Yellowstone Angler 2013 5 weight shootout

2013 Yellowstone Angler 5-Weight Shootout

A comparison of the year’s best five-weight fly rods.

By George Anderson

With comments from James AndersonJosh Edwards, and Paul Bloch 
(click the shop guy's name to read their opinions on each rod as well)...


*Note:  Prices have likely changed since this shootout and are no longer valid.

Rod warranties and repair policies have also likely changed. 

We have left this shootout up as a reference only.


This year’s impressive collection of rods

Our shootouts have been popular with anglers worldwide, and with the new crop of fly rods for 2013, we felt it was time to test as many good rods as we could find.  Not just the best rods from American companies, but also the best rods we see from manufacturers all over the world.  So here is our latest 2013 blockbuster 5-weight shootout.  This year we tested 29 rods, but cast many more that didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.    

 There have been a lot of new rods introduced in the past two years, and we’ve been fishing a lot of them.   As in the past, new technology has played a major role in allowing manufacturers to come up with new and better designs, using higher modulus graphite, better construction techniques and new resins and adhesives from 3M and other companies. 

You, the angling public, have been bombarded with a lot of information, hype, and propaganda but now it’s time to give you the answers to what we feel are the best rods on the market today. Here at the Yellowstone Angler, we have been giving our customers honest answers on tackle and equipment for the past thirty years, and we aren’t going to pull any punches now. What you are going to read are our honest opinions. You may agree or disagree, but nearly all the e-mails we’ve received on our rod shootouts have been positive, and 90-95% of the people that have responded, have agreed with our findings, and thanked us for our efforts.   So we know we are on the right track.

You aren’t going to see direct rod comparisons like this in the fly-fishing magazines or any medium that depends on advertising to generate their income. We are going to give you winners, but there will also be losers and others that just don’t seem to measure up. We felt that someone needed to do it and we’ve tried to do it in a fair, unbiased manner. Some of the categories are objective and these are easy, but many are subjective categories and these are more difficult.

What you read here is definitely going to be controversial. Some of the fly-fishing forums are out for blood and want to tar and feather us. But most others will give us a pat on the back.

Surprise – A new winner!

This year we found four new rods that really gave the Hardy Zenith a run for the money!   Earlier this year we ran a mini 5-weight shootout in which we picked the four rods that we felt would be the cream of the crop.  Boy, were we wrong!   Two rods slipped in under the radar, and when these rods finished #1 and #2!    

We hope you will read our entire shootout, but here’s the big news:

The G. Loomis NRX Light Presentation 9 foot #5 WINS!  

Both in overall and in performance scores.

The Loop Opti Stream 9 foot #5 that sells for only $532 finishes second.   Their high-tech Cross 1 didn’t make the cut.

The new Hardy Artisan 9 foot #5 is a sweet, smooth rod and better than the Zenith for most anglers.  But the price is high.

Tom Morgan’s latest 8 ½ foot  #5 Rodsmiths graphite rod with lighter guides was amazing and by far the best rod we tested at shorter distances.

As in the past, George will write the main body of the shootout, but James Anderson, Josh Edwards, and Paul Bloch, all excellent casters and anglers that work for the Yellowstone Angler will also give you their opinions on each rod.   As you’ll read, their conclusions are very similar to my own.  

Our shootouts have been a huge hit on the Internet, and we know that this new 2013 Five-weight shoot will go all over the world in just a few hours! For this reason we’ve tried to test some of the best rods made around the world as well as some of the best inexpensive rods that we’ve found. We know that the US doesn’t have the lock on the best fly rods as it once did, and a lot of US manufacturers are now building even their top rods overseas in places like Korea where labor costs are far lower.   Two of the best rods in our comparison, the Hardy Zenith and Loop’s Opti Stream are not only built in Korea, but also built at the very same factory!   You’ll be surprised at how well some of the less expensive, $200 rods fared to the very best rods, many of which are pushing $800.  It’s all a factor of rod design, the quality of materials used for the blank, components, workmanship and then of course quality control.  

Yes, most of the very best rods are still made right here in the US, but this is changing every day.   In the next ten years I think we’ll see more and more big US manufacturers switch production over to Korea and other foreign companies just to keep the retail costs down but also increase their profit margins.  

If you are in the market for a good 5-weight rod, we are going to assume that you want a rod that will do it all -  – a rod that will cast well in close, with the delicacy and accuracy needed fishing small dries on fine tippet, a rod that will launch larger dries like hoppers seventy feet into stiff breeze, and a rod that has enough backbone to throw a couple of nymphs, a wind resistant strike indicator and maybe a little split shot as well. It also must have the guts to chuck a streamer with a split shot clamped next to the eye, and put it on that cut bank 80 feet away.  

So wimpy 5-weights don’t cut it as an all around rod.   But for the people that are dry fly purists, take a close look at the Tom Morgan rods, and the new Sage Circa.   These were magical at short distances.  

Why trust our opinions?
Many of you know that George Anderson has a stellar reputation as a great caster and angler in both fresh and saltwater. His back-to-back wins at the Jackson Hole One-Fly in ’89 and ’90 helped to solidify his reputation as a nymph and dry fly fisherman. But you may not know that over the last twenty years, rod manufacturers like Sage, and G. Loomis and Tom Morgan have asked for George’s help in designing their rods, fine tuning prototypes and final designs.   George as well as the staff here at the Yellowstone Angler has done a lot of fly-fishing all over the world, for a variety of game fish in both fresh and saltwater. This has given us ample opportunities to test rods and other tackle in a huge variety of conditions and fishing situations. The best rods, reels and other products that have proven themselves time and time again are the ones that rise to the top are the ones we want to report on in our shootouts and other tackle comparisons. We’ll try to give you our unbiased opinions so that you can make the best buying decision for your needs. 

Great Rods are not always expensive
As you’ll see in our shootout, we included some terrific rods that are very light and perform surprisingly well for less than $300.00. You are not going to find the highest tech materials, the very best components, cork handles or guides on these less expensive rods, and most are not going to cast quite as well as the very best rods in our shootout, but the gap is closing fast! 

What we have seen in the past few years is that the quality of these inexpensive rods has increased dramatically. Most of the inexpensive rods are imported but better components are being used, and the wraps, coatings and the way the rods are finished is quickly catching up to the best rods. Rod design has improved by leaps and bounds.  You’ll want to take a closer look at these less expensive rods as a good back up rod, or as a rod for a first time fly fisherman that doesn’t want to break the bank.   You’ll read about our recommendations for the best inexpensive 5-weight rod and these rods are pretty darn impressive. 

Cutting through the hype
Manufacturers have slammed us with print advertising to convince us that their rods are better than anything else on the market. I don’t blame them for trying to beef up their market share, but some of their claims are pretty far fetched and in some cases just out and out BS. The more you get pounded with fancy big ads in the magazines the more you begin to believe this stuff. It’s just human nature.

That’s where we come in. At the Yellowstone Angler, we’ve always tried to give our customers well-informed, unbiased answers that help them cut through this avalanche of propaganda, and steer them to the right rods, reels, and other products that fit their needs and price considerations.

You might disagree with us on a few things, but we now know that most experienced anglers and good casters are going to agree with our findings.  Our conclusions have been borne out by the response we have gotten from anglers all over the world!

Great anglers design the best rods
After casting, fishing and testing thousands of rods over the past thirty five years, one thing has become very apparent to me – the world’s best rods have come from rod designers who were also great anglers. 

These guys that know exactly how rods need to perform for whatever type of fishing they have been designed, and the little tweaks and design changes they need to make give us rods that approach perfection.

A lot of people come to mind and many I’ve known and fished with personally. Steve Rajeff at G. Loomis, Tom Morgan who has given us the Tom Morgan Rodsmith line but who was formerly the owner of Winston Rods, Jerry Siem at Sage, Lefty Kreh, who helped design the BVK series of rods for TFO, and Howard Croston, who is now the head of the design team at Hardy, who have given us the spectacular Zenith series of rods, is also a great angler, and one of the best anglers on England’s World Fly Fishing Team

Some of these great anglers are also the world’s finest competition casters.  Steve Rajeff at G. Loomis has won more world casting championships than anyone in history, and as you’ll read below, his latest brilliant creation, the NRX Light Presentation 9 foot #5, gave this year’s competition a serious thumping.

There are many other great anglers and rod designers that I don’t know personally and I’m sorry I can’t mention them all. What all these people have in common is that their knowledge and ability that they have gained as anglers and casters has produced the best rod designers the world has ever known.

Our Testing Procedures
Keeping it Apples to Apples 

In testing rods where there are only very subtle differences, even small variables can skew the results. We’ve found that just taking the time to strip the line off one rod and re-string another rod is enough time to loose your feel for minute differences in flex or accuracy. So for this shootout we wanted to have at least ten identical reels set up with the exact same line and leader. This way we could switch immediately from one rod to another, even with 50 feet of line out lying on the grass, and be able to detect even tiny differences in the way these rods performed. It also allowed us to keep a couple of the best rods loaded up as benchmarks with which we could use when comparing the other rods, casting them head to head. 


Ross Evolution fly reels

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As in past 4-5 weight rod shootouts, we used the Ross Evolution #2 reels. These are the most popular reels we have ever sold here in our shop, and for good reason.  They are very light, they have an excellent drag, and the craftsmanship and finish are absolutely first rate.    For our 2013 five-weight shootout, we again chose the Ross Evolution LT #2. The LT is a wonderful reel, even lighter than the Evolutions of the past, and it has an improved drag design that makes the adjustments easier and more dependable. The frame and spool have been re-designed to allow for more ventilation as well as reducing even more weight. Even better, the price is a reasonable $299. And you can pick from three attractive colors! The new 5-weight rods are lighter than ever before, so a nice light reel is the perfect compliment to a light rod. The Evolution LT #2 weighs only 4.1 oz. empty and about 5.4 oz. with a #5 line and 100 yards of 20 lb. micron backing. Remember – Lighter is Better!


