2013 5-weight Mini-Shootout
This spring we will bring you another full-blown 5-weight shootout, with 15 rods that make the cut. But we know that fly fishermen all over the world are anxious to see what we have to say, and to hear how we rate the 2013 rods, especially this year with so many good, new 5-weight rods. The crappy ones won’t make the cut so we won’t waste your time on these. You’ll have to wait for our regular 5-weight shootout to find out how disappointed we were with the New Winston BIIISX or the Loomis NRX Light Presentation. Now that we have had a chance to cast all the big-time contenders in all price categories, it is readily apparent that the finest rods are also the most expensive ones. In our 2013 5-weight shootout, I’ll be doing the primary write up and scoring, but we’ll also have my son James (the boss here at our shop) as well as a couple of our other employees that are great casters and anglers give you their opinions on each rod also. And they may differ from mine but that’s OK. In general we all seem to agree on which are the very best rods and which are the worst.
This year I’ve decided to do a 5-weight Mini-Shootout that includes the four top performing rods for 2013. I’ll include all the categories just like we’ll have in our regular 5-weight shootout, and give you my casting notes too. But in our regular shootout, we’ll have lots more info and exact figures in a table on overall weight, swing weight calculations, as well as some guidelines on warranties and how much it will cost to get your rod repaired when you slam it in the car door or trip over it on the way to the stream.
We’ll also have some new High-Def videos on our new web site, that should be up and running by mid-Feb, of me doing the casting in this Mini-Shootout and talking about the 4 top rods and how they compare.
As in past shootouts, we are trying to eliminate as many variables as possible, so all the rods are set up with identical reels, in this case the Ross Evolution Lt #2 along with Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX lines. For the Sage Circa we used the Mastery Trout line. The Artisan can take either, but we felt that the GPX felt best. We are using the standard GPX lines that are smooth, not the textured lines. In my testing I’ve found that the
Textured lines just don’t cast as well or as far. The SA textured GPX feels like it is a good one half-size light in weight to me. For leaders, we are using our own hand-tied Clear Butt Leaders in 12-foot 4X, with a bright red yarn indicator.
The Hardy Zenith 9 foot #5 steamrollered the competition once again. You would think that after we declared them the winner back in our last 5-weight shootout that was two year ago, other manufacturers would take a closer look at these Hardy rods and tell their R&D guys to come up with a rod that is at least as good as the Hardy or better. Well, they didn’t get the job done. The Zenith is just a killer tool in the hands of a good angler. A fly rod on steroids, but one that is also capable of delicate presentations. We haven’t had a single customer that wasn’t delighted with this Rod.
We like the new Orvis Helios 2
Orvis actually came up with a much nicer rod than most of the other companies in the new Helios 2. This rod is very light, pleasant to cast, and has the same excellent craftsmanship that we have come to expect from Orvis. But it still has too stiff a tip for us (and the rod we tested was the tip-flex!) and that hurts the short distance performance. At long range, it’s very good, but doesn’t come close to the bazooka like performance of the Hardy Zenith.
Hardy’s new Artisan was impressive!
Hardy has a new rod called the Artisan that is built in England, and this is one impressive rod. It was designed to be better at short range than the Zenith, and it is. It is delightfully light and has a nice soft tip that enables delicate but extremely accurate presentations at 20-35 feet. It’s definitely a more forgiving rod than the Zenith at close range The big surprise for us though, was how well this Artisan performed at mid to long range. At 45 feet it was almost as good as the Zenith, and at 70 feet it was extremely good too. This is a beautiful looking rod, with a golden color, and superb craftsmanship. This Hardy has a nice amboyna wood burl seat too, that locks up with ease and precision.
The very light and flexible one-foot guides help keep the swing weight down. This rod is smooth as silk throughout the range, with a harmonious blend of power and performance. The only hang up for most people is the cost - $1299.00. But it costs a whole lot more to build these rods in England than Korea. If you can afford it, you won’t be disappointed. And especially if you are more concerned about how the rod performs in that 20-45 foot range, than 50-80 feet.
The new Sage Circa is a delight
Sage must have been paying attention to everyone’s comments about how darn stiff those Sage One rods are, so they decided to come up with a new rod they are calling the Circa. This rod is 8 feet 9 inches in the 5-weight model, and looks like a toy compared to the other rods. The grip is very small, much like the grips on the TXL-F rods, but actually very comfortable. The blanks are very small in diameter and of course Sage is using some technology they call “Konnetic” whatever that means. They also are telling us that this is a slow action rod, but to our way of thinking it isn’t that much slower in action, but it is a heck of a lot softer than anything Sage has had since the classic LL’s.
