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2017 5 weight shootout

2017 5-Weight Shootout

by George and James Anderson

and the Yellowstone Angler staff

James Anderson fly fishing
Logan Brown fly fishing
JG Josh Green fly fishing

   (Click above to read each staff members casting notes and finishing order)

Another year has gone by and we felt there were enough new and exciting 9’ 5-weight rods on the market, that it was time to give you our 2017 5-weight Shootout. 

Although we have tested 6-weight versions of the Winston Air, Sage X, Douglas Sky, and G. Loomis Asquith last fall, we thought anglers would be interested to see how their 5-weight partners compare.  Five weight rods are still the most popular and usually the most important fly rod for fresh water anglers, especially for dry fly fanatics who want the ultimate in presentation and accuracy in the 25-45 foot range.

Everyone wants to know how the new Sage X stacks up, as well as the G. Loomis Asquith.  Other new 5-weights that were especially impressive are the new Thomas and Thomas Avantt, and the Douglas Sky.   After having the Douglas Sky win our 6-weight Shootout, we were chomping at the bit to see if this 5-weight was as good.  It didn’t win, but it did very well against some stiff competition.   

We also had other new rods to test from Sage, Scott, Orvis, Winston, Loop, Edge and the Livingston Rod Company.

We knew going into the shootout that it was going to be difficult for a rod to knock off our all-time favorite reigning champion – the G. Loomis NRX Lite Presentation.  For five years in a row now this has been our favorite all-around 5-weight rod.  The NRX LP can not only throw the entire line, but also feels insanely light, smooth, and deadly accurate at short to medium distances, where most people will fish a 5-weight rod.  The NRX LP is also a nymphing machine, something that has become important in a world where incredible dry fly fishing doesn’t always exist.  

Part of the reason no other rod has been able to take over as king of the hill, is that we simply love its action.  This is a fast action rod but with a softer tip than most other 5-weights (as you’ll see in our deflection charts).  That softer tip combined with good butt and mid-section power is what gives the NRX LP such great feel and accuracy at short to mid-range. 

We are seeing slightly stiffer rods in this 5-weight class each year, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are doing a lot of nymph fishing.  But the fact remains that stiffer rods just do not have the best feel at short range.  You can force them to be accurate by altering your casting stroke slightly to get more velocity, but this makes getting a delicate presentation more difficult.    

Those who love fast action rods with tons of power will prefer the G. Loomis Asquith, Douglas Sky, Hardy Wraith, and the Thomas and Thomas Avantt.   It really boils down to everyone’s personal preference for rod actions.  At the shorter distances that most of us use a 5-weight rod, the G. Loomis NRX LP has best blend of power, incredible feel and superb accuracy.  In a world of constant change, we applaud G. Loomis for keeping this rod in the lineup.  “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is a motto we wish other major rod companies would endorse.  Newer isn’t always better as far as rods go, even though it might be better for sales and market share.

5-weight rods

2017 5-Weight Shootout Results Summary

1. The G. Loomis NRX LP wins again with its unmatched feel and performance at short to medium distances.

2.  The higher priced G. Loomis Asquith finished a disappointing 8th overall but 2nd in the performance only category. 

3. A new rod from Thomas and Thomas, the “Avantt,” put in a terrific performance and finished 4th overall.

4.  Loop dropped their price on the Opti-Steam to $429, making it our new mid-priced pick, and finished in 5th place overall. 

5.  No one can match the Fenwick Aetos as the best performing inexpensive rod at $189.95.

5-Weight Rods Keep Getting Better Each Year

This is a trend we see each year, as other manufacturers try to catch up with the leaders in design and performance.  Remember that our shootouts give you OUR personal opinions and preferences.  But we know from the comments we get from anglers reading our Shootouts, that the substantial majority are in general agreement with our findings. 

When I look at the top twelve rods in this shootout, they are all exceptional rods, and any angler should be totally satisfied and delighted with any of them.  If you had the time to try them all, you might find that your personal taste is slightly different than ours.  You’ll get a flavor of this when you read comments from our staff, which often differ from mine.    

My son James (Jamie) and the rest of the staff here at the Yellowstone Angler that contributed to this Shootout, are all expert casters and anglers.  We feel that relying upon less experienced anglers in a comparison like our Shootouts serves no useful purpose.  Moreover, it is impossible to do a blind test on rods.  We want to see who is producing the best craftsmanship, using the best components and doing the best finish work.  

5-weight rods

Why a 5-Weight?

A 9’ 5 weight rod is probably the most versatile fly rod for freshwater anglers.  It can handle everything from trout, to bass, bluegills, grayling, whitefish, walleye, perch, burbot, sauger, carp, and even catfish.  A good 5-weight rod is delicate enough to cast small dry flies and protect 6X-7X tippet, yet will also have enough power in the butt and mid-sections to turn over a strike indicator, split shot, and 2 weighted nymphs.  The best 5-weight fly rods can handle a substantial amount of wind and cast woolly buggers and small streamers with ease.  In short, the 5-weight rod has become the single quiver rod for many freshwater anglers.    

At the Yellowstone Angler we stock a huge variety of rods for fresh and saltwater.  If you are looking to specialize in a specific realm of fly-fishing we can help you find the right rod for your needs.  For tiny dry fly fishing on spring creeks, a shorter 3 or 4-weight rod might be the perfect tool.  For throwing large articulated streamers on a 300 grain sinking line you should look at a 7 or 8-weight fly rod.  For larger saltwater species, 9-12 weight rods are the best choices.  But for most anglers, and especially if you are just getting started in fly fishing, there is no question a good 5-weight is the way to go.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Everyone has their own personal preference for fly rod actions in the same way that we all have our own favorite colors, foods, vehicles, etc.  No one is either right or wrong for liking what they like, and with fly rods it is no different.  There are a tremendous number of 5-weight fly rods on the market and our job is to sort through these by doing a valid comparison, and make our recommendations of what we consider to be the best rods.  You’ll be able to read our analysis of each rod, which we hope will help you decide which is right for you.

Rod Actions Make A Difference

You will hear anglers talking about fast action rods, medium fast, medium and even slow action rods.    Most rods today have gravitated to medium fast or fast action, which we feel are best for anglers at all levels of experience.

Fast action doesn’t always mean stiff.  Examine our charts and you’ll see how these 5-weight rods bend.  Nearly all of the top rods have a relatively stiff butt and mid section and bend much more progressively in the tip.  A medium action rod bends more evenly throughout.  As you will see, the medium fast and fast action rods are the best scoring rods.  The stiffest rods in our Shootout are closer to a 6-weight rod, while the softer ones are closer to a 4-weight.  We give you our recommendations for line size with each rod. 

The rod we like the best, the Loomis NRX LP, has about the same amount of butt and mid-section power as other 5-weights, but a softer tip, which allows for better feel and accuracy at short range.  Rods with stiffer tips, like the Sage X, don’t feel or perform as well at short distances but come into their own when you put more line in the air.  Thus their scores at 45 and 70 feet are much better than they are in close at 25 feet.     

Today’s fly rodder has a huge choice of rods and actions in each line weight category; multiple choices, however breed confusion.  It is tough for anyone to take the time to try out all these various rods.  Our Shootouts are designed to reduce this confusion and guide the reader/angler to the perfect rod for his/her needs.  If fly rods and actions were all the same, buying a fly rod would be as much fun as buying Q-tips. 

Why Trust Our Opinions?

After nearly 50 years, in the fly fishing business as guide, shop manager and shop owner, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes for a fly rod to perform well.  I’ve helped many manufacturers with their rod design process and have built a reputation as a top angler in both fresh and saltwater fly-fishing.  My son Jamie is also a fanatical fly fisherman and a great caster, and has been a very important and integral part of our Shootouts and tackle comparisons over the years.  He’s also responsible for all the great accompanying photographs.

In addition to my comments in the main Shootout, you’ll want to read the comments from Jamie and our other Yellowstone Angler staff, JG (Josh Green) and Logan Brown.  These guys are also expert casters and experienced anglers.  Their choices often differ from mine but we are almost always in general agreement on the top 4-6 rods. 

A Great Fly Rod is Not Always the Most Expensive One

As you will see when you check our Shootout Performance Scores, there are some extremely good rods in the low to mid-price range, and often they have outperformed rods that are many times more expensive.  Good examples are the Fenwick Aetos at $189.95 in the low price category, and the mid-priced Douglas DXF at $349, the Loop Opti Stream at $429, and the Orvis Recon at $425.  Even the Echo Base at $89.99 had a very respectable showing.  But if you want the best, be prepared to spend $750 to $1000.

For experienced anglers who can afford the best rods, it makes a lot of sense to plunk down the big bucks.  Our advice to both beginners and experts is to buy the best you can afford and you will never regret it. If you are only just getting started in fly-fishing, buying one of the best performing rods makes sense, and will allow you to advance much more rapidly.  Even if what is the best fit for you is a little out of your original your price range, you don’t want an inferior rod holding you back. 

I’ve always felt that the key to catching big fish on dry flies is casting accuracy.  And having a nice light rod (in swing weight) in your hand all day pays big dividends in terms of fatigue, especially when you are doing a lot of false casting.  This is why we put such a big emphasis on swing weight.  The lightest rods are invariably the best performing rods. 

The best rods have that wow factor that will impress your buddies.  Are you comfortable showing up with a $200 rod when everyone else has one of the hotshot $750 to $1000 rods in their hands?  It’s also nice to look down at your rod and appreciate the craftsmanship as well as its performance.  Is that high priced rod really $400-$600 better?  Only you can make that decision.  With the inexpensive warranties that most manufacturers offer now, you are going to use your new rod for many years, which makes it easier to justify buying a more expensive rod. 

Experience has shown us that novices entering the sport of fly-fishing often opt for less expensive rods, hoping to economize, but over time come to realize that the ease of casting a better higher priced rod will allow them to progress their casting skills more rapidly.  The result: the cheaper outfit is mothballed, sold for a loss on e-bay, or handed down to a skeptical relative.  Don’t make this common beginners mistake!   Avoid it by purchasing the best fly rod you can, and shorten your casting learning curve.  We think that our Shootouts can help you make the best decision when you go to purchase your new favorite rod!

