2015 5-weight shootout

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

By George Anderson 

With comments from James AndersonJosh Edwards, Logan Brown,and Paul Bloch 

(click on each shop guy's name to read their opinions 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*Note:  Prices have likely changed since this shootout and are no longer valid.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.

 

 

 

Lots of great new rods

A lot of new rods have been introduced for the upcoming 2015 season, by various manufacturers, so we felt it was time to stir the pot and give you another 5-weight shootout, testing these new rods heads up with the best rods we have found over the past two years. 

What you will read here is going to be controversial.  You are not going to see direct rod comparisons like this in fly fishing magazines or even in on-line magazines or blogs that depend on advertising dollars to generate their income. The fly fishing industry is just too small compared to say the Auto Industry. Fly fishing manufacturers simply tell the publishers if they print anything like this that is putting their products in a bad light, they will never advertise in their publication again.  This is too bad, as it is fun to read the latest technical automobile comparisons and evaluations that appear monthly in magazines like Car and Driver, Road and Track, and Motor Trend.

It is not our intent to have winners and losers.  Sure, there is one winner, but I want to point out that all the rods that made the cut to get into our final shootout are really quite good and anyone would enjoy fishing them.  We are continually impressed at how much better the quality and craftsmanship of rods has improved over the past few years.  Yes, the best rods are still made here in the US, but many excellent rods are now coming out of Korea and even China.  A good example would be the Hardy Zenith, which won our 2011 5-weight shootout and placed a strong 4th in 2015.  The keys to building excellent rods are great design, top-notch materials, and good manufacturing techniques, followed up with tough quality control. 

As in the past, we have sought out the best rods available worldwide, not just rods available here in the US.  I apologize to the manufacturers that we have not included.  There are so many new rods coming onto the market worldwide that we didn’t include them in our shootout because either we don’t know about them or they have not performed well enough to make the cut.  We wanted to limit the number of rods in the shootout to no more than thirty.  In the future, any manufacturers that want us to test their rods simply need to inform us, and then send their rods to us to test and we’ll return them after our next shootout.   But we must be the ones to make the final judgment on which rods make the cut and which do not.  We will try to give you our comments on many of the rods that did not make the cut and tell you why.  As always, feel free to give us a call if you want to talk rods or want our recommendations about a specific rod for you. 

This year, to be fair to all, we are limiting each manufacturer to only two rods in our shootout.  Unfortunately this forced us to cut a few that we would like to have tested.  Then we picked what we felt were the best two rods (in our opinion) from each manufacturer. Below we will give you our reasons why certain rods didn’t make the cut. 

Remember, in doing these shootouts, we are giving you OUR opinions. But we know from reader’s comments that 90% of anglers are in general agreement with our findings.  The anglers doing this test are all expert anglers and casters.

We feel that to involve anyone other than expert anglers while trying to judge rods is a huge mistake.  Also, when testing rods, it is also impossible to do any kind of blind test.  Any good angler can take one look at the rod- the color of the blank, the handle style and shape, wraps, guides and reel seat, and tell you exactly which manufacturer made the rod.  Also, we want to know which rod we are casting, so that we can better evaluate one against the other in heads up casting.  We are taking a good look at the handle and guide set up, as well as the overall craftsmanship and other factors that enter into our scoring system. If you like blind tests, go to Cigar Aficionado.  They do the only ones that make sense to me.    

 

Here’s the bottom line for 2015

If you don’t have the time to read our whole shootout, here are four things you need to know today:

1.  The G. Loomis NRX LP wins again  

2.  The Scott Radian puts in a great performance, finishes a close 2nd

3.  Our pick for the best mid-priced rod -  Douglas DXF at $325.00

4.  Our pick for the best inexpensive rod - Fenwick Aetos at $189.95

 

Putting the rods through their paces

Late November weather in Montana can prove problematical so we decided to do our casting inside, at the local high school gym.  This proved to be a good idea since the day of the shootout; an overnight storm had dumped 8 inches of snow!  Inside the gym we could cast up to 70 feet, do it in a pleasant 72 degrees, and not have any wind to deal with.  Wind, especially gusty winds of 10-15 mph make it almost impossible to judge one rod against another.  Then just a few days after out shootout in the gym, out weather here turned beautiful, all the snow melted and we’ve had highs of 45-55 degrees every day!  But with the warmer weather we had lots of wind too.

 In the gym, we set up four casting stations with targets at 25 and 45 feet, and then one station where we could cast out to 70 feet.  I do miss casting outdoors since then we can set up a line at 100 feet and see how well these rods do if they are forced to throw for max distance.  

The guys at the shop did re-cast all the rods outside on a relatively windy day.  By clicking on their individual comment pages below, you can read how each rod performed outside in the elements.

 

What we are looking for in a 5-weight rod

For trout fishermen, five weight rods are, by far, the most popular fly rod on the market, by far.  But to our way of thinking, this is a rod that must do it all – It must cast very accurately, and provide delicate presentations at shorter distances with dry flies. The best rods here have softer tips and a fast action.  They must have the power in the butt and mid-section to chuck double nymph rigs, even with some split shot and an indicator. Good butt and mid-section power will also help you land big fish quickly, especially when you can use heavier tippets.  And it must have the guts to go long; throwing an occasional bead head wooly bugger at ranges right out to 80 and 90 feet.   

When most anglers try out fly rods, the first thing they do is to strip all the line off the reel and see how far the rod can throw.   Knowing this, rod manufacturers like Sage and TFO build rods that are right at the upper end of the spectrum in strength to throw a #5 line.  This is also why you see more people fishing with lines like a SA GPX or a Rio Rio Grande, that are ½ a line size heavy.    If you’re smart, you will first see how the rod casts and performs in that 25-60 foot range, since these are the distances you are casting 95% of the time.  Yeah, then strip all the line off and go for it.  The best 5-weight rods will hit 100 feet no problem in a competent caster’s hands. 

George Anderson

 

Why trust our opinions?

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

My son James is a real fly fishing fanatic, and great caster, as well as a great angler.  He is now an integral part of all of our rod shootouts and tackle comparisons.  He is a gifted photographer too, and all his superb photos really make our shootouts click.   He enjoys fishing the salt as much as I do but his real love is catching big trout on streamers.  The other comments you will read here are from our staff employees.  These guys are all top anglers, great casters and excellent guides.  I value their opinions so be sure to give their comments a read as well.  Their finishing order is different than mine, which is fine.  

James Anderson  Josh Edwards  Logan Brown  Paul Bloch

       Read James' comments               Read Josh's comments               Read Logan's comments                Read Paul's comments


Great fly rods are not always the most expensive

As you’ll read again this year, there are some outstanding rods that have beaten out rods that are two to three times as expensive. Good examples of this in our least expensive rods category are the new Fenwick Aetos at $189.95 and the Mystic Reaper at $229. Looking at mid-priced rods, the new Douglas DXF at $325 and the G. Loomis Pro 4X LP at $375 are the ones that look the best to us.  But if you want the best, your credit card is going to take a hit for $750 to $800.  Is that high priced rod really $600 better?  Only you can make that decision.  If you are not going to do much fishing, then one of the inexpensive or mid-priced rods may be the best choice.   For experienced anglers that can afford the best rods our answer is YES.  Our advice has always been that if you can afford the best, buy the best.   You’ll never regret it.   And this goes for beginners too.  One of the best rods will allow you to advance much more rapidly.  The key to catching fish is casting accuracy.  But having a nice light rod (in swing weight) in your hand all day pays big dividends, in terms of fatigue.  There is also a certain lust factor going for the expensive rods.  Part of this is the wow factor.  The best rods have almost become a status symbol.  Are you comfortable showing up with a $200 rod when all your buddies have those hotshot $700-$800 rods?   

We see so many people that want to economize getting into the sport and buy less expensive equipment.  Then shortly after getting started, they realize that the higher priced rods will allow them to improve more quickly so they but a more expensive outfit and essentially end up throwing away the money they spent on the cheaper outfit.    

  

Great anglers design the best rods

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

 

Our testing procedures – trying to eliminate the variables – keeping it apples to apples.

As in all our prior shootouts, we have strived to eliminate the variables by setting up the rods with the exact same reels, lines and leaders.  For this 5-weight shootout, we had 10 identical Ross Evolution LT #2 reels set up with our favorite trout line, the standard Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX or Trout in WF-5-F. On the lines we are using for the shootout we used our own 12-foot Yellowstone Angler hand tied Clear Butt Leaders with Clear Maxima butts and mid sections since they simply cast better and more accurately than any of the knotless leaders.  Just about any rod will turn over a 9-foot leader easily.  Having to turn over a 12-foot leader forces the rods to perform at a higher level.

