Interview With Two-Hand Fly Fishing Expert and Winston Field Advisor Jim Britton

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WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND WITH WINSTON AND YOUR TWO-HANDED CASTING EXPERIENCE?

Since I was about 6 years old, someone from Winston had visited our Steelhead lodge in northern British Columbia on part of the Skeena River system almost every year. Since then, I’ve been using Winston rods and have been exposed to their evolution. Back then almost everyone used longer single-handed rods in 9 ½ or 10 feet when fishing for steelhead.  It’s only been over the past ten years or so that people have really begun to use two-handed rods more than single-handed. I began two-handed casting almost exclusively about 20 years ago as fisherman were beginning to come to the lodge with two-handed rods so I wanted to learn all about them.

WHERE DO YOU FISH FOR STEELHEAD PRIMARILY?

I fish primarily on the Bulkley river in Northern British Columbia for steelhead. That said, I fish the entire Skeena River system, the Nass River system, the Kitimat, and many others. We have endless fishing opportunities here in northern BC.  In the fall, I’ve either fished or guided almost every day, every year for the past 20+ years – since I was 6.

HOW WERE YOU INVOLVED IN HELPING IDENTIFY THE PROPER LINES FOR THE NEW BORON III TH SERIES RODS?

I was approached by David and Annette to give some feedback on what I thought the best lines were for the new Boron III TH Series rods along with a few other experienced two-handed Winston Pro Staff casters in the Northwestern US and Canada. Because I loved the Boron II Two-Handed rods so much, I said I would be more than happy to help however I could.  So one spring day last year, soon after the rivers were open, I went with another guide up here in the Bulkley Valley and we cast all the final prototypes. We gave our feedback on which lines worked best with each rod. And as you know, matching the rods with the correct lines and grain weights to help load the rods properly is probably the most important thing with two-handed or Spey rods.

IN TERMS OF LINE MATCHING, WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO FIND THE PERFECT LINE FOR A TWO-HANDED ROD?

I think it is important to find the right line for any rod. It doesn’t matter if it’s a single hand or a two hand.  The perfect line match makes everything easier- whether it’s the cast, the line control, the distance…the right line makes everything easy. The weight of the line helps load the rod, and maybe because two-handed rods are longer, finding a line that loads the rod perfectly is critical to shooting the line the way you want so that it isn’t a struggle. So, if you find that casting isn’t easy – and these new TH rods do cast easily – then you probably just don’t have the right line with the rod for your casting style.

SPEAKING OF CASTING STYLE, HOW DO YOU SELECT A LINE WITH THE RIGHT GRAIN WEIGHT FOR A SPECIFIC ROD?  AND DO MORE AGGRESSIVE CASTERS USUALLY PREFER A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT LINE THAN A LESS AGGRESSIVE CASTER?

You do need to find the right line for the rod, but it can be hard to pick a precise line or grain weight for a certain rod and say this is the exact line weight that everyone should use – because everyone casts differently and everybody has a different casting stroke. I think it’s very important to offer guidelines and give everybody a starting point. So, if you start with our recommendations and either go up or down 50 grains (i.e., a little heavier or a little lighter), somewhere in there you’ll find the perfect line for your casting style.  The Winston website does a good job of giving guidelines for which lines/grain-weight you should use with which each of the specific TH rods. Again, this is a starting point and, if using the exact line recommended doesn’t make things fun and easy for you to cast, then I encourage you to try a few different lines to find the one which works perfectly for you since everyone casts a little differently and these rods are amazing, so it’s just a matter of finding the perfect line for YOU.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SKAGIT AND SCANDI FLY LINES? WHICH DO YOU PREFER, AND IN WHICH SITUATIONS?

Basically the difference between Skagit and Scandi (aka Skandinavian) fly lines is where the weight is located in the line – with the length of the forward section of the line or ‘the head’ of the line. The head of a Skagit line is shorter and heavier than that of a Scandi line, and Skagit lines use an additional tip section that you add to the line, which can be changed out depending on the situation (dry, sinking, fast sinking, etc). I find that a Skagit is probably a little easier to cast, probably more like a shooting head or weight forward lines in single-handed casting. For most two-handed casters, especially those starting out, it’s probably easier to start with a Skagit line.  Those with a little more experience, especially fishing dries, may also enjoy using a Scandi.

WHAT ABOUT POLY LEADERS?  DO YOU PREFER THEM?

I like the poly leaders. I use them all the time. I prefer the Airflo lines and one of the reasons is their simplicity.  First, I find the right line or grain weight line and then I will carry a couple of different poly tips (floating, intermediate, sink, fast sink, very fast sink). It’s easy. I love the way they cast, the simplicity, and the way the handle – so I’m a big fan of poly leaders.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE MOW LEADERS AND WHEN WOULD THEY BE USEFUL? 