Keeping it Apples to Apples

As in our prior Shootouts, it is critical to eliminate as many variables as possible. This means that we will set up each rod we test with the exact same reel, line, amount of backing and identical leader.   

This year we have decided to use our favorite 5/6 weight reel, the Galvan Torque 5, which won our recent 5/6 Reel Shootout.  We combined the T-5 with our favorite line, the Scientific Anglers MPX Mastery, but in the new Amplitude version in WF-5-F.   For the softer rods we had a Mastery Trout in WF-5-F on hand to try, but few rods cast better with it.     

Leaders are an important part of the set-up and for this Shootout we used our own hand tied leaders in 12-foot 4X.  A 9 foot leader is actually easier to turn over, but any rod can do this.  Using a 12 foot leader let us know which rods performed effortlessly and which rods couldn’t quite get it done.

By setting up all the rods identically, it becomes easy to take a few casts with one, lay it down and pick up another rod and do the same at each specific distance.  Just taking the time to adjust the amount of line you’re casting or stripping all the line off the rod, then loading up another affects your ability to process your impressions of one rod after another.  We strive to make the impressions seamless.  

In this fashion, we can test 2-4 rods at a specific distance quickly in sequence.  This is the best way to determine subtle differences between rods.  It was always good to have what we felt was the best rod in the category (low, mid and high price) there on hand to make an immediate head to head comparison.

Cutting Through the Marketing B.S.

The purpose of our Shootouts has always been to cut through the massive amount of marketing B.S. you’ll see from the manufactures and in the magazines and to give you our honest opinions.  Some of our comments are going to be negative, and you won’t ever find reviews like ours in fly-fishing magazines.  Magazine editors need to protect their clients from negative publicity, not create it, if they want the manufacturers to continue their advertising.   

Our primary goal is to provide you – the consumer -with honest reviews that will help you pick the best fly rod for your fishing needs.  Like a good restaurant or movie critic, we are simply trying to give you our honest opinions.


5-weight reel shootout winner Galvan Torque

This year we decided to switch things and use the Galvan T-5 reels in our Shootout.  This is the reel that won our 2016 5/6 Reel Shootout.  These have proven to be terrific reels – light and durable, with a very smooth and highly adjustable drag.  They are basically maintenance free – using rulon bushings that require no maintenance or lubrication.   We used Galvan’s T-5 with a capacity of 115 yds. of 20 lb. Micron backing with a WF-5-F line.  The T-4 will work fine too, if you prefer a slightly smaller and lighter reel, but then you are limited to about 70 yards of backing and a WF-5-F line, (which is also plenty for most trout).


Scientific Anglers Amplitude MPX new Line

Scientific Anglers Amplitude MPX new Line

As in the past, we chose our favorite Scientific Angler’s WF-5-F MPX taper line.  This year however, we decided to try Scientific Angler’s new MPX “Amplitude” line, which has a low friction textured coating rather than the original Scientific Angler’s MPX Mastery series, which has a smooth coating.

The Amplitude incorporates SA’s new AST PLUS slickness additive, allegedly for superior shooting capability and increased durability.  This impregnated additive is designed to emerge time, which means little to no line cleaning to keep the line shooting well and resisting tangles.  

So we’ll see if these claims bear up over time.  Like the mastery MPX, the Amplitude MPX is a half size larger line but it is textured and does make a little more noise going through the guides.  If the Amplitude proves to perform better and hold up better, the extra sound and higher price are something that we will live with.  Otherwise, for now our favorite line continues to be the smooth, silent casting Mastery MPX or Trout lines. 

Like the MPX, the Amplitude is a multi-colored line with the head a different color than the running line but it comes with three colors rather than two. This makes it easier to judge exactly how much belly you have out in the air while false casting, a big help when you need to double haul and cast long.  The Amplitude lines we used in our Shootout had a light green shooting line, an olive head with the last six feet a buckskin color.   The final six feet are designed for the ultimate in floatation.  

On some of the softer rods in the Shootout, we also tried the SA Trout Taper, a standard sized line.  But in the final analysis most rods did perform better with the MPX, which is a half size larger than the Trout Taper.  We note the correct line size in the write-ups with each rod.  

In casting and fishing, it is important for the line to shoot well in order to achieve maximum performance.   As you are fishing, if the line isn’t shooting as well as you would like, take the time to clean and dress you line with a good silicone line dressing like Scientific Anglers, Agent X, or Russ Peak’s.  Tournament casters have used Russ Peak’s line dressing for years.  Our suggestion is to even dress this new Amplitude line after a week or so of fishing to maintain the best performance.


Yellowstone Angler Hand Tied Leaders

Leaders are extremely important, particularly ones that will turn over well at short distances with so little fly line in the air, especially at 25 feet.  As in our past 5-weight Shootouts we are again using our own Yellowstone Angler hand tied Clear Butt leaders in 12-foot 4x.   These simply turn over better and more accurately than any of the knotless leaders on the market.

Just about any rod will turn over a 9-foot leader easily.  But having to turn over a 12-foot leader forces the rods to perform at a higher level, and mirrors the leaders we actually fish with most of the time in critical situations. 

On my own 5-weight rods, I normally use a 12-14 foot leader unless I’m fishing much more wind-resistant flies like a hopper, and then I’ll cut the leader down to 9 feet or less and end up with a 3X-4X tippet.  When I’m nymph fishing I often switch to one of our Hot Butt Leaders that has five feet of fluorescent red Amnesia for the butt section followed with the same clear Maxima we used on our Clear Butt leaders.

To make it easy to judge the turnover and fly placement we tie on a small fluorescent yarn indicator at the end of the leader that approximates casting a medium size dry fly.

Deflection Charts

Deflection Charts

(Click here or above for more deflection charts)

Our deflection charts have been so popular in the past that we decided to give you more this year.  This makes it easy to compare how these rods bend compared to one another.  It is especially interesting to see how the rods compare in stiffness and how they bend in the tip section.  You can easily see which rods have a faster action (the tip bends more) and the more moderate actions (the tips bend much less).

In making the deflection charts, we placed the rods at approximately a 45-degree angle and then hang a lead weight of 3.9 oz. (this seems just right for 5-weight rods) from the tiptop.  Then we trace the outline of each rod in different colored sharpies.

Keep in mind that fast action rods are not necessarily stiff rods.  The tips on the faster action rods bend more, and if examine the top rod’s deflection, you will see that they tend to be either medium fast or fast action rods.  We have found that this soft tip action is the key to getting good accuracy in close.  On the other hand the best rods must have enough butt and mid-section power to throw longer distances with ease.  

G. Loomis NRX LP

Scott Radian
Hardy Zephrus
T&T Avantt
Loop Opti Stream
Douglas Sky
Orvis H2 Covert
G. Loomis Asquith
Orvis Recon
Douglas DXF
Hardy Wraith
Sage X
St. Croix Legend Elite
Fenwick Aetos
Beulah Guide Series II
Livingston Rod Company
Beulah Platinum
Loop Cross SX
Edge Alpha
Mystic Reaper
Scott Felx
R.L. Winston BIIIx
Echo Base
R.L. Winston Air
Sage Pulse
Temple Fork Outfitters BVK

Explanation of Points Categories

If you’ve read our Shootouts before, you may wish to skip this part and go right to the final results and write-ups on the rods in their finishing order.  For first time readers of what follows, here is a guide to the categories listed in our charts, and an explanation of the methodology for how we scored each category.  Some categories, like price, overall rod weight and swing weight are objective, while most others are subjective and represent our own opinions.

Price in US $ – 10 Points Available

This is simple – the least expensive rods get the highest points.  The Echo Base at $89.99 gets the perfect score of 10.  The most expensive rod, the $1000 Asquith got the lowest score of 4.9. The rest of the rods were placed in logical order.  Most of the expensive rods, in the $825-$895 range were given 5’s.  Rods from $695 to $795 were scored 6’s and the mid-priced rods from $350 to $475 received 8’s.  Rods in the $180-$300 range were in the 9’s.  

Overall Weight – 10 Points Available

As in the past we are using our reliable digital postage scale, and round off to .01 of an ounce.  This year we are using a new Brecknell scale, which achieves identical weights to our old scale.  You can compare weights of rods appearing in our past Shootouts and they will be very close to what we list in this Shootout.

We don’t take the manufacturer’s word for stated weight.  Lighter is better here, but overall weight is not nearly as important as swing weight.  In the past we’ve seen manufacturers cut overall weight by reducing the weight of the butt section only.  This actually hurts the rod’s swing weight. 

Swing Weight – 20 Points Available

You know about swing weight, if you play golf.  It is the relationship of the club head to the shaft when you wiggle the club.  Rods with a light swing weight are pleasant and effortless to cast.  Rods with a heavy swing weight feel tip heavy or “clubby” in your hand and will wear you out casting them all day.  

Made in the USA?

We didn’t award any points for rods made here in the United States, although perhaps we should have.  In the chart below you’ll see which rods are made in the USA and which ones aren’t.  The G. Loomis Asquith blanks are rolled in Japan but the rest of the rod is “built” here in the US.  Likewise the Livingston Rod Company rods are built here in the US, but the blanks are rolled and baked in New Zealand. 

2017 5-weight shootout objective observations

How We Measure Swing Weight

Swing weight refers to the weight you feel out ahead of your hand when the rod is held in a horizontal position.  Measuring swing weight is easy to do yourself with a little practice. First, use a good digital postage scale (we now use a Brecknell scale, with a max of 11 lbs in .1 oz. increments).  Zero out the scale.  Then place a foam-packing pellet that will act as the fulcrum, on the center of the scale.  The reel seat rings and band should be placed at the bottom of the reel seat.  Position the grip of the rod precisely on the pellet while the rod is held in a horizontal position with fingernail pressure.   Position the grip over the foam pellet so that the pellet is about half way up the grip – but more importantly over the center of the swell, where your hand will rest when you grip the rod.  For most rods this is close to the center of the grip, and at the center of the swell.  With the Scott Radian, the swell was slightly farther up the grip.  