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

 

Reels

Ross Evolution 2 reels

buy now

As in past 5 weight rod shootouts, we have again used the Ross Evolution LT #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.  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. 

Lines 

Scientific Anglers GPX lines

 

buy now

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.

We have to admit that we are not real fans of the textured lines.  We feel they make too much noise going through the guides, and we cannot establish the facts through our own testing that they cast farther, float better or pick up off the water any better than the standard GPX or Trout.

Leaders

hand tied leaders

buy now

Again this year, we are using our own Yellowstone Angler 12 foot hand tied leaders that utilize Maxima butt and midsections and Rio nylon 4X tippets. Our hand tied 12 foot leaders will turn over better than most 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 9 feet or less.  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 Charts

fly rod deflection boards

Back by popular demand, we have included more rod deflection charts for you.  These allow everyone to see what the flex pattern of each rod looks like compared to others in the same category.  Now you can graphically see how these rods vary from medium action to faster actions.  We placed the rods at about a 45-degree angle and then used a weight of 3.9 oz. hung off the tip top.  In the past we used a pair of fishing pliers.  This year we used about the same amount of weight but it was a selection of split shot.  Keep in mind that fast action rods are not just stiff rods.  The action refers to how the rod bends from the butt to the tip.  The tips on faster rods bend more, and we have found this to be the best way to get good accuracy, the best feel and delicate presentations in close.   On the other hand the rods must possess enough strength in the butt and mid-section to allow casters to throw longer distances with ease.  In our last deflection chart, which shows all the rods together, we also wanted to put up what we feel is a middle of the road 4-weight and a middle of the road 6-weight (in flex) As you can see, most of these 5-weight rods are closer to a #6 than a #4.  In taking a closer look at the winning G. Loomis NRX LP, you will see that this rod has a much more progressive bend in the tip than other rods while still having good power in the butt and mid.   

Probably the most valuable thing these deflection charts provide is a blueprint for up and coming rod manufacturers.  They can say to their rod manufacturing plant designers in Korea – Build us a rod like this one!   

After forty years of flexing rods in my hand, I can pretty much tell you what any given rod is going to do before even putting a line on it.  But the final analysis is always how it does cast with a reel and line, and how it fishes after a day on the stream.   Any good caster will modify his casting style to get the most out of whichever rod he is casting.  So just fishing a rod won’t tell you nearly as much as casting these rods heads up as we do in our Shootouts.        

Top 5 finishing rods & Winston BIIILS

deflection charts

Here are the top six finishers.  Note how much more flexible the NRX LP is in the tip than the other rods.  It also bends at a progressive rate.  Also interesting is how much slower in action the Loop Opti Stream is compared to the other rods.  The Orvis Helios 2 and the Hardy Zenith are almost identical and more powerful than both the NRX LP and the Radian.  One can see why the softer Winston BIIILS is better suited for in close feel than long distance casting. 

The best mid-Priced Rods

Deflection Board 5 weight rods

Again, notice how the tip on the Loomis Pro 4X LP bends.  It is a lot like the NRX LP. It has a faster action than the others, other than the St. Croix Legend Elite, which is very similar.  This is one reason the Legend Elite casts so well and has performed so well in past Shootouts. We feel that all of these rods show us a good flex pattern and all are fast action rods – the action that we feel is best for all anglers.

 

The Best Inexpensive Rods

Deflection Board 5 weight rods

You can clearly see how powerful the TFO BVK is in relation to the other rods.   It is really a 6-weight rod even though they are calling it a #5.   My favorite casting rod here was the Fenwick Aetos, which is made by Greys in Korea and similar to their old XF2 Streamflex.  The XF2 and XF2 Streamflex are now available in Europe only.  The Aetos and Mystic Reaper were very similar in action and both cast very well.

 

All Rods

Deflection board 5 weight shootout

 

All Rods – zoomed in

deflection board fly rods 5 weights

Explanation of Points Categories  

You’ll find the figures for price, overall weight and swing weight in our table for Objective Observations.

Price in US $$ - 10 points available
This is simple – the least expensive rods get the highest points.  We gave all rods under $200 a perfect 10 here.  The most expensive rods were a 6.   In the top performing rods, the Loop Opti Stream was an obvious bargain at $532.  Most of the top performing rods were in that $750 - $800 category.  

Overall Weight – 10 points available
As in the past we are using our handy digital postage scale, and round off to .01 of an ounce.  We don’t take the manufacturer’s stated weight.  Lighter is better here but this factor is not nearly as important as swing weight.  In the past we've seen manufactures cut overall weight by reducing the weight of the buttsection only.  This actually hurts the rod's swing weight.

Swing Weight – 20 points available
You know all about this term if you play golf.  It is the relationship of the club head to the shaft when you waggle the club.  Measuring this on a fly rod is not quite as easy though.  We have played around with this over several shootouts and now we have gone back to my tried and true approach, using our digital postal scale.  The swing weight of the rod is the weight you feel out ahead of your hand, when you hold the rod in a horizontal position.  Rods with a light swing weight are pleasant and effortless to cast.  Ones with a heavy swing weight feel like a club in your hand and they are not going to be pleasant to cast all day.  Here is how we measure the swing weight, and you can do this yourself with a little practice.  First you must zero out the scale.  Then a foam packing pellet is placed on the center of the scale, and the grip of the rod placed on this pellet while the rod is in a horizontal position with a fingernail holding only the butt cap of the rod.  The reel seat rings and band are placed at the bottom of the reel seat. Now we position the grip over the fulcrum created by the foam pellet so that the pellet is about 2/3  of the way up the grip – where the center of your hand would be when you are holding the grip comfortably.  Now we are taking into consideration the approx. balance point of the rod once you have a reel on it.  Once the rod is placed precisely on the foam pellet, we get the rod in a horizontal position and apply finger pressure to the very end of the reel seat, usually using a fingernail over the butt cap. And then reading off the weight of pressure on the scale in ounces.  This is done a half a dozen times, zeroing out the scale each time and then we take the average for the swing weight.   We have found that to obtain accurate measurements, all this must be done the same day, at the same temperature, and within a period of less than one hour. 

Yes, for all you engineers this does not seem to make sense, but as a practical way to measure swing weight it works fine.    The big thing here is not how we come up with the actual figures, but how one rod compares to another.   

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

Swing weight is such an important category, we now give it 20 points and consider it a part of our performance evaluation.

 

swing weight fly rods

Calculating swing weight on our postage scale here at the shop.

5-weight shootout objective observations

 

Warranties:  10 points available
Every manufacturer now has some kind of “Lifetime warranty”.  Well, the Orvis one is 25 years.  But manufacturers are getting burned on this big time.  Now most of the manufacturers see that this was a colossal mistake, but they are more or less stuck with it.  Nearly all are charging a “handling” fee of $25-$60 to repair or replace your rod.  But then it is going to also cost you $15 or more to ship the rod in for repair or have your dealer do it.  We looked at all the warranty policies in detail as some have changed slightly.

To my way of thinking, the most important thing when you break your rod is getting it back quickly, not so much the price you’ll have to pay.  In this regard, G. Loomis has switched back to their Expeditor policy and ditched the “Wild Card” for the NRX.  Now it will cost your credit card $100 but you get a brand new rod back in 3-4 days.  I’d gladly pay another $50 to get this kind of service. Loomis gets the perfect score of 10 as does Echo, Ross, and TFO as these companies also send you back a brand new rod, in just a few days and the cost is only $25.   

As you’ll see, most rods got a 9, which means that it costs  $25-$50 for the repair or replacement.  But these companies repair your rod, not give you a brand new replacement.  Some companies like Winston are going to charge you as much as $150 to repair the rod if you are not the original owner.  We gave Sage and R.L. Winston 8’s because of the length of time it took for most repairs, especially during the busy summer months.  Often it took a month and a half to get a rod back from repair.  To us this is unacceptable.  Be sure to look at our section below that explains the various warranties in detail.  

 

Craftsmanship – 10 points available
One thing that all our testers this year commented on was how good the craftsmanship has become in the past several years.  Most everyone was awarded a 9 in this category, with a few 8’s and only a couple of 7’s.  And these were for odd shaped or uncomfortable cork grips.   There are no perfect 10’s this year since nothing compares to the Morgan rods or the Hardy Artisan.  

 

Fun to Fish/Got to Have – 10 points available
We got this category from the Car and Driver early automobile shootouts.   If the rod looks like a million bucks and casts like it too, any normal fly fishermen will lust for this rod.   For many, it might be seen as a status symbol.  For others, they see how this rod performs in their guide’s hands, and think that it is going to make them great anglers too and at least take them to the next level. Surprisingly enough, they are often right.   Great rods don’t make great casters, but they can sure help an average caster get a lot better in a hurry.  Don’t let the price slow you down.  You’ll find a way to sneak it into your stash without the little lady finding out.  

