2014 8-weight shootout

 

Our last 8-weight shootout was back in 2011, but there have been several new rods introduced since then, so it’s time that we take a look at some of the best rods from the past and compare them to the latest in technology from the world’s leading rod manufacturers. 

Montana in December is somewhat forbidding in terms of testing and casting rods.  Just trying to straighten out the stiff saltwater lines in temperatures below freezing is laughable and then trying to cast in a 20 mph wind at a bone chilling ten degrees takes all the fun out of it.   

Florida seemed like a far better place to be doing our 8-weight shootout, especially since we are primarily concerned with picking the best 8-weight rod for saltwater species like bonefish.   I did one of our early 8-weight shootouts in Everglades City where I could also try the best rods on snook and redfish and it especially appealed to me to slip on a pair of shorts, a short sleeve shirt and do the shootout in 75-80 degree weather.

So this year we picked Boca Grande, on Florida’s west coast where we could do all the casting and maybe even get in a little fishing for redfish and snook once the casting was all done.  I spend a lot of time fishing this area of Florida – Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound etc. that are located mid way between Naples and Tampa.    My son James, who is really the boss now at the Yellowstone Angler, came to Florida with me and I recruited my friends, Captain Bill Blanton of Ft. Myers, and Captain Jamie Allen of Englewood to help us with the shootout and to contribute their comments.  Bill and Jamie are two of the very best guides and fly casters I know and fish with in Florida, and I felt their comments and evaluation would help us narrow down a big pile of rods.  As in the past there are going to be winners and losers.

Our thanks to the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande for allowing us to use their soccer field and dog walk park on 7th St.   The Gasparilla Inn is one of the finest old classic Inns in the United States.   If you are visiting Boca Grande, you won't find a better place to stay.  We've enjoyed their beach club,and also their scenic Pete Dye golf course right on the water in Charlotte Harbor.   In mid-April through July, this is the best fishing for big tarpon in the US.  Snook, redfish and Speckled Trout are found here all year long.    

I’m sorry if we have offended some people, and please remember that our findings are our opinions and we can’t expect everyone to agree with us.   As you’ll see we didn’t all agree on the finishing order but that’s OK too.  But you will see a general consensus rise to the top, and as in past shootouts I know that 90% of the people that read them agree with our findings.    I know you’ll enjoy reading everyone’s comments and we hope that this will give some help in picking your next 8-weight rod. 

What we do know is that you are not going to see anything like this done in any of the fly-fishing magazines around the world, or in any medium that depends on advertising revenue for its existence.    But in these shootouts we can try to give you some honest answers, and to cut through all the BS and propaganda that the manufacturers often try to stuff down our throats.  

Our shootouts and gear comparisons have been very popular worldwide, and of course very controversial.   There are lots of fishing forums that want to string us up, tar and feather us.  Others give us a pat on the back.   I wish I had the time to reply to everyone on these forums but of course this is impossible.   But we do appreciate your comments; either good or bad so don’t be afraid to e-mail us at:  staff@yellowstoneangler.com and we’ll try to get back to you quickly.  

Later in the shootout I’ll also give you some contact information for both Bill Blanton and Jamie Allen.   Not only are these guys great guides if you are looking to do some fishing for tarpon, redfish or snook on Florida’s West Coast, but more importantly they can teach you a lot and they are wonderful guys to spend a day with in a flats skiff. 

For the first time, in conjunction with our 8-weight fly rod shootout, we are working on an 8-weight fly reel shootout.  During my week in Florida, I visited both the Nautilus and Tibor factories in and near Miami and got an education on exactly how we end up with some of the finest fly reels in the word, starting with a chunk of aluminum.   But this is another story, and we’ll have it to you soon.   Look for this on our web site by the end of January/early Feb.

Jamie and I are hosting a group of anglers to Argentina’s Jurassic Lake in mid-January and I don’t think we could find a better place to test the drag systems in real world conditions.   Hot ten to twenty pound rainbows are definitely going to peel some line off our reels!   We’ll report on all this and have plenty of exciting video for you showing both the 8-weight rods and reels in action.

Knowing that these 8-weight shootouts were coming up, I took along several of the top rods and reels with me last November, when I spent a month in Cuba, fishing on both the north coast at Cayo Coco and Cayo Paredon as well as Cayo Largo, off Cuba’s southern coast.    Later you’ll see some of the rods and reels in action on bonefish and permit.   

Putting the 8-weight rods through their paces

Jamie Allen

For me, the real meat of our shootouts is performance.   So again this year we give you both my overall scores and then a separate table with just the performance scores.  In the “sidebar comments” from James Anderson, Jamie Allen and Bill Blanton you’ll also see their scores for each rod at the various performance distances of 35 feet, 60 feet, and 80 feet.  

Our overall winner needs to take into consideration other things though, like price, craftsmanship, warranty, overall weight and swing weight.    We also throw in a category called: Fun to Fish, Got to Have.  Take a good look at this and our “Perfect 8 Performance” scores.  Pick any of the top half dozen rods here and you can’t go wrong.   

As in the past, you are going to be amazed at how well some of the inexpensive rods compared to the most expensive rods.  But not all of them.   The TFO BVK, which sells for only $249.95 placed 2nd overall in our 2011 8-weight shootout.  This year it placed a very strong 3rd.   On the other hand, TFO’s latest offering, the Mangrove was disappointing.  Everyone thought it was close to the bottom of the pile.   

We are seeing more and more rods being produced in Korea as well as China.  Most of these are actually pretty good.  But in general the finest rods are still being made right here in the USA.   As in past shootouts, we had several rods that didn’t make the final cut.  We're sorry if yours was one of them.

What we are looking for in an 8-weight rod

What we wanted to concentrate on in this 8-weight shootout are the best strong 8-weight rods for powerful saltwater species like bonefish, redfish, snook, smaller stripers etc.   These rods are also excellent for slinging streamers for big trout worldwide, and can be used for salmon and steelhead as well as bass.   Of course for salmon and steelhead the double handed rods have pretty much taken over, especially on larger rivers. 

A good saltwater 8-weight rod needs to be strong enough to fire 40-60 foot casts into a hard wind, and hit 80-100 feet with ease in calmer conditions.  But it also needs to be extremely accurate, and delicate enough to present a fly to spooky tailing bones at 25-30 feet.   It needs a good securely locking reel seat that won’t work loose with larger, and heavier saltwater fly reels.   A full wells cork grip is our preferred style for power casting and playing good fish, and it helps a lot to have larger guides that the inevitable tangles will pass through when you are playing that bonefish of a lifetime.    

We are seeing a trend that we don’t especially like, and this is manufacturers giving us very powerful rods that are not really 8-weight rods at all, but 9-weights!    Good examples of this in our shootout this year are the Sage Method 8-weight and Winston’s BIIISX 8-weight.  We like powerful 8-weight rods, but when we must put a 9 line on them to get them to perform it drives us crazy.

This is a trend that applies to almost all line weight rods.  Manufacturers know that people are going to pick a 5-weight off the rack, take it out back to cast, strip all the line off the reel and see if it will cast 100 feet!    Ditto for 8-weight rods.   The most powerful rods win this battle and get the bragging rights.  But do they perform as well as a rod that excels with the line it was designed for, at normal fishing distances like 25-50 feet for a 5-weight, or 35- 70 feet for an 8-weight?    The answer is almost always NO.   

With this in mind we started looking at these very powerful rods and tested both their 7 and 8 weight models – but with a WF-8-F  SA Mastery Bonefish Taper line.    Both the 7-weight Method and the 7-weight Winston BIIISX felt a whole lot better in our hands with an 8-weight line.    The 7-weight Method was especially nice.    The 8-weight Method is also a very good rod, but with a #9 line!  You’ll see my scores with it, using a #9 line and they were FAR higher than with the 8-line that it is rated for.  Bill Blanton also agreed with me, and he really knows 9-weight rods as he is using them all the time for both snook and redfish.    If you are in the market for the best #9 weight rod, pick either a G.Loomis NRX 9 foot #9, or this Sage Method 9 foot #8 and you can’t go wrong. 

We hope you enjoy our latest 2014 8-weight rod and reel shootouts!   We’d like to hear your comments, so e-mail us at staff@yellowstoneangler.com or visit our on-line catalog.   Even though our shop is in Montana, every guy we have working in the shop has done a lot of salt water fly-fishing and we can advise you on exactly what to get, depending on where you are headed.   If you are in the market for a new rod, reel or other equipment, we’d appreciate your business.   With your support, we can afford to spend the time and effort it takes to do more shootouts and tackle comparisons in the future. 

Why trust our opinions? 

