yellowstone angler 6-weight shootout

 

6-Weight Shootout Comments and Notes

By James Anderson

 

I already have a great 5-weight - why buy a 6-weight?

So you decided to get into fly fishing and got a good all around 5-weight fly rod that can do everything from small dries, to nymphs, and even streamers. Good move.  If you are only going to get one fly rod for fresh water, the 5-weight is your stick.  But if you enjoy nymph fishing, streamer fishing, or fishing large freestone rivers out of a drift boat, then a 6-weight might make sense.

 

Nymph Fishing with a 6-weight rod

 

SA MPX

 

These days there are a lot of great rod options for nymph fishing.  From standard 9’ rods to 12’6” switch rods and everything in between, different folks have different strokes. The advantage of a longer rod is being able to “high stick” with it, to achieve a better dead drift.  The advantage of a shorter rod is a much quicker hook set.  Softer rods protect tippets better, while stiffer rods drive the hook with more power.  It may take you several years of fishing and trying different rods until you find that perfect nymphing rod for your style of fishing.  In the meantime, a 9’#6-weight will be a great standard to start with.  The 6-weight is a by far the most popular rod we sell for people who want to fish nymphs, especially from a drift boat.

 

  

 

SA Amplitude line for nymphing

 

Our recommended line for nymph fishing is still a Scientific Anglers MPX WF-6-F.  This line is rated a half line size heavy which will help turn over wind resistant indicator rigs with two nymphs and possibly a split shot or two.  However for $129.95 you can get a more specific nymph fishing line by purchasing a Scientific Angler’s “Amplitude MPX” line, with more mass towards the front of the line for even easier turnover, (like the old GPX but with even better presentation).

 

 

Streamer fishing with a 6-weight rod

If you intend to streamer fish with your 6-weight rod, I highly recommend getting an extra spool with a sinking line on it.  A sinking line will pull your streamer down deeper while still allowing the streamer to have a life like action.  True, you can always add more weight to your fly (or even in front of it) but the best way to get down deep is with an integrated sinking line.  There are three basic sinking lines that I like:  10' sink tips, 15' sink tips, and 24' sink tips. 

 

 

10 foot WF-6-F/S Sink Tips

   SA Sonar Sink TIP      10 Foot Sink TIPS

The 10 foot sink tip is the easiest to cast and mend, however it gets deep less quickly.  These are great out of the boat when you are pounding a rip rap bank or when you wade fish a smaller stream that is less than 6 feet deep.  The 10 foot sink tip is also enough when dragging your streamer behind the boat.  There are different 10 foot lines, each with its own sink rate.  Type 6 is the heaviest available and is my favorite but the type 3s will be even easier to cast. 

 

 

15 foot WF-6-F/S Sink Tips

 

Rio sink 15 foot   Rio sink 15 foot

 

The 15 foot sink tip is a happy medium between casting and mending well while still getting your fly down quickly.  This is the line I would recommend to 80% of people, especially anglers who have been at it a couple of years.  It is the line I like to use the most out of the boat, unless I’m trying to fish the fastest, deepest, (coolest) water in the summer.

 

 

24’ Sink Tips (150-200 grain)

 

Rio 24 foot sink tip200 Grain

 

When you get into 24’ sink tips, categorizing is done by grain weight.  A solid 6-weight fly rod will cast a 150 grain line perfectly.  Some of the stiffer 6-weights, like the BVK or Scott Meridian might be able to handle a 200 grain line.  Lighter 6 weights like the Air would be better off with a 10 foot sinking line.  If you are fishing large articulated streamers then an 8-weight with a 300 grain makes the most sense.

The advantage of the 24’ sink tip is getting down deep and staying down deep, even while you are retrieving your fly.  I use this line in rapids, deep holes, lakes, and places where I want to strip very quickly.  The disadvantage of a 24’ line is that it is nearly impossible to mend well.  It is also harder to cast since you have to strip in more line before taking it out of the water and shooting that line back out.  Experts who fish fast freestones will like this line, otherwise you might as well go with the 15’ for better casting and versatility.


A new streamer line?

 

Scientific Anglers now has a Sonar Titan line that we really love for fishing streamers.  Instead of a floating running line and then a 24' sink tip, the Sonar Titan utilizes an intermediate, followed by a type 3 sinking running line and then the 24' sink tip.  For anglers looking to get as deep as possible, the Sonar Titans are simply terrific at dredging and worth a look.  For 6-weights, go with the Sonar Titan Int/Sink3/Sink5, for 8-weight and up we like to go with the even heavier Sonar Titian Sink3/Sink5/Sink7.  

            sonar sinking line by SA      sonar sinking line by SA

 

 

 

VersiLeaders

versileader

 

Another method, especially if you are looking to save money is to purchase a sinking  "Versi-leader."  These come in various lengths and sink rates however to simplify things we like the 10' 5.6 inches per second or the 10' 7.0 inches per second (which sink that many inches per secon accordingly). The only issue with using versileaders, is that they have a tendency to "hinge" while casting and you can't get nearly as tight a loop with them.  Still they are a great add on tool if you are fishing streamers and only have a floating line.

 

 

 

  

 

 

6-weight shootout James

 

 

 1.  (tie)  Douglas Sky       9’#6wt         $695     59/60

 

Douglas Sky 9'#6

Douglas Sky best 6 weight fly rod

 

 

Douglas has come a long way in fly-fishing world in a very short period of time, and the Sky epitomizes their accelerated success story. Rod designer Fred Contaoi took his time with the Sky series and didn’t rush into production like many companies are forced to do. In fact, the first time we cast the Sky rods we were not overly impressed.  We actually felt the DXF series was better.  Similar reviews sent Fred back to the drawing board and with George’s feedback (among others) he came up with the extraordinary “new and improved” Sky rods that we all love today.

