Nov 28, 2010

Gear Review: RIO Smallmouth Bass Fly Line

Imagine my surprise when I was contacted (via OBN of course) to conduct a product review of RIO's new Smallmouth Bass fly line.  To qualify I just had to receive (free of charge) the line and try it out within 4-6 weeks.  Sure, it's beginning to feel a lot like winter here and local bass have entered winter mode but SIGN ME UP!  This is something I think I can handle.  So lets get some legal mumbo-jumbo out of the way early and then get into the good stuff...

As with all reviews on Lunker Hunt, the following review is my honest opinion, I received the RIO Smallmouth Bass fly line free of charge and agreed  to provide a review in exchange.  Lunker Hunt is not sponsored by or associated with RIO and is accepting no other compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this review.  My independent status may change in the future but, as of the date of publication, no relationship other than described above has been pursued or established.

The Pitch

Every product worth selling comes with a sales pitch and this line is no different, if you wish to read the official product introduction and press release you can do so here.  Much of the pitch is also provided on the packaging and I've provided images below.

As far as sales pitches go, this one is pretty easy to follow.  For the most part jargon is kept to a minimum, but they do throw around phrases like XS Technology and Powerful Taper.  Words such as these sound fancy but really don't provide us lay men with much info at all.  To fully understand what we've got here, lets take a look at the specs and see if some information can be gleaned.

The Specifications

The press pack and box include an image showing the line's profile, using the WF7F as an example.  I can't find anything to show the profile of my WF8F model, so I have to assume it is the same.  From the profile we can get specifics about the dimensions and taper for this line.  Here is the official profile description and image:

A powerful medium-length front taper is ideal for casting smallmouth flies while the long back taper allows for a smooth casting loop while keeping the line stable on long casts. A unique handling section behind the head makes it very easy to control the fly at long range when fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers.
The profile shows an overall line length of 100', which is split into five sections.  The head is 65' long and includes the front taper, body, back taper and "handling section."  The folks at Rio seem to be particularly proud of the unique "handling section" of this line.  According to the release the handling section "...makes it very easy to control the fly at long range when fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers."

If you look closely at the profile image above, you will see loops at both ends.  These are the "welded loops" to make changing leaders and line "a breeze." I've never before fished a line with integrated leader attachment features, but I always use a slip-on leader loop so I'm pleased to have the feature on this line. 

A quick glance shows the "welded loop" is just a section where the line is folded back on itself and the loop is held by an over-coating of some sort, hardly what I envisioned for a "welded" loop.  None-the-less, a loop is a loop and I'm happy to have it as long as it holds up.

Also in the taper profile, they've noted the two colors this line has.  The body is colored "bronze" and the rest is colored "beige."  This is what they call DualTone and the coloring adds visual clues to where you are in the line.

A close cursory examination reveals the colors are more like orange and yellowish-white, but I'm not one to nitpick over color names.  Instead of relying only on feel, you can quickly see when it's time to cast and when it's time to shoot.  I love to shoot line, so some help in this area is greatly appreciated.

The Proving Grounds

I spent about fifteen minutes in the back yard proving grounds with my old line, which sets my point of view in this review.  The test rig was my nine foot St. Croix 8wt, at the end of the line I tied on a 8lb tapered leader and about 8 inches of 6.8 pound tippet.  On the tippet went a piece of rolled up paper towel.

I picked a standing spot and cast the length of my driveway.  I was casting with a significant tail wind, but after a few casts I had a feel for what was my maximum casting distance given the conditions.  I took a mental note of the distance and swapped out the baseline for RIO's Smallmouth line and stood in the same spot.

If I'm to believe the sales pitch, this new line should improve handling at range.  I interpret that to mean either improved accuracy or increased the proving ground I experienced neither.  I've never been disappointed with my casting so, while it did not improve much, this line still meets my needs.

While casting in the yard, I also paid attention to the line color.  Watching the line color made it easy to tell when the line was ready to go.  However I'm a creature of habit and I found myself going by feel anyway.

If you look at the picture, you'll see the line is all bunched up at my feet. The first few casts with the freshly unspooled line were pretty rough and it effected my back yard casting. At first I was really nervous about line's memory, but the field test proved I had nothing to worry about.

The Field Test

I braved the November air and took RIO's Smallmouth line out for a field test.  Seeing as it is line marketed for smallie chasers, what better place to test it than a smallie river?  Most bass around here have settled into winter mode and I set out planning on not catching fish.  Luckily you don't have to catch fish to evaluate fly line so I spent about three hours shivering casting flies of various sizes at fish who didn't want to eat them.

In the back yard, I was concerned about the line's memory but as the field test wore on the line straightened out.  The pictures below both show the same line floating on the water, but the picture on the right was taken three hours later than the one on the left.

First Cast3 Hours Later

As the line limbered up I began to feel more comfortable with it.  The line is more than capable of turning over a weighted (and soggy) bunny streamer.  The limber line also seemed to improve the "shootability" of this product and I felt a little more in control of the line and presentation.  The result was fewer casts ending up as a tangled mess.

As much as I would have loved to share a smallie picture here, I am unable as I ended the test without a fish to show.

The Price

We'd be lying to ourselves if we said cost isn't a factor in everything we do.  Not everyone is armed with Oprah's war chest so it is important to review the options and balance features against price.  RIO's press release states the MSRP for their Smallmouth Bass fly line is $74.95 and a quick internet search shows it is typically offered at MSRP.  My baseline fly line for this review retails for $25-35.  I've taken the liberty of pulling prices (ignoring sales pricing as of Nov 24th, 2010) from Cabelas for various other WF 8wt floating lines.  Those prices are shown in the chart below.

