Over the past six months, we’ve been fortunate to swing flies for everything from dime bright king salmon, to feisty wild steelhead, to some of the largest native resident rainbow trout in the world. That’s allowed us to put some of the latest and greatest spey gear to the test, in full hopes that we can, well, tell you all about it! We know, it’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it.
This season we did just that with G. Loomis’ latest line of two-handed rods; the IMX-PRO Short Spey and after putting the 71111-4 (that’s the 11’11”, 7 weight model) through the ringer across three different fisheries, we’re here to give you our thoughts about it.
Background – ‘Short Spey’ versus ‘Switch Rods’
We’ve long found the notion of ‘switch’ rods to be a bit misleading. In our opinion, the idea that the same rod/line setup could perform well using both two-handed ‘spey’ techniques and traditional overhead fly casting techniques is a bit of a pipe dream. Why? The result is often a setup that performs multiple functions only moderately well, as opposed to a setup that performs one particular function extraordinarily well. Thus, we’ve long prescribed to the theory that ‘switch’ rods are nothing more than small spey rods.. Which then begs the question; “What’s the difference between a ‘switch’ rod and a ‘short spey’ rod?”
As spey rods have evolved, more and more anglers are reaching for shorter and shorter two-handers. Thank shorter and more efficient line designs and casting styles, improvements in rod design, increased interest in swinging flies for species other than salmon and steelhead, and the greater understanding amongst anglers that more fish are caught within 40 feet than off of the opposite bank. Either way, anglers today are learning the benefits of shorter two-handers as the lengths of popular ‘spey’ rods continue to approach that of their ‘switch rod’ comparison.
So what’s the ideal length of a spey rod? There isn’t one! Nor will there ever be. There’s just too many variables to consider to cover all the possible fishing situations in the world. That being said, we’ve really started to appreciate rods in the 11.5 to 12.5 foot range for the majority of our fishing situations. Why? We’d argue that hovering around that 12 foot mark allows for casts with plenty of distance to cover more than enough water while also allowing for casts in tight situations that longer rods couldn’t even attempt. The shorter the rod also makes for a better fighting stick against hard fighting fish, and offers a good balance between the ability to mend reasonably well while reducing fatigue that can occur when swinging a 15 foot rod all day.
Why are we telling you all this, exactly? Because when we first caught wind that our friends at G. Loomis were designing the entire IMX-PRO Short Spey line at 11 foot 11 inches, we instantly thought to ourselves, “finally, the perfect spey rod,” and we’re happy to say it didn’t disappoint.
‘True Spey’ Action
Despite our view that switch rods are nothing more than short spey rods, most spey anglers would agree that there is an apparent difference in feel when casting a traditional ‘spey’ rod versus a shorter ‘switch’ rod. Simply put, most full spey rods (even fast action rods) tend to have a very progressive flex which lends itself to that lovely deep loading feel we all love when casting two-handers. Switch rods on the other hand are often most described as having a sharper ‘tip-action’ requiring a more ‘punchy’ forward cast and typically translating into less feel throughout the cast. In fact, we haven’t cast many rods under twelve feet that have the same deep loading feel of a full length spey rod.. Until now.
G. Loomis defines the action of the IMX-PRO Short Spey line as a medium-fast “True-Spey” action. We have to admit we weren’t quire sure what that really meant until we cast it, but after we tossed it a few times, we completely understood. The IMX-PRO loads deep into the handle of the rod through the cast, providing a level of feel that you’d expect in a much longer spey rod. In fact, on multiple occasions we found ourselves forgetting how short the rod actually was until it came time to poke a few casts out from some pretty ugly overhanging obstructions. The shorter length combined with a deep loading flex made easy work of some otherwise difficult casting scenarios.
It’s worth noting however, that ‘deep-loading’ or ‘medium-fast’ action should by no means be viewed as ‘soft,’ ‘slow,’ or lacking any sort of power in the slightest. On the contrary, one of the things that impressed us most about the IMX-PRO was its ability to rebound so quickly on the forward cast. ‘Snappy’ was the word that came to mind the first time we cast it, and more than one of our guides were impressed with just how much line speed was generated with so little effort.
We matched the 71111-4 IMX-PRO Short Spey with a 480 grain Airflo Skagit Scout and admittedly never looked back. This is partly because the rod designer himself, Tom Larimer, recommended it to us as his go-to line (its hard to disagree with the designer), but also because it didn’t take more than a few casts before we doubted there was a better balanced setup.
That being said, we’d recommend any shorter skagit-style head in the 18-20 foot and 480 grain range such as a 480 grain Airflo Skagit Switch or a 475 grain RIO Skagit Max Short to be a great match, and anglers with a faster stroke (who typically prefer lighter lines) might appreciate a similar but slightly lighter head in the 450 grain range.
We’ve heard mixed reviews regarding the handle on the IMX-PRO, however we found it to be a perfect match for the length of the rod. For starters, the bottom grip is relatively short and doesn’t feature an oversized knob found on most full-sized spey rods. The upper grip is also somewhat shorter in length than most upper grips, as well as thinner in hand at the top of the grip than some other rods too. After many days of jumping back and forth between several different spey rods, one thing we noticed is that the shorter grip length of the IMX-PRO actually helped to keep our casting motions more compact which is extremely important when casting shorter rods and compact line systems.
When talking about rods, one thing we find isn’t touched on enough is how well a rod actually fights fish. After all, when dealing with hard fighting fish, we’d argue a rod’s function doesn’t stop after the cast. This season we tangled with numerous steelhead, Naknek resident trout pushing 30 inches in length, and multiple species of salmon and never once felt a lack of control after hooking up. That’s somewhat expected for rods in the 7-weight class, but we found the ability to put maximum pressure on fish (due to the shorter length) combined with the rod’s ability to protect tippet (due to its deeper flex) to be a deadly combination.
Something that’s rarely a positive point when it comes to high-performance fly rods, the price of the IMX-PRO Short Spey series might just be its most alluring feature. In every way, we found the rod to perform at a premium level, in comparison (if not better than) rods upwards of $1,000.00. But, at only $575.00 its easily one of the most affordable ‘premium-level’ spey rods on the market, which is not something we get to say often!
The IMX-PRO Short Spey series are some of the most exciting sticks to hit the spey scene we’ve seen in a long time. We think they’re some of the most versatile and affordable rods on the market, and available in 3 through 7 weight (all of which are 11′ 11″ long) are able to cover a wide range of fisheries.
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