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Rod comparison article

5 Weight Shoot Out!
By George Anderson

  If you’re in the market for a good 5 weight rod, chances are you are looking for a rod that will do it all - A rod that can cast in close with delicacy and accuracy with small drys and fine tippet. - A rod that will handle larger drys at medium distances and one that has enough backbone and guts to chuck a couple of nymphs, two BB split shot and a big strike indicator. – A rod that will launch a hopper imitation seventy feet into a stiff breeze and put it on the money, or crank out a conehead streamer with authority, and get it close to that far bank that’s eighty feet away.

  Here at the Yellowstone Angler, we are doing our own little mini-shootouts and comparison tests all the time when new rods hit the market so that we can help our clients pick the best rod for their needs and casting style. We can usually agree that one rod is better than another, but how about getting ALL the best 5 line rods on the market together for one big blockbuster shootout?

  Our intention with this 5-Weight Shootout is to cut through all the BS and come up with honest answers. We're not trying to snuff anyone's candle out. We simply want to rate the rods in a variety of categories and provide the reader with our honest opinions. The most important categories are the performance categories, and we’ll double the points available on these. Then we’ll tally the points, just like Car and Driver magazine might do if they were doing a shootout on $30,000 sport sedans. There will be winners, losers and a lot in-between. You’ll get to see how all your favorite rods rated in all the different categories. We aren't’t going to pull any punches, just tell it like we see it.

  Why believe us?

  Now, that’s a great question. Most of you know that George Anderson has a stellar reputation as a great caster and angler in both fresh and saltwater. His back-to-back wins at the Jackson Hole One-Fly in ’89 and ’90 helped to solidify his reputation as a nymph and dry fly fisherman. But you may not know that over the last twenty years, rod manufacturers like Sage, and G. Loomis have asked for George’s help in designing rods like the Sage LL 389 and 490, as well as The Loomis StreamDance GLX Presentation series of trout rods. George joined Steve Rajeff in Woodland Wa, to fine-tune all the final StreamDance GLX prototypes, both the Presentation Series and the High Line Speed Series. George also helped Tom Morgan with final prototype designs of the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rods, and then did all the final casting and fine-tuning of the pre-production prototypes as well as approval of the finished rods.

  Lighter is better

  In this day of extremely high modulus graphite, boron and other new rod building materials, new and stronger resin systems, new graphite scrim and innovative manufacturing techniques, the key to success is building lighter weight rods that have the same amount of power. Lighter is better, all else being equal. We’ve seen some amazing advances in all phases of rod building and just when you think that the current crop of high performance rods has hit perfection, another new material, resin system or unseen innovation allows for more improvement. Of course, anglers are the beneficiary of all this costly R & D so don’t get too upset with the fact that the price of premium rods, made in the USA, is heading north of $600.00

  Great rods are not always expensive

  As you’ll read here, you don’t have to spend upwards of $600 to get a great fly rod. Yes, the best are going to set you back that much, but there are some surprisingly good rods out there that sell for one-third to one-half as much! You might have to lower your expectations about the quality of the cork grip or the overall finish, guides and reel seat, or possibly accept the fact that you’ll have to buy a rod case if you want one, (TFO rods).

  Some of the “premier” rods on the market don't perform as well as you were led to believe.

  Manufacturers have done their best to convince us that their rods are better than anything on the market. We've been bombarded in the magazines with a ton of advertising, propaganda, and hype. Here at the Yellowstone Angler I've always felt that one of the most valuable services we can provide to our customers to help cut through all this BS and give you some straight answers. What you'll read here are our opinions, many of which are totally subjective.

  You might disagree with us on a few things, but we feel that most experienced anglers and good casters are going to agree with our findings and conclusions.

