Revolutionary Rods

This shootout starts out like all our other shootouts do.  First we tell you how the 2011 8-weight shootout will go down in history as the most anticipated, most competitive shootout we've ever had.  Next, we explain the new and dramatic improvements in rod building materials, resin systems, design, lightness, power, control, and overall feel.  Finally, we tell you to buy these new rods because they are so much better than the one you have now collecting dust in the closet.  We even throw in a guilt trip to buy from us since we went through all the hard work to bring you the shootout. Well, I suppose this shootout starts like all the others for the same reason - at that particular moment in time - it's true. 

In my eyes, 2011 represents the pinnacle of rod development, providing a stage not only for the world's best freshwater fly rods, but also the best saltwater sticks on the planet.  If you like targeting big fish, read on, you are going to like this shootout...

Searching for the perfect stick

It's almost like buying a puppy.  You have an idea of what you like, you research the breed, make sure it is compatible with your lifestyle, you think hard about it, pros and cons, you imagine how it feels in your arms.  You think about your carpet (potty training an issue) and convince yourself it is getting old anyway.  You imagine what your puppy will look like when he/she is an adult dog.  Maybe you even wonder what they will be like when they are 15 years old.  With the lifetime warranties these rods offer, buying a rod now means that you'll enjoy this rod for a long time, so maybe it is worth spending a little extra chedda.   We hope this article helps assist you in picking your next lifelong friend, or if nothing else, points you in the direction of our cash register.  =)

 

The game is changing . . .

Great rod builders of the past like Howells, Leonard, and Payne didn't the technological advantages that rod builders enjoy today.   They definitely didn't have companies like 3M asking them if they were interested in the newest formula of Nano Resin, allowing them to make rods up to 30 percent lighter and stronger!  The only choice for snake guides was bronze or hard chrome. They certainly didn't have the option of single foot guides, or the new high-tech nickel/titanium unbreakable guides.  No question constant advances in technology and materials has played a critical role in driving the industry forward. These latest 8-weight 4-pc. rods are getting lighter than ever, yet exponentially stronger at the same time. 

What is Nano Resin anyway?

Good question.  They use it in a lot more things than fly rods, that's for sure:  Coatings, adhesives, electronics, rubber composites, fiber composites.  If you are in the market for a new rod, chances are you've heard a sales pitch on the new "Nano Resin" rods and how much lighter and stronger they are.   I could pretend to play scientist here, but honestly don't understand this stuff well enough to comment on it.  The best article I've read on the subject was written by Ross Pernell of Fly Fisherman.

 

Thanks for all the hard work

Let's not forget - there are a lot of people responsible for the launch for new rod - an incredible amount of work from a lot of contributors has given us fantastic new rods.  THe scientists who have developed the latest combination of resins in combination with new extremely high modulus graphite, the rod designers who have spent a lot of hours to design rods using these new materials, buyers that find and select the finest cork in the world, workers that build the mandrels, roll the rods, then wrap the guides and carefully coat the wraps, all the way down to the person that ties the knot in your cloth rod bag.  We would like to give them all our thanks for giving us the finest fly rods in the world and allowing us to do things with a fly rod that we never felt possible!

Mid Range to Long Bomb

Personally, I don't give a damn how accurate my 8-weight rod is at 30 feet.  Well, I guess that's not entirely true - it actually was pretty fun casting the Scott S4s and hitting the target time after time.  What I'm looking for in a top quality 8-weight, is a smooth, light rod that has the power to throw tight loops between 50 - 80 feet.  (Although some of my buddies row anywhere between 10 feet and 130 feet away from the bank, making chip shots and long bombs occasionally required). If my guide scopes a bonefish tailing 80 - 100 feet away, I'll stare at the fish and wait for my guide to pole another 15 feet closer.  When he can't, because his skiff digs into the turtle grass, you better believe I want a rod that can launch that extra 10-15 feet...  

Good in Freshwater and Salt, (but 'Mo Fresh)

Whether I'm knee locked in the bow of a drift boat, or shooting line off the front of a flats skiff, I want a rod that will perform with authority.  Since I live here and spend most of my fishing time in Montana, the "streamer esqness" of an 8-weight is more important to me than it's saltwater accolades.  I want an 8 fly rod that will throw a 250 - 300 grain sinking line and get me into 4-6 feet deep into that "Yellowstone zone" without having to give my strip a 10 count.  Perhaps if I were more patient, (I'm not well practiced at the whole zen streamer fishing thing), I'd prefer a softer rod and a slower sinking line.  Until then, I'll take a rod that can blast a 75 foot cast to the bank with a sinking head line that will keep my heavy two-fly streamer rig 4 feet deep all the way back to the Clacka.  If I'm hosting a saltwater trip, I want a rod that will cast accurately as far I can see a tailing bone.  And I want it to have enough guts to throw a big nasty snook fly. 

Listen to the 'ole timers

I remember talking with local fishing legends like Chet Marion and Don Williams about streamer fishing in the good old days.  30 years ago on the Yellowstone, it was not uncommon to catch 20 browns over 20 inches a single Fall day.  They, and anglers of their era, including Joe Brooks, actually used 10 weights to throw shooting heads and big streamers like spruce matukas, bucktails, muddler minnows, and the Marion spruce.  Today's modern 8-weight is just about as powerful as those early 10 weights, which normally used a 300 grain shooting head.  The big difference is all the new rods are far lighter in weight and are a whole lot easier to cast. 

An 8 weight for Streamers?

I would love to see this guy in the buffet line again in about 5 more years!