After being in the fly fishing business as a guide, store manager and shop owner for the past forty five years, I’ve learned a lot about fly rods and what it takes for them to perform.   I learned to fly fish when I was about 13, but really got into it when I went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder.  My friends said I spent more time on the South Platte R. learning nymph fishing techniques than I did in the classroom.    But I really fine-tuned my casting after moving to Montana in 1972, with help from both Mel Krieger and later Steve Rajeff.  Since then I’ve gotten a pretty good reputation as both a caster and angler in both fresh and saltwater.  In 1989 and 1990 I had back-to-back overall wins at the Jackson Hole One-Fly that helped solidify my reputation as a nymph and dry fly fisherman.   I’ve always loved helping rod manufacturers like Sage, G.Loomis and Tom Morgan in the design process, helping design rods like the Sage LL series, The Loomis StreamDance GLX series, and doing the final casting and prototype work with Tom Morgan on his lovely Rodsmiths graphite and glass rods.    I’ve been fishing for bonefish, tarpon and other saltwater species for the past thirty years throughout Florida, the gulf coast and throughout the Caribbean.   

My son James is a real fly fishing fanatic, and great caster, and has been a big help in all of our rod shootouts.  He also enjoys fishing the salt as much as I do. 

But for this 8-weight shootout, I enlisted the help of two of my good friends in Florida, Bill Blanton and Jamie Allen. Both are excellent casters, great anglers, and two of the best SW Florida fly fishing guides.   They are out there fishing for snook and redfish a great deal of the time, and they have their clients using 8 and 9-weight rods on a daily basis.   Both Bill and I love these new One-piece rods from both Hardy and G. Loomis.  If you don’t have to have a 4-pc rod to travel with, be sure to consider the one-piece rods.  They are lighter than their 4-pc counterparts, and fun to fish.

Be sure to click on each angler's photo below to see their casting notes and opinions.

            Bill            Jamie Allen           James Anderson  

                        Read Bill's Comments                               Read Jamie's Comments                            Read James' Comments

 

The best rods are not always the most expensive

As you’ll read again this year, there are some outstanding rods that have beaten out rods that are two to three times as expensive.   The best example is the TFO BVK.   We were all impressed with this rod.  It’s light, it casts impressively well at all distances and I’m sure you wouldn’t mind saving $600. Use the money you saved on a nice reel and line.      But if you want the best, in both performance and looks, it is going to cost you close to $800 or more.   There is no question that the craftsmanship is better on the best rods.  And they do perform marginally better.   But is it $600 better?    You’ll have to make that decision.    Part of this is the wow factor.   The best rods are often a status symbol.   Are you comfortable showing up with a $250 rod on your $5000 bonefish trip when all your buddies have those hotshot $800 rods?    My advice is that if you can afford it, buy the best.  You’ll never regret it.  

Great anglers design the best rods

Over the past fifty years, it has become very apparent to me that the best rod designers are guys that are also great anglers.    From their fishing experiences, they know just what is needed for specific fish and the fishing conditions that we are likely to encounter.   They can take a design and fine tune it to perfection, making a few tweaks and design changes along the way to end up with that perfect rod for the specific fish and fishing conditions.   A lot of people come to mind, fellows like Steve Rajeff (G.Loomis)  Tom Morgan (Tom Morgan Rodsmiths) , and Howard Croston (Hardy) are guys I’ve spent time fishing with on small streams, big rivers and in the salt.    Then there are a lot of other guys I know that are also great anglers like Jerry Siem at Sage, Don Green who started Sage, the late Jimmy Green, who gave us the first graphite rods from Fenwick, and Lefty Kreh who has worked with TFO to give us those wonderful BVK rods.   

Our testing procedures – trying to eliminate the variables

As in all our prior shootouts, we have strived to eliminate the variables by setting up the rods with the exact same reels, lines and leaders.    For this 8-weight shootout, we had 8 identical Tibor Everglades reels set up with our favorite bonefish line, the standard Scientific Anglers Mastery Bonefish Taper in WF-8-F.   On the lines we used our own 12-foot Yellowstone Angler hand tied bonefish leaders since they simply cast better and more accurately than any of the knotless leaders.   

By having all the rods set up identically, it made it easy to take a few casts with one, lay it down on the grass, and immediately pick up another rod and do the same without having to take the time to strip all the line off the rod and load up another one.  This way the four of us could be comparing two to three rods at once at our individual casting stations.   By doing this, you can easily determine the subtle differences among the rods and get a good feel for how they compare at the different distances.   It was always good to have what we felt was the top rod in the test right there on hand to make immediate comparisons.  

Tibor Reels

Tibor Everglades

Buy Now

The Tibor Everglades has always been one of my favorite bonefish reels since Ted Juracsik introduced this reel over 25 years ago.    The Everglades is really a mid-arbor design, but has plenty of capacity to hold nearly 200 yd. of 20 lb. micron backing along with a WF-8-F line.   These reels are smooth, run on ball bearings and have a wonderful drag system with very little inertia resistance.  They have more drag adjustment than many of the other reels, which allows me to fine tune the drag pressure and get it just right.  Also, to my way of thinking, there is nothing that sounds so sweet as a Tibor when a bonefish is peeling off line on a streaking run.     With a nominal amount of care, these reels are bulletproof and will provide a lifetime of enjoyable service.   I’m using one Tibor Everglades that I’ve had now for at least twenty years and it is still just about perfect.     We know that the Tibor Everglades is one of the very best 8-weight reels in the world, and you’ll be able to read more in our upcoming 8-weight saltwater reel shootout.    

Click on this link for more info on Tibor reels

Fly Lines

SA Bonefish Line Rio 250 Sinking line

Buy Now

There are lots of new saltwater lines on the market now, but we have yet to find one that beats our long time favorite, The Scientific Anglers Mastery standard Bonefish Taper.  This line uses a braided monofilament core and has the stiffness needed to cast and shoot well in tropical climates.   The belly and front taper have a fairly traditional design, allowing for nice loops at long distance and the ability to present a fly delicately and accurately.   We’ve found that some of the new lines with shorter front tapers and heads are just not well suited for flats fishing when you need both accuracy and a very delicate delivery.    

I’ve never been a fan of the Sharkskin lines, especially for bonefish.  The new textured lines from SA are better but still not as good as the standard Bonefish Taper.   I do like the new Bruce Chard Grand Slam textured lines though for permit and tarpon where more emphasis is placed on turning the fly over at long range or in a hard wind.    But they don’t give me the delicate presentations I often need fishing for bonefish. 

For the sinking line portion of our tests, we used Rio’s Density Compensated 250 grain, 24 foot sinking head lines that have a floating running line.   This is a great streamer line and the choice of most serious streamer anglers, mostly because they cast well and the running line tangles less than the other comparable brands. While no running line is 100% tangle free, when the Rio line does tangle it is much easier to untangle than the streamer express that uses a smaller diameter solid core running line. For shallower, slower running water, the 10-15 foot sink tips make more sense.  For faster, deeper rivers such as the Yellowstone, many anglers will bump up to a Rio 300 24 foot sinking line. 

Leaders

George Andersons hand tied bonefish leaders

Buy Now

We have been tying our own bonefish and permit leaders for years, using Mason’s hard nylon for the butt and midsections and then Seaguar Grand Max fluorocarbon for the final two tippet sections.   I designed these leaders with very stiff butt and midsections, and with a short taper so that they will turn over extremely well, even in a hard wind.    Our 12-foot bonefish leaders will turn over far better than any of the knotless tapered leaders on the market.   These leaders are all hand tied by ourselves here at the shop and by some of our guides in the off season.   

 


Objective Observations

 

Explanation of the points categories

Price – 10 points available

This is pretty simple.  The least expensive rods get the highest points.   Sure this is one thing to use for basing your decision on buying a rod, but keep in mind that the high priced rods are usually worth it in the long run, even if you have to take some time to save up the money to buy the one you really want.   We see so many people that think they should buy an inexpensive rod when they are just starting out.   That is often a mistake.   Buy the best you can afford and you will never regret it.    Often a person starts out with an inexpensive outfit and quickly sees that the better rods will help them improve much more quickly.  Then the do buy the best but they have already “wasted” the money on the first outfit.  Usually they just pass it on to their kids though or use it as a backup.

 

Overall Weight – 10 points available

The last thing we are going to do is take the manufacturers word for what these rods weigh!  They tend to fudge this a bit to make them look good.   We use our“Official” digital postage scale that reads to.001 oz.   We round these up to .01 of an ounce to make it easier to figure out.   You can find all this info in our table on Objective Observations.     Overall weight is one factor, but even more important is the swing weight.   

