Normally we wouldn’t do two Shootouts in the same year, but after seeing how well the NRX+ rod did, winning our 2020 5-Weight Shootout, we were excited to see how the NRX+ 8-weight would compare to our 2018 8-weight Shootout winner, the G. Loomis Asquith. And since we published that 8-Weight Shootout, two other very good new rods have piqued our interest – the Scott Sector and the Douglas SKY G.
Would any of the new mid-priced rods be able to outscore the Orvis Recon, our 2018 mid-priced winner? And how does the new re-designed Recon compare to the original Recon? Could any inexpensive 8-weights under $200 outperform the stellar $189.95 Fenwick Aetos?
Rather than do another full blown 8-weight Shootout, we decided to collect these new rods and see how they compare to the top rods in our 2018 8-Weight Shootout. This meant leaving out a lot of very good rods, like the Thomas and Thomas Exocett, the tried and true Sage X, the fabulous Hardy saltwater Zephrus, and the ultra-powerful Loop Cross 7X. We have cast all of these rods before, and we could tell by their past casting performance, including their heavier swing weights or stiffer tips, that they didn’t have what it takes to be top contenders. We decided not to compare all these rods again, except the Orvis Helios 3F, which had previously impressed us.
For those of you that want to refresh your memory on the rods we did not compare in this Challenge, please refer to our 2018 8-weight Shootout:
After casting a number of good mid-priced rods, we decided to report only on the best, the new redesigned Orvis Recon, and a delightful new rod from Echo, called the Prime 4pc. We also found that no other rod under $200 came remotely close to matching the performance of our past inexpensive 8-weight winner, the Fenwick Aetos.
We apologize if we have omitted your favorite rod or a rod that you wished to read about. Some of them can be found in our 2018-Weight Shootout, but if you don’t see the rod you are curious about, please feel free to give us a call. We are always happy to “talk shop” and help you decide if a certain rod would be the right rod for your needs and casting style.
By now you are familiar with the format of our Shootouts. If you are new to reading our Shootouts however, please click on the link below which will take you to our 2018 8-Weight Shootout. At the outset of the Shootout, we outline our procedures and explain each of our points categories in detail. We explain how we try to keep things apples to apples by eliminating variables, the set-up of our casting stations at the different distances, and exactly how we compute swing weight. We have employed identical methods and rating categories in this 8-Weight Challenge.
Since the weather in January is pretty nasty in Montana, making casting outside nearly impossible, James brought all the rods in this 8-weight Challenge with him to Florida just after Christmas. This let us do all the casting outdoors at a park in Englewood on Florida’s west coast. We also enlisted our good friend, Captain Skip Zink, who has been a tester on past 8-weight Shootouts. It’s always great to have Skip’s perspective. He is a certified casting instructor and accomplished flats fly-fishing guide, who has his clients fishing an 8-weight rod for most snook and redfish.
The meat of our 8-Weight challenge is how these rods perform. Our comments reflect this but besides giving you “performance only” results, we thought it was important to compile our normal overall final results table, which takes into account other important factors such as price and warranty cost.
1. The new lightweight, smooth and powerful G.Loomis NRX+ earns the overall win as 2020’s best saltwater 8-weight rod.
2. The honeymoon continues for the G. Loomis Asquith, retaining its crown as the best performing 8-weight rod money can buy.
4. The Echo Prime 4pc is the lightest and best mid-priced rod for fishing at short to medium distances, but lacks power at longer ranges.
5. The new Orvis Recon Big Game is the best mid-priced rod that handled all distances well, but especially longer distances or casting in the wind. However, the new Recon is a lot heavier than the Prime 4pc in swing weight, and not nearly as good at the two closer distances. If you are fishing mostly in close or out to 60 feet, your best mid-priced rod will be the Echo Prime 4pc. If you are fishing 60 feet and beyond or often facing windy conditions, the Orvis Recon Big Game is your best mid-priced rod.
6. The Fenwick Aetos continues to be our pick for the best inexpensive 8-weight fly rod, an honor is has kept since our 2016 8-Weight Shootout, when it was first introduced.
While the recent advancements in graphite construction are not as revolutionary as the initial jump from fiberglass to graphite rods was, there have been significant technological improvements that have greatly advanced graphite rod construction. Today’s latest graphite fly rods are using lighter higher modulus graphite materials combined with new resin systems like the new nano-resins, as well as different methods of cutting and laying up the graphite layers and better rolling techniques. All of which result in rods that are much lighter, smoother and more accurate than anything we have experienced in the past.
