james comments  josh comments

Welcome to our first 4-weight Shootout!   In the past we’ve concentrated on the popular 5-weight and 8-weight rods, and you can read our 2011 reviews - but for trout fishing I’ve always been partial to using lighter rods like 3 and 4-weights, especially when fishing to rising fish in difficult conditions, where presentation and accuracy are the keys to success.  As I grow older I find that myself and other fishing buddies get a lot of pleasure in stalking big rising fish on flat water – Spring Creeks, and tailwater rivers in our part of the country like the Missouri, the Bighorn and especially the Henry’s Fork of the Snake. (On the flat water sections and below the famous Railroad Ranch).

We are fishing mostly small dry flies - emerging nymphs, emergers, duns, cripples, pupa, adults and spinners to imitate the exact type of mayflies, caddis or midges that the fish are keying in on.   Most of this is dry fly fishing, drifting the fly in or on the surface film.  Tricky undulating currents as well as wind and weather conditions make for some very difficult and demanding situations, and an angler needs a rod that can help him make very accurate, yet delicate presentations, (not to mention a thinner line to achieve the ultimate drift).  To my way of thinking, this means the best 4-weight rod I can lay my hands on.  On windless days a 3-weight can be delightful, but for an all around rod capable of delicate fishing and decent power, you can’t beat a good 4-weight.

Over the past forty years I’ve learned a lot about 4-weight rods and what makes them great companions for a day on the stream. They must be versatile rods, capable of fishing a variety of techniques and flies. By no means am I a dry fly purist, so a good 4-weight rod is going to have to serve its duty doing a good amount of nymph fishing, and even chucking a leadeye or cone head streamer when conditions dictate such vile and desperate moves in order to catch nice trout.

What I am looking for is that “Perfect 4” - a rod that can do it all, but above all, a rod that excels in accuracy and delicate presentations.  The perfect 4 must be a great rod at distances from 15-20 feet right out to 60-70 feet, and be strong enough to handle windy conditions as well as have the backbone to chuck split shot or moderately large and heavy streamers when needed.

brown trout

As we found out, there are far too many very powerful 4-weight rods on the market.   At least the manufacturers are calling them 4’s, when in actuality they are closer to 5-weight rods.  A lot of these didn’t make the cut!   I think the Perfect 4 weight rod should load well with a standard 4-weight line - for example a Scientific Anglers Trout taper, rather than their heavier GPX.   In this shootout, we again used the Scientific Anglers lines and tested rods with whichever line felt best on each rod. The lighter rods took the Trout taper, while the stiffer rods got loaded with the GPX.  We didn’t really penalize rods that felt better with a GPX, except perhaps in our “Perfect 4” category.   As you’ll see, some of the stiffer rods like the Sage One performed very well with the GPX, but lighter rods like the Hardy Zenith, Sage’s TXL-F, Winston’s BIIIx and the Tom Morgan Rodsmith’s rod loaded better with a S.A. Trout, and definitely had the edge in terms of getting a more delicate presentation, especially at closer distances. But if these rods didn’t have the power to deliver the goods at mid to longer distances, we knocked down their performance scores accordingly.

As in past shootouts, we doubled the points available in our performance categories.  Since most people using 4-weight rods are fishing closer distances than they would with 5-6 weight rods, we set our distance performance categories at 25 feet, 35 feet and 60 feet.  Expert casters will be able to cast a lot further than 60 feet with some of these rods, but when I’m using a 4-weight rod, I find that I’m rarely fishing at distances that exceed 50 feet.  (We thought about making the last target 50 feet, but from our experience in past shootouts we discovered the rods that throw long are also better into the wind or with streamers and lots of split shot). Most of the time I’m more likely to be fishing in that 25-40 foot range, and if I spot a rising fish that is farther away, I’ll take a little more time to sneak into position to make a much shorter cast in order to get the better accuracy, a more delicate presentation, and a more precise hook set. 

 

For this 4-weight shootout, we added one more performance category, and called it “Light Tippet Protection”.  With a 4-weight rod I’m normally using 5x, 6X and 7X tippets. A quick strike with heavier rod or one that has a stiffer tip will often find you parting company with that pig you’ve been stalking in a big hurry.    If you look at the scores in the “tippet protection” category, rods that were very light in swing weight and had softer tips turned in the highest scores.  Incidentally, they were also rods that called for a S.A. Trout rather than a GPX.  

Another category that we revised somewhat this year was Swing Weight.  In recent shootouts we have used the Sexyloops fly rod Moment of Inertia Calculator, but after making all these calculations, I compared these to our original method we had been using to determine swing weight, and I found some very notable discrepancies, especially with light rods that have very light tips.  For example the Hardy Zenith 8'6"#4 had the lightest swing weight by our calculations and the lightest feel in the hand, but using the M.O.I calculations, the Sage TXL-F should have felt far lighter in swing weight.  It the hand, it felt heavier in swing weight than the Hardy!  So I decided to go back to our old method of calculating the swing weight, which I think gives an angler a better sense of the "real" swing weight feel when the rod is held horizontally in your hand.   Later in the shootout you can read exactly how we made the new calculations, and this is easy to do yourself.

This year there were some pleasant surprises like the silky smooth Beulah 8'8"#4 Platinum, and how well the inexpensive St. Croix Imperial 8'6"#4 performed at all distances.  The short 7'10" Sage TXL-F was awesome, especially at shorter distances.  The Sage ONE 8'6"#4 turned in a solid performance, as did Winston’s wonderfully smooth BIIIx 8'6"#4.   The 4-weight Shootout turned out to be a close race in the end.   We won’t keep you in suspense any longer – Hardy’s 8'6"#4 Zenith is our 4-weight shootout winner!   We expected the Hardy to be a great rod, after their 5-weight Zenith cleaned house last year in our 5-weight shootout.  (It still blows all the other 5-weight rods we’ve found out of the water)!

I’ve been fishing a Zenith 9 foot #4 most of this past year and have liked it almost as much as their 9 foot #5 Zenith, but the 9’#4 is a fairly stiff rod that needed a WF-4-F GPX to make it work.   When we got to see and cast the new Hardy 8 ½ foot #4 Zenith, we were all impressed!  This is a much lighter rod than the 9 foot #4, with far lighter swing weight, and more importantly, we were able to get the maximum performance with the 8'6"#4 Zenith using a SA Trout line in WF-4-F.

A surprise second place finish went to Sage’s delightful TXL-F – their 7 foot 10 inch #4 rod that is sure to be in big demand from Eastern anglers that are often faced with tighter quarters than we are out West.   Still, on any water, this is a wonderfully light rod that is tough to beat at those 20-30 foot distances we fish so often.   It had the lightest overall weight by far, and one of the lightest swing weights we tested. Plus it actually has some guts and can punch through the wind.

Controversy 

What you read in our Shootouts is definitely going to be controversial. Some people are going to want to tar and feather us, while others will give us two thumbs up. You’ll be able to read George’s opinions on the main page but you can click on the photos on the right side to read staff comments and counterpoints from James Anderson, Steve Galletta, and Josh Edwards, all great anglers and casters.  As you’ll read, some of our staff comments didn’t totally agree with mine, but in general we all came to some solid conclusions that we want to share with you.

If you don't like what we have to say about a certain rod, remember it is only our opinion.   We're not out to burn Scott or Orvis as many have suggested, we're simply giving you our honest opinions instead of "being nice" and agreeing with everyone as you see in so many fly-fishing magazine articles and product reviews.  Yes, you will see winners and losers and find out why the rods placed where they did. We've gotten a lot of feedback from previous shootouts and we know that well over 85% of the anglers that e-mailed us comments agreed with our opinions and thanked us for sticking our necks out.

 

New order

This year, with twenty rods to test, we’re going to switch up our format in an effort to keep your interest. After our table giving the final results, we will give you our comments on each rod and our casting notes, in the order that the rods finished.   For example - our winning Hardy 8'6"#4 Zenith will be first, the rod that finished last will be at the bottom.  We know that many of you will want to read every word, but we felt that wading through twenty rod descriptions and performance data before getting to the winner would be sleep inducing, and I couldn’t blame you!   For a lot of people a quick look at the results tables are all that’s needed.  But dive in and check it all out.  Hopefully you’ll have fun and learn a lot. 

Once again in this shootout, as we did in last year's 8-weight shootout, we are providing a table with just the results based onperformance and nothing else, since performance is the real meat of this shootout.    Lots of people don’t give a darn about factors like the warranty, or the price.   Two categories that tell the real story are:   “Fun to fish, Got to Have” and “Perfect 4 Performance” The rods that scored the best in these two ARE the best rods!

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If you want the very best, plan on spending $650-$795 to get the cream of the crop, but it amazed us to see how well the $200-$395 rods performed!  Throw in a nice reel and line and you are still under $500.00 for the whole outfit!

We have tried to sample all of the best 4-weight rods on the market, including several of which we do not even stock in our shop.  We received over forty 4-weight rods to test, and quite a few didn’t make the cut.   Although we are an Orvis dealer, they declined to send us any test rods!  Evidently they didn’t like our criticism of their rods in past shootouts.  Fortunately we had a friend that provided us with his new Helios 9 foot #4 mid-flex rod, and you can read about how it fared, finishing in the middle of the pack.   I suspect they may have a better 4-weight rod than the one we tested, especially one shorter than the 9-foot model.   Word on the street is that Orvis is working on some new rods right now, and hopefully we can include these in our future shootouts.

Once again we decided to include a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8 ½ foot #4 graphite rod, despite the fact that this is only available as a two-piece rod.  But what a rod it is!   Nothing comes close in terms of Craftsmanship, and at short to medium distances it is simply fantastic, having wonderful feel and accuracy in a very light rod.  The only drawback is that price of $1350.00 and the fact that repair costs are a lot higher than other rods.   But if you can afford it, you will instantly fall in love with this rod.

We hope you enjoy our 2012 4-weight shootout.  These shootouts are always a lot of work; so if you like what we are doing, help us out by letting us sell you a rod or outfit.  With your support we can spend more time and effort doing these shootouts.   Check out Our Favorite Outfits on our website.  We’ll save you some money by throwing in a free line or one at a reduced price on less expensive outfits.   Keep in mind that there is no sales tax here in Montana, and we are happy to ship you any orders over $100 within the continental US for free.  Please e-mail us your comments, and suggestions for future shootouts. 

Why put your trust in our opinions?

Over the years many of you have read George Anderson’s articles in the various fly fishing magazines, or have watched him on TV on various fly fishing shows around the world. Most anglers in the know agree that George Anderson has a reputation as a great caster and angler in both fresh and saltwater. His back-to-back wins at the Jackson Hole One-Fly in ’89 and ’90 helped to solidify his reputation as a terrific nymph and dry fly fisherman.

But you may not know that over the last thirty years, rod manufacturers like Sage, and G. Loomis have asked for George’s help in designing rods. The light action Sage LL 389 and 490, as well as The Loomis Streamdance GLX and WhisperCreek GLX series of trout rods were all rods that George had a hand in designing. George also helped Tom Morgan with final prototype designs of the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rods, and then did all the final casting and fine-tuning of the pre-production prototypes as well as approval of the finished rods.

George as well as the staff here at the Yellowstone Angler has done a lot of fly-fishing all over the world, for a variety of game fish in both fresh and saltwater. This has given us ample opportunities to test rods and other tackle in a huge variety of conditions and fishing situations. The best rods, reels and other products that have proven themselves time and time again are the ones that rise to the top and are the ones we want to report on in our shootouts and other tackle comparisons. We’ll try to keep giving you our unbiased opinions to help you make the best buying decision for your needs.

New materials means lighter and more durable rods

In terms of rods, I’ve always felt that lighter is better, as long as manufacturers can give us rods that have the right amount of power to load a rod well for their designated line size. As you'll read here, we feel some have gone overboard. There have been huge advances in technology and materials in the past ten years. A lot of the advances in graphite technology have been taken from the aerospace industry, and this is even true today. Graphite modulus has jumped up dramatically in the past several years. Even more dramatic improvements have come about with new nano-resin systems from 3M and other companies. Advances in these new materials have given us some of the most incredible rods we've ever fished!

Just when you think that fly rods cannot possibly get any better, some totally new technology pops up, and other manufacturers scramble to meet or beat the competition. All this R&D costs a lot of money, not to speak of the materials and workmanship that goes into building a great fly rod, and this is why the top rods in the world cost $650 to $800.