  Great rods are designed by great anglers

  One thing that has become very apparent to me over thirty years of working with the world’s best rod designers is that the finest rods in existence have all been designed by fellows that are great anglers themselves. Head rod designers like Wes Jordan at Orvis, Steve Rajeff at G. Loomis, Tom Morgan (Previous owner and rod designer for R.L. Winston) who has given us the Tom Morgan Rodsmith line, Jerry Siem at Sage, and Don Green who started Sage Rods, and the late Jimmy Green and of Fenwick (and Sage) are good examples. These guys and many other great anglers like them gave us the great rods we have today. They all have the knowledge of what each rod needs to do, and how to design and tweak the rods to get them there.

Our Testing Procedures

  Keeping it Apples to Apples

  In an effort to eliminate any unwanted variables, we took it upon ourselves to utilize what we feel are the best reels and lines available for these 5-line rods. The reels, lines and leaders that make the perfect 5 weight outfit.


  For reels, we naturally picked the Ross Evolution #2 reel. The Evolution has been by far our most popular fly reel for the past two years. They are very light in weight, good looking and utilize a good drag. The price is right, at around $300.00 depending on size. You can use either a #1.5 or a #2 but we’ve found that a #2 provides the perfect amount of 20 lb. dacron backing – around 110-115 yd. with a WF-5-F GPX line.


  Scientific Anglers Mastery Fly Lines, with their AST technology are some of the best casting lines on the market and have been for several years. We picked the GPX line to test most of these rods. The GPX is a slightly heavier line, allowing these strong 5 weight rods to load better than they would if we used the Trout taper. The GPX lines have shorter front and back tapers and a longer belly than their Trout tapers. The bottom line is that the GPX lines handle like a half-line size heavier as you are carrying more line in the air while false casting. Their shorter front taper helps to improve leader turnover, especially in the wind.

  For rods like the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8 1/2 foot #5 and the TFO 8 foot 9 inch Finesse, we picked the Mastery Trout taper with its shorter belly and longer rear taper to more closely match these lighter action 5 weight rods. With the GPX line, these rods felt overloaded, especially at longer distances.


  The best casting leaders you can lay your hands on are hand tied leaders with stiffer butt and mid sections, a short taper and strong, small diameter fluorocarbon tippets. Our own Yellowstone Angler Clear Butt Leaders fill the bill perfectly. Our 12 foot leaders will turnover better than ANY knotless leaders, so I am normally using a 12-14 foot leader on my 9 foot 5 line rod, sometimes shorter if I’m fishing a big, wind resistant hopper in a hard wind. But most of the time I’m fishing a 12-foot 3X to 5X leader. So we picked a Clear Butt 12 foot 3X leader with a Seaguar Grand Max fluorocarbon tippet for our tests.

Setting up multiple rods and reels for our performance testing

  By setting up several rods with the exact same reels and lines we were able to keep a couple of what we felt were the benchmark rods (the Sage Z-Axis and the Loomis StreamDance GLX) ready at all times to compare the rod that was being tested with both the Sage and Loomis. We could then quickly switch back and forth in comparing the rods. Any differences in performance and accuracy became readily apparent.

  Renting the gym at the Civic Center

  December in Livingston, Montana doesn’t provide many days when the temp. is above forty and the wind isn’t blowing twenty-five mph. While we did find a couple of days to get out and cast on our lawn, especially for the long distance casting portion of the tests, our fallback position was to rent the spacious gym at our Civic Center so that we could devote several hours to testing all the rods at a very comfortable 65 degrees. Casting rods into a 10-15 mph wind tells me a lot about their ability to form tight loops and turn a long leader over, but when the wind starts blowing twenty plus mph, with gusts to forty or fifty mph, it’s tough to sort things out and time to quit casting outdoors.

  Performance categories get double points

  The most important factor in determining the best #5 line rod for most anglers is how well it performs. Sure, craftsmanship, price, and many factors enter into the equation, but we felt that the four performance categories are really the meat of this shootout, and demanded that we give them double points.

Categories Explained

  Price $ - 10 points available

The least expensive rods get the highest points. The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8 1/2 foot #5 took a bath in this category. As you’ll see we awarded it only a 4 out of 10. BUT – few people are willing to part with $1145 for a two-piece fly rod and then have to wait 6 months or more to get their hands on it. On the other hand, you’ll be one of only about a hundred lucky people a year to get one of these.

