Tuesday 4 June 2019

Vision Onki 13' #8

Despite my new-found state of retirement, it was quite difficult to find the time to write this post.  That's largely owed to the leisured days I've devoted to the Rye's trout in order to enjoy the peak time of the season.  However, with strong, cool winds and low temperatures, the level of activity has been somewhat disappointing.  That said, I did have 3 very nice fish in a 2 hour session early on Friday evening, after spending the rest of the day babysitting one of my grandsons (recreational lawn mowing).  Now that daughter, son in law and their boys have returned to London, and the rain has driven me in from the garden, I've finally got some time to write.

13 Footers

On many rivers that I fish the 13 footer is my rod of choice.  Provided the river isn't too big (perhaps < 35-40 metres wide) or the water too high (thereby demanding large flies and sinking lines or tips), a good 13 footer will meet 90% of your requirements.  It's light, handy and so easy to cast that you can fish all day.  And with the right head you can cover ample water.

Back in 2014-15 I undertook a methodical selection exercise to find my perfect 13 footer, using a combination of catalogue searches, user opinions and practical testing.  While many people would find that approach boring and a denial of the pleasures of buying, I found it valuable, informative and interesting.  The salient points included:

  • Most of the sales promotion text written in catalogues and on retailers' websites about rods is completely unhelpful.  In the absence of a standard lexicon of terms, the words can mean whatever the reader chooses.  in the worst cases they are meaningless in relation to the rod, because they are purely designed to stimulate you to buy the product.
  • The advertised rod line ratings comprise a very broad church.  Across a sample of 8-10 rods nominally rated as #8, I found optimum head weights from a low of 28 to a high of 38 grams.  In simple terms they covered everything from #7 to the upper reaches of #9.
  • Most of the 13 footers I tried were nice to use.  Manufacturers seem to find it easier to get things right at this length than at 14 feet, where I've encountered rods that I really disliked.  Of course it's all a matter of personal preference, but I repeat the point I've made several times before - there is no absolute consistency between rods of different lengths in the same model or make.  You need to try before you buy.

At the end of my selection I had fallen for the Vision MAG 13, which 5 seasons later remains my No1 favourite salmon rod.  Unfortunately, I had no sooner recommended it to all and sundry, than Vision took it out of production.  My research and review thereby rapidly became a matter of historical record rather than useful information (although in 2017-18 several of my regular readers took advantage of Uttings' clearance sale to pick up MAG 13s for £200).  I was increasingly conscious of the lack of value of an obsolete post and wished to offer something more up to date.  With retirement looming I sensed an opportunity, and duly nagged my local Vision dealer to lend me a couple of 13 footers to evaluate and write up - the well known Tool and the new entry-level Onki.  An invitation from Tony the Master Netsman to spend 2 days with him at Rutherford on the Tweed at the end of May provided a welcome opportunity to fish with both rods. 

Test Conditions 

I must stress that this is not an exhaustive test by an expert with a creel full of AAPGAI casting qualifications, using a wide range of different lines.  It's my impressions based on 2 days' fishing with the line and leader most appropriate to the very low water conditions (gauge at 0"), in this case the Rio Scandi head, a plain 13 foot fluorocarbon leader and a #10-12 MCX Dark double fly.  The water was so low and clear that to avoid disturbing the fish I had to stay as far back as possible from the edge, which often curtailed the space available for a good D-loop.  A longer-headed line would  have been an encumbrance, while the shorter head of the Scandi allowed me to work the fly through a useful area of water.  This didn't matter too much as there were only a few places where I needed to cast any great distance.  On both days we had a swirling and often blustery south westerly wind, which required me to use every cast in the book from both shoulders.


As I have previously stated, I have no connection with Vision.  Nor do they offer me any inducements or benefits that would in any way influence the opinions in this evaluation, which are entirely my own.