The Sky utilizes materials and components that no other rod has ever featured.  The first is Douglas’ proprietary next generation nano-carbon matrix, which has an impressive strength to weight ratio.  Is it better than any other nano-resin out there?  Probably not, but from what we can tell it is just as good.  The Sky also is the first fly rod to utilize Fuji’s most advanced “Torzite” stripping guides, which are angled to improve shooting power.  They are also lighter and stronger than other stripping guides and are made with the thinnest ceramic insert available, which also helps with improved shooting capability.   The “look” of these tricked out stripping guides certainly takes a while to get used to, but after a while they seem normal.

The best thing about the Douglas Sky is that it is easy to cast at all three distances and requires the least amount of effort or concentration to perform well.  I had to pay more attention to other rods in order to adjust my stroke to match the rods action, but with the Douglas Sky casting felt like extension of my arm. 

There are only a few rods that I really love to cast and fish with, and the Douglas Sky 9’#6 has just earned it’s spot in my never-sell quiver.  My personal all-time favorites include: the Sage LL 389, Hardy Zenith 8’6”4-weight, Tom Morgan 8’6” 5-weight, Hardy Zenith 9’ 5-weight, Winston BIIx 9’7 weight, G. Loomis CrossCurrent 9’ 8-weight, Sage TCX 12’6” 7-weight (the Deathstar), and a G.Loomis NRX 15’#10/11 “Devastator.”  

 

Performance at 30 feet:  19 points out of 20

Lighter and crisper than almost every other rod, the Douglas Sky is exceptionally accurate and fun to cast.  Only the Winston Air and Scott Radian had more feel in close.   The Sky held its own however, and was insanely precise with just the flick of the wrist.  Its light swing weight and light overall-weight make it a joy to cast at all distances.  

Performance at 50 feet:  20 points out of 20

Extraordinary!  Wow… speechless.  This is exactly what I’m looking for in a 6-weight fly rod.  The Sky sets the bar for what an all around 6-weight rod should be, light yet powerful and easy to cast even during difficult conditions.  Truly effortless to cast, the Sky requires no concentration in order for it to perform.  I feel like I can’t make a bad cast with this rod.

Performance at 75 feet:  20 points out of 20

Flawless distance performance.  75 feet is a long way away, (not to mention trying to hit a pie plate that far), but the Sky makes it seem possible and even likely.  With other rods it’s a chore to even cast this far, but with the Sky I’m looking to dial in my aim and go for the plate. I’m blown away by how well this rod transfers energy.  It has astonishing power yet a smooth feel and application of that power.  The only other rods that felt as good were the G. Loomis Asquith and the Loop Cross SX, everything else got blown away at this distance.   We are talking Harvard, Princeton, Yale here folks – take your pick…

 

 

 

 

 

1.    (tie)  Loop Cross     9’#6wt      $795    59/60

 

Loop Cross SX

Loop Cross SX

 

 

The Loop Cross SX was the biggest surprise of the shootout for me.  I have always liked the Loop Opti-Stream in the past, but felt that the Loop Cross S1 was simply too tip heavy to be a great feeling rod.  The Loop Cross SX keeps the impressive power of the S1, but with a much lighter swing weight and less heavy tip – making it a phenomenal casting rod at all the distances. 

I love how comfortable the SX felt in my hand.  The full wells grip is the perfect size and shape and the cork quality is very good.  Another thing I like about the SX is that it utilizes larger yet thin titanium snake guides – meaning line tangles will escape more easily – and making the Loop Cross SX an excellent choice for light saltwater fly-fishing.  Also for anglers that are lucky enough to own more than one SX, the alignment dots say what model the rod is on one side, so you’ll never get different weight sections accidently confused.

The mini fighting butt is another nice touch that I like a lot. Like the NRX mini fighting butt, this one will never get in your way while casting but when you hook into a big fish and need backup it is right there waiting for you.  I also liked the classy red highlight trim at the bottom of each ferrule and above the cork, giving it that Audi SQ5 look where the red ventilated brakes shine through.  Giddy up, this rod is ready to go from 0-60 in 2.0 casts!

 

Performance at 30 feet:  19 points out of 20

Outstanding accuracy and feel.  This rod feels amazingly light in my hand unlike the old Cross S1.  Kudos to Loop for turning things around with a true game changer.   I like the grip a lot as well – only the Sage X grip felt better.

Performance at 50 feet:  20 points out of 20

Smoking Aces every cast.  This rod might be the most accurate 6-weight of all.  I really can’t decide which rod is more fun to cast, the Sky or the SX.  I guess it could really come down to what style grip you like better since they are both amazing.

Performance at 75 feet:  20 points out of 20

Great power with solid feel, this rod is a true distance contender.  The line tracks amazingly well and you can punch it without the risk of throwing a tailing loop.  Roll the cameras, this rod makes you look good!

 

 

3.   (tie)  G. Loomis   Asquith    9’#6wt     $1000      58/59

 

G. Loomis Asquith

G. Loomis Asquith

 

 

Simply put, if I could take home any rod from the shootout this would be it.  The main reasons are how well it casts, how durable it is, and its supreme level of craftsmanship.  

First off, this rod casts some of the tightest loops I’ve ever seen, and due to its smooth power delivery design I rarely threw a tailing loop.  It was hands down the best rod in the wind (and one of the only rods that I’d want to fish in 25 mph + gusting wind).   The rod was deadly accurate at all distances but really wanted to cast 40-60 feet and beyond.  I can’t think of a better rod for competitive casting competitions.