Scientific Anglers GPX line

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Again this year, we decided to use the standard Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX and Trout lines for all our test reels.  The GPX taper is more suited to most of the stiffer, medium fast and fast action rods we are testing. It is about a half line size heavier than their more normal Trout Taper.  The GPX has a 26-foot belly; with more weight in the forward part of the line. Front tapers are a short 6.5 feet that allows for a quicker turnover with longer leaders and in a stiff wind.

In this past year we have tried and fished the Textured GPX lines quite a bit but our conclusions are that the standard GPX is better.  Not only will it cast farther, but it is smooth and noiseless going through the guides.  


Yellowstone Angler hand tied leaders

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Once again, we our own Yellowstone Angler 12 foot hand tied leaders that utilize Maxima butt and midsections and Rio 3X nylon tippets. Our hand tied 12 foot leaders will turn over better than ANY of the 9 foot knotless tapered leaders we’ve found. On my own 5-weight rods, I’m normally using a 12-14 foot leader, unless I’m fishing a big wind resistant hopper, and then I’ll cut my leader down to around 9 feet. For fishing nymphs I’ll also use a 12-16 foot leader, but one of Hot Butt leaders with five feet of fluorescent red butt section. For our shootout, we felt that using these long 12-foot leaders would give us a better feeling of how these rods would turn over the fly, especially at shorter distances. We did use a small fluorescent yarn indicator at the end of the leader so we could judge the turnover and fly placement.

Deflection Boards

Top rods deflection board

Click here to see different versions, including all the rods together... 

This year we decided to trace out a delfection board so that everyone can see what the flex of each rod looks like.  We did this in one of our past 8 weight shootouts and thought it might be interesting and helpful to anglers who are either looking for a stiffer or softer rod.   Here we had three baseline rod flexes, one for a perfect 6 weight, 5 weight and 4weight rod.  For the perfect 4 action we a G.Loomis Whisper Creek, for the perfect 6 we picked the Hardy Artisan, and for the perfet 6 weight we picked a Winston BIIIx.   Now you can see where the top rods landed and who's really closer to a 6 weight and who's closer to a 4.  At first we made a version of all the rods, but this was far too jumbled and busy to read easily, so we made up two separate cleaner verions, one for the top rods and one for the top inexpensive rods.   

Objective categories

Price in US $ - 10 points available
This is simple - the least expensive rods get the highest points. So the Grays GRXi+ picks up 10 points. The most expensive rods we tested, The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod, and the Hardy Artisan, both at $1299-$1345, got a 5.  Most high-end rods got 8 points.  

Try not to let price be the deciding factor in buying a rod. Today with all the lifetime warranties the manufacturers offer, even if you break an $800 rod, it may cost you only $50-60 to replace it! If you consider how much enjoyment you will get fishing one of the best rods over even a few years is may make sense to save up a little more money and go for the best. The best rods will also help you improve your casting and fishing dramatically, and help you step up to that next level more quickly.

Overall Weight – 10 points available
We don’t take the manufacturer’s word for how much these rods weigh – we weigh them ourselves. This was done on a new digital scale that was calibrated down to .0001 oz. To make things easy, we rounded up to .01 oz. You’ll find all this information in our table on statistics. Overall weight is one factor for sure, but more important for and angler is the swing weight of the rod - how heavy it really feels in your hand when you are casting and fishing. 

Swing Weight – 20 points available
You have heard this term if you are a golfer. Every pro shop has a simple scale that measures swing weight – the weight of the head of the club in relation to the shaft when you waggle the club. Since a scale like this won’t work with a fly rod, we had to come up with a better way to measure swing weight – that weight you feel out ahead of your hand when you hold the rod in a horizontal position.  The best way that we have found to measure this is by placing a foam fulcrum in the middle of our scale, position the handle of the rod so that the fulcrum sits slightly forward of the middle of the handle, then position the rod horizontally, put some finger pressure on the very butt of the rod to hold it level and read off the weight in ounces.   

Rods with a low swing weight are a joy to use and fish all day. False casting while fishing dry flies all day becomes effortless. Rods with lower swing weights help protect light tippets too, as there is less inertia to overcome as the rod tip gets jerked around while you try to set the hook. Rods with a high swing weight are not nearly as pleasant to fish, and will extract their payment in arm pump and fatigue by the end of the day.

This year we gave swing weight 20 points rather than 10 as this is really a performance category and has a huge bearing on how well the rod feels in your hand and how it performs. 

Warranty – 10 points available

Nearly every manufacturer has a “Lifetime Warranty” but this doesn’t mean you get another rod for free. Almost everyone charges a “handling fee”, and this differs from one manufacturer to another. We tried to simplify this as much as we could, but only a few manufacturers make this straightforward and easy. 

Bottom line is that it can cost you as little as $25-30 for the best warranties, or as much as $100-$200 for others if the breakage was your fault or neglect and not a defect. Also, nearly all warranties apply only to the original owner, so if you break a rod you have bought second-hand you can be out big bucks, especially on rods that have serial numbers the manufactures can track.

We wanted to give you a relatively concise explanation so that you can see how we judged this category.  Some manufacturers, like G. Loomis are making this very complicated but we’ll do our best to give you the short version. 

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

Beulah - Original owner lifetime warranty for defects must be registered within 30 days.  Breakage from misuse or negligence will be repaired at reasonable cost.  $50 handling fee.  Usually takes 2 weeks.

Burkheimer - Under warranty for life for defects to original owner.  $25 handling fee.  For other mishaps or accidents, for single-handed rods cost is $50 for tips or mids and $75 for butts.  For two-handed rods cost is $75 for tips and $150 for butts. 

Clutch - Original owner lifetime warranty.  $65 handling fee.  Usually takes 3 weeks.

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

Elkhorn - Original owner lifetime warranty.  $45 handling fee per section, butt sections are $65.  Usually takes 1 week.

Greys - Lifetime warranty for original owner.  $25 handling fee.  Usually takes a week.

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

G. Loomis - Lifetime warranty to original owner.  You send in rod and their warranty dept. examines rod.  If rod broke because of a defect, or while fishing, replacement is free. No handling fee.  If from neglect, charges can be well over $100.  NRX owners must register the new rod on-line to get a one time Wild Card that gives them a free replacement, 3-5 days.  After that, if an NRX break is deemed a defect, replacement is free.  From neglect charges will vary but can run over $100. 

Loop - Lifetime warranty to original owner. $60 handling fee.  Same day or next day shipping if they have the parts in stock, if now usually takes 2 weeks.

Mystic - Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $50 handing fee. Usually takes 1 week. 

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

Redington – Lifetime warranty to original owner, $30 handling fee. Rod is replaced with a new rod.  Usually takes 2 weeks.

R.L. Winston – Lifetime warranty to original owner, $50 handling fee. Older rods not under warranty cost $120 or more. Rods are repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

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

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

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

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths  cost varies depending on if you break a tip or butt. But repair charges are well in excess of $150. 

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



5 weight shootout swing weight

Subjective categories

Craftsmanship - 10 points available
We look at a lot of things on a rod to determine craftsmanship. Some things are pretty obvious, like the quality of the cork handle – is it individual laid up corks that are turned down on a lathe, and how good is the quality of the cork? Is it nearly perfect with few defects or did they have to use a lot of filler? Are they using pre-shaped cork handles, which are almost always inferior to individual cork rings, and of what quality? Is the reel seat well designed for the use intended and how good does it look? Are the thread wraps tight and coated smoothly? A lot of manufacturers use a one-coat finish and often this can be applied too heavily, looking sloppy and adding weight. Or it can be too thin, exposing enough of the thread to fray over time. If you want to see something close to perfection in terms of hardware, cork, guides, wraps and coatings, look no further than a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths creation.    

Little things like beautifully made nickel silver winding checks mean a lot over plastic or rubber. The overall craftsmanship of rods has improved a lot over the past several years, especially on the least expensive rods. If you look closely, you’ll notice that we didn’t award anyone a score of 10 in this shootout. That would have gone to the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod that we didn’t include in our shootout this year.

Fun to Fish/Got to Have – 10 points available
This category comes straight from the Car and Driver shootouts, but you know all about this one. If the rod looks like a million bucks and casts like it too, then any normal fly fisherman will lust for this rod. For some, it might even be considered a status symbol.   Anglers see what their guides are using, and see how this rod performs in their guide’s hands.  They know that if they get the same rod, it will take them to that next level. Surprisingly enough, often they are right. Great rods don’t make great casters, but they can sure help an average caster get a lot better in a hurry. Good anglers know the value of an exceptional rod, and price usually doesn’t slow them down one bit. After all, an angler can never have too many rods, can they?    The best rated rods in this category all have a big WOW factor.   

Double points for the performance categories

We have always felt that the most important factor in determining the best overall 5-weight rod is how the rod performs. Sure, craftsmanship, price and all these other categories need to enter into the final equation, but the real meat of these shootouts are the performance categories, and this is why we double the points here.

“Perfect 5 Performance” – 20 points available
We felt that this category was needed to reward the best #5 line rods for their superior performance and that special feel that gives you total confidence in putting your fly just where you want it at any distance. We’re looking for rods that can do it all, at any distance, with a 5-weight GPX line.  So that hurts rods that are only good in close or at short to medium distances. It also puts a big hit on rods we feel are just too stiff to be called 5-weight rods. Good examples here are the Clutch, the Redington Link and the Winston BIIIsx. Other rods are more borderline 5’s, like the TFO BVK or the Scott A4, or Sage’s One.  They get down rated accordingly.  

Performance at 25 feet – 20 points available
The first thing that most people do when we rig up a rod for them to cast out on our lawn is to see how far they can cast! What they should be more concerned about is to see how the rod performs at 25 to 45 feet, the distance that most anglers are fishing the majority of the time they spend on the water. Does the rod load well enough to give you the feel and accuracy needed at close range? Does the rod bend enough in the tip and mid section to allow easy casting off the tip of the rod, using just your wrist and very little arm movement to power the tip of the rod through the casting stroke? The best rods are usually the lightest rods, especially if you are doing a lot of false casting as you would fishing dry flies. 

