Zing 1

Zing 1Guest blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, MT

We were fishing a deep pool together on the Firehole at dawn on an early June morning. I was but 15 feet upstream from Bruce Richards and in the quiet of dawn I could hear the ”Zing” through his guides as he threw a large streamer across the pool.
There was a “Zing” in my casts as well. We were both fishing Scientific Anglers textured fly lines. His was a floating “Sharkwave”, mine a “Mastery Textured Streamer Express.”  As we drove into Yellowstone early that June morning, Bruce, the former fly line designer for SA for over 33 years, now retired in Bozeman talked about textured fly lines.

In 2007 Scientific Anglers introduced a new type of fly line they called Sharkskin. It had a textured surface that was designed to reduce friction between the line and the guides during casting and also between the line and the water surface during pickup. Sharkskin also was supposed to improve the lines ability to float. In 2009, at $99 each Sharkskin became the most expensive everyday fly line on the market. It had to be good, but would the market validate that.

The idea of a textured surface fly line wasn’t really new. Although development of Sharkskin started in 2005, SA had experimented with creating textured lines for years. For a lot of technical reasons, the idea never became commercially viable until 2007. One idea SA had in the 1990s was to braid monofilament over a fly line to create a hard, textured surface. Prototype lines indeed reduced friction in the guides and improved pickup during casts, but reasonable production costs and line durability proved elusive. Finally in 2005, inspired by the small structures on the feet of insects that can walk on water, SA solved the technology issues and began development of the product they called “Sharkskin” because the textured surface resembled the sandpaper like surface of the skin of a shark. The first lines hit the market in 2007. Their signature characteristic was the “Zing” sound the line made while traveling through the guides. “Zing – to move very quickly and make a humming sound” was an understatement. I remember my first sharkskin line, a 5 weight floater that was indeed noisy through the guides. But other than that, the line lived up to the claims on the box—“Superior shootability created by vastly reduced friction through rod guides—microtextured surfaces trap air to improve floatation, reduce drag on line pick-up and shed water on backcasts”. It was a real joy to cast my first Sharkskin line.

A joy for some, not for others. Professional reviews of Sharkskin were generally positive and validated the claims of the box. The “Zing” through the guides was a noticeable difference from traditional lines. Naysayers quickly jumped on the noisy lines claiming the noise upset the esthetics of casting, the texturing was abrasive to guides and fingers and the lines weren’t as durable with the texturing. Although, SA, through some serious testing disproved the guide abrasion and durability claims but the original Sharkskin lines did indeed wear on fingers if you were stripping and shooting line a lot. The noise, well the Zing was here to stay, and esthetically it’s gained a lot of acceptance. In a candid moment, Bruce did attribute some of the early criticism of the lines to the competition which didn’t have the technology or patents to produce similar lines.

As with any new product based on innovative new technology, the SA Sharkskin lines were relatively short lived. Not because the market didn’t accept them, but because SA found ways to improve on the technology and rapidly expand the number of anglers adopting microtextured lines. Today, the “Sharkwave” lines ($99) and the “Mastery Textured Series” of lines ($79) are adaptations of the original Sharkskin. They still “Zing”. Above all, they provide some serious advantages over smooth surfaced lines.

Sharkwave or Mastery Textured fly lines won’t make you a better caster. If you don’t have the basic skills to make casts of reasonable distance—say 40-60 feet with a smooth surface line, the extra dollars you pay for these textured lines won’t improve your skills. But for the novice, intermediate or advanced skilled caster, putting a zing in your cast is worth it. Although it’s hard to describe, a Sharkwave or Mastery Textured line will add some distance to your casts when you shoot line, reduce false casting on longer casts and allow for better line control with floating lines on the water. I recently spooled up a Sharkwave Ultimate Trout four weight line on one of my favorite reels. So far I’ve used it on the rivers on a very slow 7’6” Winston glass rod and a very fast 8’6” Sage XP. The distance I can get with this line is significantly longer with less effort than with comparable smooth surface lines no matter which rod I am using. The one characteristic that becomes obvious very quickly is the ability of these lines to be picked up off the water at longer distances and shed the weight of adhering water quickly. This significantly reduces the need for multiple false casts to make the next presentation. Every false cast you don’t make reduces the probability of making a casting mistake. Floating textured lines seem to just bounce off the water on pick-up, but even pick-up of sinking lines is improved. I routinely fish 150 grain and 200 grain Streamer Express lines with fast 5-6-7 weight rods. Even when that 30 foot sinking head is deep, once your start retrieving and get the head near the surface, pick-ups are smoother and can be made with more line out than with smooth surface lines.