  X-Factor - 10 points available

  This is a combination of things, all of which add up to a positive factor of some degree for each rod. Most rods have a “lifetime warranty” but the companies charge different amounts, a min. of $20 up to $65 for repair or replacement. To our way of thinking, G.Loomis trumps them all by getting a brand new rod (not fixing your old rod) to you by reg. UPS for $50 or 2 day air for $65. No waiting a month or more and you get a brand new rod to boot. Loomis gets the 10 points here. One rod (Loomis StreamDance) offers unbreakable nickel-titanium guides as well as unbreakable stripping guides. Another reason for that 10. Hard Rod Cases are normally a given, but for some reason Temple Fork figures that for their low price, you can go buy a case. They get 5 points for their effort, the lowest in the category. The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rods comes with the most gorgeous cloth bag and case you have ever seen! The case alone feels like it weighs five pounds. This easily gets them 10 points.

  Craftsmanship - 10 points available

  This one is a combination of factors too, like the quality of the cork they use in the grip and if the grip is laid up by hand and then turned on a lathe or if pre-shaped cork handles (generally not nearly as good) are used. Is the reel seat handsome, utilizing classy nickel-silver fittings or cheaper anodized aluminum? How well finished are the wood inserts and who is using the most exotic and good-looking wood? Does the reel seat fit up easily and snugly with a normal reel seat found on most fly reels? How good are the wraps on the guides, and how good is the finish? Most manufacturers use a one-coat finish that can be applied too heavily, adding weight to the rod and looking sloppy. Thomas and Thomas did the best job with their coatings – near perfection. The R.L. Winston rods and Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rods ran a very close second to T&T.

  Fun to fish/Got to have - 10 points available

  In Car and Driver, this is fun to drive/got to have factor. The Ferrari’s normally walk away with this category, for good reason. You can figure this one out. If the rod looks like a million bucks and casts like it too, then any normal fly fisherman will lust for this rod, even if the price is high. This is why the Tom Morgan rod scores a 10. Sage’s Z-Axis also rates a 10 here. It looks great and simply casts better than anything other than the Tom Morgan and G. Loomis StreamDance GLX. Let your wife have that new dining room set she's been talking about and get the rod you really want.

  Overall Weight - 10 points available

  This is an easy category to judge, but we don’t take the manufacturer’s word for how much these rods weigh. They often stretch the truth. We use our own certified Yellowstone Angler digital postage scale. Accurate to .00001 oz! To make things simple though, we’ll round it up to a tenth of an ounce. Surprisingly, the overall weights of all ten rods we tested were quite similar. This doesn’t tell the real story however. The telling factor is the swing weight.

  Swing Weight - 10 points available

  You’ve heard this term if you are a golfer. The pro shop has a simple scale that measures swing weight – the weight of the head in relationship to the shaft when you waggle the club. Seeing that all the golf pro shops are closed around here in Montana in the winter, we had to figure out our own way to measure the swing weight of a fly rod. You’ll see an explanation of how we arrived at these figures on the table with our objective observations. Rods with a low swing weight are a joy to use. False casting while dry fly fishing all day becomes effortless. Rods with lower swing weights help protect light tippets too, as there is less inertia to overcome as the rod tip gets jerked around with you setting the hook.

  Rods with a high swing weight are not pleasant to fish. We often refer them to “Clubs”, “Rug beaters” etc. You’ll want to think twice about picking a rod with a low swing weight score unless you plan to spend more time at your local Gold’s Gym to develop forearm strength like NFL linebacker Ray Lewis.

  The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths #5 rod took the 10 points in this category, but we had to do a little extrapolating to come up with a figure, since this rod is only 8 1/2 feet rather than nine feet and a two-piece rod, rather than 4 pc. Still, the extremely low 6.0 oz swing weight of the Tom Morgan rod gives it the nod.