A rod’s ability to make delicate and accurate presentations with small flies and long leaders is one of the keys to scoring well here. At short distance, casting accuracy is the number one factor I used in rating these rods. And a big part of accuracy is the feel you get through the handle that gives you the confidence to put the fly where you want it. I’m convinced that the key to catching more trout and especially larger trout, is casting accuracy. Fly selection is far less important. If you have something about the right size and color, you can often force-feed a selective fish with perfect presentations.

Performance at 45 feet – 20 points available
This is perhaps the most important of all the performance categories for picking the best all around 5-weight rod. At 45 feet you want a rod that will be light and pleasant enough to do a lot of false casting, fishing smaller dry flies all day long, yet have the power to launch more wind resistant hoppers and big attractor drys into a 20 mph wind and get your leader to turn over. You shouldn’t have to double-haul at 45 feet to get the rod to perform. The best rods will have the ability to throw very tight loops at this range with consistent accuracy. They should feel totally solid at this distance and the line should track perfectly. With the best rods, a good caster can place a dry fly within a foot of the exact target (at 45 feet) on most casts. On the other hand, the best 5 line rods also need to have excellent loop control so that you can form the more open loops you’ll need fishing nymphs. The rods that seem to do this best are nearly always medium-fast to fast action rods. 

The best 5-weight rods make superb rods for fishing nymphs, both at short and long range. But to do this, the rod needs to have enough butt and mid-section power to drive a couple of nymphs, maybe a split shot or two and also a big, wind resistant indicator, and put the cast where you need it at 25-50 feet. Picking one of the lightest rods with a low swing weight will give you more sensitivity and the rod’s faster reaction time will help you set the hook more quickly. A good strong butt and mid-section will help you mend line, especially if you are fishing at longer distances like 35-50 feet, using an indicator. Faster action rods with good butt and mid-section power will also help you play larger fish more quickly, allowing you to release them in perfect shape.

Performance at 70 feet – 20 points available
There are not many times when you’ll need a 5-weight to cast seventy feet and beyond, but the best rods, with an expert caster at the controls, can easily cast all the line – ninety to one hundred feet. But this also requires the ability to double-haul well and form good, long, tight backcast loops. 

There are not many instances that call for this kind of long range casting, when fishing dry flies, but I’ve sure done a lot of this firing hoppers to big fish rising along a far bank at seventy feet or more. At this distance (with little wind) a good caster with one of the best 5-weights should be able to put the fly within 3 feet of the target most of the time. The best rods should load well and still produce consistently tight loops.  If they can do that, the accuracy is usually excellent.

On big rivers, when I’m fishing nymphs at long range using an indicator, a lot of mending is required. The best rods, that have strong power in the butt and mid-section get the job done easily.

Another reason you’ll want good performance at long range is chucking steamers. Sure, a 7 or 8 weight rod would be better, but a good #5 rod works surprisingly well in a pinch. Either stick a BB size split shot right on the head of your streamer and fish it with your floating line, or better yet switch off to a WF-6-F/S 15 foot type 6 sink tip line. Now you’ll be able to launch a medium sized conehead streamer seventy-five feet with ease. The rods that I felt gave the best long-range performance were the NRX LP, and the Hardy Zenith.  But quite a few were right there on their heels.  


5-weight shootout final results


#1    G. Loomis NRX  L.P.  9 foot #5   $795.00

G.Loomis NRX LP

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A new winner that stands out head and shoulders above the best new rods for 2013.  

Going into our big 5-weight shootout, we were guessing that the Hardy Zenith would rule again, from the results in our Mini- 5-weight preview earlier this spring.  But what we didn’t have for the Mini Shootout were the Loomis NRX L.P. or the Loop Opti Stream to compare the other rods to.  The Zenith is an outstanding rod, but it is a very stiff 5-weight, right at the upper limits of stiffness and power in the 5-weight category.   The Hardy Zenith is terrific at mid to long range, but in close, it suffers from the overall stiffness.  The new NRX Light Presentation changed our thinking about all this.   It was simply fantastic in close and at mid-range.  Off the charts good!  In fact I rated both scores OVER 20 at both distances to put what this rod will do in perspective.   We were disappointed with the original NRX, which was way too stiff, too heavy and basically a clunker.  But Steve Rajeff knew that they needed to build a better 5-weight, so he came up with this new series of Light Presentation rods.   We were blown away by the 8 foot 8 inch #3, but didn’t pay enough attention to how good the 5-weight was until we got casting it with the other top rods.    It just blew everyone’s doors off!    Steve is a master at building rods with nice progressively soft tips and this is one reason that G. Loomis has made some of our favorite rods over the years. Good strong butt and mid section power, but softer tips that allow for better feel, superb accuracy and delicate presentations.

These new NRX LP rods are nice and light too.   Not quite as light as the very best rods in our test but certainly light enough to be very pleasant fishing tools and companions out on the stream.  Once I put this rod in my hand I was just so impressed by the effortless tight loops I was getting with very little effort.   Even at long range it was solid and impressive.   But at close and mid range the accuracy was phenomenal.    At 45 feet we were using a small pie plate as a target that was only 9 inches in diameter.  On most of my casts the fluorescent yarn indicator we were using as a fly was bouncing off the plate or landing within 4-6 inches, time after time.  And this was in a strong quartering tailwind of 10-20 mph!   We were all impressed.  

These new NRX LP rods are available in two colors.  The original black rod with the blue wraps and a dark green rod with darker green wraps.  Most anglers prefer the green rods.  They are using some excellent, very dense cork for the handles and combine this with a nice anodized aluminum skeleton seat with a green graphite insert.   This rod uses two unbreakable recoil stripping guides and then the rest of the guides are black nickel/titanium one foot, flexible guides.  These unbreakable one-foot guides are superb.  They keep the weight down, especially in the tip where this is so important.    These nickel/titanium flexible and unbreakable guides are expensive, but more rod companies should use them  (either one foot or the more standard snake guides).   For the little extra expense, to me they add a lot to the value of the rod.   This rod uses the standard Loomis slip over ferrule design and the ferrules are marked with dots to make them easier to line up.  

George’s Casting Notes:

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet:  20.5 out of 20
Off the charts- it is that good.   Terrific feel with a progressively softer tip that allowed effortless casting off the tip of the rod and superb accuracy.  Only one rod was better at 25 feet – the Tom Morgan

Performance at 45 feet:  21 points out of 20
Another exceptional, off the charts performance.  This is just an extraordinary rod.  Only one word to describe this at 45 feet – fantastic!  This rod is much lighter in my hand than even the Zenith, and far, far lighter than the old NRX. Very precise loop control and just unbelievable accuracy and presentation.

Performance at 70 feet:  20 points out of 20
Great balance and drive.  I could get wonderfully controlled, tight loops, even in a strong breeze.  This rod was better than either the Hardy Artisan or Hardy Zenith at long range. 

#2   Loop Opti Stream 9 foot #5   $532.00

Loop Optistream shootout 2nd place

buy now

Another huge surprise!  We knew that the Loop rods were good from previous shootouts, but this Opti Stream rod was something special!   It was everything you want in a great 5-weight – light, responsive, extremely good feel and it had just the right balance of power at every distance.   This rod can do it all and do it just a little better than our last shootout winner, the Hardy Zenith.   Lots of people (and especially the guys at Loop) are going to ask, where was the Loop Cross 1 with all the new 3M Powerlux technology?  Well, we cast the two best 5-weight Loop rods heads up here at the shop earlier in March, and decided that the Cross 1 was not nearly as good as the Opti Stream, so it didn’t make the cut!    It was heavier, had a slower action than the Opti Stream, and was not nearly as much fun to cast.  The Cross 1 is also a lot more expensive.  The Opti Stream was very impressive at all distances, but definitely better than the Hardy Zenith at close range.    The Loop rods are made in Sweden.  For those people that complain that we only test and rate highly rods that we sell, here is a great rod that we have not sold in the past.  Of course, after this kind of showing, we didn’t waste any time placing a Loop order!   So we’ll have both the Loop Opti Stream and Cross 1 rods  (their saltwater Flatsman rods are very nice) along with their superb large arbor reels.

One of the interesting things we found out about this rod is the fact that it is built in the exact same factory in Korea as the Hardy Zenith!    Of course they use different materials, different mandrels, and different adhesives but even the color is close to the Hardy, an attractive medium gray.  

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Nice and light!  Lighter in my hand than the Zenith but not quite as nice as the Hardy Artisan in close.  Accuracy was about equal with the Zenith.  A pleasure to cast.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Slightly lighter and feels better in hand than the Zenith.  Swing weight feels like the Artisan, but just a shade less control at mid-range than the very best rods.  The NRX LP, Artisan and Zenith were definitely better. 

Performance at 70 feet:  20 points out of 20
Extremely good loop control out long.  I was amazed at what tight loops I could throw, even with the wind gusting up to 20 mph.  At long range, this rod is as good as anything in our shootout.  A very solid showing - impressive! 


#3 (tie) Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8'6"#5, $1345.00

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths

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At first we were reluctant to put a two-piece rod into our 5-weight shootout, but this rod is such an outstanding 5-weight rod in every way that we wanted to let it go heads up with the very best.  Today it seems that everyone wants 4-piece rods, complaining about the problems traveling with longer rods, but I’ve found that it is just about as easy to travel with a 2-pc rod and hand carry it on any airlines as it is with 4-pc rods.  This 8 ½ foot Tom Morgan will fit in almost every overhead compartment in the aircraft we fly today.  If not there, the flight attendant will gladly stow it in the coat closet up front.  If you checked the Tom Morgan rod, there is no possible way it would get damaged in its heavy bulletproof aluminum tube with the outside cloth bag.    As you’ll see in our performance scores this incredible rod placed 2nd, behind only the NRX L.P.   

