The final series of the Imago IPT (Imago Performance Tools) have been out on the international market for a few months and I’ve had the pleasure of being able to test and fish these two models since last summer. I had no intention whatsoever of doing anyone the disservice of writing a rushed review so I took my time and this review might be a little long-winded but i feel it’s a necessity if I’m to give an in-depth review.
High-end rods are something we normally keep for a long time, sometimes making the decision a difficult one and first impressions, while sometimes favorable at first cast aren’t always there the next time we pick up the rod.
Well, my initial reaction hasn’t changed a bit and the ‘wow’ factor is still there. They’re just as pleasant and easy to get the casts I want out of them as when they where first pulled from the box.
I’ll venture a little bit about myself before carrying on. I’m a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor with the Master level certificate as a goal for sometime next year. My point here isn’t to talk about myself but I just wanted to get across that I don’t take fly fishing and fly casting lightly. I study and teach it, it’s what I love to do and I do it a lot and I do it all as seriously as possible. It’s both a passion and a quest.
When I initially tried out these rods last year at a small fly fair in southern Sweden, one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was “This is a rod I would use to test with” (the fast model). This statement implies a level of confidence in the equipment chosen. In a casting test situation every piece of equipment has to feel ‘just right’, there’s no room second-guessing or “maybe I should have used this or that instead”. It has to be the all too often touted ‘extension of the arm’ and the IPTs brings this expression to life.
As a testing basis for both rods I took the FFF Master Instructor exam as it encompasses just about any task one might want to do with a fly rod except having a fish on the end. To sum it up briefly, the casting portion of the test involves casting from near to far, in different planes, varying loop sizes, change of direction casts, accuracy casts at different distances, curves and mends, salt water flats and boat fishing methods, rolls and spey casts, a distance cast and displaying tailing loops and other casting errors on demand.
Lines used for the casting and fishing assessment-
-Scientific Anglers Sharkskin Ultimate Trout in 4 and 5 wt
Nymph 5 wt
Stillwater Intermediate 5 wt
Expert Distance 4, 5 and 6 wt
-Piam- DT 5 wt
-Rio- LT 5wt
-Terenzio Sandri – hand made silk DT 6 wt
And a few homemade shooting heads in various floating/sinking configurations.
All performed equally well within their inherent capacities.
Casting Properties– Blank design and product development for these rods was handled by Jason Borger. I have the greatest respect for everything he’s done (past, present and future) in the fly casting world and his contribution to their development is what raised my interest in them in the first place. I wasn’t let down.
Made in the USA yet Swedish owned, Imago is one of the few companies that use the C.C.S. * method of designating line weight ratings and rod actions through flexion curves and this is a welcome treat for someone who’s searching for a rod comparable to one they are already familiar with. Of course, one needs to go out and try them with the lines they plan too use to have an in-depth idea of their performances so… the fun begins !
What really sums up these rods is they are both easy to cast, meaning that they are easy to get the desired result while casting. They’re both equally at home doing aerial casts of any sort or rolls and speys. Placing the fly accurately in the proverbial teacup is no chore with either one. They are also easy to recover from casting inefficiencies during false casts to set things right before the presentation/delivery cast. The blanks are smooth, powerful, predictable, stable and sensitive. They do what I ‘tell’ them to do without any unexpected flexion or excessive rebound (counter-flex). In fact, rebound or rather the lack of it is a sign of a very well designed and constructed blank. When a rod doesn’t bounce unnecessarily we can not only be very precise in the way we create loop shapes or control the line path but it’s also essential to create creative line layouts as when performing presentation casts.
These rods are light and this helps control the cast. A light object is a lot easier to speed up and stop than a heavier one. My not-so accurate scales have them at approximately 95 grams each but more importantly, at least to me, is they feel light in the hand, specially the tip. Nothing’s more unpleasant to cast than a tip-heavy rod.
In order to have a sensible comparison between the two rods, I made comparison tests side by side using the same lines with the same amount of line (length) while trying to duplicate the casting strokes identically. Being pretty much ambidextrous casting-wise, one of the more interesting experiments i hadn’t thought of before occurred while casting them simultaneously, one in each hand, then swapping sides. This was as close to some sort of ‘comparative casting machine’ test as i could imagine.
Medium Action- CCS rating ERN 5,5 AA 62
This rod does feel a little heavier in the tip than the faster model but that’s normal and has nothing to do with the rod’s actual weight. I’ll use this unscientific image to explain: If compared to the faster rod, the ‘tip’ isn’t relatively speaking in the same place as it’s not meant to bend there but further down the blank, meaning there’s more blank mass bending on a longer distance. I was able to use this ‘heavier’ aspect to very easily cast just a long leader, having reeled in the line to the rod tip to cast to fish that where very close to me in a northern Swedish stream last summer. The same can be done with a faster rod but it doesn’t ‘feel’ as comfortable to do.
