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Comments by James Anderson

I'll have to admit, after catching a serious case of streamer sickness, the cork of a 4-weight rod rarely hits the palm of my hand.  And that's a shame, because while I'm out on the Yellowstone throwing 8 weights, spey rods, and sinking lines I almost always see a pod or two of rising fish.  Without a floating line, I'm literally unarmed and unable to catch rising fish, which is really at the heart and soul of fly-fishing for trout.   Of course I try throwing a streamer on top their heads, (which always results in putting them down).  I tell myself "whatevs" I'm after big fish - who cares about all those dinks.  Then it occurred to me, wouldn't it be more fun to catch them all, big or small?  Why swing for the fences every time I fish?  For my winter and early season fishing, why limit myself to a home run or strike out, when bringing along a 4 weight and a midge box can bring a smile to my face and a fish or two to hand?  Coming home skunked doesn't feel as good as coming home having fooled a few beautiful trout on dry dries, no matter what size they are.

Another reason I want to start fishing a 4-weight rod more comes from looking through my old man's fish photos.  He has A LOT of great headshots, many of 20"+ trout - the only difference is that his fish have a tiny size 20 dries miraculously stuck to their mandibles.  It seems unlikely to say the least, that a fish of this size would be fooled by such a small fly, but it also proves the theory that even elephants eat peanuts!  I'll have to admit, the photos are a lot more impressive (and intriguing) than seeing the same fish with an articulated streamer hanging out of it's kype. Yup, I think it's time to up my game a little bit.

I feel privileged to have had the chance to cast over thirty five 4-weight rods - not only in a quest to help others find the rod that speaks to them, but also to find the rod that's right for me.  It was actually a pretty hard decision, as I found myself wanting just about every rod in the top 10.

Had price not been an issue, it would have been an easy decision, as I'd already be over at Tom Morgan’s house picking out my reel seat wood spacer out of their unbelievably beautiful and extensive collection.  The last time I bought a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod, I actually quit my health care plan for a year and made payments to them instead!  And yes, it was worth every penny.

In the end, as much as I like the Winston and Burkheimer rods, I simply couldn't ignore the fact that the Hardy does everything I need to do and more.  It makes extremely accurate AND delicate casts at 25 feet, although I'd say 32 feet is the sweet spot, which is about the distance that I can approach a feeding trout without spooking it.  At 35 feet the Zenith makes me feel invincible, with dries, nymphs, or smaller streamers!  It was also one of the only rods that felt good to me at 60 feet or when punching into a 30+ mph headwind. And while my main focus in purchasing this rod is to fish may fly, caddis, and midge patterns, I don't want to have to bring two rods should a streamer situation present itself.   (Let's face it -sometimes Montana is WAY TO WINDY to fish dries, especially in early spring - or even get a decent drift with nymphs). I don't want to have to walk back to the car and quit just because my rod can't handle a streamer in the wind. Simply stated:  This rod does it all. The only other 4-weight rod in the world that might do everything better?  Hardy’s 1pc version...

Rods I liked immediately

Hardy Zenith 8'6"#4

Sage TXL-F 7'10"#4

Tom Morgan 8'6"#4

Winston BIIIX 8'#4

Winston BIIIX 8' 6”#4

Sage ONE 8'6"#4

Beulah Platinum 8'8"#4

St. Croix Imperial 8'6"#4

Echo Edge 8'#4

Rods I warmed up to

Winston BIIIx 9'#4

Loomis Streamdance GLX  8'6"#4

Loomis WhisperCreek 8'6"#4

Burkheimer Trout  8’9”#3-4-5

Burkhiemer DAL 8’9”#3-4-5

Scott G2 8'8"#4

Winston Passport 9'#4

 

Rods I didn't care for

Scott S4 9’#4

St. Croix Legend Elite 8'6"#4

St.Croix Avid rods  - ALL

Ross RX - 8’6”#4

Ross Essence – 8’6”#4

Winston BIIt - ALL

TFO Finesse - 8’9”#4

TFO BVK – 8’6”#4

 

Rods I wish we could have compared

Loomis NRX 8’ or 8'6"#4 (doesn't exist)

Orvis Helios 8'6"#4

Orvis Frequent Flyer 864-7 8’6”  7-pc.

Orvis Access 8'6"#4

Orvis Superfine Touch 8'#4

Loop Evotec 490 9 ‘#4

Scott M 884/4  8’8” #4

 

Casting Notes

(In order of how I cast them)...

__________________________________________

Hardy Zenith  8’6”#4

                                                 

We knew from fishing the 9’#4 Hardy last year that Hardy was going to be a major contender.  We compared the Hardy Zenith 8’, 8’6”, and 9’ head to head, with both Trout and GPX lines.  I preferred the Trout on all of them - even the 9-footer.  The 8’#4 felt the best at 25’, but not nearly as smooth at 35’ or longer.  The 9’ version was the smoothest feeling rod, but not nearly as accurate as the 8’6” and a heavier feel in my hand, with a much heavier swing weight.   If you want the most well rounded 4-weight Hardy Zenith in your hands, the 8’6” is it. 