 

Swing Weight – 10 points available

You know all about this term if you play golf.  It is the relationship of the club head to the shaft when you waggle the club.    Measuring this on a fly rod is not quite as easy though.   We have played around with this over several shootouts and now we have gone back to my tried and true approach, using our postal scale.    The swing weight of the rod is the weight you feel out ahead of your hand, when you hold the rod in a horizontal position.  Rods with a light swing weight are pleasant and effortless to cast.  Ones with a heavy swing weight feel like a club in your hand and they are not going to be pleasant to cast all day.     The way we measure the swing weight now is to zero out the scale with a small foam pellet in the center of the scale, on which we will put the grip of the rod.  Now we position the grip over the fulcrum created by the foam pellet so that the pellet is about ¾ of the way up the grip where you would hold it comfortably.   Now we are taking into consideration the approx. balance point of the rod once you have a reel on it.     Once the rod is placed precisely on the foam pellet, we get the rod in a horizontal position and apply finger pressure to the very end of the extension butt and read off the weight of pressure on the scale in ounces.     

In past shootouts we tried measuring this in other ways, including calculations for The Moment of Inertia, but these calculations proved to be incorrect from what we were experiencing in our hand.  

 

Warranties – 10 points available  

Every manufacturer now has some kind of “Lifetime warranty” now.  Well, the Orvis one is 25 years.  But manufacturers are getting burned on this big time.  Now most of the manufacturers see that this was a mistake, but they are stuck with it.  However most are now charging a “handling” fee of $25-$60 to repair or replace your rod.   But then it is going to also cost you $15 or more to ship the rod in for repair or have your dealer do it.     We looked at all the warranty policies in detail as some have changed slightly and awarded them scores based on the lowest repair charges getting the highest scores.    As you’ll see, most rate a 9, which means that it costs  $25-$50 for the repair or replacement.    Loomis gets the perfect score of 10 for the NRX since as soon as you register a new NRX on-line they send you a “wild card” that you can use to replace the rod regardless of the reason it was broken.   But this is a one time deal only and applies only to The original owner  (as do almost all warranties).     We know that the NRX rods are extremely hard to break so chances are you won’t have to repair it again but if you do, that second time is going to cost you some money unless they determine that it was a defect in the rod.  If so, it gets replaced for free. On broken rods that are not registered to the original owners, expect to pay $150 or more to get these repaired.  

Craftsmanship – 10 points available

We are pleased to tell you that craftsmanship has improved steadily over the past ten years, and today’s rods, even the inexpensive ones made in Korea are really very good.    But craftsmanship still varies to some degree.   We look at lots of things to determine this.  What kind of guides are being used and how are they wrapped and finished?   To our way of thinking, the very best guides for saltwater 8-weight rods are the nickel/titanium unbreakable snake guides that are fairly large in diameter to allow line tangles to pass through.   But these are expensive guides and you won’t see any cheap rods using them.   Look at the coatings on the rod wraps.  The best are done with multiple coats.  Check out the T&T rods if you want to see wraps and finish that is just about perfect.  Too many manufacturers try to get by with one coat epoxys that are often way too heavy, adding weight to the rod.    The quality of the cork in the handle is a big factor too.   The cheap stuff need a lot of filler and it still doesn’t look very good.   Reel seats should have good solid locking systems to hold larger saltwater reels without working loose.    Lots of people get a 9 here, but there only two perfect 10’s – Thomas and Thomas and Orvis.   

 

Fun to Fish / Got to Have – 10 points available

I got this category from the Car and Driver early automobile shootouts.   If the rod looks like a million bucks and casts like it too, any normal fly fishermen will lust for this rod.   For many, it might be seen as a status symbol.   For others, they see how this rod performs in their guide’s hands, and think that it is going to make them great anglers too and at least take them to the next level.   Surprisingly enough, they are often right.   Great rods don’t make great casters, but they can sure help an average caster get a lot better in a hurry.    Don’t let the price slow you down.   You’ll find a way to sneak it into your stash without the little lady finding out.    

Double points awarded for the most important performance categories

Here is the real meat of any of our shootouts – performance.  So we double the scores in these categories.   We rate the performance at three distances we feel these rods need to perform well, and you’ll also read everyone’s comments on how well these rods are at cracking the 100 foot mark.   

 

Performance at 35 feet – 20 points available

We stretch this close distance from 25 to 35 feet for the 8-weight rods.  The best rods need to be able to cast both very accurately and delicately at this distance. The top point getters are easy to cast off the tip of the rod with very little effort. At short distance, casting accuracy is the key to catching fish and the number one factor I use in evaluating these rods.   Some rods, especially the ones with softer tips will give an angler much more feel and the ability to consistently put the fly just where you want it, and do it delicately.   Bonefish can be very spooky in slick water when there is little wind, and I’m often trying to sneak in at very close range to tailing fish, even down on my knees casting to the fish and keeping the rod low to the water on presentations.    The Orvis Helios 2 and the GLoomis NRX were the standouts at close range. 

 

Performance at 60 feet – 20 points available

Here is the range that I consider the most important of all for these 8-weight rods.  The rods that score well in this category, with scores of 19 or above, can really drill them in there, even in a hard breeze.   With the best rods I was consistently hitting within 24 inches of the dead center of our pizza plates that were about 18 inches in diameter.   At this distance you need the rod to have the power to rip a good back cast and fire it in there on the forward stroke without much of a double haul and not shooting any line.  Rods with a wimpy butt and mid-section need not apply.    The rod that did the best job of zinging them in there time after time was the NRX.   Again, look at rods that rated 19 points or better and you won’t go wrong. 

 

Performance at 80 feet – 20 points available

Any good 8-weight rod needs to be able to hit 80 feet with ease. Some of these rods were just a whole lot better and a lot more solid at long range than others.  There are not many times you are casting at these distances for bonefish or freshwater applications but when you absolutely NEED to cast that far, you’ll want a rod that can do it, and do it easily. 

Hitting the 100 foot mark

We are not scoring the rods at this distance, but you need to know if they have the guts to get it done. Bonefish lines today are 100 feet long and then you add a 12-foot leader.    I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a situation where I had tailing bones way up on a soft flat, and I could not get out to wade any closer.  It was throw it 100 -110 feet and catch a fish, or go fishless.   It’s times like these that I really appreciate the explosive reserve power of the GLoomis NRX.  Not only will it get me the distance, but also it will do it with extremely tight loops and exceptional accuracy.  

 

“Perfect 8 Performance” – 20 points available

As in the past we felt that a separate category was needed to reward the very best #8 line rods for their overall superiority – With a #8 line!    These are the rods that you pick up, and make just one cast and you know they are something special.   They give you the confidence to put the fly where you want it at any distance.    Rods that are only good at close to medium distances are not going to win.  Other rods that are great out long but not quite so good in close are not going to win this one either.  We’re looking for the very best rod at all distances with an 8-weight line.    As you’ll see only four rods scored a 19 or better, and one, the Sage Method, was a 7-weight rod, using an 8-weight line.  

 

8-weight shootout FINAL RESULTS

 

8-weight shootout Performance ONLY

 

#1.  G.Loomis NRX   9 foot #8     $805.00

G. Loomis NRX winner

Buy Now

Yep, it’s Déjà Vu folks.   The NRX smoked them all in our 2011 8-Weight Shootout, and it did it again this year.   Nothing was really all that close.   Steve Rajeff didn’t do anything with the design at all – he didn’t need to!   But Loomis does now offer this rod in a pleasing green color with green wraps, in addition to the one that is graphite gray with the Robin’s egg blue wraps.  

This rod is not the lightest rod by a long shot, but it is a lot lighter than most.  I’ve fished this rod hard for the past three years and know how well it performs on everything from ten-pound Alaska rainbows to big bonefish, redfish, snook, and even permit.  I can count on this rod putting the cast on the money when the conditions are ugly.  Wind, rain, you name it and this rod will do a better job of handling it that any 8-weight rod  I’ve ever had in my hand.   Well, let me think about that since I do use the new NRX Pro 1 one-piece 8-weight when I’m fishing in out of Boca Grande Florida, where I keep my flats skiff, and that Pro 1 is a sweet stick.    But for most of us that need a 4-pc rod to travel with, you just cannot beat the NRX.  In fact if you are looking for a #9, #10 or #11 line rod 4-piece rod, just stick with the NRX as I haven’t found anything better.  And this has been the case for the last 10 years.  Before the NRX rods, the GLoomis Crosscurrent GLX models ruled.

Back in 2010, Loomis started using a new nano-resin system developed by 3M.  This allowed rods to be built that were lighter and far stronger than the older GLX blanks.  These new NRX rods are 15-20% stronger than the older models and they have proven to be one of the toughest rods I’ve ever used.   It is just about impossible to break one in normal fishing conditions unless you really screw up.  Oh, I’ve done that a time or two though, usually stepping on them in the boat rack!   

