Loon Outdoors makes an astounding ten different floatant fly fishing accessory products, but the company’s three gel-like floatants seem downright confusing. Loon Outdoors Aquel, Lochsa and Royal Gel are all packaged in similar bottles and they all do essentially the same thing: keep your flies floating on the surface of a river or lake. So what gives?
To get us a closer look this summer, Loon Outdoors sent Man Makes Fire three review units. This is what we learned:
Loon Outdoors Aquel vs. Lochsa vs Royal Gel Fly Floatant Review
Of course, all three floatants — Aquel, Royal Gel and Lochsa — work great on most any fly. They don’t get hard or gum up in cold weather. They all provide buoyancy. So basically, as you’re standing in a fly shop or store in front of a display case, it’s important to remember that you can’t really go wrong. Still, they all have slightly different properties.
Loon Outdoors Aquel — Aquel is Loon’s all-purpose floatant. It’s silicone based, masks human odor and won’t leave a slick on calm water.
Loon Outdoors Royal Gel — Royal Gel is very similar to Aquel but it adds a shimmer to your flies. Basically it has some sort of iridescence added to help mimic the sparkle of an insect’s wings. It’s slightly thicker than Aquel, too.
Loon Outdoors Lochsa — Lochsa is quite a bit thinner than Aquel and Royal Gel, and it’s designed to absorb into a dry fly without gumming or matting hair, hackle or fine fibers. Where this really matters is when you use a dry fly that uses CDC feathers, which are super fine feathers that are soft and puffy and have hundreds or thousands of tiny hairs — almost like wisps of down. Thick floatants can gum up these tiny fibers, which reduces their ability and float and makes them look, presumably, less enticing to fish.
Aquel and Royal Gel cost about $5.50 per bottle while Lochsa comes in at about $9.50.
Is Lochsa Worth the Extra Cost?
The biggest question you might have is if Lochsa is worth the extra cost? It’s a very good floatant that doesn’t leave behind an oily slick in slow water, and the thinner texture makes it hard to put too much floatant on your fly. A lot of fly fishers have a tendency to go overboard on the floatant believing that more is better. It’s close to impossible to gum up a fly with Lochsa though, so in that respect, it’s good for even general purpose use.
If you’re on a tight budget, I believe Lochsa is only worth it if you regularly fish small flies in slower water where more technical presentations are key. Plus, if you fish fly patterns with CDC — again, think about your dry flies that have delicate wispy feathers — Lochsa is fantastic.
I’m not sure that Royal Gel is significantly better than Aquel . . . unless you’re fishing slower water in bright light. I want to say that every little bit helps — that, because insects tend to have a bit of sheen, having flies with a tiny bit of extra sheen helps — but I’m just not sure.
Even casting side-by-side with two different flies would be tough . . . every fly fisher knows that some of their best, drag-free casts get ignored while others that are riding well out of the supposed strike zone sometimes get hammered. Every tiny wave in the water and slight difference in angle make a fly appear with different profiles to a fish.
Still, in no situation can I imagine a bit of sheen on a dry fly that’s supposed to imitate an insect actually being worse than no sheen at all. If you have a chance, try it. It’ll either be a placebo for you or you’ll catch more fish. I plan to keep a bottle with me and, over the course of another season, I might come to a new conclusion. If I think it makes a clear difference, I’ll update this post.
In case you’re wondering, Loon Outdoors is a fly fishing accessory manufacturer that makes tools like nippers and forceps as well as floatants, indicators, sinkers and fly tying tools. The company has a reputation for making solid, environmentally friendly products at fair prices. Incidentally, the Loon Outdoors Rogue Quickdraw Forceps is our favorite Loon product, and it is one of the best gifts for fly fishers we’ve seen in a long time. It’s so handy that Orvis has started offering an Orvis-branded version.
Back to Aquel, Royal Gel, and Lochsa.
All-in-all, all three floatants work well and don’t harm the environment. If you do find yourself fishing small dries and flies with CDC, just remember to go easy on the floatant and you’ll do ok. Lochsa offers a small advantage, though, because you don’t have to pay attention to get great results when you have flies made with delicate fibers and need pristine presentations on technical water. All three floatants are highly recommended.