Thursday, 17 September 2015

Vision MAG 13' #8/9



When choosing a new rod I can be extraordinarily indecisive, which isn't helped by the breadth of choices available.  Identifying what sort of rod is the easy bit: deciding which rod is hard if you approach the problem with an open mind.  There isn't another area of my life where I spend so much time on making a decision, so the condition must be fishing specific.  In that respect, the possibility of writing on this blog about my choice is almost certainly a restraining factor, because I had to practice what I preach about being methodical and trying before buying.

When I wrote Springtime - Swallows, Primroses and Salmon Rods on how a novice should go about buying a rod, I opined that the middle price range was where you would find the best combination of performance, quality and price.  That remains my view: the marginal gains at the top of the market are just that, marginal.  You don't get double the performance for twice the money, or even an extra 20% for that matter.  Those marginal gains are dwarfed by the cast-to-cast variability of normal mortals like me.  Conversely there are some excellent rods in the lower price range (the Shakespeare is outstanding at its price) but there are more design and quality compromises in that zone, and hence greater risks of disappointment.  Working to a tight budget does, however, focus decision making admirably.

There is no Holy Grail of the "Best Rod in the World" because this is not an objective business.  The winner of the prize is the one that suits you best, within the parameters of your physique, casting style and proficiency.  The only person who can tell you what's best for you is a very highly experienced casting instructor who has spent several hours watching you casting a wide selection of rods and lines.  Everyone else's views are just opinions - no more than that - irrespective of their enthusiasm for a preferred brand.  For all those reasons my strongest recommendation on choosing a rod remains "try before you buy", because that's the only way you'll know that it feels right.  Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you ought to like a rod because its 'good', expensive, made by a prestigious company, or your friend has one.  I suppose it's a bit like falling in love: you don't know the real thing until it happens.  When 37 years ago I met the striking young woman who became my wife I was completely decisive (and right), which proves that this current indecision on rods must be  just another one of my fishing oddities.




Defining the Requirement


14 footer conditions
Thoresby
Flesh Dub at +24"

I do most of my fishing on the Ure.  When the water's up on Thoresby a 14 footer is an appropriate and more relaxed solution to the demands of sinking tips and weighted tubes. On Bolton Hall  you don't need that power at any water level, but a light 12 footer isn't good higher water conditions.  On those grounds a 13 footer seemed a sensible compromise.










Not 14 footer conditions
Upper Bolton Hall at +15"
As a lot of the fishing on Bolton is off or directly adjacent to the bank, trees and vegetation, it was an essential requirement for the rod to be good for roll and ad hoc casts, and responsive when only partially loaded.  Very fast, stiff rods that demanded full loading to work would be unsuitable (I know, I've tried one).  Conversely, the rod would need the backbone to fight potentially large fish in confined spaces and in places where trees preclude chasing them down the bank.  Finally, it was highly desirable, but not essential that the rod should be able to cope with longer ranges and heavier payloads.



Constraints


There were 2 major constraints.  

  • An arbitrary budget cap of £500.  You have to draw the line somewhere.
  • Try before buy policy.  This is based on bitter experience: I once bought a premium rod at a great price on the grounds that it was an unmissable deal.  Fine, but the rod didn't suit me, so it wasn't a good deal after all.

These constraints ruled out succumbing to temptation in the form of the £800 Loop Cross S1, which in its 13 foot guise is highly praised; or anything from Sage.  The Loop's popularity is evident from the paucity of examples in the used marketplace: only one has featured on SFF in the past year.  When it did appear I hadn't had the opportunity to try one and thus was reluctant to punt £500 in breach of my policy.


The Trial


The whole process took over a year to complete.  At first I took every possible opportunity to try rods - friends, acquaintances and friendly dealers were very obliging.  This was slow: at this pace it would take me 2 years to cover the field: after a full season I had identified one good contender and eliminated 5 others.  In parallel I sought opinions from experts whom I trusted in order to identify which rods were so far removed from the requirement as to make testing unnecessary: this eliminated a further 5.  By the end of the 2014 season I had reduced the field by about 80%.  Obviously this level of pedantry is out of the question if you're buying your first rod or you have an urgent requirement, but I was in no hurry and had a completely open mind.  Anyway, it was educational and interesting.  The most important thing I learnt was that the verbiage used to promote rods is utterly uninformative and sometimes downright misleading.  There's no consistency or standard lexicon: just a random phrase generator, which seems designed to confuse the angler.  My advice is to disregard the words altogether.

