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2020 5 Weight Shootout

By George Anderson

With comments by the Yellowstone Angler Staff

A New Format for Our 5-weight Shootout

5-weight fly rods are the most popular and versatile of all fly rods for freshwater anglers. Anglers use 5-weight fly rods not just for trout, but also for bass, bluegills, perch, whitefish, carp and even catfish!  5-weight fly rods have become the single quiver rod for many freshwater anglers.

When used for trout fishing, 5-weights are wonderful rods for fishing dry flies but are also great rods for fishing nymphs and small streamers. Many anglers use them only for fishing dry flies, while others use them primarily for nymph fishing, often with an indicator, two nymphs and even some weight like split shot. 

One rod simply cannot suit all these purposes perfectly well, in our experience. Accordingly, we have separated the tested rods into two categories, thus comparing each rod against others, which are best suited for the same fishing application, as follows: 

1. 5-Weight Presentation Rods more suited to fishing dry flies that give you the ultimate in accuracy, delicacy, and presentation. 

 2. 5-Weight Power Rods that have the strength to cast more wind resistant dries, and also chuck nymphs with indicators, and even small streamers with ease.


Presentation 5-Weight Rods

These are the lighter 5-weight rods, perfect for fishing smaller dry flies, which have the ability to afford the most delicate and accurate presentations. I’m convinced that accuracy is the number one factor in success for dry fly anglers, but a good dry fly rod needs to provide a lot of feel and offer the ability to make very delicate presentations.  The best presentations are somewhat a factor of the fly line used. The lighter, standard size fly line, like the Scientific Anglers Amplitude Trout, is the fly line we picked for these Presentation Rods, while the half size heavier Amplitude MPX is a better match for the more powerful Power 5-weights.   

The Presentation Rods are going to be used at shorter distances most of the time – roughly 25 feet to 45 feet, so the scores at 70 feet are not nearly as important as they are with the Power Rods. They need to be soft enough in the tip to handle 6X and even 7X tippets with ease. 

Presentation Rods are not just dry fly rods though. The best ones work very well for nymph fishing and have the power to cast even small sized streamers.

Power 5-Weight Rods

These are the more powerful 5-weight rods that you would pick to fish larger and more wind-resistant dry flies. They also posses the backbone and power to handle multiple nymph rigs with indicators, which require a lot of mending. The Power 5-weights are simply better at this kind of “chuck and duck” casting and mending than the Presentation 5-weights.    

The best Power 5-weights need to be excellent dry fly rods as well, and the best ones are capable of providing wonderful accuracy at all distances. For these more powerful 5-weights, we tested them with the half size heavier Scientific Anglers Amplitude MPX lines, which are better at loading these stiffer rods. For these Power Rods, the scores at 25 feet are not as important as the scores at 45 and 70 feet.  To my way of thinking, the best Power Rods need to score best at 45 feet, but as you’ll see, there are several rods that scored very well at all distances. The Power Rods are often more versatile 5-weights, and the best have the guts and ability to mend line well when you are fishing indicator rigs, comprised of a wind resistant indicator, two nymphs and even a split shot or two. They also need to have enough backbone to launch small streamers, often using a sink tip line. 

A Power 5-weight rod needs to be versatile; often you will be doing some dry fly fishing as well as nymph fishing during the same day.  

Anglers that are primarily indicator nymph fishing are better off with a slightly longer 5-weight like a 9 ½ or 10 footer, or even jumping up to a 6-weight rod in the same lengths.


Lots of New Rods to Test

The G. Loomis NRX LP 9’#5 has had a stranglehold on first place in our past three 5-weight Shootouts, but now this rod is gone, replaced with the NRX+ LP, a totally new rod with new materials and a new design that has proven to be outstanding. There are several other terrific new 5-weight rods like the Orvis Helios 3, and the re-designed Douglas Sky “G” that gave these new Loomis NRX+ rods a real challenge for that coveted #1 spot. 

Thomas and Thomas just introduced a very light presentation rod called the Paradigm, which complements their outstanding Avantt.  Their T&T Zone performs well in the mid-priced class. Winston gives us two new rods, the Winston Air and their beefy Alpha+. Sage introduced their new Trout LL, which won the award for the best Freshwater Fly rod at the 2019 ICAST show. Loop gives us their new and unusual 7X, a rod built with a seven-sided, heptagonal blank for increased durability and performance. It is light and powerful with excellent craftsmanship. Beulah came up with a new Platinum G2, an extremely light rod using a new resin system that complements their existing Guide Series II.   

We also have some impressive light new rods from Taylor – the Truth and Anomaly, which are light in weight and performed very well.  Fenwick came up with a new and very light rod, their Fenlite Streamflex, to complement their outstanding, inexpensive Aetos.   

Where would all these exciting new rods fall in when compared to some of our old proven standbys that have placed highly, like the Scott Radian, and the Hardy Zephrus? The only good way to find out was to do another comprehensive comparison – our 2020 5-weight Shootout.


Shootout Results Summary


Presentation 5-Weight Rods:

1. The amazing new Douglas Sky G wins in both Overall and Performance Only categories!

2. The new G. Loomis NRX+ LP comes in 2nd followed closely by the Orvis Helios 3 and Hardy Zephrus.

3.  The Hardy Shadow is our pick for the best mid-priced rod at $359.95.

4.  The Fenwick Aetos is still the best inexpensive rod at $199.95.

5. The new Sage LL and the Winston Air were disappointing and finished at the bottom of the pack.

Power 5-Weight Rods:

1. The new Loomis NRX+ finishes first overall, followed closely by the Scott Radian in 2nd and Asquith in 3rd.

2. The Loomis Asquith places 1st in Performance Only but losses a lot of points in the overall results for its high Price and higher Warranty costs.

3. The T&T Avantt finishes 4th again, with the Orvis Helios 3D right behind it in 5th

4.  The Fenwick Fenlite Streamflex is our pick for the best mid-priced rod. 

5.  The Orvis Clearwater is our best inexpensive Power rod.

6. The Winston Alpha + proved to be too heavy and too stiff to be a good 5-weight.


Picking the Best 5-Weight Rods

We have found that the new 5-weight rods are getting better and better each year. Often only subtle differences separate one rod from another. Casting and rating the performance of the rods at different distances is the real meat of our Shootouts, and also the reason we have separated out a chart that includes only the performance figures. The overall results charts show you the various categories we scored the rods at. You can evaluate which categories, such as price, are critical to you when selecting a new rod. 

The only good way to pin down these subtle differences is to have at least a half dozen of the contending rods there in front of you with the lines stripped out, stretched and with the leaders straightened so that you can pick up one rod, make a few casts at a certain distance, then immediately pick up another rod and do the same. Those subtle differences thus become immediately apparent. Then we move on to another distance and compare the same rods.   

Once we compile the points for all the rods at the different casting distances, we then add up points in the other categories to determine the final finishing order. 

Keep in mind that what you read here are only our opinions. We are trying to call it as we see it, in an unbiased manner.  We are sorry if we offend some people or some manufacturers.   

We stand by our methodology since most anglers that take the time to give us their feedback have agreed with our opinions.


Why Trust Our Opinions?

I’ve been in the fly-fishing business now for over fifty years, as a guide, fly shop manager and finally owner. I developed a reputation as one of the best anglers in both fresh and salt water and many leading many rod makers and manufacturers consult with me in their rod design process. Over the years I’ve worked with G. Loomis, Sage, Scott, Winston, Tom Morgan Rodsmiths and Douglas in the design and testing of their rods.  

My son James is also a dedicated fly fisherman and has developed into a great caster and a person who I can trust in judging a rod’s performance. He has been a very important and integral part of our Shootouts and tackle comparisons over the years. He and Chloe are also responsible for many of the great photographs you’ll find in our Shootouts.   