What really separates this rod from the pack is that it is almost two rods in one.  Once you perfect the technique of casting off the tip of the rod (using a lot more wrist action than arm action) you can turn the rod into what feels like a 3 weight, getting marvelous presentations and accuracy at short to mid-range.  If the wind picks up and blows the hatch off the water, you can then tie on a substantial nymph rig or even a couple smaller streamers.  You can choose to cast this rod with a slow gentle action, but you can also double haul it hard and lay out a powerful 80’ cast like a 5-weight should the situation arise.  

Performance at 25 feet:  19 out of 20

Super light feel, yet strong enough spine for incredible accuracy, if I missed the target it was never to the side, just long or short.  The line really tracks well through the tiny one-foot guides.  Best part, I was able to make accurate casts off the wrist, and lay them in there with delicate presentations.   To create the tightest loops, an expert can use more wrist action and cast primarily off the tip of the rod. 

Performance at 35 feet: 21 out of 20

This is what a great 4-weight is all about!  The rod felt totally effortless to cast, had a light smooth feel, with accurate yet delicate presentations.  With little effort, and not having to shoot any line, I was hitting the target almost every time. You can choose different strokes at this distance, drill it in there hard for a plate slap (which is what I’d do with a hopper) or cast gently and have the fly land like a feather, which I’ll be doing fishing midges or perhaps PMD’s on the spring creeks.  This is almost like having two 4 weights built in one!

Performance at 60 feet: 20 out 20

Adding a gentle double haul here is all it takes to turn the 35-foot sweet spot into a 50-70 foot sweet spot!   Impressive line control at long distance and surprisingly effortless to cast.  Then, pretending I had to punch the rod into the wind, I drilled a few casts in hard and there was zero collapse or chance of a tailing loop.  This rod is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because you can cast a hanging midge accurately with ease, or step on the gas and explode a streamer 80 feet.

In short:

One of the few 4 weights we tested that I’d recommend for everything from microscopic dries to size 6 streamers.  Hands down the most versatile, well rounded 4-weight rod on the market right now.   I would hate to be a rod designer for another company right now, trying to find a way to beat this stick!

 

Winston BIIIx 8’6”#4

                                                   

For the angler who wants a green stick that covers all the bases, the 8’6”#4 is clearly a winner.   It’s not quite as nice in tight as the 8 footer, and not quite as easy to throw long like the 9 footer, but its pretty darn close.  If you occasionally fish nymphs, but prefer fishing the hatch with dries and emergers, this is the best length to get. In fact, I got one of these myself this past summer. I was impressed with the excellent tippet protection I got on the hook set, and it proved to be one of the best rods out there for playing fish. Props to Annette McLean, Chris Hart, and David Ondaatje for tweaking this rod into perfection.     

Performance at 25 feet:  19 out of 20

Another delightful rod up close.   The softer tip made casting at this distance enjoyable, easy, and very accurate as long as the wind isn’t blowing too hard.  I still feel the 8’ BIIIx was nicer at this distance; it felt like it loaded more smoothly and definitely felt lighter in my hand.

Performance at 35 feet: 19 out of 20

The boron butt section helps power effortless loops while the softer tip helps deliver a delicate presentation.  Using a smooth, slow rhythm works best with this rod, but a little extra wrist action and stop at the end of my cast added a little extra zing to help turnover a 12- 14-foot leader.

Performance at 60 feet: 17.5 out of 20

Better than the 8’ version, but not as nice as the 9’.  Again, distance is no problem, but if you had any wind, it would be harder to get close to the target at long range.  While this rod would be good for smaller hoppers or stimulators, it won’t launch a streamer like the Hardy.

In short:  This rod is the most well rounded BIIIx 4-weight.  It feels great in close and at medium distances, where most people will be fishing it.  It also has a nice soft tip for protecting tippets and playing big fish.

 

Sage ONE   8’6”#4

                                                  

After being a bit disappointed by the super fast / stiff 9’#5 Sage ONE, I was expecting a similar action from the 8’6”#4 version.  Usually rods that are one size up or down have similar characteristics, however that is not the case with the ONE, as both the 4 and 6 weight versions are top shelf rods!   The 8’6”#4 was perfectly balanced in your hand, had tons of power, yet still felt smooth with a much softer tip, allowing me to deliver a nice delicate presentation.  Everyone was impressed with this rod. In my opinion, it is the next most versatile 4-weight rod after the Hardy Zenith – plus it is made right here in the USA.  Nice work Jerry, I would definitely buy this rod.

Performance at 25 feet:  19 out of 20

Quite the sweet surprise!  This rod felt exceptionally light, is extremely accurate, and still allows you to deliver a delicate presentation.  After casting the 9’#5 canon, I would never have guessed this rod would have been so sweet in close. 

Performance at 35 feet:  20 out of 20

Wow – Simply awesome feel at 30-40 feet.  This rod was stiffer, and slightly heavier in swing weight than the Hardy or Winston BIIIx, but it had a very smooth transition of power.  It made casting SUPER tight loops very easy. Tranquilizing – I didn’t want to put this rod down.  The GPX line brought the rod to life better than the Trout taper.

Performance at 60 feet:  19.5 out of 20

This rod tracks beautifully, providing primo line control at long distance. This is one of the few 4-weights than not only hits sixty feet easily, but also does it with extremely good accuracy.

In short:  I found this rod was delightful at every distance.   As sweet as it is, anglers who prefer more traditional, softer, medium action rods should take a stronger look at the TXL-F, and the Winston BIIIx.