I definitely know about the MOW tips. They’re very popular for many anglers but, personally, they’re not my first choice. I find them a little confusing.  There are so many different options, so many different lengths, so many different weights. Especially for a beginner caster, I think there are too many options. I know they work well and they offer many varieties so you can really fine-tune your sink speed or length, etc., but I prefer to keeps things simple, so I mostly use the Poly leader system.

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WHICH ARE YOUR FAVORITES OF THE NEW BORON III TH RODS? WHICH ONES DO YOU USE FOR WHICH SPECIFIC SITUATIONS? 

I have cast all these rods since before they were formally released, and basically every model from the new 11-foot 6-weight TH through the new 13’3” I love to death. Any of those rods on any given day I’d be more than happy to take out on the river with me here on the Buckley or the Skeena.  For me it boils down more to the size of fish and the type of river I’m fishing – and the casting distance.  If I’m fishing big water for big fish, I usually go with the new 13’3”, and if I’m fishing smaller water, smaller fish I might go all the way down to the 11’ switch – which is one of my new favorites – wow can that rod cast…way more than you’d think an 11-footer can cast. They’re all great choices and I use them all up here.

TELL US MORE ABOUT THE NEW 11’ AND 11’6” BORON III TH 6-WEIGHTS, AND IN WHICH SITUATIONS WOULD THOSE RODS BE IDEAL?

When I first received the new TH series to offer my opinion on what the ideal lines are to go with them, I definitely first focused on the 12’9 and 13’3”, since those were my favorites from the prior Boron II series, and those two models probably changed the two handed market more than any others. That said, once I received the first TH prototypes up here and we went fishing with them, I not only discovered that the new 12’6” and 13’3” TH rods were amazing, with even more power, but also found myself really falling in love with the 11’ and 11’6”.  They’re great little rods. It’s nice to fish with a small rod. Sometimes when you’re fishing all day with the longer rods, you get pretty tired by the end of the day with the cold fall weather, standing in the river, and all the heavy gear you usually need to wear. Those new, smaller 11-foot and 11’6” TH rods are now so powerful that they can handle fishing anywhere that I fish up here and cast almost as far as the longer rods, with a lot less weight. I especially like fishing them with a dry line…so with a dry line and a dry fly, they’re a great option.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THOSE JUST GETTING INTO TWO-HANDED CASTING? OR FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT TRYING IT BUT HAVEN’T TRIED ONE OF THE NEW BORON III TH RODS?

A lot of the top guides up here in BC now use Winston’s two-handed rods. They are more effective, more fun to cast and are really beautiful on top of all that. The new TH rods are also the perfect choice for a beginner because, well, they’re a perfect choice for anyone – the beginner can grab one of those rods and in a matter of minutes feel like they’re casting like a pro.  They’re so powerful, so forgiving that they allow anyone to really feel like a world-class caster.  They’re confidence boosters for sure.  Making it easy is important.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU TYPICALLY GIVE TO THOSE STARTING OUT USING TWO- HANDED RODS TO AVOID BREAKING A ROD WHEN LANDING A FISH? KEEP THE LINE IN YOUR HAND AND LET GO AS YOU REACH FOR THE FISH?

As you play the fish working to get it in close where the leader meets the rod tip, pinch the line between your fingers and the rod with your right hand (if you are right handed), and slowly pull the line to you with your left hand. You can release tension to accommodate a sudden surge by the fish. These fish are big and powerful, so this takes any sudden pressure and extreme bend off the rod tip.  I’ve seen it happen many times where the rod tip breaks in this situation. When you get the fish in near where the leader meets the rod tip, simultaneously release the pinch of the line between your fingers and the rod with your right hand so the line goes slack just as you reach and grab the line with your free (left) hand – and finish the last little bit just with your hands. This will protect the tip and keep the rod tip from bending too far if the fish suddenly starts on one last run (which is usually does). It take a little bit of practice, it can be a little daunting at the start, but once you get the hang of it, you can protect your rod tip and land the fish in in half the time that you could with a single handed rod…and we all know that’s better for the fish at the end of the day.

ANY OTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT TWO-HANDED CASTING OR STEELHEAD FISHING? 

Steelhead fishing involves many, many hours of ‘fishing’ for a few minutes of ‘catching,’ so there’s lots of time spent in between, lots of time. Having a rod that is fun and easy to cast helps make that time enjoyable. Having the proper equipment is key when you’re out there all day and all week casting – as well as when you ultimately catch one!

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