Comments and Finishing Order by Capt. Bill Blanton

Captain Bill Blanton

 

Capt. Bill Blanton has fished Everglades National Park for 20 years and guided for the past 10. Launching his flats skiff out of Everglades City or Chokoloskee, he fishes for snook, redfish and tarpon in the western Everglades and adjacent Ten Thousand Islands. His preferred method is sight-fishing on shallow flats.

Bill also guides in the waters close to Ft.Myers, where he lives - Sanibel,  Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor.

In addition to his guided fishing, Bill has fly-fished extensively in some of the world’s great spots: Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Louisiana, the California Delta, Cape Cod, Belize, Cuba, the Bahamas, Brazil … with more good trips to come!

Capt. Bill Blanton
www.flyfishtheglades.com
(239) 253-8899

 

The 8-weight is the Swiss Army Knife of fly rods. It’s the do-everything tool, delicate enough for skittish bonefish on shallow flats yet strong enough to cast 300-grain sinking lines to striped bass holding in a tidal rip.

Just the names of the fish typically targeted with an 8-weight rod give an idea of its versatility. Here are some of the species I’ve personally caught on an 8-weight: Alaskan rainbow, Arctic char and grayling, steelhead, king salmon, brown trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bonefish, redfish, black drum, snook, baby tarpon, jack crevalle, spotted seatrout, mangrove snapper, mutton snapper, juvenile goliath grouper, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, bonito, striped bass, bluefish, peacock bass, false albacore, tripletail, flounder. And that list doesn’t even include trash fish like catfish and ladyfish and boxfish. Oh, wait, there was that five-foot-long bull shark one of my fishing buddies hooked in the fleshy part of the lip and eventually landed on an 8-weight while casting for snook from my skiff!

To chase those species, I’ve used a variety of lines: tropical and cold-water floaters, intermediates, sink-tips, shooting lines with 300-grain heads, shooting heads made of 28 feet of T-14, integrated shooting heads like the Rio Outbound Short series. The 8-weight handles them all.

Even in my home waters of Everglades National Park, using just a floating tropical line, I encounter situations that show off the versatility of the 8-weight. One minute I’m tight to the mangroves, sometimes as close as only 30 feet away, throwing tight loops under the branches, trying to entice a snook out of the shadows. The next minute I’m zinging 60- to 80-foot casts across an open flat to a redfish tailing in water too shallow to pole closer.

The perfect 8-weight would be capable of casting all the lines mentioned above and handling all the species noted. Unfortunately, in the real world, there aren’t many rods like that. Sorting through a bundle of 8-weights is somewhat like Goldilocks testing the beds at the bear home: Some are too light, some are too heavy, some are too limp, some too stiff, some are great at close range, some only perform well at distance, some feel lively in the hand, others are club-like …. But if you look hard enough, you can find a handful of rods that are just right.

In the 8-weight shoot out, we were trying to find the Perfect 8s, those rods that perform well at all distances and in all situations. Here are my ratings:

 

Bill Performance Only Chart

 

1: G-Loomis NRX  - 79.5 / 80

G. Loomis NRX winner

Buy Now

The reigning champ from the 2011 shoot-out hasn’t changed since its introduction except to add a dark green blank color as an alternative to the slate color of the original. The rod is light, though not nearly as light as the Orvis Helios 2 or the Sage Method. The tip is very responsive, and despite an overall weight that’s greater than some of its competitors, the NRX has a very light swing weight. This was the first time I’d cast any model of the NRX, though I used the older G-Loomis CrossCurrent GLX rods for years. As I found out, the rod was extremely capable at all ranges, with an incredible reserve of power.

Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20
OK, I felt I had to knock a half-point off the NRX score at 35 feet since the short-range champ, the St. Croix Legend Elite, was just slightly better at that distance. But not by much. Even at short range, the NRX is very good. The light tip produces a high degree of accuracy despite the overall fast action of the rod.

Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20
One word: Perfect. For a while, I cast with a classic stoke, holding the rod pretty much straight up and down and working it from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock like they recommend in the old casting manuals. After nailing the target time after time, I switched over to the stroke I use when fishing the mangroves, where the rod moves almost parallel to the deck and the line snakes across the water (or in this case, the ground) only a couple of feet over the surface, then unrolls at the last moment and drops the fly. Again, the NRX performed beautifully, and I was thinking how much happier I would have been if I were casting it off the deck of a flats skiff instead of a grassy field.

Performance at 80 feet: 20 points out of 20
This is the distance where the NRX really overshadows most of the competition. With its reserves of power, it makes long casts comparatively easy. I had no trouble hitting the 85-foot mark, and it was no big deal to reach out to 100 feet.  I gave it a "long bomb" award because of this. 

