Comments and Finishing Order by James Anderson

James Anderson Redfish

 

2014 - A new era of saltwater rods?

I find it interesting that here we are three years after our last 8-weight shootout and yet the same NRX rod remains king of the hill.  Likewise, in our value category the BVK returns as our #1 inexpensive eight-weight rod, spanking many rods costing nearly three times as much.  I guess I expected something new to win, and thus tested these two rods in particular with almost a shade of negative bias towards them, yet each time I picked them up I couldn’t help but feel they still reigned supreme.  

Aside from these obvious winners, there were other rods that impressed me from both Orvis and Scott.  I thought these two companies really stepped up their game in terms of creating an 8-weight rod that had a good balance of a light swing weight, good feel, solid power, increased accuracy and durability.   And let’s not forget Sage who have given us the new and snazzy, candy-paint Method to replace the TCX, and the Sage ONE - both very light rods using their new Konnetic technology –which supposedly improves tracking and torsional stability. 

Different strokes for different strokes

In the same way that one person may prefer the strong hoppy taste of a Sierra Nevada IPA, someone else may appreciate the lighter, easy to drink flavor of Coors Light.  Or maybe someone doesn’t like beer at all and prefers to drink wine.  Everyone has different tastes and no one is either right or wrong.    But fly rods are a whole lot different than drinking beer.   Some fly rods are a whole lot better than others and most anglers, both beginners to experts have agreed with our findings.   

In choosing the right rod for your preferences and casting style,  we think that our shootouts will help narrow it down to a handful of rods that will be right for you.  Do you want a rod with incredible feel for short to mid-distance fishing, or do you want a rod that has impressive power to perform better at long range?   Or are you looking for a good all-around rod that will do it all well?    Once you’ve read our descriptions and each of the caster’s notes you should have a good idea which rods you’d like to cast.   Go into your local fly shop and try them yourself.  Just remember when you are casting rods be sure to have another good rod right there to compare it with.  Just taking one rod out to cast is a mistake.  Any decent caster will quickly adapt his technique to a given rod, masking some of it’s flaws.  This is why we set up several identical reels, lines and leaders for testing the rods in our shootouts.

If the rod works for you, who cares what we say

This rod review is bound to stir up controversy, especially if/when you read comments that you don’t agree with.  If you happen to love one of the rods that we didn’t rate well its only natural to get defensive.  And defending a rod is good thing if it means you have found a rod that you like or even love.  Just remember to try to approach it with an open mind.   In the end, one of the main goals of our shootouts is to help anglers choose a rod they will love to cast and fish. 

Here is my overall finishing order and my performance notes:

 

James Performance Only Chart

 

1.  G. LOOMIS NRX    9’#8     $805     58.5/60

G. Loomis NRX winner

Buy Now

Returning unchanged for 2014, (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it), the G.Loomis NRX reigns supreme once again as the best overall 8 weight rod on the market.  Thanks to the 27 time world casting champion – Steve Rajeff, the G.Loomis rod designer,  expert anglers can purchase a saltwater rod that truly has the capability to do it all.  This rod casts well in close with delicacy and feel, it rips out 60 footers with accuracy and ease, and it will throw long with the best of them.   And thanks to 3M’s patented nano-resin - it’s extremely durable for such a high performance / high modulus graphite rod.

Sometimes when fishing for spooky bonefish, redfish, or snook its imperative to have your fly land softly, yet accurately exactly where you want it.  At other times you have to power skip your fly to get it deep under the overhanging mangroves.  Other times, you are forced to cast as far as you can.  Since I live here in Montana and rarely use my 8 weight for saltwater fishing, I want an 8 weight that has the guts to throw a 250- 300 grain sinking line and two big streamers, yet with enough feel that playing a 20 inch brown is fun.  There’s no doubt in my mind the NRX is the most versatile 8 weight out there.  If I had to pick a rod that could do it all and do it nearly perfect, this is it.  Buy it.  Try it... (On the lawn only).  If you don't like it, send it back for a full refund and you'll only be out the shipping.   

Handcrafted with pride in Woodland, WA. 

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 300 grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20
Slightly softer tip and more feel than the Scott S4s, Sage Method, Sage ONE, T&T Soloar and Hardy ProAxis X.  This rod casts very accurately and is slightly stiffer than the Orvis H2, St. Croix Legend Elite, Beulah Opal, Rugged Creek and Mystic Reaper.  The swing weight on this rod is dreamy for such a powerful rod.   BVK power and soft tip feel strikingly similar, however the NRX is smoother and more fun to cast.  I found myself not wanting to put it down as it kept hitting the target over and over. 

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20
Goosebumps. While other rods got the job done and were able to hit the pie plate occasionally, I felt with the NRX I could hit the plate 50% of the time or better, even with a slight cross breeze.   Perhaps the most graceful rod to cast at this distance, I had to keep in mind not to punch the power in as quickly as I might be able to with a Sage ONE, Method, or Scott S4s. When my power was applied with a smooth and more efficient stroke I got the best results.  Anglers who are used to stiffer rods may throw tailing loops with this rod at first until they learn to apply the power more smoothly.

Performance at 80 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Wow, this rod means business.  With the right timing this rod unloads a  tremendous amount of power with reasonable accuracy.  I would have given the NRX a 20 here, but I felt like the Hardy ProAxis, Loop CrossFlatsman, and Sage One were slightly better.  Long Bomb points?  Ah... yeah...  Need I mention Steve's untouchable warchest of World Distance Casting Championship wins?  Or his 40+ US Casting Championship wins since the age of 16?  