  Swing Weight VS Power - 20 points available

  Here is the first “performance” category where we double the points. The winners in this category are rods that feel the lightest in your hand, yet deliver the most usable power. It’s easy for a heavy rod to develop good power, but it feels like a club in your hand. When you pick up one of the top rods in this category, you are thinking, “Wow, I wish I was fishing something like this!” Of course swing weight vs. power alone don’t make a great casting rod. The way the rod flexes to deliver this power tells the rest of the story. Without going out on our lawn to cast a rod, I can tell a lot about how the rod will perform by just holding it in my hand to gauge the swing weight, then flexing it to feel the power and how the rod flexes – what kind of action does it have – medium, medium fast or fast.

  We didn’t rate or need to rate the actions of these various rods but the best casting rods have medium fast-to-fast actions. The very fastest action rods have very powerful butt and mid sections and a much softer tip. The Winston BIIx is a good example. BUT – it doesn’t cast as well as the slightly slower action Loomis GLX or Sage Z-Axis, the two top rods in this category.

  Performance at 25 feet - 20 points available

  Most people pick up a fly rod and gauge it’s merit on how far they can throw the line. They should be a lot more interested in how it performs at normal fishing distances – from twenty five to forty five feet. The top point getters in this category are rods that are superbly accurate at 25 feet and effortless to cast off the tip of the rod using your wrist to power the tip through the stroke. A rod’s light weight is a big plus here, especially when you are doing a lot of false casting, as you will be fishing dry flies. A rod’s ability to make delicate and accurate presentations with small flies and long leaders is one of the keys to scoring well here. At short distance, casting accuracy is the number one factor I used in rating these rods. The key to catching lots of fish and big fish is casting accuracy. Forget about fly selection. If you have something about the right size and color you can often force-feed the fish with a perfect presentation.

  The Tom Morgan Rodsmith rod clobbered everyone in this category for its ability to make delicate, accurate casts at close distance. We could hit a 10-inch paper pie plate about 80% of the time. Other rods weren’t far off though, including the surprising Albright A-5 that matched the Loomis StreamDance GLX with the next highest score.

  Performance at 45 feet - 20 points available

  To my way of thinking, this is the most telling test we ran in picking the best 5-weight rod. At 45 feet you want a rod that will false cast all day fishing drys yet have the power to drill a more wind resistant pattern into a fifteen mph wind get it within a couple of feet of the mark. You shouldn’t have to double-haul at 45 feet to get the rod to perform. This rod also needs to have enough butt and mid-section power to handle a couple of bead head nymphs, two split shot and a big, wind resistant indicator. Slower action rods need not apply. You should be able to slap a 15 foot type 6 sink tip WF-6-F/S line on this rod and launch a medium sized conehead streamer seventy five feet with ease. A great all around rod can do all this. This is why both the Sage Z-Axis and G. Loomis StreamDance GLX took the honors. They can do it all. With ease!

  Performance at 70 feet - 20 points available

There are not many times we need to have a #5 rod throw seventy feet and beyond, but the best rods with a good caster at the controls can easily cast all the line – ninety to one hundred feet. Any decent caster should expect the top 5 weight rods to make a seventy foot cast and get the fly within 4-6 feet of his target if not closer. The best casters can often put it within three feet with good consistency at this range. Usually when I’m fishing this far, I’m chucking hoppers or perhaps streamers. Accuracy isn’t as important to me as the rod’s ability to load up and let it rip. The best rods have enough pop and power to turn a long leader over at these longer distances, providing good accuracy.

  The Sage Z-Axis was unbelievably smooth and accurate at seventy feet, but the G. Loomis StreamDance GLX was a very close second. Personally I’ve always loved that reserve power I seem to find in the GLX. When you lean on this rod, things happen! Explosive power that you didn’t think was there will astound you.

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*Overall Weight - As measured on our “official” Yellowstone Angler digital postage scale.