What it is though, is a sweet rod for close distance fishing. At 25 feet, it loaded perfectly with the Trout taper, and was consistently more accurate than any rod we’ve tested, unless the wind is blowing hard. It has wonderful feel and I felt that I could make very delicate and very accurate presentations as long as the wind wasn’t blowing too hard. This rod will give any angler a lot of confidence, and will prove to be a sensational dry fly rod at shorter distances. But even at 45 feet, we were approaching the practical limit of the Circa’s range. A good caster will be able to hit 70 feet with a hard double-haul, but if he has a hard side wind, his fly won’t hit within 10 feet of the target!
George’s casting notes:
Hardy Zenith 9 foot #5, 4-pc, $649.00
Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Nice, but not as much feel as the Hardy Artisan or the Circa. Nice light swing weight just required a flick of the wrist to cast off the tip with excellent accuracy.
Performance at 45 feet: 20 points out of 20
Nothing comes close to the Zenith at mid-range in terms of belting it in there with authority and accuracy. This rod forms extremely tight loops with ease and feels more solid at this range than any rod I’ve ever picked up.
Performance at 70 feet: 20 points out of 20
This rod sets the bar for long distance 5-weight performance and accuracy. Even in a hard 25 mph side wind, I could get the fly within 3 feet of the pie plate time after time. Nice tight loops that are easy to control. Lean on this rod, and it’s going to show you some explosive action.
Hardy Artisan 9 foot #5, 4-pc, $1299.00
Performance at 25 feet: 20 points out of 20
Wonderfully smooth and accurate. This rod has a nice soft tip and is noticeably better in close than the Zenith. This rod feels great in my hand and casts very easily off the tip. The Circa was marginally better when there was no wind, but in a good breeze the Artisan will kick butt.
Performance at 45 feet: 19 points out of 20
Very nice feel and very light in my hand. Lighter swing weight than the Zenith but only by a tiny bit. This rod will give any angler a lot of confidence in making accurate, delicate presentations, even in a stiff breeze. A good caster can go to a Mastery Trout taper for even more delicacy at mid range distances, but the GPX was definitely better in 15 mph side wind.
Performance at 70 feet: 19 points out of 20
This was a shocker. We just didn’t expect this slightly softer rod than the Zenith to handle so well at long range. Very smooth and tracks beautifully. Nice loop control as long as you don’t push it as hard as the Zenith.
Sage Circa 8 foot 9 inches, #5, 4-pc. $775.00
Performance at 25 feet: 20 points out of 20
Simply delightful, and unbeatable on a relatively calm day. This rod is extremely light in my hand and feels great. I like the softer action that comes alive with a Mastery Trout taper. Dry fly anglers are going to love this rod at shorter distances.
Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
Nice if there is little wind, but a disturbing lack of punch and accuracy in a hard side wind. Far softer than the other 3 rods in our test, this is just about the practical limit for this rod. Forget about throwing big wind-resistant hoppers or Salmon flies.
Performance at 70 feet: 17 points out of 20
A good caster, using a hard double-haul can certainly reach 70 feet, but in any kind of breeze, the accuracy is a problem. In a 15-20 mph side wind, I had trouble getting the fly within 10 feet of the target. In hard wind it felt like a toy.
Orvis Helios 2 9 foot #5, 4-pc, $795.00
Performance at 25 feet: 18 points out of 20
Definitely not as nice as the other three rods. The heavier, stiffer tip made it more difficult to get precise, delicate presentations than with the other rods tested. Even though it is the lightest rod in terms of overall weight, it is slightly heavier in swing weight than the other three rods. Accuracy was good but not great.
Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
I had to work harder to get control and accuracy than with either of the two Hardy rods. I could not maintain good tight loops in a hard wind as easily as either the Zenith or Artisan. I also noticed that I was working harder physically with this rod’s heavier swing weight.
Performance at 70 feet: 19.5 points out of 20
Yes! At this distance the Helios 2 feels great. Now the power of that stiffer tip comes into play and I was getting nice tight loops with very good control but of course this was with a double-haul. Very good accuracy. But at long range, the Hardy Zenith was definitely a shade better.