Thursday, April 04, 2024

Echo 84B revives the "Short Sticks" (updated)

Back in December, we reported that Echo Fly Fishing had come out with a new rod series - the 84-B.  Don't bother looking for that post as it's been deleted.  Reason?  We finally got our hands on one and put it through the range of tests.  So this post combines details of what we reported before... plus impressions from our test results.

Background

Those of you who followed me for two decades on Louisiana Sportsman magazine may recall,  I'm a huge fan of "Short Sticks" or "Bass Shorts".  These are midweight and light-heavyweight fly rods (weights 6 through 10) but shorter than the standard 9 foot length.  

There are advantages of these rods over the 9-foot and 10-foot rods that dominate the market.  Back in 2014, in my Fly Lines column, I wrote what the advantages and disadvantages were.

"There are reasons why most fly rods are 9 feet long — and sometimes longer. Longer rods cast farther and allow for better line management on the water. For example, mending line on a moving stream."

"But short rods have their advantages. In addition to lower swing weight, they give more casting control, can be used under tree canopies or docks, in tighter casting spaces, are easier to manage while fishing from a canoe or kayak, and have the ability to place a fly in tight spots."

"And then there’s lifting power. When it comes to getting a big fish out of grass or timber, a shorter rod gives more leverage than a longer rod."

I own, or have owned, a few graphite Short Sticks.  Among them were a Redington Predator, Ross FlyStik, Diamondback Backwater, and Mudfish Flyer, in weights 6, 7 and 8.  These have been great for my bass fishing and kayak fishing adventures.  In fact, I'd say that in numerous kayak bass tournaments, short sticks have delivered for me time and again where a longer rod might not have.  My two personal best bass - an 8.8 pounder (public water) and a 9.6 pounder (private water) were both landed on shorts.

Of the 10 models of  Bass Shorts available in 2014, only 3 remain.  The entire Redington Predator series has transitioned to 9-footers.  Sage replaced their Bass Series with the Payload.  The Payload shortest offering is 8'9"... so essentially another 9-footer.  The Mojo Bass is still around. It puts the "broom" back in "stick".  The Mudfish is a fine rod, but it's a 1-piece.  Forget travel use.  The White River Heat - like most of Bass Pros fly rods - has breakage issues.

Some will say, "What about fiberglass?".  There are a good number of fiberglass short sticks on the market.  With glass it needs to be the newer S-glass or S2-glass... in my opinion, your grandfather's E-glass rods are simply too slow and too heavy.  As much as I want to love glass, only one of the glass short sticks I've tested has met my high standards for these rods.  More on that rod at a later date.

What the world has needed is a good graphite Bass Short.  Echo to the rescue!

The new Echo 84B

This rod was developed by Tim Rajeff and Pat Ehlers with bass anglers in mind and tested extensively on smallies and largemouth. All rods in the series - which include 6, 7 and 8-weights come in length 8'4".  According to Echo, this length is the perfect compromise between accuracy, distance, and leverage.

Price.  Many reviews list this as last, but this is all important to the buyer working within a set budget.  Our current pricing division for fly rods goes as follows:

  • Budget - up to $200
  • Value - $200 - $400
  • Midrange - $400 - $700
  • Premium - $800 - $1200

At $299, the Echo 84B falls firmly in the Value category, along with the Redington Predator, Orvis Clearwater, TFO Mangrove Coast and BK Legacy, and many others.  As with almost all rods in this category, there's a lifetime warranty for the owner, which involves a nominal repair fee. Echo repair fee depends on the rod section.  For the tip section replacement (which is 90 percent of all breaks) the fee for the 84B is $40.

Appearance.  I received the 84B from Red's Fly Shop as it was the only shop to have this new model in stock in a 7-weight.  These rods have a deep olive blank, a flared full wells grip, a fighting butt, aluminum anodized reel seat, and comes with a zippered cordura rod tube.  The tube is rectangular which I really like (doesn't roll around). MSRP is $299.  The cork grip looks better than average for the price point.  It flares up at the top a bit more than I'd like, but it wasn't detectable at all when casting or fishing.  There's alignment dots which is a feature once found only on premium rods.  The stripping guides and guides are high quality, and the wraps look very good for an Asian-manufactured rod.  

Swing Weight.  The 84B weighs in at 3.8 oz.  Granted it's 8 inches shorter, but still a light rod when compared to the Redington Predator 9'0" 7-weight at 4.2 ounces.  Because of it's shorter length, the swing weight should be "light".  Sadly, that's not always the case.  But with the 84B, the swing weight was fantastically light.  This is a very important feature as a heavy swing weight tends to widen your casting arc after a couple hundred casts.  A long day of fishing can lead to a long day of open loops!

Taper Test.  This involves tying off the leader to a post, locking the fly line/reel so no line comes off the reel, and then progressively pulling the rod back.  We look for the shape of the bend in the rod.  I used to do this test using a "Common Cents System" setup, but this is a lot faster and easier, and is a fairly accurate test of taper and rod action.    What we WANT to see:  a smooth progression where there's some bend in the tip (but not too much) and then progressively less as you go down the blank.  The point at which the bend begins to end determines if the rod is moderate, moderate-fast, or fast action.   Casting a few dozen times often confirms this.

The 84B has a nice smooth progression.  I'd describe it as moderate-fast with just a touch more on the moderate end.  It was a somewhat relaxed casting stroke that worked best... the kind of stroke I love.   As I've stated numerous times in the past, you do -NOT- want a very fast action rod for tossing bass bugs.  I'd explain the physics of why, but it would bore most readers. So just take my word on it.  Or Tim Rajeff's.  He describes this rod as ideal for casting large flies.

Casting Performance.  We ran the 84B through our usual four tests:  short cast (20 ft), medium cast (40-50 ft) and distance maximum, as well as our infamous "60D Test".  This is where we stand 35 feet center from a concrete basketball court,  cast to one corner which is 30 degrees left of center, and with only one backcast, cast to the opposite corner which is 30 degrees right of center.  Our line, as for all our tests, is a Wulff Triangle Taper with a 40 foot tip and head.

The 84B loaded easily for the short casts and medium casts.  Since most bass fishing is done with casts under 50 feet, this was exactly what we hoped we'd see.  Casts were extremely accurate as well.

The maximum distance with the 84B we obtained was 96 feet, but the average of most double-hauls was in the 85 foot range.  This rod is not designed for distance, but for accuracy especially in tight situations.  But it does have enough power to go long if needed.  Loops were nice and tight.

People ask me why anyone would ever spend $1000 on a fly rod.  Other than extreme light weight (common to premium rods these days).  The answer I tell them is, "The 60D Test", and then explain what the test is.  In the 60D test, a rod tip has to have exceptional vibration reduction for the casts to lay out perfectly accurate and straight.  

The Echo 84B scored about as good as any Value rod I've recently tested on the 60D Test, matching the performance of the TFO Axiom II  (which like many great TFO rods, has been discontinued).

Final Verdict.

While promoted as a bass rod, we're certain it could also be great for pike, pickerel, snook and redfish. And could be a great kayak fly rod as well.  I was so impressed with the 84B, I decided to keep it and sell another of my "Short Stick" rods.  That's about as positive a review as any rod can get!