 

2. (tie) ST. CROIX LEGEND ELITE SALTWATER 9’#8 $480   57.5/60

St. Croix Legend Elite Saltwater

Buy Now

St. Croix has created a niche for themselves in the fly fishing world by producing high-end rods at very reasonable prices.  Especially for rods made here in the USA.  St. Croix uses the same high-quality raw materials found in the most expensive rods, including the latest in nano-resin technologies, premium cork grips, and the highest modulus graphite available.  Most of St. Croix’s rods have a medium-fast action rather than an ultra fast action, hence they have a good mix of both feel and power.  Why doesn’t everyone own a St. Croix Legend Elite rod?  Good question, they should…

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8F SA bonefish, 250  Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20
While slightly heavier than the H2 overall, swing weight with this rod was still top-notch.  It felt so good in my hands, perfectly balanced with about as good a blend as you could get between feel and power.   Slightly softer than the NRX, this rod enabled me to dial in accuracy and hit the plate repeatedly.  Another rod I kept coming back to.  It was a real toss up whether to give my "best feel" award to the Legend Elite or the H2.  In the end I gave it to the H2, which I felt lighter and a smidge faster / more repsponsive.  

Performance at 60 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Incredible Accuracy, I really hit my rhythm with this rod.  It was one of the best in terms of feel, accuracy, and enough power for a slower casting style…  I have to admit, if I punched the power in too quickly I’d throw a tailing loop.   Casters who prefer faster, stiffer rods may struggle with this rod until they adjust to a smoother casting stroke.   As long as I let the rod do the work, it was spot on every time.

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
With the right timing this rod had line snapping power and great feel.  It wasn’t nearly as dependable as the slightly stiffer more powerful rods, which gave me the most confidence to go long.  Still for 90% of anglers who are not looking to cast 80-100 feet, this rod will make an excellent all around saltwater weapon.  It’s fun to cast and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  For technology that matches the best rods, I like how this rod will save you $300 and still enable you to fish on the same playing field as Loomis, Orvis, or Sage.

 

2. (tie)  SAGE METHOD Elite   9’#8    $1350  – 57.5/60

Sage Method

Buy Now

Sage tells us that one hundred thousand Sage rods have been produced since their introduction in 1965!   The Method is Sage’s latest high-tech rod, replacing the TCX.  Sage claims this is the fastest rod they have ever built and is designed for expert casters that can get the most out of extremely fast and stiff rods like this.  The Method redefines high-line speed with an impressively light swing weight, (think Sage ONE) yet with the smooth, accelerating power of the Xi3.  The Method has more feel than the ONE, and is much lighter and more fun to fish than the Xi3.

Many anglers (and also most of our testers) feel this rod will perform better with a 9-weight line.  At 35 feet I’d have to agree with them, but at 60 and 80 feet or beyond I thought an 8-weight line was the better match, making the rod feel lighter and more lively than when it was flexed with a 9.  The method’s stiffer tip (like Sage ONE) made it one of the very best rods I tested while fishing a 300 grain line and two big streamers in a 50 mph wind on the Yellowstone.   

I think anyone who ends up purchasing a Method will never regret it.  It has that perfect blend of power and feel for saltwater and freshwater use.   In the same way that the Z-Axis felt like the perfect all around trout action, the Method embodies the properties of the perfect all around saltwater rod.  I also suspect it is more durable than ONE, in the same way the Z-axis was more durable than the XP.  You can pick up the standard 9 foot #8 method for $810 but it is nice to have that extra tip, the titanium seat and the larger, heavier guides.

Preferred Line match:  WF-9-F in Close, WF-8-F SA 45-60 feet, 300 grain DC Rio

Performance  at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20 
On the money accuracy and surprisingly good feel for such a notoriously stiff stick.   Other casters penalized the Method in close for lack of feel, but I felt it’s light feel and extraordinary accuracy outweighed its slight lack of feel.  Bottom line, with this rod in my hand, I hit the target every time…

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20
Delightful and fun to cast.  Supremely accurate and easy to control loops, line tracking, and power.   A no-nonsense rod with the ability to get the job done.  I went back to this rod a few times throughout the test and each time I cast it I was impressed, especially between 45-60 feet.

Performance at 80 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Timing had to be perfect, but when I backed off and let the rod do the work it produced cleaner and tighter loops with greater accuracy.  Still, I had to knock it down a point or two since I felt the Sage ONE, Hardy Pro Axis, Loomis NRX, and Scott S4s did a better job laying it out long.

2. (tie)  Sage ONE    9’#8     $785    57.5/60

Sage ONE

Buy Now

Since the beginning in 1980 Sage has always had at least one high-octane rod model in their line up.  The Sage ONE certainly fits that description.   The ONE is similar to the Method in the fact that it too is super light, however it is very slightly softer overall. The actions are very similar, both fast.   In the same way that the XP brought lightning fast speed to the trout world, the ONE brings the same characteristics to the salt.  Several of us at the shop also use this rod in Montana as our go to streamer rod since it is super light and easy to cast all day long, even throwing two large streamers and a 300 grain sinking line.

Word to the wise… while these rods are incredibly light and offer extremely high performance, we’ve found they are also on the brittle side.  If you accidently hit your rod tip with a heavily weighted lead eye, plan on it exploding sometime later in the day.  Or if you happen to hook an underwater rock or branch with your fly, definitely be careful trying to free it by pointing the rod directly at the snag and breaking your tippet instead of the rod.  If you happen to break your high-end Sage during the summer, don’t expect to see it back any time soon.  We had several rods come back from warranty repair that took six weeks or more.

Preferred Line match: WF-8-F SA 45-60 feet, 300 grain DC Rio

Performance  at 35 feet:  18.5 points out of 20 
This rod feels super light in my hands and tracks perfectly.  It is easy to hit the plate time and time again but I’m not getting the feel of the best rods at this distance. 

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
With 60 feet of line out this rod really starts to come into its prime.  I can pick up the entire 60 feet and laser it right back down on the plate. While accuracy is there, like the Scott S4s, I’m not getting the same feel as the NRX or Method Elite.

Performance at 80 feet:  20 points out of 20
Wow.  This rod is seriously impressive at 80 feet and beyond.  

 

3. TEMPLE FORK BVK   9’#8   $279.95    57/60

TFO BVK

Buy Now

If you’re looking for the best value rod out there, (in other words the rod with the highest performance per ratio of dollar spent), then look no further.  Think of this rod as a NRX junior, with a similar blend of power and punch.  And for good reason - Lefty Kreh has often been noted as one of greatest fly casters of all time, and he designed this rod.  BVK are his initials.  