Many of our customers and industry friends have suggested in the past that we do a 6-weight shootout for the ultimate streamer rod.  Poker faced and polite, I remember replying, "Yeah, that would be a good idea..." thinking to myself, I can't believe people still fish streamers with 6-weights on the Yellowstone!  I guess if you had to.  Sure, popping the banks with a size 6 black lead eye on a floating line is one thing, but throwing two huge streamers on a sinking line is another.   A modern day 6 or 7 weight is great with a floating line, but the fish in the Yellowstone are down deep and the current is generally moving right along.  Even if they see your streamer, those channel hogs aren't going to move up 6 feet from the bottom to eat.  If your fly is stripping along the bottom and crosses them in the face - what do you think is going to happen? To each his own... my weapon of choice, the 8-weight.

   Caught on a G. Loomis 9'#8 CrossCurrent GLX and 300 grain, Long cast, slow & steady strip. Last day of April, Yellowstone River.

Many of you may also know Hank Fabich, who worked as a game warden in Livingston for many years. Back in the day Hank was involved with shocking that determined how many fish we have per mile, and their size.   Needless to say, he was able to figure out a thing or two about the Yellowstone that few ever will.  "You wouldn't believe how many huge browns there are in that river."  From his experience, those big browns are always there, you just have to fish for them.   Hank is 100% adamant that the size of the fly you are fishing is directly proportionate to the size of brown trout you are going to move.   Throw 6's and 8's - you'll catch quite a few browns 16-18 inches.  Throw 2' and 4's and you'll catch the eye of 20-22" browns and rainbows.  Throw huge articulated flies that push the limits of insanity, and you'll be after monster browns.  Why do you think so many lunkers in the Yellowstone have been caught by spin fishermen chucking CD11 Rapalas and huge life-like swim baits?  

After soaking in all this information over the years, and wanting to target the larger fish in the river, I decided to equip myself with a 9'#8 weight as the ultimate streamer rod and have never looked back.  The new Loomis NRX feels like a 7 but will launch two streamers and a 250 grain line almost into the backing.  Most of my fishing buddies (who catch far more trout than I do) prefer floating lines and lighter flies.  I like fishing with their outfits every once in a while.  Their rods are a lot easier to cast a fun to twitch with.  But in the end, going fishing costs money - (gas, shuttle, food, beer, flies, not to mention the opportunity cost of getting other stuff done).  So while I'm out there, I like to fish the way I want to fish - home run or strike out.  I know the odds are against me.  Whether it has been go big or go home, 8 weight rods have almost become a way of life in the search for hogzilla.  The icing on the cake is I'll have the perfect bonefish rod ready when the snow hits or if I'm headed to Argentina or Chile in search of 6-10 pound browns and rainbows.

Master twitch Kovich adding a new perspective on streamer fishing

Aside from listening to all the old time stories, (and soaking them up like a sponge), working with some of the most crazed streamer fanatics in the industry definitely helped my technique and perspective on streamer fishing.  Working in the shop with two of the best streamer fisherman I know, Robert Kovich and Doug Mcknight drove the obsession even further.  Their tying skills pushed me to hit the vise myself and tie new and different flies, ones which larger fish have never seen before.  Fishing for fun with some of the very best guides like Eric Paulson, Bob Bergquist, Brian Sienkowski, Hank Bechard, Dave Bryan, and Marcus McGuire gave me the unique opportunity to learn from the best, borrowing a technique here and tweaking one there.  While you find a wide variety of streamer rods in these guys' hands, you better believe 8-weights are the usual go to.  

        Guide Doug McKnight with a Paradise Valley predator

Another great application for 8-weights is stillwater fishing.  Early in the season when big fish are looking to spawn they will cruise the shorelines and streamers are the ticket to catching Mr. Big. Later in the summer we'll fish the callibaetis and damsel hatches with dries until the hatch is over, but after lunch when the lunkers go deep, a 250 grain sinking line is sneaky trick to have up your sleeve.  Be it the "slow troll" or the 100 foot launch and game of strip 'n stop, the 8 weight rod is perfect.  Obviously this depends on what lake you are fishing and what part of the lake you are fishing.  No secret, when the water warms up the fish go deep to cool off and this is often the only place you can find them.  Fishing an 8-weight with a sinking line isn't as much fun as sight fishing with dries in the morning, but it's a lot more fun than quitting and going home early!  Many of our biggest fish have been taken in water 15-20 feet deep.  You could probably get that deep with an intermediate sink if you were patient enough, but again I get too bored with that.  I like to cast as far as I can and start my retrieve. 

   Guide Marcus McGuire in the Pig Pen, caught on a Pig Pen leech!

 

Hardy Proaxis 1-pc. Line Ripper!

Hardy Proaxis 8' 10" One-piece $655.00

 

Alright, so we can't count it, but in my eyes this was the real winner.  Although most anglers need to have a 4-piece rod, (especially if they are doing any traveling on the airlines), there are some anglers that can get by with a one-piece rod, especially saltwater fly fishermen that can keep a one-piece rod in their car or boat with little trouble.  Even freshwater anglers can live with a one-piece rod as long as they have multi-piece rods they can take on a plane with them.  Either that or they buy a Titanium Rod Vault which rides on top like a ski rack, giving you access to 3 pre-rigged, ready-to-go rods. 

Thing is, this was the best 8-weight rod we've seen or tested.  Guides and saltwater anglers that have their own skiffs will absolutely love this rod, and since we know they will appreciate this rod more than anyone, we felt it was in everyone's best interest to talk about our experience with this rod even though it cannot be part of our 4-pc. shootout results.

I found it hard to believe that the Hardy ProAxis 1pc and the Hardy ProAxis 4pc are made by the same company.  The two are different as night and day.  The 1 pc is unbelievably light.  Casting with it feels like you're somehow managed to temporarily go to the moon where there is very little gravity.  It is fun to cast up close, extremely accurate at mid distances, soars like a dragon, and will throw a 300 grain sinking line with ease.  This rod goes beyond what I had expected from Hardy or any rod manufacturer!  It goes beyond the laws of nature.  This rod's performance is off the richter scale.  I will sooner give Hardy my hard earned cash before I give them this rod back!  Accolades galore on this one to all who work for Hardy - you just made my fishing year more fun, so thanks for that.