You’ll see my comments in the main body of the Shootout, but you’ll want to also read the comments from James and our other staff members- Logan Brown, Francis Clougherty and Chloe Nostrant. All are great anglers and accomplished casters.   

Although their comments will differ slightly from mine, you will see that we all drew the same basic conclusions as to which were the top rods and how they finished. After doing a lot of casting on several different days, we were almost always in general agreement on which were the top 4-6 rods in both the Presentation and Power categories.  

To read their comments, simply click on the blue bar under each person’s photo. These will be located under my comments on each rod.


Cutting Through the Marketing BS

One thing we have tried to do with our Shootouts over the years is to cut through the massive amount of marketing BS we see coming from the manufacturers, and give you our honest opinions about their products. Some of our comments are going to be negative, but you won’t find our reviews like ours in any of the fly-fishing magazines.   Magazine editors need to protect their advertising clients from any kind of negative publicity, not create it!

Our goal with all our Rod and Gear Shootouts is to provide you – the consumer, with what we feel are unbiased and honest reviews to help you pick the best products for your needs.


The Best Rods are Not Always the Most Expensive

As you’ll soon read, our #1 rated rods in both the Presentation and Power categories, the Douglas Sky G, and the G. Loomis NRX+, sell for $795.00. The more expensive rods in this Shootout like the Orvis Helios 3F and 3D are $100 more at $898.00. Both placed close to the top in each category. The most expensive power rod, the G. Loomis Asquith is $1100.00 but it did clobber the other Power Rods in the Performance Only class.  On the other hand, the Winston AIR at $975.00 and the Winston Alpha+ at $935.00 both placed close to the bottom in both the Overall and Performance Only standings. 

Mid-priced rods, like the Fenwick Fenlite Streamflex at $339.95, the Beulah Guide Series II at $295.00 and the Douglas DXF at $395.00 all put in impressive performances in the Power Rods category. The Hardy Shadow, at $359.95 was our best mid-priced rod in the Presentation group. Also in the Presentation group, the amazing Fenwick Aetos at $199.95 placed above the $800-$975 rods from Scott, Winston and Sage!   


Craftsmanship is undeniably better on the most expensive rods, and with a few exceptions they perform better than the less expensive rods. But will they make you a better angler? Our answer is almost always YES! The more expensive, top performing rods have the ability to throw tighter loops, are dampened better so they track far better, to give you more accuracy and better presentations at all distances.   


Expensive rods do have that wow factor that will impress your fishing buddies. Are you comfortable showing up with a $200 rod when everyone else has one of those hotshot $750 to $1000 rods in their hands? It’s also nice to admire at your rod and appreciate the craftsmanship as well as its performance. But is that high priced rod really $300-$700 better? Only you can make that decision. 

With the inexpensive warranties that most manufacturers now offer, you are going to use your new rod for many years, which makes it easier to justify buying one of the more expensive rods. 

Our advice has always been to pick the best performing rod, even if it is a little more expensive than what you had planned. You’ll never regret spending those extra bucks once you get the rod in your hands and see how well it performs compared to your old rod.


Eliminating the Variables is Important

As in our past Shootouts, it is crucial to make an effort to eliminate any variables that will have an effect on the scores at the different distances. In other words, we are trying to keep it apples to apples as best we can by setting up each rod with the exact same reel, fly line, amount of backing on the reel, (to keep the weight the same) and then the same type and length of leader. It is also important to keep the same tippet length, as well as the same size small yarn indicator we use on the end for visibility. Larger yarn indicators with more wind resistance can really throw off the scoring.

Before casting, we stretch out the fly lines and leaders, and then leave the extra fly line piled in front of each rod. 

By setting all the rods in an identical manner, it is easy to take a few casts with one rod, at say 45 feet, then pick up another rod and cast the same distance with that outfit. Normally I’ll try to compare 2-4 rods at one distance, make some notes, and then move on to another distance. With these 5-weight rods I’ll usually start off with 45 feet to get the feel of each rod, then try them at 25 feet, and finally at 70 feet.  Having multiple outfits set up allows us to do this easily. We have found that it is very difficult to judge the subtle casting characteristics between rods if you need to take the time to strip all the line off one rod and then re-load another. Also, by having 8-10 rods set up, 2-3 testers can simultaneously do the casting in the same positions.  

In our casting trials, we first tried to identify the best performing rods in the highest price category. We kept the best rod in each category, high priced, medium priced, and inexpensive category, handy for comparison. This made it easy to judge one rod against another. We also kept on hand for a quick comparison what we felt was the #1 rod in each performance category – the Douglas Sky in the presentation rods and the Loomis NRX+ in the power rods. 

As for reels, this year we again decided to use one of our all-time favorites, the Galvan Torque (T-5), loaded with 100 yards of 20 lb. backing and fly line. For fly lines, we had two on hand, one a standard size Scientific Anglers Amplitude Trout for all the Presentation rods, and then SA’s half size larger line, the Amplitude MPX, both in WF-5-F.   

For leaders, we again used our own Yellowstone Angler hand-tied 12-foot 4x leaders that utilize a two-foot tippet. Why test with 12-foot leaders? Just about any rod can turn over a 9-foot leader, but only the best casting rods can turn over a 12-foot leader at short distances like 25 feet. Rather than use a fly, we use a fluorescent orange yarn indicator, trimmed so that it gives us about the same wind resistance as a medium sized dry fly.   

One of the biggest variables – the Livingston wind! 

As fly fisherman, we are always dealing with wind. If we could control the wind, so all the rods tested were evaluated in identical wind conditions from one minute to the next, we would do so.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature rarely cooperates in that respect. Wind speed is neither steady nor consistent. We have found that the only way to fairly compare rod performance under identical conditions is when there is little or no wind – either by casting indoors, or outdoors when the wind was negligible. We have also found that rods that perform best will do so against other rods under identical conditions, windy or not.  So we did our testing without any appreciable wind.

This year we were forced to delay our 5-weight Shootout until September/October in order to get in all the newly released rods from the manufacturers. But then our fall weather was not too good, with lots of wind, cold days and even some snow! Fortunately we have access to a good indoor facility at the Livingston Civic Center gym.   This was ideal for casting, especially at the shorter distances. Being able to cast with no wind made it much easier to score the rods with confidence at all distances. On nice days when had little wind, we did the casting outside on our lawn here at the shop.   

We have found that trying to judge the accuracy and the ability of a given rod to form tight loops and track well is almost impossible if you have winds of more than 5-10 mph. We usually set up the casting line so that the wind will be at our back and slightly off our left shoulder (we are all right handed casters). Gusty wind was also a big problem, especially if the wind speed was above 10-15 mph. Then, maintaining tight loops on your backcast, especially at the longer distances, was very difficult and we would usually give it up and hope for a better day.


Reels:  The Galvan Torque T-5

As in our last 5-weight Shootout, we have decided to use the Galvan T-5, a wonderful light reel with a very smooth and highly adjustable drag. This reel is the one that won our 2016 5/6 Reel Shootout. I love the large drag knob on the backside of the reel that is easy to grip and adjust. These Galvan reels also have a wider range of drag adjustment than other reels, making it easy to fine-tune the drag adjustment, which is important when you are using light tippets like 6X and 7X. Much of the time when you are fishing dry flies, and hooking smaller trout, you can just strip the fish in, but if you are fishing nymphs or streamers with heavier tippet like 2x-4x, you’ll want to play the larger fish on the reel, and this requires a smooth drag that you can adjust easily.     

Removing the spool is easy – just a simple click of the button on the handle side. I also like the handle design – it tapers outward, allowing you to quickly get and maintain a solid grip. Galvan uses a counterbalance so that the reel runs perfectly smoothly when a big fish is smoking away from you. 

The Galvan reels are essentially maintenance free, with Rulon bushings that require no maintenance or lubrication to keep them working properly.    

