Gear Review: Thomas and Thomas ‘Contact’ Nymphing Rod

THE SUMMARY
The Thomas and Thomas 11’3″ #3 Contact now is my favorite tightlining fly rod.

BACKGROUND
Zach St. Amand told me that the new Thomas and Thomas “Contact” is his new favorite. I then started seeing more mentions about it on social media. Unfortunately, no fly shops near me stock it. So, I contacted the company directly to ask for a loaner, as I wanted to review it for the blog.

Amazingly, Joe Goodspeed and John Carpenter got back to me. A 11’3″ #3 Contact came in the mail.

THE TEST DRIVES
I fished three rivers over two days with the Contact and gave it an intense work out. Hit my favorite spots. Used the same reel and set-up that I normally use with my workhorse, the 11′ Sage ESN #3.

I did all sorts of tightlining: “floated the sighter” at shallow water and, also, nymphed both short-distance and long-distance. I also pulsed nymphs, swung small streamers, and threw dries. Landed about 20 fish one day, including a taped 15.5″ rainbow that fought incredibly hard (photo up top). Got another eight the next morning.

I was impressed with the Contact. No, I was floored. No, I was giddy. The rod was that amazing.

Here’s why:

  • The “it” factor. It’s hard to explain, but this fly rod felt insanely comfortable and adept. This is lighter than my Sage ESN, and so, balances better with my reel. So, I fished with it for about eight hours on the first outing. Normally, afterwards, my arm is a little sore. With the Contact, there was no discomfort. The rod features an unpainted blank to reduce weight. I like it.
  • Throws well dry flies. I had no problem casting small dries and dry-droppers. My ESN couldn’t really do this. Even though I tried to compensate for its medium action, the ESN was a royal pain for casting dries. The Contact feels more like a fast-action rod. How they do that and maintain tip sensitivity, to detect subtle takes, is beyond me.
  • Casts farther. Casting long-distance to avoid spooking fish is a technique Zach taught me. Stay below the fish, use lighter nymphs, and cast 30′ to 50′ to let the nymphs glide down into the sweet spot while maintaining stealth. The ESN was pretty good at casting for distance, but the Contact is excellent at it.
  • Much, much more accurate. Particularly with long casts and light nymphs, the ESN tended to be a bit off target. So, I’d have to sacrifice distance for more control or opt to cast a few times to hit the target. The Contact was quick-dampening, which allowed for better accuracy. I was super-impressed with its predictability.
  • Better reach. Sage no longer makes a 11′ ESN, which is a bummer. I like a longer fly rod to better guide my nymphs and reach sweet seams from afar. I was able to target areas that usually were too far away. I hooked a particularly robust alpha trout, with a kype, at the head of a long run. That spot previously was too far away for me.
  • Both sensitivity and fighting power. Tightlining rods are specifically designed to be very flexible at the tip in order to let you feel every bump, pause and take. The Contact was no exception. Euro-style rods also are designed with stiffness to garner leverage against big fish. So, a #3 Euro rod may have a back-end more like a #5. The Contact handled everything, even a big-ish fish in strong current. No issues. I never felt that any of the fish had the upper hand. By using rod angles and applying pressure with the rod when needed, I was able to pull in fish very quickly and “in control.” During the second outing, I would intentionally horse in bigger fish. The rod tip dampened any and all surges by the trout. None broke off.

 

PARTING THOUGHTS
No, this fly rod isn’t cheap at $795. It is cheaper than the ESN, however, and is completely made in the USA. To boot, Thomas and Thomas is local: they’re in Greenfield, MA. More info here.

Many thanks to Joe Goodspeed and John Carpenter for the loaner.

Honestly, it’s now my #1 fly rod. It is a game-changer.

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32 thoughts on “Gear Review: Thomas and Thomas ‘Contact’ Nymphing Rod

  1. When you talk about fishing drys what line/leader were you using and average distance? Also, what weight reel do you use?

    1. No change to the set up. My tightline leader. It’s great that I can do everything with that set-up.

      I was casting dries at 30′.