Now most other manufacturers either have the new 3M resins, or they have developed their own resin systems to make the rods lighter and stronger.  What separates the NRX rods from the rest of the market though is design.   Head rod designer Steve Rajeff has done a better job than anyone in the industry to give us a rod that has a powerful butt and mid-section but with a progressively softer tip.  This rod throws effortless, tight loops at all distances.  It also translates into unsurpassed accuracy at both short and long range. 

The craftsmanship you'll find on these new Loomis NRX rods is excellent.  Good looking, solid reel seats that lock up well, wonderful cork handles and the terrific nickel/titanium unbreakable snake guides that you won’t find on many other rods. The large size snake guides are perfect for all applications.  Personally I don’t like the recoil stripping guides. They are definitely unbreakable, but they have a tendency to sing some weird songs when I’m playing big fish under a lot of pressure.   Steve, do us a favor and give us some good, lightweight Fuji titanium SiC strippers. 

I like the new green color a lot better than the “blue” wrapped rods, but that is just personal preference.  In terms of our sales, about 60-70% are now green rods vs. the blue.  If you get the green rod, I think the best looking reel is black since it goes well with the dark green and matches the black anodized aluminum parts on the reel seat. 

When you buy a G. Loomis NRX you need to take a little time to register it on-line and then GLoomis will send you their NRX “Wild Card”.  This allows you to replace a broken rod absolutely for free, no matter how it breaks.  And there is NO  $25- $50 shipping or handling fee that all other companies are charging.  But this is a one-time deal, and good only for the original owner.  Some people assume that you can walk into a GLoomis dealer and pick up a free new rod on the spot if they have one, but this is not the case.  If a dealer has an adequate stock of the model you have broken you might talk him into it if he can determine from the GLoomis B to B system that he’ll get a replacement in just a few days. 

 

Performance at 35 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Nice soft tip gives extremely good accuracy and feel.  Swing weight is a bit more than the Helios 2 or the Sage rods but still very light.

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20
Super solid, and tracks beautifully.  Feels like I can put the fly on the money every time 10 out of 10 casts either hit the plate or were within 6”.   Great loop control with very tight loops. 

Performance at 80 feet:  20 points out of 20
Lean on an NRX and you get an explosion of power unlike anything else I’ve cast.  A little heavier in my hand than the Sage One or Method rods, but it really outperforms them all.  

100 feet:  No problem.  My first two casts were 110 feet plus.  This baby is a cannon at long range.

 

#2. Orvis Helios 2 – Tip Flex    $850.00

Orvis H2

Buy Now

The second place finish for the Helios 2 didn’t surprise me, as we had gotten some of these 8-weight Helios 2's in the shop earlier in the summer, and their extreme light weight and casting performance really impressed us.  Finally, the design team seems to have the action right!  But you want to pick with the model they call the Tip Flex.  This is faster than most Orvis actions and closer to what we like to see – a rod that has good power in the butt and mid-section and then a softer tip.    The tip isn’t quite as soft as the NRX in comparison, but it’s close. But this rod, despite it’s light weight, just doesn’t have the guts at long range to compete with the NRX, the Scott S4s, the Sage Method 8, or even the lowly BVK for that matter. However, at close to mid-distances it was magical.   I gave it the finest performance score, a perfect 20, at 35 feet.  At sixty feet, it was still very good, with only the NRX and Scott edging it out.     So, as you’ll see, it finished 2nd in both the Overall and in the Performance Scores.   A very impressive performance.     All of us felt that at really long range, 80 feet on out, the H2 didn’t cut it.   Other testers, like me, felt that this rod didn't respond like the stronger rods, when we really slammed the power to it.   It simply did not have the ability to throw long like many other rods did.    The Orvis Helios 2 shared the top points in both overall weight and swing weight with Sage’s Method 7, but the Method 7 was actually just a little lighter than the Orvis by a tenth of an ounce or two.    The Method 7 (with an 8 line) also has more usable power at all ranges.    And if you ask me what I’d rather be fishing, I’d tell you the Method 7.  This is why I rated it more highly in the “Perfect 8” performance. 

Orvis’ craftsmanship was typically first rate.  It picked up the perfect score here too.  I liked the flexible nickel/titanium guides, but my only gripe is that they should be larger for a good saltwater rod.   The snake guides on the NRX are much larger, and just about perfect.  Everything else is wonderful though.  A very nice looking double lock seat and a great, wide extension butt.  The full wells cork handle is just right.  Wraps and finish are perfect.   The dark blue color is really classy.  

Tom Rosenbauer tells us that the big change in design from the H1 was a new graphite layup method that allowed a steeper taper with more strength. Shawn Combs is the head rod designer, and along with Jim Logan, they developed a way to increase impact strength in the tips of the rods by 300%!    This means you won't have to worry quite as much about those coneheads or split shot hitting your tip on the backcast.  

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20
Feels perfectly matched with the WF-8-F line in close.  Wonderfully light in my hand and superbly accurate.   A real joy at close distances and deserving of our "best feel" award. 

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
Good with no wind, but with a 10-15 mph breeze, it was definitely not as solid or as accurate as the NRX.  Harder to form tight loops with at 60’ than the NRX.

Performance at 80 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
It will get it done in windless conditions, but when I slam in the power it feels vague, like it wants to fold.   It doesn’t’ track as well as the best rods here and the accuracy suffers.

100 feet: Maybe once in every 10 casts.  No guts.

 

#3. TFO BVK    9 foot #8     $249.95

TFO BVK

Buy Now

In our 2011 8-weight Shootout, the BVK finished 2nd, and it very nearly did it again, just one point behind the Orvis Helios 2.    In the performance scores though, it dropped down to tie for 6 th.   This goes to show you that an inexpensive rod can still beat a heck of a lot of very expensive rods.    There is no question that this takes our award for the best inexpensive 8-weight rod.     We’ve sold lots and lots of these in the past few years and people have been absolutely delighted with them.  They do seem to break a little more easily than other rods, but they also have one of the very best warranties in the business, and it breaks, TFO sends you a brand new rod for $25!   Not a repaired rod, but a new rod.    I’ve used BVK’s myself on several bonefish trips and have not had a single problem with them. I felt they were tough and fun to use.  

This rod is one of the very lightest in overall weight, but the swing weight is somewhat heavier.  Not bad mind you but not as good as the best rods.  In performance this rod shines at all distances.   I rated it a 19 at all distances!  Very good power at mid and long range.

This rod kicked ass and embarrassed a lot of really expensive rods.  Yeah the craftsmanship wasn’t the greatest but what do you want for $250?   The only big bitch I’ve got is the fact that they do not supply a hard case with this rod.  The only manufacturer in our shootout that doesn’t supply a hard case with the rod.   TFO has nice hard cases, but it will cost you another $30 if you want one!   What the hell……   Maybe we should have listed the price as $279.95.    I do have one suggestion – TFO has a really nice triangular 4-pc. Multi rod case for $49.95 and I use one of these myself on trips.  I can get easily get five, nine foot 4-pc rods into this case, in their cloth bags.   I have another suggestion for the guys at TFO – give us the nice double locking seat and extension butt you put on the Mangrove.

The rings on the double lock seat on the BVK are tiny and hard to screw down tight.   And the extension butt is too short.  Everything else looks fine.  Good-sized guides are a plus.  The color is a dark olive with dark green wraps. 

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
Very nice, and very accurate.   Almost as good as the NRX!   The light weight makes this rod a pleasure to cast.

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
Seems perfectly matched with WF-8-F line. Throws nice tight loops and is more accurate than a whole lot of the more expensive rods. 

Performance at 80 feet:  19 points out of 20
The great power of the BVK makes casting at long distance a piece of cake. 

100 feet:  YES!   This is a big time, long distance weapon.  The NRX was a shade better but the BVK was impressive.

#4. Sage Method   9 foot #7 (with 8 line)    $810.00

Sage Method 7 weight

Buy Now

This is Sage’s new replacement for the TCX.   The TCX was the stiffest and fastest action rod that Sage had produced.   The new Method uses Sage’s konnetic technology that we first saw in the Sage One, giving us a very light rod with tons of usable power. This is definitely one of the very lightest rods out there right now and one of the most fun to fish.   Sage designed the Method to be an ultra fast action rod, with even more punch than the One.   The big problem as I see it is the fact that the Method rods are all rated as one full size TOO LIGHT.   This is just crazy but it’s a fact.   So in looking for the best 8-weight, we decided to include the Sage Method 9 foot #7 in our shootout as well as their 9 foot #8.   I had a chance to fish this Method 7 in both Alaska this fall for big rainbows as well as in Cuba for big bonefish in November and I loved it with an 8 line in both instances. But definitely NOT with a #7 line.     As you’ll see, the Method 7 placed 3rd overall in our performance scores, clobbering the Method 8.    I loved the light overall weight and the light swing weight.   The Method 7 also seems to have a slightly softer tip in relation to the butt and mid section power than the Method 8.  This is good.   Sage builds all these rods with tips that are too stiff for my liking and if they just softened up the tips a bit the close distance accuracy would improve markedly.   Jerry, are you listening?     Ha ha.     So this whole issue of line size for the Sage rods is somewhat confusing.    At least the Sage One rods are closer to the line size recommended.   

