A few months back I reviewed the Alpha II reel from Allen Flyfishing. The 8/10 model turned out to be one of the best values in fly reels on the market and soon after I purchased two more, both 7/8 models, to use on smaller two handers and switch rods. Since then Allen has added Spey rods to their already popular and steadily growing line up of flyrods. The Olympic series of Spey rods is their first entry into the double handed realm and is available in line classes from 5 to 9. You can bet that they are of the same quality as the reels. Allen took their time developing this series and the result is one of the best mid-priced spey rods available.
I ordered the 12′ 5 weight rod, the lightest of the series, and two weeks later it arrived at my door. It came in a nice black cordura covered rod tube and black rod sock. Taking the rod out of the sock I noted the grey blank with nice and simple black wraps. The thing that stood out right away were the cork grips. The smaller diameter grips felt great in my hands and are similar in diameter to those on my custom rods. This is a nice touch for anglers like myself who prefer a thinner grip or those who simply have smaller hands. You can feel this rod flex right into the upper grip when giving the rod a light shake.
I wanted to get out and cast but we were right in the middle of this winters only major snowfall. I would have to wait another week before getting the chance to try it out on the water. While waiting I set it up with one of my Allen 7/8 Alpha II reels and started to get a feel for the rod. At 6.7 oz it’s a nice lightweight rod. The 7/8, at 7.8 oz, is a good fit and balances the rod well although a slightly heavier reel would balance the rod perfectly.
Once the opportunity to hit the flow arrived, I loaded on 175 yards of Dacron and a new Scientific Anglers Dragontail running line and headed for the river with my test lines to see which ones work best for me.
I wanted to dial in a Scandinavian line to start. The first line I tried was a 325 grain 30ft SOS Scandi head by Steve Godshall. This line was a great match right from the start with a variety of 10ft poly leaders. I felt most comfortable with a foot of the Dragontail running line outside of the rod tip. I then tried lighter and heavier Scandis with decent results but the 325 was right on the money. Fast line speeds and tight loops are easy when casting with the Scandis and although they are an excellent choice for this rod, I’m interested in trying something longer. I have decided to add some short and mid belly speylines to my kit for rods 12 feet and up. I believe that anglers using level running lines would really be able to rocket out some long casts with a short scandi on this rod.
Next I tried Skagit heads. I started out with a 375 grain Rio Short with a 10 foot T-8 tip and it was a nice fit. This combo would work well for touch and go type casts with light tips and smaller flies which happens to be my new favourite way to use Skagit lines on light rods. You can generate some nice tight loops which is great in windy conditions or when trying to place casts under overhanging branches on smaller rivers.
But when you want to throw big flies, true Skagit casting is the way to go. I switched to the 425 and it was a perfect match, loading the rod a little deeper for proper skagit casting. The tapered end of the Dragontail allowed me to add as much as 4 feet to the length of the Short Skagit and still cast well. The rod flexes right into the upper grip then snaps back to attention on the forward cast.
Why not just use a longer Skagit head like the Flight? Well, with all those grains packed into these shorter heads, tips and big flies turn over easier. I suspect that a 400 grain Skagit Flight or similar line would work great on this rod as well but feel that the short Skagit/tapered running line combo is preferrable for casting the big stuff.
I expected just another 12 foot 5 weight but this rod has an identity of its own, distinctly different than others in its category. It’s a nice smooth casting rod with a lot of feel. I would describe the action of the 5120 as medium fast just as Allen suggests. The rod has a grain window of 325-450 and I suspect that mid 500 grains including a sink tip would be the maximum load on it. I would also like to try the heavier versions of this rod series for comparison.
Most will use this as a light Steelhead rod and some as a big river Trout and/or Bass rod. A great crossover stick for rivers with multiple species of fish, the Allen Olympic 5120 is an affordable light-spey rod choice for anglers of all casting abilities. In the coming season I will use this rod in actual fishing situations and continue to report on the results and update my line recommendations. Maybe I’ll even catch a fish or two….