Why do most fly anglers think, fiberglass fly rods equal small streams and small fish? Is it because we’ve been brainwashed to think that a graphite rod is the only way to deliver flies beyond 20 feet? or that you need graphite to effectively fight fish over 10 inches? We don’t buy that.
Epic fly rods, from New Zealand, has made that abundantly clear, particularly via its “FastGlass” models that caught the attention of American anglers not all-too-long ago, and have since built a bit of a cult following. “Fiberglass but smoother and more powerful than what you’d expect…” was the mantra.
And it is. We tested some Epic rods, starting with a 4-weight on small streams, because that’s what fiberglass is for, right? Little rod, little fish stuff is, of course, right in the fiberglass wheelhouse. (See our separate review of the Epic Reference 4-weight 476 FastGlass fly rod.)
The revelation is that, if you really know how to cast and understand how advanced materials can be applied to fly rods, you’ll soon understand how the real benefit of fiberglass can actually manifest in the higher-weighted rods, if done correctly, with some actual backbone in the mix.
We set aside some streamer and late-season dry fly days in Colorado and Idaho to test the 686 FastGlass, hoping to see how it would perform in varied weather and water conditions, as well as its ability to accurately cast dry flies to selective trout, or work heavier sinking flies (and lines) from the boat. Not many rods in our experience have the ability to truly do it all, despite the marketing language.
The Epic 686 was crafted with 8 micron FastGlass II, a unidirectional S-2 Glass, to create a durable, smooth-casting and versatile fly rod that hopes to “re-imagine what a high performance fiberglass fly rod could and should be.”
Carl McNeil, the chief rod designer for Epic fly rods, described the genesis of the 686 FastGlass rod this way: “When putting the 686 together the two major considerations were, how would it be used? and what advantages could it provide over carbon fiber rods? particularly given that glass rods, in larger sizes, are somewhat heavier than their carbon fiber counterparts. Strength and durability, and hence versatility, is one clear advantage of modern S2 glass over carbon fiber. We worked to keep swing weight down (4.8 ounces), and the action lively with a shorter length–8’6” rather than 9-feet. The result is an extremely tough rod that will sling just about anything you care to throw at it. Perfect for weighted flies, conehead buggers and big streamers that tend to wreak havoc on carbon fiber rods.”
This rod forms a slightly more “open” loop than the typical fast-action graphite rod. That’s generally a good thing when throwing larger flies like weighted streamers. It flexes a bit further down the blank than the more “tippy” fast-action graphite rod, which is good for feeling the line load on the rod as you make the casting stroke. And it’s good for roll casting. Fiberglass, naturally, doesn’t “recover” as quickly as graphite, so it doesn’t turn the leader over with as much authority as fast graphite, but again, that can be a good thing when you want to make more delicate presentations. (Think targeting large trout in New Zealand.)
And it’s worth noting that compared to other fiberglass rods, which are typically much slower in terms of action, FastGlass is appreciably quicker. The “tracking” (side-to-side accuracy) is exceptional in a fiberglass context but average compared to other graphite rods we’ve tested. We wouldn’t call it a dedicated wind-buster, or distance shooter, but inside 60 feet, in most situations from rivers to lakes, with various flies, it more than showed up. It has a special, unique feel you should experience to fully appreciate.
Epic’s fly rod design aesthetic can be summed up from the manufacturer this way: “Our philosophy is to use the very best materials for each fly rod application. FastGlass fiberglass fly rods are perfectly suited for long lazy casting strokes, presenting dry flies like thistledown or slinging serious weight out on the flats.”
The 686 taper and construction materials were created for slower casting strokes and line speeds, a forgiving medium-to-fast rod action and opportunities to approach fishing situations with a more specialized casting and fish-fighting tool.
While no rod can do it all, the 686 can make long, accurate casts on the windy dry-fly flats, fight and direct big fish with a forgiving mid-section and tip and sling big, weighted flies from the boat on a streamer session. We consider this rod a highly versatile fishing tool.