These days, when anglers are traveling half way around the world to fish, durability is a big deal.  It is inconvenient to break a rod anywhere when you are on a trip, but if you are paying thousands of dollars to be in a bucket list destination like New Zealand or Patagonia it would be nice to enjoy your “starting stick” instead of a cheap back up the whole week.  Buying a rod you know is durable makes a lot of sense, even if your initial investment will cost you more. 

Regarding strength, G. Loomis did a lot of testing to make sure all Asquith models meet their own bending strength criteria.  They are claimed to be stronger than all competitors’ rods they have checked.  While we wish we could get our hands on a strength-bending machine, at this point we’ll have to take G. Loomis’ word for it.  We simply can’t afford to buy 16 rods and purposely break them!  After fishing my own CrossCurrent for nearly 10 years, I have always felt G. Loomis rods were stronger than anything else. 

The Craftsmanship on the Asquith shines through.  I love their elegant bamboo reel seat insert.  The bamboo insert barrel is made by the same company that makes Lexus steering wheels, if that tells you anything about the quality.  A closer inspection of the western style grip used reveals much thinner cork rings than used by nearly all other manufacturers.  I like the quality hardware on the reel seat as well, with larger threads which won’t get mud or silt stuck in them, sometimes making it harder to remove your reel as with some other brands.  Although there is only one lock ring, it appears to be a job done well.  The alignment dots all match perfectly and help with putting the rod together quickly.

I was surprised to learn that the blanks for G. Loomis’ first $1000 rod are made in Japan, but in the end it doesn’t bother me too much.  Shimano’s factory in Kumamoto does a fantastic job with the blanks and then G. Loomis in Woodland Washington builds the final rod.  

There are only a couple nitpicks I have about the Asquith. The first is its lack of feel in close.  I wish the tip were a tad softer to make it the perfect all around rod, but that is the price for having a true mid and long distance weapon in your hands. 

The second is the name.  While this rod may be silent and deadly, any name that remotely sounds like “ass queef” isn’t exactly a turn on. 

Lastly, if I were to actually pay $1000 for a rod it would be nice to have a classier rod inscription and butt cap, (i.e. Tom Morgan Rodsmiths or  Winston’s beautiful hand written inscriptions and engraved butt caps).  If a rod is going to cost that much money, Shimano can afford to pay an artist to inscribe rods and come up with an engraved fish logo for the butt cap.  Not that it’s a deal breaker, but I don’t find the extra rod information particularly aesthetic either:  690-4   9’0”   #6  4 pc G.Loomis Shimano EL.  And I didn’t like the “attention lightning and power line” warning permanently fixed onto the rod.   

 

 

Performance at 30 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Superbly accurate but I’m not getting as much feedback from the rod as I would like.  For my tastes it’s too stiff at 30 feet with very little feel.  The only rod that had less feel at this distance for me was the Scott Meridian. 

Performance at 50 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Again, superb accuracy.  I think this rod throws the tightest loops of all the 6-weights.  If accuracy is the most important thing for you, look no further – you’ve found your rod.  I would have given it a perfect 20 but both the Douglas Sky and Loop Cross SX had a little more feel to them.   That being said I can’t think of a better rod for casting competition purposes. 

Performance at 75 feet:  20 points out of 20

Best in Test.  Although the Douglas Sky and SX also received perfect scores at 75 feet, the edge would go to the Asquith.  It simply kicks ass when it comes to windy conditions or throwing the whole line.  This Asquith is my favorite rod for power to weight ratio, (as in the most amount of power while maintaining the lightest swing weight possible).

 

 

3.  (tie)     G. Loomis NRX   9’#6wt    $745        58/60

 

G. Loomis NRX 9'#6

G. Loomis NRX

 

In case you haven’t noticed, G. Loomis doesn’t mess around.  While the quality of their marketing hasn’t always been the best, their product has always been top quality, and equal to if not better than their competition.  A lot of anglers associate G. Loomis with spin fishing, since they also excel at making the industry’s top spin gear.  If you haven’t tried a G. Loomis rod because of this stigma, you should forget about it and give one a try. 

The G.Loomis NRX 9’ 6-weight is fantastic nymph fishing rod, with smooth power and a soft enough tip to protect light tippets, even up to 5 and 6X.  This is one of those rods that truly excels at casting everything from size 22 trico duns to size 2 streamers.  In the hands of an expert caster, the NRX is an unstoppable fishing tool, capable of conquering every reasonable fishing situation thrown at it.

Part of this rod’s success is due to the mandrel design, but the other half is due to the components.  The lightweight and flexible titanium single foot guides cut down on weight and give the NRX its great in hand feel.  The miniature fighting butt is a nice touch as well, which doesn’t get in your way while casting but comes in handy on big fish days or big number days.   The western style cork grip is comfortable and the cork is better quality than other rods in the shootout.  The recoil stripping guides don’t bother me too much. Only when your line is excessively dry will they squeak.   Washing your line and adding some silicone like Russ Peaks will cure any squeaking immediately.

The NRX 9’#6 only comes in green (7-12 weights are grey with blue wraps, 3-6 weights are emerald green with matching green wraps and silver trim).  This rod looks great in the sun.  The reel seat only has one locking ring, however it seems to do the job.  The G. Loomis text on the reel seat makes it look a little cheaper, otherwise the carbon fiber insert looks nice.

 

Performance at 30 feet:  19 points out of 20

Tremendous feel and brilliant accuracy.  The NRX was a touch smoother than the H2 but not quite as much feel as the Winston Air or Scott Radian.  Nothing to complain about here!