Being able to buy the world's best fly rod for under $1000 is a real bargain if you compare it to buying other sports equipment, taking up skiing at posh resorts, or golfing at some of the country’s best courses.   Not to mention motorcycles, or the world’s best sports cars that start out at $150,00.   But come to think of it, you very well may have more fun with the best fly rod in the world.

Great rods at bargain prices

Like past shootouts, we have included some terrific rods that are very light and perform surprisingly well for less than $250.00. You are not going to find the highest tech materials, the very best components, cork handles or guides on these less expensive rods, and they are not going to cast quite as well as the very best rods in our shootout, but the gap is closing fast!  Take a close look at the Beulah Platinum 8’8” we tested that costs only $395 and you can’t come away not being impressed at both the performance and craftsmanship. 

The overall quality of “imported” rods has increased dramatically over the past few years.  Inexpensive rods that were junk just a few years ago are now using far higher modulus materials and better resins to produce imported rods that are as light in weight in some instances as the finest rods made here in the US.   Their actions are good too.   It’s all in the design and quality control.    Sure, many import firms rip off our best designs but in many instances they have hired the world’s top rod designers from the US or Europe to help them design these impressive new rods. 

Not only do these good imported rods cast well, but the craftsmanship has improved by leaps and bounds.  The quality of cork you’ll find on import rods today is far better than what we’ve seen in the past as well.  They are using quality guides, and the wraps are well done and finished nicely.   Sure, there is still a lot of bad stuff out there when you look at rods under $100, found in a lot of discount stores.  But the best companies are finding that building rods offshore can make sense, if they can control the designs and the quality of materials and craftsmanship.

Don’t believe the hype

Manufacturers have done their best to convince us that their rods are better than anything else on the market. I don’t blame them for trying to beef up their market share, but some of their claims are pretty far fetched.  A lot of what they are giving us is pure and simple old-fashioned BS.  But these big fancy ads in the magazines do tend to make you believe what the manufacturers are trying to get across. It’s just human nature.

That’s where we come in. At the Yellowstone Angler, we’ve always tried to give our customers well-informed, unbiased opinions and answers that help them cut through this avalanche of propaganda, and steer them to the right rods, reels, and other products that fit their specific needs and price considerations.    Reactions to our previous shootouts, coming from all over the world, have been extremely positive. Many anglers, beginners to experts, are now enjoying rods they would have never tried if not for reading our shootouts.

If you have specific questions, don’t be afraid to e-mail us or give us a call, (406)-222-7130.  We can almost always come up to a solution quickly to help you get just the right stuff.   Be sure to check out Our Favorite Outfits on our website and in our on-line catalog.   This will give you a great place to start and we offer a variety of packages in all price ranges.  

The best rod designers are also great anglers

After casting, fishing and testing thousands of rods over the past thirty years, as well as getting to fish with the best rod designers in the world, one thing has become crystal clear to me – the very best rods in the world have come from rod designers who are also some of the finest fly-fishermen on the planet. 

These guys that know exactly how rods need to perform for whatever type of fishing they have been designed, and the little tweaks and design changes they need to make give us rods that approach perfection. A lot of people come to mind and many I’ve known and fished with personally. Steve Rajeff at G. Loomis, Tom Morgan who has given us the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths line but who was formerly the owner of Winston Rods, Jerry Siem at Sage, and of course Don Green who started Sage as well as the late Jimmy Green of Fenwick (and later Sage). Lefty Kreh, helping design rods for TFO and especially their terrific new BVK series, is renowned for his angling ability. Howard Croston, who is now the head of the design team at Hardy, who have given us the spectacular Zenith series of rods, is also a great angler, whom I’ve fished with here in Montana. Many of these great anglers, like the Rajeff brothers, Steve (Loomis rods) and Tim (Echo rods) are also some of the world’s finest competition casters, and this has also helped them in the design process to give us such outstanding rods.  These great casters and great anglers are now the best rod designers the world has ever known.

 

Our Testing Procedures

Our goal – keep it apples to apples.

 

In testing rods, we’ve found that very subtle differences are only detectable if we can cast several rods at one time that are set up with the exact same reels to give us equal weights, and the same brand and type of lines.   Then we can pick up one rod, take a few casts at say 35 feet, immediately pick up another rod and be able to make some valid conclusions in comparing one to another.  

We found that just taking the time to strip all the line through one rod, then change the reel and line to another rod and begin casting again made it far more difficult to determine these subtle differences. 

For this shootout, we used two different lines from Scientific Anglers, their standard Trout Taper and their GPX taper, which is about a half size heavier, with more weight forward in the line.   We then set up four reels with Trout Tapers and four with GPX tapers.   Very quickly we could determine if a given rod was soft enough to load well with a Trout taper or stiff enough that it needed a GPX to perform at its best.

Again, trying to keep the playing field level, we used our own hand tied 12-foot leaders, which we are normally fishing under demanding conditions. We’ve found that our hand-tied leaders turn over better and give the finer accuracy we’ve been able to obtain with any other commercial leaders, especially knotless leaders.  We used 4x tippets with a small bright colored yarn indicator at the end to approximate a fly.    In fishing situations, we would normally be using 5x, 6x or even 7x tippets, but for testing purposes a slightly heavier tippet reduced time spent re-tying on our indicators that are a great help in judging accuracy. 

With several rods loaded up in this manner, while testing we could switch very quickly from one rod to another, even with 35-60 feet of line laid out on the floor or grass.   By having at least 4 reels set up with the same lines, this allowed us to keep a couple of the best rods loaded up to use as benchmarks with which we could compare the other rods tested.   This way we could also run some mini-comparison tests on the best performing rods at different distances and then switch off and do the same with the inexpensive and mid-priced rods.   Other mini-comparisons included which rods were the absolute best at 25 feet, 35 feet and then 60 feet.  Often our initial scores were changed when we had a chance to go back and make these more direct comparisons that allowed us to see subtle differences between rods.

Reels

As in our last two 5-weight shootouts we decided to use Ross Evolution LT reels.  For the 4-weight shootout, the 1.5 size was perfect as this reel is smaller and lighter than the size #2 we used for the 5-weight shootout yet still has enough capacity to hold about 90 yards of 20 lb. micron backing plus a WF-4-F line.   These Ross Evolution LT’s are very well made reels and have an excellent and smooth drag that doesn’t get knocked out of kilter the moment you put your rod down.   These are light reels too.  The LT 1.5 weighs only 3.7 oz. compared to the LT 2.0 at 4.1 oz.    With a WF-4-F line and 100 yd of 20 lb. micron backing these LT 1.5 reels weighed 5.0 oz.    The cost is $285.00 and they come in three good-looking colors:  black - (which looks great on just about any rod) green- (which looks great on the Winston rods) and Gray Mist -  (which looks terrific on the Hardy rods).    Our winner, the Hardy 8 ½ foot Zenith with the 1.5 Evolution LT reel weighed only 7.9 oz overall!   That’s light!!   And the balance point with the reel on the rod was 2 ¾ inches below the top of the cork grip, and right in the middle of the swell of the grip, just about where you would hold the rod.    It felt just right to me.   Lighter is better, and the way the Zenith sets up with the LT 1.5 is one of the reasons it is such a delightful rod to cast and fish.  

Lines

As in past shootouts, we decided to use the standard Scientific Anglers Mastery Lines, mainly because we simply like the way these lines perform better than others we’ve tried.  This year we decided to use both the Trout Taper and the GPX taper in WF-4-F, and then decide which line to use on each rod depending on the overall power and stiffness of the rod.  We quickly tried each rod with both lines and made a decision on which line felt best with each rod.   People that like rods to load more heavily might want to switch from a Trout to a GPX but good casters are most likely to agree with our choices to get the maximum performance out of each rod.  Comparing 5 weight lines, the lighter Trout uses a 6 foot front taper with a 21.7 foot belly and then a 11 foot rear taper to the running line, while a GPX uses a 6.5 foot front taper, with a 26 foot belly and then a shorter 5.5 foot rear taper into the running line.  Most of us feel that the GPX lines are about a half size heavier than the standard Trout taper.  I wish we could have cut some up and given you the exact grain weights, especially for the whole head.  Maybe next time SA will give us a few extra lines to chop up. 

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In the near future, we’ll have a comprehensive report on about twenty different 4-weight lines from different manufacturers that we’ll compare using some of our best performing 4-weight rods.   We’ll also have line charts and diagrams for each line so that you can see exactly how each line is constructed.   We’ll also give you our recommendations and comments on all the lines.  So this will make some interesting reading.   It won’t be a real shootout – more of a comparison.   But we’ll sure give you our opinions and recommendations.   There are a lot of good lines out there and we’ll tell you all about them.  I just wish that we had the time to include these results with our 4-weight shootout but it would have added a couple more weeks to our time schedule.

 

Why didn’t we test with the SA Sharkskin or Textured lines?   Well, we still don’t like them.   We’ve proven to ourselves in casting here on the lawn that they don’t cast any farther than the standard Trout or GPX.  They may lift off the water a little more easily, but they are rough and when I’m using a hand retrieve, it feels like I’ve got sand or dirt on my hands.   They are noisy going through the guides and will cut your fingers if you grab them when a fish is running fast.  Some people rave about them, but I’d rather use the old standards that cast beautifully and with a lot less noise.   Fly-fishing is supposed to be a quiet sport. 

 

Leaders

 

Once again, we used some of our own Yellowstone Angler 12 foot hand tied leaders that are tied with relatively stiff Clear Maxima butt and midsections and Rio Powerflex nylon 4X tippets.   The name of the game with 4-weights is accuracy and delicate presentation, and we are convinced that our hand tied 12 foot leaders will turn over better than ANY of the 9 foot knotless tapered leaders we’ve found. On my own 4-weight rods, I’m normally using a 12-14 foot leader, unless I’m fishing a larger wind resistant fly or hopper, and then I’ll cut the leader down to around 9 feet.  (Or use one of our 9-foot models). For fishing nymphs I’ll also use a 12-14 foot leader, but one of our Hot Butt leaders with five feet of fluorescent red butt section. For our shootout, we felt that using long 12-foot leaders would give us a better feeling of how these rods would turn over the fly, especially at shorter distances. We did use a small fluorescent yarn indicator at the end of the 20-inch tippet so we could better judge the turnover and accuracy.

Casting where it’s warm with no wind

Winter and early spring in Livingston in late February can be pretty nasty, in terms of both the temperature and the wind conditions.   Fortunately, we have found the perfect place to do our wintertime rod testing – in the Livingston Civic Center, a spacious gym with a full sized basketball court.  Casting on the lawn is certainly our preference, and sometimes it an be done in the winter, when we are having temperatures in the 40’s and even 50’s but the wind is almost always blowing and gusting hard in these winter months. Casting in hard gusting wind is no way to judge subtle casting characteristics between one rod and the next.

So the Civic Center works perfectly, especially for distances out to about 70 feet.  The total lack of wind makes it very easy to judge loop control and accuracy at all distances.   We measure out the correct distances and then use large white paper plates as targets, and tape them in position on the maple floor of the gym.   Being able to soft mop up the floor to get off all the dirt and dust also helps keep the test lines in perfect shape for the two days we’ll need to do all our testing. 

After our inside testing we did have a pretty nice day with temps in the high 30’s but the wind was blowing at about 20 mph, with gusts to 30.   We decided to take some of the top scoring rods out and try them in the wind.   The results were pretty much the same although the rods using the GPX lines did prove a little better in fighting that nasty wind.  Still the best rods, like the Hardy Zenith, with its lighter Trout line still zinged them in there and had plenty of power to throw nice tight loops right out at 60 feet.   We had set up to cast not with a tailwind but more of a side wind.    But it would have been insane to try to make any judgments on the rods in these conditions.   It was encouraging to see that the best rods in windless conditions were still extremely good in a hard, gusty wind that you might face in a day on the stream, especially in early spring here in Montana. 

    

Searching for the best all around 4-weights

We wanted to take a good look at what was on the market for 4-weight rods, so we had the manufacturers send us what they felt were their best 4-weights.  We ended up with a pile of perhaps 40 or more rods to sort through and cast.  We needed to cut the number down to a more manageable 20 rods for the shootout, so that meant that there were a number of rods that didn’t make the final cut.   In many instances we had to cast 8, 8 ½ foot and 9 foot #4’s from one manufacturer and pick what we felt was the best one.   We ended up testing two and sometimes even three different 4’s from one company if they were dramatically different or in different price ranges.   This year we did manage to get some Echo rods and we especially liked their less expensive Echo Edge.   We got some really stiff rods like the Imago and the Scott S4 that felt like stout 5’s so they didn’t make the cut.   Winston sent us a bunch of BIIt rods, which we’ve found to be WAY too soft in the butt and mid section, and not pleasant rods to fish in any size, especially when you can get one of their great BIIIx rods which proved to be one of the best light rods we tested.