We have tried to explain the exact changes in material, technology, and manufacturing techniques in the write up for each rod. Needless to say, the manufacturers don’t want to divulge their secrets, but they were all willing to give us a general idea of what they are doing to produce these terrific new rods that combine amazing power with wonderful feel and finesse.
The Nautilus G-7/8 is still our reel of choice on any 8-weight rod, especially when you need the ultimate in performance to handle sizzling fast bonefish runs or the bulldog like power of a big Louisiana redfish. Yes, there are cheaper and also more expensive reels, but you won’t find one that is better. The G-7/8 is just a size down from the G-8/9 Nautilus that won our 2014 8-weight Reel Shootout.
These wonderful reels have a wide arbor spool, with a big handle that you can grip very easily. They are light in weight, yet have a totally sealed drag system that utilizes four sets of ball bearings and a carbon fiber disc drag that provides very smooth and strong resistance, with a wide amount of adjustment. The Nautilus reels also have a lower start up inertia than any of the reels we tested. The G-7/8 has the capacity for the S.A. WF-8-F Amplitude Bonefish line and 200 yards of the Hatch 68 lb. backing. With 20 lb. micron backing you’ll have capacity for 170 yards, all without overloading the reel. Like the Tibor and Abel reels we’ve used in the past, the Nautilus reels are bulletproof and will provide a lifetime of enjoyable service.
There are many new saltwater lines on the market now, but we have yet to find one that beats our long-time favorite, The Scientific Anglers Bonefish Taper. We used the SA Amplitude version again this year, as in the 2018 8-Weight Shootout. The belly and front taper have a fairly traditional design, allowing for nice loops at long distance and the ability to present a fly delicately and accurately. We’ve found that some of the new lines with shorter front tapers and heads are just not well suited for flats fishing where you need to combine accuracy with a delicate delivery.
The head of the SA Amplitude tip is textured for the ultimate in flotation, and transitions to a smoother texture for the remainder of the belly and shooting line, allowing the line to shoot like crazy. For those who don’t like the textured coating, SA also offers an Amplitude “smooth” option for $99.95. This new line has the S.A. Tropi-Core technology – a stiff coating and stiff core, and their AST plus coating, a slickness additive that aids in shooting (and clearing) line, all perfect for warmer climates. The coating also adds to the longevity and durability of the line, an important consideration as line prices escalate.
Although the SA Amplitude bonefish taper was the best line on the Asquith and the other top rods, we learned that Steve Rajeff designed the NRX+ with a slightly heavier line, the Mastery Saltwater taper, in mind, which is a half line size heavier than the Amplitude Bonefish taper. The reasoning for this was that many new saltwater anglers have trouble double hauling and the heavier line will help them flex the rod better.
We have been tying our own bonefish and permit leaders for over twenty years, using Mason’s hard nylon for the butt and midsections, and Seaguar Tatsu double structure fluorocarbon for the final two tippet sections. I designed these leaders with very stiff butt and midsections, and a short taper that allows them to turn over extremely well, even in a harsh wind.
Our 12-foot bonefish leaders, with a 30-inch tippet, will turn over far better than any of the knotless tapered leaders on the market, making them perfect for our rod testing. These leaders are all hand tied (and tested) here in Livingston, MT. If you’d like to try these out, we always have a fresh stock. If you would like to tie your own we have the materials available for purchase and are happy to set you up with a formula.
Our deflection charts have been an integral part of our Shootouts and we have included them again here in our Challenge. These allow the reader to see the manner in which each rod bends, but more importantly, how it bends compared to the others. You can see which rods have faster actions than others, (the tip bends more) or if a rod possesses a moderate, slower action, (the tip bends less). To make the deflection chart we place the rods at a 45-degree angle and then hang a weight of 6.2 oz from the tiptop. Then we trace the outline of the rod.
Keep in mind that fast action rods are not necessarily stiff rods, as many anglers assume. The tips on the faster action rods bend more, and we’ve found this is the key to getting good accuracy, especially at closer distances. On the other hand, the best 8-weight rods must also possess enough butt and mid-section power to throw well at longer distances, or to bring a line screaming, 10-pound bonefish to hand.
As you will see in the Final Results table and in each tester’s Performance Only chart, the two Loomis rods were head and shoulders above the other rods. The Asquith, with its softer tip offers the ultimate in power and feel, and was created with the SA Bonefish line in mind.