By the way, we had the opportunity to cast the 4 and 5 weight 1pc Zenith rods and we are pleased to report they are just as good if not better than the 8 weight version!  I thought they made even the Zenith 4pc models feel bad.  The game has been changed.   Our advice - buy one now, you won't regret it!

 

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  21.5 points out of 20

WAY better than every rod tested. Incredibly light and as smooth as it gets.  Easy to cast off wrist – the only rod that felt better than the Scott in tight.  It has a completely different feel, and far better casting performance than the Proaxis 4 pc model. 

Performance at 60 feet:  22 points out of 20

This rod feels possessed by some kind of Voodoo magic.  These rods may be assembled in Korea but the blanks bust have been rolled and baked in the Congo.   How else could the rod cast so well at every distance?  Head scratcher.  I wonder if 1-pc rods are illegal in casting competitions?  This rod should be illegal.   It certainly isn't fair to compare the other shootout rods to it.  Awesome feel – extremely tight loops, you can punch it when the wind picks up, or cast it with ease.  The rod does the work for you, much like today's best 1 wood drivers. Wide sweet spots and let her rip without even trying.  Even your grandma could throw this rod 60 feet.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 21 points out of 20

Throws a major long bomb with authority!   Did you see that!?!? Did I do that?  There's no stage fright with this rod in your hands.  Almost scary how tight of a loop you can throw with this rod.   The sweet spot feels wider than the English channel, making it difficult to throw a tailing loop, even on purpose!  

Performance with Sinking Line: 21 points out of 20

WOW!   First rod I decided to turn around and cast directly into a 25 mph wind - which it punched through with ease.  Also first rod I cast into the backing. WAY lighter feel and much nicer tip than 4 pc version.  I would not want to be another rod company trying to play king of the hill with 1-pc rods right now, having to compete with this One-piece Hardy Proaxis 8-weight.

 

#1 G. Loomis NRX  9 foot #8, 4-pc.  $760.00

                                            

 

"The 9'#8 NRX is extremely light weight with an impressive power to weight ratio. The rod is a race bike with a cork throttle!"As usual, Loomis slips into the ring with the heaviest gloves for the best saltwater fly rods on the planet.  Others claim it, but G. Loomis shows it; they are the boss of big rods.   No one can deny the fact that Steve Rajeff is one of the world's best casters.  Where do his talents really shine?  $1000 casts into the bleachers.  I put my rent money on him.  People tend to like the things they are really really good at.  Steve is really good at blazing 120 foot+ casts and designing rods that will achieve precisely that.  Check out the video below and tell me that Steve doesn't understand a thing or two about what it takes to make a great fly rod.

"So that's the essence of it... It's lightness, it's strength and control that you can feel..."


Rajeff has mastered the art at building extremely strong rods that also have a soft, flexible tip. The beautiful thing about the NRX rods is how nice they feel. Most 8 weight (and up) rods feel like pool cues, but Steve has found a way to combine sheer power with incredible sensitivity and feel. The result is a rod that cannot only turn an alligator around in its tracks, but also a rod that feels light and is easy to cast. This comes in handy, especially if you are trying to dredge a channel in the morning or if you pounding the banks of the Yellowstone all day with two big streamers. Even the Cross Current, which is the real deal, feels heavy when compared to the much lighter NRX.


In the same way you’d expect Tom Morgan to have a sweet 3 weight with supreme accuracy and unparalleled feel at close range, you can bet that Steve Rajeff has an 8 weight that can shoot line to the moon, yet still have great feel and performance at all distances.

This rod’s sweet spot is a wide as you'll find in any 4pc model, (meaning if your timing is a little off when you pack in the power, the rod will still compensate and throw a powerful forward cast).   This is especially handy if you have some mangroves (or willows) in your back cast and are forced to speed up your timing to avoid hooking the branches behind you. The wide sweet spot also comes in handy for those buck fever moments on the flats when you see a monster bonefish swimming your way and your knees begin to shake... it’s nice to have a rod in your hands that you know is going to perform under the most stressful circumstances.   That it will get the job done when it counts most.  That's what this rod is all about - launching perfect casts every time. If you punch a lot of these other rods, you’ll have a tangled mess on your hands.  With the NRX, you'll be back celebrating at the lodge with a victory Monte Cristo #2 smoke, instead of drinking multiple extra margaritas to ease your pain of casting just 10 feet short of that 10 pound bone. 


For saltwater anglers, the ability to throw accurate, tight loops into the wind is as important as a dead drift on the Spring Creeks.   Anglers who have the ability to consistently throw longer, more accurate casts will present the best shots, and in the end, (like soccer or hokey), those with the most shots usually win.  I'm not trying to say if you buy this rod it will make you'll be a better fisherman, I'm just saying with this rod in your hands, you are best prepared for whatever swims your way.  $760.00 is a lot of dough, but if you are already paying thousands of dollars for the best lodging and guides, it only makes sense to buy the best rod for the job.   Add one of the best saltwater reels, like our favoriteTibor reels, and you have the finest 8-weight outfit on the planet.  THe cost a our favorite Best 8 Weight Outfit?  $1,556.95.  The feeling of catching a grand slam twice in one week?  Priceless indeed...

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
Very light, extremely accurate presentations. Good even in wind. Would require a 9 weight line if you want to feel the rod load more, still easy to use your wrist to cast off the tip of the rod. Native Run, Scott S4s, TFO BVK, and St. Croix felt lighter with nicer flex at this distance. Still acceptable and pleasing to cast.