About the only hiccup we ran into with the BVK is that it is more fragile than other rods.  As far as I know, they do not use the same (or any) nano-resin that is used in higher end rods such as the NRX, Orvis Helios, Hardy ProAxis, Sage ONE and Method or St. Croix’s Legend Elite.   They just don’t seem to be as tough.   What’s a logical way around this?  Buy an extra tip, especially if you’re headed out on a week long fishing trip somewhere remote.  The other option – buy two BVK rods at $279.95 and you still will have spent $300 less than on a Winston, Sage, or Orvis!

Another minor change I’d like to see if the BVK ever does a revamp is for them to slap on a reel seat like the Mangrove.  As is, the small locking rings are barely OK, but sand and grit can get into the bands easily and begin to jam them up, making it hard to get your reel off.  Of course now that TFO offers a custom shop, one could easily ask for a Mangrove cork grip and reel seat on a BVK, or get even fancier if they wished to.   

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 300 grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

The swing weight feels terrific, accuracy is near perfect, and the overall flex feels phenomenal… what more could I ask out of any rod, much less a rod that costs $250?! This rod is an incredible value.  I would have scored it a perfect 20 but the Sage Method 7-weight, H2, Legend Elite, and NRX had slightly better feel.

Performance at 60 feet:  19.5 points out of 20

Not many rods felt better to me in terms of the overall balance between power and feel. This rod feels light, nimble, accurate, and easy to cast.  Like the NRX, I can punch it into the wind, or cast it as gently as I would a 5 weight.  Even in a cross wind this rod had 60 feet in the bag with ease, and accurate to boot.

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20

At this daunting distance the BVK finally started to struggle to perform like the NRX, Sage ONE, Scott S4s, and Hardy Pro-Axis.  Still, for most anglers this distance is really asking a lot.  The 10% of anglers who need a reliable rod at this distance will have to suck it up and pay more money to have it all. Hats off to Lefty and TFO for coming together to create an affordable rod with this amount of performance built into it.

 

4.  Scott S4s   9’#8   $775    56.5/60

Scott S4s

Buy Now

Wow.  This rod is not at all the same S4s we tested back in 2011.  The 2011 version was much, much softer and while it felt great at 35 feet, it lacked the power to throw at 60 and 80 feet accurately.  Well, one thing is for certain, this rod no longer lacks power!  And I have to admit, while it’s feel was much stiffer than the NRX at close and mid range, my results were equally as good.  If anything, the S4s was better in the fact that I could punch it quickly and not worry about throwing a tailing loop.  In a high-pressure situation (such as a 10 pound bonefish that just showed up), most people have the tendency to freak out and punch in the power quickly.  Even if you did that with this rod, it still wouldn’t throw a tailing loop.  I have to say I was impressed with the character of this rod, they way it performed, and how bulletproof it is. 

Originally we wanted to test the Scott Radian, since we knew how well the 5 weight performed.  We tried to get one, but our rep declined, thinking we wouldn’t like it due to the fact that it’s too soft to be a good saltwater rod.  After talking to several people who agreed, and then tip shaking one in a local Montana fly shop, clearly the S4s is the better 8 weight rod.

Paying credit where credit is due I personally feel Scott has brought out a seriouly great game the past couple years.  A long time ago we used to carry Scott rods and sold a ton of G2's which we loved but to be 100% honest the next few rods we didn't really care for and had trouble selling.   Then this year Dobson brought by the Radian and we tested it against the Zenith and it was very close, perahps a little feel and smidge less power.  Point being it was one of the few rods that I felt could hang with the 9'#5 Zenith, and it's made in CO. Impressive. 

And now Jamie Allen brought his 9'#8 S4s which to me feels nothing like the 9'#8 S4s we tested in 2011.  No offense, but there's no way it would have held its own up to the NRX.  Now, seeing it blaze accurate casts in at 60 feet one after another Scott has me re-thinking.   The orginal S4s we tested years back weighed 4.0 oz, while this S4s weighs in a little heavier on average (4.2 oz) its swing weight is lighter and really casts well. Speaking of casting well, Jamie busted out his 6 weight S4s just for fun.  I was blown away how light it was yet how much power if could produce.  Funny,  even though we were doing an 8-weight shootout, each trying to find our favorite 8-weights and here I am lusting for this 6 weight more than all of them.   But alas, I new a new rod like a hole in the head...

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 300 DC Rio sink tip

Performance at 35 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Extremely accurate and to the point, this rod threw perfect cast after perfect cast.  The only downside for me was lack of feel compared to the NRX, St. Croix Legend Elite, and even the Sage Method.  Never-the-less when I back off the power a little and used more wrist this rod was able to delivery both a delicate and accurate presentation.

Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20
Accurate for sure, but casting it head to head with the NRX it was clear the Loomis had the edge on feel.  Still, the line tracking with this rod is incredible and I have to say it was hard to throw a bad cast with this rod in hand.  I think if Scott made the tip a touch more flexible the rod would have better feel and also a nicer swing weight without sacrificing too much power. 

Performance at 80 feet:  19 points out of 20
Loops are tight and line control (and feel) is similar to that of the Sage ONE.  No matter how hard I push this rod I can’t seem to punch it hard enough to throw a tailing loop.   This is the first Scott rod I’ve had the chance to cast in a shootout that I’ve wanted to own.  Its a shame we didn't have one to take out streamer fishing and try my streamer rid in the wind as I think it would have been one of the best.  I'm still giving it long bomb points as I could see it's potential on the Boca Grand soccer field.  