 

Performance at 25 feet – 20 points available
A rod’s ability to make delicate and accurate presentations with small flies and long leaders is the key 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.  Does the rod load well enough to give you the feel and accuracy you need in close, with little line out of the guides?  At short range I like to cast off the tip of the rod, using mostly my wrist and very little arm movement to power the tip of the rod through the stroke.  The best rods here are almost always the lightest in swing weight, especially if you are doing a lot of false casting when fishing dry flies.  

 

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 dries 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.

The best 5-line rods need to have excellent loop control and the ability to throw very tight loops to get the best accuracy and presentations.  But they should also be able to 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 then 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 an angler to double-haul well and form good, long, tight back cast 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 will load well and 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, ones 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, the Scott Radian, the Hardy Zenith, St. Croix’s Legend Elite, and the Loop Opti Stream.   But quite a few were right there on their heels.  

 

“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 line.  So that hurts rods that are only good in close or at short to medium distances. It eliminates rods we feel are just too stiff to be called 5-weight rods. A good example would be the TFO BVK and the Rugged Creek Traditional.  There are other borderline stiff 5-weights like the Echo 3 and the Loop Cross S1.  They get down rated accordingly. 

 

Warranties explained by manufacturer

Here is a short recap of each manufacturer’s policy and what we have experienced for repair time required. 

 

Aleka -  Lifetime warranty.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are replaced.  Normal time 2-4 weeks.

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.

Douglas – Lifetime warranty.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes two weeks.

Echo - Lifetime warranty for original owner.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are replaced.  Normal time 2-4 weeks

Fenwick- Lifetime warranty.   $35 handling fee.  Rods are replaced.  Normal time 2-4 weeks.

Hardy - Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are repaired. Shipping is from their US warehouse, normally about 10 -14 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 or any other cause you must use the Expeditor service, which charges your credit card for $100 but you get a brand new rod in 3-4 days. 

Loop - Lifetime warranty to original owner. $60 handling fee.  Rods are repaired.  Same day or next day shipping if they have the parts in stock, if not, usually takes 2 weeks.

Mystic - Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $50 handing fee.  Rods are replaced.   Usually takes 1-2 weeks. 

Orvis -  25 year warranty to original owner.  $30 handling fee.  Rod is repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 2-4 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 4-6 weeks.  Winston does offer a "lender" program while your rod is being repaired but this is still somewhat of a hassle.

Rugged Creek – Lifetime warranty.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are replaced.  Usually takes 2-4 weeks.  

Sage – Lifetime warranty to original owner. $50 handling fee.  Rods are repaired, not replaced.   Usually takes 4-6 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.

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

 

Some Rods don’t make the cut, here's why

This year we limited each manufacturer to two rods in the shootout.  So we picked what we felt were the best two 5-weights they had to offer.  We refuse to test any private labeled rods (Ex. Cabelas,  LL Bean, Bass Pro Shops etc).  We also refuse to test any rods sold only over the internet, and not readily available at “brick and mortar” fly shops here in the US and worldwide.  We also don’t test rods manufactured in other countries unless they are available here in US fly shops.     

 

Bass Pro Shops Rods -  see above.

Burkheimer -  We have felt their trout rods are too slow in action in past shootouts.

Cabelas rods -  Only available at Cabelas stores.

Clutch Rods – We tested these in 2013 and they did not fare well.

Echo Carbon – really heavy in swing weight – their other rods are better

G. Loomis StreamDance GLX -  Good, but about to be discontinued.

Elkhorn Rods -  We tested these in 2013,  didn’t get any samples for our 2015 test.

Grey’s – With Pure Fishing buying Hardy/Greys , they will only be sold in Europe.

(The Fenwick Aetos is a Grey's rod for the US market).

Hardy Artisan – Great, but a very expensive rod, and now discontinued.

Loop – Their other rods are not as good as the Opti Stream or Cross S1

Orvis Clearwater -  Good inexpensive rod, but others are better

Redington Link and other rods -  Heavy and not very impressive. 

Ross Essence FC and Essence FS – The RX was far better. 

Sage Circa - too soft for an all around 5-weight, not enough power at longer ranges

Sage Method - too stiff.   Almost every angler will need to up-line one size

Sage TXL-F - good, but generally too light and too short for an all around 5-weight. 

Sage Response and Approach - we felt other rods we tested were better for less $$.  

Scott A4 - Not bad but the Radian and G2 are better rods.

St. Croix Rio Santo - Good inexpensive rod but Imperial is a lot better.  

Other TFO rods - none are as good as the BVK

Winston BIIIsx - way too stiff, a klunker in the trout weights

Winston Nexus -  Good, but the BIIIx and LS are better.  

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths - Wonderful, but only four-piece rods qualify this year. 

 

More women’s rods showing up this year

Scott Radian w's rod

buy now

We are seeing some very nice rods for women this year from Scott (Women’s Radian), Mystic (Mystic Sapphyre in 9 foot #5 and #6 weights), Winston’s Joan Wulff Favorite in the BIIIx in 9 foot #5 as well as others.  These rods have different cosmetics and some even have different grips specifically designed for a women's smaller hand.  Finally the gals have some great looking rods to set them apart from the guys.  Fellas – here is your chance to make some big points with the little lady!

Tom Morgan Rod Smiths

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 4-pc Graphite Rods to be available in late 2015

The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths graphite rods have performed extremely well in past 5-weight shootoutsbut we declined to test them in this latest 5-weight shootout since they are currently only available as two-piece rods.

Here is breaking news from Tom Morgan himself about the new 4-piece rods that will be available starting in late 2015:

“With so many anglers now traveling, particularly by flying, to their fishing destinations, the demand for multi-piece rods has grown substantially.  I have decided to design a series of 4-piece graphite rods in 8 1/2 foot 3-weight and 4-weight along with 9-foot 4-weight, 5- weight, and 6-weight rods.  To keep them strong, yet lightweight, I am using a new graphite material with a slightly higher modulus (stiffness factor) and a greater strain rate (resistance to breaking) than our traditional graphite.  I’m very confident this material will provide lightweight rods with great durability just like our regular graphite rods have proven to have. 

I have also worked hard to keep the same progressive action with the smoothness and the light, lively feeling so prized by anglers by using continuous taper blanks with spigot ferrules and keeping the weight down using lightweight and slightly smaller guides.  These rods all have the newest Snake Brand Universal light wire snake guides with ECO coating which is an environmentally friendly, extremely hard and smooth coating that’s also very slippery.  The new 8 1/2 foot and 9 foot 4-piece rods will still work well for dry fly fishing and small nymphs but are specifically designed for those wanting a longer rod to fish weighted flies, or multiple flies, and sometimes weight along with a floating indicator either by wading or from a boat. They will provide the extra reach and length to keep line off the water and to help set the hook for flies fished under the surface. These rods will be a slightly stiffer than my traditional designs but nothing like so many of the very stiff rods most manufacturers are making today.  They will still use the lines recommended for them and flex the way they should. I expect them to be available sometime in late 2015, once the prototypes have been perfected and we start production.  I am confident anglers will love them as they do my other designs and they will prove to be great fishing rods.”

As in the past, I’ll be helping Tom with my ideas in the final design stages, and doing the casting as we finalize the prototypes.  Yes, they will be expensive, but they will most likely be the finest 4-piece rods on the planet, and worth waiting for.  

5-weight shootout final results

5-weight shootout performance only

 

#1    G. Loomis NRX LP   9 foot #5     $755.00

G.Loomis.NRX.LP

buy now

G.Loomis PRO4x

In our 2013 5-weight shootout, the new G. Loomis NRX Lite Presentation was a surprise winner, and what a rod it has been. This is one rod that really impresses at all distances, and is everything we’re looking for in a 5-weight rod.  I’ve fished this rod since its introduction in 2013, and it continues to impress me with what it is capable of doing, and how easily it gets it done.  This rod has a very pleasant swing weight, and is just superb at shorter distances fishing small dry flies with fine tippets.  But don’t let that fool you -it has smooth yet explosive power on tap when you need it.  Out at 45-50 feet it is just the sweetest casting rod, and the most accurate, of anything we cast this year.  Only the Scott Radian felt this solid at middle distances, with the Hardy Zenith right on their heels.  

All of Steve Rajeff’s new NRX Light Presentation rods are excellent, but this one is just outstanding.  Forming tight loops is effortless with this rod and you can cast all day without any fatigue whatsoever.  The tip is soft, softer than other 5-weight rods, and this allows me to set the hook hard yet hardly ever break off any fish on the hook set, and I’m often using 6X tippets.  Take a look at the deflection chart and you will see how much more the actual tip bends on this rod compared to others.  Steve Rajeff has combined this softer tip with a good strong but and mid-section that provides the power you need to go long, chucking big wind resistant dries like hoppers or streamers.  Nymph fishermen will appreciate the power on tap to fire a double nymph rig along with split shot and an indicator.  This has been my go-to rod for a lot of my fishing this past year, and I’m impressed every time I get it in my hands.  