      For my #3, I use the Orvis Hydros SL II, which handles line weights from three to five. But note that I don’t use fly line for my tightlining leader, just mono. In fact, for trout fishing, I don’t think reels need to be fancy, and I’m realizing I over-invested, although my Orvis discount really helps (and, I’m very grateful for that).

      Both Zach St. Amand and Kelly Galloup recommend the Lamson Liquid reels. Good drag system for the money. $100.

  2. I got hooked on T&T rods a few years back. At first, I just loved the concept of fishing rods whose home base was 40 mins from my house. I quickly realized that it was so much more than that. I have tried multiple models and they all impress me to no end. All my go to rods are T & T now. I generally cant afford the full sticker prices but if you poke around on ebay here and there you find great deals on new or gently used rods.

  3. Thanks. I found the ESN 11′ 3wt to put too much strain on my shoulder and I ditched it for a lighter rod. Will look at the T&T but was thinking of the 4wt as more versatile.

    1. I think a #4 would be ideal for all freshwater, including for bass. Grady or Torrey at UpCountry will have a more informed POV, though.

      After you ditched the ESN, what rod did you use for tightlining?

      Also, the Syndicate 10′ #2 is very light. I pair it with the Orvis Hydros SL I, and everything works well and the set-up feels very light on the shoulder. It is a nice change of pace. Many competition folks favor that rod. The tip sensitivity is unreal.

      But, a #2 is a bit under-gunned when the current is very fast and you have a good-sized fish on that wants to jump into deep white water to get away. It’s doable if you just pinch the line, use 5x fluorocarbon and use a lot of side pressure. It made me tie better knots!

      1. I use the Sage 10′ 3wt or an older Streamflex 10′ 3wt, both with Cortland Slyk lines or RIO competition line. I don’t use an all mono rig but keep my leader to about 16-18ft. I often cast with the line outside the guides especially If I am fishing a dry. That’s why I asked about your setup as I am curious how an all mono setup would perform.

        1. Have caught smallies on the Millers while throwing nymphs for trout. At lakes, have jigged Mop flies and crawled crayfish flies along the bottom.

      2. For reference, I have a 10’ 4wt Douglas dxf. I really like it but have little to compare it to.

        I have been curious about increased sensitivity with a 3wt. When I put heavy flies on my 4 I can feel every bump and have felt fish suck flies in. But when fishing lighter flies it strictly a visual game with the sighter. I also have a harder time casting distances with light flies and just mono. I went 4 wt because I live in Montana and the fish here are larger. I worry that I would often be under gunned with a 3 wt.

        I mention the above as you suggest a 4wt would be the all around rod in your mind. How much less sensitive would you expect it to be? Are my experiences typical? You won’t hurt my feelings if you think my particular 4wt is the problem!

        As a bonus question, what would the argument be against the longer rod?

        Thanks!

        1. I’ve fished the Upper Madison, Gallatin and E. Gallatin.

          I guess that a #3 would do just fine, as I’ve landed 18″+ fish with it in fast water, and the #3 Contact, like other Euro rods, has a fighting butt that feels more like a #5.

          I think the best thing would be to call up local fly shops that know Euro rods. Or, if they’re willing, let you demo a rod for a few hours on the water.

          If you call T&T directly, I suspect they’ll also have the answer.

          Where in MT are you? Great water out there!

          1. Thanks. I live in Missoula, north of the area you’ve fished. Y crazy amounts of trout water here. It’s amazing.

            Doesn’t seem like the euro thing has caught on here. I think one reason is that it’s harder to pull off in the larger rivers around we have. Certainly wildly productive in the right spots though, folks want to be in boats. I’m certainly all in on it, plenty of great spots.

            Do you find the 3wts to be a ton more sensitive? Also what is the downside of going to the 11’ plus rods as apposed to the 10’ plus?

            Thanks

            1. Nice! We’ve been looking to add someone from Montana to our team. So, if you’re interested in the occasional blog post, LMK?

  4. with this rod would you pair it with a lighter reel or slightly heavier? im looking at the orvis battenkill which weighs in at 2.9 ounces, or the orvis hydros SL, at 5.9 ounces?

    1. I don’t try to balance my set up. I use the Hydros with mine because I just love that reel. Great drag and there’s a satisfying sound when a trout pulls line. I think either reel could work IMO.

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