 

SAGE TXL-F   7’10”#4

                                                    

The ultra light TXL-F 4-weight was one of my favorite rods of the entire test. Like a sports car, it is sleek, super spunky, super light, yet can also handle a strong wind, small streamers, nymphs, and most importantly - tiny dries at 25 feet!  About the only down side to this rod was performance at long distance, or if you wanted to try throwing two streamers or a heavy nymph set up as conditions occasionally require.  I would recommend this rod to anyone who wants a super sweet, short to medium distance dry fly rod for small streams or spring creek fishing.  If you are into bigger rivers like the Missouri, Bighorn, or Henry's Fork, then I'd look a little harder at the Hardy Zenith.

 

Performance at 25 feet:  20 out of 20

This was the lightest rod in my hand, and also had the best feel at 25 feet, giving me extremely accurate and smooth, delicate presentations.  For me, this rod was the ultimate small stream, short-range 4-weight weapon out there. 

Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 out of 20

First rod I cast that felt like adding a little double haul helped at this distance.  Doing so gave this rod fantastic drive and accuracy while still maintaining perfect delicate presentations.  What impressed me most about this rod was simply how much FUN it is to cast.  You can feel this rod load deeply, yet it is light enough and stiff enough that when you punch it into the wind, it really performs with authority.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 out of 20

The only sad thing about this rod is you can’t have it all, like the Hardy. This rod was incredibly smooth for a short rod, but was a lot more difficult to get it to perform like the best rods at long distance. Using a hard double haul, If I punched it hard, I was starting to get more tailing loops.

In short:  My pick for the best small stream rod.  Like a two seat sports car, this rod is not something you are going to use every day, but when you do take it for a spin you will be smiling.  By far the best ultra-light 4-weight I have ever cast.

 

G.Loomis Streamdance GLX 8’6”#4

                                                

I thought the StreamDance GLX was a better all around rod than both the Loomis NRX or WhisperCreek GLX rods.  For me, the balance feels perfect, with a strong butt section and nice light tip.  It was a bit harder to get this rod to load as well as the best rods in close, but it was one of the best at longer distances, making it a great choice for anglers who find themselves fishing nymph rigs or streamers more often than not.  Or, if you happen to live somewhere windy, this rod has the power that will allow you to fish effectively in strong wind. My favorite Loomis 4-weight for now, although I hope Loomis will consider making an 8'6"#4 NRX with a softer tip in the near future.

 

Performance at 25 feet:  17.5 out of 20

Not my favorite rod in close.  It felt like it took a more concentration and effort to get this rod to perform as well as the others.   Definitely not as good as the best rods in close.

Performance at 35 feet:  18 out of 20

Not as light and effortless as the Hardy.  The stiffer tip and heavy swing weight made this rod feel heavy in my hand.  This rod had tons of power, and I felt like I had to take a little off to get a more delicate presentation.  It would be a super small streamer 4-weight indeed. 

Performance at 60 feet:  20 out of 20

Now we’re talking, finally it feels like this rod’s true potential has been unleashed.  You can get extremely aggressive and it delivered impressive accuracy.  It was one of the only rods I could hit or get consistently close to plate on every shot.   Only the Sage ONE and Hardy Zenith felt comparable at this distance in terms of reserve power and superb line control. 

In short:  The perfect 4-weight for guys who require more power out of their 4 weight, for either windy conditions for those who consistently fish at longer distances.

 

G.Loomis WhisperCreek GLX  8’6”#4

                                                 

I actually didn’t care for this rod as much as the Streamdance, which has a faster action and a relatively lighter tip.  This rod has a slower action but gives nice presentations in close.  The line does track exceptionally well however.

Performance at 25 feet:  18 out of 20

At short distance I was getting pretty good accuracy and delicate presentations. But when I cast it side by side to the Hardy it still has a long way to go.

Performance at 35 feet:  17 out of 20

This rod feels heavy to me, and the action is slower than I like. Accuracy was fairly good, but I didn’t like the feel of this rod compared to the others that transferred their energy more quickly.

Performance at 60 feet:  16 out of 20

I could get it to 60 feet with a good double haul, but the accuracy was just not there.  The rod actually feels pretty nice when you slow down your casting stroke to match the more moderate action, but when pitted against the lighter, more powerful, smoother feeling rods, it seems ready for a re-vamp. 

In short:  Not my cup of tea… but I know a lot of people who really love this rod, especially for dries in tight.

 

Scott G2  8’8”#4

                                              

This rod has been in the Scott line for quite some time now, and in my opinion, still remains their best 4–weight.  This rod is sure to satisfy anglers that appreciate a slower, more traditional action rod.  The only problem is that its excellent feel comes at some cost of accuracy.  Also this rod doesn’t do well in the wind, or handle larger nymphs and streamers very easily. 

Performance at 25 feet:  19 out of 20

Very pleasant balance – and it feels light in my hand. Making Super delicate, and very accurate casts at short distance was easy.   It delivered crisp, yet delicate presentations using a slow, easy, casting stroke.  

Performance at 35 feet: 18 out of 20

Again, this stick has great feel and soul!  Accuracy becomes more difficult to obtain than with the faster, slightly stiffer rods – I guess that’s the price you pay for the incredible feel.   It reminds me a little of the older Winston BIIx.  I was able to throw tight loops and deliver delicate presentations every time, but often they landed to one side of the plate or other! 