The NRX+ has a stiffer tip, and was designed with the SA Mastery Saltwater line in mind, a line that is a half a line size heavier, (similar to the MPX freshwater lines). The main reason for this was feedback from Key West pros and guides who wanted a rod that can handle a Grand Slam or Tropical Punch line, since many of their clients are not experts at double hauling and these heavier, front loaded lines enable the clients to have the best chance for longer casts in the wind. These lines work great for permit and tarpon, but with an 8-weight rod, the Grand Slam or Tropical Punch lines turn over too quickly, and don’t provide the kind of delicacy needed when fishing for flats fish like bonefish, redfish and snook. The NRX+ with the Mastery Saltwater taper does a much better job overall.
If you are an expert caster, you will likely gravitate towards the Asquith, as it has power and feel. The only performance disadvantage is that it has a narrower sweet spot, so anglers will have to apply the power more precisely to benefit from this rod’s full potential. On the other hand, if you are a novice or an intermediate skilled angler, there is a good chance you might not be able to tell the slight differences between the Asquith and the NRX+. In general, we feel the NRX+ might be easier for novices to cast as they can punch it hard and the NRX+’s stiffer tip won’t buckle. All things being equal, cheaper is in this case, may be better, making the NRX+ a very appealing saltwater weapon.
After all the praise we have given Loomis rods over the years, anglers might think we are on G. Loomis’ payroll. But the truth is they treat us just like any other retail fly shop, with no special treatment. We just like their rods a lot, since they perform and hold up so well. The main reason for that, of course is that 14-time world champion caster Steve Rajeff, is the man behind the designs. Steve is not only a great caster and rod designer, he is a great angler. He has an uncanny ability to design rods knowing how they will be used by anglers, from beginners to experts.
*Made in the USA – the Asquith blanks are manufactured in Japan, then the rods are assembled and finished in the USA.
Below you will see my notes for each of the rods, but you will also want to read the comments from my son James and Captain Skip Zink, our two other testers, both competent saltwater anglers and excellent casters.
Everyone here anxiously anticipated seeing what Steve Rajeff would devise to replace the superb Loomis NRX rods, which have been among our favorite rods over the years. Steve has given us a magical new NRX+ that blows away everything other than the Asquith in performance. As you will see in our Performance Only scores, the Asquith was the best performing rod in our 8-Weight Challenge. But in the Final Results, it lost considerable points for price and warranty cost and the NRX+ took first place.
The big thing that separates the NRX+ from the other rods is how smoothly it casts. The NRX+ series are powerful rods in general but are also dampened better than any of the other rods we’ve found, including the Asquith. This was apparent in our 2019 9-foot 5-Weight Shootout, where the NRX+ won in the power rods category. The key to this power and smoothness is a utilization of three things: Mega modulus + graphite, GL 8 resin, and a new multi-taper design.
The cornerstone of this new technology is the use of Steve’s multi-taper design, a process that removes material from areas where a rod is least likely to break, and adds material to prevent breakage where it’s more likely to break. When used in the top half of the rod, this creates a thin diameter tip section with excellent swing weight, but more importantly helps the rod to recover and dampen extremely quickly.
When we were test casting all the rods, and watching the loops they formed in the air, it was immediately apparent that the NRX+ loops were smoother than the other rods, with very little apparent oscillation.
In casting the new NRX+ 8-weight, this improvement in recovery and dampening was dramatic! There are no other rods in our Challenge that are as smooth, dampen as quickly, or track as well as the new NRX+ rods.
This new Mega Modulus+ graphite fiber is slightly higher in modulus but has a much higher strain rating than what Loomis used on the previous NRX rods. This makes the NRX + blank much stronger under a “lifting load” with less overall material used.
As G. Loomis explains, the new GL8 resin is “self-propagating,” meaning the resin creates its own nano-particles. These particles are distributed evenly and uniformly, unlike older resins where the particles were mixed in. Since the GL8 resin is more uniform, it penetrates the graphite fibers more effectively, thus requiring less resin. This new resin system, along with a new scrim, results in a lighter but more durable blank.
The old NRX rods were some of the toughest rods we have ever fished, and tougher to break than rods from other manufacturers. Knowing the new NRX+ is even tougher than the old NRX is great news!