 

5.  ORVIS HELIOS 2 - Tip Flex   9’#8   $850    56/60

Orvis Helios 2

Buy Now

The Helios 2 was one of the sweetest rods in our 2014 shootout, and perhaps the most improved rod.  (From the original Zero Gravity Helios 1, which was too stiff and had little feel).  This rod absolutely oozes feel and has an almost ideal swing weight to it.  It felt so natural to cast at normal fishing distances that I found myself not caring how it performed at 80 feet.  To me having the perfect rod in close was well worth the sacrifice, since I feel my chance of hooking and landing a fish within 35-50 feet is much better than from 70 feet or farther. 

I had the chance to fish this rod on the Yellowstone with a 300 grain sinking line in a steady 40 mph wind and I have to say it passed the test.  While the NRX, Sage ONE, and Sage Method were better, the H2 certainly held its own and also was by far the most fun when playing a 20+ inch brown trout.   But on this softer rod, a 200-250 grain head would be better. 

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 250 grain DC Rio

Performance  at 35 feet:   20 points out of 20
Noticeably lighter feel in hand than the Sage Method 8 weight, Xi3, T&T, Scott, and most others.  The Helios 2’s softer tip made it a close casting killer, with assassin like accuracy yet ninja like delicacy and stealth.  While it wasn’t necessarily more accurate than other top scoring rods at 35 feet, it was more fun to cast and having more fun is what fishing is all about. Best Feel?  No doubt about it, although the St. Croix Legend Elite and Sage Method 9'#7 also put me in my happy place...

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
The H2’s light swing weight combined with its velvet smooth feel is nothing short of dreamy.  The compromise of the softer tip however is that I had to be more careful of how I applied my power.  If I packed my power in too quickly I’d throw a tailing loop.  Once I adjusted my casing stoke a little this rod felt sweet, but it’s not the puncher that the Scott S4s or Sage ONE are.  The NRX was quite a bit stiffer as was the BVK.

Performance at 80 feet:  17 points out of 20
Now I really have to let the rod take it’s time.  Laying the power in too quickly results in a tailing loop.   Still, with perfect timing expert casters should have no problem getting this rod to perform.  If casting long distances consistently was my main concern, then the H2 probably wouldn’t be my weapon of choice.   I suppose this is the tradeoff for having such a sweet weapon while fishing in close where it counts most.

 

6. (tie) SAGE MEHTOD 9’#7  (with 8 line)  $810    55.5/60

Sage Method 7 weight

Buy Now

If you’re looking for the ultimate lightweight bonefish rod,  I’d be looking hard at the Orvis Helios 2 or the Sage Method 7-weight.  The main difference is that the Method has a stiffer tip, and will likely quench the thirst for those who love fast action rods that produce blazingly high-line speeds.

No question, the 7-weight Sage Method is a damn sweet rod, and in essence, really more of a 7.5 or 8 weight rod that is extremely light, powerful, and smooth.  Still, I think for my money (and my wish to fish big streamers here in Montana) I’m sticking with the 8-weight version. 

Preferred Line Match:  WF-7-F SA Bonefish, 200 grain sinking DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20
This rod feels more like a trout rod than a saltwater stick, with exceptional feel and a perfect blend of accuracy and power.   While most every rod could cast accurately at this distance, it felt like this rod was designed for it.

Performance at 60 feet: 18.5 points out of 20
This rod shined in terms of a light swing weight, great feel, and fun, but at this middle distance, it wasn’t up to par with the best 8 weights in terms of accuracy and power.  If I was concentrating on Belize bonefish (1-2 pounders), this might be my rod of choice.  It would also make for a fantastic chubby/rubbie rig (a size 8 Chubby Chernobyl followed by a size 8 Pat’s Rubberleg) on the Yellowstone or Madison.  For larger bonefish, heavy streamers, and windy days… experts only. 

Performance at 80 feet:  17 points out of 20
Perhaps the ultimate lightweight bonefish rod, this rod was not a gun slinger at long distance.  Unless you have an injury that prohibits you from making powerful casts, or unless you just want a super lightweight outfit, I feel the Method 8 weight is a better all-around rod.  The 8 weight at 85 feet = shoot and snub.  The 7 weight at 85 feet = shoot and pray. 

 

6. (tie) HARDY PROAXIS-X   9’#8   $699   55.5/60

Hardy ProAxis X

Buy Now

Haters are going to hate, and one thing that’s easy to hate is extra weight.  A heavy swing weight is really the only thing holding this rod back from a podium finish.  We know this is highly achievable for Hardy (look at their nearly flawless Hardy Proaxis-X 1 pc), and therefore very disappointing that this rod has so much potential yet fails to challenge the best 4-pc. eight weight rods.  Does this rod track extremely well?  Yes.  Does it have a ton of reserve power?  Yes.  Does it have a smooth flex and feel to it?  Yes.  Does it hit the target plate time and time again?  Yes. Does it feel nice and light in your hand?  No.  Will I be fishing it?  No.  Enough said…

If you want this much power out of a rod, yet would rather have a much lighter rod check out the G. Loomis CrossCurrent, which is still my all-time favorite streamer rod for throwing two big streamers on a 300 grain line here on Montana’s big freestone rivers.

Preferred Line Match:   WF-9-F SA Bonefish Taper;  300 Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
User beware, this rod is crazy accurate but it’s also tends to be a real plate slapper with more power than Thor could harness.  No question will anglers spook fish with this rod if they are not careful to back off the power and consciously try to get the fly to land lightly.  I can see it still doing well in a casting competition, but plan on re-uping your membership to the gym.

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
On point and deadly accurate this rod is like a freight train, the kind that is hard to slow down once it gets going… On casts slightly further than 60 feet I noticed it was easy to overshoot my imaginary target. One good thing I noticed however was how much more line I could pick up off the grass with this rod, on average I could comfortably pick up an extra 15-20 feet with this beast! The down side to all this power was that it had less feel and it was hard to get any kind of a delicate presentation.  Still, like the Scott and T&T, this rod was nearly impossible to throw tailing loops with.  For this reason, it might be a good client rod.  That and the fact that your client would likely want to call it a day by 3:00PM from being so arm-weary). 