We decided to concentrate on 4-piece rods but we again allowed in one very notable exception, the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths two-piece 8 ½ foot #4. These Tom Morgan rods are some of the sweetest casting rods around, especially at shorter distances.  The also set the bar for the ultimate in craftsmanship but also for price.  They are hard as heck to obtain, taking up to two years after getting on their waiting list, but once you get one, you’ll love it.  

We had hear a lot of good things about the CF Burkheimer rods and from previous casting here on our lawn we wanted to get some of the 8'9" rods to test.  We picked the standard Trout action over the Deep Action Load for the shootout. The Burkheimer rods proved to be a bit heavy but were exceptionally smooth casting rods.  And the Craftsmanship was second only to the Tom Morgan rods. 

We eliminated most of the inexpensive rods except for a few that we found to be exceptional in both performance and value. 

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Categories Explained

Objective categories

Price in US $ - 10 points available

This is pretty straightforward - the least expensive rods get the highest points.  We gave the top score to St. Croix’s Imperial at $200 so it gets the 10 points.   The TFO Finesse is actually less expensive at $179.95, but one we added a hard case for $30 it was $210.  We keep pleading with TFO include a hard rod tube like everyone else on the planet but get nowhere.  They do have some great rods, and almost everyone that buys a TFO wants to add the hard case. Other good rods near $200 were the TFO BVK and the Winston Passport.  Both were impressive rods. 

Try not to let price be the deciding factor in buying a rod. Today with all the lifetime warranties the manufacturers offer, even if you break a $700-800 rod, it may cost you only $50-60 to replace it! If you consider how much enjoyment you will get fishing one of the best rods over even a few years makes sense to save up a little more money and go for the best.   Even total beginners will improve their casting dramatically with the best rods, and in the process, be catching more and larger fish. 

 

Expert anglers expect to pay more for the best rods as they know how important it is to have a tool that gives them a bigger edge in accuracy, and a rod that provides the ultimate in delicate presentations needed to fool the largest and most difficult fish.    

Overall Weight – 10 points available

We’ve learned that manufacturers can stretch the truth about the weight of their rods, so we don’t take their word for the weight - we carefully weigh every rod ourselves on a very accurate digital scale that is calibrated down to .0001 oz.   To make things easy, we round up to .01 oz. in our tables on statistics.  Overall weight is one factor that is easy to measure, but what is more important for an angler is the swing weight of the rod - how heavy the rod feels in your hand when you are casting and fishing it hard all day long.   We have found lots of rods that have low overall weight but a surprisingly high swing weight.  The key to building a pleasant rod to fish is to have both a light overall weight AND a light swing weight. 

Swing Weight – 10 points available

Every golfer knows about swing weight, and every good pro shop has a simple scale to measure swing weight – which is the weight of the head of the club in relation to the shaft when you hold the club in your hand and waggle the club.   Since a scale like this won’t work with a fly rod, we had to come up with a better way to measure swing weight – and for anglers the swing weight of a rod is the weight you feel out ahead of your hand when you hold the rod in a horizontal position and flex it lightly.

Rods with a low swing weight are a joy to use and fish all day. False casting while fishing dry flies all day becomes effortless. Rods with lower swing weights help protect light tippets too, as there is less inertia to overcome as the rod tip gets jerked around while you try to set the hook. Rods with a high swing weight are not nearly as pleasant to fish, and at the end of the day your arm will be feeling the fatigue caused by all those false casts!   With swing weight being such a big factor in fishing with any given line size rod, we felt that we needed to come up with a way to best measure this. 

In past shootouts it was brought to our attention that swing weight as we think about it is closely related to a mathematical calculation for the Moment of Inertia.   Europeans Grunde Lovoll and Magnus Angus have provided a MOI calculator for Sexyloops.com and you can check this out at:http://www.sexyloops.com/eric/moi.php

 

Swing Weight – going back to our original method of calculation

After making our MOI calculations this year and checking it with our old method, there were some definite discrepancies that we couldn’t overlook.  The Sage TXL-F had a very low MOI, mainly since it is the lightest rod we tested by far, but in my hand the swing weight felt heavier than the 8 ½ foot Hardy Zenith, and this is because it has a slightly heavier tip.   So in an effort to provide more meaningful swing weight figures we decided to go back to our old method, using a scale to measure the downforce.   I’m confident that our method gives anglers a better way to gauge the swing weight of a rod when held horizontally in your hand and flexed lightly as you would when checking the action of a rod. 

We intend this term to mean the weight you feel when you flex the rod in your hand, while holding the rod in a horizontal position. (Without the reel attached to the rod). 

This is a test you can do yourself with little effort.   We start with a very accurate postage scale, and then in the center of the scale we mark a position where we’ll place a small foam peanut like the kind you use for packing material.  It is good to pick one that is somewhat dish shaped so that when you put the rod handle on it, it will not slide around and allow you to get an accurate measurement of downforce.  

Next, we take the rod and holding it horizontally, position the middle of the grip (where you would naturally hold it, and not necessarily the middle as measured from one end to the other) on the foam peanut, used as fulcrum point.   First I’ll zero out the scale and then once the rod is positioned, I’ll put my finger on the back end of the reel seat, and keeping the rod horizontal the whole time, read the force exerted in oz. on the scale. So this is giving me the weight in oz. I’m feeling out ahead of where I’d normally grip the rod.  A few tries is necessary to determine the weight as this is a sensitive operation and we try to position our finger at the same spot at the end of the reel seats each time.  

You will see that the swing weights we obtained range from 7.1 oz to a little over 10 oz and this gives us a good way to judge the swing weight from one rod to another.   Rods with swing weights from 7.0-8.0 oz. were ones that felt nice and light, while the rods with swing weights in the 9.0 -9.5 oz. range felt pretty heavy.   

As you’ll see, a rod can have a low overall weight, but a high swing weight.  The Burkheimer rods were one example, and their heavier weight in hand was one reason they did not score as well as others. It seemed that they had more weight out in the mid section and tip than many of the other rods, and their action was more moderate with their stiffer tips.

One rod that had a higher overall weight but a low swing weight was the Beulah and it felt light in hand and performed very well. 

Obviously the best combination was a light overall weight and a light swing weight.  This is one reason the Hardy Zenith felt so good in our hands.

Warranty – 10 points available

Almost every rod manufacturer today has a lifetime warranty that covers almost all breakage, if it is a factory defect or simply slammed in a tailgate. There are exceptions though, like Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, Burkheimer and Loomis.

All manufacturers are charging some kind of nominal fee that runs from $25-$60 for shipping and handling.   Then it also costs you $15 or more to get the rod shipped to the manufacturer. We have tried to simplify this as much as we could, but only a few manufacturers make this straightforward and easy.  Bottom line is that it can cost you as little as $25-30 for the best warranties, or as much as $100-$200 for others if the breakage was your fault or neglect and not a defect. Also, nearly all warranties apply only to the original owner, so if you break a rod you have bought second-hand you can be out big bucks, especially on rods that have serial numbers the manufactures can track.  

Finally, we tried our best to come up with some kind of reasonable way to calculate a sore for the various warranties.  The least expensive that were in the $25-40 range got the 10’s, and most firms that were in the $50-$90 range got 8’s and 9’s.  

Warranties

Since Warranty is one of our categories we feel should be rated, we wanted to give you a relatively concise explanation so that you can see how we judged this category.  Some manufacturers, like G. Loomis are making this very complicated but we’ll do our best to give you the short version.

Most every manufacturer offers a “Lifetime Warranty”, but this applies only to the original owner.   In almost every instance, the manufacturer charges a handling fee, and you also need to know that it will cost you a minimum of $10-15 to send the rod in to the manufacturer, or have your local shop ship the rod, in addition to that handling fee.  In most instances your rod will be repaired, not replaced but this varies from one manufacturer to another. 

Beulah – Original owner lifetime warranty for defects must be registered within 30 days.  Breakage from misuse or negligence will be repaired at reasonable cost.  $50 fee for all rods for shipping and handling.

C.F. Burkheimer – under warranty for life for defects to original owner.  For other mishaps or accidents, for single-handed rods cost is $50 for tips or mids and $75 for butts.

Echo – Lifetime warranty for original owner.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are replaced.

Hardy – Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $25 handling fee plus 10% retail cost of rod.   Shipping is from their US warehouse, normally about 10 days.

 

G. Loomis – Lifetime warranty to original owner.  You send in rod and their warranty dept examines rod.  If rod broke because of a defect, replacement is free. No handling fee.  If from neglect, charges can be well over $100.  One time Expeditor service, no questions asked - $100. Gets you a new rod in 3-5 days.   NRX owners get a one time Wild Card that gives them a free replacement, 3-5 days. After that, if NRX break is deemed a defect, replacement is free.  From neglect charges will vary but over $150.  Defect claims usually take 1-2 weeks.

Orvis - 25 year warranty to original owner.  $30 handling fee.  Rod is repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

Ross Worldwide – Lifetime warranty for original owner.  Rods are repaired or replaced, shipments to Ross must be prepaid.  

R.L. Winston – Lifetime warranty to original owner, $50 handling fee. Older rods not under warranty cost $120 or more. Rods are repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 3-4 weeks. "Lender" rods are available in the meantime, should the expected wait time be longer than normal.

Sage – Lifetime warranty to original owner. $50 handling fee.  Rods are repaired, not replaced.   Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

Scott – Lifetime warranty to original owner, $45 handling fee. Rods are repaired, not replaced. Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

St. Croix – Lifetime warranty for defective materials and workmanship.  $20 handling fee. In practice, $20 fee usually covers repairs to Legend Elite and Imperial rods. In the case of a broken tip, customers may choose to simply purchase a replacement section for $30. This method is the fastest, as St. Croix ships the section within a couple days.  Older rods with an expired warranty may cost $50-$75. Rods are repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) - Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $25 handling fee.  Rods are repaired or replaced with a new rod.  Usually takes 1 week.  

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths - Rods have lifetime warranty for breakage that is deemed to be due to a defect – replacement is free.  If from accident or neglect, costs are $225 to replace broken tip, $275 to replace butt if reel seat can be re-used, and if not, $325. 

(click to enlarge)

Subjective categories

Craftsmanship - 10 points available

In determining how well a rod is made, we take into consideration a lot of factors.  A quick look at the real seat and handle tells you a lot.  Most of the expensive rods utilize very high quality reel seats, usually uplocking, and often with exotic woods and nickel silver fittings.   The reel seat should screw down easily yet hold the reel very securely without coming loose during a day of fishing.  The best cork handles are traditional ones built up using single corks and then sanded down on a lathe.  Very high quality cork has become harder and harder to find, but the best handles have few spots where filler has been used, and have a nice smooth feel.   On less expensive rods, pre-shaped handles are used that require far less work to fit, and generally you can see the inferior quality of the cork used.  

What kind of guides are being used on the rod?  The best are the flexible nickel/titanium guides but these are expensive.  You’ll find them on the Loomis rods as well as the Orvis Helios, and the Hardy.  Some manufacturers like Hardy and Loomis use flexible single foot guides.  These are lighter than standard snake guides, and this helps to give the tips of their rods such a light feel.  Good hard chrome guides are still an excellent choice and are tough, but these new flexible guides are even better.   A close look at the wraps will tell you how good the wrapping is – are the threads packed tight and finished nicely?  How good and how smooth is the finish coating over the wraps?  The best coatings require 2-4 applications and each coat is sanded down between finish coatings.  This is how Tom Morgan Rodsmiths gets such wonderful looking wraps on their rods.   Most manufacturers use one-coat finishes that can be good when done perfectly, but tend to bulk up and add more weight to the rod than necessary if done poorly.   

The ferrules should fit up well and tightly, and many have dots that help you align the sections.  Ferrules on the best rods won’t come loose easily but this is something you’ll find out about over time.

Nice little touches like nickel silver winding checks and trim wraps add class to the rod and now we are seeing some very interesting looking cork handles that are laid up in a beautiful manner. The best looking ones we’ve seen, coming from C.F. Burkheimer are works of art. There was only one perfect 10 awarded for craftsmanship, and that was to the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rods, which are simply superb in every way.   A close second were the Burkheimer rods.   Most of the best rods with excellent craftsmanship rated an 8 or better.  