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20
Felt best of all rods, and the most accurate at this distance. Incredibly light yet with enough spine to dial in accuracy. Crisp and effortless tight loops at sixty feet. This is the benchmark to test all other rods against. Easy to punch in the wind if you want to drill it, but also easy to lay one out there like you're not even trying. Much Lighter than Xi3, easier to cast than everything but 1 pc hardy. No work what –so-ever – perfect balance, way smoother than others. Best tip out of all 4 pc models, giving it a lightweight feel, smooth action, and an abundance of energetic power. Starting to believe all the hype about the best rod ever built. 


Performance at 85-100 feet: 20 points out of 20
Oh yeah!  Impressive flex and build of power – you can almost feel Rafjeff’s mastermind at work with this rod in your hands. Gun Slinger! I would call it a canon but it feels much lighter than that. Tighter loops than Fruit of the Loom.   An extra zing at the right moment sends your line soaring through the guides with zero resistance. What a fun rod to cast! Absolutely drills it out there with more casts near the plate than any other rod. Line screamer. I feel like John Elway, throwing that perfect spiral bomb all day long. Super wide sweet spot with explosive power.


Performance with Sinking Line: 19 points out of 20
A close second behind my favorite streamer rod, the CrossCurrnt GLX. Can’t carry as much line in the air but shoots line very well. Felt much lighter than CC GLX and nearly all the other rods.  Plenty of power and punch, no tailing loops.   250 grain was better match than 300.

 

#2 G. Loomis CC GLX  9' #8, 4-pc, $680.00

In my opinion, the CrossCurrent GLX is still the Gustav of all eight weight rods. (The Gustav was the world war II, German engineered monster gun which could fire shells weighing 7 tons accurately at a target 22 miles away). Sure, the CrossCurrent is heavier than some of the newer Nano-resin rods, but it's got one hell of a bang.  If you are trying to get maximum distance with a huge fly out of every cast, this is still your stick. It is the only rod that I felt could handle a 300 grain sinking line, (250 still recommended). If you own this rod you know what I mean. It’s the real deal.   If you don’t, perhaps you should pick one up before they are discontinued. 

This is the real deal right here ladies and gents... If you are looking for a heavyweight knockout, either while throwing a 300 grain sinking line or casting as far as you can from the beach you can't beat this rod.   It's unique competition-style casting grip not only works well for stripping streamers, (holding the line in your casting hand) but it also allows you to get the best “pop” off your forward cast. This rod has super wide sweet spot and is good for both beginners and experts alike. 

Loomis doesn't make a 1pc NRX yet, but they do have a 1pc Cross Current GLX that I'd love to try.

 

 

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
A little choppy up close, but still very accurate. Casting with more wrist action helps load the tip, making it feel slightly less stiff.  A 9 weight line would help at this distance, but this distance is not where you are trying to cast 90% of the time.

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20

Powerhouse! Lighter than Xi3, not as light as NRX. Superb accuracy and confidence to hit the target.  Maybe it's because I'm so used to this rod, but I feel like I can't mess up my timing. Early, late, too quickly, no matter how I come through my forward cast, the rod adjusts and simply takes care of business.  Audible "snap" on the plate target, even outside with the Livingston wind.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 21 points out of 20

Launchville…. My pick so far for the best distance. Although heavier than NRX it gives me more confidence to hit a home run every cast.   Definitely gives your forearm a work out at the end of the day!  

Performance with Sinking Line: 20 points out of 20
Carries most amount of line in air with greatest control of all rods. The only rod in our shootout that works well with 300 grain line. 250 still preferable for most anglers, even experts. One of the few rods I you can cast the entire line with confidence.

 

#3 Temple Fork Outfitters BVK  9'#8, 4-pc.  $249.95

                                                  

 

$250 DOLLARS PEOPLE!   "Gimme me two of them 8 weights, (ones a backup), and gimme that 10 weight too..."  This rod should have won since it is awesome and you can buy 3 of them for the price of some of these rods.  The BVK performs almost as well as the best high-end rods at an absolute steel of a price. 

There's a lot you can do with an extra $500 bones in your pocket.  You could put it towards a black Tibor everglades to match, or you could book an epic September hopper day on the Yellowstone, buy a Harrop Master Collection, ...  Heck you could probably even coax your neighbor's kid into mowing your lawn for 2 years!  Can you imagine never having to mow your lawn for a couple years, ANDhaving one of the best 8 weights in the world to go fishing with?

Not buying one would be ludicrous, even if you just buy one for a backup rod - who hasn't broken an 8 weight on a saltwater trip before?  It's not like you can walk back to the fly shop and exchange it for a new one, you're stuck with what you brought. Be a boy scout, bring backup.

Just a few quick words of praise to master caster Bernard Victor Krey - great job fine tuning this rod!  But don't keep up the good work, you're putting us out of business.  =)

I will say one thing - plan on waiting for this rod, because there isno way supply is going to keep up with demand at this price and performance.   It will be worth the wait.

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20

Works exceptionally well casting off the wrist – only Hardy 1pc and Scott S4 were nicer at this distance.   Incredibly light swing weight and feel.  Equally light as Helios but better soul. A sweet stick indeed! I even tried it lefty - it felt awesome too.

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20

Wow! Once again, nice work Lefty! Incredible feel, super light – great stick. Should really be a $650 rod. Effortless, tight loops.  You need to go try one!  I had better success when I slowed my casting stroke down and simply let the rod do the work. When compared to other inexpensive models, the BVK blew everything else out of the water and is hands down the obvious winner in this category. It was even better than most high-end rods although the NRX, CC GLX, St. Croix Legend Elite, and Hardy 1pc had just a nudge more punch.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 18 points out of 20

Not nearly as much line control or accuracy as NRX, CCGLX, or Legend Elite, but good enough to put a fat smile on my face... all the way to the bank! 