Onki Overview

With the demise of the Vipu range, the Onki is now Vision's entry level double handed rod.  However, with a price tag of £450 it's certainly not a budget item pitched to compete with the likes of Shakespeare, the  Airflo Delta and the basic Greys.  Its price puts it head-on against the market-leading Guideline LPXe (£499) and £100 below the Tool (and the old MAG).  This places it firmly in the premium £400-£800 bracket, in which the competition is intense and the quality generally high.  You don't get the very latest resins and carbon weaves, or the most up-market rings, reel seats and cork, but the trickle down of the previous generation's goodies does work to the customer's advantage.

I'm not privy to Vision's marketing strategy, but the evidence clearly indicates that they regard the Onki and Tool as very different products, with the choice between them determined by preference rather than price.  The launch of the £1,000 XO range marks a new development in their market positioning that appears consistent with a preference over price doctrine.  You can see where Vision has reduced costs to bring the Onki in £100 below the Tool - rings, reel seat and rod bag most visibly - but they haven't compromised in the areas that really matter.

The first thing that strikes you is the unusual colour.

Within an hour's use I ceased to notice the colour.  It's actually quite easy on the eye, and in a salmon fishing world with yellow rods, electric blue ones and all manner of distinctive shades, it's not that eccentric.

In this photo you can also see the single leg intermediate rings, which are neat and tidily whipped with translucent materials.

The reel seat is a plain workmanlike down locking design, with a slim lock-nut and a gunmetal finish.  At the end of 2 days' fishing it was as tight as when I started, and it required no attention whatsoever.  I'm not a fan of ornate reel seats - my favourite is the American ALPS - and I much prefer something simple and functional, so the Onki's (quite similar to the LPXe) got my vote.

The cork is about average for this price point.  The handle is a nice diameter - not as slim as the MAG, but still well within a comfortable range for my small hands.

The butt and ends of each section are of reinforced cork composite, which is nicely finished.

The balance test indicated an optimum reel weight in the range 220-240 grams.  On the test I used my old Lamson Guru 4, which by chance was a perfect match.

The Onki travels in an unusually modest (for Vision) light grey compartmented tube.

Onki Impressions

There's a certain cheerful eagerness about the Onki.  It's light and easy in the hand, and balanced with the right reel, does not have the inertia that influences the movement of longer rods.  Extending the line single handed was delightfully easy.

Vision describe the Onki as Medium-Fast and 'deep' actioned.  Both terms are unusually accurate.  The Rio 34 gram Scandi was absolutely on the sweet spot: it was so nice I didn't even try the 31 and 37 gram options.  With a full D loop deployed it loads progressively right down into the butt during both back and forward casts.  It tells you everything that's going on during the cast, which is exactly what novices and inexpert casters need (and I enjoy).  Over the years I've concluded that the best test of a rod's communication is the left handed single Spey: you don't have the same muscle memory as on the right side, so things are less automatic and require more thought.  The first pool I fished (The Slap) was right bank, left hand up.  There I was with a brand new and unfamiliar rod, on my first proper day's fishing of the 2019 season, casting rusty, and cack-handed to boot.  Good rod communication was of the essence if things were to get off to a decent start.  

The Slap
Tweed at Rutherford
The Onki made it delightfully easy.  I started on the rocks in the foreground with a series of left handed rolls to work the water closest to me, gradually extending the line before moving down the bank.  How a rod performs when lightly or under-loaded is quite informative, as it tells you how well it will perform in the short range scenarios that are common on small and medium sized rivers, and with the associated ad hoc casts.  You don't spend the whole time at maximum range shooting handfuls of line, so this flexibility is important.  Tip-biased shooting head or Scandi rods are less good in this domain.  In contrast the Onki was excellent.

Once I had extended the line I set off onto the pebble bank and down the pool.  When the wind permitted (downstream and slightly behind at 10-15 mph) I used either left handed single or C Spey, or right handed double Spey.  With the double the height of the pebble bank (about 5'/1.4 m), the impossibility of wading and the acute angle between the casting line and the shore together precluded the formation of a full D loop.  Nevertheless I could cover the full width of this pool, about 25 yards at the head, with ease.  As fish often run up the easier water beyond the centreline it was essential to cover the full width.  