Use pressure from your index finger to hold down the butt cap of the rod and keep it horizontal.   Then when you have the rod parallel to the floor, read the pressure of the weight in oz. and you have the swing weight.

We repeat this for each rod a half dozen times, zeroing out the scale each time.  We take the average of these measurements and this becomes 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 two hours or less.  

Yes, for all you engineers out there, this may not seem precisely accurate, but as a practical way to measure swing weight it works fine.  The most important thing here is not the actual figures, but how the rods compare with each other. 

Swing weight is such an important category; we now give it 20 points and consider it a performance category.

Warranties:  10 Points Available

Every manufacturer now has some kind of “Lifetime Warranty”.  Lifespans may be increasing, but Orvis’ is now merely 25 years.  Nearly all are charging a “handling” fee of $35-$100 to repair or replace your rod.  But then it is also going to 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 and updated those that have changed.

To my way of thinking, the most important thing when you break a rod is getting it back quickly, not so much the price you’ll have to pay.  In this regard, G. Loomis continues to utilize their popular Expeditor policy.  For most Loomis rods other than the Asquith, Loomis will charge 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.  Since the Asquith blanks are much more expensive to produce, the Expeditor service for the Asquith rods is $250. So Loomis gets the perfect score of 10 but the Asquith was only 7.5.   Most of the other rods where repair charges were $25-$100 got 9’s.

Most of these rod manufactures repair your rod, and don’t 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, based on our shop’s experience, 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.  If you live in Montana or happen to be fishing near Dillon, at least Winston offers a “lender” program. Be sure to look at our section that explains the various warranties in detail.  

Craftsmanship – 10 Points Available

One thing that impressed us again this year was how good the craftsmanship has become over the past several years.  Most everyone was awarded 9’s or 8’s in this category.  Again this year there were no 7’s.  Even the inexpensive rods have surprisingly good cork, guides and wraps.  We didn’t give out many 10’s and downgraded some otherwise excellent rods slightly for sloppy epoxy coatings on the guide wraps.   In terms of beautiful coatings over guide wraps, Thomas and Thomas and Tom Morgan Rodsmiths are in a class by themselves.  Their wraps and coatings are simply perfect.   Most companies are now using one-coat finishes, and these are difficult to apply without getting an excess of epoxy on the wraps.   Multiple coats are much more time consuming but look far better. 

Fun to Fish/Got to Have – 10 Points Available

If the rod looks like a million bucks and casts like it too, any normal fly-fishermen will lust after it.  For many, more expensive rods are a status symbol.   Others observe how a rod performs in their guide’s hands, and think that it is going to make them great anglers or 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 price slow you down.  You’ll find a way to sneak it into your stash without your significant other 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.  Casting accuracy is one of the biggest factors we use in rating these rods, and at short distances accuracy is critical.  A big part of the score at short distances is a combination of accuracy and the feel you get through the handle that imparts the confidence to put the fly exactly where you want it.   The key to catching more trout and especially larger trout, is casting accuracy.  Fly selection is far less important.  

Does the tip of the rod load well enough in close, to give you the feel and accuracy you need with little line and only the leader 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 in this category 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

Here is the most important of all the distance casting 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 turn your leader over.  You shouldn’t have to double-haul at 45 feet to get the rod to perform.  The best rods will throw very tight loops at this range with consistent accuracy, and will feel totally solid with perfect line tracking.  With these rods, a good caster can place a dry fly within a foot of the target on most casts.

The best 5-weight 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 want fishing nymphs.  Again, we’ve found the rods that seem to do this best are nearly always faster action rods.

Performance at 70 Feet – 10 Points Available

This year we reduced the points available at 70 feet, for 5-weight rods to 10 points.  We all felt that most anglers fishing a 5-weight rod today are going to be using it in that 20-50 foot range 90% of the time.  Our scoring now puts more emphasis on short to medium distance accuracy rather than long distance.

We don’t normally ask 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, with a 5-weight rod.  Firing hoppers to a big fish rising along a far bank would be one good example. At 70 feet, 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 at long range.  If they can do that, the accuracy is almost always excellent.

On big rivers, fishing nymphs at long range using an indicator, might be tempting with a 5-weight, but most of us would then shift to a 6-weight or even a 7-weight rod.  Still, the best 5-weight rods have enough power in the butt and mid-section to get the job done.

Another reason you’ll appreciate performance at long range is chucking steamers. Sure, a 6, 7, or 8-weight rod would be better, but a good 5-weight works surprisingly well as long as you limit your streamers to smaller sizes.  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 streamer seventy-five feet with ease.  The rods in this Shootout that gave me the best long distance performance were the Hardy Wraith, the T & T Avantt, and the Loomis Asquith with the Scott Radian not far behind. 

“Perfect 5-weight Performance” – 20 Points Available

We felt that this category was needed to reward the best 5-weight 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.

The best 5-weight rods make superb rods for nymph fishing, 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.

We’re looking here for rods that can do it all, and do it well, at any distance, with a 5-weight line.  That lowers the score for rods that are only good at short to medium distances or others that are only good at medium to long range.  We also downgraded rods we felt are just too stiff to be called all around 5-weight rods.

Warranties Explained; Manufacturer by Manufacturer  

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

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 one to two weeks.

Edge – No-faultlifetime warranty for the original registered owner.  Does not cover accidental breakage or normal wear and tear.  Repairs to be quoted and usual time 2-3 weeks.

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

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

Hardy – Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are repaired. Shipping is from their US warehouse, usually about 10 -14 days.  

G. Loomis – Lifetime warranty to original owner.  You send in rod and their warranty dept. examines it.  If rod is broken 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 $100 but you get a brand new rod in 3-4 days.  The Expeditor service for the Asquith rods is $250.00. AK or HI shipping add another $25.

Livingston Rod Company – to replace any of the top 3 sections charges are $75 per section.   Butts are $125.  Any other work will be quoted.  Usually takes 3 weeks.

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.

Sage – Lifetime warranty to original owner. $60 handling fee.  Rods are repaired, not replaced.   Usually takes 4-6.

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

St. Croix – Lifetime warranty to original owner, $60 handling fee. Rods are repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) – Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are either replaced with a new rod or the broken section is replaced.  Usually takes 1-2 weeks.   

Thomas and Thomas – $55 repair charges for the original owner, includes shipping.  Non-original owner $150 per section.  You must register the new rod within 30 days. 

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths Transition

We have not included a Tom Morgan rod in our 2017 5-weight shootout due to the transition to the new owners.  These are wonderful rods and in our 2016 5-weight Shootout, their rod finished near the top.   We are confident that future rods will retain the same high quality, performance, and unparalleled craftsmanship and look forward to having them in our future Shootouts.

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths (TMR) announced the transition of ownership from Tom Morgan and Gerri Carlson to two life-long fly fisherman and entrepreneurs, Joel Doub and Matt Barber.  “We believe in Matt and Joel’s ability to adhere to our unrelenting standards, improve production schedules and continue the TMR legacy for generations to come,” said Tom.

The transition – which started in February — includes an extended apprenticeship under Tom and Gerri. Matt and Joel will continue to learn the finesse and artistry of creating TMR’s heirloom rods as well as the other integral business processes. Tom and Gerri are employees of TMR, actively involved in R&D, quality control and overall strategic advisement to maintain the highest quality that TMR represents, and will stay engaged for the long term. All manufacturing and operations will remain in the Bozeman, Montana area.

“We are honored to take the reins of TMR, and look forward to carrying on its legacy of quality,” said Joel. “The lifetime satisfaction of every fisherman – and their connection to the experience through our rods – is at the heart of our efforts moving forward,” added Matt. “We’re fully committed to TMR’s approach to custom rod design and creation.”

With a focus on apprenticeship this spring, TMR didn’t enter a rod in this year’s shootout, but look forward to participating in future ones.  

2017 5 weight shootout
Georges Performance Only

*Please note the above charts reflect George’s performance scores and are the “official” Shootout results and finishing order.  To see how the other staff members rated these rods please click on their names here or photos at the beginning of the article:       James         Logan           JG

#1  G. Loomis NRX LP  9’ 5-weight   $755.00 

G. Loomis NRX LP

G. Loomis NRX LP

It’s hard to believe, but the NRX LP steamrolled the competition once again to win our 2017 5-Weight Shootout.  This is the fourth consecutive Shootout that this rod has won!   

With all the great new 5-weight rods on hand, we were convinced that at least one would dislodge the LP from the throne but it wasn’t to be.   There are several rods that cast as well if not better at long range, but nothing beats this rod at the short to medium distances, that we fish most of the time.  The NRX LP scored perfect 20’s at both 25 and 45 feet.  At 45 feet the only rod that performed as well for me was the Scott Radian, with the Hardy Zephrus, the Sage X, the Loomis Asquith, the Douglas Sky and the new T&T Avantt all close on Loomis’ and Scott’s heels. 

When I put this rod in my hand it gives me the confidence that I can put the fly just where I want it, and do it time after time.  It conveys the sense that I have the ability to steer the cast throughout the stroke.  This is a nice light rod in swing weight and it has a progressively softer tip than most of the other rods in our Shootout, and this gives an angler the utmost in feel as well as accuracy.  An added bonus is the price, which is $100 under most of the other high-end rods.  

This is definitely one of Steve Rajeff’s best efforts as a rod designer.  Not only is this a marvelous rod for fishing dry flies, but it’s also a wonderful rod for fishing nymphs.  It has enough backbone in the butt and mid –sections to chuck a double nymph rig along with some split shot, and enough power on tap to cast small to medium sized streamers.  If you need to reach out, you’ll find some explosive power on tap.  But to utilize this power your cast timing and stroke need to be precise. 