Match this Method 7 with the extremely light-weight Nautilus FWX 7/8 reel and you have the ultimate light weight 8-weight outfit.   And the Nautilus FWX drag has proven to us to be potent enough for big bonefish.

This rod is a snappy magma red color with complimentary rust colored wraps.  We all loved the color.   Sage uses a good double lock seat and their comfortable full wells grip.  My only gripe is the small snake guides.   Much larger guides would be better on these 7 and 8 line rods to allow big line tangles to pass through.  Why they don’t use the best nickel/titanium snakes like Loomis, Orvis and others is beyond me. The good SiC stripping guides are fine.  You will lose a few bonefish to line tangles not clearing the Method 7 rod.  

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
Very nicely balanced with the 8 line. VERY light in my hand – delightful.  Excellent accuracy.  I could cast off the softer tip much better than with the Method 8.  

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
A very nice feel but does not track quite as well as the NRX or S4s, nor is it as accurate.  I can really tell the difference in weight though.  

Performance at 80 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
Out long, this rod suffers a bit from its lack of power, and bogs down slightly with the 8 line.  If you are doing a lot of long distance work, you could drop back to a 7-line and maybe be happier.    

100 feet:  It hit the line pretty easily with no wind, but this is definitely not the long-range cannon that the Method 8 is.  

 

#5. Sage One   9 foot #8   $785.00

Sage ONE

Buy Now

We tested more Sage rods (4) in this Shootout than any other manufacturer, but for good reason.   They are very different rods and they are all very good.    The Sage One came out a couple of years ago now, but it is still an extremely good 8-weight rod.   It is very light, has plenty of butt and mid-section power and is fun to fish.   If anything it is slightly too stiff.   Some people might like it better going up to a #9 line, especially if they are fishing at distances under 70 feet most of the time.    However, this rod is definitely softer than the Method 8, and a much better match with an 8-weight line.   Like the Method, the small snake guides hurt for saltwater fishing, where line tangles are more common. Getting a bird’s nest of running line through your guides when a big bonefish is running hard is going to be more of a challenge than it is with the Sage Xi3, their rod that is really designed with saltwater use in mind.     The snake guides on the Method 8 Elite are larger and a bit heavier in wire diameter, making it a better set up for the salt. The SiC stripping guides are excellent.   The rest of the Sage One is just about perfect.  The jet-black color of the blank and wraps, with contrasting gray trim is elegant.  The full wells handle is perfect, with top-notch cork.  The double lock, uplock anodized reel seat is one of the best we’ve seen with a big, comfortable short extension fitted on the end.  Like the Method 8, I’d like to see a more flexible tip in relation to the butt and mid section power.   

Performance at 35 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Better than the Method 8 with an 8 line, but not nearly as nice a feel as the Method 7 with the 8 line. 

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
Very light and very nice.  Much better feeling in my hand than the Method 8.   Heads up, the NRX was a lot better at 60 feet.     A good performance.

Performance at 80 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Sweet!  Now, it feels perfectly matched with the 8 line, and far better than the Method 8.   Tracks beautifully.   I had a lot of confidence at long range with this rod.

100 feet:  No problem whatsoever!  Good loop control at long range too.  A very pleasant rod to cast at long distances.  

 

#6. Scott S4s  9 foot #8     $775.00

Scott S4s

Buy Now

This has proven to be an excellent saltwater rod for bonefish, snook, redfish and a variety of other fish.   Scott has made a few tweaks to make this rod even better since it was introduced as the S4.   I felt it performed better at mid to long than it did in close though.    It tracks beautifully at all distances, but it just does not have the feel in close of the best rods in our shootout.  Scott is one of the companies that does not sand the blank down after they peel off the tape used to compress the fibers and resin while the rod is being baked.   They just peel off the tape and add finish.   So the blank is a natural graphite color.   They claim that this adds strength.  I’d give it a maybe.   I still haven’t seen any rods as tough as the Loomis NRX and these are all sanded smooth and then given a finish, adding color.    Guides are excellent, perhaps the best set up I’ve seen on a saltwater rod. Scott uses big SiC strippers in titanium frames, the best you can get, along with big nickel/titanium flexible snake guides.   They also use a very nice double locking seat with type 3 hard annodization.   The full wells cork handle is comfortable and just right in size.    The wraps on the guides are excellent, as is the finish on the wraps.    This is another fine rod built here in the USA by dedicated anglers.  

Performance at 35 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
The stiffness didn’t allow for much feel in close, but the accuracy was good.

Performance at 60 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Tracks wonderfully and is a cannon at this range.  Almost as good as the NRX, but not quite a 20.  The softer tip on the NRX give slightly better accuracy. The NRX was also a lot lighter in my hand.

Performance at 80 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
This rod will throw nice tight loops at long range. A real bomber.  But heavier than the NRX for sure. 

100 feet: You bet.  This rod is definitely in contention for the long bomber award.

#7. (tie) St. Croix Legend Elite Saltwater  9 foot #8  $480.00

St. Croix Legend Elite

Buy Now

This has been one of our favorites over the years, and it is still a very nice casting 8-weight rod.   The thing that you notice immediately is that the tip is so soft.   It almost feels like it won’t work until you get some line in the air, and then it impresses you.   With the soft tip, it has a wonderful feel at shorter distances and it really excels at short to mid distance.   At long range, it isn’t as solid as the better rods.   This rod is a beautiful dark blue, with blue wraps.  The guides are two hard chrome SiC strippers and then large hard chrome snake guides.   A good solid set up.  The handle is just about perfect for a full wells grip and a very and sturdy double lock, uplock seat with a hard foam tipped extension butt.    Instead of using the 3M-silica matrix that St. Croix has utilized in the past, the new Legend Elites are made with FRS (Fortifed Resin System), which St. Croix tested to be even stronger than the 3M nano resin, making their rods as light and tough as ever.    The big thing that separates this rod out from a pack of very good rods is the price.  At $480 it is a bargain.  You’ll have another $400 smackers left over to invest in one of the best reels.   Another plus for us is the fact that this rod is made here in the USA at Park Falls Wisconsin.   A good value and a very well made rod. 

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
Good for sure, but the NRX and Helios 2 were better.  So is the Method 7.    But nice presentations and good accuracy. 

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Smooth, with nicely formed loops. Heavier in my hand than the best rods that had lighter swing weights.  Casts a nice line at sixty feet.

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
Now the lack of power is becoming a handicap.  A decent performance but nothing to write home about.

100 feet:  Yeah, but only when I had the wind at my back.

 

#7. (tie)  Ross RX    9 foot #8      $319.00

Ross RX

Buy Now

My first impression is that this is a very light rod but the action is too slow.   If they just gave it a softer tip, it would kick some ass.   It is still a pleasant rod to cast and fish, and cast fairly well at all distances, but it left me with the feeling that it could be so much better.     The price is right for sure, but I’m just not very excited about this rod.   The color is a bland burnt orange, with a graphite reel seat insert to match.  Wraps are also a darker burnt orange.    The reel seat is OK but not great. The double locking rings seem a bit small.  The handle is good full wells and comfortable enough.  The guides are good and large, with two hard chrome strippers and the rest hard chrome snake guides.    If it does break, it costs only $30 to get a brand new rod.  

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
The stiff tip killed it at short range.   No feel at all. Nice and light though.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Better, but still not very impressive.   Fair to good is about it.

Performance at 80 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
A struggle to make 80 feet, but at least the rod is nice and light in my hand.

100 feet:  Probably not, unless you have a 20 mph tailwind.

 

 

#8.  Thomas & Thomas Solar   9 foot #8    $800.00

Thomas and Thomas solar

Buy Now

As usual with the Thomas & Thomas rods, the craftsmanship is superb.  We gave it one of the perfect scores in this category.  The rod is natural gray graphite, and like Scott, they leave the blank unsanded, so you see the ridges of the wrapping tape.   But look closely at the guide set up and the wraps, and you are going to see perfection.    They are using big titanium SIC stripping guides and the best nickel/titanium unbreakable snake guides like you’ll fine on the NRX and the Scott S4s.    The handle is a pleasant full wells but slightly large for my liking.  A very good double lock uplock black anodized aluminum seat is used with an excellent extension butt.   The finish coat of epoxy over the wraps is as good as you’ll find on a fly rod.  It doesn’t get any better than this.    The rod itself has a nice fast action, with a little softer tip than say the Sage rods.   I like it.

The weight is good – fairly light and close to the NRX in both overall and swing weight. 