12 lbs springer
estimated to have been in the river 8-10 weeks

Within 10 minutes I was fully settled with the Onki, happy, confident and casting respectably.  Then providence intervened: this nice solid fish, booked by Michael Farr at 12 lbs, took the little MCX Dark shortly after its arrival near the far side.  This gave me an unexpected opportunity to test the Onki's fish-fighting characteristics, which are entirely satisfactory.  As it was my first fish of the year and statistically significant for Rutherford, I didn't hurry the process.  But when the time came to bring it to the net there was plenty enough muscle to finish the job efficiently.

Tweed at Rutherford
It's entirely possible that this stroke of luck - in brilliant sunshine and crystal clear low water - would influence my opinion of the Onki.  Well, so be it: you'll just have to estimate how much discount to apply to my opinion.  I then went on to fish Island, which in the bright sunlight was ultra-clear, which limited wading to no more than a couple of yards.  Here the wind was at 45 degrees downstream and into my face, and rather turbulent and variable, which made it difficult to settle into a single type of cast.  The requirement here was for a much more oblique presentation to maximise the time the fly spent in the narrow main flow-line, and hence a longer cast to cover the water.  It was, however, a far cry from the last time I fished this run in driving rain, near gale-force wind and high water, with a 14' Hardy Marksman, fast sink tip and a weighted tube fly!

Mill Stream (tail)
Tweed at Rutherford

The next morning the wind had dropped when we fished Mill Stream.  This gave me the opportunity to develop a full D loop and  cast a respectable distance with a right-handed single Spey.  The Onki responded enthusiastically, but even here I was nowhere near the limits of its capability.  Stripping in the running line allowed me to work the fly over a lot of water - there were fish in the pool - but sadly to no avail.

After a full session of fishing none of the untaped joints had moved, rotated or loosened.  A quick check of the 2 top sections showed good spinal alignment of the carbon cloths.

I din't try the Onki with a Skagit line, which would have been inappropriate in such low water conditions.  However, my impression of its full action suggests that it would perform very well with a Skagit, which Vision say was an essential part of their design brief.  They suggest a Skagit head of 580 grains, and noting that their recommended Scandi head weight of 34 grams proved to be absolutely spot-on, they're most likely to be correct.  Vision don't make a recommendation of weight for a conventional Spey line, and in the circumstances I didn't have an opportunity to test the 50' head in my car box.  I was so delighted with the 34 gram Scandi that frankly I felt no need to try anything else.


Doing an evaluation on your first day of the season when your casting is rusty is a stern test of a rod's user friendliness and communication.  The simple fact is that the Onki made the job not only easy but also a real pleasure.  Experienced casters could use this rod in their sleep because the feedback through your hands tells you everything you need to know during the progress of the cast.  The action is delightfully full, just the way I like it, with enough flex to reduce the effects of "the trout fishing top hand".  But it's most certainly not soft or sloppy: in essence the Vision designers seem to have taken the Cult action and just turned the firmness up by a couple of clicks.  The result is a delightful rod that I really enjoyed using and can recommend without reservation for a wide swathe of anglers.  In particular, if you're a novice who's now sufficiently committed to salmon fishing to want to graduate from an entry-level rod to something better; or someone who true to this blog's title, fishes just one week per year, is as a result a less than expert caster, and wants a rod that makes it easier; or like me are an OAP with the usual range of creaks and limitations who appreciates a really easy-casting rod, then the Onki will suit you admirably.

In my next post I shall be writing about the Tool 13', which in my view is different in design intent, and therefore optimised for more experienced and expert users.  There isn't a clear or wide dividing line between the Tool and the Onki at this length, rather a reassuring overlap, as I will explain in due course.

Of course all this begs the question of shall I be exchanging my MAG for the Onki?  The answer is no, because obsolescence notwithstanding, the MAG is still near the leading edge in design and materials, while at the personal level, after a 5 year love affair it's become an extension of my fishing hands.  But it's a telling comment on the Onki that at no point during the 2 days at Rutherford did I have the urge to take the MAG out of its tube in order to feed my soul.  For me at least the Onki was that good.

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