The NRX LP rods are available in two colors.  The original black rod with robin’s egg blue wraps,  and a nice dark green finished rod with green wraps.  We probably sell six to one green over the “blue”.  Another thing that I love are the dark nickel/titanium single foot guides used that are extremely light and flexible.  We have yet to see one break, bend, or pull out.  I’m convinced these are the best guides you can put on a light fly rod, and have no idea why other manufacturers don’t use them other than the expense. Loomis uses two Recoil, unbreakable stripping guides on these rods.  These aren’t my favorite as they can squeak if your line is dry and needs to be dressed but at least you’ll never break one.       

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet:  20 points out of 20
What a great feel in my hand.  Lots of feedback on what I’m doing and very easy to cast off the tip of the rod, making extremely accurate casts.  Simply the best. 

Performance at 45 feet:  20 points out of 20
This is the distance where this rod really shines.  The rod feels very light in my hand, tracks beautifully and throws extremely tight loops with terrific accuracy.  You can’t improve on this. 

Performance at 70 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Excellent!  Maybe not quite the power and drive of the Hardy Zenith or Opti Stream, but definitely better than the Helios 2 at long range.  This rod will hit 100 feet without breaking a sweat.  

 

#2 Scott Radian  9 foot #5       $795.00

 

Scott Radian

 

buy now

Scott radien

Scott’s new Radian ends up a close second!

We knew shortly after pulling Scotts new Radian out of the box that it was going to be a great rod.  They got the action just right – fast with a more flexible tip.  Scott fans are going to love this rod.  Not only does it perform well, but this is one of the most handsome rods we’ve seen.  The handle and reel seat jump out at you and beg you to pick this rod off the rack for a wiggle.  The handle shape is basically a half wells, but not a standard one.  This one has the swell well forward of the middle of the handle.  In my hand it feels great.  Then the reel seat is a very attractive black aluminum skeleton uplocking seat with a gorgeous reddish burled wood insert.  The blank follows Scott’s tradition of giving us an un-sanded blank showing the tape wraps and then finishing the rod with a clear epoxy finish, giving us the natural dark graphite grey color. Wraps are a dark gray, but at the ferrules and in the butt, they are also trimmed with an attractive narrow orange trim wrap and then medium gray trim at the end of the wrap. Classy.  The guides are a pretty much the standard set up with one Sic stripping guide and the rest hard chrome snake guides.  

One touch I love are inch measuring marks at 12 inches and 20 inches.  I wish more manufacturers would give us these.  I’ve often done this to my own rods as it is nice to know that trout was over 18, or over 20 inches.  I’d be happy with just one measuring mark at 20 inches.  They have that 12 inch mark for anglers in the East.  Ha,ha.

In performance, I rated the Radian just a bit lower than the NRX LP at short range for feel and accuracy, but at 45 feet they were both outstanding and got the only perfect scores for that all important mid-range distance.  The Radian is totally solid at long range too,  throwing beautiful tight loops with very good accuracy.  Here’s another rod that will go yard with little effort with an expert caster at the controls.  

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20
Excellent, but it just doesn’t feel as nice as the NRX LP.   I can feel the additional swing weight and I can’t get quite the accuracy I was getting with the NRX LP. 

Performance at 45 feet:  20 points out of 20
Now we’re talkin’.  Just as good as it gets at this range.  Very tight loops and terrific accuracy.  A very solid performance, and marginally better than the Opti Stream at mid-distance.

Performance at 70 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Very good loop control and the rod tracks nicely, giving me very good accuracy at long range.  Definitely one of the best casting rods at long range. 

 

 

#3. (tie)   Loop Opti Stream   9 foot #5      $532.00

loop optistream

 

buy now

Optistream loop

In our 2013  5-weight shootout, this rod finished 2nd overall, so we know this is no fluke.  What did surprise us was that it beat out the Loop Cross S1, their primo rod that we didn’t test in 2013.  This rod is surprisingly good at all ranges.  As you will see in the deflection charts,  this rod is a slightly slower action rod than any of the top six rods.  The stiffer tip didn’t give us quite the short distance accuracy we were getting with the other rods.

The one thing we loved was the very light swing weight – even better than the NRX LP or the Radian!   And more importantly, WAY lighter than the Cross S1.

If you are looking for the bargain in our 5-weight Shootout among the best performing rods, this is it!   At $532.00 you can buy the Opti Stream and have enough money left over to pick up one of our best performing inexpensive rods for your wife, son or daughter!   

Loop is a Swedish company, but we found out that these rods are built in the same factory in Korea as the Hardy Zenith, another one of our top rods.

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet:   19 points out of 20
Good, but feels vague compared to the NRX LP or Radian. The slower action and stiffer tip hurts the short-range feel and accuracy.  It is nice and light though.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
This rod forms very tight loops and gives wonderful accuracy at mid-range.  Very close to the NRX LP.  A nicer and lighter feel than the Helios 2.

Performance at 70 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Terrific!  Lots of power.  This rod really rips it out there with the best.   Good accuracy too.   

 

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

Hardy Zenith

 

buy now

Hardy zenith syntrix

The Hardy Zenith won our 2011 5-weight shootout, and it is still one of the very best 5-weight rods you can lay your hands on.  This is another rod that does it all and when you consider the price, you save $150 over the more expensive rods in our Shootout.  This year Hardy made one very nice change to the rod.  Now they give you a classy looking burled wood skeleton reelseat like the best rods, not some space age looking piece of aluminum.   

The Hardy Zenith is a stiff, fast-action rod.  One of the stiffest in our shootout,  but as we’ve seen, a S.A. GPX line works just fine. But this baby will really lay out some impressive long casts.  I gave it a perfect score of 20 at 70 feet, and throwing 100 feet is not much tougher.  It is just super solid at mid to long range and a real pleasure to cast.  In close, the stiffness hurts and accuracy suffers. If you do a lot of shorter distance dry fly fishing, I’d go with one of the other rods.  But if you want smooth, controlled power at mid to long range you can’t beat this rod.  The tight loops you can throw, and accuracy at mid and long range is amazing.

This was one of the first rods built using 3M’s new nano-resin technology.  Now a lot of people have to gone to this or something very close.  These Hardy rods have also proven to be tough to break, partly because of this resin system.

This is one of the first really good rods we’ve seen built in the Orient.  The Hardy rods are built in Korea but with the latest manufacturing techniques, the best materials, the best resins, extremely good cork and hardware.  And their quality control is superb.  And the key to why it all works is the design by Howard Croston, one of England’s top anglers in international competition.  

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
The stiffness contributes to a lack of feel and accuracy in close.  Good but not great.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Just totally solid and very accurate.   I felt that the NRX LP was slightly better and also was much lighter in my hand in terms of swing weight.   But at mid-range and out long, this rod really performs. 

Performance at 70 feet:  20 points out of 20
Here is the performance winner at long range.  The only perfect score at 70 feet. The Zenith tracks perfectly and bombs them in there with uncanny accuracy.  Going long – This rod will throw all that line you have on your reel.  With ease. 

 

#4   Orvis Helios 2  Tip-Flex  9 foot #5           $795.00

 

Orvis Helios 2 fly rod

 

buy now

Orvis Helios 2

The Orvis Helios 2 has performed very well in our last two 5-weight Shootouts, and for good reason.  This is a very light rod that casts a nice line and is especially good at short to middle distances.  If you are a dry fly angler, you’ll love this rod.  It is the lightest rod in overall weight in our Shootout, and it is also right up in the top rods in our all-important Swing Weight category.  Despite the Orvis designation of this being their Tip-Flex model, it is still not nearly as fast in action as say the NRX LP, the Winston BIIIx or the Hardy Zenith.  But don’t let that worry you, as this is a very nice casting rod at all distances.    

Besides casting well, It’s a good-looking rod too.  Typical excellent Orvis craftsmanship.  They use a comfortable Western style grip with a very nice skeleton uplock seat and an attractive lighter colored burled wood.  One thing I really like is the guide set up.  They use one big SIC stripping guide and then the good nickel/titanium unbreakable and flexible snake guides.  The finish is a handsome dark blue. 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Excellent short rang feel and accuracy.  Not as good as the NRX LP but as good as the other best rods in close.   I loved the lightweight and this gave me great feel. 

Performance at 45 feet:  19 points out of 20
Now it seems that the swing weight is just a tad heavier than the Opti Stream or the Hardy Jet but the rod tracks nicely, giving very good accuracy. 