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
Two things I didn’t like – the handle feels a bit too large and the rod feels heavier than the best rods.   Accuracy was good, just not great.

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Loop control not as precise as with the NRX or BVK.  It was also took a lot more effort to cast this rod than either the NRX or BVK. 

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
Not even in the same ballpark as the inexpensive BVK.  Accuracy was only fair and casting at this distance was a workout.

100 feet:  Yes, but just barely, and with a lot of effort. 

 

#9. (tie)  St. Croix Imperial   9 foot #8     $220.00

St. Croix Imperial

Buy Now

This has always been one of our favorite inexpensive rods.   The action on this rod is just about perfect.   Good butt and mid section power, and a soft tip.  The only thing that holds this rod back is the weight.  Here’s a tip for budding rod designers – just copy this action and you are going to be right in the ballpark.   It isn’t quite as light, nor as powerful as the BVK but it’s close.   The heavier weight just hurts at all distances.   But if you double the price, you have the Legend Elite, which is one of our favorite rods at any price.   The Imperial is a pleasing dark red color with matching wraps.  Good-sized Hard Chrome snake guides are used.  They use a good full wells grip along with double locking anodized aluminum seat and a nice short extension butt.  Another plus, the Imperial is hand made in Park Falls, WI. 

Performance at 35 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
The softer tip gives a very nice feel and good accuracy.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
The Imperial feels heavier in my hand than the BVK or Mystic but still puts in an impressive performance for a $220 rod. 

Performance at 80 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
The heavier weight makes it a chore to cast long.  The BVK was far better

100 feet:  The Imperial will get it there on occasion, but you won’t want this kind of abuse all day. 

 

#9. (tie)  Sage Xi3   9 foot #8   $785.00

Sage Xi3 saltwater rod

Buy Now

We were a little reluctant to test the Xi3 again this year, with all the newer offerings from Sage, but it has placed very highly in the past (3rd in our 2011 8-weight shootout, right behind the BVK).    This rod is looking pretty old in the tooth now, with all the new Konnetic technology Sage is using in the One and Method rods.   We had hoped for a new saltwater Xi3 from Sage with this same technology – and a much lighter blank, but not this year.    The big thing that is a huge plus for the Xi3 is the size of the guides.  They are FAR larger than what is found on either the One or even the Method Elite.  

Actually we like just about everything about the Xi3.  The color is a striking blue that really jumps out at you.   The full wells handle is perfect, as is the double locking, uplock seat with a nice extension butt.   Sage gets all this stuff right.    I still wish they would get away from the hard chrome snake guides and give us the nickel/titanium guides that are a lot lighter and unbreakable.  The Fuji hard chrome SiC strippers are clunkers too, compared to the latest titanium editions.     This rod is still not overly heavy though and exactly the same as the NRX in swing weight.   The action is just about right for an 8-weight rod too.   Why couldn’t they have given us a Method with this action??   It is perfectly balanced with a WF-8-F Bonefish taper. 

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
Not too pleasant to cast compared to the much lighter One, and pretty good accuracy but again, not quite as good as the One

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
The swing weight felt heavy to me especially compared to the One and Method rods.   Good accuracy, but not great. 

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
It will do it, but I wouldn’t want to be casting this rod all day at long distance.  It would wear you out.    After casting the One at 80 feet, this really felt like a clunker.

100 feet:  It’s going to be a struggle in any kind of wind.

 

#10. Beulah Opal   9 foot #8     $620.00

Beulah Opal

Buy Now

Here is a brand new offering from Beulah that will be available in March 2014.  I’m glad they sent one of the Opal rods to us for our shootout, as I really like this rod a lot.  When I picked it up, it immediately felt like it had the perfect action for a good 8-weight saltwater rod.  Good power in the butt and mid-section, but a softer tip.   We have been impressed with the Beulah rods, and we’ve gotten a lot of very positive feedback from people we’ve sold these rods to.   Most of the Belulah rods we sell here are the single-handed Platinum series.  Their 8’8” #4, and their 9 foot #5 are especially nice, and the price is right too at $395.   The new Opal is a more expensive rod, built using the new nano silica matrix technology.  They also using a fast, responsive taper designed for quick, long and accurate casts.  We found that the Beulah Opal was and excellent all around 8-weight rod.  It lacks the power of the more highly rated rods in our shootout, but don’t let this discourage you.   This is one of the finest casting rods I’ve laid my hands on at shorter to medium distances.    One of the first things that got my attention was the lovely full wells cork grip with contrasting cork rings.   Why can’t everyone make handles that look this good and feel this good?   Craftsmanship was excellent.  The other thing that caught my eye was the huge guides.  And they are solid titanium!!   I’ve never seen anything this big on any fly rod!  But being titanium they have kept the weight down and they are bound to be tougher than any of the hard chrome snake guides.  The stripping guides are good big titanium wrapped SiC guides.  A nice set up for sure.  But having these huge diameter guides makes perfect sense.   Even the worst tangles are going through these babies, and that means less blow-offs and more landed fish.

The color of the rod is a pleasing steel blue gray with matching wraps and some very tasteful trim wraps.    With the price at only $620, you can afford to slap on a nice reel and save yourself a couple of hundred bucks or more when compared to the higher priced rods. 

Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20
Just delightful feel in my hand.   One of the sweetest casting rods in our shootout at this distance.  

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Also very good but now it is beginning to feel slightly overloaded.  I like this kind of feel though, a lot better than having the rod too stiff.   Accuracy was very good and the rod formed nice loops.   

Performance at 80 feet:  17 points out of 20
Eighty feet is about the max for this rod with the 8 line.   If we had backed off to a #7 line it would have been better at long range.  The accuracy suffered.

100 feet: In perfect conditions yes, but for most people this would be a stretch. 

 

#10. (tie)  Sage Method Elite 9 foot #8 (with 8 line)  $ 1350.00

Sage Method

Buy Now

I’m asking myself, why is this rod in 11th place, getting killed by the Method 7 and the Sage One?   Here is the biggest reason - It is way too stiff for an 8 line!  For me, this rod was the biggest disappointment of our shootout – other than the awful Winston BIII SX.    The concept was great.  Here is a rod that is expensive, but it has an extra tip section supplied with it, plus it sports a high-tech titanium reel seat and larger hard chrome snake guides.  They use good SiC stripping guides.  So the concept was great.  The finished product leaves me thinking about how great it could have been.    So I’ve determined that it is not much good as an 8-weight rod.  If you want an 8-weight Method, get the 9 foot #7 and you will be delighted.   However this Method 8 does make a hell of a good 9-weight rod.   A great one.   Is it as good as the Loomis NRX 9?  No, but it’s very close.   Another observation on the Method Elite 8 - The guides are still not big enough.   Better go back to the drawing board on this one. 

To check out my suspicions, I changed lines, and stuck a WF-9-F bonefish taper on one of the Tibor Everglades reels.  Right away I was blown away by how much it changed this rod, for the better.    

Here are my comments and scores using a WF-9-F line on the Method Elite 8 -

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
Very nice – a totally different rod that comes alive with the 9-weight line 

Performance at 60 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Now we’re talkin.’  A huge difference with the heavier line.

Performance at 80 feet: 19 points out of 20
Slightly overloaded but still very good.   I’d still prefer the 9 line over the 8, even at long range.

 

Now, here are my scores and comments with a WF-8-F line:  (where it finishes tied for 10th)

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
No feel at all!  Way too stiff in the tip.  Needs a #9 line for sure at short range.  You could force the accuracy if you laid it down hard but this is no way to fish.

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Very good with better than average accuracy.  But I definitely have far more feel and accuracy with the NRX.    Strangely, the swing weight does not feel any lighter than with the NRX.

Performance at 80 feet:  19 points out of 20
Now the 8-weight line is finally loading the rod.  Definitely not as easy to throw long as the NRX and not as accurate either.

100 feet:  Easy, but surprisingly not much left.   The NRX was better.

 

#11.  Mystic Reaper    9 foot #8   $249.95

Mystic Reaper

Buy Now

This is crazy, the lowly Mystic coming in just behind the Sage Method Elite 8!    You could buy five Reapers for the price of the Method Elite and have some change left over!    The other guys didn’t like the Reaper as much as I did.  What I did like was the lightweight.   Its overall weight was the same as the Sage One!  And the swing weight was good too, way less than the Beulah Opal or the Legend Elite or the NRX for that matter.  In my hand the action feels pretty good too, with a softer, more flexible tip than many rods. This is another inexpensive rod being built in Korea.  It looks even better than the BVK, but in the hand it doesn’t perform nearly as well, despite its light weight.    This is mainly because it doesn’t have the beans to match the BVK, especially at long range, or the faster action that the makes the BVK so special.    