We’ve reported on the Tom Morgan rods in past shootouts, and they have always produced fantastic performances, especially at shorter distances that we are fishing most of the time.    There is NOTHING that touches this rod for feel and short distance performance.   This year Tom had a great idea – use smaller wire snake guides that are much lighter, that would make the rod lighter in the tip and more responsive.   Tom is just a genius about coming up with all these little design factors that drastically improve performance.   He and Steve Rajeff are the all time masters at building rods with softer tips that dramatically improve performance.   

When I tried the new rod with the lighter guides and cast it heads up with last year’s version. I could immediately see a huge difference.   The swing weight was much lighter and the rod just felt a lot crisper, with tremendous feel and accuracy at short to mid range.   It felt like I was throwing darts casting this rod.  It is soft though, so you just have to back off on the power of your casting stroke, and let the rod do the work.   And it doesn’t handle hard winds as effortlessly as  some of the more powerful rods.  But on the windy day that we did cast, this rod put in an impressive performance.   Even at 70 feet I was throwing very tight loops with surprising accuracy.   But Tom never designed this rod to fish at distances longer than 45-50 feet and he cringes when I tell him that we were throwing this rod 70,80, 90 and even 100 feet!  Jamie was casting this rod at 70 feet and liking it. Paul was a little skeptical that this rod had the guts to go much longer though.   So he bet Jamie $20 that there was no way that he was going to hit 100 feet with the Tom Morgan rod, and get it to lay out clean.  Jamie made a couple of casts before he got it just right and then he drilled a cast that definitely passed our 100 feet tape marker.  Paul couldn’t believe it, but paid off the $20 bet.   We were all amazed.  

Performance is just part of the Tom Morgan story.  The rest is the incredible craftsmanship that goes into this rod.   When you first see the rod case you know that you are in for something special.  The heavy maroon, octagonal rod case is the most elegant thing you have ever seen!  Even the cloth bag is something special. Then the rod itself is simply gorgeous.  The finish is the color of fine Burgundy.  The wraps are finished with multiple coats of epoxy finish that is lightly sanded between each coat, resulting in the most perfect finish you have ever seen over the rod wraps.   Not too heavy and not too light – just right.   The guides are smaller in diameter than you are used to, and Tom’s theory is that they will hold the line closer to the rod for more control.  They seem to work perfectly as you quickly see that the accuracy and presentations you are getting with this rod are on a different planet than what you experience with the other rods.    Yes, it costs a lot of money and you’ll be on the waiting list for 1-2 years before you get a rod from Tom and Gerri, since they build less than 125 in any given year.   But in the end, it is all worth it. 

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery Trout in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 21 points out of 20
The winner at this distance with another off the charts performance.   The nice soft tip and extremely good feel and the lightest swing weight of anything in our shootout make this a delightful rod to cast.  Nothing is even close!

Performance at 45 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Impressive, but the best rods were definitely better, especially on our windy day. On a calmer day though, this rod would prevail.   Superb accuracy and presentation.  Even in a hard wind, in the hands of an expert caster this rod comes alive.  You just have to learn to let the rod do the work and not force it. 

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Surprisingly good loop control.  This rod has the ability to throw very tight loops with excellent accuracy as long as the caster doesn’t slam in the power like you can with the stiffer rods.   But there is no question that it doesn’t handle the longest distances like the NRX L.P, Loop or Hardy Rods.


#3 (tie) Hardy Zenith 9 foot #5 $649.00

Hardy Zenith fly rod

buy now

Our 2011 5-weight shoot winner.   This is still a dynamite rod and if you are willing to give up a little close distance feel and accuracy, this rod will steamroller the rest of the competition.   But most of our fishing with a 5-weight rod is in close, in that 25-40 foot range, so think hard about the very best rods in our test before you go with the Zenith.   Still, you cannot hardly go wrong and if you have already bought a Zenith.  Stick with it, as it is a fantastic rod.   The thing I like about this rod is the amount of reserve power on tap.  If I need to fish nymphs with a lot of split shot, no problem.  If I need to chuck a fairly heavy streamer 90 feet, no problem.  If I need to fire a super accurate cast in a twenty-five mile an hour wind and get the fly within six inches of my target, no problem.   It just does it all with ease.   

This rod is a stiff, fast action rod at the upper end of the 5-weights in terms of stiffness.   Three words describe this rod:  Smooth, controlled power.

This rod is one of the first great rods to be built in Korea.  But the key is that Howard Croston, Hardy’s top rod designer and one of the world’s best anglers, designed this rod using 3M’s latest Sintrix resin technology. Then they build these rods using the latest manufacturing techniques, extremely good cork, top notch hardware along with tight quality control.   If you want a rod built in the US, look elsewhere.  To counter that argument, what kind of car are you driving?  Maybe a BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota  Tundra pickup or a Lexus? Or maybe just one of the cheap but good new Kia or Hyundai’s.    Not a Ford, Chevy or Dodge.   I rest my case. 

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Good accuracy but the stiffness hurts both feel and accuracy in close.  The softer tip does help but it is just not on the same level as the NRX LP, the Tom Morgan or the Hardy Artisan. 

Performance at 45 feet:  20 points out of 20
Only the NRX LP beats it at this distance.   This rod is so smooth and so solid at mid-range, and it gives me great confidence that I can put the fly just where I want it with little effort.    A terrific performance in every way at 45 feet.

Performance at 70 feet: 20 points out of 20
As good as it gets!   I could actually carry 70 feet of line in the air just using a short double haul, without shooting line as I needed to with other rods.   Great loop control and very tight loops out long. 


#4 (tie) Hardy Artisan 9 foot #5  $1299.00

Hardy Artisan

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A new rod from Hardy this year, the artisan is built in England at the Hardy factory, rather than built in Korea like the Zenith.  The resulting craftsmanship is as you would expect, close to perfect.    The wraps on the guides are amazing.  It is like there is no thread at all there when you look at it close.   This rod is far different than the Zenith.  I immediately noticed that the blank diameter is much smaller.  Howard Croston designed the action to be a little nicer for closer distance accuracy and presentation, and this is exactly what we experienced in our tests, and what was needed to improve on the Zenith.  Heads up with the Zenith, it is both lighter in hand and far better at 25 feet, in terms of feel and accuracy.  But at mid to long range it still puts in a very impressive performance.  Some of the guys here at the shop liked this rod the best of all and it is hard to argue that it isn’t.    All these top 5 rods are extremely close in performance.  

The Artisan is a beautiful bronze/gold color and has a very nice burled wood reel seat with a very positive gray anodized aluminum uplock seat.   The cork handle is typical Hardy excellence and the smaller western style grip fits my hand just right, with a nice flare at the back.   The single stripping guide is a titanium Fuji, the best, and the rest are the nickel/titanium one-foot guides like they are using on the Zenith.   This is the best guide set up I’ve seen yet.   I much prefer these terrific Fuji stripping guides to the Recoil guides that Loomis uses – Loomis and Shimano -  are you listening?? 

The action of the Artisan is both slightly slower and slightly softer than the Zenith.  In other words just about perfect. The Loomis NRX L.P. was better, but not by much.  This is an expensive rod but we’re confident that anyone that buys this rod will love it.

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19.5 points out of 20
This rod is lighter in my hand and more pleasant to cast than the Zenith.  It also performs a lot better in close, at 20-35 feet.  BUT it is not as good as either the Loomis LP or the Tom Morgan.   I can feel that this has a more parabolic action than the Zenith, but I’d still rate this as a med-fast action

Performance at 45 feet: 20 points out of 20
Perfect power and a wonderful feel at 45 feet.  This is well matched with the GPX line and delivers smooth casts with good feel and excellent accuracy.  Certainly one of the very best rods at 45 feet.  But the Zenith is just a shade better.  So is the Loomis NRX L.P. 

Performance at 70 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Extraordinarily smooth tight loops out long. It feels nearly as good as the Zenith or NRX.   A very solid performance from a great rod.


#4 (tie) Sage Circa  8'9"#5 $775.00

Sage Circa fly rod

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Sage gives us a wonderful #5 line rod this year in the Circa.   This is far lighter and smaller than their Sage One, and I feel a far better 5-weight rod.   It is soft though.  As you’ll see on our rod flex chart, this Circa was very nearly as soft as our 4-weight benchmark, the Loomis WhisperCeek GLX, which in itself is a soft 4-weight.  The Circa is designed for short distance fishing, and for this it is superb.  But throwing long in the wind is not its strong suit.    I love the feel of this rod in my hand.  It tied the Orvis Helios 2 for the lightest overall weight, but the swing weight is better than the Helios 2 and so is the performance in close.    At 25 feet, it scored a perfect 20 and the only thing better were the Tom Morgan and the NRX LP.   If the Circa had a slightly softer tip and a faster action, it would have cleaned up at 25 feet.  This rod has really a medium fast action, not the medium action that Sage claims, but it could still use just a little more butt and mid-section power.  Still it is a lovely rod and lots of fun to fish.  

The Circa has a very small diameter blank and Sage uses a neat little full wells design grip that is much smaller than what they are using on the Sage Ones. It feels perfect in my hand. The quality of cork is top notch, something we’ve come to expect from Sage.  The reel seat is a nice black anodized aluminum uplock with a beautiful walnut wood spacer.  Classy in every way.   The blank color is a dark olive/gold.   Sage uses one Fuji stripper and the rest are their standard hard chrome snake guides.  Craftsmanship, wraps and finish are excellent.

If you like to fish smaller waters at shorter distances, take a hard look at this wonderful little Sage rod.  We think you’ll be impressed. 

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery Trout in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 20 points out of 20
Slightly better accuracy than with the Artisan, but not nearly as nice a feel or as accurate as the Tom Morgan.  Very nice and light in my hand, but the Tom Morgan was noticeably lighter in swing weight.    One of the 3 best rods at 25 feet.

Performance at 45 feet: 19  points out of 20
The Artisan had slightly better control and accuracy. I also had more feel with the softer Artisan tip.  The Tom Morgan was also a shade better at 45 feet.  Both the Zenith and Loop were more solid and produced better accuracy at mid-range.