I am sold on “Zing”. Although all my textured lines are from Scientific Anglers, textured lines are also available from Orvis who now owns SA. We fly anglers spend untold dollars on all types of feathers, fur, synthetics and such to replicate aquatic and terrestrial insects who can “walk on water”. Why shouldn’t we put a “Zing“in our casts inspired by those same insects.

3 Comments

  1. Great advice Mike, thanks. If I may…and not to imply that I have anywhere near your experience with these textured SA lines…I’d like to respectfully disagree with your one comment about whether these lines can make someone a better caster. Because I think they can, and I’ll tell you why:

    They provide more data. A fisherman not only sees and feels what the line is doing, he or she hears it too. Audible input to the brain is intrinsically more mathematical than visual data, and that adds a useful dimension. The “zing” you refer to can be tracked, subconsciously, every cast. We can hear the point at which each cast’s speed changes linearly and where it accelerates or decelerates…and at what rate. Combine that with visually noting the result, and it’s a powerful combination.

    The zing is soft, to my ears–not annoying in the least–but after two years with a floating Sharkskin line and a couple of months testing a sinking textured streamer line (recommended to me by you), I find I’m learning little fine-tuning things about the timing of my casting that are improving consistency and control. I get audible data automatically, without trying, and my brain and hand respond.

    I’ve heard all my life how “a better boat can’t make you a better whitewater paddler” or how “a higher performance hang glider won’t make you a better pilot.” I’ve NEVER found those adages to be true. I tried for years to fly my medium-performance hang glider for decent cross-country distances, always coming up short. Then I bought one that was more efficient in the air and soon cranked out a 90-miler and then a 107-miler in two consecutive years. I learned so much about the XC game from all those miles going by under my belt. From then on I could fly real distances even with the original lower performance gear. My brain now understood. I had data, and had learned from it.

    I love my floating SA textured line even though it’s only the introductory-vintage product. I find the sinking textured Streamer Express line you recommended to be incredibly easy to shoot (also to pick up, even from quite deep). So I do think the “zing” gives the brain additional info that helps fine-tune one’s casting and keep it tuned…all subconsciously, letting the frontal lobes focus on the fishing itself.

    Probably glaring flaws in technique need to ironed out in advance, and probably an already perfect cast (that would be you, not me) has little room for improvement…but somewhere in the middle I think the audible data is a real benefit to subtle, ongoing tuning. Do you disagree?

    Again, thanks for some great advice on these lines.

    – Mike

  2. Mike – A better caster?
    Can a fly line make you a better caster? Of course the marketing types will say emphatically: YES. But, the guy who lives and dies on the physics of casting will say emphatically: NO. Of course, what begs to be agreed upon is “What is the benchmark of a better cast?” The feedback aspect of the “zing” is interesting and I’ll have to ask Bruce what he thinks about that.

    1. Good point on the definition of “better” Mike. I guess I’m saying (to those guys who live and die on the physics of casting) is that the brain can make one a better caster, and that the “zing” feedback is useful data the brain can reference. I haven’t used my textured Streamer Express long enough, as you know, but I know for a fact that I’ve learned little things about timing using the audible I get from my floating Sharkskin line–especially when paying attention to it when trying to do something a little different (double-hauling, delaying or advancing the shoot release…trying to fine-tune this or that).

      And I read the same observation elsewhere, before I even bought it (was trying to justify that hundred bucks, you know).

      I’ll bet a nickel that Bruce will back up my claim…at least this won’t be the first time he’s heard it expressed. Email me to claim your nickel if I’m wrong.

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