2016 8-weight shootout
Comments by James Anderson
It’s the angler, not the rod
This year’s shootout was a real eye opener for me. I used to think I was a pretty good caster and that the old man was just in a realm of his own, (and for sure, he is one of a kind). But to show up and see what professional anglers, competition casters, and world-class casting instructors can do with a fly rod was humbling to say the least.
It was fun to watch these guys cast. Clearly they’ve fit their 10,000 hours in. Dusty Sprague had a different style when casting at 35 feet and his accuracy was unbelievable. Then he’d open up his casting stroke and really let it fly with a backcast that would make Jimmy Connors jealous. Skip Zink brought a bag of tricks, including his mangrove cast which was an under cast that trajected the fly in low to sweep under overhanging mangrove branches. Jamie Allen kept hitting the 80-foot plate again and again, making it look easy.
Then a guy named Leslie Holmes stepped onto the field and after shaking hands and introducing himself in his thick Irish accent, picked up one of the lowest scoring rods (at all distances) and proceeded to cast it into the backing, well past the 100 foot mark… “Yeah, it’ll do…” Damn. I remember thinking wow - the greenskeeper from across the way just waltzed in here and rocketed one of my least favorite rods. I wondered what he could do with one of the best rods. Later, I felt a little better to learn that Leslie aside from working at the golf course is a MCI (Master Casting Instructor), a THCI (Two Handed Casting Instructor), and an elected member of the CBOG (Casting Board of Governors) for the I.F.F.F.
He probably could have tied the line on to the tip of a broomstick and made it work, leaving me with the feeling that it wouldn’t hurt to brush my game up a little. Great tools, as sharp as they may be, are never as important as mastering your own set of skills. If you really want to bring your “A game” to the salt, then plan on spending some time getting used to your rod, no matter which rod you choose.
My Top Picks
That being said, there were a handful of rods that shined a little “brighter” than the rest. Maybe these rods suit my casting stroke better, or maybe I’ve just gotten more used to them over the years. Like the connection between Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, I feel like I have “good chemistry” with these rods, and that feeling of confidence gives these rods the edge over other rods… An edge worth paying more for. The bottom line – these rods gave me the most amount of confidence to get the job done when the moment matters most.
1. Scott Meridian ($865)
2. G. Loomis CrossCurrent GLX ($690)
3. G. Loomis NRX ($805)
4. St. Croix Legend Elite ($490)
5. Sage Motive or Orvis Recon ($450)
If you can afford one of the rods above, I’d say pull the trigger! Unless you are especially particular, I think you’ll be very happy with any of these rods. I think the most well rounded rods are the Scott Meridian, G. Loomis NRX, and St. Croix Legend Elite. The CrossCurrent has always been my favorite streamer rod, throwing a 24’ RIO DC300 grain sinking line. It’s a tight race between the Sage Motive, Orvis Recon, and Hardy Zephrus, all excellent rods. The Zephrus was a tad stiffer than the Orvis H2, but still a bit more power would be nice to see for an all-around 8-weight. Although I like the fit and finish of the Sage Motive better, I think the Orvis Recon is perhaps more durable and also a quicker warranty return should it break than the Motive.
6. Temple Fork Outfitters BVK ($279.95)
7. Fenwick Aetos ($189.95)
If spending $450 on a rod simply isn’t in the cards for you right now, I recommend buying the TFO BVK ($279.95) or the Fenwick Aetos ($189.95). The BVK has a deflection (and feel) similar to the G. Loomis NRX and has the edge over the Aetos for casting performance. One serious issue with the BVK series rods is their notorious reputation for breakage. Although their warranty is the fastest and cheapest, (about a week turnaround and $35), it is still inconvenient to be down a weapon, especially if you are on a trip at a distant destination).
The Fenwick Aetos, although softer than the BVK, has a lighter swing weight and still packs a pretty strong punch. The Aetos is a very good rod, and when you consider how much it will cost you, it is easily my pick for the best inexpensive rod. I like it better than the Fenwick HMG as it is faster, lighter, and has better components and cork, although the HMG does have a stiffer, more powerful tip, which would be good for fishing streamers on sinking lines.
8. Echo Base ($99.99)
Last but not least, the Echo Base deserves a shout out in terms of price alone. Yes, the grip is too big, (but you can sand it down), the components and cork aren’t great, and you can’t push it quite as much as the top rods.
That being said, props to Tim and the Rajeff Sports team for making a quality product that doesn’t break the bank. This rod would make a great rod for learning anglers, as well as a great back up rod. Heck, at that price you could even leave it with your guide as an extra tip, which could be a huge deal for them in a foreign country where fly rods are hard to come by.
Shootout Surprises – the good, the bad, and the ugly
Seeing the Scott Meridian win the shootout as our undisputed best all-around 8-weight was no surprise. What was a surprise was that this was the number one rod for every tester. In past shootouts, at least one person liked a different rod better than our winner. This year’s win was unanimous. Perhaps the greatest compliment to the Scott Meridian was the fact that all the testers wanted to get one (even though they all own several 8-weight rods). I thought it was going to be a tighter race between the Meridian and the NRX, but to see such a landslide victory was impressive. (See the bottom of the page for a visual result on how these rods finished as if they were in a race). This year the Meridian smoked everyone the entire class.
There were other notable surprises as well. One being how well the Sage Motive and Orvis Recon did. Seeing how no one was in love with the Sage Salt I think we all expected the Motive to be even worse. Although the Motive (with it’s older generation III graphite) is heavier than the Salt, it felt much smoother and more powerful. Accuracy was spot on and it could carry a ton of line in the air. I’m convinced this is an Xi2 painted bright blue, but Sage says it’s different. Either way this is an excellent all-around saltwater rod for $450 as was the Recon.