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
At max distances the Helios 2 gives up a little to the best rods and seems to run out of steam.  For sure the accuracy was not as good as either the NRX LP or the Opti Stream.

 

 

#5   St. Croix Legend Elite     9 foot #5            $450.00

Legend Elite

 

buy now

St. Croix Legend Elite

The Legend Elite has always been one of our favorite rods and its performance rivals the very best.  This rod has very good butt and mid-section power but is slightly faster in action than the Helios 2, with a softer tip, which I like. This rod is perhaps the best bargain of all in the top performing rods at only $450.00.  The craftsmanship is excellent with an excellent cork Western style grip and good-looking Birdseye maple spacer and a gold uplocking aluminum seat.  Guides are one SIC stripper and the rest hard chrome single foot guides. 

St. Croix has changed over to their newer FRS resin, which they claim to be 5% stronger than the original 3M Nano Resin used in earlier models.   

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Very good feel in close because of the softer tip. Not as accurate as the LP but just about as good as the other top rods.

Performance at 45 feet:  19 points out of 20
Effortless tight loops and a good solid feel.  The Hardy Zenith and the Loop Opti Stream are marginally better though, as is the NRX LP.    A very nice mid-distance weapon.

Performance at 70 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Zings them in there with authority and as good as the NRX LP, Radian and Opti Stream.   The only thing better was the Hardy Zenith.   Overall a wonderful performance.  

 

#6    Hardy Jet       9 foot #5              $495.00

Hardy Jet

 

buy now

Hardy Jet

This is a new rod from Hardy, and it’s another good one!  They dropped the price substantially from the Zenith, but give us a rod that casts nicely and even looks a lot like the Zenith.  The Jet is a better close range rod than the Zenith, but at long range it simply runs out of gas.  The handle uses the same top grade cork that Hardy has become known for and then they use a nice dark burled wood spacer along with an uplocking, double lock seat.  They did cheap out on the guides though, using just normal hard chrome snake guides rather than the high class flexible one-foot guides found on the Zenith. 

It’s incredibly low swing weight compared to other rods makes this a pleasure to cast all day long.  This is another one that is priced well under the expensive rods and a bargain for the performance you are getting.   

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Excellent feel, and even better accuracy in close than the Zenith.   And lots lighter in the hand in swing weight.  

Performance at 45 feet:  19 points out of 20
Again, nice and light.  The accuracy was good but didn’t match the NRX LP, Zenith or Opti Stream.  The Zenith is a much more solid rod at this range.

Performance at 70 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
A lot less power than the Zenith. OK feel and accuracy out long but if you are going to want a rod with great long distance capability, skip this one.   

 

 

 

#7(tie)  G. Loomis Pro 4X LP    9 foot #5           $375.00

G.Loomispro4x

 

buy now

looomis pro four x

Note - Not available until mid-July, 2015 

The shop guys really liked this rod but I wasn’t blown away.  Maybe this is because I’m spoiled after casting and fishing the NRX LP a lot.   Don’t get me wrong – this is a very good casting rod and has plenty of power to go long.   In close I liked the Douglas DXF a lot better.  It was also a lot lighter in overall weight and swing weight.  But at mid-distance the Pro 4X LP was dramatically better. Like the NRX LP, Steve Rajeff has given us a design that throws extremely tight loops with good accuracy, especially at the distances we fish most of the time.

Loomis gave us the great one-piece nickel titanium guides on the NRX LP, but on this rod they have the cheaper one-foot hard chrome guides that are not nearly as good and much heavier.  What would it cost to use the best guides?  Another 5 bucks?  At least there is a SIC stripper on this rod, which I like better than those wire recoil stripping guides.  A standard western style grip is used, along with a nice uplocking aluminum seat.  The blank color is to me Slime Green, and personally I think it is ugly.  Then they use slightly lighter olive wraps that adds to the Yuk factor.  This is a good mid-priced rod but overall I give the edge to the Douglas DXF, and it is $50 cheaper to boot.

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Good but the DXF slightly better and feels a lot lighter in swing weight.  Not even close to the NRX LP in either feel or accuracy.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
This rod really comes alive at this range and feels nicely balanced with the #5 GPX line.   Now I’m forming nice controlled loops with very good accuracy.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Good but the BVK smokes it at long range when cast head to head.  

 

#7(tie)   Douglas DXF          9 foot #5             $325.00

douglas rods DXF

 

buy now

Douglas DXF

I like this rod a lot.  It’s really good looking and casts a beautiful line too.  This is a new company in New York State that is being managed by Jim Murphy, who decided to leave Hardy once it got sold to Pure Fishing.  Jim knows a lot about how to design great fly rods, and has given us a lot of really good casting rods over the years from Albright, Redington and then Hardy. The action of this DXF is spot on, and this is a nice light rod too, in terms of overall weight and swing weight.  They are using a dark green blank, but with a flat, non-glare finish.  Then darker green wraps are used with a standard shiny epoxy coating.  The end result is elegant.  A SIC stripper and hard chrome snake guides are used.  The handle is a comfortable Western style grip with a flare at the back and a uplocking double lock aluminum seat in dark green to compliment the blank, but with a lighter, very good looking burled wood insert. 

This rod is my pick as the best mid-priced rod on the market today. It really performs almost as well as the best rods for half the price. All of the Douglas rods are currently made in Korea, but Douglas plans to have at least one USA made rod in the line up soon.

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Nice feel in my hand – light, and loads well with a GPX line.  A lot better feel than the TFO BVK and much better accuracy.   One of the best rods we cast in accuracy at short range.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
A very good performance overall.   Nice tight loops and the rod tracks nicely.  Good feel and pretty good accuracy, not far off the best rods.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Smooth, well-balanced power, with good accuracy.  But for a long-range bomber, the TFO BVK cleans its clock. 

 

#7(tie)  Beulah Guide Series II    9 foot #5  $295.00

beulah guide series

 

buy now

Beulah guide series 2 

This is a new rod from Beulah, who makes some wonderful rods here in the US, in Medford, Oregon.  This Guide Series II is another bargain rod in terms of performance.  This was a surprise as it beat out their more expensive Platinum.  It isn’t as fancy in the grip and wraps as the Platinum, but what it does have is a slightly faster action and slightly softer tip, which gives it the edge in performance.  Accuracy was better too, especially at 45 and 70 feet.  Weights are somewhat similar.  The Guide Series II was slightly lighter in overall weight, but slightly heavier in swing weight.  This is a dark gray rod with dark gray wraps.  The handle is a Western style grip, using silver uplocking alum. Seat with a rosewood wood insert. The guides are one SiC stripper, with the rest fairly large diameter hard chrome snake guides.

If your budget is $300 or less, you won’t find a better rod than this one!

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
I like this rod as it has a faster tip than the Platinum.  Nice in close and even better at longer ranges. 

Performance at 45 feet:  19 points out of 20
Here is the sweet spot for this rod.  Nice well controlled, tight loops and very good accuracy.   A smooth casting rod.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Good power, tracks well and decent accuracy.   In all a very good performance, for a less expensive rod. 

 

#8    Orvis Recon      9 foot #5       $425.00

Orvis Recon

 

buy now

Orvis Recon fly rod

The Orvis Recon series of rods is new for 2015 and will be available in Jan. of 2015, but we had Orvis send us one for our 2015 Shootout as we had a hunch it would be good.  We were right.  This rod is a tad heavier than the Helios 2, but still a relatively light rod.  This isn’t as fancy as the top of the line Helios 2 but we’re talking about half the price!  This rod doesn’t use the same high-tech thermo-plastic resins like the Helios 2, thus the heavier weight.  

The color of this blank is a dark olive/gray with slightly darker guide wraps.  Orvis uses a high quality cork Western style grip with a nice gray uplocking aluminum reel seat with a burled wood insert.  The guide set up is a single larger SiC stripping guide but then with the cheaper hard chrome snake guides.  The craftsmanship is excellent – typical Orvis quality.  This rod has a fast action, much like the Tip-Flex Helios 2.  Finally, Orvis is getting it right, in terms of building rods with actions a whole lot better than some of their stuff in their past.   

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
The Recon doesn’t have that sweet feel and the same kind of accuracy at short range than I’m getting with the Helios 2.   Good but not great.

Performance at 45 feet:  19 points out of 20
Very nice tight loops and plenty of power.  A very nice rod at mid-distance.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Tracks well and feels nicely balanced with the GPX.    Plenty of power to throw long. 