The LP has been my go-to 5-weight rod ever since it hit the market.  I love to fish dry flies with light tippets, and this is a rod that can handle 6X and even 7X without breaking many fish off when you set the hook a little too hard. 

The NRX LP rods are now only available in a dark green color, which has been my preference all along for G. Loomis’ freshwater rods.  I absolutely love the dark colored single foot nickel/titanium guides.  They will flex but never break.  The wire recoil stripping guides are not my favorites but they do seem to work well and you’ll never break one.     

The Perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  20 points out of 20

Absolutely the best feel of any of the 5-weights, combined with terrific accuracy.  It cast off the tip extremely easily, and was nice and light in my hand.

Performance at 45 feet:  20 points out of 20

Nothing beat the feel or accuracy of this rod at mid-distance.  Forming tight loops that provide the ultimate in accuracy was so easy.  As good as it gets. 

Performance at 70 feet:  9.2 points out of 10

Still good but at long range, the stiffer rods like the Avantt, the Asquith and the Radian have the edge.

#2  Scott Radian     9’ 5-weight   $795.00

Scott Radian

Scott Radian

In our 2016 Shootout the Radian placed second and finishes in the top three again in both the overall and performance scores.  There are good reasons for this though – this is one of the best performing rods you can lay your hands on, and it is also one of the best looking rods on the market.  Scott fans absolutely love this rod and if you try one, you’ll likely be a Scott fan too.  

The blank follows Scott’s practice of sanding the blank very lightly but allowing the tape marks to remain.  (All graphite rods have tape wrapped around them before they get baked in an oven, but most manufacturers sand the tape marks off completely).

Scott claims that their approach gives the rod better strength, and we cannot argue with them as we see very few broken.  The color is the natural dark graphite gray, trimmed with two lighter colors of gray, and utilizing some snazzy orange trim wraps.  The skeleton uplock aluminum seat has a beautiful reddish piece of burl to complement the orange trim wraps.  This is truly one of the best looking rods on the market and one you’ll be proud to show off to your buddies.  

I just love the feel of the unusual full wells handle.  Scott puts a pronounced swell forward of the center of the grip, giving it a unique and comfortable feel over other rods.  I wish they had put the same grip on their less expensive Flex!  We especially like the measuring marks at 12 and 20 inches, something I have added to my own rods.  I wish more manufacturers would do this.  

Performance-wise, the Radian was very close to the NRX LP.  It matched the LP with a perfect score at 45 feet, and was nearly as good at 25 feet. Then out long, I felt it was slightly better.  Here is another rod that will throw beautiful tight loops and produce great accuracy combined with a lot of feel that some of the other rods don’t have.  

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Not quite as good as the NRX LP, or Zephrus but in head to head casting proved better than the Asquith, Avantt and Helios 2.  Lots of feel with this rod in close gave me confidence. 

Performance at 45 feet:  20 points out of 20

Totally solid- only the NRX LP felt this good at mid- range.  Tracked perfectly with terrific accuracy and feel.   

Performance at 70 feet: 9.5 points out of 10

At long distance the Radian blasted out long casts with ease.  Good loop control.  Definitely one of the best rods out long. 

#3   Hardy Zephrus    9’ 5-weight   $699.00

Hardy Zephrus

Hardy Zephrus

The Zephrus has been one of my favorite rods since Hardy unveiled it as a replacement for the great Zenith.  These are nice light rods that perform extremely well at all distances but are especially good in close.  I fish a 4-weight most of the time fishing smaller dries, and the Hardy Zephrus in their 8 ½ foot 4-weight is the best 4-weight I’ve found. It will likely be a top contender in our forthcoming 4-weight Shootout. 

The 5-weight Zephrus is also a superb dry fly rod.  It has a softer tip than many other rods and this is what gives it such good feel and superior accuracy, especially in close.  The old Zenith did have more punch and power, but at close distances the Zephrus has a lot more feel and better accuracy.  This is a medium fast action rod, much like the Radian in action.  It was very close to the Radian in performance too, even slightly better in close, almost equal at 45 feet and only dropping off a bit at long range. 

The Zephrus is another attractive rod, with an olive finish, trimmed with darker olive wraps.  The guide set up is perfect.  One SiC stripping guide and then lightweight one-foot nickel/titanium guides like Loomis uses on the LP.   You can’t beat these one-foot guides.  They are flexible and we’ve never seen one break or have to be replaced.  The handle is a comfortable half-wells, western style with a flare at the back.  The quality of the cork is outstanding, as we’ve come to expect with Hardy rods.  A gold anodized uplocking seat is used with a nice looking piece of olive burl as a spacer.  Craftsmanship is excellent but not up to the standard set by the Radian or the T&T Avantt, due to the heavy epoxy wrap coatings.  

The Zephrus and Wraith use the 3M Nano-resin technology, so these rods are very strong yet light weight.  Howard Croston, Hardy’s head rod designer in England, who gave us those great Zenith rods, is also responsible for designing the Zephrus.  Today the Hardy rods are manufactured in Korea but to Hardy’s very high standards.  At a price of $699 these are a bargain when you compare them other $800-$1000 rods. 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.6 points out of 20

I get lots of feel and very good accuracy in close.  Head to head better than the Asquith, Avantt and Helios 2.  This is a wonderful dry fly rod.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.7 points out of 20

One of my favorite rods at this distance.  Fun to cast. Tracked beautifully with extremely good accuracy.   Only the LP and Radian were better.  Head to head, it edged out the Avantt, the Sky and the Asquith.

Performance at 70 feet: 9.2 points out of 10

Like the NRX LP, the lack of backbone and power at long range hurt.  Better than most other rods, but out long the Wraith, Avantt and Asquith were far better.

#4    T&T  Avantt    9’ 5-weight       $825.00

T&T Avantt

T&T Avantt

This exciting new rod from Thomas and Thomas just blew us away.  It’s a huge step up from some of their past rods that haven’t performed as well in our prior Shootouts.  The Avantt has a very light swing weight, and feels just terrific in my hand.  But don’t let the light swing weight fool you – it has an abundance of power that produces terrific mid to long-range performance.   

This is a fast action rod, and stiffer than most 5-weights, including the LP and Zephrus.  The only thing that detracted from its performance was the lack of feel at short range in comparison to the three top rods.  Amazingly, the short distance accuracy was extremely good, despite the lack of feel.

This is a very handsome rod with typical unsurpassed craftsmanship we have come to expect from T&T.  It gets one of the perfect scores for craftsmanship.  One look at the guides and how they are finished and you’ll agree that this is perfection.  No one does guide wraps and coatings better than T&T!   

The blank itself has an attractive dark, flat blue, non-glare finish.  The wraps are a slightly lighter blue.  The cork handle is more perfection with very high quality narrow cork rings like we see on the G. Loomis Asquith.  The grip is a half wells style with a slight flare at the back but very little swell in the middle with a gradual taper towards the top.  This all feels very comfortable to me.  The subdued silver anodized single uplocking seat with a bluish colored insert complements the blank color.   The guides start out with one SiC stripper, followed with silver hard chrome snake guides that are small and light up on the tip.  All of this combines for a very classy looking rod to go hand in hand with superior performance.  

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.1 points out of 20

Felt great in my hand – nice and light.  The accuracy was especially good but the lack of feel didn’t allow it to perform as well as the best rods.  In head to head casting, the Asquith felt slightly better in close. 

Performance at 45 feet:  19.5 points out of 20 Silky smooth with nice tight loops and excellent accuracy.  Very close to the best rods but I still gave the edge to the LP and Radian.

Performance at 70 feet: 9.8 points out of 10

At long range the Avantt was really impressive.  I was tempted to give it a perfect score; the only rod better was the Wraith.  Like the Wraith, this is a cannon at long range.

#5   Loop Opti Stream 9’ 5-weight    $429.00

Loop Opti Stream

Loop Opti Stream

Here is a rod that has performed consistently well in our 5-weight Shootouts over the years.  We are delighted that Loop has kept this terrific rod in their line-up.  Not only that, but they dropped the price from $532 to $429!  This has to be the bargain of the century for a top-performing rod.  Now the price is low enough that the Opti Stream wins the honor for our 2017 Shootout’s best mid-priced rod, stealing this from the Douglas DXF, even though the DXF is $80 less expensive at $349.

When you look at how well the Opti Stream performed (5th in the Overall and 7th in Performance categories), it’s tough to justify spending another $200 to $400.   In our final results, the Opti Stream came in just behind the new T&T $825 Avantt by two tenths of a point!  And it beat nine other rods that ranged in price from $695 to $1000.   In the performance only scores, the Opti Stream bested the Helios 2, the Sage X, the Hardy Wraith and even Loop’s own Cross SX.  That’s impressive. 

Yes, the Opti Stream is that good.  It’s not fancy, but it sure gets the job done.  This is a good-looking rod with quality components.  The color is an olive/gray with black wraps that have some classy silver trim on the butt section.   The handle is a half wells design with excellent cork.  The uplocking seat is all aluminum but with a pleasant and unusual angular design that works very well, having two locking rings.  Guides are two SiC strippers and then dark colored hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way.  The Opti Stream has a medium fast action, much like the Hardy Zephrus but just a tad slower.  This is a heavier rod in swing weight than the very light Cross SX but it doesn’t have nearly the power of the Cross SX at long range.

Loop is a Swedish company, and the rods are designed in Sweden but produced in Korea at the same factory as the Hardy rods.       

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.0 points out of 20

Felt light in my hand with decent performance, but both the G.Loomis NRX LP, Scott Radian, and Hardy Zephrus were better in close.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.4 points out of 20

Here’s the sweet spot for the Opti Stream.  Almost as good as the very best rods.  Very nice tight loops with good accuracy and feel.  Casting head to head, it edged out the Helios 2, the Recon and was the equal of the DXF.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.9 points out of 10

Good, but the stiffer rods like the Avantt, and Radian and Asquith were dramatically better.  

