the best fibreglass fly rods available and what most local anglers aspired to own. This is what I found.

BUILD QUALITY

The Epic Fastglass 888 arrived in a unique natural glass rod tube with metal end pieces. Everything about the tube and presentation was robust and oozed class. Upon undoing the knurled end cap it was clear, as I carefully removed the robust and cleverly constructed cotton rod bag, that the company had  focussed a lot of attention on detail.

This was reinforced as I carefully pulled the pieces from the bag. The blank colour was a truly distinctive golden yellow and perfectly complemented by yellow Japanese silk wraps with a single thread wrap of black across the guide foot. The butt stripper guide was different being wrapped in orange with a wider grey band to contrast. The guides themselves were of a high quality and perfectly aligned. The large tip guide and two high profile stripper guides showed that the rod was built by a company that understands what is important. The thread wraps were coated with the correct amount of protective epoxy. Not too thick and overlapped nicely.

Moving down the rod to the cork handle was a revelation as the cork quality was stunning. Arguably the best quality of any of the high end rods that I own (including Sage, Scott and Hardy). Good density with minimal filler. One thing that was especially pleasing was that the handle diameter was slightly larger than usual at 26.6 mm. Larger handle diameters have a positive influence casting shape so it was evident that the rod maker knew what they were doing. Below the reel seat is a small cork butt section tipped with a composite cork butt cap to improve longevity. Click on the following link if you want a more detailed explanation of the effect of handle shape on casting efficiency:- https://activeanglingnz.com/2015/08/14/cork-rod-handle-design-shape-and-circumference-is-important/

Below the cork handle was one of the most robust and functional reel seats I’ve seen. The seat was triangular in cross section but heavily ported to reduce weight and there was a single uplocking nut to hold the reel in place. The reel seat sits flat on one of the triangular faces so there is no opportunity for it to spin during use. Originally I was in two minds about the single locking nut but it never even looked like coming undone in many hours of fishing so I am now convinced that it is precisely engineered for the job and fit for purpose.

The ferrules are tip over butt and are internally reinforced for strength. There are locating dots for alignment but, as is often the trend nowadays, no hook keeper.

The only fault I could find in construction (and it took an awfully long time to find it) was that one of the alignment dots was about 0.2 mm too close to the female ferrule when the rod was assembled. Not critical but it does show just how well made the rod was. In summary, the Epic would have to be one of the finest built fly rods I’ve ever handled. 10 out of 10 to the rod maker.

Comparing the Epic to the two piece Customline with chromed Swiss ferrules would be unfair due to the advances in technology over the past 45 years. The difference though is massive.

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CASTING PERFORMANCE

I would have to admit that I was nervous as I threaded up the Epic Fastglass 888 to fish in the salt at my local estuary. I’m used to 9’6” medium-fast to fast action graphite fly rods and was concerned that if the rod flexed too much then I’d end up catching the oyster clad rocks behind me.

Well a funny thing happened. The rod does flex deeper than a graphite rod but somehow you feel the flex more intuitively, relax and immediately compensate your casting stroke to account for it. The Fastglass 888 is a joy to cast and surprisingly I’ve not become intimately acquainted with the oysters at all. Accuracy at short, medium and long distance is very good and it takes minimal effort to load the rod and cast long. I can probably cast the fast action graphite “cannons”another 10’ further but the reality is that in most situations it is unnecessary to do so.

The Fastglass 888 is very well balanced in the hand and consequently it is easy to fish with for long periods of time. I measured and weighed all of the Fastglass sections and calculated the swing weight at 106 which is phenomenal given that the rod weighs 30 – 40 grams more than a fast action # 8 weight graphite rod. For the record, most  graphite fly rods have swing weights between 75 and 100 so you can see that the Fastglass 888 probably sits at the low end for a fibreglass rod. As an aside, I tried to calculate the swing weight for the Customline but it is not possible as the balance point is in front of the cork handle due to the use of chromed grass Swiss ferrules.

Compared to the 45 year old Customline 52-114, which cast like I was flogging a carpet with a bungee cord, the Fastglass 888 is a revelation. I can totally see why anglers are rediscovering Epic fibreglass rods and falling in love with them. The Fastglass 888 definitely is not “your papa’s fly rod”. Far from it!

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How did the Epic Fastglass 888 perform with a fish attached? When a kahawai did take my fly and head towards the sunset the memories simply came flooding back. The rod came alive and did an excellent job of taming the fish and protecting the tippet. It was a tremendous feeling. Very addictive.

Would I buy the Epic Fastglass 888? Yes and I have. Get your hands on one and take it for a flick. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

If you want to learn more about the Golden Dorado rod that was reviewed above click on:- https://swiftflyfishing.com/collections/special-edition-fly-rods/products/ltd-edition-golden-dorado-888-fastglass-fly-rod

To visit the Swift Fly Fishing Company website click on:- http://swiftflyfishing.com/?aff=7

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