Perfect 8 Performance: 20 points out of 20
This rod will do everything you could possibly expect from an 8-weight.

 

2: Scott S4S - 70 / 80

Scott S4s

Buy Now

The S4S is Scott’s saltwater rod. It’s tastefully appointed with a plain gray blank and a classy and business-like reel seat. The cork and guides are top notch, and many anglers prefer the SiC stripping guides on the Scott to the Recoil guides that Hardy and Loomis use.

The overall impression of the rod is that it’s functional and tasteful, nothing fancy, just a great tool for the job.

I’ve cast earlier versions of Scott rods from time to time over the years and never really liked them. The feel of the Scotts was so different from the rods I was used to that I thought they didn’t match my casting style. So I wasn’t expecting too much when I picked up the Scott S4S for the first time.

Boy, was I wrong! It took me a few minutes to accommodate myself to the Scott action, but once I did, I was really impressed. 

The S4S is a little heavier than the NRX with a slightly less flexible tip. Whereas the NRX flexes immediately at the tip, then quickly transfers power down in the mid and butt sections, the S4S seems to bend more throughout the length of the rod. Either design can be effective when it’s done right, and both these rods do it right.

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
The S4S is very smooth and accurate at this distance. The tip is not as flexible as on some other rods, but there’s a very smooth transition of power down the rod, and you can feel the S4S loading very well.

Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20
At 60 feet, the rod comes into its own, with an excellent feel and lots of power. The S4S tracks very smoothly, and that consistency increases accuracy. You have the feeling you can put the fly exactly where you want it time after time.

Performance at 80 feet: 20 points out of 20
There’s no loss of power at long range. The S4S doesn’t shout reserve power like the NRX does, but if you adjust your stroke to take advantage of its smooth power, you can achieve the range.

Perfect 8 Performance: 20 points out of 20
I’m rating this rod just below the NRX, a half-point lower in overall score. In reality, the difference might not be as much as that. Many anglers would prefer the action of the Scott over that of the Loomis, and both rods will accomplish anything you want from an 8-weight.

 

3 (tie): Temple Fork Outfitters BVK - 77 / 80

TFO BVK

Buy Now

The BVK was the champ of the modestly-priced rods in the 2011 shoot-out and compared well with rods in all price ranges. That still holds true in 2013. No economy-priced rod can touch it for performance, and it blows the socks off many of the higher priced models.

The BVK is very handsome with a dark green blank that offers a true fast action. In spite of the speed of the action, it has a responsive tip and a sensitive feel throughout the length of the rod. A couple of months before the shoot-out, I had the pleasure of watching the creator of the BVK, Bernard Victor Kreh, otherwise known as Lefty, cast the rod off the bow of my skiff. That amazing demonstration showed the true capability of the rod, not to mention the incredible skill of its designer.

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20
The BVK is right on at this range. With its light weight and lively tip, it’s a delight to cast up close. I could hit the target with no trouble. It’s a tribute to the design that a rod with such a fast action can be so sensitive up close.

Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20
Again, the rod is flawless at this distance. I tried it with a variety of strokes — overhead, sidearm, back casts — it worked well with all. The action translates power smoothly from the light tip down through the midsection to the butt.

Performance at 85 feet: 18 points out of 20
Lefty can cast it like magic at this range. In fact, I saw him do just that, but most anglers, including me, would benefit from a rod with a little more built-in power.

Perfect 8 Performance: 19 points out of 20
Despite its strong performance in the casting tests, I knocked a point off in the Perfect 8 category because of inherent limitations in the BVK concept. As TFO’s own rod performance charts show, it’s designed primarily for delicate presentation, then for distance, last for lifting power. I don’t think this very lightweight rod is suitable for some of the tasks you might expect an all-round 8-weight to perform, such as casting large flies or throwing heavy sinking lines. Having said that, let me point out that for many anglers, the BVK is one of the best choices available. It’s lightweight and easy to cast with a very user-friendly feel. 

And those factors don’t even take into account the low price!

 

3 (tie): Sage Method Elite 890-4 - 77 / 80

Sage Method Elite

Buy Now

When I first wiggled this attractive rod with the bright red blank, I thought it would be too stiff to cast anything smaller than a 10-weight line. Despite its very light weight, the Method 8-weight is incredibly stiff. Sage rates it as ultra-fast, and just waving it around, you can be sure it’s going to be one of the fastest rods available. It didn’t disappoint in that regard, but it turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the shoot-out.

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
I was floored when this super-stiff rod cast so well at short distance with the rated 8-weight line. I had no trouble hitting the target, and there was enough feel throughout the casting stoke to insure consistent accuracy. I guess you can chalk that up to the wonders of Sage’s Konnetic technology.

Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20
At 60 feet, the Method 8 was very accurate. As you would expect, I could feel the rod load more deeply at this range, but there was still a great deal of power on hand.

Performance at 80 feet: 20 points out of 20
The Method still had plenty of power at 85 feet, and the rod was still accurate. Strangely, I felt the rod would benefit more at this range from a heavier line than it would at shorter distances. There was  enough power at 85 feet that a heavier line wouldn’t have overtaxed it.

Perfect 8 (or 9?) Performance: 18 points out of 20
I knocked two points off the Perfect 8 score because of the Method’s overall stiffness and the question that kept popping into my mind as I cast it: “Is this an 8-weight rod or is it a 9-weight rod?” To answer that question, on the second day of the shoot-out, we outfitted the Method with a 9-weight line and tried it at the same distances as before. It performed better at every range. There was a much more confident feel at 35 feet. Even at 60 feet, where I’d given it a perfect score with an 8-weight line, it felt better, though there was no real change in objective performance. At 85 feet, I was correct in thinking that the rod had more than enough power to throw a heavier line at long distance. The 9-weight line added stability to the cast, and I was able not only to hit the 85-foot mark with consistency, but to push out to 100 feet without difficulty.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that most anglers who like the Method would be better off uplining it one size to a 9-weight line. It should also be great with an integrated shooting head like the Rio Outbound Short or the Scientific Anglers Bruce Chard Grand Slam line. This is a rod for the skilled caster with a grooved and aggressive stroke. Less capable casters who are seduced by its light weight and ultra-fast rep might find the 7-weight easier to manage on the water. 

4: Hardy Proaxis - 76 / 80

Hardy ProAxis X

Buy Now

This was the first time I’d ever held a four-piece Proaxis in my hand, much less cast one, even though I’ve used the one-piece Proaxis rods ever since they were introduced a couple of years ago. The rod’s very nice to look at, with Hardy’s slate-blue blanks and fine hardware. In 2013, Hardy replaced their distinctive skeletal reel seat with a more conventional one. The new model is not as striking in appearance, but it’s much more functional.

The big gripe about the Proaxis four-piece is its weight. I can’t say this for sure, but I suspect it was the heaviest rod in the test, which is surprising, since the one-piece Proaxis 8-weight is feather-light. When I first picked up the rod, I was thinking, “This feels more like a 10-weight than an 8-weight.”

So my expectations weren’t too high when I started casting.

Big mistake. The Proaxis 4-piece is a tight-loop-creating machine. Once I got it going, I threw tight loop after tight loop at all distances. I was raving about it so much, James Anderson gave it a try and noted that the Proaxis tracked so well and handled power so easily, “You can’t throw a tailing loop with this rod!” So Capt. Jamie Allen picked it up and tried deliberately to throw a tailing loop. He made some awful looking casts out beyond 85 feet, but no tailing loops.

It’s the perfect rod for the angler who insists on overpowering the forward cast. He won’t be able to mess up with the Proaxis. It’s also a great casting tool for anglers who have good strokes. 

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
Despite the weight of the rod and the relatively stiff tip, the Proaxis casts very well at close range. I could cast off the tip, using my wrist mostly, and form very tight loops.

Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20
The rod was flawless at this range. It had plenty of power and it tracked very well. I was able to maintain tight loops and accuracy. It was very forgiving of variations in my casting stroke.

Performance at 80 feet: 20 points out of 20
The Proaxis has reserve power up the wazzu, so 85-foot casts with tight loops were no problem.  I gave it the "long bomb" award because of its incredible ability to maintain a tight loop at distance.

Perfect 8 Performance: 18 points out of 20
I deducted two points off the Perfect 8 score for the Proaxis four-piece, mainly because of its weight. Despite its fine casting ability, the rod really is heavy. It might not be too bad on a bonefish flat, where you don’t make that many casts, but it would be tough going pounding the mangroves cast after cast. It looks like some weight loss could be achieved simply by reducing the number of coats of epoxy and varnish on the ferule and guide wraps.

 

5: St. Croix, Legend Elite Saltwater ESW 908-4 - 75 / 80 

St. Croix Legend Elite

Buy Now

The Legend Elite is a nicely appointed rod with a turquoise blue color that I didn’t particularly like. However, the shade of blue didn’t hurt its performance. Of all the rods tested, the Legend Elite was the most responsive at close range, and it retained a good feel at all distances. By chance, I cast it right after I had cast one of the stiffer rods. The difference in sensitivity was amazing.  I gave the St. Croix Legend Elite the "best feel" award but there are others that came mightly close. I gave 20 points out of 20 to several rods: the BVK, Xi3, One, Helios 2 and Method 7. Still the Legend Elite is the best. If I could give it a 20+, I would.