Performance at 60 feet: 16 out of 20

A much slower casting rhythm was needed to get this rod to perform at 60’.  Once I adjusted, the rod actually felt pretty good – it is just a much different feel from the more modern, high modulus rods with faster actions.  This rod would likely be difficult to cast in any amount of wind, and would not be great with streamers.

In short:  A softer, slower action rod with wonderful feel and good accuracy at shorter distances.  The only down side is lack of power for punching into the wind or fishing streamers / two nymphs under an indicator.

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths  8’6”#4-2pc

                                                  

A blend of art and function, this rod could easily hang on the wall of any fly fishing museum in the world.  As beautiful as this rod is, it was designed for one reason and one reason only:  to fish.  And that it does!  Not to blow smoke, but Tom’s mind, especially in terms of rod design is nothing short of true genius.  Add Tom’s fishing experience and design work to Gerri Carlson’s rod building skills and you have a team second to none.  Just unscrewing the cap of their rod tubes makes you realize how special these rods are.  And on the water?  Absolute Zen.  Worth every penny...    

Performance at 25 feet:  22 out of 20

This was my favorite rod to cast in close; only the TXL-F was as much fun to cast at this distance, but even that was not nearly as smooth.  Casting off the tip of the rod (by using mostly all wrist) enabled me to hit the plate dead center nearly every time.  There is something soulful about this rod, it was as if the rod was part of me and I was part of it. For anglers who want the ultimate blend of feel and accuracy, look no further.  There are a few rods out there with incredible feel, and incredible accuracy, but this is one of the few rods in the world that has both.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 out of 20

No doubt, this rod feels special in my hand. It feels like it has gone through years of revisions to achieve perfection. I notice other rod companies come out with their “latest and greatest” new rod, using new materials and technologies, but sometimes it feels if they have taken a step backward. Once you obtain perfection, why change it?  The only reason I didn’t give this rod a 20 at this distance is because I felt a hint of reverberation at the end of the cast when I stop my stroke to turn over the leader. Also, while it was the best feeling rod I tested, I was slightly more accurate with the Sage ONE and Hardy Zenith.  

Performance at 60 feet:  15 out of 20

Like the TXL-F, there are some costs to making a rod that is exceptionally sweet from 25’ to 35’ feet.  Namely, this rod will not handle distances past 40 feet very well, or have the capability to fish larger nymphs, or streamers.  Also when the wind picks up, a double haul is required, even at 25 feet.

In short:  One of the best dry fly rods I have ever fished, the other being my old Sage 389 LL.

 

C.F. Burkheimer 8’9” 3-4-5

                                               

 

Wow – another beautiful rod!  This rod was obviously made from the heart; from tip to butt the attention to detail is amazing. Performance wise, this rod was one of THE smoothest casting rods I’ve ever had the pleasure to cast.  The only down side that I found was the fact the rod feels significantly tip heavy when compared side by side to other rods with lighter swing weights.  That being said, we rigged this rod up and fished it on the Yellowstone; when you are not comparing it side-by-side to the lightest feeling rods in the world, it felt very well balanced.  It’s like picking up a pair of Simms G3 boots in one hand and a pair of Patagonia Riverwalkers in the other – compared toe-to-toe the G3 feels much heavier, yet when you have them on your feet you don’t even notice.  Plus, if you match the rod up with an Abel Super 3N (Large Arbor), you have the perfect counter balance. 

One thing that struck me as odd was how thin the blanks are for being slightly heavier. We asked carry about this, and while they are thinner, they also have thicker walls – making them stronger rods that rarely break unless stepped on or slammed in a tailgate.  When you fish hard, durability is always a plus. 

A note on the cork grips:  our test rods both had a large swell in the middle of the grip, which we felt was overly large. As it turns out, Kerry made these specifically for George and his rather large mitts.  The Burkheimer rods we have seen in other fly shops all have normal grips, which most people will prefer. 

Performance at 25 feet:  19 out of 20

Probably not easy to follow the Tom Morgan in casting, but right away I noticed how much heavier this rod felt in my hand.  I warmed up to this rod quickly however, as it’s smooth casting performance quickly made me forget about any extra weight.  I would have given it a 20 on feel and accuracy alone, only the swing weight held it from a perfect score.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 out of 20

Again, I found Zen. SUPER SMOOTH, and you can really dial in the accuracy with this rod – the line tracks along the spine of the rod as well as anything I’ve ever cast.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 out of 20

You really have to slow down and take your time at this distance, with this rod’s more moderate action.  Punching the power to this rod isn’t the answer. It wanted a long, smooth double hall with a full back cast to set up my forward stroke.  Distance is no problem, but accuracy fell by the way side.  Still, this rod had more power than the Morgan or the TXL-F, making it a better all around rod if you plan to fish nymphs, streamers, or in the wind.  Nice job Kerry, you da man...

In short:  One of the classiest rods out there, and if you like a more moderate action this is one of the smoothest casting rods you’ll find. The only thing holding it back from the crown is that heavier swing weight.

St. Croix Imperial 8’6” #4

                                                  

Still made in the USA, -Shout out to Wisconsin!  This is hands down the best inexpensive 4-weight rod we tested – a total landslide victory for all rods under $300.  There was still a pretty good gap between this rod and the podium sticks, but I was IMPRESSED.  And for $200 – Wow!  I hope St. Croix considers keeping this rod in the line up forever, even if they have to paint it a different color and call it a different name.  Like I mentioned before, once you find perfection – why change it?  For a less expensive rod, the 486 Imperial is impeccably well balanced, and it looks good too.  The ruby red blank also lights up like a gem in the sun, much like the Tom Morgan graphite rods.  For the money, you simply can't loose on this rod.  