With a WF-5-F line, the T-5 has a capacity of 100-115 yards of 20 lb. Cortland Micron backing.


Lines

As in the past, we again use the Scientific Anglers Amplitude lines in WF-5-F.  For the lighter and more flexible presentation rods, we picked the Amplitude Trout line, which is a standard sized line that handles better with the lighter rods. The Amplitude Trout uses a longer head length of 69 feet and also a longer front taper of 10 feet, and handles more like a double taper line, being very easy to mend.  For the slightly stiffer power rods, we stepped up to Scientific Angler’s half line size heavier Amplitude MPX. This line has a head length of 35 feet and a shorter front taper of 6 feet. 

These Amplitude lines utilize SA’s AST Plus slickness additive for superior shooting ability and increased durability. They both utilize a light shooting texture that delivers longer casts.  

Both the Trout and MPX lines shoot like crazy and have proven to be more durable and longer lasting than other lines we have fished over the years.


Leaders

Leaders are extremely important in obtaining accuracy, particularly ones that will turn over well at short distances with very little fly line in the air, especially at 25 feet. Just about any rod will turn over a 9-foot leader easily. But having to turn over a 12-foot leader forces a rod to perform at a higher level. 

Once again, we are again using our own Yellowstone Angler hand-tied Clear Butt leaders in 12-foot 4x. We have found that these hand-tied leaders, with stiffer Clear Maxima butt sections, turn over better and give greater accuracy than any of the knotless leaders on the market.

On my own 5-weight rods, I’m normally using a 12-foot leader, with tippets from 4x to 6x, fishing dry flies. A 12-foot leader keeps the fly line farther away from the fish, minimizing the number of fish you will spook while casting. If I’m fishing a more wind-resistant fly like a hopper pattern or stonefly, 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 utilizes five feet of fluorescent red Amnesia for the butt section, followed with the same clear Maxima we use in our Clear Butt leaders. Since our Hot Butt leaders use the same basic formula as our Clear Butt leaders I often use the Hot Butt leaders, even for fishing dry flies. This makes it easy to switch back and forth if I’m fishing both dry flies and nymphs.

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


Deflection Charts

Our deflection charts have been so popular that we are giving you more in this Shootout. Instead of a chart with all the rods, we are breaking this down into multiple charts for easier viewing.

One thing that you’ll see is that the rod manufacturers today are giving us rods that do not differ that much in flex. The butt and mid-sections flex pretty much the same with slight differences in stiffness. Where the big difference comes in is how much the rods flex in the tip. 

To make it easier to examine each rod we have used different colors with a chart below each deflection board. In each deflection board we have included some of the best rods in the other categories to give you an idea how they compare.

One of the more interesting deflection boards shows the previous 5-weight winner – the old G. Loomis NRX LP – along with the new NRX+ LP, as well as the Sky G that is our Presentation Rod winner as well as the NRX+, the Power Rod winner. We loved the old NRX LP with its softer tip and upper mid-section; the deflection pattern of the new Douglas Sky G is very similar.

In making these deflection charts, we first put up some white butcher paper on the wall. Then we position the rod at approximately a 45 degree angle and use a lead weight of 3.9 oz., hung from the tip of the rod to show how the rod flexes. In the past we have traced the outline of the rod with different colored Sharpies, but this year we just took a photo of each rod and then used different colors in Adobe Illustrator to trace the curve.

Using the charts you can examine each rod and see how stiff it is compared to other rods and how much the tip bends. The faster action rods have tips that bend more with stiffer butt and midsections, while the more medium action rods have slightly softer butt and midsections and a relatively stiffer tip. In our Presentation Rod deflection chart, look at the Sage LL (in brown). This is a good example of a medium action rod. Compare this to the SKY G (in lt. blue), which has a fast action with a much stiffer butt and mid section than the LL, but also a much softer tip.

We have found that faster action rods with softer tips give you better feel, improved accuracy, and more delicate presentations, especially at closer distances.

Click images to enlarge


Explanation of the Points Categories

If you have read our Shootouts in the past, you can skip this part and go straight to the final results and the write-ups on each rod in their finishing order. Otherwise, here is a guide to the categories listed in our finishing order charts, and the methodology we used to score each category. Some categories, like price, overall weight and swing weight are objective, while the other categories are subjective and represent our opinions.

   

Made in the USA?

No points are awarded for this category, but we know that for many anglers, this is a factor in their decision to buy a rod. This is more or less cut and dried, but some rods, like the G. Loomis Asquith have the blanks rolled in Japan and then the rod is completed here in the US at the Loomis plant in Woodland, WA.   

In general, you’ll find the best craftsmanship on rods made here in the US, like rods from Thomas & Thomas, R.L. Winston, Sage, Scott, G. Loomis and Orvis. But we are seeing some terrific rods in both performance and craftsmanship coming from Korea. Of these Korean built rods, the Douglas rods, the Taylor rods, the Beulah rods, the Echo rods, and the TFO rods are all designed here in the US. The Loop rods are designed in Sweden, while the Hardy and Fenwick rods are designed in England. 


Price – 10 points available


This one is simple – the least expensive rods get the highest points.  Price is always a major factor when buying a rod, but, and as you will see in this Shootout; the best rod in both categories was not the most expensive. The Douglas Sky G in the performance category is $795.00. In the power category, the Loomis NRX+ is the same price – $795.00. Both are a couple of hundred dollars less than the most expensive rods. In general, the best rods are in the higher price brackets, and are usually worth it, even if you have to save up to buy the one you really want.  

Often novices entering the sport of fly-fishing opt for one of the least expensive rods, but we’ve found that it makes more sense to spend the money on one of the better performing rods, as this will allow an angler to develop his or her casting skills much more rapidly.

So, often the cheap outfit is mothballed, sold on e-bay or handed down to one of the kids. Don’t make this mistake. With the inexpensive warranties that most manufacturers offer, your new rod is one that will last you for many years. This makes it easier to justify buying the best performing rod. My advice has always been if you can afford it, buy it and you’ll never regret it. 

If you want to economize, in the presentation rods the Hardy Shadow is our best mid-priced rod at $359.95. In the power rods, the Fenwick Fenlite Streamflex at $339.95 is our mid-priced winner. For under $200, the best rods to consider are the Fenwick Aetos and the Orvis Clearwater.  

Craftsmanship – 10 points available

We are continually impressed at how much rod building craftsmanship has improved over the years. Yes, the very best craftsmanship is still found in rods built here in the US, but the best Korean built rods now rival what is produced here in the US.  Even inexpensive rods built in both Korea and China are surprisingly good. 

We gave perfect scores of 10 to the R.L Winston rods, the Thomas and Thomas rods and the Loomis Asquith.  Also right up at the top, scoring 9.5 are the Scott rods, like the Radian and G series, as well as the Orvis Helios 3F and 3D.  A few rods built in Korea like the Hardy Zephrus, the Douglas SKY G, and the Loop 7X are just as good, also getting a score of 9.5.   


We look at many things to determine craftsmanship – What types of guides are used? There are several types of stripping guides, but the best seem to be the titanium frame, SIC style guides. We think that the best guides above the stripping guide are the flexible nickel/titanium single foot and snake guides, but these are much more expensive than the heaver, hard chrome versions. How well are the guides wrapped and how nice are the coatings? Nearly everyone is using one-coat epoxy coatings over the guide wraps now, but if they are not very carefully applied, they are often sloppy or add unnecessary weight. To see perfection of both wraps and coatings, take a look at the Thomas and Thomas rods – they are stunning, but require multiple coats, very carefully applied.     

The quality of the cork in the handles varies enormously among fly rods. The best handles now use a stack of thinner cork rings or standard size rings with very few defects that are laid up individually and then sanded down. These hold up longer, even with hard usage. Cheaper rods often utilize pre-formed grips employing a lot of filler in the cork that can chunk out or erode with hard use. Nearly all the top rods today are using extremely good quality cork in their grips.