Performance with Sinking Line: 19 points out of 20

Here's where I was really impressed with the BVK.  I didn't expect it to be able to throw long with a 250 grain but it was an absolute bomber.  I'm going to buy one of these rods for my clients to use in the spring for streamer fishing the Yellowstone.  Almost on par with my CC GLX.   Even holds more line in the air than NRX and Xi3!   Incredible rod for the money – perhaps the best value EVER in a fly rod along with the Winston Passport 5 weight.

 

 

#4 St. Croix Legend Elite 9'#8, $470.00 

                                                

 

St. Croix has successfully carved a niche for high performance rods at an affordable price. Their new Nano-resin saltwater Legend Elite 8 weight magnifies this goal ten fold. Not only does the rod costsignificantly less than most other high-end rods, it also castssignificantly better! To me, this rod is a no brainer - a true win/win situation for everyone: maker, buyer, and seller.   This stick has the power to punch my line into a stiff Livingston headwind every cast.  And while it brings the heat, it might just fly away in the wind if you put it down wrong.  With a wide sweet spot, beginners and experts alike will appreciate how easy it is to get this rod dialed into your stroke.  Also different from all rest, if get this rod in the sun, you'll notice an explosion of Bermuda blue colors in the bank. Candy paint blinging!  Love the oversized but light rims (shooting guides), still trying to figure out where the hydraulics are.  Buy this rod right now, it's pimp 'in!

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20

Pretty damn sweet. Not as nice as the BVK, Scott S4s, or the NRX, but nothing to complain about either.  Feels very light in your hands after casting CCGLX, Xi3, and ProAxis.  

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20

Hello!  Due to this rod's insanely light feel and impressive power, I couldn't help but instantly want one. To me, it felt every bit as nice as the NRX at this distance. Super smooth, super accurate, right on the money. Knuckles to St. Croix on this rod! Boo ya - fish in the net...

Performance at 85-100 feet: 19 points out of 20

The one reason to step up in price and get this rod over the BVK is for it's long range castability.  This rod could handle a little more punch than the BVK and could consistently throw longer for me.  If you're main purpose for an eight weight is to let her rip and you're not wanting to break the bank, you just found your rod.  

Performance with Sinking Line: 19 points out of 20

Another solid performance with the 250 grain... I felt confident with this rod in my hands - kind of takes the "duck" out of "chuck and duck" streamer fishing.  You'll definitely be able to stand tall and fire away with this rod in your hands, no helmet required!

 

#5  Sage Xi3   9' #8, 4-pc.  $725.00

                                                  

This rod grew on me over time.  Actually, I was attracted to it's gorgeous looks immediately, but I didn't really care for her feel at first cast.   This is mostly because I was testing it toe to toe with the Loomis CCGLX, NRX, and Hardy 1pc.  After putting down the faster Loomis rods and ProAxis 1pc, I was rushing the Xi3 by not slowing down my casting stroke to fit the rod. Once I fell into the natural rhythm of this rod, I could feel it come alive and fell for it's  super smooth power.

Still, to me it felt a little tip heavy when compared to the NRX, BVK, Helios, and Legend Elite.   Also, at maximum distance, my consistency was not as good as the CrossCurrent or NRX.  Just couldn't punch it the same, especially in the wind.  As much as I enjoyed the feel of this rod at 60 feet, didn't care for this rod as much when throwing streamers.  I was surprised, one would think with it's raw, smooth power would be ideal for throwing a sinking line.  Unfortunately with a 250 grain, the tip felt heavy and slow. 

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  16 points out of 20

Not great but better than CC GLX. The Xi3 seemed heavier at this distance than most others except the Hardy ProAxis, Imperial, and Redington. The rod was hard to load at 35’ but felt pretty good at 40’ and much better at 45’.

Performance at 60 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Smooth 4 stroke power. At this distance, this is perhaps the smoothest rod in the bunch.  This rod’s traditional and progressive flex is sure to be appreciated by Sage fans and experienced casters.  No need to shoot any line, this rod can handle it accurately in the air. Easy to pick up and put down the line at this distance –a powerful rod that makes a smooth transition of progressive power from butt to tip.   Accurate, but noticeably heavier than NRX.  Still drills it in there though!  I feel like Indiana Jones cracking my whip. 

Performance at 85-100 feet: 17.5 points out of 20

Heavier and not nearly as accurate as the NRX, or the CC GLX. Took more effort (and momentum) for me to throw the Xi3 at this distance than the top rods. The key to making this rod work at this distances is slowing down your stroke and forcing yourself to pack the power in smoothly. 

Performance with Sinking Line: 16 points out of 20

Heavy in the hand, very challenging to cast as far as loomis NRX and CC GLX because of the critical cast timing.   Seems like you can’t create as much line speed with it, and when the line drops during your backcast you grit your teeth in preparation for the articulated streamer heading your way.  Not my pick for the best streamer stick due to the heavy and slower feel.  I hear the new Sage "One" address any weight issues one might have.

#6 Loomis NativeRun GLX 9' #8, 4-pc. $685.00

This rod is an excellent choice if you are more interested in great feel from 45-60 feet and less concerned with banging out 80-100 foot casts. This rod is all about smooth power in the short to medium range, but it feels lighter than the Xi3.  If you’re looking for a rod that performs well in the wind or casts better at longer distances, go with the NRX or CrossCurrent GLX instead. If you try to punch this rod too quickly, it will collapse the line and throw a tailing loop.  That being said, I still like this rod a lot - enough that I bought one after our first 8 weight shootout years ago. The Ross Evolution 4 (in Copper to match) makes for a super light outfit. 

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20

Feels exceptionally lightweight and pleasant to cast. Rod loads perfectly well when using your wrist to cast of the tip of the rod.