Performance at 80 feet:  20 points out of 20
Finally I’m willing to forgive this rod’s lack of finesse and overbearing weight for sheer, raw power.  While physically this rod was still a work out to throw long, it was a no brainer in terms of hitting the sweet spot and ripping a 100 footer with ease, even when timing or wind is qustionable.   The Hardy ProAxis X was my most consistent rods at 80 feet and easily my best over 100.  If there really is a sasquatch, he's fishing this rod...

 

7.  Loop Cross S1 Flatsman   9’#8     $845     55/60

Loop Cross S1 Flatsman

Buy Now

For me, it’s massive weight was the Loop Cross S1 Flatsman’s only major hiccup.   I hate flimsy 8-weights and this rod is not at all flimsy.  It fires with authority!   Even though its swing weight was much heavier than the winners, I still felt like this rod delivered smooth, raw power.  The space age like reel seat looks cool, but perhaps it’s missing metal mass is one reason swing weight is heavier than rods with more solid real seats.  All and all a great rod that was nearly impossible to throw a tailing loop with.      

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 300 Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
Great feel, with delicate enough presentations  No major complaints.  This rod was OK at this distance, but gave up a little to the  St. Croix Legend Elite, NRX, BVK, and the Sage Methods. 

Performance at 60 feet:   19 points out of 20
Kicks ass at this distance.  Sweet tight loops almost every cast.  This rod feels lively and spunky like a pogo stick ready to bounce after I kick in the after burners.   Not quite as forgiving as some of the other rods but good casters will be able to do wonders with it.

Performance at 80s feet: 18 points out of 20
This rod gives me the confidence that I would expect out of a powerful, yet light 8- weight weapon.  Not only can I hit this distance quite consistently, but I’m able to dial in my accuracy as well.  The line tracks very well and overall it seems like this rod is easy to cast.  While this rod didn’t receive perfect accolades at any specific distance, it still feels like a well-designed all-around rod, leaning on the powerful side. 

 

8 (tie) ST. CROIX IMPERIAL   9’#8    $220    54/60

St. Croix Imperial

Buy Now

St. Croix has always made great rods at a reasonable price.  Are you going to get the best eight-weight rod, purchasing the Imperial?  No, but you are going to get a rod that will hold it’s own and do almost everything you could ask of a rod that costs nearly three times as much.  If you don’t particularly like ultra-fast action or stiff rods, you might look into this rod.   You’ll definitely want to cast with a less aggressive stroke with this rod, (in essence save your energy and cast efficiently).  As long as you slow it down and let the rod do the work, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  The Imperial is an excellent rod for beginners, since even when I tried to pack my power in too quickly to force a tailing loop, the rod simply threw a good cast.  Pretty hard to beat for the money, not to mention it’s handcrafted in Park Falls, WI.

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F Bonefish, 250  grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
Fantastic feel and accuracy for the price.  No question it’s heavier than many others, but all and all it still feels pretty darn good.  No real hang-ups or complaints. 

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Actually this rod feels quite good.  It reminds me a little of the Sage Xi3’s heaver and slower action, but given it’s reasonable price, I’m rating it higher.  One good thing I noticed is that no mater how hard I pack the power in it is difficult for me to throw a tailing loop.  The fly might not be anywhere near the fish when it hits the water, but at least the leader won’t be in a tangled mess.

Performance at 80 feet:  17 points out of 20
Slower and heavier than my favorite rods but it still feels solid with zero tailing loops.  I think for a beginner this might be the best starter rod due to its low price and it’s forgiving nature.  Intermediate anglers, and expergts are better off spending the money and getting the much lighter and higher performing Legend Elite.

 

8. (tie)  BEULAH OPAL    9’#8       $620   54/60

Buelah Opal

Buy Now

For those who are not after a super stiff 8-weight rod and rather enjoy a rod with a smooth feel the Beulah Opal is hard to beat.  Beulah has always made sharp looking rods, often referred to as a “poor man’s Burkheimer” for their notably detailed cork grips and tasteful guide wraps.  What I found even more impressive was the feel and character of these Beulah rods.  

Similar in flex to the St. Croix Legend Elite,  the Opal is not your Scott S4s or Sage Method.  It’s much softer,  and in order to get it to perform well you have to slow down your casting stroke.  Once I was able to find the right rhythm of this rod it was down right zen.

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 250 grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
This rod felt a tiny bit heavier than the St. Croix Legend Elite, about on par with the Imperial.  It’s softer action performed best with a more relaxed casting stroke.  Accuracy was impressive but when it comes down to it this rod is all about great feel. 

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Smooth and relaxing, this rod belongs in the hands of a zen master.  Punching this rod with a quick power stroke most certainly was NOT the way to get it to perform best.   While with an easy casting stroke and the wind at my back, this distance was effortless, I  couldn’t help but wonder what this rod would do into a stiff headwind. 

Performance at 80 feet:  17 points out of 20
I really had to slow down my casting stroke, and only when my application of my power was smooth was I able to throw it anywhere close to the target.  With a quicker stroke I was getting tailing loops and tangles…

 

9. THOMAS AND THOMAS SOLAR   9’#8   $800  53.5/60

Thomas and Thomas Solar

Buy Now

Another rod that was greatly improved from the older generation of Thomas and Thomas rods.  This rod feels much lighter to me than previous saltwater T&T’s, while maintaining their incredible level of craftsmanship.  This rod is really easy on the eyes and it handles itself pretty darn well.  I wish it was a little lighter and faster, but that’s just me.  If you like a softer rod rod (like the St. Croix or Beulah) be sure to look into these gorgeous rods. 

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish,  250 grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
The T&T was noticeably slower and heavier than other the rods.  Still, I had nothing to complain about in terms of accuracy and smooth feel.  The most impressive thing about the rod was it’s superior finish and attention to detail.  Only the Scott was on par in terms of craftsmanship.  Due to it’s impressive looks I suppose I was a little disappointed it didn’t cast like my favorite 8-weights,  which were faster and lighter with quicker / softer tips. 