This is a good-looking rod, in a golden brown color, with darker brown wraps.  The finish on the wraps was excellent, for a cheap rod.   It also has very large hard chrome snake guide, which I like, along with two hard chrome SiC strippers.   The handle is a standard full wells with a silver anodized aluminum double lock seat and a good extension butt.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
Good, just not great.   The BVK’s accuracy was noticeably better.

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
Very nice at 60 feet.  Good feel and excellent accuracy.  This is the sweet spot for this rod.  Feels perfectly matched with the WF-8-F line.

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
Decent, but I was working a whole lot harder than I was with the BVK. 

100 feet: I’d give it a maybe, but not if there is any wind.

 

#12. G.Loomis Pro 4X    9 foot #8    $360.00

G. Loomis Pro4x

Buy Now

Somewhat of a disappointment since the GLoomis NRX is our standout winner.    The Pro 4X is noticeably heavier than the NRX both in overall weight and swing weight.  And the NRX isn’t a super lightweight either.   The thing that killed it for me was the fact that the action is much slower than the NRX.   This really hurt the accuracy, especially at 35 feet and 60 feet.   The craftsmanship is very good, but everyone thought that the color was UGLY.  It is a moss green with lighter olive wraps. Loomis uses light hard chrome one-foot guides but these are far inferior to what they use on the NRX.   Two hard chrome SiC stripping guides are used.  I liked the full wells grip and they use a good, solid double locking, uplock seat in black anodized aluminum, fitted with a short extension butt.   This rod is built in Woodland Washington along with all the other G. Loomis rods.  The one good thing is the price.  $360 is a lot more soothing than $800.   But it still got beat up pretty badly by the TFO BVK that costs over $100 less.     

Performance at 35 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Not much feel in close, and I can really notice the heavy weight in my hand.  The BVK was much lighter and much crisper.

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Tracks well, and with good accuracy, but the heavy weight was wearing me out. The NRX was far, far better.  The BVK was better also, with a much lighter swing weight

Performance at 80 feet:  17 points out of 20
This rod simply does not have the capability to form nice tight loops long like what I could get with the NRX or BVK.  And casting at long range required a whole lot of effort. 

100 feet: Yes, it will do it, but not with the authority of the NRX or BVK.  

 

#13. (tie) Rugged Creek    9 foot #8     $189.00

Rugged Creek Traditional 

Buy Now

Here’s another of the new breed of inexpensive import rods from Korea.   The action was not that bad but I would prefer a little faster tip.   The weight was the big issue for me.  This rod is heavy – a real club.   The cosmetics aren’t too appealing either.  The blank color is a flat, dark brown and the wraps are a dark olive which don’t exactly dress it up.   The guide set up is Ok, with black hard chrome snake guides and a couple of odd-looking strippers but they seem to work.  At least the full wells handle is fine, and the double lock, uplocking reel seat is a more attractive anodized brown.  They use a very nice extension butt.    The price is definitely the best part of this rod, but for a little over $200 you can do a whole lot better.  

Performance at 35 feet: 16 points out of 20
Throws surprisingly decent loops but the weight makes this a wrist breaker and one with very little feel.  The BVK was FAR, FAR better.

Performance at 60 feet:  17.5points out of 20
Getting better but still a long way from the performance of either the BVK or the St. Croix Imperial.  Decent loop control but heavy in my hand!

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
Not too bad, but the BVK still blows it away with ease.  

100 feet:  It’s possible, but not nearly as easily as with the BVK.  

 

 

#13. (tie)  Winston BIII SX  9 foot #7 (with 8 line)  $835.00

Winston BIIISX

Buy Now

Here is another rod that is so stiff it needs to go up one line size.  So to get the best BIII SX with a WF-8-F line, you need to step down to what they list as the 7-weight rod.    Even the 7 line BIII SX is a whole lot heavier than the Loomis NRX and all the other good 8-weight rods in our test.   When Winston introduced this rod, they came to us with really ugly snake guides that were far too large in wire size for the rod.    Fortunately they realized their mistake and made a running change.   The new guides are better, but are still too heavy.   I just don’t know what the people at Winston are thinking.   At one time they gave us very good nickel/titanium guides.  Now they are giving us junk.  You could run over these guides with a forklift and not damage them, but who cares??    All they do is add a lot of weight to the blank and this really bogs the action down.  

Interestingly, the action of the 9 foot #7 is faster than the 9 foot #8!  But this is good.  The slightly softer tip gives the rod a lot more feel, especially at short range.  Not great mind you, but better.  These BIII SX rods are simply gorgeous, in that Winston emerald green that looks fantastic in the sunlight.   Despite the crappy snake guides, the two SiC stripping guides are fine.  The full wells cork handle is perfect, as is the nice flat black double locking, uplock seat.  They use a very nice short and rounded extension butt that looks classy and is more comfortable than most.   But this rod isn’t back in 14th place because it is a good 8-weight rod.   

 Here are my scores and comments for the BIII SX  9 foot #7  with a WF-8-F line:

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20

Feels about right with the 8-weight line.  Still heavy and not in the class with the best 8-weight rods.  The BVK ate this for lunch at all distances.

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Now it actually feels pretty good and I’m getting good loop control.  But the weight is still there and it’s annoying.  The NRX, the BVK and all the Sage rods were better at 60 feet.

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
Just slightly overloaded at 80 feet but still a hell of a lot better than the 9 foot #8 SX.  The softer tip helped me form much tighter loops.  

100 feet:  It will do 100 feet, and with less effort than the 9 foot #8 SX!

 


#14.  Loop Cross S1 Flatsman   9 foot #8    $845.00

Loop Cross S1 Flatsman

Buy Now

I’m still trying to figure out why this rod finished this far back in the pack.  This is a very nice looking rod, with excellent craftsmanship and top of the line nickel/titanium snake guides.   I don’t like the recoil strippers, which are just like the stripping guides on the NRX.   I just couldn’t get this rod to cast very well for me, especially at short distance.  The stiffer tip and the heavy weight played a big part.  If the action were a little faster, with a softer tip, this would be a far better performing rod.  This is another rod that uses the good 3M nano silica resins so it is going to be very strong.    I did like the very comfortable and good looking full wells cork handle.  The reel seat is different, that’s for sure, but it’s attractive in its own way.  It uses very good large size double locking rings and a nice big extension butt that will be comfortable fighting fish.   The blank finish is a flat black, with jet-black wraps.   I’m going to have to re-think my scoring on this one.   I’d pick it over a lot of higher scoring rods to fish with.   It’s not close to the very best rods, but it’s a nicer rod to fish than the Winston BIII SX 7, the Rugged Creek, the Mystic Reaper and even the Loomis Pro 4X. 

Performance at 35 feet: 16.5 points out of 20
Almost no feel in close compared to the Helios 2 or the NRX.  Heavy too.  Not pleasant at all.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Not nearly as solid or as accurate as the NRX.  Feels just average.  OK, but not great.

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
It was hard to get any good tight loops at long range.  Nowhere near the control or the power of the NRX. 

100 feet:  Not a problem but the weight is tiresome. 

 

#15.  ADG Signature Series Titanium   9 foot #8     $499.00

ADG

Buy Now

This is a fairly fast action rod, but a heavy one.  The heavy overall weight and swing weight is the deal breaker for me.   It doesn’t look that great either.   I’m not sure where the titanium comes into play but maybe that is why it is so heavy.    This rod is flat graphite gray with black wraps.  The guides are heavy chrome one-foot guides that look OK and they are certainly sturdy enough.   Then they use two more standard SiC stripping guides.  A full wells grip is used, along with a dark silver anodized, double locking reel seat.  They use a good extension butt with a large hard foam cap that looks like it will be comfortable playing fish.  Another import rod, probably from Korea.  

Performance at 35 feet: 17.5 points out of 20
Too stiff and too heavy.  Very little feel. 

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
OK, but not on the same planet as the TFO BVK!

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
Pretty good but nothing special.  The weight would wear me out if I had to cast long all day.

100 feet:  Yes, but you’ll have to work for it. 

 

#16.   Hardy Proaxis-X    9 foot #8     $699.00

Hardy ProAxis

Buy Now

Another disappointment for me, as their One-piece Proaxis 9 foot #8 is such a sweet rod.  This one is a heavy clunker.  Just no other way to cut it.   It is a whole lot heavier than the best rods.  The swing weight was an astronomical 11.2 oz!  Only the TFO Mangrove and the Winston BIII SX 8 were worse.   And you’ll see them finishing behind this one!     This rod is just too stiff, too slow and too heavy.    The action is far slower than the One-piece, which is just terrific, with its nice soft and flexible tip.    Howard, I know you can do better, as you gave us one of the best 5-weight rods in existence, The Hardy Zenith - so re-design this beast.     