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20
At this distance, the Legend Elite was right on the money, the short-range champ. It was extremely accurate and felt like an extension of my hand as I guided the fly to the target. If you think about it, in many respects the 35-foot distance is the toughest test for a rod. Once you allow for the 12-foot leader and the extended nine-foot rod, only 14 feet of line is beyond the rod tip to load the rod. Many rods won’t load with that little bit of line out the tip top, but it was plenty for the Legend Elite.

Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20
At 60 feet, the Legend Elite was still accurate and still responsive. Feeling the rod load at that distance made it easier to guide the fly to the target.

Performance at 80 feet: 18 points out of 20
Even at 85 feet, the Legend Elite could still make the cast, but, at this range, I was beginning to feel its limits, and accuracy suffered as a result.

Perfect 8 Performance: 18 points out of 20
The champ at close range, but not quite as good as some of the other rod at other distances.

 

6 (tie): Sage One - 74 / 80

 Sage ONE

Buy Now

This was my first time casting a Sage One, and I have to say, it was a revelation. This is another beautiful Sage product, with a black blank with gold lettering and the usual fine hardware and cork. The one drawback to the rod design is the very small guides. The rod might cast as well with the small guides as it would with larger ones, but a bonefish-created line tangle would cause some real trouble.

The One has a very light swing weight, with a tip that feels substantially softer than the one on Sage’s Method. There’s no doubt this rod was designed for and casts well with an 8-weight line.

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20
The One was right on target at short range. It cast effortlessly off the tip, and I could throw tight loop after tight loop right at the mark.

Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20
At 60 feet, the One was still essentially effortless with a very smooth stroke. It wasn’t as fast as the Method and didn’t give the same sensation of power, but it got the job done very effectively.

Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20
The 85-foot mark was where the biggest difference between the One and the Method became apparent. With the One, I had to work harder to achieve the 85-foot distance than I did with the Method.

Perfect 8 Performance: 18 points out of 20
The One was one of the smoothest-casting rods tested during the shoot-out. I knocked a couple of points off its Perfect 8 score because of the small guides and because the slight fall-off in power at long range. Still a great rod.

 

6 (tie): Sage Xi3 890-4 - 74 / 80

Sage Xi3 saltwater rod

Buy Now

The third generation of Sage’s saltwater rod is beginning to feel like it’s due for an overhaul with the newer technology Sage has put into the One and Method series of rods. Though it’s still a good casting rod with great fish-fighting ability, the Xi3 feels a little dated. It’s heavy, for one thing, and doesn’t have the casting power of some of the newer rods.

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20
At this range, the Xi3 has great feel and is very accurate. I hit the plate dead-center on my first four casts, and the others were very close. With its sensitive tip and even flex, the rod’s a joy to cast up close.

Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20
At 60 feet, the rod still has excellent feel. I could feel the Xi3 loading at the beginning of the forward cast, and the good feel continued throughout the stroke as the rod flexed deeply into its length. It was very accurate at this range.

Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20
At 85 feet, the Xi3 sort of loses steam. That’s ironic for a rod specifically designed for salt water where you expect to make long casts. The full flex that was so helpful in producing accurate casts at 35 and 60 feet now seemed to make it more difficult to harness the rod’s power at 85 feet.

Perfect 8 Performance: 18 points out of 20
This is still a good rod despite its weight, but it’s due for an update.

 

7 (tie): Orvis Helios 2, Tip Flex  - 73 / 80

Orvis Helios 2

Buy Now

The Helios 2 is the flagship of the Orvis line and one of the lightest rods tested, perhaps the lightest of all 4-piece, 9-foot 8-weights. As you would expect from Orvis, the rod is beautifully appointed with a glossy blue blank, a distinctive reel seat and excellent guides and cork. The rod is light in the hand with a very responsive tip.

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20
At short range, the rod produced a high degree of accuracy, thanks to its soft tip. The overall lightness of the rod made casting a pleasure.

Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20
At 60 feet, accuracy was still good, but the overall feel of the rod wasn’t as confident as it was with some of the top rods. It was hard to me to put my finger on what the issue was, but it seemed like the rod didn’t transfer power from the soft tip down through the length of the rod as smoothly as, say, the NRX.

Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20
The Helios 2 sort of wimped out at 85 feet with a somewhat “squishy” feel. Though I could still hit the mark, I didn’t feel there was enough power for me to really control the cast consistently. This was one situation where additional weight in the rod might have actually improved the casting feel, though I understand the dynamics of rod construction are much more complicated than simply adding or subtracting weight.