Performance at 70 feet:  17 points out of 20
The Circa will do it, but not easily.  It was tough for me to launch a hard backcast in that 15-20 mph wind we had on casting day.   So getting any accuracy at 70 feet was tough.  This rod just felt too soft and spongy to get any real performance.

#5 (tie) Orvis Helios 2 (tip flex) 9'#5  $795.00

Orvis Helios 2

buy now

This proved to be an excellent rod.   Orvis is definitely making better rods each year and the Helios 2 is a good example.   It is very light, and in fact this rod tied for the very lightest rod in our shootout in overall weight.  But this doesn’t tell the real story. Swing weight is far more important, and in this regard, the Orvis Helios 2 had nine rods either tied or better in swing weight.  It was noticeably heavier in swing weight than the Tom Morgan, Loop or Hardy Artisan.    Even though Orvis claims that this is the tip-flex, the action is still too slow for me. I guess I would call it a medium fast action, but just barely.  

The rod does cast quite well at all distances.  It is not nearly as good as the best rods in close though, and this is attributable to the stiffer tip.  The craftsmanship is typical Orvis – excellent. I love the neat little uplock seat.  Really cool looking, with a beautiful piece of wood burl in the middle of the anodized aluminum skeleton uplocking seat.  The cork handle is just perfect, with their western style grip.   This is a handsome rod with a dark blue finish with the same color blue wraps.  Orvis uses one very large Fuji stripping guide and then the rest are snake guides. Orvis is one of the companies that does use the nickel/titanium flexible snake guides, which I’m convinced are far superior to the hard chrome snake guides.   A perfect guide set up.  No one is going to go wrong buying this rod. 

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
The stiffer tip didn’t bode well for either good feel or good accuracy in close.  The accuracy was OK, but not in the league with the best rods in our test.

Performance at 45 feet: 19  points out of 20
Good control, with nice tight loops and very good feel.  This is a very nice rod overall at mid-distance.  The Artisan and Loop were definitely lighter in my hand in terms of swing weight and also better in accuracy.

Performance at 70 feet:  19 points out of 20
Great at long range, and I was tempted to give it the perfect 20.  Well controlled tight loops with excellent accuracy.   Way better than the Circa at long range.

#5(tie) St.Croix Legend Elite FRS 9 foot #5  $440

St. Croix Legend Elite fly rod FRS

buy now

The Legend Elite and the Orvis Helios2 are very similar rods.  The Legend Elite feels just slightly better to me as I like the slightly softer tip.  In the past the St.Croix Legend Elite rods have proven to be a terrific rod for the price, and like Orvis they are made right here in the USA.   The craftsmanship is excellent. Beautiful cork in the western style grip with what looks to be a birds eye maple wood insert with gold anodized aluminum uplocking seat.   The blank is a pleasing olive green.  The guides are a Fuji stripper with fairly large diameter hard chrome one-foot guides the rest of the way.  It’s tough to beat this rod for the money. This rod has always provided an excellent performance overall, just off the very top rods.

St. Croix has gone back to using a different resin to bond the graphite, and they are telling us that their new FRS resin is 5% stronger than what 3M has, so that is good news.   This rod tracks beautifully and long, smooth casts are a piece of cake.

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Nice!  Almost as good as the best rods. Very smooth and accurate with lots of feel.   This rod feels light in my hand and is definitely a great performer in close.

Performance at 45 feet: 19  points out of 20
Excellent accuracy with effortless tight loops.  But not as good as the Zenith, NRX LP or Loop (or the Tom Morgan)  Overall an excellent performance at these kinds of mid-range distances.

Performance at 70 feet:  20 points out of 20
Killer long-range performance.   Very tight loops with wonderful tracking ability and control.   Sweet!  


#6  Beulah Platinum  9 foot #5 $395.00

Beulah Platinum fly rod

buy now

Well, if the Legend Elite was one of the best mid-priced rods, here is the other one.  This Beulah has always impressed us with both their unusually good craftsmanship but also in their performance.    This rod has a nice medium fast action and casts a very smooth line.  Excellent craftsmanship and a very pretty and unusual cork grip, with different types of cork rings.  A very nice silver anodized aluminum uplock seat with a nice burled wood insert.  This blank is a dark olive with lighter olive wraps.   Guides are a Fuji stripper with large diameter hard chrome snake guides.    

When I get this rod in my hand I do notice the weight.  It is a little heavier than the best rods in swing weight, but that does not seem to affect the way it casts – it is a great rod that lays in some smooth, nice presentations.   You get a whole lot of rod for only $395.00!  

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Very good, just not great.  The weight hurts but the softer, faster tip on this rod gives nice presentations and better than average accuracy.

Performance at 45 feet: 19  points out of 20
Solid and accurate, with a nice feel.   A very good performance at mid-range.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
The Beulah gets the job done easily.  Good, but the best rods in our test are far better. 


#7 (tie) Scott G2  9 foot #5  $745.00

Scott G2 fly rod

buy now

This has always been one of Scott’s best light rods.  Just about the perfect medium fast action with a lighter, more flexible tip that I like a lot.   This rod uses spigot ferrules rather than the more common slip over ferrules, and this keeps the weight down and also gives a more consistent one-piece action.   They just peel off the tape that all manufacturers use when they bake the rods in an oven, and don’t sand the blank down, but just finish it with clear epoxy.   This does two things – keeps the weight down and theoretically gives it more strength.  

This is a sweet rod at short to mid range, and definitely one of the best.  It’s light, but not as light in swing weight as the Loop or Artisan.  But this rod just doesn’t have the guts to perform with the best rods at more than say 40 feet.  If you are a Scott fan and most of your fishing is in close, this is your rod. 

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery Trout  in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Very nice, just not quite in the same league as the Tom Morgan or the Loomis LP. Close distance presentation and accuracy are this rods strong suit.

Performance at 45 feet: 18.5  points out of 20
Smooth and for the most part good accuracy.  But when the wind is gusting hard, things became far more difficult.   Heavier in my hand than the NRX LP.   Good but not great.

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
Just OK.  This rod doesn’t have the power needed to go yard.   Casting long is a lot of work and the accuracy is not great.


#7 (tie) Greys XF2  Streamflex  9'#5  $299.00

Grey's XF2 fly rod

buy now

Now we’re seeing the first inexpensive rods show up.  This Greys XF2 is a potent little rod, that is very similar to the Hardy Zenith in action.  This is hard to beat for the price, for sure.  This rod is just a little heavier in the hand than the Zenith but has the same kind of flex and power.  The craftsmanship is quite good, with a nice cork grip with contrasting types of cork rings and a nice skeleton double locking, uplock seat of silver anodized aluminum.  A good looking burled wood inset is used.   Guides are one Fuji stripping guide, followed by hard chrome, one-foot guides. The blank is a darker golden brown.  

I liked the power delivery with this rod and if I blindfolded someone they could easily mistake this for the Hardy Zenith.   It is that good.  

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18 points out of 20
Not quite as much feel as the Zenith and far less than the Artisan.  I was tempted to make this a 19 but it was clearly just not quite as good as the Zenith. 

Performance at 45 feet: 19 points out of 20
Not quite as precise or as solid as the Hardy Zenith or the better rods.  It is also heavier in my hand.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5  points out of 20
Very good.  Tracks nicely and has lots of power to throw long.  Very good tight loops with excellent control. 


#7 (tie) Ross  Worldwide RX 9 foot #5  $299.00

Ross RX fly rod

buy now

Ross and 3M -  are you listening?   All you need to do is soften the tip on this rod and it would kick ass.   It is already very light.  But the stiffer tip kills the scores at most distances.  It is also a little too stiff overall.  This is really more of a medium action and it needs to go to be medium fast.    The price is right and Ross has one of the best warranties in the business. 

This rod has a nice western style cork grip, a silver anodized uplocking skeleton seat with a graphite insert that is the same reddish gold color of the blank.  I must admit that I don’t like the color scheme much.  The guides are all pretty large in diameter, maybe too large.  They use a single Fuji stripper and then hard chrome snake guides.   Wraps are a darker reddish gold.

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17.5 points out of 20
The stiffness and lack of flexibility in the tip kills the feel and accuracy in close.

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
OK, but not great.   Very little feel.  Not nearly as nice as say the Beulah that is only $100 more.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5  points out of 20
Throws long better than at the other distance, and this is because of the stiffness. The stiffer tip doesn’t hurt now.


#8 (tie)  Echo 9 foot #5 $350.00

Echo 3 fly rod

buy now

This is really a very nice rod.  It is just flat out too stiff.  This is really too stiff as a good 5-weight but worked pretty well with a WF-6-F line.  Tim Rajeff  - back this rod off on power and it will be a killer.  This rod uses higher modulus graphite and is lighter than the Echo Edge.  In terms of performance, this rod sucks in close, but is good at medium and longer distances.   This is a great looking rod with excellent craftsmanship.   It is pleasing steely olive color with darker olive wraps.   They use the same kind of very dense cork for the handle that G. Loomis is using in the NRX rods.   I guess that the Rajeff brothers think alike in some respects.  Ha, ha.  I like the style of the western style grip too.   The reel seat is a very good looking burled wood inset skeleton seat with a silver anodized aluminum uplocking seat.    The stiff tip hurts at short range. The Echo Edge proved to be better in close because of its more flexible tip.     

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-6-F

(we tested this rod with the GPX WF-5-F)

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
Same as the Ross RX - The stiffness and lack of flexibility in the tip kills the feel and accuracy in close.  But this is even stiffer than the RX.  Very little feel or accuracy.

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
Much better now.  Feels nice and smooth at this distance, but felt more balanced with a 6-weight line.

Performance at 70 feet: 19 points out of 20
Good long distance performance.  Throws long better than at the other distance. I could definitely live with this rod as a 6-weight.  One of the better casting rods at this distance. The stiffer tip doesn’t hurt now.


#8 (tie)  Elkhorn AMP  9 foot #5 $329.00

Elkhorn AMP Absolute Maximum Performance fly rod

buy now

I like this rod, and the price is right!   One of the new breed of rods we are seeing from US companies.  Like most of the others, this rod is built in Korea.   The action is just about right too.  This rod has a nice medium fast action.  This rod is heavier than the best rods so if they just used some higher modulus graphite it would perform even better but of course the price would probably go up.