**Swing Weight - This is the weight of the rod, out ahead of your hand, when the rod is held in a horizontal position. We calculated this by placing a small piece of packing foam in the center of the digital scale and using it as a fulcrum. Then we placed the rod horizontally on the scale, positioning it so that when the fulcrum was centered, the uppermost part of the rod handle would be three inches to the right of the fulcrum of foam. The rest of the handle and reel seat would extend back to the right, while most of the rod extended horizontally back to the left. Then to measure the swing weight in ounces, we simply pressed down on the center of the rod grip (where your hand should be) and read the downward pressure on the scale with the rod in a horizontal position.

 The Final Results

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George Anderson's Comments:

#10 Temple Fork TiCr-X, 9 foot #5, 4 Pc.

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  Well, there was destined to be a loser in this shootout, and the TiCr-X 9 foot #5, although it does have some redeeming features, is it. Maybe it’s unfair to compare some of these imported rods selling for one-third of the price of the top rods, but everyone wants to see how they stack up, especially for $225.00. Surprisingly, TFO’s $180, 8 foot 9 inch “Finesse” proved to be a much better 5-weight rod than the TiCr-X.

  One thing that handicapped this top of the line TiCr-X is the fact that it’s too stiff to be a real 5-weight rod! It’s really a 6-weight rod, especially if you want decent performance at under fifty feet.

  Just about the only category it placed well was in Price. It pulled a 5 in X-factor since it doesn’t even come with a hard case! A six in Craftsmanship seemed about right because of the huge, unsightly gaps between the ferrules and a cork handle that had filling that turned dark when wet, taking on a zebra like appearance. On a positive note, I did like the color of this rod, a handsome sapphire blue.

  Here are my performance notes:

25 foot performance - 10 points out of 20
Too heavy and too stiff to exhibit any decent short-range feel or accuracy. Maybe because it’s really a 6 line rod! Not at all pleasant to fish at short distances.

45 foot performance - 12 points out of 20
Heavy and stiff. Feels like a six weight line rod, not a five weight. This rod could heave a #7 with ease. Here is another rod that is going to wear you out fishing dry flies. This TiCr-X, that TFO bills as it’s fastest action rod is actually quite a bit slower in action than theTiCr! This gives a better feel than the TiCr, and decent accuracy at 45 feet, but nowhere nearly as smooth, precise and accurate as either the Sage or Loomis rods.

70 foot performance – 16 points out of 20
Feels better at long range, mainly since I’m carrying a lot more line in the air to make it behave more like a six weight rod. This rod is a cannon, but a relatively heavy one.

 #9 Orvis Zero Gravity Midflex 9'#5, 4pc

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  For some unknown reason Orvis has usually designed rods with heavier, less flexible tips and slower, more parabolic actions. I suppose their thinking is that these designs are better for most anglers, especially less experienced anglers. Well, I think they are wrong. Fly casters from beginners to experts will get a lot more out of rods with medium fast action rods with softer tips. Who would have believed that a $225 Albright five-piece rod would stomp all over the hot new Zero Gravity in every single performance category?

  On the plus side, Orvis rods have always had wonderful craftsmanship, finish and lovely reel seats. The reel seat on this new Zero Gravity is complex and beautiful, until you twist the Gold anodized cap to lock up the reel. Then the aluminum-to-aluminum contact of the cap with the slotted sliding band creates an excruciating, fingernails on the blackboard, type of squeak.

  At one time I had an old Orvis 7 foot 9 inch “Far and Fine” graphite rod that was light as a feather, and had a nice fast (for Orvis) action. Orvis needs to go back and find that Far and Fine rod design and tell the present rod designers to build ‘em just like that.

  Oh yes, for those of you that say we should have tested the tip-flex Zero Gravity instead, we did, but rejected it since the action was slower than the mid-flex making it even more of a dog.

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 12 points out of 20
Heavy, broomstick like feel in close. The tip of this rod is too stiff for close work. BUT – the tip flex is even worse, having a slower action and stiffer tip. I would have thought that the tip-flex would have a softer tip.??? This is really odd.

45 foot performance – 10 points out of 20
This rod exhibited a marked inability to carry a tight loop. False cast this rod for an hour and your forearm will be screaming for a rest. Only motocross racers experience this much arm pump. The stiff tip and parabolic feel made casting accuracy difficult at mid-distances.