Performance at 25 feet:  18 out of 20

With a far lighter swing weight than the Burkheimer, this rod was exceptionally delicate as well as accurate.  While accuracy results were on par with the top rods, I didn’t get the same smooth feel as the higher end sticks.  Still, the best performance from any inexpensive rod we tested.

Performance at 35 feet: 19 out of 20

This distance was the sweet spot for the Imperial.  Now I feel a much nicer blend of power, feel, and accuracy.  The rod feels surprisingly light, almost unfathomable when you consider it’s price tag.

Performance at 60 feet: 18 out of 20

60’ feet became a little more work with the Imperial.  I really had to slow down my timing and open my loop a bit to get the full distance, and this was hurting the accuracy.

In short:  An amazing rod at a VERY reasonable price.   This rod should be at the Legend Elite’s price tag and vise-versa!  Lucky for the consumer, the better rod is cheaper rod this time…

 

 

Beulah Platinum  8’8”#4

                                                

 

The peppered cork accents and unique rod wraps colors make this rod as easy on the eyes as it is on your pocket book. Sometimes referred to as a poor man’s Burkheimer, these rods cast very smoothly and seem very well balanced.  For everything from Spey and Switch rods down to light trout rods, Beulah has become known for building beautiful rods that perform extremely well at a surprisingly low price. I felt that this rod could definitely handle windy days, and be a good all around rod fishing nymphs and streamers as well as dries.  I highly recommended it.  

Performance at 25 feet:  18 out of 20

This is a very well designed rod with terrific balance, light swing weight and a smooth transfer of energy to the line.  It is not the lightest, but lighter than most, making it feel easy to cast.  Accuracy was very good, but not quite as good the winners.  Also, I did sense some reverberations and felt that the rod could be dampened better.   

Performance at 35 feet: 19 out of 20

Exceptionally smooth, with nice tight loops!   This rod felt great and performed admirably at distance.  It felt slightly heavier in hand than the winners, as well as a touch slower, but casting was effortless. At this distance the platinum rod feels more like a $700 rod than a $400 rod.  Looks like one too…

Performance at 60 feet: 18 out of 20

A slower casting stroke is required at this distance compared to the Hardy or the ONE.  No problems hitting this distance, but the best rods tracked better and were marginally better, especially in accuracy.

In short:  Try one, you are going to be impressed! 

 

Ross RX  8’6”#4

                                               

Easily the nicest Ross rod I’ve ever cast.  Unlike the Essence rods we’ve tried in the past, the swing weight on this rod is super-light and delightful in comparison.   If you are looking for a less expensive rod that is light and powerful, this rod is a great option - especially if you plan on nymph fishing or fishing streamers with your 4 weight.  If you are looking for more delicate presentations, and a better dry fly rod check out the Imperial or passport instead.

Performance at 25 feet:  16 out of 20

Feels nice and light in hand, however not quite as smooth as the top rods and VERY stiff.  I think if they softened the tip it would cast and feel much better in close.  Reminds me of an old Sage XP 4 weight, GPX required, or maybe even a 5-weight line.

Performance at 35 feet:  16 out of 20

Again feels very light, but lacks the same smooth power and feel of the Beulah or Imperial.  The tip still feels too stiff, making delicate presentations a challenge.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 out of 20

This rod has the beans to launch them long, that’s for sure.   By itself, it actually feels good, but once I compared it side-by-side to the best economical rods it’s limitations were quickly evident. Unless you’re Landon Mayer, it will probably be difficult to get this rod to perform up to your expectations.

In short:  A very light, responsive, fast action rod.  A couple tweaks here and there and Ross could easily be in the game.  I take this rod as a sign of good things to come from Ross…

 

TFO FINESSE 8’9”#4

                                              

The Finesse is still TFO’s best short distance / delicate presentation rod. It has nice medium action, and decent enough feel – especially for the price. Five years ago this was one of the best inexpensive 4-weight rods we sold.  In our shootout I didn’t spend too much time with this rod as the St. Croix Imperial felt a lot more impressive. Plus they give you a hard case!  This rod has been around for some time and now and would benefit by are-vamp. 

Performance at 25 feet:  17 out of 20

Felt nicer than the RX at this distance.  Still feels kind of tip heavy though, with the softer mid-section.  Accuracy wasn’t very good

Performance at 35’ feet:  17 out of 20

Pleasant enough to cast, but I just wasn’t getting the control, or the accuracy I was getting with the Imperial, Winston Passport or the BVK.

Performance at 60’ feet: 15 out of 20

This rod starts to fall apart at this distance.  I could get it there, but the rod felt flat and inaccurate.  Even forceful double haul didn’t seem to bring this rod to life.  

In short:  A fairly good rod at a good price, but the Imperial and Passport are far better rods for very little more money.  

 

TFO BVK 8’6”#4

                                                    

 

In general, I thought the BVK was a better-balanced rod than the Finesse. It is a lot stiffer though and has a significantly faster action.    For a better 4-weight I would like to see a blend of the actions of these two rods.  Something in the middle would be better.