The Orvis Recon 9’#8 was another pleasant surprise. It is considerably better than its 9’#5 little brother, and is one of the best value rods in the entire shootout. While you won’t get the beautiful fit and finish of the H2, you’ll get a more well rounded rod for a lot less money. The Recon still feels sweet in close but can also rip the long bomb, even into the wind – something all of the testers felt the H2 struggled at.
I was really looking forward to casting the Douglas DXF 8-weight, seeing how it was our pick for the best mid-priced 5-weight rod. Douglas, a new company since 2014 has made a shotgun start and I was thinking the DXF 8-weight was going to be a killer rod. Unfortunately it wasn’t anything like it’s 5-weight brother. The 8-weight version had one of the heaviest swing weights in the shootout, with vague feel and sub-par performance at all distances. The good news? Douglas has a new rod coming out soon called the “Sky” which we cast this summer and will be a far superior saltwater rod.
Seeing how much we love the action of the TFO BVK 8-weight, (in 2014 it finished 3rd overall), we were excited to cast TFO’s new Impact. After reading all the hype on the various websites about this rod we expected the Impact to be a true game changer that would set new industry standards, especially since it is their most expensive rod (other than some of their two handed rods). Building a rod with 6-weight power and calling it an 8-weight is not revolutionary. It is wrong. We tried this rod with every line recommended for it, including the Titan Taper, but this line bogged the already mushy action down even more! It left me wondering how TFO could design such a rod, and why they are pushing it so hard. It comes in models from 4-weight to 10 weight, so maybe there’s a cherry picker in the group that we are unaware of. For now stay away from the 8-weight and go with a BVK instead.
Special thanks to the dog park crew
For those of you considering doing your own shootout, you might want to re-consider before setting up at your local dog park, even when wide open spaces and short cut grass are at premium. Curious canines were coming over to check things out, accidently stepping on rods, eating the rest of our hi-vis indicator yarn, and tangling themselves in a mess of stripped out lines lying on the grass. I’m sure the folks at the dog park were surprised to see the yard overrun with old fly guys and I
know at times it felt like there were turf wars – so a shout out to the folks who put up with us – thanks for being patient and working with us!
Every few years, a fly rod comes along that truly stands head and shoulders above the rest. We've compared and tested a lot of rods over the past 10 years and many of those shootouts had tight finishes. This year we are pleased to report that the Scott Meridian blew everything away. Not even the former two-time 8-weight shootout champion – the G. Loomis NRX could hang with the Meridian’s lighter feel, impressive power, and tricked out components.
The thing that impresses me most about the Scott Meridian is its unique ability to cast well at all distances. Usually if a rod is great in close it lacks the power to throw well at longer distances (or vise-versa). I haven’t seen a rod perform well at all required distances since the Hardy Zenith 5-weight. The Meridian can cast with delicacy in close, it rips tight, accurate loops all day long at 60 feet, and it can throw 80-100 foot long bombs as well if not better than all the other rods on the market.
From top to bottom the Scott Meridian was engineered to be a great saltwater rod. The tiptop is large but light, as are large but thin titanium snake foot guides on the tip and second section. The oversized guides allow for line tangles to escape through the rod without pulling the tip off (or causing that ever frustrating break off). The thin diameter and lightweight titanium guides are also key to getting the Meridian’s swing weight down, which is one of the major reasons this rod feels so sweet to cast. The two stripping guides on the third section don’t squeak if your line isn’t dressed properly and are both large and light.
Another unique feature we see Scott utilizing is a different shaped grip from other fly rod manufactures. To my knowledge, Steve Rajeff was the first to create a different shaped grip (on the G. Loomis CrossCurrent GLX). Steve’s grip narrows towards the reel seat and was designed to help aid with maximum distance casting. The Meridian’s grip which was designed to be ergonomically correct has an added bonus – it makes your hand want to grip the rod a few centimeters higher than you normally would. By moving the your grip (aka fulcrum) closer towards the tip of the rod by even a miniscule amount you are making the swing weight feel lighter. The cork is very high grade and the fighting butt is larger than most other rods but not too big… just perfect for locking under your forearm or placing the butt against your body for even more fish fighting leverage.
The Meridian’s reel seat is also well thought out. They are one of the few in the industry who use type III hard coat anodizing on their aluminum reel seats. Although this is more expensive than type II anodizing, Scott feels (and we agree) that the benefit of having a reel seat with a much thicker and more abrasion resistant coating is better for a rod constantly coming in contact with coarse salt crystals – even if it costs you a little more upfront. The Meridian, like the Winston BIII Plus has an “8” on the sliding band so if you are running in the boat and have several different rods with you (an 8 for bones, a 9 for snook, a 10 for permit, and a couple of 11s or 12s for tarpon) you’ll know which rod to grab for the correct occasion. The twisting lock rings both have nice indentations on them for a better grip when locking your reel on tight, (or trying to get your reel off after a day or two of use on the ocean). Although the slide band has two cutouts, we like how the rest of the reel seat does not have any extra cutouts or 3D contours. This makes cleaning the rod easier and there are less spots for corrosion to fester, (attention LTS rods and TFO Impact).
