Nothing demands more of fly fishing gear more than the salt, and as an angler who travels thousands of miles for mere shots at fish, I have high standards when it comes to saltwater gear. In fact, these standards are so tough to meet and the stakes are so high that I’m often reluctant to test saltwater gear on big trips.
There’s no messing around when it comes to saltwater fly fishing. An angler might save money for a long time to travel great distances to catch a fish that has either been a bucket list fish or has, at the very least, been coveted for some time. From permit to tarpon, all of this effort might come down to one cast and one fight. And these make-or-brake moments depend on skill but also gear.
Over the years, I’ve learned that a lot of rods and reels simply don’t cut it. Even rods that claim to be specially designed for the salt can’t hang. Or these rods are designed to serve specific needs for the salt and are thereby deficient in other categories. For example, some of the best casting rods I’ve ever encountered have absolutely no power in the bottom half of the rod. In one case, the finest-casting 10-weight I’d ever encountered shattered on its first fish. And the 11-weight of the same model had a heck of a time lifting heavy lines and flies. On the other side of the equation, rods with some of the most impressive lifting power can be unpleasant to cast, and close-range casting might be a tall order.
These are among the considerations I have when reviewing a saltwater rod, and when reviewing the Solar fly rod from Thomas & Thomas, I not only wanted to be certain that the rod was a complete rod when it comes to casting and with fighting fish, I decided to give it the most extensive testing I’ve ever given a demo rod.
To test the Thomas & Thomas Solar, I spent some time casting the rod but also put the rod to the test on the water in three different and demanding situations:
- Sight-fishing to redfish in the Everglades
- Casting to tarpon
- Fishing offshore for albacore and tuna offshore out of Jupiter, Florida
As expected, the first aspect of the rod that I became familiar with was the casting, and as a casting rod, the Solar is mighty fine. Unlike some rods that need to be over-lined for the sake of feel in the tip of the rod, this fast-action rod had plenty of feel, giving me good control of my line and my casting. And as indicated above, there’s a difference between how a rod casts and how it fishes, and when paired with sinking lines and big flies (which are the reality of fishing in the salt), this rod’s performance was not impaired, and in fact, the rod continued to cast like a dream. Despite feeling very light in hand, this rod has plenty of power and can easily pick up and manage heavy lines and flies — a key for many reasons, including picking up a lot of line for a second shot at a fish.
And then there’s fighting fish. I have to admit that when feeling how light the 9-weight Solar felt in comparison to other 9-weights, I had doubts about how it would handle fish. And knowing that a review would be coming from my experience on the water, I decided to test the rod without holding back on pushing it to the limits.
In one encounter, the to-the-limits testing was accidental. In the Everglades, I thought I was casting to smaller tarpon when I hooked up on a 50 to 60 pound ‘poon that immediately went aerial. The 9-weight Solar handled the fish beautifully, and I was impressed with the power of the rod. And in intentional encounters offshore, I put as much fight as possible into albacore that can certainly show what a rod is capable of. But more than that, these albies were also fleeing a team of sharks that rolled in. This meant vertical lifts on hard-diving bluewater beasts. Again, this rod performed.
Frankly, it’s hard to find saltwater rods that my needs on the water. And while I can occasionally write a strong review of a saltwater rod, it’s rare that I would also want that rod to have a place in my quiver. The Thomas & Thomas Solar is a rod that I want in my go-to collection. The Solar is an outstanding saltwater fly rod.
– Tim Harden
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