 

Performance at 25 feet:  15 out of 20

This is the only distance I really struggled with the BVK.  The tip felt way, WAY too stiff, giving me almost no feel whatsoever.  A 9 -foot leader would help, but not much.  If I were using this rod for much close up work, I’d definitely go to a 5-weight GPX line.

Performance at 35’ feet:  17 out of 20

Ah… that’s better. The BVK loaded better at this distance and had a much nicer feel.   Still not on the same level as the Imperial, Passport, or Beulah but nice. Somewhere along the way this rod lost the smooth feel and incredible swing weight that the 7 and 8-weight BVK’s have.

Performance at 60’ feet:  17 out of 20

Surprisingly enough, the BVK’s stiffer tip didn’t help as much as I had hoped. The rod felt rather bland and a long way away from being as fun to cast as the 8-weight version.  I suspect Lefty didn’t spend as much time refining this particular rod. If he had, I’m sure it would have scored like the 8 weight.

In short:  The 4-weight BVK’s didn’t impress us like their heavier, 5-8 line rods did.  This rod’s tip is just too stiff for good dry fly work, (unless you are fishing a bass popper).

 

Echo Edge 8’ #4

 

                                                    

This rod is Money!  In fact, I had to look down twice to make sure I didn’t have the Sage TXL-F in my hands – their balance and feel is very similar.  I’m not looking to hit the plate at 60 feet with this rod; it’s a little too soft for that. But what I see is a very nice technical dry fly rod at close quarters, even better than the Echo 3 7’10” #4. At first I thought the amethyst colored blank was strange, but it quickly grew on me.  Hats off Tim Rajeff - This rod is superb, especially at close range, and at a great price.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.8 out of 20

This is one sweet rod – super light swing weight, great feel, extremely accurate, and provides smooth delicate presentations. I had to double check to make sure I wasn’t casting the Sage TXL-F!

Performance at 35’ feet: 19 out of 20

Wow.  Super tight loops, effortless to cast, and I was putting the fly on target nearly every time. This rod is very well designed and I’m impressed.  Tim nailed it on the head with this rod. If I didn’t have the TXL-F, I would highly consider buying this rod.

Performance at 60’ feet:  16.5 out of 20

Hmmm… Like the TXL-F and Tom Morgan, you’re going to have to compromise when it comes to longer distances, wind, larger nymphs, and streamers.  The performance of the Edge really fell off at this distance.  I thought the TXL-F had just a little more spunk and punch to it, but all and all this rod was delightful. 

In short:  A fantastic smaller stream 4-weight – a poor man’s Sage TXL-F, if you will…

St. Croix Legend Elite 8’6” #4

                                              

I’m not sure what happened, but this rod is NOT the same wonderful Legend Elite as the 9’#5 version.  I didn’t realize this until I compared it head-to-head with all the other fabulous 4’s out there.  It felt very stiff in comparison and not as well balanced.  It’s time for St. Croix to re-design this rod.  It’s strange that the Imperial feels so much better, at $240 less.  This doesn’t happen very often, so take advantage of the Imperial while you can! 

Performance at 25 feet:  16 out of 20

???  What is going on here?  Tip feels stiff giving me little accuracy, and there is a definite lack of smoothness that we found in the 9 foot #5 Legend Elite (which we liked very much). Also the tip doesn’t dampen well like the 9’#5.  Something is definitely off.

Performance at 35’ feet: 15 out of 20

Still feels tip heavy and clunky compared to what we have become accustomed to from Legend Elite line.  This rod just isn’t close to being as good as with the better rods (or the Imperial) 

Performance at 60’ feet:  17 out of 20

Same story, although it did feel best at this distance.  Sorry, guys – back to the drawing board on this one.  I’m confident with a few revisions and adjustments the new Legend Elite will be back on track. 

In short:  Definitely buy the Imperial instead!  The swing weight is far superior, the balance is better, and it is considerably smoother. All that, PLUS it is far less expensive (and still made in the US). 

R.L. Winston Passport  9’#4

                                                   

In our preliminary rod tests, we all decided the 9-foot passport was the smoothest and nicest passport over the 8’ and 8’6” versions.  I suppose I was a little disappointed with this rod, primarily since the 9’#5 was so sweet. The 9’ #4 Passport was better than the TFO’s but not even close to hanging with the Imperial.  Win some, loose some I suppose…  

Performance at 25 feet:  17 out of 20

Nice enough swing weight, smooth feel, and reasonable accuracy for an economical 9’ 4-weight.  Like most Winstons, this rod performs best with a slower stroke.  Hints of hinge and a little sloppier tip than what I’m used to from a Winston design.

Performance at 35’ feet: 16.5 out of 20

This rod felt good in my hand for a 9 footer.    Only problem was the line didn’t track very well. Getting my distance dialed was easy, but it was difficult to hit the plate at all, much less time and time again as I was doing with the Imperial. 

Performance at 60’ feet:  16 out of 20

Wow, you REALLY have to slow it down when you get this much line out.  With the same stroke, accuracy varied as much as 6 feet off the plate to either side.  Not a good rod for heavier nymphs, streamers, or any wind.

In short:  Not the all-star player that the 9’#5 Passport was, that’s for sure.  This year for 4-weights, the St.Croix Imperial rules, or the Echo Edge is you are only focusing on close range.

