Bitterroot, Clark Fork, and Blackfoot – Hearing these Montana river names may elicit vivid memories of fishing experiences or re-ignite future dreams on a bucket list. These amazing fisheries are home to several species from the trout family, Salmonidae, such as: rainbow, Westslope cutthroat, cutbow (naturally occurring hybrid), brown, brook, bull, and the mountain whitefish (it really is part of the trout family)*. During a trip to Missoula last September, I spent four days giving the ECHO LIFT fly rod a workout on these three rivers. Here’s my take.
Let me get some things out there to start with: 1) I’m not an fly-fishing expert and doubt I’ll ever reach that pinnacle; 2) we are all the benefactors of evolving technology, which continues to improve fly-fishing equipment; 3) I’ve fished rods from many companies and continue to be impressed with the options; and 4) I believe fly fishing has a place for the $100 rod as your regular go-to fly rod, as well as, a place for more expensive rods.
The ECHO LIFT five-weight fly rod used on this trip to Montana was fresh out the of box and I didn’t exactly know what to expect. Due to supply chain, and other issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, it was super hard to find any reviews of the rod prior to purchase. After cancelling our 2020 trip due to the pandemic, our WKU Fly Fishing Montana program (started in 2012) landed me back in Missoula super stoked.
One part of ECHO’s website states the ECHO LIFT is, “The perfect rod to get you going or to back you up.” This totally undersells the rod. Thankfully, they also state, “…we specifically designed it to continue to impress you whether you’re still learning or many years in to your fly fishing career.” That’s a bit better, but still underselling in my opinion.
Here’s a quick overview of how we used the rod:
• Four days with a Missoula-based outfitter in late September.
• Rivers fished: Bitterroot, Clark Fork, and Blackfoot.
• Fly fishing from a drift boat.
• Fly line setup: floating line with various length leaders/tippet sizes
• Fly setups: dry-dropper combinations, single larger dry, or size 20 Trico mayfly imitations.
• Basic strategies employed: drifting specific lanes, targeting rising fish, and general prospecting for fish.
• Trout species caught: rainbow, Westslope cutthroat, cutbow, brown, and mountain whitefish including one girthy 19 incher.
Action & Power:
Most of last year’s fly-fishing time had been spent targeting smallmouth with a relatively ‘stiff’ seven-weight. My first few warmup casts with the LIFT caused me to panic thinking the rod’s action was too slow for my casting style. After a few casts however, I quickly realized this rod wasn’t too slow, but rather I just had to remember I wasn’t casting a seven-weight . ECHO classifies the LIFT as a medium-fast action rod and I agree with the classification. When teaching casting, we instruct students to smoothly accelerate the fly rod to a defined stop. The LIFT’s action seems built for this smooth acceleration. This rod’s action permits evenly feeling the rod load. This essential feedback is super helpful for anglers learning to fly cast, those with more experience and trying to improve, and when casting inevitably goes awry. Though my guide might describe it differently now that I’m not in the boat, my casting seemed to be improved on this trip. In spite of my aspirations to regularly practice casting in between fly-fishing outings, it just doesn’t happen. I did fish more this past year (mostly for smallmouth), which probably helped, but this rod’s action likely made me look a bit better than my skills. Will this rod remedy all your casting maladies? Probably not, but I bet it will help.
The LIFT seems to be well-balanced in power characteristics. It provided excellent tippet protection, except when I tried to bass-set some trout, and gave me a fighting chance of hooking and landing fish. This was especially pertinent when using 6x tippet, size 20 mayflies, and fishing to rising fish. The rod also didn’t show any signs of being wimpy when a 19” football of a mountain whitefish decided to test the LIFT; the fly rod won. Tippet protection and backbone are a great combination.
Anglers can get really spoiled fishing from a well-oared drift boat. Drifts that last forever, not possible when wade fishing, give anglers significant opportunities to find fish with less casting. Some complacency with the initial presentation or placement can creep in because we often get away with casting and then dragging the flies into the lane where we want them for the rest of the drift. We sacrifice the first few moments and then let the flies do their job. With that being said, the LIFT is plenty capable of placing flies where they need to be, not just in the general vicinity. For someone who doesn’t get to fish dry flies very often, going to Montana and casting tiny Tricos to snooty rising trout is akin to going back to the university. This technical side of fly fishing can bruise your ego; cause you to pull out your hair; and, on occasion, also make you feel like you really accomplished something. The LIFT was amazingly capable of getting flies softly delivered, where they needed to be, and without putting the fish down. This feat undoubtedly requires casting finesse from the angler, but the fly rod has your back. Casting dry-dropper combinations was a breeze and casting single larger dries was great fun.
Guide feedback is great. If I’m with a guide and fishing a new rod, I ask them to cast the rod some during the trip and provide feedback; this often takes some convincing as they like the clients to be casting and catching fish. Since guides are ultra-busy and don’t always get to test new rods, I like to think I’m helping them out a bit as well by asking them to test drive a rod. Our guide did cast this rod several times during our four days and made some general comments about the LIFT:
• Great tippet protection while still having enough backbone.
• Surprisingly pleasant to cast.
• Much better performance than one would expect based on the price.
• Would be a good option to use with clients.
• Mentioned they thought the rod handle was a bit smaller than many rods. I too noticed it was a bit smaller, but found it to be quite comfortable. ECHO’s promo video states, “The new handle shapes fit a wide range of hand sizes and grip styles.”
Key features of the LIFT rod include: four-piece rod, comes with a rod sock and fabric-covered rod tube, chrome guides, black anodized seat, marine green blank color, and two grip styles (3-6) and (7-8). At the time of writing, the ECHO LIFT fly rod was available in the following weights/lengths: 3 wt 7’6”, 4 wt 8’0”, and 5-8 wt 9’0”. MSRP was listed on ECHO’s website as $99-$114. Fly rod combinations, LIFT kits, are available in 4 wt 8’0” and 5, 6, and 8 wt 9’0” and retail for $179.
ECHO has a stellar warranty program for their rods. Their approach is a bit different, but makes a lot of sense. Here’s my understanding of their program: 1) If you break a tip section on a current rod, simply order a new tip section without needing to send in your rod for repair. A LIFT replacement tip section is currently only $20 + shipping; and 2) If you break any part other than the tip section, you submit an online service request, which indicates the repair fees based upon the rod needed repair, and send it in for repair; $35 and $50 seemed to be the most common prices with the LIFT being $35.
After four days of fishing three amazing Montana rivers, with each river section having different types of water and conditions, I wouldn’t hesitate in the slightest to recommend the ECHO LIFT to a beginner, intermediate, or an expert fly angler (whatever that really is). While each of these groups would experience something different from the LIFT, each should enjoy fishing this rod.
If engineers and/or economists wanted to describe the LIFT’s ‘bang for the buck’ they might calculate a price-performance ratio; I’ll leave that to the engineers and economists. Simply put, the ECHO LIFT is a terrific fly rod at a beyond incredibly reasonable price.