Performance at 50 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Line tracks perfectly.  This is a terrific rod and nearly perfect 20 at this distance.  The Sky and Cross SX felt a little lighter in hand and also had a bit more power.

Performance at 75 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Solid performance however timing proved to be an important factor.  Perfect timing provided perfect wind cutting loops.  Punching it produced tailing loops.  Less experienced anglers may find this rod more challenging at 75 feet as it is less forgiving.

 

 

 

3.  (tie) Orvis H2  (Tip Flex)    9’#6wt     $795         58/60

 

Orvis Helios 2

Orvis Helios 2

 

 

The Helios 2 is a fantastic casting and fishing tool.  It’s a tremendous blend of power and feel, all bundled in a lightweight package.  While some may prefer the full flexing mid-flex version, I like the tip flex better as I feel it has more power for setting the hook, playing fish, and casting in the wind, casting further, or casting larger flies or nymph rigs with more weight.  It does all this at no risk of tippet breakage or loss of feel in close.  For me, no question the tip-flex is the uncompromised, better all around version. 

Take a good look at the tip-flex H2’s deflection compared to some of the other rods and you’ll notice where the power comes from.  This rod has a lot of backbone and clearly has the guts to get things done when it matters most – whether that means pulling a big brown away from the underwater log jam it came from, or not giving up on a great cloudy streamer day just because the wind picked up.  The H2 is a rod you can trust to have your back in all circumstances. 

Cosmetically the Helios 2 is a role model for all rods.  No corners were cut here, with great cork, a classy looking reel seat, and immaculate epoxy work.  The blue color shines in the sun and looks great matched to the gray reel seat and gray tinted wood insert.  Like the Radian, each insert is different and gives each rod a unique feel.  It would be cool to see Orvis do some hand written work on their rods, but the way that they have added their logo to the rod (and extra information) still looks balanced and appropriate. 

If you haven’t had the chance to cast one of these rods, include it in your own mini-shootout while deciding which rod to purchase.  I think you will be surprised.  Of all the H2s I think the 9’ 6-weight is my personal cherry pick of the lot.  Great design, great execution, great looks, great rod.

 

Performance at 30 feet:  19 points out of 20

This rod certainly feels light but it also feels a little too stiff for a perfect score in close.  Accuracy was spot on and the light swing weight made it a winner. 

Performance at 50 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Crisp, effortless loops.  I’m impressed by the H2s feel and power.  Only the Douglas Sky, Loop Cross SX, and NRX felt better at this distance.  This is a fun rod to cast. Even in a stiff headwind it held its own.

Performance at 75 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Not bad!  At this distance the H2 feels like it has more reserve power than the NRX, but not nearly as much power as the Sky, Cross SX, or Asquith.  That being said, I’d still put the H2 up there as one of the best 6-weight rods to use in windy conditions, or when throwing long.  It also has some serious backbone to keep that big brown from going underneath the undercut bank once he’s hooked.

 

 

 

3.   (tie)  Scott Radian   9’#6wt     $795      58/60

 

Scott Radian 9'#6

Scott Radian 9'#6

 

 

The Scott Radian is one of those rods that both bobber watchers and DFO (dry fly only) guys can both appreciate.  Fast meets feel?  Well, in a word, yes.  The 9’ 6-weight Radian casts great and feels great, and even mends great due to its softer tip.  It is easy to throw huge mends with it, or minute tip mends that mend the line but leave your fly (or indicator) untouched, dead drifting downstream.  Truly this is one rod that fishes well and will hook you a lot of fish, especially if you like to nymph.

The Radian looks great, feels great, and does great.  In close it is fun to cast as you can actually feel the rod loading and unloading.  With more feedback from the rod it feels like you can dial in accuracy even better, and get the fly to land softly to boot.  The Radian is a great all around rod and for those who appreciate a little more “fling” in their cast, this rod is going to feel great. 

One thing that the Radian does that no other six-weight rod in the test is doing is giving us 12” and 20” measurement marks on the rod blank.  This is a nice touch and will help keep the fisherman honest when telling tales back at the local bar.  Then again, some may see this as a negative. 

The finish work on the Radian is second to none.  All of the guides have the appropriate amount of epoxy and are perfect.  The occasional orange trim thread wraps look good and match well with the orange tinted wood insert on the reel seat.  I like how each reel seat’s wood insert is unique.  Speaking of which, the handwriting on the rod is classy and exceptionally well done, including the hand written serial number.  Small touches like these give the Radian a strong one of a kind impression.

I have grown to like the look of Scott’s unsanded blanks and have also acquired a taste for the Radian’s unique grip shape.  Initially the shape felt odd to me, but over time I got used to it.  I appreciate how it makes you choke up a little on the grip, which actually makes the swing weight feel even lighter.

The only beef I have with the Radian is that it is a little too soft in the mid-section for playing fish and driving a hook set. 

 

 

Performance at 30 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

The Radian’s unique grip makes you “choke up” a bit on the rod, making it feel very light in hand.  Incredible feel and accuracy, second only to the Winston Air.   I’m feeling the middle of the rod flex as well as the tip, which gives the Radian a smooth “fling” to it, which accurately represents Scott’s advertising slogan: “fast meets feel.”

Performance at 50 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Remarkably smooth feel.  The Radian would score a perfect 20 on feel alone but I wasn’t nearly as accurate with it.  I could get tighter loops with other rods, but the Radian sure put a smile on my face.

