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Hardy ZEPHRUS ULTRALITE 8’9” #4   $679.95

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George’s Comments: 

When we first saw this new rod from Hardy, we all had two impressions:  1. Wow –It is super light in hand, and 2.  The cork handle is too thin, (for most anglers).  Still, I felt it could be our 4-weight winner until I finished casting the Ultralite heads up with the winner, the Zephrus.  At short and medium distances, it has great feel, but was lacking in accuracy.  I think that this can be attributed to the slower action of this rod compared to the Zephrus.  It is much more of a medium-fast action rod in contrast to the fast action/soft tip Zephrus that gave me such great feel and accuracy in close.  The Ultralite has a proportionally stiffer tip than the Zephrus, and much softer butt and mid section.  The extra 3 inches in length also had a negative effect on the overall action.  In close, I could not cast off the tip of the Ultralite nearly as well as with the Zephrus.  And since it was such a soft rod, the lack of butt and mid-section power killed its score at 60 feet, especially if there was any wind.  I’d like to see Howard Croston re-design this rod with a softer tip.  That might be the answer, but then it would likely be more of a 3-weight rod than a 4-weight.  Hardy is using their best Sintrix 440 graphite in this rod, also used in the Zephrus.

The Ultralite did get perfect scores for overall weight, swing weight and light tippet protection and these all helped to boost its final scores in both the overall and performance results.  But if you look at just the three distance performance scores, it would have finished below the top dozen rods!

The Ultralite is a very attractive rod.  The blank is finished in a medium brown with brown wraps that complement the blank.  A half wells cork handle is used, but the size is a little small in diameter as I noted.  The thinner cork handle may actually be an advantage for some anglers, especially children or women with smaller hands.  Standard corks are used and the quality is excellent. 

The skeleton uplocking seat is one of the most unusual I’ve seen.  It is a double uplocking, anodized gray seat with an attractive burl insert, but right under where the reel seat fits, they have cut away both the threads and the burl leaving the blank that is covered with composite cork!  Very tricky and very attractive.  The cutout only extends down to ¾ ” from the butt cap, leaving that last portion fully threaded where you would tighten down the rings.

Like the Orvis 3F, there is no hook keeper.  Why?  I think a hook keeper is very useful on trout rods.  The rest of the guides start with a single wire recoil strippers like G. Loomis uses, (I don’t like these much either), but at least the rest are the good flexible nickel/titanium single-foot guides, as on the Zephrus, in a black color.  

The perfect line:  SA Amplitude Smooth Trout in WF-4-F

George’s casting notes:

Performance at 25 feet:  19.0 points out of 20

I’m having trouble casting off the tip well and this is hurting the accuracy.   Feel is good and the rod is very light in hand.

Performance at 40 feet: 19.0 points out of 20

Accuracy is good, just not great. I don’t have the feel I can place the fly just where I want it, as I can with the Zephrus. Casting head to head, the Zephrus, Pure and Helios 3D are all a lot better.

Performance at 60 feet:  7.5 points out of 10

This rod is so soft that I just don’t have the power in the butt and mid sections to get good tight back cast loops, or the line speed I need to get the job done.

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James’ Comments:

Incredibly light in hand, the Hardy Ultralite is sure to pass anyone’s “wiggle test” with flying colors.  Buttery smooth and fun to flex, it was only when I cast the Ultralite head to head with the top rods that I noticed it wasn’t nearly as accurate, nor did it have much reserve power.  I attribute this to the Ultralite’s softer butt and midsections and relatively stiffer tip.  

Anglers who are looking for the ultimate in feel, (even at the cost of accuracy) will most appreciate the Ultralite.  Like the Scott G series, you can feel this rod flex through the cork handle.   

The Zephrus Ultralite is an attractive rod.  I like the golden brown blank color and the ingenuity that went into the cutout reel seat.   Not only does it lighten the overall weight, but it looks cool and different.  Personally, I like a wider cork handle as it is more comfortable to grip, but anglers with smaller hands will appreciate the Ultralite’s thinner handle.