 

 

#9    Beulah Platinum   9 foot #5     $395.00

 Beulah Platinum  

 

buy now

Beulah Platinum rod

For the price, this has been one of our favorite rods.   Beulah does a very nice job with the cosmetics on this rod too – The blank is a pleasing medium brown with a fancy handle, using three different styles of cork, that sets this rod apart from anything else you’ll see.  A standard western style grip is used with a silver aluminum uplocking seat along with an attractive spacer of burled wood.   Attractive trim wraps are used on the butt section and at the ferrules.  The guide set up is one SiC stripper and the rest hard chrome snake guides. 

This rod has a nice medium fast action and feels great in my hand while casting.  Less aggressive casters will like this rod as it throws a line at a slightly slower velocity than many rods – very forgiving.  My first impression was nice!   Buttery smooth, and I like it.  

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
A very pleasant rod to cast in close.  Good accuracy too.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Good, but the Pro 4X LP was better.   I loved the smooth feel combined with good accuracy.  The Beulah Guide Series II was also better at mid-range.

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
Doesn’t have the guts needed to throw long all day.  The Platinum will get it done but you’ll have to be good with your double-haul.

 

 

 

#10   R.L. Winston    BIIIx     9 foot #5      $795.00

RL Winston B3X

 

buy now

RL winston b3x

Always one of our favorite rods from Winston, the BIIIx remains unchanged for 2015 but there are plenty of good things to talk about.  The first thing you notice is what a gorgeous rod this is, especially in the sunlight.  The deep emerald finish just sparkles like no other.  The matching green wraps compliment the blank color.  The craftsmanship is extremely good and close to a 10.  Winston uses a very comfortable Western style grip that feels just perfect in my hand.  Their uplocking reel seat is stunning, using bright nickel-silver fittings and what looks to be a very fancy burled maple spacer. The guides are one SiC stripper and the rest are the same top-notch hard chrome snake guides that Winston has always used.

The thing I like most about this rod is the fast action and nice soft tip.  It has a softer tip that just about any of our #5 rods.   Much better than the BIIx though, which was just too sloppy.  The BIIIx is a favorite of dry fly anglers everywhere as it is especially good at shorter ranges and delivers very accurate casts with exceptional accuracy. This is a faster action rod than the BIIILS and more to my liking. 

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19.5 points out of 20
Simply excellent.   Only the NRX LP was better.  A very nice feel and superb accuracy in close.   I felt like I could put the fly right where I wanted it. 

Performance at 45 feet:  19 points out of 20
Very good, but doesn’t track as quite as well or have the punch of the NRX LP, Radian or the Hardy Zenith.  Better than the BIIILS though.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
It is hard to push this rod to perform like the best rods at long range.   It will get it done but the cast timing is really critical. 

 

 

#10 (tie)     Sage One      9 foot #5        $775.00

Sage ONE

 

buy now

Sage ONE fly rods

The Sage One has been around for a few years now – nothing new.  Decent performance overall but more slanted to better long-range work.  At short distances I was disappointed mainly because this rod has such a stiff tip that lacked the kind of feel and accuracy I was getting with the G. Loomis NRX LP or the Scott Radian.  The craftsmanship is excellent and typical for Sage.  I like the shape of the handle a lot too.   It is a semi-half wells but with little swell in the middle of the grip and just a slightly smaller taper forward.  The blank color is a handsome dark brown/black and they use an excellent uplocking aluminum seat anodized in brown to compliment the blank color.  A nice walnut wood spacer is used.  The guides are one SiC stripper and then hard chrome snake guides, with the guides out on the tip smaller and lighter wire.  Very nice.    

This rod has a medium-fast action and slower than I like.  I’m not that hot on the 9 foot #5 in this model, but the Sage One in 8'6" #4 is an exceptionally nice rod that a lot of my friends, that are very good anglers, use and like. 

Sage is using their konnetic technology in this rod, which is a mouthful for lighter, higher modulus graphite and better resin systems. You can check all this out on their web site but I soon tire of phrases like “Advanced Modulus Positioning System”.   Our Shootouts try to cut through all this BS. 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18 points out of 20
Only fair accuracy and feel, due to the too-stiff tip.  If you want a better dry fly rod go to their 8 ½ foot #4 Sage One

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Good, just not great.  Tracks well but not in the same class as the NRX LP, Scott Radian or Hardy Zenith.

Performance at 70 feet:  19 points out of 20
Now the power comes through, and at long range the One blasts casts out there with authority and good accuracy.  

 

 

#10 (tie)  Douglas DHF  9 foot #5   $169.00

Douglas DHF

 

buy now

Douglas DHF

Another nice casting rod from Douglas and one of the lowest priced rods in our Shootout.  This rod is dark green with dark green wraps and white trim.   It is a normal shiny epoxy finish, not the flat finish found on the more expensive DXF.  A Western styled cork grip is used along with a gray anodized aluminum double ring uplocking seat and green graphite insert.   The action is medium fast, and a bit slower than the DXF.  The performance figures are a straight 18, across the board.  Good but nothing to write home about. 

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18 points out of 20
Good, not great.   Won’t form the nice tight loops like I’m getting from the Mystic Reaper 

Performance at 45 feet:  18 points out of 20
Good, but the Reaper edges it out in both feel and accuracy.  The Fenwick Aetos was better than either.

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
Again, good but not great. 

 

 

#10 (tie)  Fenwick Aetos     9 foot #5     $189.95

Fenwick Aetos

 

buy now
fenwick aetos

Not available until February 2015

If you've fished Grey's rods before you may recognize this rod as the Gr50.  With the shake-up in Hardy, being bought by Pure Fishing Inc., one of the world’s largest makers of fishing tackle (Abu Garcia, Berkley, Mitchell, Fenwick, and now Hardy and Greys). The Greys rods will no longer be imported into the US under that name.   Now it is being sold under the Fenwick label and this rod is called the Fenwick Aetos.  (Greek eagle that was Zeus' personal messenger).  This rod impressed us as its action was not far off from the Hardy Zenith.  But you’ll be more likely to find this rod in the big box stores like Walmart or Basspro than in specialty fly shops.  Too bad, as this is a pretty darn good rod at a great price.     

The Aetos is a dark greyish blue with similar wraps. The handle is a conventional Western style grip with some nice contrasting cork rings at the base.  The reel seat is a black aluminum double uplocking seat with what looks like a blue graphite insert.  A SiC stripping guide is used along with black finished, small wire diameter snake guides that look very good to me. 

This rod has the same nice fast action and softer tip.  The swing weight is very light – one of the best in our Shootout.  The Fenwick Aetos was easily our pick for the best inexpensive rod in our 2015 Shootout.

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Very good, but doesn’t perform as well as the Mystic Reaper at short range. 

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
At mid-range, now it is better than the Reaper, with nice smooth, well controlled power.   Light and delightful to cast.

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
Feels light in my hand and delivers smooth casts at long range.  Not quite the power of the better rods though.

 

 

#11 (tie)   Aleka A8   9 foot #5     $160.00

Aleka A8

 

buy now

Aleka A8

Here is another pretty good import rod, built in China and imported into the US by Aleka.  They offer a series of rods from #3 to #8 weights.  The 5-weight we got was a more medium action rod.  This is a good-looking rod, with an eye-popping green color and dark green wraps, trimmed in gold.  They use a standard Western style grip, with a bronze colored aluminum uplocking reel seat and dark wood insert – I think.  They are saying that it is walnut insert, but I’ve never seen walnut look like this.  It’s not all that attractive, whatever it is.  The guide set up is two SiC stripping guides and then some stout, hard chrome one-foot guides. This rod had a stiffer tip than the best rods, and this didn’t help in close range accuracy.  I don’t see myself getting excited about this rod, but at least the price is right.  

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17.5 points out of 20
Just OK.  The stiff tip didn’t allow for much feel and the accuracy suffered accordingly.    

Performance at 45 feet:  18 points out of 20
The Ross RX was marginally better, as was the Mystic Reaper and TFO BVK at the middle distances.  All good but not great. 

Performance at 70 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
Nothing to write home about.  There were a few others that tied it for a lackluster performance, but none worse.

 

 

#11 (tie)   Ross Rx   9 foot #5   $299.00

ross rx

 

buy now

Ross RX

Other than the logo on the rod, the Ross RX is unchanged since our 2013  Five-Weight Shootout, when it finished tied for 7th.   It finished farther back this year since there are just more good rods showing up that cast better and look better.  This is another rod made in the orient.  The action seems closer to medium than medium fast.  A more flexible tip would do wonders for this rod.  The price is right, and Ross has one of the best warranties in the business.   

This rod is a reddish brown with dark red raps, some trimmed with silver in the butt section and at the ferrules.  A Western style grip is used with a silver aluminum, double locking, uplock seat with a color coordinated red graphite insert.  The guides are one SiC stripper, and then the rest hard chrome snake guides.  For fifty bucks more, the Echo 3 is a lot better rod.