Last but not least to complete the Scott Meridian’s signature look, it is finished in dark graphite grey, leaving the tape marks on the rod rather than sanding them off. Does sanding them off make the rod stronger? Probably not, but it does look cool once you get used to it. The guides are held down with grey thread with attractive Navy and cobalt blue highlights. Light white alignment dots make it easy to put this rod together straight and quickly, (unlike many overseas rods where the alignment dots are actually in the incorrect position).
Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20 Feels significantly lighter than the NRX. This rod produces tighter loops than everything out there, absolutely effortless and fun to cast off the tip. Accuracy is outstanding while still maintaining a lot of feel.
Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20 Another effortless performance. This rod belongs in every serious saltwater anglers arsenal, no matter what brand they ride for. It would also be an amazing streamer rod out west.
Performance at 80 feet: 20 points out of 20 Better than nearly every other rod for me. You can pack the power in quickly without having to get your timing perfect, which means less tailing loops in high pressure type situations. I feel confident casting this rod, even when the camera is rolling. Looking at the Meridian’s deflection I would never have guessed it could be so powerful!
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 With ease… this rod can truly do it all.
The NRX has always been a great rod, especially from 8-weight through 12-weight. Well, it has grown on me even more since it first came out. It is extremely durable, one of the best fish fighting rods on the market, and as versatile as it comes. Tried and tested, the NRX is (and will always be) one of the best 8-weight rods ever made…
Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Pleasing to say the least. I was really tempted to give this rod a perfect score but only owners of the Scott Meridian or Orvis H2 can say they have the best in close rods, (in terms of accuracy, feel, and presentation). Still, accuracy is perfect and feel is certainly well above average.
Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20 This rod is one of the best I’ve ever cast at 60 feet. All things are working in harmony and I don’t have to concentrate on making the cast – just look at the plate and let it rip with out thinking about it. Absolutely flawless.
Performance at 80 feet: 19 points out of 20 This rod has a lot of power – in fact – it actually has a stiffer tip than the CrossCurrent GLX. But the key to unlocking this rod’s power is to come through smoothly with your application of power. Once you are in the zone you can really rock and roll with this rod, but you have to hit that sweet spot or you’ll likely throw a tailing loop. Expert anglers and casters will benefit most from this rod. Beginners or folks who don’t have time to fish or cast once a week might do better with a Meridian, CrossCurrent, Legend Elite, Sage Motive, or Orvis Recon that have wider sweet spots and can absorb a casting stroke that punches in the power too abruptly.
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 You know it. Throwing a hard back cast sets this rod up for serious success out long.
Is the NRX better? Yes, for 95% of saltwater anglers it is, but I like the CrossCurrent GLX better for streamer fishing, especially with a sinking line. And for the money – this is my #1 G. Loomis pick. At $115 less than the NRX and this rod does nearly everything the NRX does, it just feels a little heavier while doing it. Although our deflection board shows this rod’s tip is softer than the NRX, I feel it is the more powerful rod of the two. I recommend fishing this rod with a Scientific Angler’s WF-9-F line, an Airflow 8 weight bonefish line, (which fishes more like a 9-weight), or a Rio 300 grain 24’ sink tip sinking line (for streamers). Paired with these lines this rod will send them out of the park!
Aside from this rod being a rocket casting weapon, I’m also seriously impressed with its ability to play fish. I can’t say I’ve found a more powerful rod for playing big fish and bringing them in quickly (without risk of breaking the rod). The NRX is also a fabulous rod for fighting fish.
Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20 Accuracy isn’t a problem. I can hit the plate just about 9 times out of 10. The unique grip makes it easy to cast off the tip of the rod and even though I’m getting less feel and feedback from the rod’s stiffer sections I feel confident. The one and only thing that holds it back from a higher score is that the best rods at 35’ had more feel and felt much lighter in hand. Still for me this distance is somewhat of a “gimme” shot, so I wasn’t too concerned.
Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Not quite as smooth for me as the NRX or Meridian but the reserve power is truly impressive. I can punch it without the slightest fear of throwing a tailing loop. For my casting stroke, this rod is one of the best I’ve ever cast and only until I compare it directly with the NRX and Meridian does it feel less than perfect. I’m not noticing any extra weight at this distance.
Performance at 80 feet: 20 points out of 20 Awesome power and excellent line control in the air. This rod can bang out an 80 footer as good as any rod here. I’m really surprised that the NRX deflection had a stiffer tip than this rod since the CrossCurrent seems to have more long bomb power. It also is my #1 pick for fishing big articulated streamers on a sinking line back home on the Yellowstone.
Hit the Hun? 20 points out of 20 Ka Boom! This rod is a freaking canon… And it’s the only rod that I’ll give a 20 out of 20 to at this distance. Here is your Long Bomb King!
The St. Croix Legend Elite truly is legend worthy. In every shootout we've had it has been a solid finisher, especially when you consider how much it costs. I think a lof of it has to do with the rod's design, craftsmanship quality, and nano-resin construction. Take a look at the Legend Elite's deflection and you'll see a rod with a stiff butt and mid secion and a fast, soft tip. This is a rod with backbone, but also a rod with finesse. You simply can't beat it for the money AND it's made in Park Falls, WI.
Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Great feel. This is an awesome rod, always has been one of our favorites.
Performance at 60 feet: 19.75 points out of 20 This rod is really FUN to cast, it has plenty of power and tons of feel.
Performance at 80 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Timing is starting to play more of a role and I have to concentrate just a little harder to get it done. Still, when I do well the rod does well, nearly perfect!
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 Yes! Doable, even in a stiff breeze.
