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RIO Skagit Max Review

Posted on September 06 2013

RIO Skagit Max
Shorter, easier, more forgiving.

RIO has just started shipping the Skagit Max, their newest Skagit-style shooting head.  The Skagit Max replaces the Skagit Flight as RIO’s go-to floating head for most two-handed rods.

We fished the Skagit Max for a week at BC West last month, so we’ll tell you what we thought about it on the Dean.  We also did a little interview with Simon Gawesworth, RIO’s resident spey design guru – so you get to hear a bit about the design process, right from the horse’s mouth!

The Facts

Let’s start with some facts.

Skagit Max heads are quite a bit shorter than their Skagit Flight equivalents.  The Max heads start at 23 feet at 425 grains, and get as long as 25 feet at 750 grains.  That’s not very long – Flight heads ranged from 24 to 32 feet.

The Skagit Max is built on ConnectCore, a low-stretch material designed to help with sensitivity and hook sets.  More on this from Simon below.

These heads are a cool blue color, with a bright orange section near the back loop – to help with visibility and to ‘match up’ with the front end of the ConnectCore and GripShooter running lines.  The idea is that you loop the orange section on the back of the head to the orange section on the front of the running line – making it foolproof that you’re going to put the running line and the shooting head both on your reel in the right direction.  This might sound a little silly, but having hosted somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 spey anglers on destination trips we’re here to tell you – shooting heads sometimes get put on backwards, and when that happens it’s not pretty.  Anyhow…

How it Casts and Fishes

If you like shorter heads (me!), the Skagit Max is a huge upgrade.  We loved it on the Dean.

The shorter length and more aggressive taper compared to the Skagit Flight are both noticeable instantly.  You can use a nice, easy casting stroke, keep your hands close to your body, and voila…your rod bends deep and smooth, and the head just launches.  If you put too much power into your D-loop, you might pull your anchor – again don’t forget that you’re casting a head that’s roughly 25% shorter than the Skagit Flight.

Turnover is effortless.  That’s one of the beauties of these ‘modern’ Skagit heads (we’d put the Airflo Skagit Compact and Switch in the same family) – pretty much any reasonable tip and fly combination is going to turn over just fine, even on relatively lightweight rods.  We fished 12 1/2 feet of T-14 and a big weighted fly with a 550 grain Skagit Max head, and never even thought about turnover.  5 years ago, that setup would have been strictly ‘700+ grain, 14 foot 9 weight’ territory.  Modern technology has delivered us more than just Instagram!

The biggest practical fishing gain compared to the Skagit Flight is that sub-par D-loops load the rod much, much better.  No backcast room?  The rod still bends.  Funky wind angle?  OK, the cast still works.  Not the best cast of your life?  Fine, you’ll still be out at effective fishing range.  It’s a much more forgiving head.

Simon Says

After a week at BC West we had some pretty clear feelings about how the Skagit Max fished, but being fishing people and not Rocket Scientists we didn’t quite grasp the ‘why’ part of the equation.  So, we did what any Evil International Fishing Conglomerate worth its salt would do – we picked up the red phone on our desk that said ‘RIO’, Simon Gawesworth answered, and we asked him a few questions.  We got a really cool lesson in spey design!

Us: “So what were the basic things that you were trying to accomplish with the Skagit Max?”

Simon: “We knew that the trend was towards shorter Skagit heads, so it was a real goal to shorten the head.  We also wanted to make the heads easier to cast for the majority of spey anglers.  We actually started with the basic taper of the iFlight [Ed’s note: the iFlight is RIO’s intermediate Skagit head, which is quite a bit shorter than the floating Skagit Flight].

When we made the original iFlight, we started with the Skagit Flight taper and put an intermediate section on it [Ed’s note: remember that the Skagit Flight was pretty long – up to 32 feet].  It cast terribly.  Over 18 iterations it got shorter and shorter, and we moved more and more mass to the back of the head to load the rod more quickly and easily.  When we finally finished the iFlight it was easily our best-casting Skagit head, so when we started to design the next version of our floating Skagit heads, it was natural to start with that taper.”

Us: “When we fished this head we really noticed that it cast a lot better in those rare situations where our D loop was something less than perfect [Ed’s note: ha ha ha].  It seemed a lot more forgiving.  Was that because of that stuff you said about how more of the mass is closer to the back of the head?”

Simon: “Yes.  Putting more mass closer to the back of the head helps load the rod earlier in the formation of the D loop.”

Us: “The whole printed ID thing is pretty cool [Ed’s note: the name and grain weight of the line is printed on the line near the rear loop so you know what head it is.]  How come you didn’t print that right on the loop, and instead printed it a ways from the loop?”

Simon:  “The line near the loop is the skinniest part of the line, so the ID would have been so small you couldn’t read it.  We printed it on the fat section of line with a larger font where you can actually read it.  Are you stupid? [Ed’s note: Simon didn’t really say that last sentence].”

Us: “How much does the ConnectCore core material stretch?  How does that affect how the heads cast and fish?”

Simon:  “ConnectCore stretches about 6%, while our previous cores stretched between 28 and 32%.  Less stretch means that you can feel a lot more during the swing, and hook sets are a lot more solid.  We developed that core material ourselves, and we tried some versions that had even less stretch than 6%, but keeping some stretch in the core means that you have a chance of pulling some memory out of the head if you need to.  Some advanced casters have told us, and I agree, that they find the low stretch helps load the rod quicker.  The energy of the cast is going into loading the rod versus into stretching the head, so the same grain weight head with this new core can actually feel a little heavier.”

Us: “Thanks Simon – you rock.”

[CLARIFICATION: We really did talk to Simon (thanks, Simon!) but we didn’t record it so even though this interview was presented in quotes, the whole thing was actually paraphrased.  The basic content is basically what Simon said, but he sounds a lot smarter than we sound, in part because of his lovely British accent but more because he’s actually really smart.  Also, we don’t really have a red phone on our desk that says ‘RIO’ – that one is orange.]


We love the RIO Skagit Max – it’s a big upgrade overall, it’s much more forgiving, and it’s very much in keeping with our growing preference for shorter Skagit heads.  Pick one up at your local RIO dealer!

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