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20

Excellent feel, have to slow down casting stroke a bit, not the best puncher but still feels velvet smooth with a slower rhythm.  Not as good in the wind.  Similar action to Sage VXP and Scott with a little more power than both. 

Performance at 85-100 feet: 17 points out of 20

It was a struggle to get it this far with any accuracy. Only when the wind completely let up could I get it close to the pie plates.

Performance with Sinking Line: 17 points out of 20

Super light and awesome up close but I have to time it right for launchville. Excellent smooth feel, just needed more power to score higher.  200 grain might better...

 

 

#7  Scott S4s  9' #8, 4-pc.   $725.00

I was pleasantly surprised with the S4s, which I felt was a major improvement over the S3s. The S4s had incredible accuracy up close and fantastic feel at mid range.   It was definitely one of the softer 8-weights.  I was a bit surprised to see such a soft rod in the 8 weight version since their S4 5-weight was such a cannon.  For this reason the S4s lineup seems a little inconsistent, (which is fine as long as you cast before you buy, making sure it is what you are looking for in a rod). 

Bottom line: this rod was awesome up to 50 feet - one of the best, if not the best.  Past 60 feet, it's going to take the finesse of an expert to throw long.   Even if you open up the loop and aim at the stars an 80 - 100 foot cast is lucky for this rod.  If Scott kept the same formula and feel as their 5 weight version, they'd have the perfect 8 weight. 

*Side note:  I did a little research on this rod and was very surprised to read reviews claiming this rod was "not good in close but exceeded their expectations at longer distances," that "These rods were incredibly accurate and surprisingly long.”   For me, the exact opposite rang true.  The S4s' inside game felt super sweet but it lacked the beans to go yard.  I could be wrong here, but at least I was definitely not inebriated while testing. Maybe this just goes to show how different each person's casting style is. Maybe they didn't compare it toe to toe with a handful of other rods - who knows - discrepancies in opinion are bound to happen. 

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20

Sweet stick! Feels best up close of all rods.   NRX was close. Better tip up close (softer than others) and more accurate thaneverything, even BVK and St. Croix Legend Elite. Beautiful flex and feel at this distance.  This rod was really fun to cast at this distance!  It felt like I was playing whack-a-mole hitting the 4 pie plates positioned at 35 feet.  No wonder Modobi won the Backcountry Tournament this year.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20

Rod is more about awesome feel than accuracy.   Sweet spot for me was more like 45-50’. When the wind slowed down I could cast more accurately at 60, but wind really had a major effect on this rod.   Noticeable lack of power to zing it in there.   I had to slow down my casting stroke big time to make it all work.  Could be a disadvantage unless you fish primarily dawn patrol when there is little to no wind.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 14 points out of 20

Scottie, I can't get enough power!  Felt like shooting trap with a .410 instead of a 12 gauge.  Yeah if you're really really good you can do it, but it's definitely not ideal.  Unless you want to hit your guide in the head, better ask him if he can turn the boat or pole a little closer.  Very difficult to pack in the power without throwing a tailing loop. I had to hit it absolutely perfectly to use the rod to it’s potential, which was still sub-par from the winners. 

Performance with Sinking Line: ? points out of 20

Unfortunately I did not get a chance to test this rod with a streamer line, (the friend we borrowed it from needed it back for his upcoming trip to the keys). If I had to guess, I would would probably match this rod up with a 200 grain sinking line instead.

 

#8   Redington CPX   9' #8, 4-pc.   $329.00

A pretty nice rod in general.  The main thing bogging it down is the weight.  The game has changed and it's hard to stay on top.  Back in the day, the Redington CPS was by far the lightest, most powerful 8 weight of it's day.  The CPX certainly has good power but they need light lighten it up if it is going to hang with the BVK and Legend Elite.  Still, this would be a good beginner rod, as they would be able to feel the tip load, but also have a wide sweet spot for punching it.   I thought the BVK was a better rod at $79 less. 

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  17 points out of 20

Noticeably heavier than others. This rod is still a little stiff to feel good at this distance, but acceptable.  9 weight line would fix this, and for a beginner - probably a smart line to match it with.

Performance at 60 feet:  17.5 points out of 20

Actually a pretty damn nice rod at this distance. Can’t compete with the big dogs, but nice for an inexpensive rod. Drills it in there but still feels  a lot heavier than BVK and Legend Elite.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 18 points out of 20

Wow, surprisingly nice power and accuracy! Can pack the power in better than BVK at this distance. Feels similar to Legend Elite’s action but quite a bit heavier in my hand. Impressive loop control at long range. I like the fact that when you need to drop the hammer the rod won’t buckle.

Performance with Sinking Line: 18 points out of 20

Heavier in hand than BVK but still provides some serious punching power. Actually prefer CPX over both the Xi3 and VXP for streamers. Nice feel – but a little heavy like the Xi3. Still a very impressive rod for just a little over $300! 

 

#9 Orvis Helios Tip-Flex 9' #8, 4-pc.  $795.00

Got to give Orvis some credit with this rod – The Helios is by far the best 8 weight rod they've ever made.   This rod is extremely light. Only the NRX, Legend Elite, Access, and TFO were in the same ballpark.   This rod is extremely sharp looking, the craftsmanship is impeccable and it is made in Vermont. It is so light you could cast all day without wanting to take a break or reach for the Advil.  My only qualm is that if I'm going to pay nearly $800 for a rod, I need to love everything about it.   When compared to what else is out there, (at least for now), my hard earned coin lies elsewhere... 

 

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  16 points out of 20

Extremely light but struggle to load at this distance. Not nearly as nice as NRX, Native Run, BVK, Legend Elite, or S4s.  Still has that vague feel to it, like I'm casting a 5 weight line on an 8 weight rod.