The new NRX+ Saltwater blank is dark gray with dark blue wraps, trimmed in lighter blue and silver on the butt. The epoxy coatings are excellent – as good as on the Asquith. The cork handle is a comfortable full wells Rajeff design that is slightly larger ahead of the handle swell. A stack of thin width, very high-quality cork rings is used with a rubber/cork ring at the bottom for durability. The reel seat is a solid dark gray anodized double uplocking unit, with easy to grip and tighten rings, similar to the ones used on the Asquith. A short one inch extension butt is used with a rubber/cork cap. Two titanium frame stripping guides are used, followed with the excellent nickel/titanium recoil snake guides that will flex but never break. An oversize tiptop is used, and there is no hook keeper.
Wonderful tracking and accuracy in close, edged out only by the Helios 3F and Sector.
I’m impressed with the smoothness and the accuracy, second only to the Asquith. I’m getting a lot of feel as well and this gives me a lot of confidence in where I’m putting the fly.
Nice tight controllable loops are giving me superb accuracy, and this rod handles a lot of wind easily. But I can’t punch in the power quite as hard as I can with the Asquith.
Like the Asquith, a cannon for throwing long bombs. Throws the whole line easily. Definitely better than the Helios 3F, the Sector and
SKY G at the longer distances. Only a shade less powerful than the Asquith.
Although the NRX+ was able to beat the Asquith on price and warranty, allowing it to finish first in our Final Results, the Asquith retains its crown as the finest 8-weight fly rod in our Performance Only category. Two years ago, the Asquith won our full blown 2018 8-Weight Shootout, replacing the Scott Meridian as the previous 2016 8-Weight winner. In case you’ve missed it, click here to read this full Shootout:
The Asquith is an amazing rod that delivers performance on a scale that seems to be on a higher plane than the other rods, though the NRX+ comes very close. It is very light in hand but has a huge amount of reserve power coming from a fairly stiff butt and mid-section that allows it to handle the longest distances with ease. But Steve Rajeff, wanted a rod that would perform well at short to medium distances also, and gave the rod a softer, more flexible tip.
The Asquith was the first rod to use a radical new design that Shimano calls their Spiral-X technology. Shimano developed a special graphite tape called infinity tape, which is wrapped on the mandrel on a 45-degree axis. Next a layer of “muscle carbon” graphite is wrapped the conventional manner, followed with a final wrap of the infinity tape, but at an opposing 90-degree angle from the first layer, forming an X-pattern.
The advantage this spiral-x process provides is that Loomis can now build a blank that uses 15-20% less graphite material that is even stronger than their new NRX+ blanks. As Steve explained to me, this process also reduces any twist in the finished blanks and reduces ovalization in the blank as it bends, giving the angler more feel, coupled with a huge amount of reserve power when you need it. Shimano, (G. Loomis’ parent) builds the Asquith blanks in Japan and then ships them to G. Loomis where they complete building the rods in their Woodland, Washington plant.
I’ve never cast a rod that tracks as well as the Asquith, or is as accurate, especially at the mid to long distances. This rod gives me the confidence that I can put the fly right where I want it, right out to 80 feet and beyond.
Over the past three years I’ve fished the 8-weight Asquith as my go-to rod for everything from 20-pound rainbows at Argentina’s Jurassic Lake, Atlantic salmon in Labrador, to the saltwater flats in the Caribbean and Florida for bonefish, redfish and snook. I’ve given it a huge amount of punishment, putting bends in the Asquith that would have broken most other rods but it is as perfect today as when it was new!
I’ve been impressed with all the Asquith rods in various sizes, and use them much of the time for my own fishing. In Montana I use the 9 foot #5 for a lot of the dry fly trout fishing I do, along with the 9 foot #7 for fishing streamers. The 9 foot #9 and 9 foot #10 have proven to be terrific rods for permit, and for big tarpon I use the 9 foot #11 Asquith most of the time when I’m not using my one-piece NRX Pro 1.
In this 8-Weight Challenge, the Asquith and the new NRX+ are the only two rods that perform extremely well at all distances. Others, like the Orvis Helios and Scott Sector are great in close but not nearly as good at the longer distances.
One of the drawbacks to the Asquith is the price of $1200, which is $200-$300 more than the other top rods. The other is the expeditor warranty policy that gets you a new rod in just a few days but can cost up to $250. On the plus side, we have sold a lot of Asquith rods and see very few being broken. In fact, of the two Asquith rods we sent back on G.Loomis’ warranty program, both were returned as free repairs, deemed to be factory defects.