 

G. Loomis NRX 9’#4

                                                   

After casting and fishing the very stiff NRX 9’#5, we had the suspicion that the NRX 9’#4 wasn’t going be a good dry fly rod either.  Unfortunately our intuition was right.  I have full confidence Loomis can come up with a much lighter NRX with a softer tip, similar to the Streamdance. Going down to 8 ½ feet would be a start. Once that happens, the NRX should be a very nice rod, as it has tons of power and tracks very well, the only thing hurting it are those plate slapping presentations, not the kind of delicacy we were looking for.

Performance at 25 feet:  17.5 out of 20

This rod actually felt very smooth, just heavy and stiff. Still, it cast some nice tight loops, giving pretty good accuracy.  The NRX’s heavy swing weight hurt, reminding me a little of the Scott S4.

Performance at 35’ feet: 18 out of 20

Sweet spot!  Very tight loops and also good control in the wind.  The NRX was more accurate than Orvis Helios, but not quite as accurate as the Sage ONE at this distance.  Helios still feels MUCH lighter, but the NRX feels smoother.  Neither approaches the performance of the Sage One.

Performance at 60’ feet:  17.5 out of 20

Plenty of power at long range, although the Helios threw tighter loops and felt significantly lighter in my hand.  I was expecting the NRX to perform best at this distance, being as stiff as it is, but I actually liked it best at 35-40 feet. 

In short:  In terms of power and accuracy, nothing beats an NRX, which is why I feel they make the best 8-weight through 12-weight rods on the market.  I also feel they make the lightest and most powerful spey rods going.  Unfortunately The NRX rods in the #3-5-weight range are just too heavy and too stiff to be competitive with the best rods in our 4-weight shootout.  We’re hoping changes are coming. 

 

 

Orvis Helios 9’ #4  Mid-Flex

Yeah… now we’re talking Orvis! This Helios is a very nice rod.   Kind of ironic, since Orvis refused to send us any test rods this year.  Well, as much as I’d like to, no bashing here - I felt this rod is really sweet!   The swing weight on this rod felt nice and light, accuracy was spot on, and overall this rod has a very nice feel to it, enabling delicate presentations when casting off the tip.   It seems to be a very well rounded 4-weight, as you can fish small dries, nymphs, streamers, and punch it into a strong headwind.  Nice work guys…    

Performance at 25 feet:  17 out of 20

First impression was Nice and light!!  Accuracy at this distance was not as good as many of the better rods probably because of the overall moderate action and a stiffer tip than the best rods.  This rod is definitely better at long range than it is in close. 

Performance at 35’ feet: 18 out of 20

Swing weight was much nicer than NRX, but the wind did affect accuracy more.  I could form very tight loops when the wind wasn’t gusting. The accuracy was good but not in the same league with the Hardy or the Sage One.

Performance at 60’ feet:  19 out of 20

Wow!  This rod threw even tighter loops than the NRX if you can believe that!  The GPX line (or Hydros Powertaper) felt better to me than the S.A trout line.  Accuracy was very good but not up to the standard set by the Hardy Zenith or Sage One.

In short:  An extremely light, pleasant rod that is best at mid to long range.  Definitely can handle nymphs and streamers.  Not the best dry fly rod in the test, but perhaps the 8’6”#4 Helios would have been better…

 

Echo 3  7’10”#4

                                                 

Another short super-light fast action rod.  If you are looking for a little more zing than the edge, in particular from mid to long range, this is your rod, (no wonder George likes it so much).  George does make a good argument – when wade fishing the Missouri, you can’t wade out any deeper to get close to some pods – you literally have to make a 60 foot cast, either that or move on to find more rising fish.  This is a cool rod because it’s short length and super light swing weight make it a blast on smaller streams, while it’s fast action and strong butt section allow you to fish larger tailwaters like the Missouri or Henry’s Fork, often to fish that are out of range for many anglers.  This being said, this is a shorter rod that would be very good for Eastern anglers in tight situations that want more power than the Sage TXL-F provides.  

Performance at 25 feet:  17 out of 20

Light and powerful with good accuracy.   My only problem was getting any kind of a delicate presentation, compared to the Edge or the TXL-F.  If the Edge and TXL-F are sports cars, this rod belongs to the Indy 500 class.  It’s really hard to hold it back, and even when trying hard to make delicate presentations I was coming up with a lot of audible plate slaps. 

Performance at 35’ feet: 18 out of 20

Now all that excess power is staring to blend in nicely. Accuracy was awesome. I just preferred a slightly more medium fast action than the super fast action of this 4-weight.  For those who like to drill it in there, this will be right up your alley. This would be a great rod for zinging dries or hoppers under over hanging branches as long as you didn’t need a delicate delivery.

Performance at 60’ feet:  18 out of 20

Good power and reasonable accuracy to boot!  Not quite a Hardy Zenith or a Sage ONE but very respectable.

In short:  A stiffer and much faster version of the Edge.  Almost like a little mini Sage ONE, with plenty of backbone and spunk.

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I have made comments on some rods that did not make the final shootout, (I just figured since I took the time to take notes on them I might as well share my thoughts)...