Fun to Fish/Got to Have – 10 points available

We got the idea for this category from the Car and Driver magazine shootouts, but you know all about this one. If the rod looks like a million bucks and casts like it too, then any normal fly fisherman will lust for this rod. For some, it might even be considered a status symbol.  For others, they see how this rod performs in their guide’s hands and they know that if they get the same rod, it will take them to that next level. Surprisingly enough, often they are right. Great rods don’t make great casters, but they can sure help an average caster get a lot better in a hurry. Good anglers know the value of an exceptional rod, and price usually doesn’t slow them down one bit. After all, an angler can never have too many really good rods, can they?   Any rod that scored a 9 or 10 in this category is so good that you really want to consider adding it to your collection.

Double points for the performance categories

We have always felt that the most important factor in determining the best rods in our shootouts is how well the rod performs. Sure, craftsmanship, price and all these other categories need to enter into the final equation, but the real meat of these shootouts are the performance categories, and this is why we double the points here.   You will find a table that gives only the performance scores.  But as you’ll see, the top six rods are pretty much the same with the Hardy Zenith leading the pack.

“Perfect 4 Performance” – 20 points available

Again, we felt that one category was needed to reward the best #4 line rods for their superior performance and that special feel that gives you total confidence in putting your fly just where you want it at any distance right out to 60 feet. The best 4-weight rods are going to be very light, delicate rods, capable of extremely good accuracy and the ability to make delicate deliveries with small flies and fine tippet.  

But to be the Perfect 4, the rod must have some guts too, and be capable of throwing tight loops into a good stiff breeze, even at 60 feet.   It must also have enough butt and mid section power to be a good nymph fishing rod, capable of throwing nymphs with bead head droppers and even some split shot.    On occasion it also must be capable of chucking a lead headed wooly bugger or other small to medium sized streamers when conditions dictate a switch to the bigger ugly stuff.

As a perfect 4, rods that load well with a standard S.A. Trout taper take precedence over the stiffer rods that need the heavier GPX.  With a 4-weight, a delicate delivery is what we’re after, and in this regard, the lighter lines definitely work better.  We’re looking for rods that will do it all, and do it well from 25 feet right out to 60 feet, and the Hardy Zenith 8 ½ foot #4 was an easy choice to take top honors.

Light Tippet Performance – 20 points available


Here’s a new category this year that we decided was important, especially for the 4-weight rods. When you consider that a lot of your fishing done with your 4-weight will be using 5x, 6x, 7x and maybe even 8x tippets, any rod that will help protect these very light tippets is good thing!    A rod that is light and has a nice soft flexible tip will help eliminate a lot of break-offs caused by inadvertent heavy-handed hook sets.  Or perhaps the fish grabbed your fly halfway submerged in the surface film when you weren’t watching closely enough, and surprised you while bolting away.   Having a rod with a softer tip and light swing weight in situations like this will save a lot of potential break-offs, and make you appreciate the importance of our new performance category. 

Tippets are getting stronger every year, and we end up fishing 6x and 7x a lot of the time now in trying to get that perfect drift to entice a big fish to sip in your fly. Using a rod that will dramatically reduce your number of break-offs just makes a lot of sense.  The best rods here are both light in overall weight, light in swing weight, and have nice soft tips. Rods that are very light, but have stiffer tips don’t work nearly as well.  

 

Performance at 25 feet – 20 points available

We debated on making this first distance 20 feet, but after a bit of casting, using our 12 foot leaders, it became apparent that 25 feet gave us enough distance to get a little more line out of the rod for the best control.  4-weight rods are first and foremost rods designed for closer distance fishing, where accuracy and presentation is the #1 factor in catching fish.   At 25 feet, the best 4-weight rods should be able to consistently land your fly (or in our case the yarn indicator) on a 12” plate 90% of the time.

This requires a rod that can bend enough in the tip to deliver the fly accurately when you are only using your wrist and very little arm movement to complete the casting stroke- casting mainly off the tip of the rod.  

Does the rod load well enough to give you the feel you need to make delicate presentations?  Good feel also contributes to good accuracy, which is perhaps the #1 factor I’m taking into consideration when rating rods at these short distances.  The best rods give you the confidence needed to put your fly exactly where it needs to go, into the exact right drift line to go over the fish’s nose.  I’m convinced that the key to catching more trout and especially larger trout, is casting accuracy. Fly selection is far less important. If you have something about the right size and color, you can often force-feed a selective fish with perfect presentations. 

The best rods for short distance fishing are usually the lightest rods, especially if you are doing a lot of false casting as you would fishing dry flies.

Performance at 35 feet – 20 points available

25-35 feet are the most important distances for the 4-weight rods, since 90% of the fishing we are doing with these light rods is in this range.    At 35 feet the rod must work a lot harder but you should not have to double haul at all to get the rod to perform well.  What I’m looking for here is the rod’s ability to throw effortless tight loops with extremely good accuracy.   Just like at 25 feet, casting accuracy is the key to catching more and larger fish.   A good 4-weight should feel totally solid at this distance and the line should track perfectly.   The best rods are silky smooth but have the ability to deliver the fly with some authority, especially into a breeze.   

With the best rods I was able to hit the plate about 50-60% of the time, and the other casts were not more than a few inches off once I had the distance measured correctly.   Casting to determine all out accuracy requires casts are fairly hard casts that will straighten out the 12-foot leader and tippet. Much like a cast I’d be using in a dry fly accuracy competition.   But in fishing situations I’m often setting up short and off to the side, and shooting that last 4-6 feet of line in to the fish, so the rod needs to have enough power and backbone to rifle these casts in there and do it accurately, with the fly hitting the water gently enough so that I don’t spook the fish. 

The best 4-weights also make for very good nymph fishing rods, especially at short distances but also right out to 50-60 feet.   They need to have enough power in the butt and mid section to be able to set the hook quickly as well as throw a combination of flies, droppers and split shot and an indicator.  And they also need to get this job done in the wind!    Personally I like the 8 ½ foot rods over the 9 footers for nymph fishing because they are more sensitive and I can also set the hook a little more quickly than I can with a longer 9-foot rod.  Many people are going to 9 ½, and even 10-foot rods for fishing nymphs but these are pretty worthless for fishing dry flies. 

Using faster action rods with stronger butt and mid-sections will also make it far easier for you to land big fish in a minimal amount of time, allowing you to release them in perfect shape. 

Performance at 60 feet – 20 points available

The best 4-weights must be able to cast longer distances too, and the best rods had excellent loop control and the ability to throw nice tight loops with good accuracy at this range.  Naturally, you must use a good double haul technique to deliver at long distances with a 4-weight rod.  There are not many situations when you’ll be fishing this far with your 4-weight, but I’ve certainly had many situations especially fishing dry flies in larger rivers, where I just had to throw it this long and do it accurately in order to catch fish.   

The best rods in our shootout could handle this distance with ease and were actually capable of casting much farther in an expert caster’s hands.  Especially a gun like that Sage One!  Other rods that were extremely good at shorter distances like the Sage TXL-F and the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, just didn’t have the beans to cast with authority at long range.  But they weren’t designed to either.  I know that Tom Morgan feels that he wants his rods to perform at their best at 20-40 feet and he isn’t too concerned one bit that they don’t have the muscle to match other rods at long range.   

Although I’m very rarely fishing small dries at 50-60 feet, I do find myself in situations where throwing a hopper or small streamer that far can produce some spectacular results. Also, on larger rivers fishing nymphs with an indicator, I’m often throwing these longer distances just to get to the fish, or to get a nice long dead drift with my nymph below the indicator.  

The rods I liked best at long range were the Hardy Zenith, the Winston BIIIx, the Sage One, the G. Loomis Streamdance and the Orvis Helios.  

 

 

#1  Hardy Zenith 8'6"#4 $629.00

                                                 

The Winner – Again!   Last year in our 5-weight shootout, the Hardy Zenith blew everyone else out of the water with a rod that was just magical.  So this year we knew that Hardy would again be a force to contend with.  I’ve been fishing a 9 foot #4 Hardy Zenith most of this past season and have been impressed with how well the rods fished, and what a versatile rod it was- fishing everything from dries to streamers.  But this rod was relatively stiff, and certainly needed a GPX 4-weight line to make it perform.  They also had an 8 foot #4 Zenith, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with that rod and stuck with the 9 foot #4.   

But this year Hardy gave us a much lighter 8 ½ foot #4 that is just fantastic!  When we picked up the rod, it was like WOW, this thing is light and has such a low swing weight- let’s see how it casts.  Very quickly we could see that this rod was going to be another winner.  Much like the 9 foot #5, it has good butt and mid section power and tracks so perfectly that you feel like you know just where your fly is going.  This rod has a nice soft tip that allows for wonderful feel and accuracy in close, but then I need to reach out and throw some line, there is plenty of power on tap, and it threw extremely tight loops at 60 feet, even in the wind.   

Howard Croston and Jim Murphy helped with the new design, and Hardy’s team of engineers, headed up by Chris Bond have utilized their Sintrix material that was introduced this past year for the new rods.  Sintrix combines Hardy’s high modulus carbon fibers with a new resin system from 3M in which the fiber is held together with tiny silica nano spheres that are incorporated into this new resin system.  With the 3M technology, they are able to get an even distribution of the nano spheres throughout the resin, and these nano spheres resist compression better than any material known.  The end result is that Hardy is able to produce rods that are 30% lighter and 60% stronger than their previous rods built with more conventional methods.  

Other manufacturers are also using this 3M resin technology, but Hardy seems to have the edge in making it work better than anyone.  These rods are extremely light, but very tough.  We heard of almost no breakage this past year from the many customers that bought these new Hardy Sintrix rods in either the Zenith line or the saltwater Proaxis line.

Hardy has once again given us a rod that performs extremely well at all distances, a rod that is extremely light, and with the lowest swing weight of any of the rods we tested.  You immediately notice how light the tip is when you pick up the rod.  Part of this is due to the sintrix technology, but also to the small, flexible nickel titanium single foot guides that Hardy uses on their Zenith rods.

and part of this is due in part to the Sintrix technology, but also to the small, flexible nickel/Titanium one foot guides that Hardy uses on these Zenith rods.  

They have taken the finish off the slip over ferrules, and this may be why these ferrules hold very tightly all day, with no tendency to come apart.  Aligning dots at each ferrule are also helpful when putting the rod together.

Craftsmanship is excellent, as we’ve come to expect from Hardy.  They are using some extremely high quality cork in the handles, as good as you’ll find on any rod. This is good looking rod, finished in an olive/gray color with contrasting darker wraps.  This is a conservatively styled rod – nothing fancy but it just looks good.  The reel seat uses no wood spacer but is an attractive design with a slip ring that fits over the seat with two locking rings that hold the reel securely once screwed down tight.   A silver butt cap with the Hardy insignia is a nice touch.    They also give you a hook keeper, which I like.    

George’s casting notes:   

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20

My immediate reaction is that this is a very light rod, that has a pleasing feel in my hand. This rod has a nice soft tip and this make it very easy to make short cast with just a flick of my wrist with little arm movement.  Accuracy and feel are excellent, but perhaps not quite as precise as the Sage TXL-F or as delicate and accurate as the Tom Morgan rod.

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20

This seemed to be this rod’s sweet spot and I was hitting the plate on almost every cast.  It felt like I could control my cast so precisely –and form such tight loops.  I had complete confidence where the fly was going on every cast.   The rod is so light that false casting all day would be a pleasant, effortless experience.

Performance at 60 feet:  20 Points out of 20

At long range I could power up, using a double haul and throw extremely tight loops, even with the Trout taper line.  The rod tracks so well that accuracy was superb.  I also noticed that my cast timing with this rod was very quick.   When you power this one up, it really zings them in there.  

 

#2  Sage TXL-F  7’10"#4  $625.00

                                                    

 

Having the TXL-F finish second was a bit of a surprise, but we knew that this was a very nice 4-weight rod, especially at closer distances.   This rod was new last year but often overlooked here out West where anglers are looking for longer 4-weight rods.   Sage makes this series of rods in line sizes from 4 all the way down to line size 000!  Rio is producing their Trout LT DT lines in these very light sizes down to 000 to match up with the TXL-F rods.   These rods all use Sage’s new G-5 technology to produce rods that are 33% lighter than the older but still very light TXL.   