Reel seats should lock up easily and hold firmly, without having any tendency to come loose. The rings should be easy to grip and tighten and the best ones often use thin nylon spacers between them to assure a positive lock up. Attractive wood insert spacers that are finished well add to the aesthetic value of any rod.  

Warranties – 10 points available


Nearly all manufacturers now have some kind of limited “Lifetime warranty.” However, nearly all manufacturers are charging an associated “handling fee” to repair or replace a broken rod. Additionally, it will cost you around $15 to ship your rod in for repair or have your local dealer do it for you. For this Shootout, we again checked the warranty policies in detail, as many have changed slightly. You can read about these warranty policies later. 

We have awarded scores prioritizing the lowest repair charges and the quickest repair turn around. To get a 10, repair charges had to be $35 or less with a quick turn around time of less than two weeks. Most rods rated 9.5 had a $50 fee. Most of the rest scored 9’s, with a $60-$75 fee for repair or replacement. If your favorite rod breaks in the middle of the summer and you don’t get it back for a month and a half, you are going to be very angry!   

The Loomis rods get a perfect score of 10 for their excellent Expeditor repair program which costs $100, but returns the angler a brand new rod, not a repaired one, in just a few days after you call them. This same Expeditor service applies to the Asquith but the fee is $250 for 2nd day air. Because of the cost, we downgraded the Asquith to 8 points. On the other hand we have found the Asquith rods to be one of the toughest and most durable rods we’ve ever sold. As part of the Expeditor policy, Loomis includes a FedEx call tag with your new rod so that you don’t have to spend any money to send the broken rod back. All you have to do is take your new rod out of the shipping box, put your broken rod back in the shipping box, tape the pre-printed label over the old shipping label and drop it off anywhere that picks up FedEx.

For broken rods that are not registered to the original owners, some companies are going to charge you $150 or more for repairs. Below the final results charts we have listed the exact repair charges for each manufacturer.

Fun to Fish/Got to Have – 10 points available

We got the idea for this category years ago from the Car and Driver automobile Shootouts. Now that we have eliminated our “Perfect 5” category, this category gives you our opinions on the best rods and how they stack up. If a rod looks like a million bucks and casts like it too, fly fishermen are going to lust for it.   

Some people might consider high priced rods status symbols. For others, seeing how a rod performs in an expert caster’s hands convinces them it would make them great anglers as well, or at least take them to the next level. Surprisingly, this is often true. Great rods don’t make great casters, but there is no doubt that they will improve any angler’s casting skills and his ability to catch fish. 

Pick any rod here that we rated a 9.2 or better and you have a real winner! The new Douglas Sky G was exceptionally light in swing weight, noticeably better than all other presentation rods. The G. Loomis Asquith was by far the lightest rod in the swing weight category and put in an impressive performance, especially at medium to long distances.  


Overall Weight – 20 points available

We have learned that we cannot trust manufacturers stated rod weights. As in the past, we are using our own Brecknell “official” postage scale to calculate these weights. For the overall weight, we simply place each rod horizontally on the scale, read the weight and round it off to one tenth of an ounce. Overall weight is certainly a factor, lighter being better, but the swing weight is far more important.

Swing Weight – 20 points available

You are familiar this term if you play golf. The swing weight is the relationship of the club head weight to the shaft when you waggle the club in your hands. We have experimented with the ways to measure this in past Shootouts, but we still prefer our tried and true approach using the postal scale, since it provides believable and meaningful results, and gives us a good way to rate one rod against another.

The swing weight of the rod is the weight you feel out ahead of your hand, holding the rod horizontally. A little waggle helps you to feel this. Rods with a light swing weight are delightful and effortless to cast. Ones with a heavy swing weight feel clunky in your hand and are not going to be pleasant to cast and fish all day.

How we compute the swing weight of a fly rod


First, we zero out the scale with a small foam packing-pellet in the center of the scale, which we will use for a fulcrum on which to rest the grip of the rod. Next, holding the rod horizontally, we position the grip over the foam pellet so that the pellet is centered under the exact spot where you will most likely hold the rod. For most grips this is at the midpoint in the swell, or close to the center of the grip. The idea here is to measure the swing weight at the middle of where your palm is likely to sit on the grip. Once the grip of the rod is placed precisely on the foam pellet, with the rod in a horizontal position, we apply pressure, by pressing down with a fingernail to the very end of the reel seat. Then we read (and note) the weight indicated by the scale. It often takes a little time for the rod to “settle down” from all this movement so we do this procedure 4-6 times and then take the average weight we are getting from the scale. 


This is a test that anyone can duplicate. Just keep in mind that we have found that all these measurements must be made the same day with the same room temperature. We’ve found that fluctuating temperature and humidity from one day to the next can make a difference of .2-.3 ounces. However, if all rods are measured on the same day, the relative numbers will be consistent.


In past Shootouts we tried measuring swing weight in other ways, including calculations for the Moment of Inertia, taking the weight of all 4 sections individually and then plugging these figures into an equation. But these methods and calculations felt disconnected from what we were actually experiencing in our hand – so, for our last several Shootouts, we returned to our original method of calculation, as explained above.

Light Tippet Protection – 20 points available

Here’s a category that we used in our last 4-weight Shootout, and one that we feel is important when you are trying to judge the best 5-weight Presentation Rods. The best Presentation Rods are ones that will often be used with very light 5x, 6x, and 7x tippets. Rods that are light in overall weight and swing weight, and ones that have softer tips, eliminate a lot of break offs caused by an inadvertent heavy-handed hook set. Rods with heavier swing weights and those with stiffer tips don’t fare nearly as well. 

I’ve often had a fish grab a halfway submerged fly in the surface film, when I haven’t been watching closely enough, and bolt off before I could react, snapping my 6x tippet. Rods with softer tips help you reduce break-offs like these. There are lots of ways to break a fish off on light tippet, but the rods that score high in this category are going to give you a far better chance of landing a big fish.


Tippet materials are getting stronger every year, and today we end up fishing 6x, 6.5X, and 7x fluorocarbon much of the time, trying to get that perfect drift to entice a big fish to sip in a fly. Using a rod that dramatically reduces the number of break-offs makes a lot of sense. 

Indicator Nymphing – 20 points available

This is a category that we have previously used in 6-weight Shootouts, but have newly applied it to the “Power” 5-weight Rods.   Lots of people are using 5-weight rods for nymph fishing, often using a strike indicator, along with a combination of two nymphs and possibly some split shot or tungsten putty. The rods with more backbone and the ability to mend line well get the best scores here.  Rods that score well in this category are also good rods for fishing smaller streamers. 

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 and feel are critical components in obtaining the top scores. The feel you get through the handle of the rod that imparts confidence helps you put the fly exactly where you want it. I’m convinced the key to catching more trout and especially larger trout, is casting accuracy. Fly selection is far less important. 

The best Presentation Rods need to perform exceptionally well at short distances. 90% of the dry fly fishing I do is at distances from 25-45 feet. The rods that scored above 19.3 or better here are the ones to consider. The same is pretty much true of the power rods, where three rods scored 19.5 or better at 25 feet.

Does the tip of the rod load well enough in close, to give you the feel and accuracy you need with only the leader and very little line out of the guides? At short range I like to cast off the tip of the rod, using mostly my wrist and very little arm movement to power the tip of the rod through the stroke. The best rods in this category are almost always the lightest in swing weight, since you are doing a lot of false casting while fishing dry flies.  

Performance at 45 feet – 20 Points Available

Here is the most important distance category for picking the best all around 5-weight rod. The best Presentation Rods as well as the best power rods need to score 19.5 points or better here to be in contention for top honors.