Perfect 8 Performance: 18 points out of 20
For most anglers, the Helios 2 is a good rod at distances up to about 60 feet.

 

7 (tie): Sage Method 790-4, with 8-weight line - 73 / 80

Sage Method 7 weight

Buy Now

George Anderson used the 7-weight Method with 8-weight line on a recent bonefish trip. It was so effective with the heavier line, he decided to include it in the 8-weight test. That’s sort of the “duck” rule: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. If it casts an 8-weight line, it’s an 8-weight.

Since the Method 8 was already one of the lightest rods around, you’d expect the Method 7 to be super-light. You’d be correct. In terms of overall weight, it rivaled the Orvis Helios 2 and the one-piece rods from Hardy and G-Loomis we tested in a separate shoot-out. When outfitted with a lightweight reel like the Nautilus FWX 7/8, it makes one of the best light bonefish packages you could imagine.

Like the Method 8, the 7 had an attractive red blank with Sage’s usual fine hardware. The rod was very responsive to the touch, with a light, flexible tip.

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20
The light tip of the Method 7 produced great accuracy at 35 feet. The rod loaded well with the 8-weight line, and I could hit the target consistently. I felt like it was just a shade less accurate than the best short-range rods like the St. Croix Legend Elite, but it still earned a perfect score at this range.

Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20
At 60 feet, the Method 7 still had good accuracy, and there was plenty of power. It didn’t feel overloaded at this range with a heavier than rated line. The rod was super-light in hand with an incredibly light swing weight.

Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20
At 85 feet, I felt the rod was being pushed to its limit. Really good casters might reach it out to 85 feet and beyond, but for most anglers, including me, 85 feet would be the limit of the comfortable range with this rod and line combination.

Perfect 8 Performance: 17 points out of 20
Despite the high scores in the casting tests, I downrated the Method 7 in the Perfect 8 category. As noted above, it would make a great light bonefish rod, but it’d be extremely limited in many of the other tasks we expect from an 8-weight rod.

 

8 (tie): Thomas & Thomas Solar 908-4 - 71 / 80

Thomas and Thomas Solar

Buy Now

My first saltwater rod was an old T&T Horizon, and I caught a ton of fish on that fast and very capable rod. The Horizon morphed into the Horizon II, now discontinued, and the company itself has changed hands, but T&T is still making good rods.

The Solar is a fast-action rod designed for salt water. It has a dark gray blank with an unusual finish that makes it appear to sparkle in the sunlight. Hardware and cork are excellent. The rod is slightly heavy, at least compared to others we tested. Although T&T labels the rod as fast action, it’s actually slower than some of the really fast rods and is somewhat reminiscent of the action of the Sage Xi3. After casting faster rods during the rest, I had to make an adjustment in my stroke to accommodate that, but, once I did, the Solar cast very well.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
The Solar has a good feel at close range. It wasn’t as accurate as the best short-range rods, but it loaded easily, and I didn’t have any trouble making the cast.

Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20
At this distance, the Solar really began to shine. The rod flexed well, and I could feel it loading as I cast. Accuracy was good.

Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20
At 85 feet, the rod sort of bogged down. The slightly slower action seemed a bit overwhelmed, and it didn’t seem the rod was tracking as well as I would like. Still, I could manage the distance.

Perfect 8 Performance: 17 points out of 20
This is a good rod out to 60 feet. Despite its weight, it’s easy casting with a smooth action.

 

8 (tie): Rugged Creek Traditional - 71 / 80

Rugged Creek Traditional 

Buy Now

The Rugged Creek is one of the less expensive rods that competes with offerings from TFO and St. Croix. The blank has a brown finish with an attractive reel seat. On the rod we tested the grip was quite large in diameter. I’ve got pretty long fingers, and it felt a bit uncomfortable to me. Anglers with small hands might want to have the grip sanded down a bit. The rod is lightweight with a flexible tip. It had a  good feel at all distances.

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
The Rugged Creek cast well at this range. It wasn’t quite as accurate as the best rods, but it had a good feel, and I could hit the target with it.

Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20
The rod was still accurate at 60 feet, but I wasn’t as confident about its tracking at this range as I was with the best rods. It was possible to overpower with too hard a forward stroke.

Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20
At 80 feet, I could still hit the mark with the Rugged Creek. At this distance, it became more apparent that it was possible to overpower the rod. Its maximum effective range is probably just shy of 85 feet.

Perfect 8 Performance: 17 points out of 20
Like the Solar, the Rugged Creek is a good rod out to 60 feet and a little beyond. A caster with an aggressive stroke might overpower it at the longer distances.