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
This rod’s action reminds me of Sage’s late Xi2.  It’s very powerful and wonderfully smooth, but it’s also feels very heavy in my hand and much slower than the Hardy Pro-Axis, (one of the other heavier rods). While I can’t complain about accuracy, it just doesn’t feel as lively as the other new rods.  98% of this I would contribute to its heavier swing weight and slower action.

Performance at 80 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
Heavy indeed.   This rod requires a substantial amount of effort and in my hands best achieved this distance by aiming high and opening up my loop.  Accuracy hence went out the window, as did my confidence.  Still folks who tend to gravitate towards a more traditional, slower casting stroke will likely appreciate this rod and it’s heirloom quality. 

 

10. (tie) RUGGED CREEK TRADITIONAL 9’#8  $189   53/60

Rugged Creek

Buy Now

Similar in feel and action to the St. Croix Imperial, I really had no complaints about this rod, especially when it costs $189.00!  For the angler on a budget, I think this rod matched with a Echo ion79 reel would satisfy almost anyone other than a gear freak.   The rod has a nice feel to it, enough power, and it’s the least expensive in the shootout.  Personally I didn't mind the brown color, kind of reminds me of the old Sage DS brown.  To be honest, to buy the very best all-around economical 8-weight, you're better off dishing out the extra $61 for a BVK.  But consider this: for less than the price of half the rods in this test ($750) you could get yourself a 9'#5, 9'#6, 9'#7, and a 9'#8 - completely covering you for your next bonefish trip AND all of next summer here in Montana.  For the money I think these rods felt legit.   

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 250 Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
This rod oozes feel, I thought it was one of the better rods I cast in close.  It was really fun to cast this rod at 35 feet.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
I felt this rod possessed a good balance of feel and accuracy when I used a slow and smooth casting stroke.  When I tried to punch it to quickly however, tailing loops were soon to follow.  Probably not a great rod for throwing heavy flies or on a windy day.

Performance at 80 feet:  17 points out of 20
Now I’m definitely having to take my time and concentrate on my casting rhythm.  Not what I’m used to but sometimes when you have so much feel in a rod you have to sacrifice power.

 

10.(tie) ADG COLORADO TITANIUM   9’#8   $499   53/60

ADG

Buy Now

Not many of the other casters cared for this rod.  While it wasn’t one of my favorite rods, I thought it definitely cast better than it looked.  It was certainly heavier than the podium finishers with a stiffer tip and not much feel.  Still, I felt pretty confident with this rod and think it would be a good beginner rod.  It was another rod that was almost impossible to throw tailing loops with.  I think with a better paint job and a $200 drop in price ADG would have a contender. As is, it simply makes more sense to buy a St. Croix Imperial, Ross RX, or TFO BVK.  

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 300 grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  17 points out of 20
My first impression is that the grip is too big and fat. Not much feel, this is a very fast, STIFF rod.  Tracking and accuracy were still excellent, but I’d rather have a tad more feel with a slightly softer tip.

Performance at 60 feet:  17.5 points out of 20
Looking down at this rod is different from all the others, not sure if I like the spiraling scrim line so much.  Trying to stay unbiased to the looks of this rod was hard but the bottom line is that I just couldn’t get this rod to perform the way I hoped it would.

Performance at 80 feet:  18.5 points out of 20
Not bad!  Now this stiffness of the rod is a big plus and I can punch the rod without fear of a tailing loop or tangle.  Accuracy is difficult to dial in since there is still a lack of feel.  This rod just needs a softer tip, which would improve the swing weight and also give it more feel like the NRX or BVK while still maintaining a strong backbone.  I proably would have given this rod a 19 at 100 feet.

 

11. (tie) SAGE Xi3     9’#8      $785     52/60

Sage Xi3

Buy Now

The Xi3 is still one of the smoother rods out there, and although it is heavier than the winners, it is still a good rod.  Finally it is clear to me that technology has improved, and this rod simply can’t hang with today’s top rods.  It’s still one of the most beautiful rods on the market with its brilliant blue color, easily one of my top three favorite color rods Sage has ever made.  My others are the Method and Sage One.

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 250 Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
Can’t complain about accuracy results, but the feel and weight of this rod are simply no longer a match for the latest and greatest.  Although this rod was designed to be a faster action, the extra weight gives it a much slower feel.   I do think the color of this rod is spectacular.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
The Xi3 is requiring WAY too much effort and strength to throw when compared to the others.  In a high tech world of increasingly higher modulus graphite and stronger, better performing resins, the Xi3 (at least in the 8 weight), is simply no match for either the ONE or the METHOD.  Since Jerry designed all of these rods, it’s clear to me that the Xi3 is next in line for improvement.

Performance at 80 feet:  17 points out of 20
Finally the clunky feel and heavier weight are forgiven for sheer, smooth power.  Distance is not a problem, although accuracy is more or less left up to luck.  I’m making it happen but I can tell the extra effort would make me tired at the end of the day, especially if I were pounding the banks from a drift boat.

 

11. (tie)  G.LOOMIS PRO 4X   9’#8     $360     52/60

G. Loomis Pro4x

Buy Now

For whatever reason, the Pro4X is a long way from being an NRX.  If you were hoping to get the same type of feel but without the $800 price tag, the choice is easy -  buy a BVK rather than the Pro4X.  The Pro4x performance was sub-par at every distance, even for a value rod.  Perhaps Loomis doesn’t want the Pro4x to challenge the performance of the NRX but I would have thought they’d come closer than this.  Don’t buy this rod in a 9 foot 8-weight, instead look to buy a Pro4X in either a switch or spey rod.  The Pro4x two handers have a much better value as well as superior performance over the 9 foot Pro4x rods.  

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 300 Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  17 points out of 20
Not bad. In terms of flex and feel but it’s noticeably heavier than other rods.   For less money and more feel I’d definitely go TFO BVK, or even the St. Croix Imperial.

Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20
Whew… if a rod is going to look this ugly it needs to perform a little better than this.  