1st impressions:

Super thin cork grip.  Unique reel seat with carved out wooden insert (revealing cork underneath).  Burled locking rings are on the thin side and sometimes hard to grip.   Extremely light in hand, softer mid and butt-sections give this rod a very deep action load.  Recoil wire stripper guide (like the NRX LP) with the same nickel/ titanium single foot guides as the Zephrus, but a smaller tip top than the Zephrus. Performed better with the lighter SA smooth trout line.

Performance at 25 feet: 19.2 points out of 20

This rod oozes feel, but is it possible it is too soft and light?  I’m not nearly as accurate as I was with the Zephrus and Pure.  It also gets blown around in the wind more than the Zephrus or Pure. 

Performance at 40 feet:  19 points out of 20

Exceptional feel but again I’m struggling to be as accurate as the others, especially in the wind.  You can feel the rod flexing through the cork handle, like the Scott G Series.

Performance at 60 feet:  6.9 points out of 10

Now the softer butt and midsections have met their limit.  It was very difficult for me to cast 60 feet, and get any kind of accuracy.  

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Logan’s Comments:  46 out of 50

The Hardy Zephrus Ultralite is the lightest rod in our 2019 4-weight shootout in both overall weight and swing weight.  Holding it in your hand you realize why it is called the Ultralite.  Cosmetically it is one of my favorite rods in the Shootout.  I really like the brown blank color, and the fancy wood/cork mixed reel seat.  The nickel/titanium single-foot guides help give it such a light feel in hand.  Hardy has given us a very attractive rod in the Ultralite. 

Performance at 25 feet: 19.5 out of 20

25 feet was the Ultralite’s best distance.  If you like softer, smoother rods, you will love the Ultralite.

Performance at 40 feet: 18.5 out of 20

At 40 feet the Ultralite was delivering ultra delicate casts.  Its softer action hurt its accuracy but its delicate presentations were among the best.

Performance at 60 feet: 8 out of 10

The overall softer action hurt the Hardy Ultralite’s performance at 60 feet.  It wasn’t very accurate and I had to work to get what I needed out of the rod at longer distances.

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Francis’ Comments: 

This was another rod I thought would do well in the Shootout and was a little surprised when it finished so far down my list.  It is an extremely light rod but lacks the backbone found in the standard Zephrus.  The softer, medium action hurt the accuracy, and this rod just didn’t have enough power to make long casts very well.  The shorter distances were where the Ultralite performed the best.  I did like the craftsmanship and the overall appearance of this rod.  

Performance at 25 feet: 18.5/20 

I’m getting really nice light presentations. It almost felt like I was casting a 3-weight.  But the Zephrus was much more accurate.

Performance at 40 feet: 18/20

I had pretty good accuracy and tight loops at the mid distance. Both the Zephrus and Pure were far better.

Performance at 60 feet: 7.5/10

I could not get this rod to cast well or accurately at long distance, for the life of me.

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Chloe’s Comments:

The Hardy Ultralight lives up to its name.  The rod is incredibly light, with a softer more medium action than the Zephrus. To me, maybe a little too light and too soft.  It is a beautiful rod, well thought out in where they cut the weight; less metal on the reel seat, lighter one-foot guides and a lighter blank. If you are looking for a very light, very delicate rod, this is definitely a rod to consider.

Performance at 25 feet: 17 out of 20

         With it’s more moderate action, I felt it was a little bit harder to turn my leader over than with the faster action Zephrus.  In close it was slightly less accurate for me than it was at medium distances.

Performance at 40 feet: 17.5 out of 20

         40 feet was a better range for this rod.  Now it performed more consistently, but I felt the rod needed more backbone. 

Performance at 60 feet: 7.5 out of 10

         60 feet was difficult for the Ultralight.  It just didn’t have enough power or backbone to allow me to cast confidently at long distance.