 

9: Temple Fork Outfitters Mangrove - 70 / 80

Temple Fork Outfitters Mangrove

Buy Now

Of all the rods selected for the shoot-out, the Mangrove was the one I was most eager to test. I already knew that TFO had a good rod in the BVK designed by Lefty Kreh. Now I wanted to cast Flip Pallot’s creation, the Mangrove.

The rod comes in a brownish red color with hardware and cork similar to that found on the BVK. It’s a little heavier overall than the BVK and definitely has a heavier swing weight. Just wiggling the rod, you can tell it flexes more deeply than the BVK, with a slightly slower action. The additional flex is most apparent in the third section of the rod. Those factors suggest the Mangrove might be better than the BVK up close. That didn’t turn out to be the case, however, as the BVK outscored it at every distance.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
At 35 feet, the Mangrove was easy to cast. The heavier tip made it a bit less accurate than the BVK, but it still did a fine job.

Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20
Sixty feet was the optimum distance for the Mangrove. Having heard Skip Pallot speak at many functions, I know his fishing philosophy entails making casts at reasonably fishing distances, so it’s clear that’s what he had in mind in the design of the Mangrove.

Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20
At 85 feet, the Mangrove sort of petered out. I could make the cast, but it was obvious that the rod wasn’t designed for that sort of distance.

Perfect 8 Performance: 17 points out of 20
The Mangrove is a capable rod at the normal fishing distances for which it was designed.

 

10. Loop Cross S1 Flatsman - 69 / 80

Loop Cross S1 Flatsman

Buy Now

The Loop was an attractive gray color with an unusual reel seat, four narrow rods arrayed around a central core. It was distinctive looking, but I didn’t think it functioned as well as a more conventional reel seat. In my hand, the rod seemed a bit stiff. Just wiggling it, I didn’t note the lively feel you experience with the best rods. That initial impression proved to be true once I started casting.

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
I was able to hit the plate on some casts, but there wasn’t much feel. The rod wasn’t consistently accurate at short range.

Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20
At this range, the rod started to feel better. With more line out, I could feel it loading, but there still wasn’t enough response with an 8-weight line. We didn’t test this rod with a heavier line, but I suspect it would cast much better with a 9-weight.

Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20
At this range, you would expect the rod to come into its own; however, I didn’t find that to be the case. There was plenty of power, but it was still hard to feel the rod responding to the casting stroke. A heavier line or even a shooting head would help.

Perfect 8 Performance: 17 points out of 20
I deducted points because of the lack of response

 

11: Beulah Opal - 68 / 80

Beulah Opal saltwater rod

Buy Now

This Opal is a newly-introduced model from Beulah, which scored well in the 2012 4-weight shootout with its 8-foot 8-inch 4-weight Platinum model. Like TFO, Beulah produces moderately priced, high-quality rods that can compete with their more expensive counterparts.

The Opal is a very attractive rod with a slate blue blank. Hardware is top-notch, and it offers some of the largest guides you’ll ever see on a rod. No bonefish-induced line tangles with this rod. The rod is light, with a sensitive tip and a very responsive feel.

I was really looking forward to casting the Beulah, but I ended up being a little disappointed after the tests.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
With its sensitive tip and responsive mid-section, the Beulah is accurate at this range, but not quite as accurate as the very best short-range rods like the Legend Elite. It may be the action is too responsive, if such a thing is possible. At any rate, despite the rod’s great feel, I didn’t have the confidence in it that I had with some other models.

Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20
The Opal performed well at this range, but, again, it felt like it would have been better with a little less feel and a bit more power.

Performance at 80 feet: 16 points out of 20
The Opal really dropped off in capability at 85 feet. I had to work hard to achieve this distance, and I don’t believe I could have done it consistently even under ideal fishing conditions.

Perfect 8 Performance: 16 points out of 20
One of the other testers summed up the Beulah Opal with this comment: “All feel, no power.” No power is too strong a statement, but the rod did lack the oomph you’d expect from an all-round 8-weight. That was surprising, since the rods in Beulah’s Blue Water Series are known for their power and lifting ability. It wouldn’t take much of an adjustment to transform this into a really good rod.

 

12 (tie): G-Loomis Pro4X - 67 / 80

G. Loomis Pro4x

Buy Now

The Pro4X is the ugly stepbrother to Loomis’ NRX. It’s a less expensive rod by Loomis standards, but still pricier than comparable offerings from TFO or St. Croix. The blank is a washed-out olive color somewhat similar in appearance to Loomis’ Greenwater spinning rod blanks, but not as attractive. The reel seat is plain-Jane. Even the lettering on the blank looks cheap.

Despite its homely appearance, the rod shares some of the NRX DNA. It has the same soft tip as the NRX, and it’s light in weight, with perhaps a lighter swing weight than its more illustrious brother.