The only thing that bugs m about this rod is their designation AMP.  If they had not told me on the rod what this means I’d be fine. But it stands for Absolute Maximum Performance. I don’t have to tell you that this isn’t even close to the best rods in our Shootout.  

The craftsmanship is quite good. They use a western style cork grip, but a pre-formed grip so the quality of the cork is only fair.  The reel seat uses an unusual design skeleton seat with a nice burled wood insert.  The seat itself is a double locking, uplocking seat and seem to work just fine.  Guides are two Fuji strippers, and the rest are hard chrome snake guides.   The rod is a beautiful blue color with blue wraps.   The pulled the tape off and sanded it slightly, then added the finish epoxy.  But it is not totally smooth and you can see where the tape was wrapped.  It is still good looking though. 

The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Heavier in my hand than the best rods and slightly stiffer than needed.  Still it is pretty good in close.

Performance at 45 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Pretty good, not great.  An average performance, no better. This rod has a lot more swing weight than say the Artisan, Orvis Helios 2 or Zenith. 

Performance at 70 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Again, good but not great.   Pretty much the same level of performance at all distances.  Both the Artisan and Loop felt a whole lot better at long range.


#9  Winston  BIIIx  9 foot #5  $795.00

R.L. Winston BIIIx

buy now

This is a fairly old design now, but still a good one. This rod doesn’t feel nearly as light in my hand in terms of swing weight as the best rods.  The NRX LP is just a far better rod in just about every way.    The Winston rods are still gorgeous, especially in bright sunlight.  Their emerald green finish is second to none.  This rod has a nice soft tip, and this is one of the reasons it has been such a popular dry fly rod, especially at close to medium distances.   

Craftsmanship is top notch, just below the best rod, the Tom Morgan.  The cork handle is a cigar styled grip and is just the right size.  Winston uses a very classy nickel silver uplocking seat with what looks to be Birdseye maple burl, and it is gorgeous.  These Winston reel seats were designed by Tom Morgan when he owned Winston, and are still the state of the art reel seats in my opinion.    Guides are one Fuji stripping guide with the rest hard chrome snake guides.   Winston used to use the better nickel/titanium unbreakable snake guides and I wish that they would go back to them. The green wraps are excellent but the finish coat of epoxy is often a little too heavy for our liking.   Still, this is a great looking rod with better than average performance.   As you’ll see later in our write ups, we feel that this is a FAR better 5-weight rod than the Winston BIIIsx, which is a club.


The perfect line:   Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Good, but not up to par with the best rods like the Tom Morgan, Artisan, or NRX LP.  Presentation is good but the accuracy is not that great, especially in the wind.

Performance at 45 feet: 19 points out of 20
Also very good.  A solid performer at these mid-distances.  This rod eats the SX alive at short and mid distance.

Performance at 70 feet: 17 points out of 20
Disappointing.  Not nearly enough butt and mid-section power to get the job done.  It was tough to launch a good hard backcast in the 15-20 mph winds we had that day.   


#10  Sage One 9 foot #5 $775.00

Sage One fly rod

buy now

All you need to know is that this rod is too stiff and too slow in action.  It’s actually very light in overall weight, but not in swing weight.  It just feels a whole lot heavier than it is, mainly because of the slower, more moderate action.   Here’s one rod that is ready for a re-do.  I do like the smaller full wells handle design and of course the reel seat is a top notch brown anodized aluminum skeleton seat with a beautiful walnut wood insert.  The blank is a dark brown and they use one Fuji stripping guide with the rest hard chrome snake guides. 

I’d like to see softer tips on almost all the Sage rods.  This would help their performance tremendously, especially at shorter distances.    This Sage One is just awful at 25 feet.  No feel and no accuracy.  Most people would be a lot better off if they shifted up to say a WF-6-F Trout GPX on this rod.   It would still have plenty of power to throw long without folding up.  The Sage Rods are built in Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA.

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F (or 6)

Performance at 25 feet: 16 points out of 20
Simply awful.  No other way to describe the lack of feel and accuracy.  If you want a Sage rod for shorter distance fishing, try the Circa or the ZXL.

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
OK, but nothing that is getting me excited.  Again, no feel or accuracy compared to the NRX LP, either of the Hardy rods, the Loop or the Tom Morgan.

Performance at 70 feet: 19 points out of 20
Good, but not great.  Heads up, the NRX LP, the Zenith, Orvis Helios 2 and the Hardy Zenith were a lot better.    The One does have good power at long range but it seems too parabolic in action to me to really let you jam the power in precisely.  It just needs a quicker, more flexible tip.


#11 Greys  GRXi+  9 foot #5 $189.00

Grey's GRXi Plus fly rod

buy now

This is really a very good 6-weight rod.  It is just not a good five!  We know this from experience since we are using these rods as part of our rental fleet.   They always felt too light with a WF-5-F, even a GPX, but then I tried a WF-6-F S.A. Trout one day and they came alive.    So we put #6 S.A. Trout lines on all of them, and now they are great.    These are tough rods too, which makes them good for rentals and demos.  And if they get broken, the repair charges are only about $30. 

This rod is a lot like the XF2 but just a little heavier and a little stiffer.  But the action is about perfect – a nice medium fast action with a more flexible tip.   These cast a very nice line.   It’s hard to say this isn’t the best inexpensive 5-weight rod, but the St. Croix Imperial is better, and it is a real 5-weight.  The price is right on the GRXi+ at $189 so this makes a good back up rod or a great one for any beginner starting out.  Just remember to kick up the line size to a 6.   They use the same style handle as the XF2 but with a cheaper all aluminum uplocking seat. Guides are two Fuji strippers and the rest oversize hard chrome snake guides. The rod itself is a dark gray with lighter gray/steel colored wraps.  The craftsmanship is a lot better than you see on most inexpensive rods.

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery Trout in WF-6-F

Note –the casting scores below were with a WF-5-F GPX

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
The stiffness hurts in getting any decent accuracy. No feel at all with a 5, but with a WF-6, it is far better.   With a 6 the score would have gone up to 18 or more.

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
Feels better at mid range, and got pretty good accuracy too. It does feel heavy in my hand compared to lighter rods.

Performance at 70 feet: 19 points out of 20
The stiffness is a big plus now, and this thing rifles them out there with authority.  It tracks well and has good accuracy at long range. 


#12   TFO  BVK  9 foot #5  $225.00

Temple Fork Outfitters BVK fly rod

buy now

Over the past couple of years, this has become one of our most popular inexpensive rods. My only gripe is that it is just on the stiff side. Like the Grays GRXi+, it performs better for most people with a 6-weight line.   The quick, fast action belts them out there, but it suffers a lot in close due to the stiffness.   These rods are tough and will take a lot of abuse.  They aren’t fancy but they are sure workhorses when the chips are down and outperform most inexpensive rods.   They use a western style cork grip with a gray anodized aluminum uplocking reel seat with a dark green graphite insert that matches the color of the blank.  The wraps are a lighter green.  This is a good-looking rod.    Two Fuji stripping guides and the rest are hard chrome snake guides.  They give you some nice little blue dots to line up the guides when you put the sections together.  

You probably know this by now but Lefty Kreh helped design this rod and the BVK stands for his initials.   A nice touch.  Our long standing gripe about the TFO rods is that this is the only company that does not give you a hard case with the rod.  All you get is a cloth bag in a plastic sack.  Most people DO want a hard case, so then we have to add on the TFO hard case for an extra $30.  Why in the hell they don’t just do this and sell it for $249 is a mystery to me.  It would sure solve a lot of problems. 

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery Trout in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
Stiff, but the quick tip gives halfway decent accuracy and it blows off a lot of other inexpensive rods.  A WF-6-F trout would bring this rod alive at short distance.

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
Heavy and a little harsh compared to the better rods. The Greys XF2 was far better at both 25 and 45 feet, and much smoother to cast.

Performance at 70 feet: 18 points out of 20
The BVK has good power for long casts, but again the XF2 smoked it in both controlled loops and good accuracy at long range.  


#13 (tie)  St. Croix Imperial  9 foot #5 $220.00

St. Croix Imerpial Fly rod

buy now

This has been one of our favorite inexpensive rods over the past several years.    The key is the sweet action.   This rod has a nice, medium fast action with a fairly soft tip that really helps in delivering good accuracy at all distances.    This rod is much heavier than the Legend Elite that utilizes higher modulus graphite and the more sophisticated bonding resins.   Although it is not in the same class as the Legend Elite, it is exactly half the price, and much more affordable to beginning anglers.   The rod itself is a pleasing burgundy color, with the same color wraps.   The cork handle is a western style grip with a nice flare at the bottom and tapers forward like a cigar grip.  The reel seat is a skeleton seat using a gray anodized aluminum single uplock seat with a burgundy wood insert.  Guides are one Fuji stripper with the rest hard chrome snake guides that are somewhat oversize.

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
Not much feel in close because of the overall stiffness.  The XF2 was better, for sure.  If they just build this a little more flexible with the same kind of action, it would fare far better.  

Performance at 45 feet: 17.5 points out of 20
Both the Grays XF2 and the TFO BVK were better going heads up.  We’d call this performance good but not great.   

Performance at 70 feet: 18 points out of 20
The stiffness helped it crack out 70-80 feet with ease.   But at this distance it was not a very pleasant casting experience in terms of weight. 


#13 (tie) Scott A4 9 foot #5 $395.00

Scott A4 fly rod

buy now

This is a heavy rod with an action that is way too slow.  The G2 is far better. The A4 uses Scott’s newer slip over design.  Guys, go back to the drawing board and get this right!   Then call it the F4, like the famous McDonnell F-4 Phantom of the Vietnam War.  But make it perform like the F4.   Right now the A4 is not a pleasant rod to cast at any distance!  It did well at long range but that was because it was stiff.   The medium action of this rod, with a tip that is way too stiff, results in a poor performance at short distances and it fared not much better at mid range.   

