I’ve made a late spring retreat to Northern New Mexico’s San Juan Mountains a tradition in my life. My destination is always Vallecitos, a former Spanish land grant, now a retreat center and nature preserve nestled in a 9000 foot valley at the southern end of the Rockies.
Located in the midst of Carson National Forest, right on the Continental Divide trail, it’s about two hours north of Santa Fe.
Much to my delight, it’s off the grid and far from a cell phone signal.
Running through the property is Vallecitos River, a sparkling mountain stream that teems with Rainbow and Brown trout. Coming from Hawaii, it was a pain to bring my own gear, so for a couple of years I borrowed a rod and reel from a friend who lived part time on the property.
This year I acquired a worthy companion for my high altitude Rocky Mountain fishing endeavors, the The Spin/Fly Combo from LL Bean. As the name implies is actually two fishing rods—a fly rod and a spinner (complete with fly and spinning reels) neatly packed into a nifty little bundle that you can pack in your suitcase or in my case, a rolling duffel bag. The case is 21 1/2″ L X 8 1/2″ W x 3 1/2″.
This is about as compact as you can get for two rods and it’s going to take up some space in your bag so be prepared to sacrifice a few pair of Gucci shoes. The fishing rods are more important anyway.
After “road-testing” this gear in Carson National Forest, I would say LL Bean has a winner with this combo.
The 8’6″, 5-weight, 6-piece (graphite) fly rod comes preloaded with (WF5F) floating fly line, backing and leader. In other words, all you have to do is put each of the six, 17” long sections together, thread the line through the guides, tie on your fly and you’re in business.
The 6′ spinning outfit is a medium/light, 4-piece unit is preloaded with 60 yards of 6 lb. monofilament. Same deal. Put it together and you’re ready to go. It comes out of the package set up for a left-hander, only because that’s the way it’s packed in the case. So it’s just a matter of detaching the handle by means of a screw and putting it on the right hand side of the reel. Not a big deal, even for someone who’s not mechanically inclined.
After interrogating a knowledgeable friend in Albuquerque regarding what lures to use, I headed over to the closest Walmart (which intuitively wouldn’t have been my first place to look) and checked out their fishing selection. My friend had suggested Panther Martin lures, so I picked up a combination set for under $20 and kept my fingers crossed.
At 9000 feet, off the grid, there would be too many tackle shops around.
I used the spinning rod virtually all of the time. (My old schoolmate, Bill Zemanek, a professional photographer who resides in Sonoma County, used the fly rod).
There was a significant volume of water in the stream due to a late snowfall and the conditions seemed more conducive for a lure but Bill knew his way around a fly rod–and the water. The fish seemed in the “right spots” in the stream–exactly where they should be.
Bill caught fish on a stimulator dry fly and also fished with an indicator nymphing setup utilizing double nymphs. Some of the nymphs he tried included a Birdsnest, Bead head Pheasant Tail, Black AP, and the standard Mayfly nymphs. (We did see some Mayflies coming off the water in the afternoon when it got warmer).
Bill’s verdict was that for an affordable fly rod and reel it has surprisingly good, “medium fast action as well as being smooth and responsive.” Said Bill, “the tip was sensitive but had enough power to set the hook when needed. It also had good backbone to land the fish.”
The good news is that we caught a lot of fish—several dozen over a period of about five days.
The rods were perfectly suited for trout in the 10-14 inch category.
The fish were hungry and in my case they consistently went after the lures throughout the day. The spinning outfit is a light setup and it was fun bringing the fish in.
We didn’t dine on any trout, however.
This was strictly catch and release city. The retreat we stayed at was vegetarian, so cooking fish in the communal kitchen would not have gone over very well with most of the attendees. At any rate, I didn’t feel the need to relive my youth by smashing the heads of the trout over rocks. I was happy to let the fish go on their merry way.
The rod/reel combo worked quite well. It was balanced and cast just fine. After some practice I was able to put the lure exactly where I wanted it.
The reel kept the line where it should be. Only once did I manage to tangle things up. Perhaps I can blame (why not?) the line which took a while to lose its memory and I got a knot that cost about 30 feet. After a little surgery I was back in business.
So who is this combo meant for?
I think it’s both a good fit for a beginner and ideal for a traveler whose main purpose is to get in some fishing as opposed to going on a full time fishing expedition. In other words, if you’re going to drop $8k on a two week, guided sojourn to Patagonia, you probably already own a well-appointed fly rod and reel. You’re not going to be using this outfit.
On the other hand, if you’re heading to the Rockies to visit friends and want to get in some time on the river (and don’t have the room or inclination to take expensive gear) this setup is ideal.
Another thing to keep in mind is that LL Bean has a wonderful warranty policy.
Return anything purchased from them at any time if it is not completely satisfactory. I showed off the rod to a friend of mine in Honolulu after I returned from New Mexico and while demonstrating his prowess with my rod he managed the break the tip. I was not pleased and embarrassed as hell, checked with LL Bean. They replaced the rod, no questions asked. (Thank goodness).
Their standard practice is to reimburse your original purchase price to either your original method of payment or as a merchandise credit, or use it to help exchange your item.
Given that you’re paying under $175 for two complete fishing rods/reels there’s is going to have to be some compromise. That said there’s nothing “cheap” or junky about this kit.
Essentially everything works as it should and if you do your job, you’ll catch fish and (as we did) have a helluvalot of fun. Just be careful who you lend your rod to!