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
Good but not great.  The heavy feel more or less takes this rod out of the running as the TFO BVK crushes all all distances, it has a much lighter swing weight and it's cheaper.   Do yourself a HUGE favor and save up for an NRX, even if it takes you another year. 

 

11. (tie)  ROSS RX     9’#8      $319     52/60

Ross RX

Buy Now

They say never judge a book by its cover, and this is one of those rods that you might want to cast before automatically dismissing.  First off, it has a fantastic swing weight and a lot of reserve power.  If feels really litght like the Orvis Access but with an action more similar to the Sage ONE.  I think if you're on a budget, and plan on casting as far as you can all the time with a light inexpensive rod, this is it.   

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F  SA Bonefish,   250 Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  17 points out of 20
Another stiff rod that didn’t perform as well in close as it did long.  It was good enough, but the BVK, and the  Imperial, felt much better at this distance.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20
Better for sure.  I could definitely get used to this rod, but the bottom line is that the BVK can cast circles around it and costs less money.

Performance at 80 feet:  18 points out of 20
Finally the RX’s stiff tip is working to its advantage.  Somehow I’m not getting the feel or confidence that I am with the top rods, but I also think this rod is better at throwing long than the softer rods.

 

12.  MYSTIC REAPER    9’#8     $249     49/60

Mystic Reaper

Buy Now

Another disappointing rod, since the 5-weight was our value winner.  The reaper reminds me of the Winston Passport.   Both have great feel but lack the  power to be a reliable 8-weight.  Keeping it simple: by the 5-weight Mystic Reaper instead, the 8 is simply too wimpy to get 'er done.  This rod could definitely use a re-vamp, including a bigger tip-top.

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish Line, 200 Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
At this distance the rod felt great, but I accuracy drastically lugged behind other rods in it's price range.  The line didn’t want to track well; it was actually one of the few rods I found dificult to hit the plate with at 35' and that was minus the sea breeze.  The light swing weight felt great though.

Performance at 60 feet:  16 points out of 20
Now the good feel is starting to fade as adjectives like mushy, spongy, and weak begin to arise.   We had a tailwind the day I was casting this rod and it still didn’t track well and lacked the “pop” of the BVK or Imperial.  Bottom line is in the 8 weight version tested here, is WAY too soft.

Performance at 85 feet:  15 points out of 20
Only the best of casters will hit 85’ with this rod and those that do will likely complain about its lack of power and accuracy.  As I mentioned before, if you’re going to get this rod, get it in the 5 weight version, do NOT buy it in the 8 weight.

 

13.  WINSTON BIII SX 9’#7 (with 8 line)    $835    48/60

Winston BIIISX

Buy Now

I’m a Winston fan and perhaps that's why I was so dissapointed with the BIII-SX series.  Two words:  Tip Heavy.  The swing weight on the BIII-SX 7-weight was a whopping 10.6 oz. and the 8-weight was even worse at 11.9 oz.  Meanwhile, rods like the Sage Method 7-weight and Orvis H2 came in at 8.5 and 8.7 respectively. 

Winston makes a lot of great rods but the BIII-SX rods are are too stiff and too tip heavy, (at least in the 5,6,7,8 weight rods that I've tried).  The 9'#11 BIII-SX suprisingly has a much softer tip, (which is great for laid up tarpon but not so good for casting into the wind or for the long bomb).  It seems strange to have a rod series that is not consistent acrross the board.  In my opinion, Winston needs an 8-weight rod with a similar swing weight to the BIIIx but with the power of a BIII-SX.  I know that's a lot easier said than done.  As is, the BIIIx has great feel but is too soft for a do-it-all rod.  The BIII-SX on the other hand has great power but is way too stiff and heavy in my hand.  If they could find a happy compromise between these two rods they'd have a real winner...  

FYI, Winston's best selling rod in the BIII-SX series is the 9'#9 weight, which has quite a following.

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 300 grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:   16 points out of 20
Better than the 8-weight BIII SX for sure, but still one least impressive rods I cast all day.  Way too stiff and WAY too heavy in swing weight.  

Performance at 60 feet:   16 points out of 20
Again, unnecessarily heavy and stiff, even when overlining it with a WF-8-F bonefish line.   At least you can pick up a good amount of line, like the Hardy Proaxis but on the forward cast feel and accuracy are not what I'd expect for $800+.  

Performance at 80 feet:  16 points out of 20
Better, but still a rug beater.

 

14. TEMPLE FORK MANGROVE    9’#8    $250    47.5/60

TFO Mangrove

Buy Now

Well, to put it bluntly this rod was the biggest disappointment of the test for me.  Knowing Flip Pallot’s reputation as a great angler, great guide, and wonderful casting instructor I had high hopes for the Mangrove.  Two things killed this rod for me - it's super heavy swing weight and it's strange parabolic action. The Mangrove had the highest swing weight in our shootout - a massive 12 ounces!  Compare that to the Sage Method's 8.5 ounces and there's a huge difference in feel.  

On the cosmentic side, I thought TFO nocked it out of the park with the larger locking rings and threads on the reel seat.  The alternating cork rings at the top of the grip is a great idea, (depending on the weight rod you'll have a different number of contrasting cork rings).  The built in hook keeper is another great idea (a slot at the top of the reel seat that enables you to place your fly in it and not tear up your cork). The Magrove logo looks cool and I like the dark burnt sienna blank which is pleasing to the eye without being too bright or reflective.  

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 250-300 Grain DC Rio

Performance at 35 feet:  16.5 points out of 20
Wow.   I had high hopes for this rod, but it proved to be significantly heavier, slower, and softer than almost all the rods.  It was one of the only rods that I struggled with accuracy at this distance.   Even in close it didn’t feel like the line tracked very well.  All I can think of is that Flip went completely old school with this rod, and was going for that more parabolic action that rods of the 70’s and 80’s seemed to possess.      

Performance at 60 feet:  16 points out of 20
Again I want to score this rod higher but so many of the other rods performed better.  I can’t imagine casting this rod into the wind with a larger EP style fly or a heavily weighted bonefish fly.  I also can’t imagine casting it way under the overhanging mangroves as the name implies.   Without being mean this rod just doesn’t cut it for me.