There are some good points though – the craftsmanship is very good.  A nice western style grip and a good silver aluminum uplocking reel seat that has a gray laminated wood insert.   The rod itself is a natural graphite gray and they have left the tape markings on the blank without sanding this down to maintain strength.  The wraps are a darker gray and for guides they use one stripper and the rest hard chrome snakes.  The finish on the wraps is excellent.  Not too heavy and just right. 

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
Heavy and almost no feel.  The action is too parabolic to make it work well in close.  Trying to cast off the tip is an exercise in futility. 

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
Just marginally better than at 25 feet. The stiffer tip doesn’t allow for much in terms of either accuracy or light presentations.

Performance at 70 feet: 19 points out of 20
Better, but still feels heavy and stiff in my hand.   The 19 score is a gift to keep the Scott forum guys off my back.  


#13 (tie)   Echo Edge 9 foot #5  $230.00

Echo Edge fly rod

buy now

I like the action of this rod a whole lot more than the slower Echo 3,  but it was a lot heavier in overall weight and also swing weight.   It also looks a lot cheaper that the Echo 3, but so is the price.   In terms of the cosmetics, this rod is a dull reddish color with brighter burgundy wraps.   The cork handle is a western style cigar grip with a flare at the back.   The reel seat is a flat silver anodized aluminum uplocking seat. The wood insert is burgundy colored to compliment the color of the rod and wraps.  For guides, Echo uses two Fuji strippers and then hard chrome one-foot guides.  A good looking set up for an inexpensive rod.  The Echo 3 is a much nicer looking rod overall.

The performance was a steady 18 points at all distances.  Good, but nothing to write home about. 

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18 points out of 20
No question that at short distance it is better than the Echo 3.  But it was not nearly as good as the Greys XF2.   I decent accuracy and feel but nothing special.

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
Good but not great.  The XF2 was a lot smoother, with tighter loops.   There were a whole lot of rods that scored 18 at this distance.   

Performance at 70 feet: 18 points out of 20
Now I could see the Echo 3 pull out in front and it was definitely better at long range. 


#14  C.F Burkheimer Classic  9 foot 4-5-6   #695.00

Burkheimer Classic fly rod

buy now

For me, I guess this was the biggest disappointment  of the shootout.  These Burkheimer rods are very light, and just beautiful rods with superb craftsmanship, second only to the Tom Morgan rods.  But they got the action all wrong -at least for their trout rods.  Now Burkheimer builds some of the very best two-handed rods you can buy but evidently they don’t do a lot of trout fishing with 3-5 weight rods.  This rod has a medium action, but is far too slow.  The DAL is even worse.   If you like parabolic actions, you’ll love these rods.  Otherwise you will be frustrated by their overall lack of performance.   

Craftsmanship is just terrific.  A very fancy cork grip that is a nice cigar shape with a good flare at the back end. The skeleton seat uses a nickel silver uplock design with a Birdseye maple insert.   The blank itself is a rich dark hunter green with green wraps, trimmed in light gray.  The wraps and finish are as good as it gets – just as good as the Tom  Morgan rod.  Burkheimer allows a huge number of custom options when they build rods for customers, but this really jacks up the price, so be careful.   Guides are one Fuji stripper, with the rest medium to smaller hard chrome snake guides that use nice light wire.  The same small diameter wire size that Tom Morgan used on his new rod with the lighter guides.   I like this size guide.  It is plenty strong enough and keeps the weight down in the tip of the rod.  Unfortunately in the Burkheimer, there is just a little too much graphite in the mid sections and tip and this slows it way down.  The overall weight of these rods is outstanding, but the swing weight is horrible.

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
The parabolic action and stiffer tip didn’t allow for much feel at all.  This rod is so much heavier in hand than the Loomis NRX LP, Artisan or Zenith.  The resulting accuracy was poor.

Performance at 45 feet: 17 points out of 20
A pretty mediocre performance for such a nice looking rod.  Not very pleasant to cast and only fair accuracy.    

Performance at 70 feet: 18 points out of 20
Nice and smooth casting now at long range, but this rod just doesn’t have the butt power necessary to go long very easily.  


#15 (tie)  G. Loomis Pro 4X  9 foot #5  $360.00

G. Loomis Pro 4x fly rod

buy now

Unfortunately, this rod is not nearly as impressive as either the StreamDance GLX rods or the new NRX rods.   The thing that kills this rod is the weight.  The action is also slower than the best Loomis rods. This is really a rugbeater when It comes to weight.  Both the overall weight and swing weight were too heavy.  The Grays XF2 is much lighter, and put this rod to shame at every distance. And the XF2 costs $40 less.   Plus, the Pro 4X is ugly.   Green is OK, but olive drab is not. The lighter green olive wraps make you say yuk!   The western style cork grip is fine and they use a nice black anodized aluminum uplocking seat.   For guides, Loomis gives us one Fuji SIC Stripper, which I like a lot better than those recoil stripping guides, but then they give us the crappy hard chrome one foots rather than the more expensive nickel/titanium beauties they have on the NRX LP. 

Well, G. Loomis gave us the very best rod in our shootout with the NRX LP, but they also gave us this clunker that finishes close to the bottom.   My suggestion to Shimano that will make things easier next year.  ELIMINATE THE Pro 4X SKU’s ENTIRELY.    Here is another suggestion – stick some less expensive Shimano graphite rods into the G. Loomis line up.  Who cares if they are made outside the US?   Probably only Gary Loomis himself, and he’s out.   We know that Shimano builds the world’s best casting and spinning rods and reels.   Get Steve Rajeff over there to Japan and put him to work designing some killer Shimano fly rods.  Sell them under the Shimano name if want, so as not dilute the Loomis legacy.  You have the ability to build the world’s best fly rods.  So go do it.   

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
Not too good. This rod feels very heavy in my hand and not very responsive.  Accuracy and presentation were only poor to fair in close.  Lackluster performance.

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
The XF2 was better at both 25 feet and 45 feet.   This rod is smooth enough, but just HEAVY.  This rod would wear me out if I had to cast it all day.  

Performance at 70 feet: 18 points out of 20
OK but not great.  A whole lot of rods were better.  Even the Scott A4! 


#15 (tie)  Redington Link  9 foot #5 $350.00

Redington Link fly rod

buy now

Another less expensive rod from Redington, but also a rod that is heavy and has too stiff a tip.   What happened to the old Redington CPS rods??  They were great.  Probably because Jim Murphy helped design them.   Then Redington discontinued the CPS and went to the CPX, which was junk.   The Link is a little better than the CPX, but not by much.  It is still heavy as hell in both overall weight and swing weight.   The price is good, but there are a lot of better rods here that cost less than this rod.  This rod has a medium action with a tip that is way too stiff.  Not conducive to decent feel or accuracy, especially at short range.

The craftsmanship is good but this is a plain Jane rod.  The only thing that jumps out at you is the name in robins egg blue, as well as the grip checks in the same color jazzy blue.   The rest of the rod is a natural graphite gray.  Those tricky looking cross hatch graphite overlays look neat, but they also add weight to an already very heavy rod.  The wraps are black as is the skeleton reel seat, with a black anodized aluminum uplocking seat and a gray graphite insert.   Guides are one weird looking SIC stripper with hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way out.

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-6-F

(We tested this rod with a GPX WF-5-F)

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
The tip is obviously way too stiff to give any decent performance or accuracy in close.  No feel either.

Performance at 45 feet: 18 points out of 20
OK but not great.  Another lackluster performance.  The loops were not very tight  and casting the Greys XF2 heads up quickly showed me that the XF2 is a far better rod.  

Performance at 70 feet: 18 points out of 20
It does feel better at long range, and some of the shop guys liked it for our informal 100 foot competition.  Yeah, it will throw it 100 feet, no problem.   This is another rod that would benefit by going to a WF-6-F GPX line. 


#16 C.F. Burkheimer Classic DAL 9 foot #5 $695

Burkheimer DAL

buy now

Man, I thought the other Burkheimer Classic was slow, but I can feel this rod bend back into the cork handle!  This is a real parabolic action, one that Charles C. Ritz would love if he were still alive.  His Pezon et Michel bamboo fly rods really started the parabolic craze and thankfully this died about the time Ritz did, back in 1976.   I remember myself getting caught up in this fad over parabolic rods and I had one of Pezon et Michel’s Fario Club rods, an 8 foot 5 inch 6 weight.   It was a real CLUB for sure.   Only bamboo fanatics like this stuff now, but if you want this kind of action in a graphite rod, look no further.  This DAL is your baby.    The one great thing about this Burkheimer rod is the superb craftsmanship.   It is second only to the Tom Morgan.   The handle is a very comfortable cigar style grip with beautiful contrasting cork rings.  The reel seat is a single lock, nickel silver seat with a Birdseye maple insert.    The color of the rod is a dark hunter green, just like the normal Classic.  Wraps are also a dark green but trimmed tastefully in a medium gray.   They are using a single Fuji stripper with the rest light wire hard chrome snake guides.   Like the Classic, this rod is quite light in overall weight, but far heavier in swing weight. 

The action is just way, way too slow to promote any decent accuracy or feel at short range. At long range though, this rod feels good.

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 16 points out of 20
The slow, parabolic action gave me no ability at all to cast off the tip of the rod. Not good in any way in close.  And the Classic is only a little better since it is not as parabolic.

Performance at 45 feet: 17 points out of 20
Not as good as many of the least expensive rods.    A real disappointment.  

Performance at 70 feet: 18 points out of 20
Better at long range and at least it is a very smooth casting rod at longer distances.  I did have to slow my casting stroke a lot to use this rod.   You need to let this rod do the work, and you go along for the ride.