Performance at 75 feet:  19 points out of 20

Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!   When my timing was perfect this rod performed flawlessly.    If I rushed the cast, or tried to punch it too quickly the result was a tailing loop (similar to the NRX or DXF).  Let the rod do the work, don’t rush it, and you’ll be impressed by this rod.

 

 

 

 

 7.  (tie)   Douglas DXF   9’#6wt    $349.95       57/60

 

Douglas DXF 9'#6

Douglas DXF 9'#6

The Douglas DXF 9’ 6-weight turned out to be consistent with the DXF 9’ 5-weight model.  Lightweight, powerful, and versatile,  The DXF is a great all around fishing rod for western freestone rivers and tailwaters alike.  It is on the lighter/softer side of the equation, so those who might appreciate more feel in close, or for those who might focus on fishing dries, will likely appreciate the DXF’s pleasant flex and feel the most. Those who are looking to cast the entire line might want to go with the BVK or Aetos instead.

The DXF fits the bill for someone who wants excellent performance but can’t justify spending more than $350 on a fly rod.   For the price, it is most certainly the sweetest 6-weight rod on the market, hence our pick for the best mid-priced rod available.  The only hard part will be finding one in stock, so act soon or prepare to be on a waiting list.  Matched with a Galvan Rush-5, an MPX line, backing and a leader ready to fish, you are looking at roughly $680 – a price that comes in significantly under many high end fly rods!

Performance at 30 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Great lightweight feel in hand.  Nice, tight loops off the tip of the rod made the DXF an in-close master.  It also felt slower than some of the other 6 weights, which gave it that classic older graphite feel but with lighter (and stronger) modern materials. 

Performance at 50 feet:  19 points out of 20

Excellent match of power and feel, especially for an affordable rod.  I’d be happy casting this all day long.  Feels like a $750 rod.

Performance at 75 feet: 18.5 points out of 20

For a rod with great feel I was surprised how well it did out long.  In windless conditions it would have scored a 19.5, however, in the wind the softer feel means not quite enough power to hang with the Douglas Sky.

 

 

 

 

7.   (tie)    Hardy Zephrus        9’#6wt     $709       57/60

  

Hardy Zephrus 9'#6

Hardy Zephrus 9'#6

 

 

The Hardy Zephrus is a 6-weight leaning on the feel side of the equation rather than the power side.  The rod is really fun to cast in close and at medium distances, but it  struggled when faced with a 75 foot cast or a 10-15 mph headwind. 

Anglers who appreciate more feel and a slower action will certainly gravitate towards the Zephrus’ smooth action.  In a world where fast isn’t necessarily better, the Zephrus has its place as a better all-around rod than Hardy’s stiffer rod, the Wraith.  While the Wraith was one of the very best rods in the wind and the 75 foot distance king, it was too stiff for normal everyday use, especially in close working with smaller dries. 

I wish Hardy would consider going back to making an action similar to their older Zenith, which was slightly stiffer than the Zephrus, but softer than the Wraith.  We did not have a Hardy Zenith to test, but I’m guessing it would have done great.  The Hardy Zenith 9’ 5-weight  is still my personal favorite 5-weight.  To me, the Douglas Sky feels very similar to the Zenith and fills that void in the meantime.  We are all looking forward to what Howard Croston and Hardy come up with next.

Cosmetically speaking, the Hardy is excellent.  The unique green tinted wood insert matches the blank well.  The cork is top quality and the Zephrus also uses very small titanium single foot guides.  The reel seat utilizes two locking rings instead of one, which help guarantee a tight connection to the reel.  I also like Hardy’s butt cap castle logo, which is 3-D embossed rather than lasered.

 

 

Performance at 30 feet:  19 points out of 20

Very smooth with amazing feel!  Perfect 20 on feel but a few of the other rods were more accurate and nothing was as smooth as the Winston Air.

Performance at 50 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Another near perfect score until compared with the very best rods in the test.   The Zephrus is smooth, powerful and fun to cast.  Had it had just a touch more power I think it would have done better, especially in the wind.  Dry fly lovers will appreciate the feel however, and this may be more important to them than raw power.

Performance at 75 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Certainly doable but trying to dial in accuracy was difficult.  Not ideal during windy conditions.  Here’s where the Hardy Wraith (which we didn’t test as it was too stiff in general) was a perfect 20.

 

 

9.  (tie)   Fenwick Aetos   9’#6wt     $189.95       56.5/60

 

Fenwick Aetos 9'#6

Fenwick Aetos 9'#6

The Fenwick Aetos is a great rod for the money and as such has been our pick for the “best buy” category in 5-weights as well as 8-weights, and now in 6-weights.  The Fenwick Aetos was derived from a Hardy/Grey’s blank, at a cheaper price with equal power and feel.  This rod casts and fishes more like a rod in the $350-400 range, yet costs less than $200.  Now that is a smoking deal!

The cork could be a little better quality, as could the stripping guide, other guides, and reel seat.  All of this would likely improve the overall weight and swing weight of this rod, but at this price you won’t find me complaining about a thing!

I love how this rod performs between 40-60 feet.  I also love how it performs out of a drift boat on the Yellowstone and Madison.  It has the power to turn over an indicator rig with a rubberleg and a tungsten beadhead with ease.  It also has great power for setting the hook, especially setting a late hook after your guide has been jumping up and down yelling, “set, set, SET SET!”  Windy conditions?  No problem.  Breakage problems? Not that bad.  The perfect freestone river guide rod?  I think so…

 

Performance at 30 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

This rod felt heavier in hand than most all the other rods.  Only the BVK, Base, and St. Croix Legend Elite (which was so heavy we chose not to include it) were heavier.   While not my favorite, the Aetos did pretty decently considering the price and the serious competition it is facing.