The first year gave me a baseline contender, the Vision Cult 13' 2" #8, the little brother of my favourite 13' 7" #9.  It's a joy to cast and an ideal novice rod because it tells you everything that's going on, which is a huge help in establishing and maintaining your timing.  It loads easily, even when underweight, and met the Ure roll casting requirement perfectly.  If I didn't find anything that I liked better the Cult would do nicely, especially as I got it at a good used price.

When I was hunting the Cult my local Vision dealer, whose opinions I respect and trust, suggested that I should try the new MAG.  Actually I had previously ruled it out because all the sales material emphasised "fast action" and someone else had told me that the MAG 14 was pretty stiff.  On those grounds I was very wary, but a satisfaction/buy-back deal overcame my reluctance.  What then ensued was a head to head trial between the Cult and the MAG.  Every time I went out I fished both rods with identical rigs of line, leader and fly, down the same pools and from the same places on 3 different rivers - Ure, Dee and Deveron - in the full array of weather and water conditions.

But in reading what follows please bear the following in mind:


  • These are my own subjective views.  I am not qualified to reach objective, substantive conclusions.  What suits me may not suit you.
  • I'm not a great caster, but can cover all of the water on the rivers I fish most often.  My impressions are therefore based on my style and technique, with all of their limitations.
  • As I fish smaller rivers, mostly with limited back-cast space, my first choice lines are all shooting heads with a head length in the range 37-42 feet, matched to the requirement I defined above.  I saw no point in testing the rods with lines that I do not own or seem likely to use.
  • Owing to variations within manufacturers' ranges (yes, they are inconsistent), anything I say about 13 footers cannot be translated to the bigger or smaller models.




MAG Initial Impressions


You're unlikely to lose it!

Vision are nothing if not eccentric and the MAG maintains the tradition.  The eye-blinding orange carry-tube hits you as it emerges from the wrapper.  The tube is triangular, which means it doesn't roll about in the car, but it seems more flexible and thus less strong than its cylindrical predecessors.  Through the Cult I'd grown to like Vision's delightfully simple 'stow in the tube' system, so the emergence of a conventional rod bag from the tube was a surprise.



The MAG shares the top price point in the Vision range with the functional Tool, but is entirely conventional in its aesthetics.  The rod is nicely finished in a pleasant green colour with a semi-matt finish.  The tape ribbing is less pronounced than on the Cult.  The rings are Pacific Bay and whipped more sparingly.  The general effect is understated, which suits my taste.









The understatement does not, however, extend to the reel seat.  The good news is that it's down-locking.  Although there's only one nut, it never came loose at any time during the trials with a variety of reels in hard usage.  The gold finish and natty wood seat are not to my taste: I'd much sooner have grey or black.  Taste apart it's a great improvement on the Cult in every functional respect.  With the down-locking the MAG balances nicely with a range of reels, including my Guru and Rulla.






Cult below, MAG above
The slim handle is a striking feature, which suits me admirably as I have small hands (Size 8 glove).  It follows roughly the same profile as the Cult but with a reduced diameter that you really do notice when switching between them.  Vision have also tried something different with the MAG: the cork rings in the primary top hand grip zone are arranged with the grain laterally, rather than longitudinally aligned.  I don't know why they've done this, and the net effect isn't an improvement in my view.






Vision MAG 10' #3/4 Trout

Frustratingly there are no alignment marks.   Which raises the obvious question: if Vision put them on the MAG trout range, why not on the salmon rods?













On the Water

Posing on Upper Kirk
By an accident of timing the MAG's first outing was on the Dee in April.  Although this was 14 footer water, the lack of fish led me to set up the MAG for a bit of a diversion.  I put on (what I thought was) an #8/9 AFS with a slow sink polyleader, a 3 foot tippet and medium-sized double fly.  After a few tentative rolls to extend the line downstream I launched into my first proper cast.  Contrary to my expectations I felt everything that happened, right the way down into the butt.  A respectable loop (by my standards) set off across the river to deliver the fly exactly where it had previously landed with a 14 footer.  After 20 minutes of this fun my preconceptions had gone.  This rod had both communication and muscle.  It wasn't as forgiving and communicative as the Cult, especially if you overdid the right hand and overshot the stop, but when I got it right, the line flew.  From the left bank I went through my full repertoire of right handed Single and C Spey; and left handed Double and Snake Roll (a sight for sore eyes), to find it worked equally well for me in all modes.  The MAG certainly met the highly desirable 'power on demand' criterion, but its short range capabilities remained untested.  I later discovered that I had mistaken the line: it was actually a #9/10 37g, which probably explains why it loaded all the way through!