At least they do use big diameter nickel/titanium unbreakable and flexible snake guides but this rod also has the hated recoil strippers.   At least they won’t break.   The full wells handle is excellent, with typical Hardy very high quality cork.   The double lock, uplocking anodized reel seat is much better that what they gave us in the past, a nice improvement.  Then a good extension butt is used to finish it off.   This is a Hardy Sintrix Blank, built with 3M silica reinforced matrix resin, and these blanks are tough as hell.  The blank color is a handsome gray with dark gray wraps.    The epoxy finish on the guides could use a diet.  It is way too heavy.  But that is often what you get with one-coat finishes. Here is another rod that would work well with a #9 line.    Only at long range did this rod load well.

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
Gets it done, but with no feel and very little accuracy.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
OK, but just average.  I’m not excited like I am with the One-piece.

Performance at 80 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Now the stiffness of this rod comes into play and it performs a lot better at long range.

100 feet:  Yeah, but it’s not pretty.   And your arm is going to ache.

 

#17.  TFO Mangrove            9 foot #8               $249.95

TFO Mangrove

Buy Now

We had high hopes for this rod since we knew that the BVK was so terrific.  But the Mangrove proved to be just heavy and mushy.   I have no idea why they slowed down the action compared to the BVK, but they did and this was a big mistake.  The overall weight was a good one-ounce heavier than the BVK, and the swing weight was the heaviest we measured, making this a very unpleasant rod to cast.    At least this is a good-looking rod, with a nice rust color with darker rust wraps.   The guide set up is fine with good-sized hard chrome snake guides and two big SiC strippers.    We especially liked the good-looking full wells cork handle with some fancy narrow rings at the upper end.  The reel seat is far better than what goes on the BVK.   A nice gray anodized double lock aluminum seat with much larger locking rings than found on the BVK.   This made it much easier to really crank down and securely lock up a big saltwater reel.  Hopefully they will use this seat and handle set-up on the BVK in the future.    A nice looking extension butt is used too.

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
Not much feel other than all the weight in my hand. 

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20
A work out, and I can see that this isn’t going to be much fun if you had to fish this rod all day.  Accuracy is pretty crappy too.

Performance at 80 feet:  15 points out of 20
Forget it!   Can be done, but better wear a full coverage motorcycle helmet.

100 feet: A one-word answer - NO.

 

#18.  Winston BIII SX   9 foot #8 (with 8 line)    $835.00

 

Winston BIII-SX 8 weight

Buy Now

First I should tell you that I’m a Winston fan.  But this is one of the worst rods they have ever produced!    It is far too stiff for a #8 line rod, and it is heavy as a brick!   The swing weight was a terrible 11.9 oz.  Only the TFO mangrove was worse.    Part of the blame for this goes to the God-awful, heavy snake guides they used.   The overall size was OK.  What I’m referring to is the size of the wire of the snake guides.    These guides were even worse on the first run of rods but then enough people complained that they did go to smaller wire guides.  But these are still WAY too big and heavy.    You put very heavy guides way out on the tip of a rod and bad things happen.  Especially in swing weight.   

But this rod is just too stiff, by at least one line size.   Like that Method 8, it really needs a #9 line to get it to work.   One thing I discovered was that this rod has a stiffer tip in relation to the butt and mid section power than the BIII SX in 9 foot #7.  This hurt, especially casting at close range.    Like all Winston rods, it is finished with a gorgeous emerald green.  They use decent SiC stripping guides and the full wells cork handle is excellent, one of the best you’ll find.  The reel seat is a nice flat black anodized double lock seat with a good-looking extension butt.   This is a very good-looking rod, but it sure casts ugly!    We’re thinking that this rod is definitely the winner for the rug beater competition, at least for 8-weight rods.   If you plan to fish this rod for a whole day, better line up a good massage therapist, and book an hour – just for your arm and wrist!   

Here are my scores and comments with a WF-8-F line:

Performance at 35 feet: 15 points out of 20
Feels extremely heavy in my hand with almost no feel in close. This needs a #9 line for sure at close distances.   The BIII SX 7 was far better with the 8 line.

Performance at 60 feet:  16 points out of 20
Oh my God, this is just awful. The heavy swing weight is killing my wrist and the accuracy sucks. 

Performance at 80 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
Finally it starts to load with the WF-8-F line.  But it is still a chore to cast.  I can really tell the difference between the actions of the 7 and the 8.  The 7 is much faster and much more pleasant with an 8 line.

100 feet: Sure, no problem.  But I could get 10-15 feet more distance with the NRX and far tighter loops.

I guess I should have rated this rod with a 9 line as well, like we did with the Sage Method 8.   It would have helped but even going to a heavier line wasn't going to elevate the performance of this rod much.    In every Shootout, there is going to be a loser and you are looking at it! 

 

 

One Piece Rods   

In addition to our testing the best 4-pc. eight weight rods, we also wanted you to see what both G.Loomis and Hardy are doing with the one-piece rods and how they would compare to the 4-piecers.     Personally I love using the one-piece rods when I can.   I keep several in Florida and use them down there in sizes 8 for snook and redfish, all the way up to #11’s for big tarpon.    Hardy has had the only one-piece rods until this year when G.Loomis came out with their NRX Pro 1 rods so we wanted to give you our take on both of these rods.

We all felt that both of these rods are excellent, and both perform extremely well. The Hardy has a very nice soft tip making it the best rod in close, but it doesn’t have the beans that the Pro 1 has, so at longer distance the NRX was slightly better.   Both of these rods have a very low swing weight, and this is what makes them so delightful to fish all day.   You also never have to worry about the ferrules working loose since there are none.   If you have a place where you can keep and use these one-piece rods, you’ll definitely want one or more.   In Florida, I keep all four sizes – #8, #9, #10 and #11.   That is all I fish when I’m down there.   In general I like the Pro 1’s better, but in the 11-weight I end up using the Hardy most of the time.  It is better at long range and has a little more power for playing big tarpon.    

These one-piece rods are all 8 feet 10 inches.  This is because they will go into a nine-foot shipping container, which is easily shipped by UPS or Fed EX for only about $20.    And if you buy one of these rods from us, we’ll ship it to you for free!

 

 

#1.   G.Loomis   NRX Pro 1      8’10”  #8       $725.00

G. Loomis NRX 1 pc

Buy Now

This rod is a little heavier than the Hardy Proaxis but still very light in my hand.  Like the 4-pc. rods, this is available in two colors.  A dark green with matching dark green wraps, or the natural graphite color with robin’s egg blue wraps.  I like both.   With the green rod, a black reel seems to go best as it matches up with the black anodized components on the reel seat.  On the “blue” wrapped rod, most other colors look good.   Guides are pretty much identical on both rods.  Two recoil stripping guides are used, followed up with the good nickel/titanium, unbreakable and flexible snake guides.   A nice cork handle of Steve Rajeff’s special design is used and the reel seat is the good Loomis single locking ring with sliding band seat and a graphite insert.  The rod has a short extension butt.  So light in my hand that I can cast it all day and not feel a bit of fatigue.

Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20
A bit heavier than the Hardy, but still a very nice casting rod in close. 

Performance at 60 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Terrific.  Very nice tight loops and plenty of power.

Performance at 80 feet:  20 points out of 20
This is as good as it gets.   Very tight loops and excellent accuracy. 

100 feet:  Sure, no problem, but this won’t cast as long as the 4-pc NRX. 

 

#2.  Hardy Proaxis-X    8’10”  #8     $659.00

Hardy ProAxis X 1pc

Buy Now

This is a very light rod, in both overall weight and swing weight.    To give you an idea, the swing weight was only 9.3 oz.   The swing weight of the Hardy Proaxis-X in the 4-pc. was a wrist tiring 11.2 oz!  Both James and I have been using the Hardy one-piece 8-weight a lot since it’s introduction, both here in Montana for slinging streamers and in Florida for snook and redfish.   It has been a joy to use.   The latest rods are coming with a nicer, more conventional anodized reel seat with double locking rings and a nicer short extension butt that you’ll find on the NRX. The cork handle is the standard Hardy full wells, and is just about perfect.   The best cork you’ll find anywhere.  This rod has a slightly faster action than the NRX and a very nice softer tip that I like.  It is definitely lighter than the NRX, but on the other hand it does not have the power of the NRX, especially at long range.   Guides are pretty much identical on both rods.  Two recoil stripping guides are used, followed up with the good nickel/titanium, unbreakable and flexible snake guides. 

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20
Just superb.  This rod is very light in my hand and a real pleasure to cast in close. Nothing in our shootout can match this at 35 feet.  Not even the Helios 2. 

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
Still very good, just not as solid as the NRX and not as accurate.

Performance at 80 feet:  19 points out of 20
Excellent, but nowhere as good as the NRX at longer ranges. 

100 feet:  Yes, but you’ll have to work at it.