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17.5 points out of 20
Not so great.  The stiffer tip killed it in close.  The Mystic Reaper kicks ass here.

Performance at 45 feet:  18 points out of 20
Better, but still not thrilling. The Echo 3 was far better at mid and long distance.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Getting better as the distance increases, but still nothing that excites me.  The Echo 3 thumps it big time as does the BVK. 

 

 

 

#12 (tie)    Echo 3 9 foot #5     $350.00

Echo 3

 

buy now

Ross RX

This is a nice rod but I think it is just a little too stiff.  We tested it with a WF-5-F GPX, but many anglers, especially beginners, would be a whole lot better off jumping this up to a WF-6-F.  Then it would load a whole lot better, especially at short distance.  This is a great looking rod with excellent craftsmanship.   The deep olive/green blank is wrapped with dark green wrap, trimmed with fine silver wraps on the butt section and at the ferrules.   A good standard Western style cork grip is used along with a silver aluminum uplocking seat and a good looking burled wood insert.  The guide set up is two SiC strippers but then some larger diameter hard chrome snake guides, about the size you might find on a good saltwater rod. If you like big guides, you are going to love this rod. 

It casts good too, especially at long range.  Tim Rajeff, one of the world’s best casters along with his brother Steve, is responsible for the design, and it’s a good one.  Here is another rod made in the orient, in South Korea, where the best imported rods seem to be coming from.  

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F, (or a Scientific Angler Trout WF-6-F for beginners)

Performance at 25 feet: 17.5 points out of 20
This is a powerful rod – needs a WF-6-F in close.  Decent accuracy but nebulous feel in my hand.   Heavy in swing weight too.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Far better at mid-range with more line in the air.  This rod tracks very well and provides satisfying accuracy. 

Performance at 70 feet:  19 points out of 20
Nice tight controlled loops.  Good smooth power to provide excellent accuracy at long range.  Can’t touch the TFO BVK though for kick ass power.

 

 

#12 (tie)    Mystic Reaper    9 foot #5    $299.00

Mystic Reaper

 

buy now

Mystic Reaper

The Mystic Reaper just barely missed our 2013  Five-weight shootout as they had sent us a Mystic Maveryck that we tested instead.  The Maveryck was pretty crappy but then they told us about this other rod they had the Mystic Reaper and sent us one to try.  It was WAY, WAY better.   Why they didn’t send us one in time for our previous Shootout, I have no idea.  But when we tested the Reaper against our other inexpensive rods, it was plain that now we had another contender for the best inexpensive rod.  When I picked up the Reaper, I could sense that the action was about right and the stiffness was right in the ballpark too.  The action is a very nice fast action, with a softer tip that we like.  It performed so well that we added it in at the end of our Shootout, and at $229, we called it our new “Best Buy” winner.  

The Mystic Reaper is basically unchanged from two years ago but it is still a heck of a good rod.  They were able to keep the price the same and this rod still provides some impressive performance.   In fact, in performance figures only, it now places a close second behind the Fenwick Aetos, which will now be the new 2015 Five-Weight Shootout "Best Buy" winner.  There were eleven rods that finished below the Reaper in Performance only - including two rods in the $745-795 range, and only two that were less expensive. 

The Reaper not only casts well, but it is an attractive rod too with very good craftsmanship.  This rod is a pleasing medium brown with darker brown wraps.  The cork handle is a western style grip with high quality cork.   They use a silver aluminum uplocking seat with a fancy burled wood insert.  For guides, they use two SiC strippers and then good-sized hard chrome snakes the rest of the way.

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
Surprisingly nice feel in my hand, mainly because of its fairly light swing weight. Way lighter than the BVK, and even the Legend Elite. The softer tip gave excellent short distance accuracy, as good as the very best rods!  

Performance at 45 feet:  18 points out of 20
Good, but not as good as the Fenwick Aetos (the old Grays XF2). Tracks nicely with fairly good accuracy.   Both the Beulah Guide Series II and Douglas DXF were better, but they are more expensive rods.

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
Nice and smooth.  And it gets decent accuracy at this range too.  

 

 

#13 (tie)    Scott G2    9 foot #5   $745.00

Scott G2

 

buy now

Scott G2

We tested the G2 back in 2013, and it is unchanged from then, when it finished in a tie for 7th. But time marches on and there are many better rods now including their terrific Radian that finished 2nd this year.  The G2 is a much slower rod in action than the Radian with more of a medium fast than fast action.   Also, this rod uses spigot ferrules, which I don’t like as much as the slip over ferrules. However, they do theoretically allow a smoother, more one-piece type action than slip over ferrules.   Like the Radian, Scott finishes this rod in the raw graphite color, not sanding the blank but allowing the tape marks to be seen.   Scott fans will like this.   Another nice touch, like the Radian, are inch marks (wraps) at 12 inches and 20 inches that make it easy to measure your fish. 

The craftsmanship is superb.  They use a conventional Western style grip with a black uplocking aluminum seat and a really beautiful light colored burled wood insert.   The blank is graphite gray of course and the wraps are a pleasing medium brown.  The guide set up is one SiC stripper and the rest thin wire hard chrome snake guides.  Nice.    

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler Trout in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
I’m not getting the tight loops like I am with the Radian or NRX LP.  Very good just not great.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Nothing exciting here.  The Radian is simply far, far better, as is the NRX LP. 

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
Just OK, nothing more.  This rod’s strong suit is in the shorter distances.   The GPX line loads it a little too heavy at longer distances and you might try a standard Trout taper that wouldn’t bog it down so much.

 

 

#13 (tie)  TFO BVK    9 foot #5   $259.95

TFO BVK

 

buy now

Temple Fork Outfitters BVK

The same rod we tested back in 2013, and just about the same finishing order – it was 12th that year.  The BVK, which are Lefty Kreh’s initials since he designed this series of rods for TFO, has always been one of the better inexpensive rods.  But in the 5-weight, my feelings are that this rod is just too stiff.   Here is another rod that really needs to be bumped up to a WF-6-F, especially at shorter distances.  At long range though, it really smokes them out there once you get more line in the air.  At close range, the stiffness hurts badly, in terms of both feel and accuracy.  

This rod is a very dark olive green, with dark green wraps.  They use a standard Western style grip, flared at the back and a gray uplocking aluminum seat with two tiny double locking rings.  Yeah, they are too small.  They use a green graphite spacer.  The guide set up starts with two huge SiC stripping guides about like they have on their 8-weight rod, and then light wire hard chrome snake guides of just the right diameter.  

It’s a good thing that they have one of the best warranties and quickest return times in the industry as a hell of a lot of these rods break.  In our shop we have more returns on TFO’s than just about anything.

I have one more perpetual gripe (TFO are you listening?).  This is the only rod in our Shootout that does not come with a hard case.  They only give you a cloth bag.  What gives?  They do offer a hard case, but that costs you an extra 30 bucks!  One thing you should consider if you need a hard case is to get their good Triangular multi-rod 32” travel 4-pc. case that will hold 4-6 rods in their cloth bags.  These cost $49.95.  I use one of these on most of my fishing trips – either driving or flying.  Flying, I hand carry this with me on the plane, no problem.  

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-6-F (We tested this rod with a WF-5-F GPX)

Performance at 25 feet: 17.5 points out of 20
Not so good.  The stiff tip didn’t allow for much feel and the accuracy suffered accordingly.   This would be a whole lot better with a #6 line.  

Performance at 45 feet:  18 points out of 20
Very smooth, well balanced, and surprisingly accurate.  A little heavy in swing weight, but it really blasts them out at mid to long range.

Performance at 70 feet:  19 points out of 20
Here’s your long-range rocket launcher of the 5-weights we tested.   Now it feels a lot better with more line in the air.  Great power and tracks well. 

 

#14     Winston BIIILS        9'#5        $795.00

RL Winston BIIILS

 

buy now

Winston B3LS

I’m still trying to figure out why this rod finished so far back in the pack.   Like the BIIIx, it is a gorgeous rod with craftsmanship second to none in our Shootout.   The big problem for me is the action.  It is just a lot slower than the BIIIx.  At short distances where it is so delightful casting off the tip with the BIIIx, the LS is far more work.   The performance figures were pretty much a flat line – all at 18.5.  Not bad but not great anywhere.   Anglers that like slower rods might like this one, but not me.  

The color is that wonderful emerald Winston Green.  They use their cigar grip, which is really a Western style that tapers down more at the tip.  The uplocking hardware is beautiful Nickel Silver with a spectacular piece of burled maple (?) for the spacer.  You can also get an optional anodized aluminum seat with graphite insert but the Nickel Silver and burled wood sure looks a lot better.  The guides start with one SiC stripping guide and then they use light wire, hard chrome snake guides.  Like the BIIIx, this rod utilizes boron technology in the butt section.   These rods are built in Twin Bridges, Montana. 