Smooth and Delicate are the words here and if you like it like butter then look no more.
If you like a rod with more authority read below.
Fast Action- CCS rating ERN 5,6 AA 66
This one I’ll call ‘Direct-Drive’, a rod characteristic that’s quite important to me because I spend more time trying to make curves and multiple curve line configurations than straight line-layouts whether I’m just casting or fishing and I need a rod that I can accelerate and decelerate very rapidly with as little delay time as possible.
I’m hoping the reader won’t deduct that it’s made for circus-casts. I’m just trying to describe how easily it performs in complex casting situations. Rest assured that it shines no matter what line configuration one wants and as an example I find it a lot easier to smoothly cast very tight loops with dry flies in tight corners or under obstacles with this rod, a non-negligable aspect for stream or river fishing.
Side note- I’m not a distance caster in the competitive sense but I do strive to consistently throw full standard 90′ / 27m lines with a nice clean turnover of line, leader and fly. The farthest I cast with each rod with the same S.A Expert Distance 5 wt line was 32,9m with the Medium Action rod and 34,0 with the Fast Action. Not a big difference but I know that a little more time spent with the Medium would have given the same result as the Fast.
Cosmetics and Rod Components- Here’s an aspect that goes straight to my heart:
No Bling ! The whole series has matt black unvarnished/epoxied blanks, non-chromed titanium line guides and discreet reel seat components. I have an extreme dislike of shiny fishing components because a lot of my fishing is done close up and flashing streaks of light, that are the result of moving or casting on a sunny day are not natural and they either put off fish or downright scare them away. It’s a refreshing treat to see a company who thinks outside the box and understands what a fishing tool should be like: Something to be used to stalk wild fish and not something to impress the crowds on High Street.
Besides, the unvarnished graphite takes on a smooth-silky aspect that’s totally obliterated when epoxy is applied. Nothing to do with the common ‘plastic look’ normally associated to graphite. Who knows, maybe even the bamboo purists might think twice about using them !
The line guides are titanium REC from tip-top to stripping guides (and fly keeper) with round single foot guides in-between. They work perfectly so there isn’t much more to add other than it’s quite fun to squeeze them and bend them out of shape and watch them always come back to their initial position ! I’ve bent a few hard-chrome guides by accident in the past and it’s nice to know this won’t happen with these.
Guide wrappings are black, kept to a minimum and discreet. Again, no frills is good frills.
The grip is made of super-smooth, highest-grade, hard to find Portuguese cork. It makes me feel sexy when I cast, something non-neglidgable for a 51 year old…
Reel seats are discreet blueish pewter colored anodized aluminum with a single locking ring that tightens down easily and holds well all day.
The Imago name is engraved in the dark wood spacer, the companies’ logo etched on the cap.
The matt black aluminum rod tubes and pewter colored caps follow the same aesthetics as the rods, simple and elegant. A feature I appreciate is the larger-than-most inner diameter making it easy to slide in the rod when going home. They’re a bit on the heavy side compared to some others but they seem very strong and I guess that’s what we want from a rod tube. I hope I never have to test this but I’m pretty sure they’d be up to the task to whacking an angry bear if it got in the way to the river.
The rod sock follows with the same attention to detail and is made of soft, rather luxurious plush micro-fleece that not only dries very quickly if a wet rod is inserted but it can turn into a warm scarf if one (I…) forgot the Buff at home.
Pros and Cons-
Pro– You’ve already noticed that I really like these rods a lot so apart from copying and pasting the whole review back here I’ll summarize what I find to be the most important in two words and they are: Easy and Fun. Easy to control and Fun to cast and catch fish.
Con– Just for the sake of trying find something that i don’t find ideal, here are two rather insignificant points.
– I question the necessity of having a second stripping guide in this line class. Even though I’m rather positive that no-one could actually tell the difference in a blindfolded casting test, it just seems a little strange to me to include these as otherwise every single gram that was possible to remove from the rod was removed.
– Ok, my eyes aren’t what they used to be but even with the new glasses i just got, the rod model and line class descriptions are rather hard to read on the reel locking screw, specially if there’s any kind of light glare on the ring. I guess the only reason I really noticed this inconvenience is because I had two visually completely identical rods to evaluate.
As noted, I had to try to find something. Sorry, that’s the best I could do.
Conclusion– I asked myself the following question: “If you where to have just one 9′ 5wt would one of these rods be your choice ?” and the answer was yes. I do prefer the fast model but that’s only because i have a preference for faster rods. Both perform flawlessly and in an ideal world I’d have both !
Regardless of your preferred action, medium or fast, if you’re looking for a high-end, very fine, well made, out of the box and easy fishing/casting tool, give these two Imago rods a try.
* More information on the CCS (Common Cents System) rod-rating method can be found here.
© Marc Fauvet/The Limp Cobra 2011