The Sage Motive was another pleasant surprise. I really wanted to see Sage do well in the shootout but after being disappointed by the Salt’s vague feel and overall performance, I had little hopes for the less expensive Motive. It only took a few casts however to completely turn my negative outlook into a positive one. This rod really felt good in my hands and enabled me to cast with confidence. If you have cast Sage’s original Xi2 you will like the feel and accuracy of this rod. It has a ton of power and the line tracked extremely well at distance. As an added bonus, the blue candy paint job makes this rod “pop” and the fit and finish is top quality. Although it’s a little heavier (using Graphite generation III rather than Konnetic Technology), the simple fact that this rod costs less and casts better makes it a winner.
Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20 Boy, it sure is accurate! I’m able to hit the plate just about 8 out of 10 times. Although the deflection board shows both Sage tips are slower than most, it surprisingly doesn’t feel that bad in close.
Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Impressive performance again! I’m really quite surprised how well this rod casts in comparison to our “shakeout / wiggle” test first impressions. The line tracks really well, even in the wind. If it were not for the slightly heavier feel this would be an easy 20, along with the best of them.
Performance at 80 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Wow. This rod really deserves no bad scores at any distance. As long as you don’t mind the extra weight (similar to the CrossCurrent GLX and Orvis Recon) this is a great rod with ample power and superb accuracy.
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 Like a bullet train…
This rod really impressed me. In our 2014 8-weight shootout the Recon wasn’t quite out yet and we couldn’t get our hands on a prototype. Well, it was certainly worth the wait! I feel in the 8-weight model, the Recon is a better all-around rod than the Helios 2. It isn’t quite as light as the H2, nor does it have the killer in-close feel that the H2 has (no company's rod can beat that) but it is still considered lightweight compared to other rods in the test. It has a very nice balance to it, with a lot more power at mid to long range than the H2 and it comes in $400.00 cheaper. True, you’re not going to get the same fit and finish as the H2, but if you are looking for an 8-weight rod that can do it all at a great price, the Orvis Recon is going to be hard to beat.
Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20 Dang, this rod feels lighter than most in my hand and tracks exceptionally well. Accuracy is spot on and this rod feels lighter than a lot of rods nearly twice it’s price.
Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 This rod is really feeling good to me. I think it might be the cherry picker in the whole Recon line (available from 3-weights through 10-weights). Good show Orvis!!
Performance at 80 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Wow! This rod is a beast of its own. Unlike the H2, you can really lay into this rod without having the line collapse or tail on you. I’m starting to really like this rod the more I cast it.
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 Yes sir, way more powerful than the H2 at 100 feet…
I had some of the highest hopes for the Hardy Zephrus, seeing how Hardy has been producing some of my most favorite rods of all time (the Hardy Zenith 9’#5, Hardy Artisan 9’#5, Hardy Wraith 9’#5, Zenith 8’6”#4 and Zephrus 8’6”#4). I thought the Zephrus SWS 9’#8 was a really good rod, but something held it back from being a great rod like my all time favorites.
The Zephrus felt very light in hand and was very smooth up to 60 feet. Like the Orvis H2, the Zephrus is an excellent in-close rod. For me, it took more effort to get this rod to perform beyond 60 feet compared to the Meridian (who’s deflection is surprisingly less stiff) or the rods that placed above it. I think if Hardy beefed up the backbone of this rod but kept the nice soft/fast tip they’d have a winner. I do like this rod a lot more than the ProAxis 4 pc, which was much heavier and stiffer. If you already own a ProAxis you might still consider picking up a Zephrus 8-weight. With both of those rods in your boat you would have all your bases covered.
The Zephrus is a sharp looking rod. The titanium recoil stripping guides are similar to the NRX and the light wire titanium snake guides are similar to the Meridian. The reel seat looks classy and without any extra cutouts will be very good for cleanup at the end of the day. The cork grip is top quality and the perfect size.
I wish Hardy had put the same saltwater components on the Wraith, which feels like it is significantly more powerful (yet still feels very light in hand). I think Hardy missed an opportunity here because the Wraith 9’#8 feels like the better rod, but unfortunately due to the smaller guides is unusable for nearly all saltwater situations. Maybe Hardy can make a running change to the Wraith’s components, which would make for another great rod...
Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Light, smooth, accurate, great feel. Very much like the Orvis H2 and Scott Meridian. The more I cast it the more I like it!
Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Still great feel matched with good power. This rod feels very balanced at this distance, although I’m not quite able to get the same accuracy out of it as the Meridian, NRX, CCGLX, or St. Croix Legend Elite.
Performance at 80 feet: 18.5 points out of 20 Finally I’m feeling like this rod is a touch power deprived. Although I’m not tailing as bad as the H2, Mystic, Imperial or Impact, I really have to concentrate on my timing to make an accurate cast.
Hit the Hun? 18.5 points out of 20 Yes, but for me not every cast. This rod doesn’t give me as much confidence out long, which is where the Wraith excels.
In our opinion, the BVK is Temple Fork Outfitters' best all-around saltwater rod. Some models are great for learning, some are great at distance, some are better at light presentation, but the BVK is the perfect compromise between them all. At $279.95 this rod performs nearly as well as other rods costing three times as much!
The good news is that Temple Fork Outfitters has always had one of the quickest (and cheapest) rod warranties in the business. If you happen to break your rod in the middle of the season you can expect to get a replacement within 7 business days after the day you sent it in. That’s a major plus over manufacturers that take nearly two months to get your rod back. To our knowledge $35 is the least expensive repair fee – also a big plus.