Jerry Siem, Sage’s head rod designer has certainly come up with another winner with these very light TXL-F rods.   They are all short rods too, mostly 7 foot 10 inches, but some, like the 4-weight also come in a 6 foot 10 inch length.   Eastern anglers are going to love these rods, especially for fishing smaller, tighter streams, where using an 8 ½ foot or 9 foot rod is impossible.    

This is an extremely light rod and the overall weight of 2.03 oz. makes this the lightest rod we tested, by far.  In addition, it also had one of the lightest swing weights, nearly as good as the Hardy Zenith. 

When you pick up this rod you immediately notice the grip shape, which is somewhat unusual – larger at the back with a slight flare and then it tapers down like a cigar grip but then turns back up at the front like a half wells.  It does feel pleasant in my hand, and is perfectly sized for this small rod.  

Craftsmanship is superb, and what we have come to expect from Sage.  The color of these rods is a rich brown with brown wraps.  The reel seat is an uplocking seat anodized in a light brown to compliment the rod, and uses a nice looking walnut spacer.  They use one stripping guide, while all the rest of the guides are small diameter hard chrome snake guides.  The small sized snake guides used help eliminate line slap and give nice line control and the ability to shoot line more smoothly.  Standard Sage slip over ferrules are used, which have proven to be excellent and the sections are designed to give the rod a nice one-piece feel even though there are 4 sections.

Although this rod feels stiff at first, I can notice that the tip does bend a lot under load and this softer tip really helps give superb accuracy in close.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  20 points out of 20
I was impressed with the extreme light weight of this rod and how much confidence it gave me in putting one perfect presentation after another, right on target.   Once loaded, the slightly softer tip made short distance accuracy a delight.   Only this rod and the Tom Morgan scored a perfect 20 at 25 feet.   Just exactly what a good angler wants for short distance work.

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
At mid-range I was having a bit more trouble getting the kind of accuracy I expected.  It was still very good but the rod felt like it wanted to bounce around a little and didn’t have the same kind of tracking capability as the Sage One or the Hardy Zenith.   Still, making good, precise and delicate casts at this distance is a strong point for the TXL-F.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
This rod still has lots of power to hit 60 feet and threw nice well-controlled tight loops. It didn’t track quite as well as the Sage One or the Hardy Zenith though, as you might expect with a much shorter and lighter rod.

#3 (tie) Winston BIIIx 8'6"#4, $795.00

                                                   

 

Everyone here at the shop was impressed with the BIIIx.  We initially cast the 8, 8 ½, and 9 foot models, which were all good, but decided that the 8 ½ foot model performed the best as a 4-weight, and was light enough in action that we could use the Trout Taper line rather than the GPX the 9 foot required.    Winston sent us all their BIIt rods in 4-weights to test as well, but we felt that they were just far too soft, and the actions too slow, so they didn’t make the cut.  The BIIIx is a far better rod in our estimation. 

Winston introduced these BIIIx rods last year and we felt that they are a nice improvement over the older BIIx rods, which had tips that were just too soft and sloppy.  The new BIIIx still utilizes boron in the butt section but they redesigned the mid and tip sections, beefing them up just a little, which was needed.  Winston got prototypes out to a lot of good anglers and casters and veteran rod designer Annette McLean refined all the needed changes, tweaking the final design to give us the new BIIIx.   The new rods are exceptionally smooth casting rods at all distances.  

This is going to be a very popular rod with dry fly anglers.  It delivers good accurate and very delicate presentations, and is certainly one of the very best rods we cast in our shootout.   I was impressed at how smooth this rod was, especially at short to mid distances.  I scored it slightly behind the best rods, but was tempted to give it 20’s at both 25 and 35 feet – it was that good.   It just didn’t seem to track quite as well as the Hardy and I couldn’t form tight loops quite as easily.

The Winston rods are some of the most beautiful rods we’ve seen and the craftsmanship is excellent.  In the sunlight that Winston emerald green is magnificent.   The cork handles on their smaller rods come with cigar grips that are flared on the bottom end and very comfortable in my hand.   Reel seats are gorgeous too, with nickel silver uplocking fittings and a Birdseye maple insert.

Winston uses both nickel silver grip checks and winding checks, a nice touch.   One stripping guide is used while the rest are hard chrome snake guides.  The Winston slipover ferrules are perfect and give the rod a nice one-piece feel when flexed.    Winston also gives you a classy looking graphite case, one of the nicest we’ve seen.  I couldn’t find many negatives at all other than perhaps the price.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20
I was impressed at how smooth this rod cast in close and what delicate presentations I could make at short distances.  However I was just not getting the kind of accuracy I was with the Sage or Tom Morgan rod.  Even the Hardy felt a little more precise.   I just didn’t have as good a feel for where the fly was going than I did with the other rods.  I ended up scoring this a 19 but it was perhaps 19.5.  

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
A very nice feel with good control.  The BIIIx is silky smooth at this distance but I had to work a little harder to get the same kind of tight loops and the precise accuracy that I was getting with the Hardy Zenith. The soft tip helped me make nice delicate presentations at the distances I’m fishing most of the time.  This is a lovely rod for fishing dry flies.

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
Good solid performance at long range, even with the Trout taper.   I was impressed with the control I was getting at long range. On the day we cast out in a hard wind this rod still got the job done well at long distance.  I felt the Hardy and the Sage One tracked a bit better out long and both threw tighter and more controlled loops than the BIIIx. 

#3 (tie) Sage One 8'6"#4,  $715.00

                                                   

 

Sage introduced their One rods late in summer of 2011, and they have been impressive.  Head rod designer Jerry Siem utilized Sage’s new Konnetic Technology to build a rod that is amazingly light and powerful.   In Sage’s words, “The key to the new construction is what Sage calls it’s Advanced Modulus Positioning System (AMPS) that precisely aligns the bundles of high modulus carbon fibers along the taper of the blank for ultimate strength and straight tracking during casting.   Smaller and lighter blanks are made possible by compacting Sage’s carbon fibers and proprietary resins using a high compression molding process, fusing the 50% lighter all-carbon fiber inner core.”

When I picked up the new Sage One, my first impression was that gosh, this is a really light rod, but it has lots of power.   After using a variety of the One rods this past summer, the very best seem to be the 9 foot 6 and 7 weight rods.  These are both awesome rods and perhaps the best in their class.   The One 5 weight proved to be not nearly as nice as the Hardy Zenith 9 foot #5, mainly because of its overall stiffness.

The 8 ½ foot #4 One suffers from that same overall stiffness. I was hoping for a rod that had less stiffness and a softer tip.  Still, this rod turned in some very impressive scores and was perhaps the best long-range rod of the bunch, especially in the wind.   But it was so stiff that we had to use the heavier SA GPX line on this rod to get it to perform.  

Performance at short range was not nearly as good as the best rods, due to the stiffer tip that didn’t allow much feel or accuracy in close.    It is a very light rod though, with the overall weight an impressive 2.45 oz., but the thing that held it back against the best rods was its heavier swing weight of 8.6 oz.   With this heavier swing weight and stiffer tip, fishing very light tippets is going to be a challenge.   I can see a lot of popped off 6x tippets with this rod.    At long range though, this rod is a real gun, and rips 60 footers in there with precision.   This will also be a very good rod to choose on a windy day.

Craftsmanship is excellent, typical of the best Sage rods.   The rod is stealth black, with complimentary dark wraps and a few brown trim wraps.   The handle is different for Sage, somewhat of a full wells, fairly straight through the middle, with a little taper, getting smaller towards the top of the grip before the flare back up at the very top. It feels comfortable enough to me although some anglers would prefer more of a cigar style like Sage uses on their ZXL.     A good single uplocking aluminum seat is used in anodized brown along with a nicely finished walnut insert.    A single stripping guide is used while the rest are hard chrome snake guides.  The wraps are good but the finish coat of epoxy over the wraps looks a bit heavy overall. 

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
Although this is a very light rod, the stiffer tip and heavy swing weight didn’t produce enough feel and accuracy in close to challenge the best rods.   I was getting very little feedback from the rod to let me know where the fly was going and the accuracy suffered accordingly.  

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
Once I get a little more line out, the rod feels a lot better.  It is still feels a lot heavier in my hand than the Winston or Hardy though, and this is due to the high swing weight.   Now I’m seeing the line track very well and am getting very good accuracy.  But the stiffness is not allowing me to get the kind of delicate presentations that I’m getting with the Hardy, Winston BIIIx or Tom Morgan rods.    Also, there is no question that I’m working a lot harder at this distance to get nice tight loops than I am with the Hardy Zenith.

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20
Now we’re talking!  This rod is a gun at this range and the only thing that’s close is the Hardy Zenith.  I rated both a 20, but the One definitely has a bit more power at long range.  In my notes I felt that the Hardy was slightly more precise in accuracy. Both rods track very well and throw well controlled tight loops at long range, but the One does it with a bit more authority.  Again I can feel the much heavier swing weight when comparing it to the Hardy and this would lead to more fatigue at the end of the day. 

#3 (tie)  Beulah Platinum  8’8”#4,  $395.00

                                                  

We were all impressed with this lovely rod from Beulah, an Oregon company better known for their Switch and Spey rods than trout rods.  In fact, Beulah was the first company to introduce the Switch rods (shorter, lighter Spey rods) back in 2005.  Now Switch rods, considered an oddity at the time are now a staple for everyone building Spey rods!   Beulah also built classic single-handed rods using Im8 graphite, but recently switched over to a new process, calling these new rods their Platinum series.  Using the newest graphite technology with carbon scrim, and they employ better resins and extremely high blank rolling pressure to achieve extremely high consistency from blank to blank, which also results in some of the lightest rods in the business.

When I picked up the Beulah 8’8” #4 rod, I could immediately tell that this was going to be a very good performing rod.  They hit it on the head with the action – it seemed just right, and in a rod that has a nice light swing weight.    When casting the rod my first comments said it all – “Light and smooth”.   

This is a very good-looking rod too with excellent craftsmanship.   Blanks are a pleasing Olive/brown with lighter brown wraps and four color trim wraps!  The reel seats are uplocking nickel silver fittings with attractive burl wood inserts.   The cork handles are a very attractive mix of laminated cork with standard cork rings in the middle and contrasting cork burls on both ends.  These handles are a Western style with a flare at the back a swell in the middle and tapering toward the front.   I found them quite comfortable but perhaps a bit large for a 4-weight rod.   For guides, they use a single stripping guide followed by hard chrome snake guides that are a bit larger in diameter than most. 

Without knowing the cost, you would guess that this rod would be in the $600-700 range, but amazingly it sells for $395.00, which we feel is a heck of a value, especially for a rod that feels and performs as well as this one does. 

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
First impression is that this rod feels just right in my hand.   A nice low swing weight, despite the slightly heavier overall weight than most.  The action is just about perfect with good butt and mid-section power but a nice softer tip that gave good feel and very good accuracy in tight.   This rod was light enough in action to take the Trout taper and that was a plus for good delicate presentations. 

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
Nice, well controlled loops at this distance made it easy to get good accuracy.  This rod feels very well balanced and loaded perfectly with the trout taper. One of my notes said “buttery smooth”.  It tracks very well and was a lot lighter in hand than the St.Croix Imperial.   Very impressive for a mid-priced rod.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
At long range the Beulah lacked the overall power to blast it in there like the top rods and I had to work just a little harder with my double haul, using the trout taper, but then I was getting pretty good accuracy. I’m thinking that the GPX would have been better at long range. 

 

#4 (tie) Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8'6"#4, $1345.00

This is the only two-piece rod in our 4-weight shootout, but since this is one of the best 4-weight rods I’ve ever fished, we decided to include it in with all the other 4-pc. 4-weight rods.  The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rods are special in many ways.  They are some of the most gorgeous rods you have ever laid eyes on, starting with the heavy octagonal rod case finished in the same deep burgundy color as the rods, and the fancy rod bag inside. The rods themselves are a masterpiece of fine craftsmanship.   Nothing else in our shootout even comes close.  Tom designed all of the blanks himself, and I helped him with the designs and casting of the final prototypes. Tom has the blanks built by Gary Loomis’ company, North Fork Composites.  Then they are sent off to C.F. Burkheimer to be finished in that beautiful deep burgundy color that Tom refers to as Garnet.  Tom designed all the nickel silver hardware himself, from the beautiful uplocking reel seats to the butt and grip checks. Struble Mfg. Co, who builds many of the finest reel seats used by Sage and other rod builders, makes these for Tom Morgan on a custom basis.  Tom uses about two dozen different fancy burl woods for inserts and these are finished there by hand.  His most popular are Amboyna and Box Elder Burl, but the customer gets to pick whatever he likes. 

