ICAST / IFTD 2015 - L.L. Bean Spring Fly Fishing PreviewWay back in 2007 I took my first casting lessons at an L.L. Bean retail location in South Jersey. I followed that up with my first fly rod & reel purchase, a 3-weight Quest II outfit, which I still have today. Even though L.L. Bean might not produce the flashiest product and don't have a retail model that really falls in line with the rest of the industry, my experience with them has been nothing but a positive one. Solid gear at solid pricepoints, with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. They'll always have a place in my personal fly fishing story.
L.L. Bean's presence at ICAST / IFTD was a bit tucked away from the rest of the show, not on the main show floor but in a 3rd floor meeting room. That might seem odd to some, but it's not uncommon when it comes to trade shows, particularly if manufacturers want to host select retailers, have business meetings beyond "meet & greets," provide sanctuary and food, or are vertically integrated and not looking to expand retail presence. My guess is L.L. Bean falls into the last two camps.
In any event, being an "important" member of the media (HA!), I was invited to their luncheon on Thursday to review their Spring 2016 fishing line. The large majority (if not the entire) line was there, but for the purposes of this overview, I'll just concentrate on the new stuff that piqued my interest.
Double L Large Arbor Reel
The venerable Double L reel gets an upgrade in several areas for 2016, most notably going to this large arbor version which allows for quicker line pickup. It maintains most of the same cosmetics and color palette of the prior Double Ls, but also gets a smoother, sealed carbon fiber drag and as visible in the photo above, a more "skeletonized" frame design. It will come in 3 sizes (3/4, 5/6, 7/8) which will retail between $129 & $149.
Rapid River Packs
There will be a whole new line of Rapid River packs that will compliment the Rapid River Vest Pack that is already on the market. I'll concentrate specifically on the Rapid River Sling Pack ($99) in this post, but know there is also a Lumbar Pack ($89), and a Micro Chest Pack ($59) coming as well.
(More on the Micro Chest Pack in tomorrow's Tenkara Tuesday post).
Personally, I thought this was the most compelling of the 3 packs, as it seemed to have a lot of features that anglers are seeking for at a solid price-point. As you can see from the pictures above, there's a place for everything, and everything has it's place. There's a large main compartment with two stacked outer pockets to organize everything big, medium, or small. The top lid of the pack features a fly patch and the front strap has a built in zinger and hemo sheath. There's also a water bottle sleeve that is visible at the bottom in the picture above.
My biggest issue with slings is that most tend to slide around on your body as you move around, especially when wading and hopping rocks. L.L. Bean solves this problem with a 3-point attachment which keeps the bag put, but easily rotates to access your gear. The shoulder straps also feature perforated foam for comfort. This is a pack I'd really like to test drive on a mountain stream, to 1) see if it matches it's claims, and 2) to see how that 3 point harness works for people like myself with a bit of a belly.
River Tread Pro Wading Boot
Cosmetically, I love the aesthetic of the River Tread Pro Wading Boot. It does a wonderful job of merging the look of a classic wading boot with streamlined modern materials and technology.
Like many of the top wading boots on the market, the River Tread Pro utilizes a quick release BOA closure rather than traditional laces. That seems to be the way the industry is moving, so it is good to see L.L. Bean keeping pace. The boot itself is a non-absorbent TPU coated ripstop shell with Armortex Kevlar reinforced nylon overlays. The benefits of that combination create a lightweight, quick drying boot, that remains durable and supportive.
The rubber Aquastealth outsoles (bottoms) come either regular or studded, and have the familiar hex pattern, in a light brown color. There's actually a picture of the bottoms in the next section. These boots will retail for $179, or $199 with studs.
Now that my Gray Ghost boots have finally bit the dust, I'll be looking hard at these for next Spring.
BOA Stream Cleat
Why did I hold back on showing you the Aquastealth soles on the River Tread Pros? Because you're going to see them here...
I suppose taking a cue from the Patagonia River Crampons, L.L. Bean is releasing its BOA Stream Cleat, which to me, was one of the more intriguing items in the room.
Now note, these photos are of a prototype only, so some things will change, most notable being those gnarly jaws on the bottom, visible in the first photo. Those will be replace with less aggressive carbide studs that will ring the bottom of the forefoot like a U and then in a square on the heel.
Again, BOA technology is used for easy on-off, and the rest of metal hardware will be corrosion resistant stainless steel. While Korkers kind of has the market cornered on replaceable bottomed boots, at only $99, this is an affordable alternative to give a little bit of extra grip to the bottom of your boots without needing screw-in studs. It goes without saying, but this could also be seen as a must for the drift boat fisherman.
Emerger Waders with Superseam
On the surface, there is really nothing remarkable in the features/benefits of these waders. The latest version of the Emerger Waders are pretty basic waders at solid lower price-points, just like the Emerger series in years past.
They are constructed out of flexible, rugged fabric in a fashion that allows for great articulation to allow you to bend over, rock hop, all that stuff. They also come with a waterproof internal pocket, for your wallet, keys, or I suppose cell phone.
But where these versions stand out, is that they've more or less maintained the Emerger price-point, yet have done so while upgrading to Superseam technology. Not familar with Superseam? It is a technique where the pieces of fabric in the waders are bonded together rather than stitched and taped like most inexpensive waders. Net/net proposition is with less holes from sewing, the less likely it is to develop a leak, particularly in the areas that get the most work.
These waders will come in many different "flavors" and are attractively priced at each. Stocking foot ($169), Boot foot ($289), Waist high ($149) and Women's Stocking foot ($169).
There was also quite a bit of apparel present, I didn't post pictures of most of it because this post would go on forever, but here is the brief run down on each:
- Fishing Sweater ($79) - 1/4 zip moisture managing top with plenty of zippered pockets
- Ultralight Packable Wading Jacket ($119) - Waterproof ripstop hooded jacket that weights under a half pound and fits into pocket when not in use
- Women's Emerger Wading Jacket ($119) - All of the features of the Men's Emerger, appropriately sized for women
- Hybrid Fishing Shirt ($89) - Woven body with stretch knit sleeves which provides great range of motion. 2 upper chest pockets and a caped back
- Cool Performance Knit Crew T-Shirt ($35 SS, $40 LS) - UPF 50+ tee with vertical zipped chest pocket. Built in anti-odor, stain resistance, and moisture wicking, (The Cool Performance shirt also is pictured in the Rapid River Sling Pack entry above)
- No Fly Zone Cotton Crew T-Shirt ($30 SS, $40 LS) - Lightweight, performance sun shirt treated with No Fly Zone for lotion-free bug protection
- No Fly Zone Lighted Fishing Cap ($35) - L.L. Bean wordmark logo hat with UPF 50+ fabric & Panther Vision LED lighting on brim
- Tropicwear Cap ($15) - Lightweight Tropicwear fabric with moisture wicking sweatband and Velcro closure
Overall, a solid showing by L.L. Bean. Nothing with super sex-appeal (unless you find the new wading boots sexy like I do), but quite a few additions to the line that will meet many an angler's need for solid performance and affordable price-point.
This is the second of six new product overviews from last week's ICAST / IFTD event. If you'd like to see the other entries, please click HERE.