If you want something cheaper there are definitely options.  If you'd rather pay more, there are a few choices as well.  All I can say here is that you've got to look at your options before you select.

The Bottom Line

The benefits of RIO's Smallmouth line are subtle but appreciated.  The upside is improved control and the only downside is cost.  I recommend spending the extra dough on a nicer rod, but if you already have a good rod you may be interested in higher end line.  RIO's Smallmouth Bass fly line fits the bill for me and is a welcome addition to the arsenal.

If you have questions or would like additional information, please contact me and I'll do my best.


  1. Dude!!! Free stuff!?!?! Sweet!!!! Where do I sign up? Oh, OBN. Already done, so where's MY swag? :-)

    Seriously, very cool, and a very complete review. Well done!


  2. I know...right? Crazy.

    Hopefully the first of many (hint, hint)

  3. Just want to say how much I appreciated your review of this line and how you put it together in layman's terms. This was better than talking to any dealer about rather or not to purchase a $75.00 fly line. They want you to buy the line and so you pretty much get a straight sales pitch. I know, I don't fly fish anymore, you know that. However, thanks for the review!

  4. Well done review.

    The one thing I'd be interested in can't really be tested until next summer. With a lot of lines designed for heavier bugs - SW, Bass, Pike - the line is "stiffened" to allow better control of the big fly. This is usally done with either a stiffer material in the braided core, or more, stiffer coatings on the line. And, it usually works. The downside is that, in cold water (NOW), the lines often stay coiled up like barbed wire. This line laid out nicely after getting the kinks wortked out. I just wonder if it will maintain its integrity in the hot summer water?

  5. Here is the scoop with this line. I know the guys who designed it. They wanted a line that was made for extreme distance casting and would not wilt and tangle during the heat of the summer. The "clouser" line from Rio is great, but it has a cold water coating, which means it is great during the cold water season, but just ok during the heat of the summer. During the heat of the summer, the running line gets "soft" causing many tangles when trying to shoot the line. This new line has a different coating and should not wilt and tangle during the warm weather months. If you are looking for a line that shoots a great distance, then this might be the line for you. I am yet to get it, but will first hint of spring. Presently, I have Clouser in many different sizes. It has been an incredible line to learn on, but now I am ready to step up to a line that can really shoot, without tangling.

    Great stuff Clif. I think if you cast it for a month next season, you will grow to love it.


  6. @Mel - laymen have to stick together, otherwise we become poor laymen.

    @Wolfy - I'm looking forward to a summer with this line and I'll keep you posted on how it goes...I might have to file an addendum.

    @Jonn - That's pretty good info...because of your comment the info is there for anyone to read. Thanks for sharing and I'm already looking forward to more than a month of casting.

  7. I work for a big name box store. I always steer my customers towards a mid-priced fly line ($35-50) unless they are really good casters. I have been really happy with the more expensive RIO lines but if you can't make a long cast they are unneccesary. Some of the cheaper stuff just doesn't last long because it nicks up easily and the coatings are terrible. You have to constantly clean and re-dress them. I appreciate your review of this new line as I was considering buying some.
    Lesley in Memphis

  8. Hello, Cliff!

    I have written just minutes ago a review for a Brazilian Fly Fishing forum, and I felt like searching for other reviews to compare and ran into yours.

    Well, I gotta say my results were pretty close, though a little more uncomfortable.
    I tried a #6 and as I simply loved a Rio Redfish #8 line I had before (and couldn't get one at #6 when I needed, so I gave the Smallmouth a shot) and used to both saltwater and freshwater fishing, especially for golden dorado and peacock bass.

    I gotta say my results were kinda disappointing, whilst a few upsides match.
    I liked the mend and control. Really you can pick up a lot of line, and you can surely get your fly to behave as intended.
    The coating was also nice, and it throws reasonably good distance with part of the head out.

    On the other hand, it all did not translate in extra distance. Even with all the head out and a rather discomfortable double haul, the gain in range was not more than 3 feet, with the downside that, with all head out, the cast starts falling apart.
    I didn't go any far into the running line itself, what was quite disappointing. I managed to reach the end of the "handling section" the most. Sort of a 65-70 feet cast without a fly.

    The "coil issue" never disappeared so far. 2 months now and it still ruins the casts. It is a fact, it gets a little better after a couple of hours, but it comes back after storing.

    I can tell it is a nice line, and can help throwing bulky flies, but I'd rather come back to the Rio Redfish (if you never tried, consider it - fantastic line, with "ballistic" speed and still presenting smoothly the flies).

    All my best!

    Guilherme Wadt

    1. Hey, thanks for following up with your thoughts. I'm happy to see it, I'll look into the Redfish line when it's time for a replacement unless Rio wants to send me another line for free. :)

      What's the link to your review?

  9. Hi, Cliff!

    My review is in a topic in the forum started by a fellow fisherman, Luiz Almeida, called "Line Test Drive".
    i.e. we have been posting short reviews about several different lines, and it is being very instructive in fact.

    I am linking here, but the topics are in Portuguese. I tried Google Translation (through Chrome) and it returned a fairly understandable text (though with weird parts as my nickname "Ingua" translated as Bubo and other freaky stuff due to our use of colloquial language).

    If you face difficulties to open the page or to translate/understand send me a note!

    Page 1:

    All my best!


  10. Cliff
    Thanks for a honest & great reiew on the rio smallmouth bass line...after having rio line on my reels
    for a long time I made a switch to Wluff Bass lines....with in a few hours a was hooked and its
    going to be hard to go back to smallies while wading on the fox river in
    something that needs line control and I think the Rio line would be could be the trick but the Wulff
    line is still in control........tight lines Crappie John


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