 

Winston BIIIx 8’#4

                                                   

The 8’#4 was the first Winston BIIIx rod I tried, and it felt SWEET.  From 25-30 feet this rod felt incredible, only later did I adjust its score down half a point after casting the Sage TXL-F and Echo Edge.   DFO (dry fly only) anglers will appreciate this rod’s impeccable accuracy and amazingly smooth feel in close.  Reminiscent of the old Sage 389 LL with a touch more power but the same silky smooth feel.  The only down sides would be it lacks the power to punch in a stiff wind and would not be a good with larger nymphs or streamers.

Performance at 25 feet:  19.5 out of 20

Nice!  Feels incredibly light and sweeter than the 8’6” version at this distance.  The softer tip enables the rod to perform slightly better than the Hardy as well at this distance.  This 8 footer provided sublime feel, and great accuracy in close.   Even when I added a little extra zing to my cast, I still got a delicate presentation.

Performance at 35 feet: 19 out of 20

Felt completely effortless to cast this distance.  Would have been a 20, however it was not quite as accurate as others.   Also just the tiniest hint of hinge compared to the smoother 8’6” and 9’ BIIIx rods.

Performance at 60 feet: 16 out of 20

Surprisingly, it was not a problem to get my indicator within 3 feet of the target.  Dialing in accuracy after that was left more up to chance than skill.  I doubt this rod would ever be used at this distance anyway. 

In short:  The BIIIx rod of choice if you if you are primarily fishing dries at short range, otherwise the 8’6” is a more well rounded rod.  This will make a great rod for Eastern Anglers fishing tighter waters.

 

Winston BIIIx 9’#4

                                                 

This rod would be my first pick if I wanted to focus mainly on nymphing.  The extra six inches would make roll casting easier, as well as feeding stack mends or utilizing high stick nymph fishing techniques.   Accuracy goes down slightly, but usually when I am nymphing a run my main focus is not accuracy but a flawless drift.  Like it or not, the fish feed more underwater than on the surface and this rod is a better tool to present small nymphs with a natural dead drift.  Plus this rod is still very good fishing dries, it’s just that the 8’ and 8’6” are better.  This rod did seem to handle longer distances (or streamers) better than the others.

Performance at 25 feet:  17 out of 20

Noticeably HEAVIER than the 8’ and 8’6” models.  Definitely not as good in close, the extra 6 inches feels more cumbersome and more difficult to control accuracy.  Super smooth feel though…

Performance at 35 feet: 18.5 out of 20

The 9-footer had more feel than the 8’ and 8’6” but again, accuracy was not as good.  Still, you can make some seriously tight loops with it, and any “hint of hinge” is long gone with the 9’#4.

Performance at 60 feet: 18 out of 20

An easy double haul will increase the line speed perfectly, allowing you to cast gently and smoothly at this distance.  This was the best Winston BIIIx at this distance for sure, although Hardy Zenith and Sage ONE were much more accurate and had significantly better “punch.”

In short:  The smoothest feeling BIIIx of the bunch, and also the best accuracy at 60’.  Also the best model for high stick nymphing, roll casts, and getting longer drifts.  Downsides would be less accuracy in close and a heavier swing weight. 

Scott S4 9’#4

This rod felt the heaviest in my hand of any rod in the test, it was also the most difficult to deliver a delicate presentation. I'm   wondering what the rod designers had in mind when they designed this rod… Better punch into the wind?  A strong 4-weight for fishing small streamers?  A rod that can turn over 18 foot leaders?  I don’t get it.   If I knew their thinking then I would be happy to apply the rod for its intended use.  Certainly fishing small dries in close was not the goal.  I wish we had brought a 5-weight GPX line to test it with, because this rod needed a much heavier line to load the tip.

Performance at 25 feet: 15 out of 20

Super heavy swing weight!  Feels very “off “ from all the other 4-weight rods.  On a good note I really like the looks of this rod, with it’s classy grey and brown burled reel seat. 

Performance at 35 feet:  16 out of 20

Better, but the swing weight is hard to get over after casting it right after the lighter and sweeter Winston BIIIx rods.   A softer mid-section and tip would help this rod feel more like the others.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 out of 20

Best distance for this rod.  Still feels tip heavy, but the net result was actually solid line control and good accuracy!  For anglers who want streamer specific 4-weight, this might be the ticket.  Although personally, I’d rather fish a Hardy 5-weight which can throw streamers and still feel excellent in close.

In short:  More of a 5 weight than a 4. Buy the Scott G2 instead, which is much sweeter for dries and fishing in tight. 

 

Scott F2 7'7"#4

This rod felt exceptionally light in my hands.  It took me a little while to get used to it, but once I slowed my casting stroke down it was delightful in close.  I have not had much experience with glass rods, however this rod feels significantly slower in action than the Tom Morgan glass rods. This would be a great rod for small streams where you want to take it easy and go completely zen.  

Performance at 25 feet: 18 out of 20

Wow...  pretty sweet little rod.  Not as accurate as most of the graphite 4-weights, but tons of feel and lots of fun to cast. Definitely have to slow your casting rhythm way down.  

Performance at 35 feet:  16 out of 20

I think this is about as far as I would want to cast this rod.  A double hall helped get the distance, however accuracy was difficult, even indoors with no wind.  I bet this rod would twitch a hopper like a champ.

Performance at 60 feet:  12 out of 20

Nope, not really fishable at this distance.  Even with a wide open loop, slow rhythm, and strong double hall I could not get this rod to reach the plate.   

In short:  A nice light swing weight and lots of fun to cast, especially in close.  A great rod for anglers who really want to slow things down.  

 

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