Handles are laid up using the finest cork you can find and shaped to either a cigar style or half wells. Customers can also provide their own custom handle designs.  Another special touch is a genuine agate stripping guide!  The rest of the guides are hard chrome snake guides with a lot of very small size snake guides out on the tip to help eliminate any rod slap.  Tom is convinced that this is one reason his rods cast so smoothly.  Tom’s wife Gerri Carlson does all the wrapping and finishing and the results are stunning.  Gerri showed me how she often uses 4 or more coats of thin epoxy finish on the wraps, sanding off the high spots lightly before applying the next coat.   This is how they get such a perfectly smooth finish, but this all takes a lot of time and effort.

These rods cast just as good as they look!  Tom has always insisted on building rods that load well with a standard Trout Taper, and these rods load more heavily than anything I’ve used, but they feel just right, especially at closer distances.   Tom’s design philosophy is to create sweet casting rods that will handle perfectly out to 45 feet or so. Out at 60 feet they are a bit too soft, but Tom never built them thinking of casting that far! He knows well that the best accuracy and presentations from light rods like this need to come at 20-40 feet and no more.

The performance at 25 feet was a perfect 20, and there is no rod here that can make delicate presentations like this one.  Accuracy was just superb in the 25-35 foot range, and I was tempted to give this rod another perfect score at 35 feet. 

There a couple of downsides in obtaining a Tom Morgan rod.  First is the price, which is far above any other rods in our test.   But once you see the rod, you’ll understand how much time and effort it took to build it.    Then there is the availability.  The Morgans build only about 100 of these graphite rods a year, so there is a waiting list of up to 2-3 years to get one.  But the long wait will definitely be worth it! 

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  20 points out of 20
A perfect performance in every way.  This rod loads beautifully; giving me lots of feel and the very light tip gives terrific accuracy as well as the ability to give the most delicate presentations possible.   This rod has a very light swing weight that is close to the Hardy and Sage TXL-F. One of the reasons of course is that it is a two –piece rod.   Although the TXL-F also rated a 20, there is no question that the Tom Morgan is a shade better in close.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
I felt like this could also have been a 20, but I knocked it back to 19 as it didn’t have the ability to drive the line in as precisely as the Hardy, and the accuracy suffered just a tiny bit.  I felt it didn’t track quite as well as either the Hardy or the Sage One that are using more sophisticated materials in their blanks.  Still, this rod is certainly the best of the lot for making the most delicate presentations in this 25-35 foot range.

Performance at 60 feet:  16 points out of 20
At long range, this rod proved to be overloaded, even with the Trout taper.  I’ve found myself that on days when I’m fishing this rod mainly at longer ranges I’ll drop down in line size to a WF-3-F and that did the trick.   Certainly you can hit 60 feet with this rod and a Wf-4-F trout, but it doesn’t want to track well and the accuracy is not very good.  

#4 (tie)  Echo 3  7’10”#4, $349.99

                                                 

Tim Rajeff sent us over a couple of his Echo 3 rods to test, the 7’ 10”, which was extremely light and cast pretty well, and an Echo 3 in 9 foot #4, which was heavy and a not much fun –that one really needed a #5 line.   So The 7’ 10” rod got in, and it placed very well overall, mainly due to its perfect scores for overall weight and swing weight.  But as you’ll see in the performance only scores, it was way down there with the Echo Edge sliding in one point higher. 

I loved the light weight of this Echo 3. In swing weight, it was tied right at the top of the heap with the Hardy Zenith, with the Sage TXL-F one tenth of an ounce behind.  They all got perfect 10’s.  But this is a much stiffer rod than the TXL-F needed a GPX line to get it to bend.  The Echo 3 is the most advanced high performance rod that Echo builds, using very high modulus graphite and modern resin systems.   These rods are both extremely light and exceptionally strong.   I was impressed with the power and smoothness of this rod, but it was perhaps just a little too stiff at short range. It did feel great in my hand, with such a low swing weight.   At close range it gave good accuracy but wanted to slam the fly in there pretty hard, so other rods are definitely going to be more delicate, and Sage’s TXL-F was far better.  Even though they scored the same 18 points at 25 feet, I’d give the edge to the Echo Edge for delicate deliveries.  In the wind the Echo 3 was better, but the delivery was just a bit too strong.   At 35 feet I seemed to get the same good performance I got with the TXL-F but at long range the TXL-F threw tighter loops with less effort.

These Echo 3 rods are very good looking, and the craftsmanship is up to par with the much higher priced rods like Sage, Loomis and Hardy.  The blank is a brilliant olive green with darker contrasting wraps.  The handle is just right – a Western style cigar grip that is shorter than most and fits my hand perfectly.  It is sized just right for a delicate 4-weight rod, and the cork is the high-density variety, and more durable than standard cork rings.  This Echo cork is much like what Loomis uses on their NRX rods – I like it.  The good-looking reel seat uses silver anodized hardware and an attractive burled wood spacer.  The wraps and finish are first rate.  A single SiC Stripping guide is used followed up with hard chrome snake guides.  But WOW, are they big. The first three look like the guides on my 11 weight rods!  But they do get progressively smaller towards the tip.   Tim is a great caster, so I’m guessing that he came up with this system to increase line shootability, and I’m not one to argue about that.  This rod really drills them in there with high line speeds.   But this also means you’ll have to back it off a bit to get delicate presentations.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
This rod feels wonderful in my hand with such a low swing weight, but it’s stiff, and it was hard to get delicate presentations at close range.  Accuracy was good, but I had to downgrade it a point for slamming the fly in there a bit too hard.  The Edge made much more delicate presentations but wasn’t quite as accurate, thus the scores were the same.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
Well balanced with the GPX line and I was getting nice tight loops with pretty good accuracy.  The high line speed was still a problem in getting delicate presentations, and that GPX line will be hitting the water pretty hard.   I rated this the same as the TXL-F, but I’d give the TXL-F the advantage for making much more delicate presentations.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20
Heads up, the TXL-F had better loop control and more accuracy at long range despite the fact that it was using a lighter Trout taper line.    The Echo 3 was still blasting them in there but lost a bit in accuracy over the other best rods. 

 

#5  St. Croix Imperial 8'6"#4, $200.00

                                                   

Here is our winner for the best inexpensive 4-weight rodwe’ve found!   After Winston’s 9 foot #5 Passport proved to be the best inexpensive #5 line rod, we had big hopes for the 9 foot #4 but is just didn’t cut it, compared to the Imperial.  It wasn’t even close.  This is a case of one good inexpensive rod hitting the nail on the head when it came to design and the ability to perform exceptionally well at all distances.

The key to this rods surprisingly good performance is the fact that it has medium fast action that is very close to some of the other top rods.  Good butt and mid section power that give it good performance at long range, but a softer tip that give this rod good feel and accuracy in close.

There is nothing fancy about this rod, but the craftsmanship is really quite good when you consider the low price.  The color is a deep burgundy, much like the Tom Morgan Rods.  I liked the Western style cigar grip handle, and the reel seat is anodized alum. uplocking, with a reddish colored wood insert.  Guides are one stripping guide and the rest hard chrome snake guides, fairly large in size.  The overall weight is surprisingly light at 2.7 oz. and the swing weight is about in the middle of the pack at 8.5 oz.   This rod does feel well balanced in my hand and would be a pleasant rod to fish all day. We think this rod is an incredible value, especially for a rod that is built right here in the US in Park Falls Wisconsin.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20
I was amazed at what good accuracy and feel I was getting from the Imperial at short distance.  It felt every bit as good as the Beulah, and a lot better than either of the inexpensive TFO rods or the Winston Passport.   The softer tip helped to keep the Imperial ahead of these other rods, providing excellent accuracy that was almost as good as the very best rods.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20 
This is a smooth casting rod at this distance.  I can feel the extra swing weight now and it feels heavier in my hand than the Beulah, and the accuracy wasn’t on par with the Beulah either.  Still a pretty impressive performance.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Very good control and plenty of power to reach out this far.  I can form nice loops but now I’m feeling the heavier swing weight and working a little harder to do it.   I keep thinking this must be a $300-$400 rod to perform this well. 

#6  G. Loomis WhisperCreek GLX  8'6"#4, $645.00

                                               

Since the WhisperCreek’s introduction a few years ago now, this has been one of my favorite 4-weight rods.  I actually helped Steve Rajeff with the design of this rod, which was initially called the Streamdance Presentation series.  It’s still the same rod, but the name and the color have changed.  We are also testing the Streamdance 8 ½ foot #4, and it also is a fine rod.  The big difference here is that the WhisperCreek is a much softer rod that loads very well with a SA Trout, while the Streamdance is a faster, stiffer rod that requires the GPX.  The WhisperCreek is more of a medium action rod that handles better at the shorter distances than out long.

The craftsmanship is excellent, and love the unbreakable guides used.   There is one recoil stripping guide and the rest are nickel/titanium flexible one-foot guides that reduce weight and give this rod a nice feel.   A smaller cigar style grip is used, and the aluminum uplocking seat has an unusual, pleasing design with a burled wood insert.  The color is a flat finished medium olive, which I like.  Pretty stealthy.  

I’ve loved its smooth action and the ability to cast very accurately, and its ability to make nice delicate presentations using small flies and fine leaders.   But I’ve also put this rod to work plenty of days fishing nymphs too, and it will certainly do a good job, but is not quite as good as the faster action rods.    If you like rods that load up well, and give you confidence to hit where you are aiming, you’ll appreciate this rod.  It is also soft enough to do a great job protecting light tippets. 

The newer, more technologically advanced rods bypass even long time favorites and this is the case for me.  Now when I’m pulling out a 4-weight, it will be the Hardy Zenith rather than my old WhisperCreek GLX.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F line matched this rod.

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20

I love the softness of the action at close range and the ability to make very delicate presentations.   This rod transfers a great amount of feel to my hand and it seems that I can put the fly right where I’m thinking it needs to go.  Accuracy is very good, but not as precise as the best rods.  Fishing light tippets is a joy with this rod and I rarely experience any break offs on 6x and 7x. 

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
This distance seems to be a sweet spot with this rod and I just love the overall feel and balance.  Making light, accurate deliveries is effortless, but if the wind is up, then I feel that I’m at a disadvantage over the faster action rods.  Still one of my favorites!

Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20
At long range, the softer action doesn’t allow me to fire shots in there as quite as well as the faster Streamdance or the other top rods, and accuracy suffers accordingly.  It is still quite good though, especially if I just slow down the timing a bit and allow the rod to do its work. If the wind comes up hard though, I’m not going to have a whole lot of fun.

#7 (tie) G. Loomis Streamdance GLX  8'6"#4, $655.00

                                                   

This rod has been around for quite awhile now, but is still a delightful rod to fish.  It has a faster action and is stiffer than the WhisperCreek.  It is a fairly heavy rod in swing weight when you compare it to the others, but in casting this rod, the weight didn’t seem to be a factor and it put in a very respectable performance at all distances.  These Streamdance GLX rods have always been a top performer in our shootouts, and the 5-weigtht finished 2nd in our 5-weight shootout years ago now.  Steve Rajeff’s designs have proven themselves over time to be some of the best, and this 4-weight has a good strong butt and mid section but then the power tapers off progressively in the tip and this is what gives it such good accuracy at all distances.  

The craftsmanship, like the WhisperCreek is excellent.  The blank color is a darker olive but still with nice flat finish that I like.  The guides are the same as the WhisperCreek with one recoil stripper and the rest the flexible nickel/titanium one foot guides.  The tip diameters on these Loomis rods is very small in diameter, but they hold up well and we have seen very few broken.  Again the handle is a smaller cigar shape with a flare on the back end – just right on a rod this size.  The reel seat is the Loomis dark brown anodized aluminum uplocking version with that unusual design and a handsome burled wood insert. 

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20
Although this rod has an even higher swing weight than the WhisperCreek, it certainly didn’t detract from the performance.   In close it delivered very good accuracy with enough feel to be a pleasant rod for short distance work.   Sure, if you compare it to the Hardy it feels heavier in the hand but at this distance the accuracy was just about as good.

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20 
What a solid feel with the line tracking very well, giving accuracy as good as anything in the shootout.  I was surprised that an older design like the Streamdance would perform at this level.   I could zing the indicator onto the plate most of the time.   But I would still give a tiny edge to the Hardy Zenith, especially in getting a more delicate presentation. 