The next session was a long spring day on the Bolton Hall Water of the Ure.  This was the real test of the core roll cast and versatility requirements.  Needless to say the Cult excelled here, but I rapidly discovered that it didn't like being over-lined.  It says 29-34g on the rod and unusually, that's the fact.  In contrast the MAG, also marked as 29-34g gets into its stride at 34g and handles a 37g AFS with ease.  Its roll cast performance was excellent across the spectrum and improved up to the 37g point.  It lacked the Cult's responsiveness at very short range and when under-loaded, but by no definition could the MAG be described as 'very fast' or synonymously 'stiff'.

The final stage was the week on the Deveron.  This started as an exercise in 'far and fine' in very low water, which played to the Cult's strengths.  Then the rain came and I spent the next 5 days roll casting off steep banks with medium and fast sinking leaders and weighted conehead tubes in winds of up to 30 mph.  In my view the Cult was working at its limits in my hands; or more likely, the deficiencies in my technique had curtailed its limits.  In particular its flexibility in the back-cast didn't give me confidence in my ability to control the process and place the anchor reliably.  In contrast the MAG excelled in the challenging conditions.  With the 34g Scandi head it told me what I needed to know during the cast: not as loudly and clearly as the Cult, but perfectly audible even with my imperfect casting ear.   Its steely core inspired confidence both backwards and forwards.  I was delighted with the distance it sent the line across the wind with a little extra bottom hand. With minimum effort it increased my expectations of the water I could cover from the bank.  The search was over: I had found my 13 foot rod.


Bottom Line

In my opinion the MAG 13' a very impressive rod that combines pleasant flexibility and a genuinely through action to deliver excellent feel and power on demand with Scandi-style heads.  Its very wide line weight window gives added options, especially for short range fishing.  Whether it's right for you is another matter.  But if you've gained some casting experience and are looking for a 13 footer to cope with a wide range of fishing conditions similar to mine, then I unreservedly recommend that you include the MAG in your 'must try' category before you buy anything else.  If on the other hand you're just starting, do try a Cult first.


Afternote

I've now used this rod for 2 years on rivers large and small in Britain and Norway; in high water and low; with floating and sinking lines; and with every combination of tip and fly you can imagine, and some you can't.  During that time it has been my go-to rod for everything except the smallest waters.  Even in my imperfect hands its casting performance is extraordinary.  I tested it, and myself, to my limits in Norway on the Gaula in high water, with thousands of Spey casts of every type, right and left handed.  On that evidence I am in no doubt that this wonderful rod is exactly the right one for me.

It is possible that if you spend twice the money on a Hardy, Loomis, Sage or Loop Cross you might achieve the same level of performance, provided the rod suited you. But at the £500 price point, nothing else comes close.

6 comments:

  1. very interesting as usual, now you have me thinking

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  2. Very interesting read as always Michael. Now that you have had the MAG for a while would you say you prefer it to the cult? I have a 13'8 cult and am toying with the idea of a 12'6 but seen there is a similar MAG.

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    Replies
    1. Scott,

      I can certainly say that I preferred the 13 MAG then - and still now - to the 13' 2" #8 Cult, primarily because it has more backbone and is a fair bit crisper. In fact the 13' 2" Cult is more of a 7/8 than a pure 8.

      In contrast the 13' 8" Cult is more of an #8/9, equally at home with both 33 and 37g heads. I use it as a 14' equivalent. When push came to shove and I could only fit one 14 footer into my baggage for Norway, I took the Cult and left the Hardy Marksman 2T at home (and as a result, sold it some weeks later). And of course, the 13 MAG was in there as well!

      If the 12' 6" MAG is anything like the 13, it will be delightful. There is also the Tool at that length, which is very good indeed: PM SFF member Alt graad if you want a fuller brief. The 12' 6" Cult is a lovely through action #7 which is nice to fish with lighter flies and leaders, but it doesn't have the spine to shift heavier flies and polys. On that basis the advantage of the MAG and Tool is their greater range of fishing options.

      Hope that helps: follow-up questions welcome.

      Michael

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    2. Thanks for your response Michael. Going by your description of the rods I think the MAG is probably the rod I need. I fish a small river with an 11 foot switch but when the levels are up a bit I need something with a bit more grunt. I have a 12'6 loop gass but it needs in excess of 34g which I feel is too heavy and clunky and fishing at short range with it isn't all that enjoyable. I'll find somewhere who stocks the MAG and go and have a wiggle.

      Thanks

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  3. Scott,
    Guide Fly Fishing can advise you on the stockists. However, if you live anywhere near York I can drop my 13 off for you to try. Otherwise email your address to mcxfisher@gmail.com and I can post it.
    Michael

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  4. Hi Michael, Sorry just seen your reply. A very kind offer but there's no need, I'm in central Scotland so will be able to find somewhere who has them. Thanks again.

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