#6  Douglas Sky      9’ 5-weight        $695.00

Douglas Sky

Douglas Sky

After the Douglas Sky blew everyone away in our  2016 6-weight Shootout, we all were anxious to see how it would fare against the other top 5-weight rods.  Could it beat the Asquith again or manhandle the NRX LP and Radian?  The short answer – no. 

But the Sky was still an extremely good rod that performed especially well at mid to long distance.  It outscored a bunch of other great 5-weight rods, finishing 6th in both the overall and performance scores.  This confirms that the Sky is one sweet 5-weight rod, and not very far off our 6-Weight winner.  

Mid-distance was the sweet spot for the Sky.  At 45 feet it fired smooth, extremely tight loops with great accuracy.  Yeah, the Asquith edged it out casting head to head, and the top three rods – NRX LP, the Radian and the Zephrus, were definitely better at mid-distance.  At 25 feet it didn’t have the feel or the ability to stay close to the top three either.  Out long it was very good, but not in the same league with the Avantt, Radian or Asquith. 

The Sky is a handsome rod, with a flat gray, non-glare finish and black wraps.  The rod has a Fuji Torzite stripping guide followed up with our favorite nickel/titanium single foot guides in silver.  You can’t beat this guide set up.  The handle is a half wells with nice looking contrasting darker cork rings at the bottom and top of the handle.  The aluminum skeleton uplocking seat has a beautiful piece of dark brown burl and two of the best locking rings in the business.  The top of each ring has a softer nylon material attached to the top of the ring, that really allows them to lock up tight and not get loose – a note to other manufactures – copy these!   

The rod sock that comes with the rod is the best we’ve seen, and will dry out quickly even if you put your rod away wet. 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.0 points out of 20

Pretty good feel but not the same kind of accuracy I got with the LP, Radian or Zephrus.    

Performance at 45 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Now we’re talkin’!  Beautiful, effortless, tight loops with good control and accuracy.   45 feet is definitely the Sky’s sweet spot.

Performance at 70 feet: 9.3 points out of 10

Good, but nothing like the Sky in the 6-weight.  Still a good showing but in heads up casting, the Asquith, Avantt and Radian were noticeably better. 

#7 Orvis Helios 2 –  “Covert”  9’ 5-weight   $850

Orvis H2 Covert
Orvis H2 Covert

For this Shootout, Orvis sent us one of their new special edition Helios 2 “Covert” rods.  It is $55 more than the Standard Helios 2, but if you are into blacked out cars, wheels, or anything else this is your rod!

Basically it is the same as the great Helios 2 we have had in the past but the finish is a wicked flat black along with everything else on the rod, although the black guide wraps are finished in a glossy epoxy.  Even the uplock skeleton seat is flat black along with what looks like a gloss black graphite insert.  You aren’t going to spook many fish with this rod!  And you are going to be the coolest dude on the stream with this rig.  

This is their tip flex rod, which we have preferred in the past, but the action is slower than most of the best medium-fast action rods.  The craftsmanship is excellent, as we have come to expect from past Orvis rods.  The grip is a full wells but with a long swell in the middle and very comfortable in hand.  Orvis is using a stack of superb quality thinner cork rings.  I love the guide set up, which is one fairly large SiC style guide followed up with black nickel/titanium snake guides that are flexible and unbreakable.   

Like the other Helios 2’s we have cast lately, the performance was very good.  This is nice light rod in both overall weight and swing weight, which is important.  I liked this rod better at the short to medium distances than at long range.  

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.1 points out of 20

Good, but head to head the LP, Radian and Zephrus were much better with better feel and accuracy.    

Performance at 45 feet:  19.2 points out of 20

Nice and smooth but required a lot more casting effort than the NRX LP, and wasn’t even close in feel or accuracy to the Sky and Radian

Performance at 70 feet: 8.9 points out of 10

I didn’t get very good loop control and the Radian, Sky and Avantt were definitely better.

#8   G. Loomis Asquith  9’ 5-weight     $1000.00

G. Loomis Asquith

G. Loomis Asquith

We all were waiting anxiously to see how the new G. Loomis Asquith would stack up after its 2nd place finish in our 2016 6-weight Shootout.  Here it finished in 8th overall, largely due to lost points for its high price and high replacement warranty cost.  But in our important Performance Only Scores category, it placed 2nd just behind the NRX LP.  This confirmed our experience that the Asquith is one of the best performing rods in existence, and one of the top performing rods in our Shootout.

The Asquith blank is a radical new design that combines spiral wraps of graphite running in opposite directions to each other, combined with a flat sheet of very high modulus graphite cloth in the middle.  This process produces an extremely light and strong blank, but it’s an expensive process.  The blanks themselves are produced in Japan by Shimano and then shipped to G. Loomis in Woodland Washington, where the rods are built. 

Steve Rajeff did the designs for these rods and this is the reason they cast so well.  This is a fast action rod, with especially impressive performance at mid to long range where its explosive power really kicks in.    With an unbelievably light swing weight of 8.2 oz. the Asquith scored a perfect 20.  In my hand this rod felt far lighter than anything else in our Shootout and was an absolute joy to cast.  The only thing that hurt was its lack of feel and accuracy in close.   The LP, even though heavier, had twice the feel of the Asquith, especially at 25 feet.

This is a great looking rod with extremely good craftsmanship, as you would expect when you plunk down $1000.  The blank is a dark green that sparkles brilliantly in the sunlight.  The wraps are dark green to complement the blank, and the finish coatings are better than what we see on most NRX rods.  The handle is a comfortable half wells with the swell slightly above the middle of the grip.  The cork is excellent, comprised of a series of narrow cork rings, one-third the width of a normal cork ring.  The reel seat is a lot better than what Loomis uses on their NRX rods as well.  It is a single uplock seat, but with a large, very easy to grip ring which locks up very positively.  The same company that makes Lexus steering wheels makes the insert of narrow rings of bamboo.  It is finished beautifully to complete the classy appearance of the Asquith.

The guide set up starts with a single and very light Torzite style stripping guide, followed with flexible and unbreakable nickel/titanium snake guides.  I’m hoping that we’ll start seeing these new stripping guides on the NRX rods to replace the wire recoil guides. 

The warranty policy on the Asquith is both good and bad.  The popular Expeditor policy still applies, and you will get a brand new rod in just a few days but Loomis will charge your card $250, (rather than $100 to help cover the expensive blanks).  One thing to remember, in our view, this is the strongest 5-weight on the market, so there isn’t much danger of breakage unless you slam it in a car door. 

This is the first production rod from a big company that breaks the $1000 mark but this shouldn’t slow down anyone willing to spend $800-$945 on the other top rods, especially since the Asquith performs so well.  

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.2 points out of 20

Amazing accuracy, but nowhere near the same kind of feel that I got with the NRX LP.  Nice and light in my hand.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.6 points out of 20

I can’t believe the amount of power on tap with such a low swing weight.  Produced extremely tight loops with very good accuracy.  Slightly better than the Avantt but didn’t match the LP or Radian for both accuracy and feel.   

Performance at 70 feet: 9.6 points out of 10

Tons of power and wonderful tight loops with very good accuracy.  Only the Avantt and Wraith were slightly better long.

#9   Orvis Recon     9’ 5-weight       $425.00

Orvis Recon

Orvis Recon

The Recon has been one of our favorite rods in the past, for the mid-priced bracket.  The Recon is slightly heavier than the Helios 2, using lower modulus graphite, and Orvis doesn’t use the same high-tech resins that you’ll find in the H2.  Yet this didn’t seem to dampen the Recon’s performance very much.  The action is medium fast, but most other good medium fast rods have softer tips that produced better feel and accuracy in close.  Middle distances are the real sweet spot for this rod.  The Helios 2 was a lot better in close. 

The Recon is an attractive rod too with good craftsmanship.  The blank itself is a dark olive with slightly darker olive wraps.  The handle is a half wells, using the same stack of excellent quality thin cork rings that we saw on the Helios 2.   The double uplocking aluminum seat is a dark brown with an attractive dark brown burl wood insert.  One SiC stripping guide is used followed up with silver hard chrome snake guides. Certainly one of the best rods in that mid-price bracket, but it didn’t match the performance of the Loop Opti Stream, which costs only $4 more.

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.6 points out of 20

Nice and smooth and fairly accurate, but the Helios 2 was definitely better, as were the Legend Elite and Opti Stream.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.3 points out of 20

This is the sweet spot for the Recon.   I felt that it gave me better accuracy than the Helios 2 but in head to head casting it couldn’t match the Douglas DXF or Opti Stream. 

Performance at 70 feet: 8.9 points out of 10

Good but not great.  About equal to the Helios 2 and Opti Stream but rods like the Sky and the Loop Cross SX were far better.

#10   Douglas DXF      9’ 5-weight        $349.00

Douglas DXF

Douglas DXF

Here’s a rod that we have touted as our best mid-priced rod in our last two 5-weight Shootouts.   The Loop Opti Stream edged it out this year but only because the Opti Stream price dropped $103, down to $429 from $532.  That said, the DXF is certainly the best rod we’ve ever found for under $400.  So maybe we have two mid-price winners?  In our overall results, the DXF crushed ten other rods that range in price from $425 to $945!  And in Performance only, it was still ahead of eight of the more expensive rods, finishing a respectable 12th in our 26-rod Shootout.    

From the minute I picked up this rod a few years ago I’ve liked almost everything about it.  It’s nice and light in swing weight and has a smooth medium fast action.  It casts impressively, especially at short to medium distances, and it looks great too.  The cosmetics are a dark green blank but finished with a flat, non-glare epoxy.  Darker green wraps are used and everything is finished nicely.  The handle is a half wells, western style grip with very good quality cork and a dynamite double uplocking seat with a gorgeous piece of burl wood as the insert.  The guide set up is one SiC stripper with the rest silver hard chrome snake guides. 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.1 points out of 20

Nice and light in hand with good feel and good accuracy in close.  Noticeably better than the Recon and even the Sage X and Legend Elite. 