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
The Pro4X is very good at short range. The soft tip makes for easy casting and accuracy.

Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20
At 60 feet, the Pro4X is still a decent casting rod, but you need to be careful with your stroke. The transfer of power from tip to midsection to butt isn’t as smooth as it is with the NRX or the other top rods. It’s easy to throw a tailing loop. There’s also a drop-off in power compared to the top rods.

Performance at 80 feet: 15 points out of 20
At long range, the Pro4X wimps out. There is still sufficient power to reach 85 feet, but timing and stroke have to be perfect. The loss of feel between tip and butt makes it easy for the cast to go awry.

Perfect 8 Performance: 16 points out of 20
This is a decent rod at normal fishing distances.

 

 

12 (tie): St. Croix Imperial - 67 / 80

St. Croix Imperial

St. Croix Imperial Buy Now

The Imperial is the lower-priced companion to the Legend Elite. Like its sibling, it has a blank color I don’t particularly like, in this case a red that doesn’t appeal to my eye. Also like its sibling, that color doesn’t affect its fine casting ability.

This is the one of the rods that challenge the TFO BVK in the less expensive price range, though it’s an entirely different kind of rod than the BVK. Unlike the BVK, which is a very light, fast action rod, the Imperial is modeled after the more flexible action of the Legend Elite. It’s a little stiffer in feel than the Legend Elite, but that difference may be due more to the modulus of the graphite than the design of the taper.

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
The Imperial is accurate at this range, but it doesn’t have the same feel as its more expensive sibling. The tip’s not as soft as the tip of the Legend Elite, and you can feel that difference in casting.

Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20
The Imperial feels better at 60 feet than it does at 35. With more line out, the rod loads deeper into the blank, and you gain a better sense of control. I felt very comfortable in the range between 35 and 60 feet where the vast majority of fishing casts are made.

Performance at 80 feet: 16 points out of 20
I could make the cast at 85 feet with the Imperial, but it wasn’t a fun experience. The rod’s underpowered at this range compared to the Legend Elite.

Perfect 8 Performance: 16 points out of 20
This is a very fine rod for most fishing situations. 

 

12 (tie): Ross Worldwide RX - 67 / 80

Ross RX

Buy Now

The Ross came with an attractive brown blank and a functional reel seat. Though it was light overall, the rod was somewhat heavy in the tip, which hurt it a bit at close range.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
The Ross was accurate at this range, but not as good as the better rods with more flexible tips. Despite the heavy tip, I could hit the target with reasonable certainty.

Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20
At 60 feet, I was beginning to feel weakness in the butt and midsection, but I was still able to achieve a fair degree of accuracy with the rod.

Performance at 80 feet: 16 points out of 20
At 85 feet, the weak butt section of the Ross started to hinder the cast. The rod didn’t track well enough for me to make accurate casts, though I could still reach the mark.

Perfect 8 Performance: 16 points out of 20
Like the Loomis Pro4X and the St. Croix Imperial, the Ross is a capable rod at normal fishing distances.

 

13: Winston BIII-SX 7-weight - 64 / 80

Winston BIIIsx 7 weight

Buy Now

Like the Sage Method 7-weight, the Winston BIII-SX is another 7-weight rod that seemed like it might cast better with an 8-weight line.

As is true of all Winstons, the BIII-SX is beautiful to look at, with a lush green blank and very fine hardware and cork. Beauty was just skin deep, though. In hand, the rod was tip heavy and not nearly as responsive as the best rods. I cast it right after I cast the Method 7, and the BIII-SX suffered greatly in the comparison.

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
Accuracy was pretty good, not up to the standard set by the St. Croix Legend Elite and matched by other top rods. The heavy tip hurt the feel at close range.

Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20
Sixty feet was the best range for the rod. I was able to hit the mark with reasonable consistency, but it was much heavier in feel than the other 7-weight rod in the shot-out, the Method 7.

Performance at 80 feet: 15 points out of 20
At this range, it took too much work to achieve the distance.

Perfect 8 Performance: 15 points out of 20
Beautiful finish; clunky feel. I can’t imagine casting this rod with its rated 7-weight line.

 

14: Winston BIII-SX 8-weight - 62 / 80

Winston BIII-SX 8 weight

Buy Now

Next up was the 8-weight BIII-SX. Again, the rod is beautiful to look at, but, again, it's a clunker, even stiffer and more tip heavy than the 7-weight.

Performance at 35 feet: 15 points out of 20
No feel at close range. The tip is just too heavy.

Performance at 60 feet: 16 points out of 20
The rod was a little better at 60 feet, but the heavy tip hurt accuracy.

Performance at 80 feet: 16 points out of 20
Finally, some feel, but no fun to cast.