The Asquith is an absolute joy to cast, and for me it stood out from the other rods in our Challenge the second I got it in my hand. At mid-distances like 45-75 feet, (that I find myself fishing an 8-weight most of the time), nothing can touch the Asquith. The Asquith is a handsome rod; the blank finished in dark green that sparkles brilliantly in the sunlight. Complementary dark green wraps are used, and the epoxy coatings are finished beautifully. The overall craftsmanship is absolutely top notch. The cork handle is a Steve Rajeff design, a full wells grip that is slightly larger at the front, above the swell, than it is below. Steve’s idea is to get your pinky and ring finger closer to your palm, providing a more comfortable and more powerful grip, especially when you are throwing long. Loomis uses a stack of thin width, very high-quality cork rings that have proven to hold up well with hard use.
A gray anodized double uplocking reel seat is used with a light but highly impact resistant dark green CI4+ insert. I love the easy to grip rings that lock up well on heavier saltwater fly reels. A short extension butt is used with a rubber/cork end cap for increased durability. The guide setup starts with two titanium frame SIC style guides that are slightly smaller than what Orvis or Scott use, but they seem to work perfectly and shoot line well. The rest are the superb nickel/titanium recoil snake guides that will never bend permanently or break, followed with an oversize tiptop. No hook keeper is used.
I can cast easily off the tip and the accuracy is very good but both the Helios 3F and Sector had a touch more feel.
At mid-range nothing comes close to the Asquith. The tracking is fantastic and I’m able to fire very tight loops easily and with more accuracy than with the other rods.
Again, another perfect performance. Only the NRX+ came close to giving me the control and accuracy at long range or in a hard wind. Punch in any amount of power you want and the rod responds.
A cannon at the longest distances! When I really lay into it, the Asquith is giving me explosive power unmatched by the other rods.
We have been impressed with the Helios 3 rods, and there is no question that they are among the best 8-weights. We tried both the Helios 3F and Helios 3D but as in our 2018 Shootout, we picked the Helios 3F as the best Orvis 8-weight. At longer distances it was really about as good as the 3D, but at the two shorter distances, the softer tip on the 3F gave us much more feel and better accuracy.
The Helios 3F is a fast action rod, and the action is about perfect with its softer tip. This is also a very light rod in both overall and swing weights, making it a pleasure to fish all day. If you are not going to do a lot of long-distance casting, you’ll love this rod. Of the top rods, only the SKY G was lighter in swing weight.
At our shortest distance of 35 feet, I just loved the 3F, and gave it a perfect score for its wonderful feel and accuracy. At the mid-distances it was still right in the running with the Loomis rods, but lacked their punch. At the longest distances the 3F just didn’t have the power to get it done as easily as the Asquith or NRX+.
Craftsmanship has always been excellent on the Orvis Helios rods. Orvis uses the very best components on the Helios rods, and the rods are finished beautifully. Personally, I don’t like the six inches of white logo on the butt section but it sure jumps out at you from the rod rack in a fly shop. Out on the water, one look and you’ll know if that other angler is using an Orvis Helios.
The blank is finished in a flat dark gray (which we all liked) with dark gray wraps. The epoxy coating on the guides was excellent. A comfortable full wells cork handle is used with a stack of very high quality thin-width cork rings as on the Loomis and Scott rods. The reel seat is a black anodized uplocking seat with a gray graphite spacer. I especially liked the two large uplocking rings that were easy to grip and tighten securely. A fairly large 1 ½ inch extension butt is used with a rubber cork cap for durability.
The guide set up starts with two large titanium SIC style stripping guides, followed with the best nickel/titanium snake guides as on the Loomis and Scott rods. These snake guides will bend but never break. I found the snake guides on the Helios 3F to be slightly smaller than the ones on the NRX+, especially up near the tip. I would like to see them a bit larger so that they can clear line tangles more easily. An oversized tiptop is used with no hook keeper. Alignment dots are used on the ferrules, a nice touch.
What a nice light feel in my hand, and I’m getting nice tight loops with superb accuracy. No rod could touch the Helios in close and it was easy to give it a perfect score.
Very smooth to cast, with nicely formed loops and very good accuracy. It did suffer in the wind a bit and I couldn’t punch the power in like I could with the Asquith or NRX+.
Still surprisingly good, but I can tell it is starting to run out of steam. Now the Asquith and NRX+ are noticeably better.