Performance at 45 feet:  19.4 points out of 20

At mid-range it performed better than either the Orvis Helios 2 or the Recon.  A nice smooth stroke that produced tight loops and good accuracy.  Short to mid-range is the sweet spot for this rod.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.5 points out of 10

Ok, we’ll admit that the DXF is no long range cannon.

At this distance it got killed by the Wraith, Asquith, Avantt and many of the other more powerful rods.  

#11  Hardy Wraith FWS  9’ 5-weight    $849.00

Hardy Wraith

Hardy Wraith

Here is the champ long distance launcher in our Shootout, as it was in our 2016 Shootout, taking the perfect score at 70 feet.  The Wraith is a very stiff 5-weight and although it is quite light in both overall and swing weight, the stiffness hurt the feel and accuracy in close and even at 45 feet.  At mid-distance the Zephrus was far better.  The Wraith has a very fast action, faster than the Zephrus and all other rods in the Shootout.  The Wraith is a far more powerful rod than either the LP or Radian.  But again, you pay the price for having this stiffness and power in a decided lack of feel.  If you want a nice delicate dry fly rod, avoid the Wraith.  But if you are chucking hoppers at long distance, you’ll love it.

The Wraith is a good-looking rod with the excellent craftsmanship we’ve come to expect from Hardy.  The blank is a dark gray with a flat, non-glare finish.  The wraps are black, trimmed with a little red on the butt.  The cork grip is a half wells, western style with a flare in the back and a swell in the middle, then tapering forward.  Hardy uses a brown anodized, double uplocking skeleton seat with an attractive dark brown burled wood insert.  The guides are similar to the Zephrus with one SiC stripper and the rest black single foot nickel/titanium guides that have proven to be flexible and unbreakable. 

One thing that we can’t figure out is why this rod is priced $150 more than the Zephrus.  $849 seems to be pretty steep for a rod made in Korea.  

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.2 points out of 20

The stiffness killed any feel and the accuracy is not that good either.  I had little confidence in putting the fly where I wanted it. 

Performance at 45 feet:  19.2 points out of 20

With more line in the air now we had better performance and good accuracy.  Nice tight loops but not very much feel.  The LP, Radian and Avantt were far better. 

Performance at 70 feet: 10 points out of 10

No surprise here – this rod was fantastic at long range and racked up perfect score.   I could carry 70 feet of line in the air with this cannon.  

#12     Sage X       9’ 5-weight         $895.00

Sage X

Sage X

I like this new Sage X, and this is one rod that the more I cast it, the more I liked it.  I had to go back and revise the performance score upward, especially at 45 and 70 feet.  This was a new rod for Sage in 2016, but came out too late for us to get it into our 2016 5-weight Shootout.

The action is slightly faster than what we have seen from Sage in the past, but I feel that the tip was still a little too stiff and this hurt the short distance performance.  I’d like to see it bend more like the NRX LP.  If Sage can do this, they will really have a winner.  The overall weight is a very light 2.8 oz. but the swing weight is quite heavy 9.7 oz. and this surprised us. 

The X is a great looking rod. At first glance it looks like it has a jet black finish and black wraps, but if you hold it at the right angle in the sun it is actually a very dark olive color.   I loved the cork handle shape too – it has a small flare at either end but only a very slight swell through the middle.  The grip feels great in my hand and was very pleasant to cast.  Sage uses a black anodized single uplocking seat with a walnut insert.  I especially liked seeing the line size listed on the bottom side of the sliding hood.  The guide set up is one SiC stripper and the rest hard chrome snake guides. 

We have a gripe about the epoxy coatings on the guides though – they are sloppy and many were slightly too heavy.  So we downgraded the overall excellent craftsmanship by a tenth of a point.  Other Sage X rods in stock had similar sloppy coatings.  

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20

Pretty good, but the heavy swing weight didn’t allow much feel and the stiffer tip hurt the accuracy.  The Asquith and Avantt were slightly better and the LP and Radian far better. 

Performance at 45 feet:  19.7 points out of 20

At first I rated this much lower but after doing more casting I was impressed at what beautiful tight loops I was throwing with great accuracy.  Only the LP and Radian were better. 

Performance at 70 feet: 9.3 points out of 10

Lots of power and very good performance at long range.  Better than the LP but not as good as the Avantt or Wraith.  Another score I upgraded with more casting.

#13  St. Croix Legend Elite   9’ 5-weight      $460

St. Croix Legend Elite

St. Croix Legend Elite

The Legend Elite has done very well in our prior Shootouts, mainly due to its excellent performance and fine craftsmanship at a very fair price.  Even more surprising is that they offer this rod at $460 when it is made here in the USA.

The swing weight is a little heavier than the best rods but the medium fast action is spot on, and matched our top rods.  This rod has decent butt and mid-section power and a softer tip that makes it better for short to mid-distance fishing. 

This is a tough rod, using St. Croix’s version of nano-resin that they call FRS.  The Craftsmanship is excellent throughout.  The blank is a pleasing dark olive/green, with slightly lighter gray/green wraps.  A very high quality half wells cork grip is used with a comfortable swell in the middle and a flare at the back end.  The attractive gold aluminum uplock skeleton seat utilizes a birdseye maple insert.  The guide set up is a single SiC stripping guide followed up with hard chrome one-foot guides.  These seem to work fine but we’d prefer the more flexible nickel/titanium version.

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.0 points out of 20

Accuracy is excellent – better than the Recon, and equal to the Opti Stream here.  But it’s a long way from the best rods.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.1 points out of 20

I got a nice solid feel and this rod tracked nicely with good accuracy.  Mid range is this rod’s sweet spot.  Both the Recon and the DXF were better though.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.5 points out of 10

In the wind I couldn’t get the same tight loops as I got with the Opti Stream.  The Recon was better also.

#14  Fenwick Aetos    9’ 5-weight      $189.95

Fenwick Aetos

Fenwick Aetos

The Aetos slams the door on all other contenders for the best inexpensive fly rod in our 2017 Shootout!   This is the third Shootout where it has held the crown, and for lots of very good reasons.  This is a nice light rod with a swing weight that matched the Radian.  The performance was quite respectable, being as good or better than a lot of far more expensive rods at short and mid-distances.   Only out long did it suffer.  I thought that the medium-fast action and softer tip were just about perfect.  It’s a lot like the Zephrus, one of our top performing rods.

This is a good-looking rod too; with a rich dark blue color and dark brown wraps with some silver trim wraps on the butt section.  Fenwick uses a half wells cork grip but the quality of the cork is not nearly as good as the best rods and has a lot of filler.  The reel seat is a solid plain anodized aluminum double uplocking seat with no spacer.  Functional but not as attractive as the skeleton seats with nice wood inserts.  If you get the feeling that the craftsmanship is not as good as many of the other rods, you are right.  But what can you expect for $189?  The guides are one SiC stripper and the rest are black colored hard chrome snake guides.   This is a nice light rod, with a light swing weight and will be a pleasant rod to fish all day, especially with dry flies.

As a starter rod this is pretty hard to beat.  It performs well and the price is right. 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.8 points out of 20

Surprisingly good in close.  Light in my hand and threw nice loops with decent accuracy.  Better than the much more expensive Recon and DXF. 

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Not as good as our best rods but definitely better than the BVK and the Sage Pulse.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.4 points out of 10

Pretty good out long but a little more power would help here.  Still it is about equal to the Legend Elite and DXF at long range.

#15  Beulah Guide Series II  9’ 5 weight   $295.00

Beulah Guide Series II

Beulah Guide Series II

We have two Beulah rods in our Shootout and both rods placed close in the overall and performance categories.  Although both are medium fast rods, the Guide Series II had a slightly faster action, with a softer tip, which I prefer.  Both are very nice, smooth casting rods that anyone would enjoy fishing with.  And they are good looking rods too.  These rods are manufactured in Korea.  

The blank is a dark olive/gray with dark olive wraps, trimmed with white in the butt.  The grip is a half wells, western style with contrasting corks at the top and bottom of the handle.  The quality of the cork looks excellent.  The reel seat is a silver/gray uplocking skeleton seat with a nice piece of brown wood burl.   The guides are one SiC stripping guide followed up with silver hard chrome snake guides. 

If your budget is $300 or less, this is a great rod!  A good overall performance from a less expensive rod. 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.8 points out of 20

A nice feel at short range with better accuracy than the Reaper or Cross SX.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.2 points out of 20

Very nice loops and good accuracy. Mid range is the sweet spot for this rod.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.5 points out of 10

Good power and accuracy with a lot more punch at long range than the Platinum. 

#16  Livingston Rod Co. YS Fast  9’ 5-weight    $745.00

Livingston Rod Company

Livingston Rod Company

Here is a rod from one of our local rod makers in Livingston Montana.  The blanks are rolled in New Zealand and the rod is built here.  The thing that really impressed us with Dusty Smith’s rods is the craftsmanship – so good that we gave the YS a perfect 10.   But the performance is very good too.  This rod has a medium fast action that felt just about perfect.  The swing weight is a little heavier than the best rods but it is still a very pleasant rod to cast and gave us good accuracy and feel at short to medium distances.  It was not as good at long range as the best rods.  

This rod has a beautiful metallic burnt sienna color, with slightly darker burnt sienna wraps that are trimmed in gold on the butt section. This is a sharp looking rod!  The cork handle is a half wells with the swell more forward of center with a short taper at the front and a flare at the back.  A nickel/silver single uplocking skeleton seat is used with a gorgeous piece of walnut burl for a spacer.  The guides are one SiC stripper followed up with silver hard chrome snake guides that are quite small and light on the tip.  Unlike most other 5-weight rods, this rod has no hook keeper.   

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.0 points out of 20

I could cast well off the tip and got good accuracy but the LP and the best rods had better feel.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.0 points out of 20

Nice loops and tracked nicely. Head to head, the Legend Elite and the Beulah rods were slightly better.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.4 points out of 10

Not enough power to get it done as easily as the Sky or Zephrus.  Comparable to the DXF.  

