Several years ago Brian Lencho and I floated Washington's Skykomish River in the heart of steelhead season. I had along a 15ft Sage; Brian was fishing a newly finished Angler's Workshop custom rod and a 14ft Thomas &Thomas two-hander. At the time I knew T&T rods only by reputation: Gary Borger was endorsing them and, like Winstons, they were promoted and accepted by the angling public as premium rods often found in the hands of the most discerning anglers. Over the day Brian and I traded rods from time-to-time as we worked our way down through some of the Sky's most celebrated runs. We didn't hit any fish that day, and I found the Thomas & Thomas unremarkable. I recall it being a little soft in the butt for my liking, and the aggressive casting style I had adopted at the time had me throwing tailing loops. But to be truthful, I was a little envious of Brian's weaponry: the T&T was a beautiful looking rod and well-made, and when I held it I felt like a serious angler. I knew I couldn't afford one, so I sought comfort in the fact that I was swinging Sage rods, designed and built here in the great Northwest. What could an "eastern" rod company famous for sweet-casting single-handers know about Speys, anyways?
Well, a few things have happened since that trip. First, I think I've grown up a little and in the process become a more competent and informed Spey caster; second, the people at Thomas & Thomas have gotten really good at making two-handers, which shouldn't be at all surprising given that Simon Gawesworth was a member of their advisory staff for a time. Simon has left the company and now works with RIO, but when I spoke with him last spring he strongly suggested I try the new T&T Spey rods, and in particular the DH1510-5. A few emails and a phone call later and one was en route from the Thomas & Thomas head office in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
The DH1510-5 was designed by Thomas and Thomas founder Tom Dorsey, a gentleman who knows a thing or two about fly rods. Uncase one and the first thing that strikes you is its 5-piece design. Each section is @ 37-1/2 inches long. I asked Lon Deckard of Thomas & Thomas to explain the thinking behind this. "The DH 1510-5 is designed to fit in a common tube with our DH 1208-4 and any of our 3 section 9 foot rods," he said. "We feel that this combination of rods will meet the needs of any traveling salmon angler." Or steelhead angler. This 5-piece design will appeal to air traveling anglers bound for Russiaÿýs Kola Peninsula or British Columbiaÿýs Skeena system.
While it makes for a very compact Spey rod, adding additional ferrules comes with its own set of engineering challenges: each section you add to a rod brings with it the potential for power transition problems and added stiffness through the ferrules, so I was a touch skeptical about the rod's feel and performance before I cast it. This quickly evaporated after the first throw. The Thomas & Thomas designers have created a tremendously smooth feeling rod, with an even progression of power through the ferrules. When casting you won't notice that there's an additional ferrule in there.
The DH 1510-5 is a beautiful rod. Everything about it is first rate, from the deep blue finish on the blank to the cork work in the handles. Thread wraps that blend in with the blank give the rod a classy yet understated look. Guides are oversized to accommodate the thicker modern Spey lines. The handles have been designed by someone who understands the challenges of casting and fishing long lines with two-handed rods. There's lots of cork there, just over 6 inches of it in the bottom handle, 16-3/8 inches in the top, giving both hands a comfortable grip for casting. The length of the bottom handle also keeps the spool of the bigger large arbor reels well away from your waders, giving you lots of room to palm the spool when a big fish runs. Thomas & Thomas machine the reel seat from T-6061 aircraft grade aluminum and anodize it to a custom Arctic Blue Pewter color. All production work is done at the Thomas & Thomas plant in Greenfield, MA.
The only criticism I have of the rod is the lack of alignment marks along the blank. I believe that all two-handed multi-sectioned rods should have alignment marks, whether or not they have guides on each section. This simply makes rigging up easier, especially in poor light conditions when it is difficult to judge alignment by sighting on the guides. The DH1510-5 does not have guides on the handle section so it takes a little fiddling to align this section with the rest of the rod.
Line: RIO MidSpeyÿý 9/10, Acceleratorÿý 9/10
Reel: Loop Traditional 4, Waterworks ULA Force 4 Saltwater/Spey
You can read Simon Gawesworth's line recommendations for this rod elsewhere in this site, but he told me that a favored set up is the RIO MidSpey. Any number of reels will balance this rod well, but I like the Waterworks ULA Force 4 Saltwater/Spey . It's a serious reel to complement a serious rod.
It is evident that much careful thought has gone into the design and production of the DH 1510-5. It is a fishing rod designed for serious casters, but its forgiving action will be of great benefit to beginners as well. The DH1510-5 casts sweetly at all distances. Much of the testing was completed on the British Columbiaÿýs Chilliwack/Vedder River where casts to winter steelhead lies are rarely more than 70ft, with some casts less than 30ft. On the Vedder I was tip casting 20 feet to cover near shore seams--a gentle flick of the wrists easily achieved this, and the timing is easy to judge because you can feel the rod loading even with short lengths of line out. On larger pools down river--what I would consider more classic steelhead water where casts of 80 feet are average--the rod maintained this easy feel while evidencing plenty of power in the butt section. On one large run on the lower river Tyler Kushnir and I wound the rod up with snake and reverse snake rolls of over 100ft, and these were effortless. Switch casts and single Speys of over 100ft were also executed with ease.
Covering distant drifts with such easily executed long casts was a treat.
I handed the rod over to my local UPS agent the other day, and I was sorry to see it go. It's an exceptional rod I would take anywhere steelhead or Atlantic salmon take me. Simply put it is one of the finest two-handers I've ever cast.
special thanks to Lon Deckard for making this rod available for review
reel by Waterworks