Performance at 60 feet: 17.5 points out of 20

Light but lacks the power of NRX, Xi3, Legend Elite and BVK... Timing crucial, not as wide a sweet spot as winners.   Less accuracy than winning rods, the line doesn’t seem to track as well along the spine of the rod. Mid-aerial line adjustments (like creating a curve cast or reach cast) proved more difficult with a less responsive rod.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 18 points out of 20

Felt like this rod was designed to throw long, but there was still a lack of loop control when trying to knock it out the park.  Felt like the opposite of the Xi3, which felt heavy to me, but had impeccable feel and line control.   This rod is super light but squirrely.  I would be willing to sacrifice a little weight for better power and line control. 

Performance with Sinking Line: 17 points out of 20

Nicer feel than Access, but still not in the same class as the winners.  Not very good at carrying a lot of line in the air, nor pulling the line out of the water to start your cast.  Not great in the wind either when compared to the best rods.  As the Chinese would say, "Ma ma Hu hu."

 

 

10.  Orvis Access Tip Flex 9' #8, 4-pc. $375.00

Definitely feels nice and light in your hands with a noticeably lighter butt section that every other rod.   A little more “hingy” and not quite as smooth as the CPX or BVK. Like the 5 weight Access, this rod doesn’t feel as polished as it needs to be. I suppose it doesn't need to be since Orvis' marketing program is so strong they could sell an ice box to an eskimo.  That being said, I would actually consider buying this rod if I couldn't get a BVK...

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  15 points out of 20

Feels even lighter than BVK but struggled to get the rod to load at this distance. Strange rod since it feels so light you’d expect it to cast better in tight. Probably the stiffer tip on this rod was to blame. It was a struggle to cast 35’ in the wind, felt like I only had the leader outside the rod tip. 

Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20

Again nice and light. New school action hard to describe, traditional casters may scratch their heads a bit.  This rod feels the opposite of the Xi3 which is much smoother but also heavier.   This rod felt much faster and lighter than the Imperial.   It was also significantly less accurate than BVK or CPX.  The line just doesn’t seem to track very well. Light, but a loose canon.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 16.5 points out of 20

Not enough power to hang with the BVK or CPX.   Zero Gravity?  More like Zero Accuracy.  It was a real struggle to go long with this rod.   I don't see the Orvis Access winning any distance competitions in the near future.

Performance with Sinking Line: 14 points out of 20

Feels nice and light at first, even delightful at 35 feet.   Then at 60 feet the wet noodle factor stepped in.   It took a lot of effort to cast further distances, even with an open loop.  Had to aim at the clouds for maximum distance... just waiting for the streamer to smack me in the back of the head. 

 

 

11. St. Croix Imperial  9' #8, 4-pc.  $210.00

 

                                                 

A few years ago, when we did our original 8 weight shootout, the Imperial was our economical winner. Since then however, other rod companies have been putting in a lot of work into their "inexpensive" rods and the Imperial has fallen behind.  Still, for the money, this is a nice rod and should not be dismissed completely. I imagine in the next year or two, St. Croix will come out with a newer rod that will compete with the BVK on all levels.  Until then go BVK or Legend Elite.

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet: 16 points out of 20

Moderate to fast action. Med stiffness in tip and lightness. Accurate casts, felt nicer casting off the wrist, better than Access but way behind the curve when compared to the BVK or NRX. Also noticeably heavier than most rods tested.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20

Old school action was actually quite smooth. Nice loops, sweet spot for me felt more like 50 feet to me. Despite smooth action it felt dinosaur heavy when compared to winners. Could use more power, especially in the wind.  Tailing loops a problem unless your timing is perfect.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 17 points out of 20

Felt pretty darn good when the wind wasn’t blowing. Had to slow my casting stroke down significantly and was not able to punch it without getting a tailing loop however.

Performance with Sinking Line: 15 points out of 20

Medium to heavy feel in hand, Medium stiffness. More of a slow, "flinging" rod than a fast action puncher. It was the second rod to rocket a "Cheech Leech" streamer into the back of my head. Only Paul Bunyan's double hall could create enough line speed for this rod to throw two streamers and a 250 grain. 

 

 

 

12.   Hardy Proaxis  9' #8, 4-pc.   $695.00

                                                  

Well, you can't hit everything right 100% of the time.  Going into the shootout, I think a lot of people expected a podium performance from Hardy's new ProAxis 8-weight.  Unfortunately, it flopped like a fish out of water.  From the moment we gave this rod the wiggle test we knew its work was cut out for it.  The NRX 9'#10 weight actually feels lighter! 

The good news, is that the Hardy ProAxis 1pc version was absolutely phenomenal, (in fact, the best 8 weight rod we've ever tested), which makes me think with a little more fine tuning, Hardy should be able to whittle this rod into a winner by the next round.   For now, you'll be A LOT happier with the 1pc versioninstead.

James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  16 points out of 20

Almost no feel, (accept for being really stiff and heavy).   Accuracy not all that great, and a delicate presentation was nearly impossible. Felt twice as heavy as the NRX, quite a bit heavier than the Xi3.  A good way to end your membership to Gold's Gym.

Performance at 60 feet:  16 points out of 20

All aboard to Clunker central.  I'm sure there are more challenges creating a super smooth 4 piece but how can this rod be so different from the 1pc!?  A 9 weight line helps, but making a lighter nicer tip like the 1 pc version would help more.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 18 points out of 20

Finally the rod starts to shine a bit – not for accuracy so much, but in sheer distance. Pretty smooth action too, but it still feels like a beefy 9 weight rod. 

Performance with Sinking Line: 16.5 points out of 20

You guessed it, HEAVY.  The CrossCurrent is a pretty heavy rod too, but it feels so much better with a nicer tip than this rod. Getting this rod to throw tight loops was not easy for any of us.

