We’ve always been fanatics of the old adage, “You don’t support a brand, you support the people”. Please, dear reader, before you blow holes through this phrase, hear us out. Sure it’s an easy conviction to follow if the excellence of both their products and personalities are aligned, but all of us would be hard pressed to support the brand with undependable equipment simply because “they are nice guys”. For us, we tend to lean towards brands that:
- Offer a great end-product, with a proven track-record and solid back-up support
- Has flawless customer service
- Is well represented locally and purchasing their product is not an ordeal
- We as individuals associate and identify with; there are tangible commonalities between their own philosophy and ours
There is a plethora of brands and companies that tick all these boxes, but when it comes down to the wire, if all of the above had to be equal, we all tend to gravitate to those that offer that ‘something different/special’ through the people we deal with.
Suckers for SWAG
We are self-confessed suckers for ‘bling’ when it comes to our fly-reels, but that does not mean we push all other technical criteria to the wayside. When we stumbled onto Allen Fly Fishing we had been using their jig-hooks for several months, but were completely oblivious to the rest of their product range – until we saw the Kraken XLA Reel showing up on various pages. DAMN! In Dorado finish it had us instantly waving our credit cards at the screen. We managed to get hold of the owner and a Kraken XLA (in our desired finish) was on its way to us in no time – that was 19 August 2014 and, pay attention now, on 25 August 2015 the box arrived back at their offices. Yip, the reel went missing for over a year.
Fortunately we managed to meet up with their team at IFTD in Orlando in July this year, got on like a house on fire, and Vagabond Fly is super excited to announce that we are now in the process putting both their reels and technical apparel range, EXTERUSTM, through their paces (and then some).
These items will be used, abused and tested in the following conditions over the review campaign:
- Tigerfishing excursion fishing a large lake from boats (complete)
- 2 weeks on Alphonse, Seychelles, chasing GT’s, Milkfish, Bonefish, Triggers and Permit
- Backcountry Yellowfish in Lesotho
Allen Fly Fishing has an exceptional work ethic and hands-on approach; a fairly large ‘pond’ and several hours on the international clock divides us but all our discussions have been either via Skype or sms. They take customer service to the next level and even managed to get the entire apparel selection to us within 4 days – that is USA to South Africa, incredible!
A REVIEW ENVIRONMENT AS WILD AS THE FISH THEMSELVES
In this, our initial review and report, we took the Kraken XLA 3 and a selection of their EXTERUSTM apparel on a 4 day long Tigerfishing trip to Pongolapoort Dam which lies on the border of three countries – South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. The weather was against us, with icy mornings and howling winds in the afternoon as we ran the boats from one secluded bay to the next, so though we gave it our all, not many a fish was landed. You only fish from boats as you are sure to meet with either a crocodile or hippo should you venture onto the banks and it is a game of casting agility as you float between weedbeds and sunken trees in the hope of having your arm ripped off by the ferocious eat of a Tigerfish.
It was thus not particularly harsh on technical apparel, but because we nearly made 700 casts each, we have a solid opinion on the general comfort and ‘fishability’ of our daily choice of clothing. As for the reels, though their sealed drags were not truly put to the test (that is why they are going to the Seychelles), we focus on the design, finish and fit of these.
Will the Kraken XLA be Cracking?
If a reel was only measured on looks, then this would be a very short and staggeringly positive review – just look at it! To the untrained eye it simply comes across as a large arbor reel, but the devil lies in the detail. The Kraken XLA 3 is rated for lines 7 – 9 wt and these are the exact rods we fished them on – loaded with 250m of braid and both intermediate and fast-sinking lines they balanced these rods beautifully. Because of their aesthetic and functional porting they are exceptionally light and do not overly force a counter-leaver when fished on this selection of rods.
We did not mollycoddle these reels for one bit and they were banged around the boats four days straight without so much as a scratch or dent (all the close-up product photographs of the reels are our own and were taken post the trip, before we cleaned the reels).
A little bit of genius is the repositioned crank handle, take a closer look at the photographs and you will instantly notice that is has been placed much closer to the actual center of the reel. It made a dramatic difference to the speed we were able to retrieve lines with and we can’t wait to see how this will play off against the GT’s of the Seychelles.
Available in either the desirable Dorado Finish or a more traditional yet sexy Gunmetal and at a very competitive $ 339.00 the Kraken XLA 3 slams down its authority as a very attractive fish-stopping-device. We will report back in full on the sealed drag and general hardiness of these reels in October post Seychelles.
EXTERUSTM – Technical Apparel to be tested in some of our harshest environments
Often overlooked by many, but comfortable durable technical apparel that doesn’t hinder your movement and keeps you protected from the elements during a day on the water is a non-negotiable in our books. Also, nothing wrong if it makes you look good in photographs.
This was our first stint in the EXTERUSTM range of apparel and we really worked them hard on this trip – casts were in abundance with the majority of these being long powerful and fully outstretched double-hauls against blistering winds. We put the following EXTERUSTM products up against the African Elements:
- EXTERUSTM Meridian LS Shirt
- EXTERUSTM Sunniva LS Shirt
- EXTERUSTM Walkabout Shorts
- EXTERUSTM Yakima Pants
EXTERUSTM Meridian LS Shirt
We found this to be the perfect all-rounder for the trip as it is not only extremely comfortable but with the added bit of stretch it is unquestionably functional. Though the weather changed every 30 minutes, we were able to fish through without paying it a thought. Post the trip you will even spot us wearing the Meridian LS Shirt socially – certainly a new technical favorite of the Vagabond Fly Crew.
Cost : $69.99
EXTERUSTM Sunniva LS Shirt
These are the business for those boiling days, on the boat or the flats, and with its UPF50+ Sun protection the African Sun couldn’t touch us. We specifically did not apply sunscreen to any area that the Sunniva LS Shirt would cover and after two full days in these we are happy to report we are still our own pasty selves. Available in an array of colors you can simply buy these to match your conditions, but at $29.99 just go on and buy the entire range!
EXTERUSTM Walkabout Shorts
We strongly considered NOT telling you about these as we are debating amongst the crew to buy up Allen Fly Fishing’s entire stock of these killer shorts. From the boat to the pub they are probably the most comfortable shorts we have ever fished in. Period. Enough stretch to make them fit every frame like a glove – the Walkabout Shorts is the only pair of shorts you will need on and off the water.
Cost : $49.99
EXTERUSTM Yakima Pants
Not over-engineered with thousands of unnecessary pockets and loops, we found these light-weight and quick-drying longs and absolute pleasure to fish in. Offering UPF30+ sun protection they are perfect for both those standing on the bow of the skiff and those boulder-hopping a back-country trout stream. The belt is both comfortable and sturdy enough to hang your pliers from.
Cost : $54.99
Granted, longer than the usual review we publish, but Allen Fly Fishing’s phenomenal service and range of products deserve nothing less. In October we will hit you with a report and review on these products from one of the planet’s harshest environments to fish in, the flats of the Seychelles. We will be sprinting after GT’s, crouching at the sight of every Permit and be going on three-hour long hikes attached to the business end of a Milkfish all this whilst wading knee deep through the salt. Allen Fly Fishing is confident that this will simply be ‘another day at the office’ for their products and we look forward to testing this.