The bad news is that from our experience these rods are not quite as durable as other rods, so you’ll want to be more careful with them. If a leadeye Gotcha or Crazy Charlie accidently hits your rod tip, it could be trouble. If you happen to hook the mangroves it would be worth your while to pole over and go get your fly rather than yank it forcefully out of the branches. When playing fish, never get a huge bend in the tip of the rod, apply more of the power near the cork and keep the pressure on the fish with the lower half of the rod. Always keep your rod in a hard tube during travel or in the car. If you take these reasonable precautions you should have fewer breakage problems with your TFO rod.
Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Although this rod has a heavier swing weight than others for some reason I’m not feeling it. Perhaps that’s because I’m right on the plate nearly every cast. The BVK is a powerful plate slayer at this distance!
Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Awesome performance again! This rod has impressed us over and over again in terms of top notch casting performance at a very affordable price.
Performance at 80 feet: 19 points out of 20 Like the NRX, I have to get my timing correct at further distances. When I apply the power too quickly I end up with a tailing loop. When I apply the power smoothly this rod is a rocket.
Hit the Hun? : 18 points out of 20 Yes, but timing becomes more crucial than other rods.
This rod looks amazing and craftsmanship is as good as anything on the market. Not only is it the lightest rod in the shootout in terms of overall weight, it is also the lightest in terms of swing weight. Props to Shawn Combs, (the rod’s head designer) for creating the best in-close saltwater rod ever made.
In years to come, I’d expect to see Orvis to bring a little more power to the table, while still keeping weight down. Their Orvis Recon has already proven to take a step in that direction. Add the same high modulus graphite as the H2, along with the H2’s impressive craftsmanship and components and you already have a winner. We look forward to see what’s around the corner!
Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20 Just as good if not better than every rod in the shootout. Only the Meridian could hang with the H2’s ultra light, smooth feel. At this distance it was certainly one of the more accurate rods. I didn’t want to put this rod down, I could have cast it all day and never got bored of hitting the plate.
Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Again excellent feel - this rod is simply fun to cast! It has the ability to form exceptionally tight loops. It would have been a perfect 20 but the Meridian, NRX, and Legend Elite had a slight edge in accuracy.
Performance at 80 feet: 18 points out of 20 Due to the H2’s lack of power at distance, finally I can see performance dwindle in comparison to several rods. If you think casting this far is ridiculous to begin with (trust me you’re not alone) then I wouldn’t weigh this factor too heavily. If you fish a lot in the wind or like to throw sinking lines then you might look at the Orvis Recon instead.
Hit the Hun? 17 points out of 20. Even with good timing I couldn’t get this rod to go like I wanted it to. At long distance, I was throwing far too many tailing loops, making it frustrating for me.
If you are looking for a mid-priced rod that looks like a million bucks and performs well, the Beulah Opal is a real contender. It has all the right oversized guides and the cork grip not only looks great, it is of excellent quality. The locking rings are a little thin, but seem to work well.
I couldn’t quite get the accuracy I wanted out of the Opal but I love the sweet feel and sharp looks.
Performance at 35 feet: 18.5 points out of 20 Smooth, velvet like feel. This rod feels sweet to say the least, but accuracy wasn’t nearly as good as most.
Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20 Not as accurate as some of the best but the rod feels excellent. I think they may have made this rod stiffer than last year’s Opal? This rod feels great.
Performance at 80 feet: 18.5 points out of 20 Not as stiff or as much power as others but this rod certainly feels stronger than the rod we tested in 2014.
Hit the Hun? 18.5 points out of 20 Yes, but I had to time it just right and aim high…
I think the BIII Plus is the best saltwater rod Winston has ever made. It’s lighter than the BIIISX yet it still packs serious punch. The line tracking is extremely accurate and as always I’m impressed with its top notch craftsmanship. The only thing holding it back is its heavier swing weight.
I know Winston has to pay a premium price to have Boron in their butt sections, and it does seem to bring extra strength to their rods. But of all the Winston rods we’ve ever sent back, only one had a broken butt section. If Winston paid for both Boron and Nano-resin, they would likely have to charge around $1000.00 for the rod, maybe more. I wonder if it might make sense to try a rod without Boron and add the nano-resin to the tip, in hopes of creating a rod that has a lighter swing weight, yet is still exceptionally strong and durable? I’m not a rod designer and this could be completely off base, but I think it could be worth exploring.
Performance at 35 feet: 18.5 points out of 20 Wow, one thing you have to say about the Winston BIII Plus is that it’s accurate!! Unfortunately the down side to this impeccable accuracy is lack of feel. This rod doesn’t really feel all that heavy, until you compare it directly with the Meridian and H2.
Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20 Excellent at this distance! Although the rod does feel heavier than others once you get it going it really goes. The tracking feels much better than the BIIIx and the rod itself feels significantly smoother than the BIIISX. I think this is the best all-around saltwater 8-weight Winston has made to date. If they can somehow figure out a way to get the tip lighter it will be just as good as the top rods.
Performance at 80 feet: 19 points out of 20 I was tempted to give this rod a perfect 20 as the rod just rips. When compared to the CrossCurrent and Meridian however the BIII Plus feels heavier and not quite as accurate.
Hit the Hun? 18 points out of 20 Getting it 100 with this rod wasn’t a problem, it’s just that it requires a lot of extra energy to get it going. Although it is a drastic improvement from the BIIISX the BIII Plus is still a little heavy in hand compared to the very best 8-weights.
Looking through my notes my first scribble is a quote from one of the other casters, “I tell you what, that Aetos kicks ass!” I couldn’t agree more.