At 45 feet, both the Presentation and Power Rods need to be light and pleasant enough to do a lot of false casting, as you will when fishing dry flies all day long.  The Power 5-weights need to have the butt and mid-section power to launch larger and more wind resistant dries like hoppers or Chubby Chernobyl style stonefly patterns.  Getting your leader and fly to turn over in a 20 mph wind with big attractor dries, requires a rod that is capable of giving you extremely tight loops. Also, 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 the line tracking precisely. With both the presentation and power rods, a good caster can place a dry fly within a foot of the target on most casts, as long as there isn’t a lot of wind.

The best 5-weight rods need to have excellent loop control and the ability to throw very tight loops, especially if you have some wind to contend with. But they should also be able to easily form the more open loops you’ll want fishing nymphs. We have found the rods that seem to do both of these tasks well are nearly always faster action rods.

Performance at 70 Feet – 20 Points Available

This year we increased to 20 the points available at 70 feet, for both the Presentation and Power 5-weight rods.  Even though most anglers using 5-weight rods are going to be fishing in that 20-50 foot range primarily, the best rods need to be capable of reaching out to 70 feet easily, and with good accuracy. 

We don’t normally ask a 5-weight to cast 70 feet and beyond, but the best Power Rods, with an expert caster at the controls, can easily cast all the line – 90 to one 100 feet. But this also requires an angler to double-haul well and form good, tight back cast loops.

Performing well at 70 feet is obviously more important in the Power Rod category than with the presentation rods.  But as you will see, the best Presentation Rods produced outstanding accuracy, even at 70 feet!  

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, when you cannot wade closer 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 is certainly possible with one of the power 5-weights, but many anglers would then shift to a 6-weight or even a 7-weight rod. Still, the best Power 5-weight Rods have enough power in the butt and mid-section to get the job done.

Another reason you’ll appreciate superior performance at long range is when you need to chuck a wind resistant steamer, like a wooly bugger. 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 or streamers that utilize materials that don’t soak up a ton of water. 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 Power Rods in this Shootout that gave me the best long distance performance were the G. Loomis Asquith, the G. Loomis NRX+, the T & T Avantt, and the Scott Radian. In the Presentation category, the NRX+ LP was amazing, but the Douglas Sky G and Helios 3F were not far behind.


Manufacturers’ Warranties Explained

Here is a recap of each manufacturer’s current policy, their latest fees and what we have experienced for repair time required. Remember that it will cost you an additional $15 or more in postage to send in your rod, unless you are using the G. Loomis Expeditor program.  

Douglas – Lifetime warranty for original owner only. A $50 handling fee includes $35 per broken section plus a $15 shipping fee inside the continental US. If more than one section is broken, the fee is $35 extra per section. Rods are repaired, not replaced.  Go to: https://douglasoutdoors.com/about/warranty-info/ to fill out the form.  Now you do not have to ship the broken rod to Douglas. Just take a photo of the sections, showing the broken section (s) and Douglas will ship you a replacement section within a week.


EchoLifetime warranty to original owner. $35 handling fee.  Rods are replaced, not repaired. Usually takes 2 weeks.


Fenwick– Lifetime warranty.  $25 handling fee. Broken sections are replaced. Sometimes the whole rod is replaced. If Fenwick determines that there was a defect, the rod will be repaired or replaced at no charge. Usually takes 2 weeks.


Hardy – Lifetime warranty to original owner. $75 handling fee. Rods are repaired or sections replaced. Shipping is from their US warehouse, usually takes 2 weeks.


G. Loomis – Lifetime warranty to original owner. If you feel your rod has broken because of a defect, you pay to send the rod to their warranty department for examination. If the rod is broken because of a defect, or while fishing, replacement is free. No handling fee.  If broken from neglect or any other cause, you must use the Expeditor service. You call in and they charge your credit card $100 but you get a brand new rod in 3-4 days. The Expeditor service for the NRX+ or NRX+ LP rods is $100, while the IMX Pro rods are $85.00.  The Expeditor service fee for the Asquith rods is $250.00 for ground or $275 for 2-day air.  With your new rod they include a FedEx call tag so that it does not cost you anything to return your broken rod.


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


Orvis – 25 year no fault warranty to original owner.  $60 handling fee.  Rod is repaired, or sections replaced. If Orvis determines that there was a defect, the rod will be repaired or replaced at no additional charge.  For Helios 3, new Recon (2020) and the new Clearwater rods, Orvis has introduced a new section replacement program with a 5-business day turnaround. Other repairs usually take 4-8 weeks.


Sage Lifetime warranty to original owner. $25 handling fee on current rods.  $75 on recent rods within 10 years, $125 on classic older rods. Rods are repaired, not replaced except for broken sections. Usually takes 4-8 weeks.


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


St. Croix Lifetime warranty to original owner, $85 handling fee for accidental breaks. Rods are replaced not repaired. If only the tip breaks in an accident, the repair and handling fee is $35 including shipping. For manufacturing defects on rods under current warranty, rods are repaired or replaced at St. Croix’s discretion for $20, including shipping. Usually takes 2-3 weeks.


Taylor – Lifetime warranty to original owner. One-year warranty on hardware and guides.  $50 handling fee. Rods are repaired or replaced. Usually takes 1-2 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.


R.L. Winston –  Lifetime warranty to original owner. $75 handling fee to original owner, $150.00 charge to all others. Rods are repaired, not replaced. Usually takes 4-6 weeks. New rods must be registered at time of purchase.


Results

Please note that the larger charts below for both the presentation and power rods are George’s scores only.  To see how James, Logan, Francis, and Chloe ranked each rod click on the smaller charts at the bottom.

Click on the images below to see how James, Logan, Francis and Chloe ranked the rods.



PRESENTATION RODS


#1: DOUGLAS OUTDOORS SKY G 9′ #5 $795

When I first cast the new SKY G, I was amazed at how light and responsive the new Sky G was compared to the older version. This is one incredible rod!

Fred Contaoi, head rod designer for Douglas, did a marvelous job in re-designing the SKY G, giving us just what we were looking for in a rod that would produce the ultimate in accuracy and presentation. We talked to Fred at length about the older Loomis LP and why we liked it so much. We preferred a rod with good butt and mid-section power, but with a softer tip. If you look at the first deflection chart that shows the NRX LP with the SKY G you’ll see how similarly these rods deflect; this was very evident when we cast the rods out on the lawn. I loved how well I could cast short distances off the tip of the rod and the superb accuracy it delivered. One of the biggest differences is how much lighter in swing weight the new SKY G is than the old NRX LP.   

Once Fred understood what we liked in a 5-weight rod he changed the mandrels around which the rod is formed, as well as making changes to the materials and resins used.

The new SKY G rods are composed using G-Tec platelets. 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 didn’t want to get more specific and give away their secrets, but these changes allow Douglas to build the new SKY G with less material, resulting in a much lighter and stronger rod. It has the lightest swing weight of all the rods we tested.  

The new SKY G is very quick to dampen and is very sensitive. It gave me a wonderful sense of feel, especially at short distances. The increased dampening and recovery also result in superior accuracy, which immediately impressed me when casting and comparing the SKY G to the other top 5-weight rods.

We were particularly interested to see how this new SKY G would compare to the re-designed Loomis NRX+ LP. Once we did all the casting to compare the two rods, it was obvious that the SKY G was a lighter rod in swing weight, and performed better at short to medium distances, where we gave it perfect scores. But we were all impressed at how well the SKY G performed at 70 feet as well.  

This rod has the capability to form and throw incredibly tight loops to deliver outstanding accuracy, even at long range. 

The SKY G is an attractive rod, finished in a dark gray color, with black wraps. The epoxy coatings are excellent. Three thin coats of epoxy are applied to the wraps, rather than a thick one-coat like so many other manufacturers use. Alignment marks on the sections are helpful and the rod size is noted too. The guide set is perfect, starting with one of the new CERECOIL stripping guides that use a nickel Titanium frame and a Zerconia ring insert designed so that it cannot come out of the frame, even as the frame flexes.