70 foot performance – 14 points out of 20
This rod feels much better at long range than either of the shorter distances but still heavy and slow compared to the best rods – Sage and Loomis. The slower, parabolic action resulted in noticeably lower line speed and velocity, and slower cast timing than Sage or Loomis rods.

 #8 Thomas and Thomas HE 9' #5, 4 pc.

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  We picked the Helix as the best feeling and best performing 9 foot #5 rod after looking at both their Horizon II and the less expensive, $400 XL-4 models.

  I’ve always been impressed with the workmanship and craftsmanship that goes into all the T &T rods. You aren’t going to find better quality cork grips anywhere, and their reel seats are both beautiful and functional. The wraps on the guides are works of art, and no one finishes the wraps better than Thomas and Thomas. Utter perfection.

  Problems arise though when comparing these rods to faster action rods with softer tips. The generally stiffer tips of the T & T rods mean slower actions than most, and terribly heavy swing weights. Only one rod tested had a higher swing weight than the HE, and that was the TFO TiCr-X, a heavy rod that needs a 6-weight line to get it to load. Like Orvis, they would do well to explore designs with lighter, more flexible tips that will allow for better short distance performance. Maybe we should have tried this rod with a #6 line. It would probably be a better choice, especially for close to medium distance performance.

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 12 points out of 20
This rod’s stiffer tip led to lack of feel and accuracy. Noticeably heavier than other rods while false casting at shorter distances – not good. There is a wide gap here between this rod and the best performers.

45 foot performance - 12 points out of 20
Feels heavy in the hand. The slower, more parabolic action makes the rod seem heavier than it is. Definitely not very pleasant to cast when compared to the Sage or Loomis. Accuracy is also inferior to most of the better rods.

70 foot performance - 14 points out of 20
Good power at this distance, and smooth enough but heavy, requiring a lot more physical work on the casters part. Not nearly as pleasant to cast or as accurate as either the Sage or Loomis at long distance.

 #7 Temple Fork Finesse, 8' 9" #5, 4 pc.

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  This rod was a pleasant surprise and turned out to be a much better all around 5-line rod than their more famous, top of the line TiCr-X. Another Lefty Kreh designed rod, (at least that is what TFO tells us) this one actually feels pretty nice and a rod that I’d have fun fishing. It’s reasonably light and has a nice medium fast action with a softer tip, so important in obtaining good accuracy and delicacy at the shorter distances this rod was designed for.

  The price is right, at $179.95, but you’ll have to buy your own hard case with what is left from two hundred smackers. Still a bargain. At some point, Temple Fork will come to their senses and give you a freakin’ rod case! They make some good ones though for only $19.95. At least they do give you a soft rod bag, but not a good one.

  If you are looking for a nice rod to start your kid out with, this is the one! You’ll be into the whole outfit for way less than $300 and you’ll have a good back up rod when you slam the rear hatch of your SUV on that favorite $600 rod.

  We tested this rod with the SA Mastery Trout Taper line.

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 14 points out of 20
Good accuracy and excellent feel. This rod casts well off the tip at shorter distances. This rod is a little bit heavier than some of the best rods, but a surprisingly good rod for the $$.

45 foot performance - 14 points out of 20
This is no Tom Morgan rod, but has a surprisingly good feel at 45 feet and good accuracy. Very smooth, with a nice light feel overall. This is a FAR better all around 5-weight rod than the TiCr-X or any of the other TFO rods for that matter.

70 foot performance - 14 points out of 20
Like the Tom Morgan rod, this Finesse runs out of steam at 70-80 feet, but on the other hand it wasn’t designed to cast these distances. Still, it does a surprisingly good job at 70 feet if you can double-haul to get the line speed up. This rod is much more suited to closer distance fishing. If you want to throw long, get the TiCr-X in a 9 foot #4 and put a #5 line on it.

#6 Albright A-5, 9' #5, 5 Pc.