If you can’t afford a $250-$500 rod, then this is the rod for you. Like the 5-weight Aetos, the 8-weight performs exceptionally well, especially when you consider its inexpensive price. Props to Pure Fishing for not charging an arm and a leg for this rod.
Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20 On the plate nearly every time. This rod feels much more like a $500+ rod to me. Amazing feel and loop control for your dollar.
Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20 Excellent line control, accuracy, and feel. This is by far my favorite inexpensive rod in the test.
Performance at 80 feet: 18 points out of 20 Bombs away! This rod is ripping them in there with ease. I wish accuracy was a little better.
Hit the Hun? 18 points out of 20 No problem, the Aetos delivered the goods.
This rod was very similar to the Aetos, and in fact has an even stiffer tip. That stiffness didn’t necessarily translate to more power however as I still feel the Aetos is the better all around rod. The cork on the HMG is a significant drop in quality from the Aetos, although the guides seem decent enough. It is hard to complain about a $160 rod that is getting scores of 18 or better.
Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20 The HMG is accurate for sure, but I’m not getting the same fun feel I get out of the Aetos. The HMG felt more vague and overall unimpressive at this distance.
Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20 Not that the HMG feels dead, but I’m still not getting the same energy out of the HMG like the Aetos.
Performance at 80 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Now the extra power is starting to make the rod feel better. Nice loops.
Hit the Hun? 18.5 points out of 20 Yes, this rod will get it done.
This rod really surprised me. I think it’s Redington’s best rod since the CPX from years ago. Heavy, yes… but powerful as well. This would be a great inexpensive rod for throwing larger streamers or a sinking line.
Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20 Another plate hitter – nearly every cast. This rod is fairly stiff however, hence its lack of feel in close. And although it is heavy in hand it is still unbelievably accurate.
Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20 Nice. This rod is really feeling pretty good, a lot better than the Redington Vapen. Still, it is pretty heavy and that is what is holding it back from a better score here.
Performance at 80 feet: 19 points out of 20 This rod may be the biggest surprise of the test for me. I’m impressed with this rod's ability to throw tight loops. I’m digging it, especially for the money!
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 Yes – and then some!
This rod has a lot of reserve power but its stiff tip and a heavy swing weight hold it back from placing higher, which is unfortunate since it is a sharp looking rod with excellent craftsmanship.
Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20 Another rod that was extremely accurate, just little to no feel! Rod also felt heavy in hand.
Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20 Now things are starting to feel a lot better. The S1 may not be quite as forgiving as some rods but good casters will be able to throw tight loops with it.
Performance at 80 feet: 19 points out of 20 Tailing loops are not an issue with this rod, and it’s nice to have a rod that you can rely on when you really need to make a good, long cast. I just wish it were a little lighter.
Hit the Hun? 18.5 points out of 20 Yes, but this rod takes a lot of effort to get going. I think it’s safe to say this rod will wear most people out after casting it all day.
I really like the PRO4x in other models, (the 9’#5 Pro4X LP is an incredible value, and I also love the PRO4x two-handed rods). Unfortunately the 8-weight Pro4x doesn’t perform nearly as well as other inexpensive rods. I think it would be smarter to save up your money for an NRX or CrossCurrent, even though they are double the price. If you can afford the extra $90 I recommend the Sage Motive or Orvis Recon instead.
Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20 Heavy in hand but accurate enough.
Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20 Another solid performance but I still wish I was getting more out of the rod.
Performance at 80 feet: 18.5 points out of 20 Good but not great. There are other rods that will serve you better.
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 I was actually impressed, the hun wasn’t a problem for the Pro 4x.
This rod would actually be a great rod for someone who wants to take it easy, has a shoulder injury, or just enjoys a softer rod for sight fishing in close. For aggressive anglers who want to push the limits, the BIII Plus is clearly the better rod. Still, the BIIIx has amazing feel, and is really fun to fish in close, much like the H2. The craftsmanship and fit and finish are as good as it gets, I can’t think of a more beautiful rod (other than the BIII Plus).
Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 This rod feels amazing at 35 feet. I’m able to deliver with delicacy, making this a great weapon for spooky fish. Although this rod felt as good as any, I thought the Meridian and H2 had the slightest edge in terms of accuracy.
Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20 Again this rod has great feel! It has ample power to hit 60 feet and feels nice and light while doing it.
Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20 The BIIIx doesn’t quite have enough power to hang with the big dogs at 80 feet. Ditto in the wind.
Hit the Hun? 16 points out of 20 I was trying hard but really struggled with this rod to hit 100 feet. Even if I got close accuracy was out the window.
Sage is a great fly rod company (arguably the best). Even the name alone suggests high end greatness in fly rods. So it’s no surprise that we expect a lot from Sage. Farbank is one of the largest fly fishing companies and has the resources to produce some truly amazing products, even some “timeless rods” if you will… Rods that come to mind include the old Sage 389 LL, 590 Z-axis, 590 XP, 486 ONE, 690 ONE, 7119 TXC switch, 890 ONE (to name a few of my favorite Sage rods). Unfortunately the Sage Salt didn’t make this list. Are we perhaps being a little too harsh on Sage? Yes, probably so. But it is only because we know what kind of great rods they can make and want to challenge them to produce another timeless rod.
I found the Salt very un-Sage like. First of all I couldn’t get the line to track very well, and accuracy suffered because of this, especially at 60 and beyond. This was surprising seeing how well the ONE and Method track, and even the Motive for that Matter. Secondly, when I tried to push the Salt (by applying the power too quickly), the rod produced nasty tailing loops on almost every cast.
Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20 At first wiggle, the Salt feels nice and light in my hand. But after a few casts it’s clear the Salt’s stiffer and slower tip is hurting its in-close performance in both accuracy and feel.
Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20 I’m sadly left with the feeling that I can’t be as accurate as I want to be and hitting the plate is more luck than skill or a great rod.
Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20 I really had to concentrate with this rod - not to hit the plate, but to not throw a tailing loop. This rod need more power or a softer, faster tip.
Hit the Hun? 17 points out of 20 Negative ghostrider … this rod is certainly no ONE or Method.
The Echo Base is a great rod. Don’t let the performance scores bum you out. If you love fly fishing and have the chance to go saltwater fishing but are on a budget the Echo Base is a no brainer! This rod puts you in the game, and will cast better than most other inexpensive fly rods you’ll find in Cabela’s or Walmart. Ditto if you are looking for an inexpensive streamer rod, fishing a sinking line.
Back up rod worthy? YES. I’ll bet money that anglers who purchase this rod as a backup and end up using it will be very happy they brought this rod. Is it the lightest rod best performing rod of 2016? Of course not, but it can still be a trip saver and can still help you land you that fish of a lifetime. And for $99.99 why not leave the rod with your guide as a tip? Certainly this rod is worth a lot more than a C-note, (expect to see the price on this rod go up under normal laws of supply and demand).
Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20 Stiffer (and heavier) than the Mystic Reaper. Still the Base tracks well and is accurate, even in the wind.
Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20 Again, excellent tracking and accuracy for any rod, much less a rod at this price! The extra weight is holding it back from a higher score. The overwhelmingly large grip isn’t helping either.
Performance at 80 feet: 18 points out of 20 At distance this Base is starting to feel pretty good! Much better than the Mystic at this distance. No tailing loops. Fantastic performance for the money!
Hit the Hun? 17 points out of 20 Yup. This rod can throw the whole line.
I think of the Mystic Reaper as a less expensive Winston BIIIx or Orvis H2. It really feels sweet in your hand, (lightweight and oozing with feel). Anglers who want to sight fish and deliver a delicate but accurate presentation should be looking at this rod. Note it is not a great all-around rod, but it is a terrific in-close weapon.
Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20 Better feel than Aetos, HMG, Base, or any other inexpensive rod.While slightly less accurate than the Meridian, NRX, or H2, I have to admit this rod is fun to cast at 35 feet.
Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20 Without wind this rod is feeling excellent. Once the wind picks up however this rod immediately begins to struggle.
Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20 Again, with good timing and no wind this rod works well. Add in some wind and you’ll have your work cut out for you. Forcing this rod or punching in the power will give you tailing loops every time.
Hit the Hun? 15 points out of 20 Only with a tailwind. I feel more comfortable hitting 100’ with my 9’#5 Hardy Zenith.
This St. Croix Imperial is another rod that shines in close but loses gas quickly at longer distances or in the wind. Now that less expensive rods are outperforming it, (Fenwick Aetos, Fenwick HMG, Redington Predator, Echo Base, and Mystic Reaper) it’s time for St. Croix to step up and go back to the drawing board. The one good thing about the Imperial is that it’s still made in the USA, despite rumors of it being made in Mexico.
Performance at 35 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 The Imperial feels pretty darn sweet at this distance. Accurate with a delicate presentation, I could see this rod being very useful when sight fishing for spooky fish.
Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20 OK but not great. The Imperial doesn’t have enough power plus it feels a little too heavy in hand to score above average.
Performance at 80 feet: 16 points out of 20 Well, plain and simple – the Imperial needs more power.
Hit the Hun? 16 points out of 20 Nope…
Seeing how well the 5-weight DXF did in our 5-weight shootout we were all looking forward to casting this rod. Unfortunately the DXF was heavy and didn’t cast nearly as well as it did in the 5-weight version. We looked at testing their new Sky but this is in the process of being re-designed. We’ll report on that rod in the future.
Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20 Not too light, not that accurate, not much feel… nothing more to say here.
Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20 In comparison to other rods the DXF feels heavy and not very pleasing to cast.
Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20 I would have thought the DXF would start feeling better at longer distances but it still feels vague.
Hit the Hun? 17 points out of 20 Nope. Too heavy and the energy just doesn’t transfer well through the rod no matter how hard you try to cast it.
Let me begin by saying this isn’t a bad rod… it’s just that it is stacked against a highly competitive group of 8-weight rods this year. I know some very competent anglers and casters who really like this rod. At the end of the day, I just feel like you can get equal if not better performance out of less expensive rods.
I noticed that the other guys didn’t like the reel seat, in fear of its open space design collecting saltwater corrosion and making it harder to clean up. I’m not sure about that but what I did notice is the Explosive’s huge cork grip could use some whittling.
Performance at 35 feet: 16 points out of 20 Tip heavy in hand this rod felt clunky compared to the Meridian. Under-average is as nice as I can put it.
Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20 Feeling better but the extra weight seems unnecessary in this day and age. A lot of inexpensive rods were more accurate and required less energy to cast.
Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20 Not bad, but not my cup of tea when compared to its price point peers.
Hit the Hun? 17 points out of 20 Yes, if you aim high 100 feet is possible.
Another good rod faced with some serious competition. The main issues I had with the Zalt was its heavy swing weight and stiff tip. I could see it being a good rod for beginners as it is difficult to make this rod throw a tailing loop. But the extra weight and lack of feel is going to leave it in the dust when compared to the Meridian that gets the same job done effortlessly.
Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20 The Zalt feels heavier and slower in action than other rods. Accuracy is decent but I’m not getting the same feel as I do out of the lighter, faster tipped rods.
Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20 Again, the Zalt will get the job done but its lack of feel doesn’t quite get me excited about casting it compared to the others.
Performance at 80 feet: 17 points out of 20 No doubt this rod has a good amount of power, but the extra swing weight makes it exhausting to cast.
Hit the Hun? 17 points out of 20 Yes, but I’m looking forward to some Advil.
The TFO Impact was the biggest surprise of the test for me, or should I say biggest puzzle… I just cannot figure out why this rod was made, or what it was designed to do. Just look at the deflection board and you can clearly see how off this rod is from the rest of the pack. It was softer than a Helios H2 6 weight and nearly identical to a Hardy Wraith 5 weight (with the Wraith having a softer, faster tip).
To be fair, we didn’t get to test any other models other the than Impact 9’#8 weight. Perhaps the other rods in the line up are different, or perhaps there is some trick we don’t know about to get better performance out of this rod. (If there is please let us know and we’ll try it). For now, steer clear of this rod and go with the BVK.
Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20 The tip feels sloppy since the WF-8-F Bonefish line is overloading the rod by about 3 line weights. Maybe we should have tried this rod with a WF-5-F GPX, except they don’t make a tropical version…
Performance at 60 feet: 16 points out of 20 With a mushy mid-section this rod is a nightmare to control. Double hauling doesn’t help, neither does gingerly babying the rod. I can imagine what this rod would be like playing big fish and it isn’t good.
Performance at 80 feet: 15 points out of 20 Compared to the BVK this rod from a different planet. I’m seriously wondering why TFO brought this rod to the market. Did they not put this rod to the test and take it to the salt before starting the manufacturing process?
Hit the Hun? 10 points out of 20 The worst performance score I have ever given. This rod deserves a re-do. Maybe start with an 8 weight blank instead of a 5?
What if it was a race?
Just for fun I decided to put together a graphic that represents how the rods would have finished if they were in a race. The idea is to see how close some of the rods were to other rods. Here you can see which rods blew others away, and which rods didn’t stand a chance.
One Piece Rods
After casting the one piece rods in 2014, I was sure that we were going to like them better than the 4-piece rods. I was extremely surprised to see that I liked many of the four piece rods were better, including the Scott Meridian, G. Loomis NRX, and G. Loomis CrossCurrent GLX.
The NRX PRO1 is the only one piece rod that I thought held a candle to the podium 4-piece rods. It felt exceptionally light and remarkably smooth. I’d be happy fishing this rod in the salt or with streamers and a sink tip. Although the CrossCurrent is stiff in the 4-piece version, the NRX was the stiffer and more powerful one piece.
Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20 Absolutely flawless, both in terms of accuracy and feel. Although it feels slightly heavier than the feather light Hardy Zephrus one piece, I’m getting better accuracy out of the NRX.
Performance at 60 feet: 20 points out of 20 Excellent. With this line (SA Bonefish taper) no rod feels better.
Performance at 80 feet: 19 points out of 20 Finally I think the smoothness and great feel of this rod compromise its raw power. I thought several 4 piece rods were more powerful and delivered better accuracy at 80 feet, including the Meridian, CrossCurrent, Legend Elite, Motive, Recon and even the HMG.
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 Solid performance but not even close to knocking the CrossCurrent 4 pc off the long bomb throwne.
My first impression of the CC PRO1 was that this rod is clearly one of the best. But after fishing it in Montana (with a sinking line) I’ve decided the G. Loomis CrossCurrent GLX 4 pc version is a much more powerful and dependable rod. I feel like this rod is a touch too soft for a sinking line, and that I have to wait too long on the back cast. Punching it doesn’t help, therefore plan on having a lot of room in your back cast area.
Performance at 35 feet: 19 points out of 20 Stiffer than the NRX, this rod is still buttery smooth and fun to cast. Compared to the 4 pc rods it would be an equal 20, but the NRX PRO1 feels even better.
Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Feeling great again, this rod feels light, smooth, and accurate.
Performance at 80 feet: 19 points out of 20 Although this rod is stiffer than the NRX PRO1, I’m not getting the same long distance confidence that the Meridian and CrossCurrent GLX give me. I suspect the compromise in power might also affect this rod’s strength in terms of playing big fish, ha – but I have yet to catch one with it…
Hit the Hun? 19 points out of 20 Yes, but it definitely performs better with a floating line.
The Zephrus SWS had the best feel but least power of the three one-piece rods. This was a disappointment for me since I absolutely loved the older Hardy ProAxis 1 piece rods. That being said, if you are looking for the ultimate in terms of presentation and in-close performance this rod may be a true asset to your quiver, just be sure you have another rod with you for windy days or longer shots.
Performance at 35 feet: 20 points out of 20 The Zehprus 1pc’s light, softer tip is producing phenomenal feel. Reminds me of the Orvis H2.
Performance at 60 feet: 19.5 points out of 20 Not as accurate as the Loomis rods, but still very pleasing feel.
Performance at 80 feet: 18 points out of 20 Like the Orvis H2, the cost of exceptional feel in-close is starting to hurt the Zephrus 1-pc’s overall power and accuracy at distance. I thought the older Hardy ProAxis 1-pc was a much better rod.
Hit the Hun? 17 points out of 20 Tailing loops starting to become the norm. Bring back the ProAxis 1 pc please!