REC nickel titanium, flexible one foot guides are used the rest of the way. These are light but have proven to be extremely reliable and never break. A cigar shaped handle is used with the swell a little more forward than most. Standard sized cork rings are used and the quality is as good as we’ve seen. Contrasting rubber/cork rings are added top and bottom for increased durability. The gray anodized double up-locking skeleton reel seat uses nylon washers on the rings that give a very secure lock up. A burled blackwood insert is used.  

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


Performance at 25

20 out of 20

I’m getting lots of feel and superb accuracy in close – better than any of the other presentation rods. I love how easily I can cast off the tip of the rod with a flick of my wrist.

Performance at 45

20 out of 20

Another perfect performance at mid-distance. I’m impressed at how tight my loops are, giving me great accuracy. The presentations are light and delicate. Only the NRX+ LP was as good.

Performance at 70

19.5 out of 20

The ability to throw very tight loops gives me surprisingly good accuracy out long.


#2: G. LOOMIS NRX + LP 9′ #5 $795

All of us were excited to see the new G. Loomis NRX+ trout rods; especially since their outstanding predecessor the NRX LP won “top spot” in our last three consecutive 5-weight Shootouts. Well, we’re pleased to tell you that Steve Rajeff, the G. Loomis head rod designer and famed tournament caster, worked his magic yet again! The new NRX+ rods are the smoothest and best-dampened rods we’ve ever cast. They’re also lighter than the old NRX rods, which is always a bonus. The new NRX+ finished 1st in our power rod category, and its lighter-action brother – the NRX+ LP – took 2nd place in the presentation rod category. 

Improvements over the old NRX are the result of advancements in both materials and the production process. The new NRX + rods use what Loomis calls Dynamic Recovery Technology. This is a blend of three different things: Mega Modulus+ Graphite, GL8 Resin, and a new Multi-Taper Design.  

To achieve boosted performance and feel over the old NRX series, Steve utilized new Mega Modulus+ graphite. As Steve explained it to me, the new graphite fiber is slightly higher in modulus but has a much higher strain rating. This makes the blank much stronger under “lifting load” with less overall material. Loomis has built some of the toughest rods we’ve ever fished and it takes a lot to break one. Knowing the new NRX+ is even tougher than the old one is very good news.  

GL8 resin is “self-propagating”, meaning the resin creates its own nano-particles. The 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 fibers more effectively so you don’t have to use as much. This creates a noticeably lighter blank. Looking back at past specs from the NRX LP, the new NRX+ LP is slightly lighter in overall weight but substantially lighter in swing weight. 

On the new NRX+ LP, Steve applied what G. Loomis calls Multi-Taper Design, a manufacturing process that removes material from areas where a rod is least likely to break, and adds material to prevent breakage where it’s most likely to happen. 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 quickly. When casting this rod, the improvement in recovery and dampening was dramatic! There are no other rods in our Shootout that are as smooth, dampen as quickly, or track as well as the NRX+ rods.

All these changes result in rods that anglers are going to love. The new NRX+ LP does have a slightly stiffer tip than the old NRX LP, as you’ll see in the deflection charts. I like the way the very tip bends compared to the other presentation rods, but the new NRX+ LP is one of the stiffer and more powerful Presentation Rods and one of the reasons it got the best scores at medium and long range. At 25 feet it was very accurate, but I didn’t have quite the feel I experienced with the SKY G.   

The NRX + LP is a good looking rod, finished in a deep olive brown with darker olive brown wraps, trimmed in light gray on the butt. A single stripping guide is used, slightly smaller than most and extremely light, using a titanium frame with a very thin wall SIC ring. The rest of the guides are the finest, flexible, titanium Recoil single-foot guides that you will never break. A small hook keeper is used. The cork handle, which was redesigned for improved ergonomics, is a half wells design utilizing the highest quality narrow cork rings. One composite ring is used at the bottom for durability. A silver anodized double uplocking seat is used. The rings are easy to grip and lock up securely. A gorgeous amboyna burl wood insert is used to complete this attractive rod.   

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

Steve Rajeff specifically designed this rod to cast best with the Amplitude Trout.


Performance at 25

19.5 out of 20

Nice and light in hand, extremely smooth and accurate. I’m not getting quite as much feel as with the SKY G though.

Performance at 45

20 out of 20

At mid-range, matches the perfect score of the SKY G. If anything it is smoother than the SKY G and I really notice how well this rod is dampened.

Performance at 70

19.8 out of 20

The ability to fire long, smooth tight loops is giving me better accuracy than any of the other presentation rods. This rod’s ability to track perfectly is on fire here.


#3: ORVIS HELIOS 3F 9′ #5 $898

The Orvis Helios 3F is another terrific rod from Orvis that we had not been able to test in our previous 5-weight Shootout. Of the Helios 3 rods, this 3F (F standing for finesse) has a softer tip and is more suited to accurate, delicate presentations we are looking for in the presentation rods. The 3F performed extremely well, especially at the two longer distances. At 25 feet the feel was rather vague, and I was not able to get the same kind of accuracy I got with the Hardy Zephrus, the G. Loomis LP+ or the Douglas SKY G. 

I was impressed with the 3F’s light swing weight and its ability to throw nice tight loops, especially at mid to long distance.   

This is another rod that is smooth and very well dampened.  It will be a pleasure to cast all day if you are fishing dry flies. As you’ll see on the deflection chart, this rod bends much like the best rods, with good power in the butt and mid section but has a slightly stiffer tip than the Zephrus.

The quality is top shelf as we’ve found on other high-end Orvis rods. As far as the cosmetics are concerned, I’m not a fan of all the white they use on the butt section, but that has become a trademark by now and on the rod rack, the Helios 3 rods jump right out at you. 

The rod is finished in a flat dark gray, with similar dark gray guide wraps. Nothing fancy here but at least there are alignment dots on the sections. One large sized titanium SIC stripping guide is used, followed with the best flexible nickel/titanium snake guides. There is no hook keeper. The cork handle is a mini half wells, with a nice big flare at the bottom and the highest quality narrow cork rings. The reel seat is pretty drab for a rod in this price range, utilizing an anodized black aluminum up-lock seat with a synthetic gray insert – no fancy wood here. There is only one wide up-locking ring, with a nylon ring on the upper side, but it seems to lock up securely enough. 

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


Performance at 25

19.3 out of 20

Nice and light in hand but I’m not able to get as much feel or accuracy as with the Zephrus. A slightly softer tip would help in close.

Performance at 45

19.8 out of 20

Mid-range is the H3F’s best distance and here it is wonderful. Nearly as good as the LP+ and SKY G. A very pleasant rod to cast, giving me smooth tight loops and excellent accuracy.

Performance at 70

19.5 out of 20

Definitely one of the best Presentation Rods at long range, and even better for me than the Helios 3D! Tracks well, and is giving me nice tight loops and good accuracy.


#4: HARDY ZEPHRUS 9′ #5 $699

We’ve gotten to know the Zephrus well over the past few years and it has consistently been a great performing rod, winning our 2019 4-weight Shootout, and placing 3rd in our last 5-weight Shootout. The Zephrus is a product of another master rod designer, England’s Howard Croston. Howard is a terrific angler and one of the best I’ve fished with. He has been the #1 man on England’s International fly-fishing team multiple times. Howard was here in Montana earlier this fall to show us some new designs he’s working on for 2021.  Watching Howard cast, the only guy I’ve seen that could match him drilling long tight loops is perhaps Steve Rajeff.   

Howard’s knowledge about what a rod needs to do to cast well is evident in the Hardy Zephrus. This is a rod that performs extremely well at all distances, but is especially good in close, and in that 25-45 foot range that we are fishing so often. This is another rod that has a strong butt and mid-section but a softer and more flexible tip. This is a fast action rod and the deflection profile is a lot like the SKY G, and NRX+ LP, with a slightly softer tip. I felt that it gave me a little more feel and accuracy at 25 feet than did the LP+. In my hand it has a nice light feel and the swing weight is even lighter than the Orvis H3F.