 

George’s Casting Notes:  Perfect line: Scientific Anglers Trout in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
The slower action of this rod didn’t give me nearly as good accuracy or feel as with the BIIIx.   A GPX line loaded this rod better in close. 

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Very good, but not even close to the NRX LP or the Scott Radian.  Even the $189 Fenwick Aetos felt better.

Performance at 70 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Well balanced with the Trout taper at long range, but it just lacks the power and punch of the best rods.  Accuracy was good just not great.

 

 

#15   Sage Accel      9 foot #5      $595.00

Sage Accel

 

buy now

Sage Accel

Here is another rod that I never dreamed would finish this far back in the pack – and near the bottom of our Shootout!  This is a new rod from Sage this year and they are really high on it.   I have to admit that Sage got me excited reading about this rod on their web site -  “Our all new Accel benefits from key insights garnered through development of Konnetic Technology. Light and ultra-responsive to throw tight wind-busting loops.”  

The best thing about this rod to me is the color- it is a vibrant bright grass green, with dark green wraps.  The craftsmanship is excellent.  But when I cast this rod all that prose on the Sage website vanished like the air out of a punctured tire.  Not only is the Accel far heavier in both overall weight and swing weight than the Sage One, but the action is just too slow.  I have trouble even calling it medium fast.  Only four rods in our Shootout finished worse than the Accel in both the overall results AND the performance results. 

The handle shape is much like the Sage One, a half-wells style, but with very little swell under your palm and a slight forward taper to the grip.  A black aluminum uplocking seat is used with dark, rosewood looking spacer.  The guides start off with one SiC stripping guide and then standard hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way.

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Decent accuracy, but not a whole lot of feel with that stiffer tip.  I could tell that this rod is a lot heavier in swing weight than the Sage One or the NRX LP.

Performance at 45 feet:  18 points out of 20
Disappointing.  I expected a lot better.   Again, noticeably heavier than the best rods.   Tracks well but doesn’t have the juice I’m looking for.

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
The Sage One was FAR better at long range.  And required a whole lot less effort.

 

 

#16      Loop Cross 1    9'#5     $795.00

Loop Cross S1

 

buy now

Loop Cross 1

We know that lots of people in Europe love this rod, but it sure wasn’t one of my favorites.   Loop’s Opti Stream is a much better choice at a lot less money.  Compared to the Opti Stream, the Cross S1 is too stiff, too slow in action, and too heavy.  Ditto for all the other best rods in our Shootout.  I do like the nice flat gray, non-glare finish with black wraps.  The handle is an attractive Western style grip with contrasting cork rings at the top and bottom.  The reel seat is a strange looking thing that you would expect to see in one of the transformer movies.  Seems to work well enough with one big locking ring on the uplocking anodized seat.  Guides start out with the dreaded recoil stripping guide, like the NRX LP, but then they use some very nice and light nickel/titanium, dark colored unbreakable snake guides.  The overall craftsmanship is excellent. 

This is a rod using the 3M nano resin, called 3M Powerlux composites.   So it should be good and strong.  I was surprised that this rod is noticeably heavier than the Opti Stream since they are using the higher tech resins.  

My main gripe is with the action.  It is just too slow.  I guess you could call it medium fast but it’s really more medium than fast.   And that kills it at short distance.  Very little feel and poor accuracy in close, compared to the best rods like the Radian and NRX LP.   Here is another rod that is so stiff that you could easily step up to a WF-6-F, especially for close and mid-distance work. 

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-6-F (We tested this rod with a WF-5-F GPX)

Performance at 25 feet: 17 points out of 20
The stiffness in the tip hurt with little feel or accuracy at short distance.

Performance at 45 feet:  18 points out of 20
For me, this rod refuses to form the tight loops I’m getting with the Opti Stream and the other top rods.   OK but nothing better.

Performance at 70 feet:  19 points out of 20
Finally the stiffness comes into play.  Out long this rod has good power and surprisingly good accuracy.  It feels far better at long range than in close. 

 

 

#17 St. Croix Imperial   9 foot #5       $240.00

st.croix.imperial

 

buy now

Saint Croix Imperial

Another rod we tested in our 2013  Five-weight Shootout.  This has been one of our favorite inexpensive rods over the years, but now it has become a bit dated with all the good new rods hitting the market that offer better performance and lighter weight for the same low price.  Despite the fact that this rod is fairly heavy in swing weight, it does have a nice medium fast action.  The rod is an attractive burgundy red with dark red wraps. The cork handle is a standard Western style grip with a darker brown anodized aluminum uplocking seat and complimentary burgundy wood spacer.  Guides are one big SiC stripper followed up with fairly large diameter, thin diameter wire hard chrome snake guides.  This rod is built in the USA at Park Falls, Wi. 

The Imperial is heavier in swing weight than their wonderful Legend Elite that utilizes higher modulus graphite and more sophisticated nano resins.   On the other hand, it is only half the price of the Legend Elite. 

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 17.5 points out of 20
Feels heavy compared to the other best inexpensive rods.  The Mystic Reaper is far better in close in both feel and accuracy.

Performance at 45 feet:  18 points out of 20
Good, but not great.   Feels heavy in swing weight and a lot more work to cast than the Legend Elite or even the Reaper.

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
Gets it done, but you’ll expend more energy than you want to. 

 

 

#18 Rugged Creek Traditional      9 foot #5       $220.00

Rugged Creek Traditional

 

buy now

Rugged Creek Traditional

I like the fast action of this rod and the nice flexible tip.  It casts fairly well, especially at close and mid-distances, but the handle feels goofy big to me.  It’s a Western style grip but the swell is too far forward and too big.  The quality of the cork is pretty shabby too.  Looks like your local body shop went nuts with the bondo.  The reel seat is a gray anodized aluminum uplocking seat with two large locking rings and a nice, attractive dark burled wood spacer.  The blank color is a flat dark brown with basically ugly dark olive wraps.  Guides are two stripping guides that look like SiC’s but looking closely I don’t see any ceramic insert.  This isn’t good.  The rest are black hard chrome snake guides, but they are big in wire size and bound to be heavy.  Again, not so good.  They cheeped out on the guides for sure. 

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
Heavy swing weight hurts but the accuracy is really pretty good.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
I’m getting some decent loops and the rod seems to track well.  Can’t get used to the goofy handle though.

Performance at 70 feet:  18 points out of 20
OK but nothing impressive.  The score of 18 was probably too generous.

 

 

#19   Echo Boost   9 foot #5    $229.00

echo boost

 

buy now

Echo Boost

As in all our Shootouts there is going to be one rod that finishes dead last.  You’re looking at it.  I’m sorry Tim, but this rod just didn’t do it for me.  The only thing worse was that Eco Carbon you sent us to try and that was the all-time rug beater.  The Boost was the only rod in our Shootout that broke though the 11 oz. swing weight barrier.  That’s heavy.  The Carbon was even worse but of course that didn’t make the cut.  If you are fishing dry flies all day, you better have a massage therapist lined up if you are using this baby. 

The rod itself looks innocent enough until you get it in your hands.  The blank looks like straight polished graphite to me without any finish.  The wraps are an attractive black with very thin red trim wraps. Pretty classy.  The handle is also an attractive Western style grip with thin contrasting cork rings at the top and bottom.  A black anodized uplocking reel seat is used, with a gray graphite spacer. Guides are two SiC stripping guides and then some thin wire but huge diameter dark colored snake guides that ought to be on a saltwater rod.

The action really isn’t that bad- medium fast with a softer tip.  The thing that just kills it for me is the weight.  I liked the Echo 3 a whole lot but this one is simply too heavy.  

 

George’s Casting Notes:   The perfect line: Scientific Angler GPX in WF-5-F

Performance at 25 feet: 16.5 points out of 20
Just OK.  The stiff tip didn’t allow for much feel and the accuracy suffered accordingly.   

Performance at 45 feet:  17 points out of 20
The Ross RX was marginally better, as were the Mystic Reaper and TFO BVK at the middle distances.  All good but not great. 

Performance at 70 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
Nothing to write home about.  There were a few others that tied it for a lackluster performance, but none worse. 

 

5weightshootout

We need your support!

We hope you have enjoyed reading our latest 2015 five-weight shootout.  While we always recommend trying (and buying) a rod from your local fly shop first, if they do not stock the rod you are interested in or are out of stock, we'd love to have your business!  With your support, we can continute to give you more shootouts and head to head comparisons on tackle and fishing equipment in the future. But these shootouts take us a lot of time, so if you are in the market for a new rod or outfit please consider buying one from us.

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 will be happy to help.

                                                    -George Anderson