#17  Beulah Platinum     9’ 5-weight        $425.00

beulah Platinum

Beulah Platinum

Another great rod from Beulah that is both attractive and smooth casting.  It has a slightly slower action than the Guide Series II, with more of a medium action.   It was more forgiving than a lot of the faster rods.  It felt buttery smooth to me, especially at short to medium distances, but it did throw the line at a lower velocity than the faster rods and this hurt its long distance performance.  

The fancy cork handle jumps right out at you and sets it apart from other rods on the rack.  Beulah uses three very different shades of cork on both the top and bottom of the full wells grip with standard color cork rings in the middle.  This has a nice swell in the middle and felt quite comfortable.  The blank itself is a chocolate brown with lighter brown wraps and trimmed with darker brown and some silver wire on the butt.   The reel seat is a single uplock, silver anodized skeleton seat with an attractive piece of walnut burl for the spacer.  The guides are one SiC stripper with the rest hard chrome snake guides.

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.9 points out of 20

Very smooth with nice loops and good accuracy.   I gave the edge to the Platinum here over the Guide Series II.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.9 points out of 20

I was impressed at how smoothly this rod cast but head to head the Guide Series II, Recon and DXF were better. 

Performance at 70 feet: 8.0 points out of 10

Here the lack of stiffness and the slower action hurt.

Almost all of the rods in our Shootout were better out long.  Only the Pulse was worse. 

#18  Loop Cross SX Fast   9’ 5-weight      $759.00

Loop Cross SX

Loop Cross SX

Here’s one of Loop’s new rods that has tons of power, delivering very impressive performance at mid to long range.  Loop’s Opti Stream is a bit lighter in overall weight and swing weight and does perform better at short distances.  But at mid to long range, the SX was significantly better.  If you are a fast action guy, you’ll love this rod.  It has an abundance of butt and mid section power yet a more flexible tip.  I like the action, and the SX provided one of the better performances at mid to long range.  Loop promotes this as one of their top performance rods and we can’t argue with that.  It’s definitely better than the Evotec Cast, which didn’t make it into our Shootout.  

Like the Opti Stream, these rods are designed in Sweden but built in Korea in the same factory that produces the fine Douglas rods.  And there were a few similarities to the Douglas Sky, especially the cork grip and the same nice flat gray finish.  The blank designs, however are totally different. 

I like this flat, non-glare gray finish and it contributes to the SX’s elegant appearance.  The wraps are black, trimmed with red on the butt section.  The handle is a half wells, western style but with attractive contrasting cork rings at top and bottom.  The aluminum single uplock reel seat is unusual in that you can see the blank, and where a spacer would be, there are three aluminum rods that connect it to the grip, giving it strength.  Guides are one SiC stripper with the rest dark colored hard chrome snake guides. 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.5 points out of 20.

With its heavier swing weight and stiffness, I didn’t have much feel in close and the accuracy suffered.  The Opti Stream was a lot better in close, as were the Sky and Helios 2. 

Performance at 45 feet:  19.4 points out of 20

At mid-range this rod really came alive.  I could throw very tight loops with good control and accuracy.  But the SX was definitely not in the same class with the LP and Radian.

Performance at 70 feet: 9.4 points out of 10

Impressive at long range with great control and nice tight loops.  Only the Avantt and Asquith were noticeably better.

#19 Edge Alpha    9’ 5-weight        $855.00

Edge Alpha
Edge Alpha

This is a new rod from Gary Loomis, who moved on from G. Loomis years ago.  Now he is producing his rods in Woodland, Washington, with his own designs, in his own factory.  This rod is much like the old G.Loomis Classic GLX in that the dark gray, sanded graphite blanks are left unfinished except for the guide wraps.   In theory this gives a lighter and more responsive rod. However, when we weighed this rod, it was 2.9 oz., slightly heavier than the top rods that were 2.5-2.8 oz.   More importantly, the swing weight was a heavy 9.7 oz., placing it below all the best rods that were in the 8.2 to 9.0 oz. range.  With the heavier swing weight I felt that I had to work harder with the Edge than with other rods.

This is a fast action rod with lots of power.  Craftsmanship is good but not close to the best rods.   Gary is using black wraps trimmed with a one silver line on the butt with a hook keeper.  The cork handle is a half wells stack of excellent quality thin cork rings as on the Asquith.  The good-looking skeleton reel seat is a medium gray anodized aluminum single uplock style, with a wood burl insert that is gray to complement the blank.  The guides used are two fairly large SiC strippers, and the rest dark colored hard chrome snake guides.   

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.9 points out of 20.

Hard to cast off the tip well and the heavy swing weight didn’t give me much feel.  The top 8 rods were all better.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.3 points out of 20

Good power and control with decent accuracy, but in head to head casting, the LP, Radian, and Avantt were much better.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.5 points out of 10

I had to work harder to get nice tight loops than with the Radian, Avantt and Sky.  Somewhat disappointing for a rod with this much power. 

#20  Mystic Reaper    9’ 5-weight     $279.00

Mystic Reaper

Mystic Reaper

This has been one of my favorite inexpensive rods, right behind the Fenwick Aetos.  Originally this was our “Best Buy” winner before the Aetos took control.    I’ve liked the fast action and softer tip that give me very good feel at shorter distances.  Overall performance was pretty good and only at long range did it lack the power of better rods.  

My only gripes are in the handle.  The swell is too far forward and this felt a bit strange.  And the quality of the cork is not so hot, with a lot of filler.  For these reasons we downgraded it a point for craftsmanship.

This rod is a pleasing chocolate brown, with darker brown wraps trimmed with silver on the butt.  The cork handle is a half wells design but with the swell more forward than I’d like.  The reel seat is a silver anodized aluminum, single uplock design with a burled wood spacer.   The guides are two SiC strippers followed with silver hard chrome snake guides.  

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.5 points out of 20.

Good accuracy and pretty good feel.  I liked the way this rod casts in close but the accuracy wasn’t quite as good as the Beulah rods or the Flex.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Good control and accuracy, just not as impressive as the better rods.  The Flex, DXF and Legend Elite were better in head to head casting.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.5 points out of 10

Lack of stiffness hurt and I had trouble forming the tighter loops I got with Recon and Opti Stream.

#21     Scott Flex    9’ 5-weight        $475.00

Scott Felx


Scott Felx

This is a new mid-priced rod from Scott and I’m mystified why it didn’t finish higher, since their fantastic Radian retained its #2 slot, right at the top of our Shootout.  In my hand the Radian feels light and crisp with a nice fast action and softer tip.  The Flex on the other hand, is much slower in action and far heavier in swing weight.  At 10.1 oz. it had one of the heaviest swing weights in our Shootout.  Only the Echo Base and BVK were worse.  Heavy, slower action rods are never much fun to cast.  These are the main reasons the Flex wasn’t even close to the Radian’s scores at any distance. The Flex’s performance was an overall disappointment since we had expected something much better.

Like the Radian, Scott sands the blank very lightly and then applies the finish epoxy so you can still see the tape marks on the rod.  Supposedly this makes the rod stronger and more durable.  The blank color is natural graphite gray with darker gray wraps trimmed with a little white on the butt section. The handle is a more standard half wells with the swell in the middle- not as comfortable in my hand as the Radian shape that has a pronounced swell farther forward. Scott uses standard cork rings too, not the fancier, thinner ones on the Radian.  The reel seat is a black anodized double uplock skeleton seat with a dark gray graphite insert.  And they omitted the useful measuring marks we found on the Radian! 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.5 points out of 20.

I couldn’t cast off the tip nearly as nicely as with the Radian, so accuracy suffered.  The heavy swing weight hurt the feel too.  The Legend Elite and Sage X were noticeably better and the Radian far better.

Performance at 45 feet:  19.1 points out of 20

With more line in the air the performance was better.  My loops were tighter with pretty good accuracy.  In head to head casting, the Opti Stream, Recon and DXF were better. 

Performance at 70 feet: 8.6 points out of 10

Good with nice loops and control, but I’m worked harder than with the lighter rods. Both the Recon and Opti Stream were better out long.

#22   R.L. Winston BIIIx  9’ 5-weight       $845.00

R.L. Winston BIIIx

R.L. Winston BIIIx

I’m really surprised that the BIIIx didn’t finish higher. This has been one of our favorite rods for dry fly anglers since it was introduced.  I think the main reason is that more great 5-weight rods are showing up every year, and the BIIIx has fallen behind in performance as an all around rod compared to the best rods today, many of which are more versatile.    

The performance at short range is still very good and if you are a dry fly fisherman you’ll like it since it has so much feel and good accuracy in close.  But at longer distances it was not nearly as good as the other top rods.  The action is medium fast and the tip is very soft compared to other rods.  It just doesn’t have the same kind of power in the butt and midsection that we are seeing from the best new rods.  This hurt its scores at longer distances and its ability to cast into a stiff breeze.  It is also not as good for nymph fishing if you have to throw a lot of weight and an indicator.

I think this is unquestionably one of the best looking rods in our Shootout though, in that beautiful deep emerald Winston green that we have come to know so well over the years.  The craftsmanship is right up there with the very best rods and it scored a perfect 10.  

The emerald green blank really lights up in the sunlight and looks fantastic.  The wraps are a dark green to complement the blank and very nicely finished.   A little red trim is used on the butt section along with the hook keeper.  The cork grip is their “cigar” style, half wells with a nice swell in the middle and a forward taper.  The uplocking seat hardware is gorgeous in nickel silver, which looks so much better to me than an anodized aluminum seat.  A very fancy birdseye maple insert is used.  The guides are one SiC stripping guide with the rest thin, lightweight hard chrome snake guides.  These rods are built in Twin Bridges, Montana. 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.8 points out of 20.