The lack of backbone hurts, and makes it hard to achieve the longest distances with any kind of accuracy.
With all that has been written about its introduction to replace the popular Meridian, (that won our 2016 8-Weight Shootout), we were all anxious to see the new Scott Sector. The Sector won the ATTFA’s award this year for the best new saltwater rod.
The Sector has some new innovations, the primary one being Scott’s new Carbon Web Technology, which it is claimed “improves torsional stability and rod durability by encasing the unidirectional fibers in a web of ultra-light multi-directional carbon fiber.” Whatever that is, this seems to work, as this rod is a joy to cast, at short to medium distances, giving me a lot of feel in close as well as good accuracy.
The Sector is light in swing weight, but slightly heavier than the Scott G, Helios 3F and Asquith. I found that the Sector performed best at the shorter distances, from 35-60 feet, where you typically fish an 8-weight. As you can see on our deflection chart, the Sector’s butt and mid-section are softer than all the other 8-weight rods we tested. This hurt it when trying to hit the longest targets at 80 and 100 feet – ones that the Asquith and NRX+ hit with ease.
This is another great looking rod from Scott, finished in natural graphite gray and only lightly sanded, in typical Scott fashion, so you can still see the tape marks. Scott claims that this allows them to build a stronger and one less likely to break rod. The guide wraps are black, trimmed in an attractive blue on the butt section and at the ferrules.
The cork handle is Scott’s modified wells style, like the Radian, where the swell is slightly forward of the middle of the grip. I found this grip to be very comfortable and liked it a lot! A stack of very high-quality thin diameter cork rings are used like on the other best rods. A flat black anodized double uplocking reel seat is used, with two large locking rings that were very easy to grip and tighten. The sliding band is marked with the size designation of the rod, a nice touch. A large 1 ½ inch extension butt is used, that is wider than most with a rubber cap.
The guides start out with two new CeRecoil stripping guides that have flexible nickel/titanium frames and a slick zirconia ceramic insert that will never separate. These strippers and the snake guides are PVD coated in black. The rest of the guides are the good nickel/titanium snakes similar to what Loomis and Orvis use. The epoxy coatings on the guides were excellent and alignment dots are used on the ferrules. There is no hook keeper.
A great performance in close. The accuracy is exceptionally good, bettered only by the Helios 3F. I’m also getting a lot of feel – a little more than I had with the Asquith and NRX+.
Smooth casting with nice tight loops, giving me good feel and accuracy but not quite up to the level of either the Asquith or NRX+.
Here the softness in the butt and mid-section hurts, and I can’t punch in the power nearly as well as with both of the Loomis rods or the Helios 3F.
I felt that the Sector needs more butt and mid-section power to go long. I had a lot of trouble maintaining good loops in the wind. Both the Asquith and NRX+ were dramatically better.
This is a new rod from Douglas that uses their new graphene technology that we saw in their latest SKY G (the winner of our 2020 5-Weight Shootout in the Presentation category). The 8-weight is an extremely light rod with a swing weight well below any of the other rods. But as reflected in the Performance scores, it was down on power at the longest distances. Head rod designer Fred Contaoi reports that they will make a running change to give the SKY G 8-weight more power. Of course, this will bump up the swing weight somewhat, but it will still be one of the lightest 8-weights.
These new SKY G rods are composed using G-Tec platelets. Douglas explains that Platelets are like building blocks that are microscopic in size. The platelets make up a small part of the resin matrix while offering substantial benefits in using less material and maintaining high integrity in linear and hoop strength, with added impact resistance.
Combined with the new materials and resin is what Fred calls a “G ARMOR” coating. He won’t divulge their secrets so I couldn’t learn more, but these changes allow Douglas to build the new SKY G with less material, resulting in a much lighter and stronger rod than the older standard SKY.
The new SKY G is very quick to dampen and is very sensitive. It gave me a wonderful sense of feel, especially at shorter distances. The increased dampening and recovery also result in superior accuracy, which was evident at close range.
The SKY G is an attractive rod, finished in flat gray, with black wraps. The epoxy coating on the guides is excellent. The cork handle is a full wells, with rubber/cork rings at the top and bottom for better durability. The shape and swell feel just right to me. The reel seat is a solid gray anodized aluminum, with two uplocking rings that have nylon inserts on top to allow them to lock up very positively. A short extension butt is used with a wider rubber cork cap that will be comfortable to use when cranking hard on a fish.