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20 
The GPX line felt very well matched and despite the heavier swing weight, I could maintain good tight loops and excellent accuracy at long range.   I wouldn’t want to do a great deal of false casting all day at this range though.  The 9 oz. swing weight would wear me out.   

#7 (tie) Orvis Helios 9'#4, mid-flex, $795.00

 My first impressions – Like the other Orvis Helios rods, this is a gorgeous rod with excellent craftsmanship. In my hand it was impressively light in overall weight – as light as the Sage One at 2.45 oz!    But like the Sage One the swing weight at 8.6 oz was a lot heavier than the best rods that were 8 oz. and below.   Still the Helios is a very pleasant rod to cast, and I was especially impressed at 60 feet, where it would throw very long tight loops all day long.  

I’m sorry that Orvis declined to send us any rods to test, as I would have liked to see how the shorter Helios rods fared like their 8 ½ foot #4 as well as their less expensive rods like an 8 ½ foot #4 Access or perhaps their Superfine Touch 8 foot #4.  Maybe next time. 


The rod we tested came from a friend, and was a new rod.   At least we were able to get one Helios in the shootout so that Orvis fans can see how it fared compared to the best rods.   In this respect, it didn’t exactly blow us away.  Finishing in the middle of the pack, I’d call it good but not great.   Even the much heavier Loomis NRX was a lot more accurate and had better feel at 25 feet.  And the Sage One was a far better casting rod, even though the weight and swing weight matched up exactly with the Helios.   I think the biggest reason is that in close, the rods with softer tips just performed better.  This mid-flex has a more moderate action, and a stiffer tip than most.  Stiffer tips are never good, at least on 4-weight rods. 

There were a lot of things to like about this rod though – especially its good looks and craftsmanship, which have always been high points with Orvis rods.  I especially liked their use of the flexible and unbreakable nickel/titanium snake guides, but perhaps the one -foot nickel/titanium guides as used on the Loomis and Hardy rods would have been even better.    The rods are a pleasing brown in color, with a comfortable Western style cigar grip.  The fancy looking uplocking reel seat worked quite well and held the reel very securely.  The matching brown graphite rod case was pretty classy too. 

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: SA GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
This rod has a nice light feel in my hand but the stiffer tip wasn’t allowing me to get the kind of accuracy and presentation I was after at short distance.  The much heavier NRX was a lot more accurate, mainly because of its softer tip.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
The rod casts a nice smooth line, but like at 25 feet I’m just not able to get really good accuracy.   It does feel better at 35 feet than 25 and the presentations I was getting were good, just not great. 

Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20
This distance was the highlight for me with the Helios.  I loved its ability to throw long, tight loops with excellent accuracy.   It was also exceptionally smooth and well balanced at this range with the GPX line.   Not quite as good as the very best rods, but close. 

#8 (tie) Scott G2  8’8”#4, $725.00

Scott bills the G2 series as their ultimate presentation rods.  They are light in weight and feel good in your hand.    The actions are moderately fast with fairly soft tips that will help protect light tippets.   I’ve always liked the softer Scott rods and this rod was pleasant to cast and turned in good solid performance scores at all distances. It didn’t score as well as I imagined it would though.   It was hard to pinpoint the reasons why, but this is one rod that you must slow your casting stroke to take advantage of its softer action.  One of my notes in bold read “You can’t overpower this rod or bad things will happen.”  That more or less sums it up.  It is a lot like the Tom Morgan in this respect, but the G2 is a more powerful rod and a lot better at long range.  At short range though it wouldn’t come close to matching the Tom Morgan rod for either accuracy or delicate presentations. 

This is a good looking rod, and one which they have not sanded down the tiny ridges left from the tape they wrap the rods with while being cured.  They just add a light finish coat of epoxy over the natural gray blank.  The wraps are chocolate brown, and well done and finished perfectly with just the right amount of epoxy and no more.  Spigot ferrules are used on this rod rather than the more common slip over ferrules found on other rods.  Supposedly this gives a better one-piece style action but every rod manufacturer today has this figured out even with the slip over ferrules.  Scott uses a comfortable Western style grip with a flare on the back end and a black anodized uplocking aluminum seat with a very good-looking box elder burl insert. One SiC stripping guide is used and the rest are hard chrome snake guides with smaller and very fine diameter guides out near the tip – a nice touch to maintain that light feel in the tip of the rod.  

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
I was a little disappointed after reading everything Scott has to say about this being the perfect tool for stalking big wary trout with fine flies and light tippet.   I found that I could not cast off the tip of this rod as well as I could with the Hardy or the Sage TXL-F, just using my wrist and little arm movement.  It was slightly better than the Sage One though.  I just couldn’t obtain the accuracy I was getting with the best rods.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
The G2 was much better at this range but still felt a little mushy compared to the best rods.  The line tracked noticeably better with the Hardy and the Sage One. The presentations were nice and delicate though and with the soft tip you won’t break many fish off on light tippets.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Overall a good performance but I had to be careful not to overpower the rod.  It was tough to get really good accuracy when I could not produce the tight loops I was getting from the Zenith or Sage One at long distance. 

#8 (tie)  Echo Edge  8'#4 $229.99

 

                                                    

 

 This rod was a pleasant surprise for all of us and especially at this price level!  It has a nice light feel in your hand and a much softer tip than the more expensive Echo 3 models, making it a better rod for light line 4-weight fishing.   The light flexible tip also does an exceptional job of protecting light tippets.    This is a light rod and has a very light swing weight – one reason it feels so good in my hand.   

There isn’t anything fancy about this rod, but it is a good-looking rod with a deep burgundy gloss blank. Craftsmanship is good and when I look closely at the guide wraps and finish, I’m impressed.   They are using one stripping guide and then the rest of the guides are single foot hard chrome guides.  They look tough even though they aren’t the flexible ones used on the more expensive rods.  The slip over ferrules worked well and fitted up tightly. The ferrules also have aligning dots, a good feature that makes it quick and easy to set up the rod.  A single uplocking anodized aluminum seat is used and seemed to work quite well.  A burgundy colored wood spacer is used that compliments the color of the blank.  At first I thought that this might be our inexpensive rod winner, but it just couldn’t match the performance scores of the St. Croix Imperial.  Still, this is a very nice rod at a good price.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
A nice light swing weight makes this rod feel great in my hand and the soft tip contributed to good accuracy in close.   But when compared heads up with the St. Croix, the Imperial had a slight edge in accuracy.

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
Again, I loved the lightness and feel of this rod but it just did not track as well as the Imperial and once again, the Imperial was just a bit more accurate.   Getting delicate presentations was easy though, with the nice soft tip. 

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20
At long range, this rod just doesn’t have the beans to maintain the loop control needed for good accuracy.  The Echo 3 rods were better at long range because of their stiffness. 

 

#9  Ross Worldwide RX  8'6" #4,  $299.00

I’ll have to admit I haven’t been much of a fan of the imported Ross rods, but this rod is a lot different – it isn’t a heavy club like the others I’ve sampled.  This rod is light – really light in overall weight at 2.7 oz. and with an extremely light swing weight of 7.4 oz which is just a couple of tenths off the very best rods in our shootout!   So Ross must be using some very good high modulus graphite in these rods and good resin systems to put them together.   This is also a very good-looking rod with pretty good craftsmanship. 

I was excited until I cast the rod.  The deal breaker is the action.  It is just too slow and the tip is way too stiff.   This rod has a moderate action and all they would have to do is to soften the upper part of the mid and the tip section to make it a much more pleasant rod to cast and fish, especially short distances.

The color of the blank is a handsome steely reddish brown with darker brown wraps. They use a comfortable Western style grip, with a flare at the back end, a swell in the middle and then the grip tapers down towards the front.  A nice double locking aluminum uplock seat is used with an attractive reddish brown graphite spacer that compliments the blank color.  For guides, they use one stripping guide and then hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way to the tip.  The wraps were good but the finish a little sloppy, with wide overruns and too much one-coat finish. Not really bad, but just not quite as good as most of the other less expensive rods.  For example, the Echo edge finish coat over the wraps was far better.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  16 points out of 20
Here is where that stiffer tip hurt the most – at close range.  I had very little feel and the accuracy suffered badly.   I had no feeling for where the fly was going to land on most casts.    I’d like to see this rod with a softer more flexible tip.  That would turn it into a far better rod, especially at short distances.

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
Better, but still not great.  With more line in the air, the more moderate action and stiff tip became less of a problem. Heads up, the St. Croix Imperial had better feel and a little better accuracy.  Come to think of it, 18 points was probably too high, it should have been a 17. 

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Ok; I’ll stick with 18 points on this one.  At this range the rod has good power and feels well balanced with the GPX Line. I’m getting good loop control and the stiffer tip actually helps a bit at this range.  The light swing weight makes it pleasant to cast for long periods of time.

#10  St. Croix Legend Elite  8'6"#4, $420.00

                                              

 

Here is another surprise- in the past all the Legend Elites we have tested have scored very well and placed highly in our past shootouts.  The two things that killed this rod’s performance scores – this rod is too stiff and too heavy!   The overall weight was pretty good at 2.70 oz, but the swing weight, at 8.5 oz was a lot heavier than the best rods tested.  The stiffness and lack of feel hurt a lot at short range, and the much less expensive Imperial was far better at 25 feet.  Sad but true.  This was just not a very delightful rod to cast and fish and its low score of 17 in the “fun to fish” category reflects this perfectly.    Maybe we expected too much from the Legend Elite, since the past 5-weight and 8-weight models were so darn good.   This rod is so stiff that it probably needs a 5-weight line!  And the tip is noticeably stiffer than on past Legend Elites, which really hurts at 25 feet. 

The good news is that the craftsmanship is excellent and what we have come to expect from past Legend Elite rods.  The blank is a pleasing dark olive green with matching olive wraps. The wraps were good but the coating was a tad too heavy.  One stripping guide is used and the rest are hard chrome one-foot guides, which should help but this blank is just too stiff. A comfortable Western style cigar type grip is used with an uplocking light gold anodized aluminum reel seat and a light colored maple wood insert. 

George’s casting notes: 

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F but a WF-5-F would have been even better!

Performance at 25 feet:  16 points out of 20
The overall stiffness hurt a lot here, as there was little feel and the accuracy suffered accordingly.   Heads up at close range the cheaper Imperial kicked its butt.  There is no way you are going to float a delicate cast in there with this rod.

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20 
Now the stiffness is less noticeable and the rod actually tracks quite well and delivers respectable accuracy.  Still feels more like a club than a delicate 4-weight rod.   

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20 
Finally we are getting enough line in the air to load the rod.  Now it feels pretty smooth and tracks well like the Legend Elites we’ve known in the past.   Accuracy is good but not great. 

#11  TFO BVK  8'6"#4, $224.95

                                                    

 

The TFO BVK rods have been outstanding rods since their introduction and went on to place in a tie for 7th in our 2011 5-weight shootout, and an amazing 2nd overall in our 2011 8-weight shootout!  So we were hoping for another strong performance, but it just didn’t happen.  These BVK’s are strong rods, and although the medium fast action on the 8 ½ foot #4 seemed about right, it was still a little too stiff for a good 4-wight, even with the GPX line.  For the money, they have proven to give anyone a good bang for their buck.   Lefty Kreh helped a lot with the designs of these rods, and of course they carry his initials although not many people know what BVK stands for.  Lefty’s a great caster and good friend and he knows how a rod needs to be designed to perform well.  The BVK line up are really power rods that pack a punch, and maybe this is why they didn’t try to soften up the 4-weight more.  As you’ll see, TFO has another one of Lefty’s designs in our shootout, the 8 foot 9” “Finesse” and this rod was designed for more delicate presentations.   Despite the stiffness of the BVK, it still beat out the Finesse though with better performance scores.  This rod would make a good nymph fishing rod, and certainly has the power to reach out long and pound some streamers on occasion.

The TFO rods are good looking rods, utilizing a dark green blank with complimentary dark green wraps.  The handle is a conventional Western style grip with a flare to the back, the swell in the middle of your palm and then tapering forward.  It felt good in my hand and it was sized just right for this rod.  The reel seat is a light Aluminum uplock screwlock with double locking rings in a pleasing gray color with a rich looking olive green graphite insert to compliment the blank color.  Guides are one unbreakable recoil stripper, with hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way.