This is a very pleasant rod for fishing dries, where you are doing a lot of false casting. Short to mid-distances are the sweet spot for this rod. 

At a price of $699.00, you are getting a ton of performance in a rod that is $100-$250 less than the most expensive Presentation Rods. 

Here is another very attractive rod that you’ll be proud to show off to your fishing friends. The finish is a bright medium olive, with darker brown wraps. I like the guide set-up, with a hook keeper above the handle, then one titanium SIC stripping guide, followed with the excellent single foot and flexible nickel/titanium guides similar to what Loomis uses on the NRX+ LP. The handle is a comfortable half wells and the diameter is just right. Standard cork rings are used and are as close to perfect as you’ll see, something we have come to expect with Hardy rods. A gold anodized aluminum double up-locking skeleton seat is used with a very good-looking olive wood burl spacer to complement the color of the blank. The only gripe I have is with the epoxy coatings over the wraps, which are a little heavy. 

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


Performance at 25

19.6 out of 20

I’m getting lots of feel and excellent accuracy at close range. This is a wonderful rod fishing dry flies at shorter distances. Better than both the NRX+ LP and Helios 3F in close.

Performance at 45

19.5 out of 20

Fun to cast at mid-distance. It tracks beautifully and is giving me very good accuracy and feel. For sure, one of the best presentation rods at 45 feet.

Performance at 70

19.3 out of 20

Now, the lack of power and backbone hurts. Still pretty good and better than all the rest of the presentation rods.


#5: BEULAH PLATINUM G2 9′ #5 $550

Beulah has given us a lovely new rod that is incredibly light – the lightest rod in this Shootout in overall weight combined with a very light swing weight. This is a result of Beulah’s use of the most advanced graphite materials combined with their new Graphene resin.

Beulah has built an extremely light but strong fly rod with all of the “sweet” casting characteristics for which Beulah is known.

With rods like the new SKY G and now the Beulah Platinum G2 using this new Graphene material to give us extremely light rods, I’m confident that we’ll see more rod builders using Graphene.   

This new Platinum G2 is a huge improvement over the old Platinum – far lighter and with a faster action that seems just right.  It feels a lot like the new Douglas SKY G, but didn’t perform nearly as well. When I first started casting this rod I was sure it would be close to the top of the presentation rods but it was simply not as accurate as the SKY G or NRX+ LP in close and seemed to run out of gas at long range.   

This rod is midnight blue with darker blue wraps.  The cork handle is a half wells design with some fancy cork rings at the bottom. The standard sized cork rings were not nearly as high quality as we saw on the Hardy Zephrus. The good-looking reel seat is silver anodized single up-lock design with a nylon locking ring that provided a secure lock-up. A fancy burled wood insert is used.  

There is no hook keeper and there is a SIC stripping guide, followed with what we felt were very large hard chrome snake guides. At least they are fairly thin in diameter to keep the weight down. The epoxy job over the guide wraps was too heavy, one of the reasons we downgraded the craftsmanship slightly.

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


Performance at 25

19 out of 20

I love the lightness of this rod but a softer tip would have given me better accuracy in close. Feel was decent but not as good as the best rods.

Performance at 45

19.2 out of 20

Better at mid-distance and this seems to be the sweet spot for the G2. The Zephrus and Helios 3F carried tighter loops though, and gave me far better accuracy.

Performance at 70

18.7 out of 20

At long range, things are starting to fall apart.  A stiffer butt and mid section would have helped. I’m having trouble getting good tight loops and the accuracy was not nearly as good as with the best rods.


#6 THOMAS & THOMAS PARADIGM 9′ #5 $875

The Paradigm is a brand new rod from T&T. We love their Avantt, which you’ll find in our power rod category. But the Paradigm didn’t perform nearly as well, mainly because of its much slower action. If you like more medium action rods though, you will love the Paradigm.

Overall it is a lot softer than the Avantt and its slower action hurt its performance, especially at long range. Look at the deflection board and you’ll see that this is one of the softest rods in our Shootout, but the tip is much slower than the SKY G or LP+. In close the slower, softer tip didn’t give me anywhere near the accuracy I was getting from the SKY G, although the presentations were delicate enough.   I’d gladly trade off the delicacy for more accuracy. But the soft tip did earn the Paradigm the best score in Light Tippet Protection.  

The Paradigm is finished in a flat dark blue color, like the Avantt.   The wraps are a lighter blue, trimmed with a little silver on the butt section. The Craftsmanship is superb and the wraps and coatings over the wraps are as good as I’ve ever seen on any rods. Alignment dots are helpful and T&T puts the serial number on each section, which helps you to keep from mixing sections if you have multiple T&T rods of different weights. The cork handle is a cigar style grip with very little swell and feels good in my hand. The cork rings are the very high quality thin width rings we see many of the top manufacturers using. T&T uses a silver anodized aluminum skeleton seat with a single up-locking ring, which seems to work well enough.  A gorgeous burled wood insert is used.

The guides start out with a hook keeper just above the handle, then one titanium SIC stripper followed with the superb flexible nickel/titanium one-foot guides. 

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


Performance at 25

19 out of 20

Nice and delicate but the tip felt too slow to give me really good accuracy as I was getting with the top four rods. The SKY G was far better in both feel and accuracy.

Performance at 45

19.3 out of 20

Better at mid-range but still not that great. Again the slower action didn’t allow me to form the nice tight loops I was getting with the SKY G and LP+, and the accuracy suffered.

Performance at 70

18 out of 20

The lack of butt and mid-section power hurt a lot at long range. I just could not get the nice tight loops and better accuracy I was getting with the top 5 Presentation Rods.


#7: HARDY SHADOW 9′ #5 $359.95

The Hardy Shadow has impressed us with its sweet action and performance for its price. It is certainly one of the best mid-priced rods in the Shootout. The craftsmanship is excellent and as with the Zephrus, Howard Croston has given us a rod with a nice fast action that performs best at close to medium distances. In our last 4-Weight Shootout, the Shadow placed 4th overall, but this 5-weight is not quite as solid in performance. In my hand it feels a little heavier than the best presentation rods. The lighter Zephrus uses Sintrix 440, while the Shadow uses the lower modulus (and heavier) Sintrix 220. Looking at the figures for swing weight, the Shadow is heavier than our top five presentation rods.  

The Shadow is an attractive rod. The blank is finished in a deep ruby metallic red. The wraps are a darker red, almost black, trimmed with some bright red on the butt section. A half wells cork handle is used, like the Zephrus, and feels very comfortable to me. Like the Zephrus, the quality of the cork is close to perfect, and better than other mid-priced rods. A black anodized aluminum double up-locking reel seat is used, with an attractive piece of dark burled wood for the insert.   

Guides start with a hook keeper, then a single SIC stripping guide, followed with black, hard chrome one-foot guides the rest of the way, but not the good flexible ones found on the Zephrus.  

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


Performance at 25

19 out of 20

Good feel and accuracy in close despite a heavier swing weight than the Zephrus.

Performance at 45

19.2 out of 20

I’m getting nice loops and good control as well as good accuracy at mid-distance. Better than the Scott G and Winston Air.

Performance at 70

18.5 out of 20

At long range the Zephrus is a lot better. The Shadow seems like it is running out of gas at this distance.


#8: FENWICK AETOS 9′ #5 $199.95

There is no question that the Aetos is the best performing inexpensive rod in our whole Shootout!  It isn’t the lightest rod in either overall weight or swing weight but it performs surprisingly well at all distances, surpasses a lot of far more expensive rods. I think the medium-fast action and softer tip are just about perfect. The action is very similar to the Zephrus and is one reason this rod performs so well.   