Performance at 50 feet:  19 points out of 20

Damn nice loops!  Easy and effortless to cast.  This rod is super solid.  The line tracks well and there’s not much chance of throwing a tailing loop.  It would be a great rod for a beginner as it is very forgiving.  A good caster will appreciate it as well, the only thing holding it back from a top finish is its heavier overall weight. 

Performance at 75 feet:  19 points out of 20

Powerhouse!  Smooth with good accuracy!  Again, just a tad too heavy to hang with the best rods but an incredible value rod.  Reminds me of a less expensive Hardy Zenith.

 

 

 

9.   (tie)  Sage X    9’#6wt     $895      56.5/60

 

Sage X 9'#6

Sage X 9'#6 

Behold the supreme hypebeast has arrived!  I have to give Sage credit, they do a lot of things better than other fly rod companies, including marketing, building brand loyalty, and scheduling proper production, which allows their rods to be in stock most of the time.  Is X good?  Yeah I think it is.  Is it better than the rest?  That is a question best answered by you, after you cast it.  And don’t just cast it alone, be sure to take a few rods to compare it directly.

Loyal Sage fans won’t be disappointed with the X.  We didn’t see a lot of drastic changes from the Sage ONE, but the swing weight got lighter and the tip is slightly softer.   Out of curiosity we put a 691 ONE on the deflection board and it matched the 691 X exactly until the tip. I’m not saying the X is just a Sage ONE with a softer tip and added green tint but I found it interesting that the first three sections deflected so identically.

I actually like the 6-weight ONE better than the X.  The ONE tracks better for me and still feels insanely light. For me the ONE got it done, and when compared directly, the X feels a little vague.  I couldn’t get the tight loops with the X that I was getting with the ONE.  While it wasn’t throwing tailing loops, it wasn’t magical either. 

We have been waiting a long time for Sage to bring that magical rod to the table.  I know they have it in them, (the Sage LL 389, the TCX 12’6” 7-weight “Deathstar” are two of my favorite rods).  At the same time, I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and tell you it’s the best rod out there, especially since I feel other rods outperform it.

The one thing I will say is that Sage has the grip shape down perfectly, and the swing weight does feel amazingly light.   I like how the reel seat says 6 on it, which allows you to find it right away if you have other Sage rods in the boat.  You can choose either fighting butt or not; it is nice to have the option.

On the rods we were sent there is some sloppy epoxy work (too much epoxy on the guides) which doesn’t seem right for a nearly $900 rod.  Moreover the snake guides use thick wire (and are likely heavier) compared to snake guides on other top rods.  Although the cork shape is probably the best shape in the shootout, I wish the cork quality was better.  Also the reel seat compared to the other top rods seems “made in China” cheap.

 

Performance at 30 feet:  19 points out of 20

Right away I noticed I like the grip shape  and the swing weight.  This rod is going to crush it on the “wiggle” test in fly shops.  The X performed very well at 30 feet.  That being said, I was able to get slightly tighter loops out of the Douglas Sky and Loop Cross SX.   I was also getting more feel from the Winston Air and Scott Radian.

Performance at 50 feet:  19  points out of 20

Smooth and easy to cast the X feels great at 50 feet.  The rod does everything I ask it to do and accuracy is very good.  However, a number of our tested rods simply out performed it.  I also felt the NRX, Radian, H2, and Zephrus had more feel as well as the capability to throw tighter loops.

Performance at 75 feet:  18.5  points out of 20

Again a solid performance but others were better.  I expected the X to do a little better here since the ONE and Method have been fantastic at long range.  The slightly softer tip on the X does have a price, which is less power in the wind or for the long bomb.

 

 

 

11.      Scott Meridian      9’#6wt        $865             56/60

 

Scott Meridian 9'#6

Scott Meridian 9'#6

 

 

The Meridian felt especially light in my hand.  Part of this is due to its light swing weight, but also part of this perception comes from how stiff it is. Either way, if feels good in your hand, and for having so much usable power this rod is anything but a club. 

If you are considering light saltwater use, this is your best option.  To begin with the Meridian comes with a far different guide set up than any other 6-weight in the shootout.  The full-wells grip, the saltwater stripping guides, the large oversized (yet still thin and light) snake guides and oversized tip top all make this rod a winner in the salt.  Any line tangles you might get will get through the Meridian better than any other rod we tested.  Its stiff backbone (see the deflection board) nearly resembles a 7 weight, but with a softer tip. 

The only distance this rod didn’t feel very good at was at 30 feet.   I tried a 7-weight line on it just to see if that improved things (and it did at 30 feet), but it made the rod feel unnecessarily heavy at 50-75 feet and beyond. 

Think of this rod as race stock downhill or super G ski.  The Meridian is a real man’s 6-weight.  Light, stiff, and powerful, for those strong enough to power through with a strong double haul, this rod will be a serious weapon.  I would consider it the best saltwater 6-weight in the world.  For those who enjoy a more relaxing cast, and will primarily be fishing freshwater, the Radian will likely be the better choice. 

 

Performance at 30 feet:  18 points out of 20

Light swing weight, however this rod has very little feel in close.  No doubt its vague nature is due to its stiffer blank – almost a 7-weight as we found on the deflection board.   

Performance at 50 feet:  19 points out of 20

Very nice loops and accuracy was on the dot.  I was able to get better feel (and tighter loops) however out of the Sky, SX, Asquith, Radian, H2, and Zephrus. 

