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Latest, Greatest Fly Rods

Dec 12, 2011

I’m frequently asked about rods.  As a casting aficionado and tackle junkie I try to keep up with what’s new and what’s best.  Unfortunately that’s becoming more difficult because rod manufacturers have adopted the marketing styles of ski makers, tennis racket companies and dress designers.  Everything is the latest, best, paradigm-shifting and just can’t be done without!  I’ll try to hack through some of the marketing jungle here.

For trout fishers, the most popular rod is a 9-foot, 5 weight, 4 piece graphite.  Fortunately a reputable and very knowledgeable fly shop staff has recently published the results of a well-controlled comparison of just those models.  The latest rods from all the usual high end brands – Sage, Orvis, Loomis, Hardy, Winston, Scott, Thomas & Thomas – were cast and compared in the Yellowstone Angler 5 Weight Shootout.

The winner was a big surprise, as it wasn’t an American rod.  It was the Hardy Zenith - an English rod manufactured in Asia!  Of course I couldn’t just take the word of the Yellowstone Angler guys.  I had to see for myself.  I went to a fishing show and tried the latest rods from Sage, Loomis and Winston against the Hardy.  All were very good, but I had to agree that the Zenith was noticeably better.  Extremely light and very surprisingly powerful, it also had a very light tip that loaded on even short casts.  It also had that subtle quality I call “swing” – just a little bend in the butt of the rod to give it that sweet, smooth feel.  Some of the others were cannons, but unyielding in the butt and dead feeling, especially at shorter distances.  Almost needless to say, I now own a Zenith.

A few months after I had acquired what I thought was the finest graphite rod in existence, Sage came out with a rod they humbly named “The One” as in “The One and Only” or “The One True God”.   The name of this product was matched only by the marketing hype that accompanied it.   It was produced with proprietary “Konnetic technology” and is a “game changer” that will “redefine accuracy”.   After I caught my breath I drove to a nearby fly shop and tracked down a 9 foot 5 weight “The One” to cast against my new favorite rod.

No need to worry, in my opinion.  It was a good enough rod but not good enough to better either Hardy’s Zenith or Sage’s own previous Z-Axis rod.   Too stiff in the tip for my taste and too stiff in the butt too. Another powerful cannon that has no feel, but can laser beam a line out to great distances.  The trouble with marketing hype is that it unreasonably raises expectations that the product itself can’t meet.  Such is the case here.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered that the Yellowstone Angler boys had gone back and tried The One against the Hardy Zenith and confirmed what I had thought.

Next time: More about excellent rods at far below top-of-the line prices.