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  Here’s the big surprise of the test. Well, its no surprise to me since I always knew that this Jim Murphy designed rod was a winner. These rods are built in Korea, which helps to keep the cost down. Jim has used top shelf, high modulus graphite to get the wonderful actions and light tips that make for a great casting tool.

  If you look at the performance categories, you’ll see that this rod outperformed (by a wide margin) both the Orvis Zero Gravity and the Thomas and Thomas HE, both $640-$650 rods! That’s huge.

  Along with that, the rod is a pleasant Winston green color, with decent hardware, cork and reel seat, and it does come with a cloth bag and hard case. This is also a 5-piece rod, rather than all the other rods in our test, which are 4 piece rods (with the exception of the Tom Morgan 2 pc.) So, on paper it shouldn’t place as highly as it does in many categories since it has more sections, more ferrules etc to add weight and stiffness. Well, you’ll never think this is a five-piece rod when you put it in your hand. It feels like a two-piece!

  Accuracy was outstanding, especially at short distance. We were all shaking our heads in amazement.

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 18 points out of 20

  Great accuracy and feel in close. Better even than the Sage Z-Axis at twenty-five feet! Very light in the hand, this rod casts better than most $600 rods at one-third the cost.

45 foot performance - 16 points out of 20

  Excellent feel and accuracy. If you were blindfolded you might mistake this rod for the Sage Z-Axis. A nice softer tip combined with a progressive medium fast action makes delicate presentations a snap. This rod loads perfectly with a 5-weight GLX line.

70 foot performance - 16 points out of 20

Nice, but not nearly the pop and smooth long distance power I feel with either the Sage or Loomis. Still, as good or better than most other rods and far better than the TFO rods, Orvis or T&T.

#5 R.L. Winston BIIx, 9'#5, 4 Pc.

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  This past year we have sold more BIIx rods than any other 5-weight fly rod. There are some good reasons for this. For one, they are one of the best-looking fly rods on the market. Craftsmanship has always been a long suit with Winston. From the Tom Morgan designed nickel silver uplocking reel seats, to the superb finish of the rod and wraps, and that beautiful emerald green color that gushes forth when you hold the rod in the sunlight, the quality of this rod jumps out at you.

  Pick it up and you’ll be surprised at the light feeling in your hand, made possible by utilizing boron in the butt section. The other thing that strikes you is the slim and comfortable cork grip. Winston cuts these down by hand, using only the finest cork they can obtain, after throwing away a huge amount of rejected rings. Smaller sized grips feel so much better on rods like this, designed for delicate work. For some people these grips will feel too small in diameter though. We get a lot more compliments than complaints about the size and shape of the grips.

  In casting the rod that we thought could challenge for the winner in this shootout, we were less enthusiastic. Here is a rod that has too soft a tip and is too fast in action. You just don’t get a good transition of power from the stiff butt and mid-section through to the soft, sloppy tip.

  The performance was good in close, but fell off dramatically at longer distances. This is a rod that a few design tweaks would help dramatically.

  For those of you that are disappointed that we didn’t test the new BIIt, read my piece on the two biggest disappointments for 2007. The BIIt was one of them! The BIIt is far too soft to be of much use to anyone that wants to fish at over twenty-five or thirty feet. We had trouble pushing forty feet in a strong breeze.

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 16 points out of 20
The soft tip of this rod made for superb short distance accuracy. It was easy to cast off the tip of the rod with just a flick of the wrist. Good feel and very smooth. This rod is much better suited for short distance fishing than throwing long.

45 foot performance - 16 points out of 20
The sloppy, soft tip of this rod degrades accuracy at medium distances. I get the feeling that I don’t know within a couple of feet where the fly is headed. This won’t cut it when compared to the best rods. This feels heavier in my hand and is more work to cast than the Sage Z-Axis I had on tap to make a quick comparison.

70 foot performance - 16 points out of 20
Feels like it has to work hard to cast these distances, despite me using a double-haul. The line speed is definitely slower than either the Sage or Loomis. You can’t lean on this rod and expect to find that surge of power you get from either the Sage or Loomis. It simply quits.