Performance at 80 feet:  15 points out of 20
No way.  This rod feels super heavy and is too much work.  Perhaps if I took more time to get used to it I would like it more.  I guess it just goes to show how different everyone’s tastes are.   I’d recommend the BVK instead, which almost feels like the polar opposite of this slow and heavy stick.

 

15.  WINSTON BIIISX 9’#8 (with 8 line)     $835    47/60

Winston BIII-sx

Buy Now

Instead of kicking the Winston BIII-SX while its down, I’d rather plug how sweet the new Winston BIII-LS rods feel.  They are the polar opposite of the SX rods with delightfully light swing weights and an incredible zen-like feel.  They also come with the same gorgeous paint job that Winston is famous for, and your choice of a beautifully burled wooden reel seat or a futuristic metal on graphite reel seat.  These rods are handcrafted right here in Montana.  If you are a Winston fan, do yourself a favor and forget about the BIII-SX for now.  Look at the BIII-LS instead and you won’t go wrong...

 Preferred Line Match:  WF-9-F SA Bonefish,  300 Grain DC RIO

Performance at 35 feet:  15 points out of 20
Ouch.  This is the prettiest rod but the ugliest caster of the bunch.

Performance at 60 feet:  16 points out of 20
Bring out the ice and mole skin if you plan on casting this rod all day long.   

Performance at 80 feet:  16 points out of 20
I know everyone has different tastes, but I just didn't enjoy casting this rod as much as the others.

 

James’ Casting Notes on the One-piece rods

1. (tie) HARDY PROAXIS-X  8’10” #8     $659    59.5/60

Hardy ProAxis X 1pc

Buy Now

The Hardy ProAxis 8 weight 1 pc rod is one of my all-time favorite rods ever made.  As soon as Hardy brought out their 1pc models, I immediately placed my order and have been loving this rod ever since.  It will throw a 300 grain sinking line with ease, (not to mention with two big, meaty streamers), yet it is so light it feels like a 6 weight in my hand.  Throw a WF-8-F GPX line on it and it’s one of the best Salmonfly Fever rods I’ve ever had in the boat.

One thing I noticed while casting both of these 1 pc rods against the rest of the 8 weight 4 pc rods was how much smoother and lighter they felt.  Although the swing weight figures don’t show it, my personal perceived overall feel in hand was that these rods were not 8 weights but 6 weights! 

Another thing I found interesting was that the rods that the casters actually fish (other than Jamie Allen who uses his 4pc Scott S4s) is that George and Bill and myself all fish and prefer the 1 pc rods, either the G. Loomis or the Hardy.  Are they inconvenient for travel?  Of course.  Are they way sweater to fish with?  Only you can be the judge but I sure think so…  

Although these 1 pc rods score a tie finish, all things being equal, cheaper is better!  

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 250 grain DC Rio for most anglers, 300 DC for the insane 

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20
Wow!  Hands down better than all of the 4 pc rods.   It feels as light as a 6 weight with the power of an 8-weight.  Only the NRX 1 pc felt as good in close.  I could  deliver delicate,  yet very accurate casts with this rod. 

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20
This rod has an incredibly light swing weight.  Most the other rods are 9’ and since this rod is slightly shorter it feels much lighter in my hand yet the reserve power is uncanny.  The only other rods in the world I like equal or better at this distance are the NRX 4pc, NRX 1pc, St. Croix Legend Elite, and Loomis CrossCurrent (not tested).

Performance at 80 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
You’d think a shorter rod might struggle to go the distance… not so!  Since it’s shorter it actually creates more line speed and with the right timed double haul this rod flicks out long bombs as easily as Joe Flacco.  The only rods that worked better for me at this extreme distance are the Hardy Proaxis 4pc, and the Loomis CrossCurrent (not tested).  The Scott S4s, Sage ONE, and NRX were close.


 

1. (tie)  G.LOOMIS NRX Pro 1  8’10” #8   $725    59.5/60

G. Loomis NRX 1 pc

Buy Now

G.Loomis has given us a wonderful one-piece rod that is the equal of my favorite Hardy Proaxis One-piece.  Thanks to the 27 time world casting champion – Steve Rajeff, expert anglers can now purchase a saltwater rod that truly has the capability to do it all.  This rod casts well in close with delicacy and feel, it rips out 60 footers with accuracy and ease, it will throw long with the best of them, AND thanks to 3M patented nano resin technology - it’s extremely durable for such a high performance rod.

Preferred Line Match:  WF-8-F SA Bonefish, 250 grain DC Rio for most anglers, 300 DC for the insane 

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20
This rod has a slightly softer tip and more feel than the Scott S4s, Sage Method, Sage ONE, T&T Solar and Hardy Proaxis-X 4-pc.  This rod casts extremely  accurately, and is stiffer than rods like the Orvis H2, St. Croix Legend Elite, and Beulah Opal.  The swing weight on this rod is dreamy for such a powerful rod.   BVK power and soft tip feel strikingly similar however the NRX is smoother and more fun to cast.  I found myself not wanting to put it down as kept hitting the target over and over. 

Performance at 60 feet:   20 points out of 20
Again very impressive. If you haven’t tried one of these one-piece rods, you really owe it to yourself to give it a whirl.  While it is not a world traveler,  it is so much better than all the 4 pc rods we tested, even the 4 pc NRX itself.  Night and Day difference in accuracy and feel with incredible smoothness.  Casting this rod is the equivalent of drinking a perfectly aged Cabernet or savoring a good single malt Scotch.

Performance at 80 feet:  19.5 points out of 20
Almost dead even with the Hardy, with perhaps a bit more power.  Interestingly enough, I find this the opposite when comaping the Pro1 and ProAxis 1 pc 11-weight models.  As for the 8-weights, if you a looking for a bit more feel, go Hardy.  If you are looking for a bit more power, go Loomis.