The guide set up uses two of the new CeRecoil nickel/titanium stripping guides like the Scott Sector, with a slick zirconia ceramic insert. The rest of the guides are the top-notch nickel/titanium Recoil snake guides that are flexible but cannot break. An oversize tiptop is used. Alignment dots are used as well as the size designation on each section, at the ferrules. At $795 this rod is a bargain when compared to the other top rods, that are $100-$400 more.
I love the light swing weight and feel of this rod in my hand, and it gave me extremely good feel and accuracy at short distance, equal to the Asquith and NRX+.
Nice smoothly controlled loops and lots of feel. The accuracy was good but could not match the top four rods.
Here is where that beefed up power will help. The original Sky G felt like it was running out of gas out long.
Again, more butt and mid-section power are needed. I can hit 100 feet but only when there isn’t much wind.
We are looking forward to Fred’s modifications of this rod, giving it a little more power, which will boost its performance at the longer distances.
If you are looking for an inexpensive 8-weight, look no further! This rod is an absolute steal at the low price of $189.95. It’s not the lightest rod and the components are not that great either, but the fast action is just right and gave me pretty good feel and accuracy, especially at the shorter distances. For sure, this rod walks away with the title of the best inexpensive 8-weight. To get a rod that will perform better, you will have to spend another $250 – $400! The Aetos is no long-distance cannon but at 35-60 feet it is surprisingly impressive. Also, if you are looking for an inexpensive back-up 8-weight for a trip, you can’t go wrong with the Aetos.
The Aetos is also a surprisingly handsome rod. The deep, dark blue finish is gorgeous in the sunlight. The wraps are black but the one-coat epoxy coatings were just OK, being a little heavy in spots. But hey – you can’t expect perfection for under $200!
A full wells cork handle is used, with standard sized corks. The quality of the cork was only fair, as quite a bit of filler is used. Fenwick uses a solid dark gray anodized, double uplocking seat. The silver rings look good but are rather thin and harder to grip and lock up than most. A short ¾ inch extension butt is used that has a rubber cap end.
The guides start out with a hook keeper, then two fairly heavy SIC stripping guides. The rest are large diameter black chrome snake guides that will pass line and tangles easily. Each section is labeled 908, which is handy and makes for easy alignment.
The faster action is about perfect, and surprisingly the feel and accuracy I’m getting is very good, even better than the Orvis Recon.
This rod seems to track amazingly well at mid-range and certainly has the power to handle these mid-distances with ease. My accuracy was good, just not in the same league as the top rods.
Now the lack of overall power is becoming apparent, but it still hits 80 feet easily enough and with decent accuracy.
That lack of butt and mid-section power is a handicap at the longest distances. It was tough to hit 100 feet, and if there was any wind it was a no-go.
I liked this rod a lot. The Prime is an impressive new rod from Echo that I felt could be our best mid-priced rod, and it would have been if the performance had been better at the longer distances. If you are doing most of your fishing at shorter distances though, this is a great rod to consider. We chose the 4-piece rod for our test, but Echo also makes the Prime in a two-piece rod, also in the 8’ 10” length.
The new Prime is a very light rod, with a nice soft, quick loading tip. It is one of the very lightest rods in swing weight, second only to the SKY G. It also proved to be extremely well dampened and very smooth to cast, right out to 60 feet. After that, it seemed to run out of steam, and lacked the power needed to hit the longest distances with ease.
I loved the looks of this rod as well. It is a flat finish medium gray, with very attractive blue-ish gray wraps. The quality of the epoxy coatings over the wraps was excellent. The cork handle is a long, full wells style but designed so that you can grip it either towards the bottom of the grip or closer to the top. The Dual-Zone handle design is Tim Rajeff’s idea. I liked gripping it closer to the top, with the swell under my palm. Standard sized cork rings of very high quality are used, trimmed with a rubber/cork ring at the top. A black anodized double uplocking seat is used with two locking rings that were very easy to grip and tighten. You’ll find an unusual but elegant Echo squid logo on the reel seat. A fairly wide bottomed 1 ¼ inch fighting butt is used with a gray rubber ring at the end.
The guide set up starts with two large titanium framed SIC style stripping guides, followed with large diameter hard chrome snake guides and a large tip top. The two-piece Prime uses upgraded Recoil nickel/titanium snake guides, which I would have preferred on the 4-piece rod we tested. Alignment dots are used and there is no hook keeper. Like the Douglas SKY, this rod is made in Korea.