I liked the soft tip which gave good feel and delicate presentations but the accuracy wasn’t nearly as good as the LP or Zephrus.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.6 points out of 20

Good, but didn’t track like the Asquith or Avantt.  Felt like a little more butt and mid section power would help.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.5 points out of 10

Now the lack of overall power hurt and I didn’t get the tight loops or the same kind of accuracy that I got with the Asquith and Avantt. 

#23     Echo Base    9’ 5-weight        $89.99

Echo Base
Echo Base

It amazes me that Tim Rajeff and Echo can give us such a nice rod for such a crazy low price.  This shows you how far the overall quality of fly rods has increased in just the past few years, and building them in Asia keeps the cost down.     

If you are looking for a rod for your son or daughter, or for any beginner that is on a tight budget, this is the rod for you.

Sure Echo uses a cheaper lower modulus graphite than most of the other rods in our shootout, and this leads to one of the heavier swing weights and lack of feel at shorter distances.  This rod has more of a medium action than fast. 

This is not a fancy rod, but it’s a lot better than you would expect for such a low price.  The blank color is a very dark blue, with dark brown wraps that are trimmed with silver on the first two sections.  The line up marks are a nice touch.  The handle is a half wells with a swell in the middle and flare at the back.  I felt the quality of the cork was OK, about the same as we found on the Aetos and Reaper.  The reel seat is a simple but functional plain black anodized aluminum uplocking seat with a wide locking ring and it seemed to work just fine.  The guide set up is one SiC stripping guide, with the rest silver hard chrome snake guides.   

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.0 points out of 20.

The stiffer tip and heavy swing weight led to the poor score at short distance.  Most rods were far better.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

A lot better at mid range with good control and decent accuracy.  Now it felt as good as the Aetos and Reaper.

Performance at 70 feet: 8.5 points out of 10

The heavy swing weight made me work harder to carry line in the air and the accuracy wasn’t so good.

About equal to the Aetos and Reaper out long. 

#24   R.L. Winston Air   9’ 5-weight     $945.00

R.L. Winston Air

R.L. Winston Air

We were excited to see and test the new Winston Air. But after a lot of casting head to head with other rods in our Shootout, we all felt that the Air didn’t produce the kind of performance we hoped for, or were getting from any of the best rods in the Shootout.  Even the BIIIx placed slightly higher.  As far as casting performance was concerned, I felt that the BIIIx was better than the Air at all distances.  

Winston touts their new Air as their super premium, ultra-lightweight rod that combines their new SuperSilica resin system with high modulus boron for significantly less weight than previous rods.  We didn’t find this to be true.  The overall weight of the Air was 3.5 oz, which tied it with the heaviest rod in the Shootout, the Beulah Platinum.  More importantly, the swing weight was a very heavy 9.9 oz., even heavier than their BIIIx!  The heavy swing weight contributed to a lot less feel than the better rods, especially at short to medium distances.  Only four rods were heavier in swing weight.  The Air has a medium fast action but wouldn’t track as well for me as many other rods and this hurt the accuracy.  The lack of power at long range knocked down its score there also.

Like the BIIIx, the Air is one of the most beautiful rods in our Shootout with great craftsmanship. It got a perfect score of 10 for craftsmanship.   

That deep emerald green blank is striking, especially outside in the sunlight.  I like the idea of putting the serial number on each rod section.  This can save you a lot of grief if you have multiple Winston rods and manage to get the sections mixed up.  The wraps are dark green to complement the blank and are nicely finished.  A nickel-silver grip check is used along with the hook keeper. The cork grip is their “cigar” style, a half wells with a nice swell in the middle and a forward taper.  The uplocking seat is gorgeous in nickel-silver, and looks a lot nicer than the anodized aluminum seats that just about everyone else uses.  A fancy birdseye maple insert is used.  The guide set up features their chrome nano-lite stripping guide followed by lightweight hard chrome snake guides.  These rods are built in Twin Bridges Montana.  

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  18.4 points out of 20.

Ok, but I had a hard time getting good accuracy.  BIIIx was better.  The heavy swing weight gave very little feel. 

Performance at 45 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Pretty good but didn’t track or form tight loops nearly as well as the top dozen rods.  

Performance at 70 feet: 8.0 points out of 10

I didn’t have any confidence in where I could put the fly at long range.  The BIIIx and Legend Elite were better.    

#25  Sage Pulse     9’ 5-weight        $450.00

Sage Pulse

Sage Pulse

This rod just didn’t do much for me in performance.   I didn’t like the slower action than what we found in the Sage X and I didn’t like the heavy swing weight.  The overall weight of the Pulse was fine, but the more important swing weight of 9.9 oz. was one of the heaviest in our Shootout.  Only three rods were worse.  The Sage X, with its faster action and softer tip was far better at all distances.  Slower action rods that are heavy in swing weight never do well in our comparisons, and you’ll see this same comment in other rods we have reviewed farther up the Shootout, like the Scott Flex and Echo Base. 

I did like the cosmetics, and the craftsmanship was pretty good too.  This rod has a bright light olive blank with dark olive wraps.  The handle is much like the Sage X and one that felt really comfortable in my hand.  It has a small flare at either end but only a very slight swell through the middle.  And the swell tapers forward slightly so that it is slightly smaller near the top of the grip.  Standard, but very high quality cork rings are used and this is what we come to except from Sage.  The reel seat is a single uplocking black anodized aluminum skeleton seat with a nice rosewood colored, laminated wood spacer. Simple but elegant.  The guide set up starts with one SiC stripper and the rest are hard chrome snake guides.  Like the X, the epoxy coatings over the guides are a little sloppy and heavy compared to the best rods. But as we’ve seen, this is a factor that lots of rod companies face using one-coat epoxy. 

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-5-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  17.5 points out of 20.

With the stiff tip the accuracy wasn’t too good and the heavy swing weight didn’t give us much feel either.  All the other rods with the exception of the BVK were better.

Performance at 45 feet:  18.4 points out of 20

Much better at this range with more line in the air but still not great.   About as good as the Winstons rods and the Echo Base.  

Performance at 70 feet: 7.9 points out of 10

I couldn’t get any consistent accuracy out long and loop control was a problem.  The X was far, far better.

 #26   TFO BVK     9’ 5-weight         $259.95

Temple Fork Outfitters BVK
Temple Fork Outfitters BVK

If you have been reading our 8-weight Shootouts, you know how well the BVK has performed, mainly because it is a powerful rod with a nice action.  It is heavy but you won’t mind that as much in an 8-weight.  But the BVK 5-weight is not nearly as good.    I liked the medium fast action but the extremely heavy swing weight killed the performance for me.  This is much more like a 6-weight rod than a 5-weight! 

With a swing weight of 11.2 oz., this was by far the heaviest in our Shootout by a wide margin.  If you take a look at our deflection chart you’ll see how stiff the BVK is compared to the other rods.  You can definitely up line this rod one size and get it to perform better, especially at short to mid distance.  At 70 feet, and a lot of line in the air, it felt OK with the WF-5-F, and the scores were a lot better. 

Lefty Kreh helped design these rods.  This rod has a very dark green blank with lighter but still dark green wraps.  The grip is a half wells, western style with a nice swell in the middle and feels comfortable. The quality of the cork is pretty good too.  The reel seat is a gray anodized, double uplocking skeleton seat with a green graphite insert that complements the blank.  One gripe I have is that the rings are small in width, making them hard to grip.  

Another minor gripe that I’ve voiced in the past is the lack of a hard case.  If you want one, TFO has them but it will cost you another $30.  At least you do have the option of getting their larger triangular travel case that holds up to five 4-pc. Rods.  I love these and they are only $49.95.     

The perfect line: S.A. Amplitude MPX in WF-6-F.

Performance at 25 feet:  17.1 points out of 20.

Not totally horrible, but the worst score in our Shootout at 25 feet.  The heavy swing weight didn’t allow for any feel whatsoever and it was tough to get much accuracy.     

Performance at 45 feet:  18.2 points out of 20

Much better with more line in the air.  Now I got pretty good accuracy but I could still feel that heavy swing weight. With a WF-6-F the score would be 9 or better. 

Performance at 70 feet: 9.2 points out of 10

At long range I got some pretty good performance. It loads well and tracked nicely with good tight loops.  Better than all the mid-priced rods at this distance and nearly as good as the Sage X.

The Best Way to Purchase a Rod and Reel Outfit

If you are thinking about buying a fly rod that you’ll love, we suggest reading one of our Shootouts for the line size rod you want.  You’ll find these on our Yellowstone Angler website home page.  If your local shop stocks the rods you are interested in, by all means visit them, try a few rods and purchase an outfit from them.  

If you cannot find or cast the rods that interest you, we would like to help.  Give us a call at 406-222-7130, and we will discuss your needs and wants over the phone.  I’m confident that we can come up with the perfect rod or outfit that best fits your needs, and then send it to you.  Normally if you are getting both the rod and reel, we’ll throw in an $85 line for free, and also ship it to you for free as well.  And since we are in Montana, there is no sales tax.

When you get the rod, do some casting on the lawn, and if you feel it is not just what you want, and it has not been fished and looks 100% new, we’ll allow you to return it to us for a full refund, less the shipping charges.  In some instances we can send you a few rods to try and then have you return the one you don’t want.

If you get to Montana, we invite you to stop at our shop and do your own mini-Shootout right on our lawn.  We have several reels rigged up with the various line sizes, and leaders, all ready to go. We’ll come out with you and give you some help to fine tune your casting stroke, or just help you with the basics.   And once you’ve picked out the perfect rod, stay and enjoy a few days on the water with one of our top guides.   

We need your support! 

We hope you have enjoyed reading our 2017 5-weight Shootout.  With your support, we can continue 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, and you found our Shootout helpful, please consider buying one from us.  We would love to have your business!  Be sure to e-mail us your comments and any questions you have about the exact tackle you need for the fishing you are doing or tackle needs for a trip you are planning.  We have fished all over the world in both fresh and saltwater for a variety of fish, and we’ll be glad to help answer any questions you might have.

– George, James, and the rest of the Yellowstone Angler crew