#17  Elkhorn Traveler II 9 foot #5 $399.00

Elkhorn Traveler 2

buy now

This rod is one of the stiffest in our shootout, and it really needs a #6 line to make it work.   This is both heavy and stiff and right in the running for the rugbeater award.  The performance scores were just awful with a #5 line, and they wouldn’t have been a whole lot better with a #6 line.   This rod probably should have not made the cut.  Good rods like the Loop Cross 1 didn’t make the cut and it was about 100 times better than this rod!    Another rod from a budding American company that is built in Korea.   But they couldn’t price this rod low enough to make it attractive.  Well, maybe at  $49.95 it would fly in Walmart, selling to people that know nothing about fly rods.  

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-7-F

Note: we tested it with a GPX WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 14 points out of 20
Terrible. There is no other way to describe it. The tip is far, far too stiff.

Performance at 45 feet: 16 points out of 20
Stiff and very heavy in my hand. This is a real anvil to cast.  Unpleasant in every way possible.   

Performance at 70 feet: 17 points out of 20
Still pretty ugly.  The slower action didn’t help.  This rod was not pleasant to cast at any distance.


#18 (tie)  Winston BIIIsx 9 foot #5 $795.00


RL Winston BIIIsx

buy now

This rod is simply WAY too stiff for a 5-weight.   It is a bonafide 7-weight.  When this rod first came out, it had really heavy wire snake guides for some unknown reason.  Fortunately with everyone’s criticism Winston changed this and the test rod we got had the lighter snake guides, which did allow it perform a lot better.  But the overall stiffness kept this rod close to the bottom in our 5-weight shootout. This is most likely not a rod that you would buy for yourself, but if someone gives you this rod, just shift up to a 7 weight line and it will work pretty well.  Don’t even think about trying a 6-weight!   The action is about right, a nice crisp medium fast action.    Interesting, my son Jamie got a BIIIsx in the 11-weight  model, and despite the horrible heavy guides, it casts pretty well as an 11 weight. It should prove to be a decent rod for short shots on big tarpon.  We’ll have to deal with the heavy guides (well Winston will since we’ll just return it for a rod with the better, lighter guides)

Getting back to the 5-weight SX, the craftsmanship is excellent, and the emerald green color is gorgeous.   They use one Fuji stripper and now the standard size black snake guides that are far better than those heavy, ugly guides that appeared on the first BIIIsx rods.  If you were unfortunate enough to get one of these, e-bay it quickly and don’t ask much. 

The SX was my favorite rod for our 100-foot competition.  I just wish I could have used a 250 grain Type 6 shooting head, backed up with some 20 pound Amnesia shooting line.  Then I could have hit 150 feet with ease. 

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-7-F

Note: we tested it with a GPX WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 14 points out of 20
Dreadful!  Feels like a pool cue. Heavy and with absolutely no feel and no accuracy in close. 

Performance at 45 feet: 15 points out of 20
Still a huge disappointment. This rod is just WAY too stiff.  No feel at all.  This rod might be good throwing #4 salmon flies with a WF-7-F line though.  

Performance at 70 feet: 18 points out of 20
Now it will blast them out there, but the presentation will be much like a stone hitting the water.  I could carry 80 feet of line in the air with this rod using only a moderate double haul.    This rod is the most powerful rod in our 5-weight shootout.  Winston – What were you thinking???


#18 (tie)  Mystic Maveryck  9 foot #5  $449.00

Mystic Maveryk fly rod

buy now

I was joking around about this rod, and I said they misnamed it – they should have called it not the Mystic but the MISTAKE.   That is a little harsh but not far off.  This rod doesn’t have a lot going for it.  This rod is heavy and doesn’t feel good at any range.  The action is too parabolic and the full wells grip is too small- only ladies are going to like it.  This rod is so heavy in swing weight, that it needs a grip the size of a baseball bat.   The one cool thing that jumps out at you is the silver graphite insert in the black anodized uplocking reel seat.   The double locking reel seat is excellent.  And the craftsmanship in general is quite good.  This is another American rod, made in Korea.   The rod itself is jet black with black wraps that have a stylish single silver thread in the middle of the wrap.  Pretty classy. They use two Fuji strippers, but then some enormous hard chrome snake guides that ought to be on a #10 line saltwater rod!  

Mystic told us that this rod would be the competition for the Hardy Zenith in our 5-weight shootout.  Guys –your thinking was badly flawed.  Now go back to the drawing boards.  

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 15 points out of 20
Awful.  The slow to moderate action with little tip movement did not allow for any feel or accuracy at close range. 

Performance at 45 feet: 15 points out of 20
Awful again.  

Performance at 70 feet: 16 points out of 20
Ditto!    This rod should have not made the cut but we promised Mystic that we would get it into our 5-weight Shootout.  



#19 Clutch TTX  9 foot #5  $655.00

Clutch fly rods

buy now

Now we’re finally getting to the bottom of the barrel. In our Shootouts, there is going to be one winner and one loser.  You are looking at the loser,(at least when matched with a WF-5-F GPX line).    Compared to all the other Shootout rods, the Clutch is an extremely heavy and stiff 5-weight.   This rod would perform better with a  #6 line or even a #7 weight line.   The medium action makes it feel club like, and this one is right in the running for the rugbeater of the year award.   I found it more difficult to form tight loops with this rod at any distance.  

This is another new American company, but they build this rod right here in the USA.  Building good rods comes down to rod design and this rod just felt far to stiff to be a great all around 5-weight.   While we suspect their saltwater rods are better, for now you might want to steer clear of this particular model and weight.  I keep thinking about something that I learned years ago in Business school at the University of Colorado.  It was the phrase, Caveat emptor - Latin for “Let the buyer beware”.    Keep this in mind when you are purchasing your next fly rod.  Or anything else for that matter!   

Craftsmanship for the Clutch is good.  I’ve always liked the natural graphite finish, a flat finish that won’t reflect any light that might scare fish at close range.  The wraps appear black but are actually a dark olive, and finished nicely with an epoxy finish coat.  USA made guides are used, one larger stripping guide and darker hard chrome snake universal guides.  A western style, preformed cork grip is used and the cork quality is pretty good.  The reel seat is a skeleton silver anodized uplocking seat with a laminated wood insert.  Well put together and tastefully done.

The perfect line:  Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX in WF-7-F

Note:  we tested this rod with a GPX WF-5-F line.

Performance at 25 feet: 14 points out of 20
Back into the Awful category.  No feel or accuracy.  One of the worst in our Shootout at this distance.

Performance at 45 feet: 15 points out of 20
Far too stiff.  I had difficulty forming any tighter loops. Very poor accuracy and little feel with this rod at this distance.   

Performance at 70 feet: 16 points out of 20
Slightly better once I got some line in the air but still not pleasant at all.    

Performance Only table

5 weight rods of 2013


#6 (tie)  Mystic Reaper 9 foot #5  $229.00 - Our Best Buy winner!

Mystic Reaper

One rod that missed the shootout this year but should have made it was the the Mystic Reaper.  When Scott Anderson, the Mystic rep came by to pick up their Maveryck we figured we might as well take a look at their other rods.  Then he shows us this Mystic Reaper, and tells us that this rod has been very popular at one of the shops in Missoula.  We put the Reaper together and all it took was just flexing the rod in our hand to tell that this one was a winner.   Why Mystic did not send us all of their different models to compare is a mystery.   They gave us just their Maveryck, which was awful.  But now our opinion of Mystic has rebounded as this Reaper is a fantastic rod for the price.   We all took the rod out on the lawn and were casting into a pretty good breeze, and the Reaper threw very tight and very smoth loops.  It was really impressive!  

Unfortunately we could not add the rod into the main shootout since we had already done all the work with the tables, the finishing order etc.  So I have taken the liberty to give you our best guess of where this rod would have placed.  It finishes tied for 6th, and blows away a lot of very good rods!    In fact this rod is definitely going to be our best buy 5-weight, the award we give to the best inexpensive 5-weight rod in our shootout. 

There is no question that this rod outperforms the TFO BVK, the Greys GRXi+, the St. Croix Imperial and the Echo Edge - all rods in the $189-$240 range.   But get this - this rod also outperforms the Ross RX, the Echo 3, the Redington Link and the Elkhorn AMP - all rods between $299 and $350.  The only rod that is close is the Greys XF2, but this rod is $299.  The Mystic Reaper is $229!    

Taking a closer look at this rod, it is a very pleasing Olive green, with brown wraps.   Both the wraps and coatings are very good as is other little details like the silver grip checks and the gorgeous reel seat.  They are using a silver  annodized aluminum uplock seat with a fancy burled wood insert.   The cork grip is a comfortable western style grip with good looking cork.  As for guides they are using two Fuji strippers and the rest are hard chrome snake guides.  This is a very handsome rod and certainly after casting it, you would never guess it is only $229.00.     

We have never sold Mystic rods in the past, but I called the rep back up and told him to send us a dozen of these Mystic Reaper rods in 9 foot #5 as I'm convinced they will fly out of here at such a good price!

We won't give you any official performance scores on this rod, but after our casting session on the lawn I'd say that the scores would be in the 18-19 range at all distances.   The line I was using was a WF-5-F GPX and this felt about right.  You could possibly go up to a #6 line on this rod also.   I wish we could have put it up on the deflection board, but we had already torn all of this down.  


Another rod we didn't test - the Winston Passport

The Winston Passport was our best inexpensive rod in our 2011 five-weight shootout,  but we declined to test this rod because there were none available for us to test!  In fact we had just terrible problems in getting a decent supply of Passports for the past two years.    Winston sure blew the supply side of this one.  We had customers that were waiting for more than two months to get a Passport.    Now we realize that with these import rods there are going to be bottlenecks in the system but the problems we had with Winston were astronomical.    So maybe it was fortunate that they didn't even have a rod for us to test.      We know that you'll like this new "Best Buy" 5-weight  Mystic Reaper.  It looks better and casts better than the Passport.   Will we get a decent supply??  We'll find out.   


We need your support!

We hope that you have enjoyed our 2013 5-weight Shootout!  With your support, we can continue to give you more shootouts and comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future.  But this takes a lot of time, so if you are in the market for a new rod or outfit, or flies and other tackle, we would love to have your business!

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

                                                    -George Anderson