I love the Prime’s light swing weight, second only to the Douglas SKY G. The Prime’s softer tip gave me great feel and very good accuracy in close. It loads up quickly and gave me nice tight loops.
Now the lack of butt and mid-section power is apparent and both the Recon and Aetos in the mid-priced category did a better job.
I could hit 80 feet, but my cast timing had to be right on the money. I just could not punch in the power as I could with the Recon.
It was tough for me to hit the longest mark with the Prime, especially if there was any wind.
Orvis has totally revamped the Recon series and this is a much different (and better) rod than the original Recon 8-weight. The new rod is a lot more powerful and handles those mid to long distances with ease, tracking well and giving me nice tight loops. The one thing that was a negative is the heavier swing weight. At 11.4 oz. this was the heaviest swing weight in our Challenge. The Helios 3F was much lighter in hand at a swing weight of 9.9 oz. This heavy feel in hand and slightly stiffer tip than the old Recon led to less feel and a lower score at 35 feet than other rods.
Still, the Recon would be our choice for the best mid-priced rod if you want something that will perform well at all distances, but is especially good at mid to longer distances, and in the wind.
I like the appearance of this new Recon more than the previous version. The new rod is finished in a deep metallic blue with black wraps. There is some light blue trim on the butt. The epoxy coating over the guides is excellent. Somewhat like the Helios, there is a 5 ½ inch logo just above the handle with the new larger Orvis logo, but at least it is in gray rather than white.
The handle is a full-wells design, and uses the similar very high-quality thin width cork rings as we saw on the Helios 3F. The reel seat is far better than on the old Recon. It is anodized gray, solid aluminum, with two large uplocking rings that are much easier to grab and lock up than the older rings. The new rings have nylon inserts at the top that give a very positive lock-up.
A 1 ½ inch fighting butt is used that tapers to a wide base, protected with a rubber cork ring at the bottom. The guides start with two large Titanium SIC strippers, followed with hard chrome snake guides and an oversize tiptop. Alignment dots are used on the ferrules and there is no hook keeper.
The weight and stiffness didn’t give much feel and hurt the accuracy in close. In close the Echo Prime was much better.
The new Recon has tons of power, tracks well and delivers nice casts at mid-distances, giving me good accuracy. However, all the top rods were noticeably better.
Plenty of power to go long and fight the wind. But it isn’t in the same class as the Helios 3F or the Loomis rods.
I could hit the longest distance easily and here it was better than the Helios 3F but nowhere close to the Asquith or NRX+.
We hope you have enjoyed reading the 2020 8-weight Challenge and found it helpful! These rod comparisons and Shootouts take considerable time and effort. With your support we can continue to give you more Shootouts and head to head comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future. So if you like what we are doing, and found our 8-weight Challenge helpful, the best way to thank us is to buy a rod, reel, or outfit from the Yellowstone Angler.
OUR THOUGHTS ABOUT A PURCHASE
If you are thinking about buying a fly rod, we suggest reading one of our Shootouts for the line size rod you want. You’ll find these on our Yellowstone Angler home page at yellowstoneangler.com. We offer free shipping on all orders over $100 and have no sales tax. If your favorite 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 are here to help. Call us at 406-222-7130, or e-mail us at [email protected] and we can discuss your needs and wants. I’m confident that we can come up with the perfect rod or outfit that best suits your needs.
Once you get your new rod or outfit, do some casting on the lawn, and if you feel it is not just what you want (and has not been fished), we’ll allow you to return it to us for a full refund, less the shipping charges.
Use this link to go to our Favorite Freshwater Outfits for the 3 through 8-weight rods, in our Online Store. Here you’ll find our recommendations in three price ranges: The Ultimate Outfit, Mid Priced Outfit and Best Buy Outfit.
If you are looking for that perfect saltwater outfit, then check out this link for our Favorite Saltwater Outfits.
If you get to Montana, we invite you to stop at our shop and do your own rod comparison right here on our lawn. We have several reels rigged with the various line sizes, and leaders, all ready to go. We’ll come out with you and offer 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 value your comments about our Shootouts and this Challenge and invite any questions you might have about them or your tackle needs. We have fished all over the world in both fresh and saltwater for a huge variety of fish, and we’ll be glad to answer all of your questions, to help you choose the perfect rod or outfit.
– George Anderson, James Anderson, and the Yellowstone Angler crew