The Aetos has been our most popular inexpensive fly rod in the 4-5-6 line sizes. Anglers have loved the performance it provides at a nice price. This 5-weight will be a pleasant rod to fish all day, especially with dry flies.  

The Aetos is another good-looking rod, finished in a deep midnight blue with brown wraps that include some nice silver trim wraps on the butt section. A half wells cork handle is used but not nearly as good in quality as on the best rods, there is a lot of filler. The reel seat is solid plain gray anodized aluminum with no spacer. Double up-locking rings are used in a silver color.   

Guides start out with a hook keeper, then a single SIC stripping guide, followed with black, hard chrome snake guides. The one-coat epoxy coatings over the guide wraps are a little heavy but not sloppy.   

Yes, the craftsmanship is not quite as good as the other presentation rods, but what can you expect for under two hundred bucks? As a starter rod, the Aetos is hard to beat!  

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


Performance at 25

18.8 out of 20

The softer tip is giving me good accuracy and feel. Surprisingly better than either the Scott G or Winston Air.

Performance at 45

18.8 out of 20

I’m getting nicely formed loops and pretty good accuracy that is not far off the better rods.

Performance at 70

18.5 out of 20

More butt power would help here but still a lot better than the Scott G or Sage LL.


#9: SCOTT G SERIES 8’8” #5 $845

The Scott G Series is a new rod to our 5-weight Shootout, unlike its brother the Radian, which has placed consistently in the top three in our last several 5-weight Shootouts. But the Radian is more of a power 5-weight and you’ll find that it places 2nd in our power rod final results.  

The slightly shorter 8’8” Scott G series is a far different rod than the fast action, 9 foot Radian. The G series is softer and much more of a medium-action rod, and many anglers that prefer a medium action have loved this rod. The G Series uses spigot ferrules rather than the more standard slip over ferrule found on the Radian. Scott says this gives the G series a very smooth one-piece like flex and contributes to the smoothness in casting. The G Series rod is slightly heavier than the Radian in both overall and swing weight but far heavier than the SKY G and NRX+ LP. 

Like the Radian, the craftsmanship is top notch and what we have come to expect from Scott. The blank is sanded only very lightly, and then finished so that you can see the tape marks. All graphite rods are wrapped in tape before being baked in an oven, but then most other manufacturers sand off the tape marks and end up with a totally smooth blank. Scott claims that by not sanding the tape marks, this contributes to a stronger blank, and we can’t argue with this as we see very few broken Scott rods.

The blank color is then the natural graphite gray with chocolate brown wraps, trimmed with lighter brown and orange on the butt. A standard half wells style handle is used, with the same high quality, thin width corks as on the Radian. The black-anodized skeleton reel seat utilizes a single up-locking version with a nylon locking ring on the front side that gives a nice secure lock up. A brown composite wood insert is used that complements the guide wrap color. 

Guides start out with a hook keeper above the handle, a single SIC stripping guide and the rest hard chrome snake guides.  

In addition to alignment dots on the ferrules, one of the nicer things Scott added to this rod are fish length wraps, marked at both 12 and 20 inches.  

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


Performance at 25

18.5 out of 20

With the slower action, it was harder for me to cast off the tip of the G to get the same kind of accuracy I was getting with the Radian.

Performance at 45

18.5 out of 20

Good, just not great. I much preferred the Radian and the top four Presentation rods.

Performance at 70

17 out of 20

Not enough butt and mid-section power to do well long. I was having trouble forming tight loops. The Radian was far better.


#10: WINSTON AIR 9′ 5# $975

We debated on whether to use the newer Winston Pure or the Air in our presentation rod category, but in casting the two rods, we felt that the Air gave us slightly better performance.  

The Air was also in our last 5-weight Shootout, but like this year it was a little disappointing in performance compared to the best rods.   I do like the faster action and softer tip, but the Air didn’t seem to track as well as the top presentation rods. The best thing about the Air is its appearance and craftsmanship. This is an absolutely gorgeous rod, and along with the T&T rods, the Winston rods get a perfect score for craftsmanship.

Winston tells us that the Air combines their Super Silica resin system with high modulus boron in the butt to reduce weight but as you’ll see in the Objective Observations chart, the Air was one of the heaviest presentation rods in both overall weight and swing weight. The weight hampered the kind of feel I was getting compared with the best rods and the accuracy was nothing to write home about.  

In the sunlight, the deep emerald green blank is stunning. The wraps are a complementary dark green to match the blank and the epoxy coatings are very nicely done. The cork handle is Winston’s familiar cigar style, with the swell slightly forward of the middle. Standard size cork rings are used and the cork quality is absolutely the best we’ve seen. Another thing that sets the Winston rods apart from others is their use of nickel silver in the reel seat, cork and winding checks.  Winston produces all these components themselves at their factory in Twin Bridges Montana. These nickel-silver components are simply gorgeous. Everyone else uses far less fancy anodized aluminum. The reel seat uses a wide single up-locking ring and a very fancy bird’s eye maple burl for the insert. 

Guides start out with a hook keeper, then a single Nano-Lite SIC-style stripping guide. The rest of the guides are hard chrome snake guides.  No alignment dots are used, but Winston hand writes the serial number at the base of each section and on the butt. 

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


Performance at 25

18.5 out of 20

The heavy swing weight hurt here and I was getting little feel. Accuracy was just Ok, while the top seven rods were better.

Performance at 45

18.8 out of 20

Nice loops and decent performance at mid-range, but the top rods were substantially better.

Performance at 70

18.5 out of 20

Better than the Paradigm and G Series out long but the Helios 3F and Zephrus were definitely superior with more power and better tracking.


#11: SAGE TROUT LL 9′ #5 $800

After winning the Best Freshwater Fly Rod at IFTD in Denver in mid-October we were excited to cast this new Sage LL. The old Sage original LL’s were terrific rods and I actually helped them re-design both the 8’9”#3 and the 9’#4 when they switched over from graphite 2 to graphite 3, many years ago.      

I don’t think people voting at IFTD ever cast this rod. If they had cast the rod, I don’t think they would have voted it as the best freshwater rod! It is at the bottom of our presentation rods for a reason – it is not a pleasant rod to cast, and the performance at all distances were not good.  

I think the slower action and stiffer tip on the LL killed its chances to perform well. Interestingly, it was one of the lightest of all the presentation rods in overall weight, but the heaviest in the more important swing weight category. This would not be a pleasant rod to do a lot of false casting with, if you are fishing dry flies. I had a tough time getting tight loops; both feel and accuracy were awful compared to the better presentation rods. I also liked the Sage X a lot better in the Power Rods category.

It is however, a handsome rod with superb craftsmanship that we have come to expect from Sage. It’s finished in dark brown with complementary dark brown wraps that are trimmed in gold on the butt section. The cork handle is Sage’s mini full wells with a slight swell in the middle and proved very comfortable. They use a stack of high quality cork rings but I’m seeing a little more filler than I found on the similar grips on the G. Loomis and Scott rods. Sage uses a lovely brown anodized aluminum single up-locking seat with a beautiful walnut burl insert. 

A hook keeper sits above a beautiful cork winding check and the first guide is a titanium frame SIC stripping guide. The rest of the guides are hard chrome snake guides that we have found to be inferior to the flexible nickel/titanium guides. The epoxy coatings on the guide wraps are much better than we’ve seen previously from Sage. 

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


Performance at 25

17 out of 20

The stiffer tip is not giving me any feel and the accuracy is terrible.  A more flexible tip would help a lot in close.

Performance at 45

18 out of 20

Better, but I cannot get the nice tight loops and accuracy I’m getting with the top rods. The SKY G and NRX+ LP are in a totally different class.

Performance at 70

17.5 out of 20

I could get the distance easily enough but with very little accuracy.  When there was some wind, I could not get close to the plate.