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Winston's Derek Brown Favorite:
the ultimate two-hander?

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Well, I have to admit it: I've been waiting a long time for these rods to appear. I first got wind of them a few years ago, but the repeated production delays made it difficult for everyone to believe that they would ever arrive. Well, after endless tweaking, arrive they did. Are they what we all expected?

In short, are Winston's Derek Brown Favorites the ultimate Spey rods?

    I first met Derek Brown a number of years ago when he was running his old web site (Brown's of Tweedside) and traveling to Canada and the US to teach Spey casting. I was fortunate enough to attend several of his classes and for a time was strongly influenced by his philosophy and methods. Over the space of two years we often discussed rod and line designs and Derek was very generous with his skills and knowledge. I probably learned more about virtually every aspect of the two-handed fly rod during those years than I had before or since, and certainly Derek's wisdom laid the foundation for my development as a caster and instructor. With his help I pieced together custom Spey lines and transitioned from traditional actions to the faster rods and over time learned how to combine these to make casts I never thought I could achieve. Back then Derek was casting Sage and Norwich rods; I couldn't afford the Norwich, but I could manage the 16ft Sage and spent the next few years learning how to punch out monster casts for the Thompson's big pools. 
    We have lost touch in recent years, but Derek still makes an annual trip to the States to teach Spey casting, and over the past few years he's been working with Winston to design a series of rods that  represents a distillation of his skills as a caster and instructor. The result is the Derek Brown Favorite.


Aesthetics & Design:

    The Derek Brown Favorite is a beautifully understated rod, something that has become a Winston trademark. The sanded blank is finished in Winston's signature green. The snakes are non-glare. The reel seat is nickel silver with a wood spacer, and the butt cap is the UK style seen on rods like the Daiwas. The 15ft length affords excellent line control,anddbfbottom the sensible 5-piece design will appeal to air travelers. 
    These rods are designed with long-line traditional technique Spey casters in mind. The generous handle lengths (front handle: 13-3/4in; back handle: 6-3/4in) will make adapting the rod to your particular casting style easy as well as giving you the added cork that comes in handy when fighting a fish.
    Every multi-piece rod needs alignment marks, and Winston adds these in a clever way to the Derek Brown rods. Winston puts a model number on each female ferrule on the bottom of the blank--use these to align with the guides. The  RL Winston logo on the butt section just below the male ferrule aligns with the reel seat, so use this logo to align the butt section with the bottom guide on the 2nd section.

Test Cast:

    First of all I need to tell you that I only had the rod in my hands for a few days and my overall impression of it was based on one day's fishing on the Skykomish River in Washington State. It was a rainy, awful day (perfect for steelhead) and I didn't hook any fish (typical for steelhead) but I don't think the environment unduly influenced my sense of the rod's characteristics and performance.
dbftop    The first thing any caster will notice is how incredibly heavy this rod is. The info on the blank says 13-1/2 oz, making this one of the heaviest 8/9 US production rods that I'm aware of. I noticed the overall weight immediately, and this combined with a pronounced "tip-heavy" sensation left me more than a little fatigued at the end of a full day on the water. Now, perhaps that's because I'm a bit of a 98 lb weakling in some areas of endeavor, but it is safe to say that anyone spending time with this rod will definitely need to get used to the weight. I fished it with a Waterworks ULA Force 4 Spey reel--one of the biggest and lightest large arbor Spey reels available, but the rod's balance point was still well off the end of the forward cork. Later I used a Hardy Salmon #2 & #3 and found that these heavier reels balanced the rod much better than ultralight Waterworks, but then these Hardys added even more weight to the system. 
    So why is this rod so heavy? Well, some US rod manufacturers have had trouble designing two-handers for casters who like to throw long-bellied lines. Their rods work well for shooting heads and extended belly shooting heads like the Windcutter, but they fold up when the extra grains of a long bellied Spey line are added. Like other high end manufacturers, Winston has at its disposal the most advanced materials and design expertise, but their newest rod turns out to be much heavier than virtually anything produced by the competition. Despite our desire for lighter and stronger two-handers, it is becoming evident that you can't have your cake and eat it too: if you want a rod that will lift and throw a long bellied line, and that won't break in the butt section, you need to beef up the blank, and this of course adds weight to the rod. This rod will lift and throw pretty much any long-bellied line you care to string it with, and I don't think you'll need to concern yourself with it breaking on you.
    With the weight issue out of the way, let's look at performance. The 8/9 is a very powerful double hander. If you look at the Winston web site you'll notice that this rod is rated for a 130ft+ fishing distance. While this might seem surprising for an 8/9 rod, the ad copy is accurate. Although my casting was a little rusty on test day, the rod had no trouble throwing everything but a few turns of a 130 ft 8/9 Accelerator and easily turned over a 15ft leader at the end. I haven't really come across any other production 8/9 that can do this so well. During a typical cast the rod bends progressively into the mid section, then transitions into a powerful butt. When you hit it right the butt section transfers the power of the cast quickly into the tip for incredible power and fast line speed. The 8/9 easily changes direction with the full belly of the Accelerator out the end of the rod tip, and allows you to make any Spey cast you like. You will not have a problem moving loooooong lengths of line with this rod. While time didn't permit this, I would like to have tried the rod with a 9/10 line as I think the rod is really more of a 9 weight than an 8, but a heavier line is likely to slow it down some and deaden the responsiveness that I liked in the rod.
    As expected, casting sink tips was not a problem with this rod, and it turned over some of my heavier heads with nary a whimper.
    The Derek Brown Favorite is definitely a caster's rod, one that will be appreciated by accomplished casters who have no difficulty with casts over 100ft. 
    

Conclusions:

    The Derek Brown Favorite 8/9 is very different from Winston's original series of Spey rods. The Derek Brown 8/9 is a surprisingly heavy and extremely powerful two-hander. The rod reminds me of a more powerful and slightly faster version of the Daiwa UK Alltmor rods, or a cross between the Daiwas and the old 16ft Sage. It offers excellent loop control and tremendous casting and mending capabilities. It is a long-liner's rod, and definitely a rod for the custom line builder. If you are a caster who likes to use long-bellied and extended bellied Spey lines and make extremely long casts it is a rod that could allow you to reach your fullest potential. It's probably the first US made 8/9 rod that you could call an all-round rod for the long line Spey caster. If it wasn't such a heavy stick it could easily become everyone's all-round Spey rod, but I think the weight might cause some anglers to shy away from it. Apart from the fact that I'd need to spend a few months in the gym before taking it on a week-long trip, the rod certainly lives up to the expectations I had of it--a quick and powerful two-hander that will allow a skilled caster to cover any water you'd expect to fish for steelhead or Atlantic salmon.

As for the original question, are Winston's Derek Brown Favorites the ultimate Spey rods?

 I'll let you decide.

 

special thanks to Dave Lock for making this rod available for review

reel by Waterworks

 

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