Performance at 75 feet:  19 points out of 20

Great power, but I still have to concentrate to unlock that power.  The Sky, SX, and Asquith were effortless to cast at this distance.   I think I would match this rod with a 7 weight line or a 200 grain, which would make it an incredibly light streamer rod and great for light saltwater use.

 

 

 

 

12.  (tie)   G. Loomis Pro 4X    9’#6wt     $360        55.5/60

 

G.Loomis Pro4x 9'#6

 

G.Loomis Pro4x 9'#6

 

The G. Loomis Pro 4X is a great value rod.  For $360 you are getting a great rod that will do it all at a very reasonable price.  The line tracks remarkably well and the Pro 4X’s accuracy is certainly one of the best for a less expensive rod.  The only thing holding it back from placing higher is the extra weight.  

The Pro 4X doesn’t use the same titanium single foot guides as do on the NRX and Asquith.  That alone would carve off a little weight.  They also don’t use the same graphite construction, which means in order for the Pro 4X to pass G. Loomis’ own strength criteria the rod graphite must be a little thicker (and heavier). 

The Pro 4X is a very good casting rod and fishing tool.  If you want the best, you’ll have to pay for the upgrades. 

I would like to see G. Loomis come up with a 6-weight NRX LP and Pro 4X LP. 

 

Performance at 30 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Not quite as light in hand and not as much feel as the Douglas DXF.  Feels better than the Meridan, Recon, and BVK however.  It was also very accurate. 

Performance at 50 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Again, deadly accurate!  The line tracks exceptionally well.  A double haul really unlock’s this rods reserve power as the tip isn’t nearly as fast as others.  A very solid rod, like the Aetos the only thing holding it back is the extra weight.

Performance at 75 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Good power and certainly satisfactory.  The other rods were just better and easier to cast.

 

 

 

 

 

12.  (tie)    R. L. Winston Air     9’#6wt      $845        55.5/60

 

R.L.Winston Air 9'#6

 

R.L.Winston Air 9'#6

 

 

The Winston Air is almost the polar opposite of the Scott Meridian.   Hands down, without question the Air was the most fun rod to cast in close.  Its delightful buttery-smooth action was nothing short of a Tom Morgan or old Sage LL.  Timeless and perfect in close, feel just doesn’t get any better than this. 

Unfortunately that sweetness does not come without compromise.  At 50 feet the Air required some concentration and certainly a double haul.  Accuracy proved difficult to dial in.  Any wind was knocking the line off target, sometimes as much as 6 or 7 feet.  Trying to compromise by drilling it in there didn’t work well for the Air, as more than 50% of power casts resulted in a tailing loop.  75 feet really felt like a challenge. 

I assumed that because the Air didn’t cast well at 75 feet, that it wouldn’t cast a heavily weighted nymph rig well either.  I was wrong!  We rigged up a 7’6”#4 leader with a Thill indicator, a BB split shot, a size #8 rubberleg (wrapped with .20 lead) and added a size 16 tungsten bead pheasant tail.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the Air handled it with ease!  True, I couldn’t get a tight loop, but I couldn’t get a tight loop with the Sky or Asquith either.  If anything, the heavier weight almost helped the Air throw longer as it helped the line’s momentum continue.

I do wonder how well the Air would set the hook however.  I did not get a chance to fish with it but I suspect you’d really have to strike hard and keep stripping tight in order to keep fish on the line.  I also don’t think it would perform especially well with a WF-6-S 10 foot sink tip and a streamer compared to the stiffer rods. 

Dry fly anglers rejoice – if you are looking for a little more power than your 5, but aren’t looking to fish nymphs or streamers, the Air is a great option for an all around western fly fishing rod.  If you plan to nymph more (when you have to) and throw the occasional streamer then the BIIIx is going to be the better choice.

As with all Winston rods, craftsmanship is perfect a 10.  The classy burled maple wood inserts are all different, making each rod unique.  Along those lines are the individually hand scripted “Air” and serial numbers.  One nice thing about Winston’s serial numbers (aside from acting as alignment dots) they also help you keep track which pieces go with which rod, assuming you own more than one Winston rod. The winding check, epoxy work, guides are all top-notch quality.  The emerald green blank color is simply stunning. 

 

Performance at 30 feet:  20 points out of 20

Easily the best in the test.  Fun to cast, accuracy with true feel.  So buttery smooth it feels like a Tom Morgan.  The Air feels light in hand and put a smile on everyone’s face in close.

Performance at 50 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Exceptionally smooth and delightful to cast.  This rod would have scored much higher had we been casting indoors with zero wind.  Unfortunately the price of making one of the sweetest in-close casting rods is the lack of power at mid and long distances.   We think most Winston fans will appreciate the Air for what it is, (or any caster who prefers impeccable feel over stiffer power).

Performance at 75 feet:  17 points out of 20

Too much feel, not enough power.  With no wind the best I would score this rod is an 18.5.  Your timing must be perfect in order to avoid a tailing loop.  Accuracy is luck, even casting 75 feet with the Air will take a strong set of casting skills.

 

 

 

 

14.   Orvis Recon       9’#6wt        $450        54.5/60

 

Orvis Recon 9'#6

Orvis Recon

 

 

The Orvis Recon gave us another solid performance.  I think the Recon’s best value is in the 9’ 8-weight as it’s scores are closer to the H2 and other high end 8-weights.  The gap between the 9’ 6-weight Recon and H2 is more significant, not because the Recon isn’t good, but because the H2 is simply fantastic.

Strictly looking at performance and price, the Recon gets pinched out by less expensive and better performing rods. 

One thing I really like about the Recon is the reel seat.  The wood insert dresses the rod up, making it look more like a high-end rod than a mid-priced rod.  I also like the shape of the grip, and the cork quality is better than other inexpensive rods. 