 

 

#13  Sage VXP   9' #8, 4-pc.   $525.00

I know this rod is supposed embody the essence of old XP but it doesn't quite cut the mustard.  (It did have some pretty big shoes to fill). It's actually a lot softer, and I dare say, a little mushy, when compared to the classic XP which was light and fast.  The good news is the tips on these newer rods should be a little stronger than the ultra high modulus original versions of the past, (if a cone head even looked at the tip of an XP it broke). 

Here's the real deal.  For whatever reason, the 7 weight is the cherry picker of the line up.  It's balance of weight, power, and feel, is much sweeter than the 8 weight's.  Normally rods are pretty close when you go up or down a size, but the 8 weight feels like a totally different stick.  The 7-weight is really light, super accurate, and an awesome streamer rod if you prefer fishing with a floating line.  Get the 790 instead, it's a much sweeter stick. 

 

James' Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20

Did load relatively well up close. Also felt nice and light. Nothing extremely impressive or disappointing. Feels in the middle of the pack, average load performance but better than average weight.

Performance at 60 feet:  16 points out of 20

Not as nice as BVK or CPX.   Will be disappointing for XP fans for sure.  Feels more sluggish than the original XP, which was a bang stick and equally light.   Felt a little vague, like I wasn’t getting the most out of the rod.   Not particularly accurate. Feels slower than BVK, NRX, and the Orvis Helios. Definitely prefer the 7 weight VXP or the older 8 weight XP.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 15 points out of 20

Lack of power in general, especially when the wind picks up. Narrow sweet spot, absolutely crucial to have your timing perfect or you'll dump your loops.  Similar progressive action to Xi3 but with far less power. I was thrilled to to get 80 feet with this rod, and accuracy was out the window.

Performance with Sinking Line: 15 points out of 20

Softer action than the Xi3, and Loomis rods. Noticeably light in hand, and pleasant to cast at closer distances (30-40 feet). Again, you have to time it perfectly to go long. I also had to open my loop and make a lob shot for maximum distance. Streamer hit me in the back of the head when I tried to punch it. Would probably fish better with a 150-200 grain sinking line.

 

 

14. Winston BIIMX   9'#8, 4-pc.  $685.00

Not trying to hurt anyone's feelings here, but for me, the BIIIx was on the edge of a textbook rugbeater.  Between this rod and the Hardy 4pc, you could definitely have a hell of a piñata party.  Ah... my bad, that's pretty harsh, that's just my impression.  If you like stiffer, heaver tips then you will love this rod.  

We also considered the BIIIx instead, but like the older BIIx, the BIIIx was way too soft for an all around 8 weight.  We also tried the Winston's Passport, (which was our 5 weight best buy), but we felt the 8 weight version was actually one of the worst 8 weights we tested - a real wet noodle with fiberglass in the wind accuracy and walmart power.   I'm sure Winston will get this figured out, they do after all, make some of the sweetest trout rods on the planet.   Hopefully the BIIIMx will have a nicer, softer tip with lots of power from the butt and mid sections. 

I will say the one good thing about the Winston BIIMx was how easily it picked up line.  I had to strip almost an extra 10 feet in with every other rod.  That could be huge advantage on the river, when you miss your first shot and need to re-blast as quickly as possible. 

In the end, spending nearly $700 clams on a rod is a major investment, so for now I'll wait to see what the BIIIMx has to offer...


James’ Casting Notes:

Performance at 35 feet: 10 points out of 20

The tip feels really heavy and stiff.   Zero load at this distance, felt like I was trying to cast 10 pound test P-line and a midge larva. 

Performance at 60 feet:  14 points out of 20

Something feels drastically wrong with this rod. It is the opposite of almost all other Winston rods, (which typically possesses an awesome feel, are very light, and cast super accurately). This rod reminds me of the old Orvis Zero Gravity which had the smooth tip-flex of a mop handle.   Even when trying to soften my cast by using more wrist I could not get this rod to feel better.

Performance at 85-100 feet: 16 points out of 20

Performed best at this distance, but still embodies the essence of "wet fly" action.   Felt heavy and sluggish compared to everything else.

Performance with Sinking Line: 15.5 points out of 20

On paper, you’d think a heavy, stiff tip would be awesome for throwing a streamer line.  Unfortunately, the rod just feels heavy and not very fun to cast compared to the top rods.

 

What kinds of fish can I target with an 8?

Brown Trout, Bonefish, Stripers, Snook, Large Mouth Bass, Small Mouth Bass, Carp, Catfish, Tiger fish, Alaskan Rainbows, Steelhead, Atlantic Salmon, Labrador Brook Trout, Kings, Pinks, Sockeyes, Silver Salmon, Peacock Bass, baby Tarpon, Pike, Muskellunge, Barracuda, Permit, Jacks, Red Snapper, smaller Crocks, beaver, your neighbor's yipping Chihuahua, sting rays, yearling Sheep.

Slabola! A serious oinker from the way lower Yellowstone

Speaking of which, no need to worry anymore about "oil spilling into the Spring Creeks."  While there is no good news about an oil spill on the Yellowstone, at least it happened 100 miles down stream from the prime trout water and 50 miles above the solid warm water fishing.  The 60,000 CFS flush pushed most of the spill out of Montana in 3 days, which is a bummer for North Dakota but at least it was somewhat diluted.  It would have been worse if it happened in the spring before runoff, when flows are as low as 5,000 CFS. 

30 inch channel cat on the way lower Stone!

We need your support!


Pulling off one of these shootouts isn't exactly a cake walk- why do you think we're one of the only shops out there doing them?   A lot of hard work and some brutally long hours went into this fly rod comparison. With your support, we can continue to give you more shootouts and comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future.   We appreciate your business...