Perfect 8 Performance: 15 points out of 20
Like its smaller brother, beautiful finish; clunky feel. The rod would probably cast better with a heavier line, but even a 9-weight line wouldn’t improve the feel.

 

15: Mystic Reaper 890-4 - 59 / 80

Mystic Reaper

Buy Now

This inexpensive rod has an amber blank with decent looking hardware and cork. The one bad thing about the components is the very small tip top. The rest of the guides are suitable for salt water, but the tip top looks like it’d be more appropriate on a 4-weight.

The rod has a flexible tip and a good feel on the wiggle.

Performance at 35 feet: 16 points out of 20
The Mystic had a pretty good feel at short distance. It was easy to cast off the tip at this range, but the action felt a little vague, as if there wasn’t a good transfer of power from tip to midsection.

Performance at 60 feet: 15 points out of 20
At this range, the disconnect between tip, midsection and butt became more apparent. I felt like I had to make a perfectly timed cast to avoid a tailing loop, and the rod was inconsistent in how it responded to applications of power.

Performance at 80 feet: 14 points out of 20
If I really worked at it, I could reach the 85-foot mark, but it wasn’t much fun.

Perfect 8 Performance: 14 points out of 20
The Mystic would be suitable for a limited number of fishing situations. The action felt more like a trout rod than a saltwater rod.

 

16 (tie): Colorado ADG Titanium - 56 / 80

ADG

Buy Now

This inexpensive rod had the least attractive blank of any rod in the test — in fact, I would say it had the least attractive cosmetics of any rod I’ve ever seen. The plain gray blank still showed seam lines. I guess those are from when graphite was wrapped around the mandril during production.  Whatever the cause, the seams give the rod an unfinished look. Reel seat was functional, but that’s about all.

After talking about the importance of a light tip in casting accuracy, I finally got to test a rod with too light a tip. The Colorado Titanium was so light-tipped, it was downright floppy.

Performance at 35 feet: 16 points out of 20
The Colorado cast fairly well at this range, but the too-light tip, combined with a weak butt and midsection, hurt the ability of the rod to track well during the cast. Sixteen might be a tad generous in score.

Performance at 60 feet: 15 points out of 20
At this distance, you have to be very careful not to overpower the rod. An angler with a consistent and smooth casting motion can eke a good cast out of the rod, but it takes an effort.

Performance at 80 feet: 12 points out of 20
No good at this distance. The rod wimps out

Perfect 8 Performance: 13 points out of 20
The Colorado’s weak performance matches perfectly with its bare-bones appearance. The rod would be marginally suitable for fishing at short range with small flies.

 

1 Piece Rods

1 pc rods

After we finished rating the four-piece 8-weight rods, we took a look at two one-piece models, the Hardy Proaxis, which was introduced around the time of the 2011 8-weight shoot-out and drew rave reviews, and the newer G-Loomis NRX one-piece.

Both rods are extremely light, with soft tips and a great feel.

Here are my ratings:  80 / 80

Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20

The soft tip aids in accuracy and you can feel the rod flexing even at this short range. It’s possible to put the fly on the target time after time.

Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20
Great power at this range. Very smooth feel. There’s plenty of reserve power left. Rod tracks perfectly.

Performance at 85 feet (and beyond): 20 points out of 20
The rod has tremendous reserve power for long casts, yet tracking stays true for exceptional accuracy at long range. A good caster can easily throw beyond the 85-foot mark. 

Perfect 8 performance: 20 points out of 20
It doesn’t get any better than this.

Question: Are those ratings for the Hardy or the Loomis?

Answer: Yes.

In truth, these two rods are so close in performance, it’s almost impossible to choose between them. We felt the NRX might have a slightly softer tip. On the other hand, the Hardy might have had a slightly better overall feel in the hand.

After we’d all cast both rods, we conducted a mini-shoot-out for accuracy at the three distances we used in the four-piece shoot-out: 35, 60 and 85 feet. We each made two casts to the plate situated at each of those distances and then rated the results. Three of the four casters — George, Capt. Jamie Allen and I — did just slightly better with the NRX than we did with the Hardy. James Anderson was just slightly better with the Hardy.

In my case, I cast the NRX first. At 35 feet, my first cast placed the fly just inches from the plate. Second cast was even closer. At 60 feet, both casts were inches from the plate. At 85 feet, my first cast was inches away; the second cast landed square in the middle. With the Hardy, I placed all casts inches away from the targets, as close if not closer than the near misses with the NRX, but never plunked the fly down in a plate.

Sooooo … based on those results, is the NRX a better rod? 

Nah, the sample is too small to draw a conclusion. It’s still a wash. Buy either one and be very happy.

http://www.flyfishtheglades.com