I was very surprised that the Recon had the lightest overall weight in the shootout, since the swing weight was so much heavier than the best rods.  One thing that would help is if Orvis would use thinner wire guides.  The snake guides they use now are some of the largest and heaviest in the test.  Of course, (like the Pro4X) if you want the best stuff you’ll have to pay for the upgrades.  If you can save enough pennies to purchase an H2 you’ll be a lot better off in the long run.

 

 

Performance at 30 feet:  18 points out of 20

Stiffer, slower, and heavier than most.  I liked the 8-weight Recon much better.   

Performance at 50 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Not bad but not nearly as lively as others in its price range.  The Recon’s slower (stiffer tip) makes it feel heavier even though it is the lightest rod in the test.  Perhaps Orvis could come up with a Recon Tip Flex, I think it would improve the swing weight and feel.

Performance at 75 feet:  18 points out of 20

Not as explosive as I had hoped.  At this distance it is clear that the G. Loomis Pro 4X, Temple Fork Outfitters BVK, and Fenwick Aetos feel lighter with smoother power delivery. 

 

 

15.   (tie)   Echo Base         9’#6wt        $89.99       53.5/60

 

Echo Base 9'#6

Echo Base 9'#6

 

 

We first got our hands on the new Echo Base series last year during our 5 and 8-weight shootouts.  I have to say these rods are very smooth, easy to cast, and have a very pleasant feel for any rod, much less a rod that costs only $89.99.

Guides in need of a boat rod should take a good look at this 6-weight!  You could purchase four of these rods, rigged with reels and high-end lines for what an Asquith would cost you. 

For beginners and novice anglers who might not be able to feel the difference of a high-end fly rod the Echo makes a lot of sense.  It’s not pricey, the repairs are quick and inexpensive, and the rod really does cast well up to 65 feet or so – plenty long enough to catch even the wariest of trout.

If you are on a budget, but don’t want a piece of junk, then the Echo Base is your stick.  It is the best rod we have found for the money. 

 

Performance at 30 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Lighter in hand than the BVK with better feel too.  This is a great design for a 6-weight rod and although it is heavier than most it is a great bargain rod.  I’d expect to see the Base series in many guide boats across the country.  

Performance at 50 feet:  18 points out of 20

Nice for the price!   This rod blows away any of the “big box” rods you’d find at Cabela’s or Sportsman’s Warehouse.  Great feel with a forgiving nature will make the Base a great rod to learn on.

Performance at 75 feet:  17 points out of 20

BVK smoked it here.  (If novice anglers start throwing 75 feet on their first float trip let me know who their guide is)…

 

 

15.  (tie)    TFO     BVK     9’#6wt      $259.95        53.5/60

 

Templeforkoutfitters bvk 9'#6 

Templeforkoutfitters bvk 9'#6

 

 

Yes, for me the TFO BVK finished in last place.  But you know what?  This rod still gets it done!  The BVK, although very heavy in hand is still a great nymph fishing rod, especially when windy conditions arise or when you need to use a lot of weight to get down deeper more quickly.  They are great for beginners because they have a very wide sweet spot and are more forgiving than more responsive, less stiff rods where beginners often throw tailing loops and tangles.

My considered opinion is that the Fenwick Aetos is better and $70 cheaper, so if your local fly shop has that in stock I would pull the trigger on that instead.  The Base is $170 cheaper, but isn’t quite as stiff/good in the wind.  The Pro4X is $100 more, but is much lighter and more fun to cast.

 

Performance at 30 feet:  17 points out of 20

Wow. I had never noticed how heavy this rod feels until we compared it with everything else.  Only a few other rods that we didn’t include in the test felt heavier in hand.  While this rod doesn’t feel good, I have to admit it is fairly accurate.

Performance at 50 feet:  18 points out of 20

The BVK starts to settle into itself at 50 feet.  The extra weight is still noticeable when compared to the better rods, but its reserve power is impressive, especially for a $260 rod. 

Performance at 75 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Again I’m impressed by this rod’s raw power to cast confidently in the wind as well as to 75 feet and beyond.  The major complaint here is the heavier weight (both overall weight and swing weight).  You can cast this rod a long way but be sure to throw a bottle of Advil into your Bugger Beast.

 

 

6-weights 

 

Go to your local shop and cast one

 

We hope our shootout has helped you figure out which 6-weight rods you think you might like.  We always recommend casting a rod before you purchase one, rather than taking anyone’s word for it.

Having read the shootout or other reviews on line or in magazines, go to your local fly shop and ask to cast the rods you are interested in.  Always cast at least 2 or 3 rods so that you can compare them against each other or against your own older 6-weight.  Casting a single rod doesn’t do much, since you will adjust your casting stroke to that particular rod.

Everyone’s casting styles and skills are different, as are their personal preferences for what makes casting (and fishing) fun.  There are no right or wrong answers.  Find the rod that makes you smile.  If it costs a pretty penny you may have to earn it and save up for it.  If it is less expensive, count your blessings and enjoy it.

 

My fly shop doesn’t carry the rod I think I want

If for some reason your local fly shop doesn’t have the rod you think you want in stock, then we’d love to have your business.  We can send you the rod you are interested in and as long as you do not fish with it (only cast it on the lawn) we will allow you to trade it in for something different.  This way you don’t risk buying a rod that you don’t love.  It may take you a rod or two to figure it out, but in the end you find the best rod for you and only be out a little in shipping costs.   Please note that rods that are not returned in new condition will not be accepted for a trade in.   Give us a call and we can send you a rod today!  406-222-7130.