One thing that drives us crazy is the fact that TFO is the only rod company making good rods that doesn’t give you a hard case with the rod!  They come only with a cloth case.  TFO makes a good hard case, but we have to sell them for 29.95.  When we explain this to our customers they are always a little miffed, but 90% go ahead and get the rod with the case.   I think TFO should just throw in the rod case and tack another $15- $20 to the price of the rod and everyone would be happy.  These are inexpensive rods in the first place, so a slightly higher price isn’t going to slow down any potential buyers.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  17 points out of 20
The overall stiffness didn’t allow for a whole lot of feel or accuracy in close.  But surprisingly it did perform marginally better than the Finesse!  It gets the job done but making delicate presentations is not going to be easy with this rod.

Performance at 35 feet:  17 points out of 20
In casting this rod heads up with the Ross RX, the Ross was a lot lighter, especially in swing weight, and we liked it a bit better at 35 feet.   The BVK did seem to track well but wanted to slam the fly in there rather than landing it softly.   If they could just back off the power of this rod a tiny bit, it would be so much better.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Finally at long range this rod comes alive and feels much better.  I was getting good control and there is certainly enough power to cast this far and much farther.    At this distance my notes are telling me that it felt much better than the Finesse, but not quite as good as the Ross RX.

#12  C.F. Burkheimer Trout 8’9” # 3-4-5, $795.00

After casting the Burkheimer rods on our lawn last fall, I was impressed with their smoothness and their feel.  So Kerry Burkheimer offered to send us over a couple of his 8 foot 9 inch rod for the shootout.  One was an 8 foot 9 inch Trout rod (with a beautiful "vintage" finish) and the other was an 8 foot 9 inch Deep Action Load, a rod that is slightly slower in action and designed for a caster that prefers a more relaxed casting stroke.  Both rods were surprisingly similar but the DAL was just a bit slower in action. 

After casting both rods, we decided to put the faster action Trout series in our shootout. At first glance you immediately notice the painstaking craftsmanship that went into the building of these rods.  They are simply gorgeous rods and the level of craftsmanship is very nearly as good as the Tom Morgan rods. The handles and reel seats are spectacular!  They use a cigar style grip with very nice cork, but at the rear portion of the grip, they sandwich in a series of thin, very interesting looking cork rings with another composite darker cork ring at the very back end of the grip.  The front of the tapered Cigar grip is very tastefully wrapped and finished.  One comment that everyone had about the grip was that it was too fat in the middle, especially for a delicate 4-weight rod.

Fancy looking nickel silver uplocking reel seats were used (for an extra $25), and you can order them blackened at the same price.  Upgraded exotic woods like the ones he provided are an extra $50. But they looked fabulous!   Other upgrades are possible too, like titanium stripping guides for $75, or Agate stripping guides for $75.   In addition, if you would like to order an extra tip for your rod, it’s available for only and additional $125, which is a bargain, considering the overall price. 

The rods are a dark emerald green, much like the Winston rods.  Darker green thread wraps compliment the color of the blanks and each wrap is finished with a very small contrasting trim wrap.  The epoxy coatings over the wraps are close to perfect.  These rods have one SiC stripping guide and then the rest of the guides are snake guides.   The Vintage rod we tested had very small and very thin black snake guides, a nice touch. The DAL came with hard Chrome Snake guides but again they were quite small and fine, especially out on the tips.   Looking at these rods, they are really a piece of art, and it almost seems a shame to take them out on the stream and ding them up.   I suspect that a lot of people are going to buy them just to add to their collection and very rarely fish them.

I was really surprised that these rods didn’t score higher.   The big factor that knocked them down was the fact that these are medium action rods with stiff tips, and they just felt heavy compared to the best rods in our shootout.  The overall weight was good at 2.07 oz, but the swing weight was one of the heaviest, at 9.4 oz.  - which is why they felt so heavy in our hands.   The stiff tip knocked the 25 foot score all the way down to 17 and this hurt.  At short range I had very little feel and the accuracy suffered accordingly.  At longer distances they were nice and smooth but just felt a lot heavier than other rods with their high swing weight.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  17 points out of 20
Short range performance was disappointing, and mainly due to the heavy swing weight and the stiffness of the tip that didn’t allow me to cast well at all off the tip of the rod since it didn’t bend much.    There wasn’t much feel at all telling me where the fly was going.    In casting this rod heads up with the Winston BIIIx and the Hardy Zenith, both were far better in close. 

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
Nice and smooth at this distance and feels well matched with the GPX line. The accuracy was very good but just not as precise as the Hardy.   I found it didn’t track as well as either the Hardy or the Sage One at this range and this hurt the accuracy a bit also.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Good, but just not in the same league with the best rods.  I liked how smoothly these rods cast but there was no question that the heavy swing weight would take a toll on my arm by the end of the day.  

#13  G. Loomis NRX  9'#4, $715.00

                                                   

 

After casting the Loomis WhisperCreek GLX and Streamdance GLX rods, we knew that they were lighter in action and would perform better as 4-weights than the NRX, but since the NRX rods have performed extremely well in the larger weight sizes (the NRX 9 foot #8 won our 2011 8-weight shootout!), we felt that everyone would want to see how well it performed as a 4-weight.   Unfortunately, it was just a little too heavy and too stiff to match up with the better rods.    Loomis only offers a 9 foot #4 and nothing smaller.   I was hoping for at least an 8 ½ foot rod to test.    Loomis uses the same high modulus graphite combined with the new nano-resin system developed by 3M for all the NRX rods.  These rods have proven to be extremely strong, and of all the ones we’ve sold, we have had almost none break that we know of.  

 The rod that they sent us to test is one of the new green NRX rods, and it is really quite handsome.  This rod is a dark olive green but not as dark as say the Winston rod, which are more of a dark emerald green.   Dark green contrasting wraps on the NRX looked good, and the Craftsmanship was excellent, as we have come to expect on the Loomis rods.   The cork handles use a very interesting and very dense cork rings in a Western style seat.  The Reel seat is an excellent uplocking black anodized aluminum seat with a nice looking green graphite spacer.   The guides are all unbreakable and flexible, like on the other NRX rods.  They start with a single recoil stripper, and then the rest of the guides are the super nickel/titanium flexible but unbreakable single foot guides.   Since Loomis introduced these guides a few years ago, we have yet to see one break.

Even though this NRX was slightly overpowered and a bit heavy for a 4-weight, it still cast very, very well and turned in some very respectable scores.  A good part of this is due to the softer tip that allowed me to get very good accuracy, especially at close range.

For larger line rods, like from size 8 on up to 12, these NRX rods rule.  There is nothing better.  But for the lighter line rods, they need more work.  They cast well, but what holds them back is the overall stiffness and weight.    Hopefully they will redesign the size 6 rods on down to the 3-weights rods a bit and give us lighter rods with much lighter swing weights that will perform as well as their big rods.  And some shorter rods in the 3 and 4 weight sizes would be another big help.    For now, if you like the Loomis rods as I do, take a good look at both the WhisperCreek and the Streamdance over the NRX. 

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18 points out of 20

With a rod this big and with such a heavy swing weight, I was surprised at how well it cast at short range.  I was getting nice tight loops and fairly good accuracy. Loomis has always been able to give us softer tips and this was the key, as well as the excellent tracking capabilities.   The rod still felt pretty heavy in my hand, and getting delicate presentations is not nearly as easy as with the lighter, shorter rods. 

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
This rod forms very nice loops with good smooth control.   Heads up with the Sage One it felt a lot heavier, but I was getting very good accuracy and the pretty good feel through the rod which I attributed to the softer tip than the ONE, so it matched the One’s score at this distance.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Here I was casting the NRX heads up with the both the One and the Orvis Helios, and both of those rods felt a bit better.  The NRX was not as smooth, nor as accurate as the Helios at long range.   But the Sage One killed them both, scoring a perfect 20.

 

#14 Winston Passport  9'#4, $229.00

                                                   

In our last 5-weight shootout, we rated the 9 foot #5 Passport as the best “inexpensive” 5-weight, and for a lot of good reasons.  It is a terrific rod at a very low price.    So we had high hopes for the 9 foot #4 Passport, but it turned out to be a far different rod and certainly nothing to get very excited about.   It still has that nice soft tip that we like, but the whole rod isn’t soft enough for a delicate 4-weight.  The heavy overall weight and especially the heavy swing weight killed it for this Passport.  All of the performance scores were pretty dreary and just mediocre at best.   And they are still using that weird grip style that has the swell way too far forward – just about where you want to put your thumb, so if you want to hold the rod with the swell in the palm of your hand like most anglers, your thumb is off the forward end of the cork handle!  

Overall craftsmanship is good, just not great. The cork in the handle is pretty poor, with a lot of filler.   The uplocking reel seat looks to be metal that is chromed and uses a light brown wood spacer. It functions well but on some early models we had the wood spacer split but Winston gladly replaced all these rods.  Looks like they have that problem under control now.  The cork handle had chromed metal butt and winding checks.   The rod blank itself is rich brown color with slightly darker brown wraps.  This is a nice looking rod. One single stripper is used and followed by standard size hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way out. All the wraps were good but the finish was a little heavy on some guides.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  17 points out of 20
Going heads up with the St. Croix Imperial, the Imperial was far better, with better feel and much better accuracy. The Passport’s far heavier swing weight hurt too and eliminated much good feel in close that is so important in achieving good accuracy and delicate presentations.

Performance at 35 feet:  17 points out of 20 
The Passport felt smoother at this distance, but didn’t pack the same kind of punch that I was getting from the lighter Imperial.  I could also notice that it was a lot heavier in hand than the Imperial.  It didn’t track nearly as well as the best rods and I had trouble getting any decent accuracy.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20 
Better at long range, and could have been an 18, but the swing weight made it feel pretty heavy and not very responsive.  Tough to form good tight loops at this distance. Heads up, the TFO BVK was better and pounding shots in there with a lot more authority.

 

 

#14  TFO Finesse  8’9”#4,  $179.95

                                              

 

Years ago, when this rod first came out, we were pretty impressed, but like a lot of other rods, it has been bypassed by rods with lighter materials, better technology and better design.   This is also a rod designed by Lefty Kreh and is nice and light in action but today, it just feels too slow in action and too sloppy.   The newer BVK proved to be a better 4-weight rod but it wasn’t great either due to its overall stiffness. 

The Finesse would have been the least expensive rod in our shootout, but we awarded that to the St. Croix Imperial at $200 since it comes with a hard case.   If you want that hard case for your Finesse, it will cost another $30.  TFO is the only manufacturer that does not give you a hard case with the rod – only a cloth bag.  Most people do opt to get the hard case anyway and this makes sense, even if you are just throwing it in the back of your car for the day. 

The one big factor that killed the Finesse scores was its weight, and especially that heavy 9.5oz swing weight   For a rod that is shorter than 9 feet, this is just plain heavy.  New graphite technology would help this rod a lot.  The action is OK but I’d prefer a slightly softer tip and I’d lighten up the whole action a notch.

Similar to the BVK, the blank is a dark olive green with darker green wraps.  A western style cork handle is used with a double locking aluminum anodized seat colored dark gray.  The wood insert was a burgundy color and nothing fancy.   The guides used are one huge SiC stripping guide that appears way too big, then running down into black hard chrome snake guides.   The wraps were good but the finish coating was a little heavy and sloppy in spots.  But for such an inexpensive price, you can’t expect perfection.  I see that you do get Lefty’s signature on the rod though.   They don’t even give you that on the BVK’s.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  16 points out of 20
Comparing it heads up with the St. Croix Imperial, my notes say - slow and sloppy.  That about sums it up.   It was very hard to drive the tip and turn over the 12-foot leader and get the fly to land close to the target.  The resulting accuracy was pretty poor.

Performance at 35 feet:  16 points out of 20
OK, but certainly nothing to write home about!  I was getting some aftershock and kickback through the rod and that hurt the accuracy.  Not nearly as smooth as the BVK. 

Performance at 60 feet:  15 points out of 20
At longer distance, the slower action made it difficult to get anywhere close to the target, even when using a double haul.  My notes say, “Not very good” so we’ll just leave it at that.

We need your support!

We hope that you have enjoyed our 2012 4-weight Shootout!  With your support, we can continue to give you more shootouts and comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future.  But this takes a lot of time, so if you are in the market for a new rod or outfit, or other flies and tackle, we would love to have your business!

Be sure to e-mail us your comments and any questions you have about the exact tackle you need for the fishing you are doing.  We’ll be happy to help.

                                                    -George Anderson