 #4 Scott G-2, 9' #5, 4 Pc.

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  Here’s another rod we felt might place higher, especially from hearing reports about it from satisfied anglers. I’ve always loved the feeling of the Scott rods, especially for short to medium distance work. The late Harry Wilson was a great designer and one of the few that knew how important it was to build a rod with a strong butt and mid-section yet softer tip. Many of Harry’s early graphite rods were tough to beat in their day and perfect rods for our spring creek fishing. Fortunately, Harry’s ideas and designs have carried through to today’s rods.

  Unfortunately, so have the cosmetics on some rods like this G-2. Most rods are sanded smooth once the tape is peeled off when they come out of the oven, but not the G-2. They just slap a coat of finish over the rod, feeling that sanding the blank can weaken it or alter the casting characteristics. Well, this approach may have some merit, but it is sure ugly.

  Their choice of a longish western style cork grip, with that weird looking composite cork at the top isn’t either very comfortable or pretty. The reel seat is just OK, with a good-looking wood insert but a cheap anodized aluminum uplock seat and cap.

  This rod, unlike any other rod in our test, utilizes spigot ferrules rather than the newer, slip-over ferrule. A nine-foot blank can be rolled in two pieces and then cut in half. Then the graphite ferrules are inserted from the larger end, glued into place and individually fitted. Much more work is required than with the slip-over design. We used to feel that spigot ferrules were lighter and promoted a smoother transition of power, but today’s rod designers have seemed to eliminate these concerns. With spigot ferrules, you are always going to have a quarter inch gap between sections to allow for future wear, and this looks rather odd. It is certainly not as clean as the newer slip-over designs.

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 16 points out of 20
Not quite as precise, as smooth or as accurate as either the Sage or Loomis rods at short distances. The softer tip makes for easy casting though with a minimum of effort.

45 foot performance - 16 points out of 20
A more parabolic, hinge like feel made the rod seem heavier than the best rods. The line doesn’t track or follow the tip in the air nearly as well as either the Sage or Loomis. Feels like the tip on this rod is too soft to provide a good transition of power.

70 foot performance - 16 points out of 20
Slower cast timing doesn’t develop nearly the line velocity of either the Sage or Loomis. More casting effort required to throw long. Casting accuracy at longer distances was disappointing.

 #3 Tom Morgan 8'6" #5, 2 Pc.

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   Wow! This is everyone’s first impression of this wonderful rod. You know that this rod is going to be something special when you first see the rod case. This definitely sets the bar for rod cases and cloth bags. The aluminum rod case is a distinctly unusual octagonal shape and finished in textured powder coating with the color that matches the rod – a brilliant deep garnet red. The heavy black anodized aluminum caps and collar have the distinctive look of an old-fashioned walking cane head. The bag is supplex trimmed with complimentary piping and lined with Swede like fabric, treating the rod like a piece of fine jewelry!

  And a fine piece the rod itself is! The rod is a deep claret bordering on red-black in the shade, but, in sunlight, it is a brilliant red--just like a garnet. On further inspection, you’ll find the finest custom nickel silver reel seat you’ve ever seen, designed and made by Tom Morgan Rodsmiths. Since each rod is custom made, you can pick either a slide band with a fixed hood or an uplocking screw-lock seat with a hidden hood. Then pick from a selection of exotic wood inserts finished with numerous coats of hand-rubbed oil that give a beautiful satin finish.

  So, we know that the craftsmanship easily gets the top score, but does this rod cast as well as it looks? In a word, YES.

  Everyone here was impressed with this rod, especially with its performance at short to medium distance – the critical fishing distances for most people.

  This rod would have walked away with 1st place in our shootout if it didn’t give up such a low score in the price category. It placed first in five of the ten different categories! The next best rod was the Sage Z-Axis with four perfect scores.

  The only negative factor we could find (other than price) is that this is available only as a two-piece rod, making it a little tougher to hand-carry on airline flights. And - other anglers will be bothering you to see what’s inside that gorgeous rod case!

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 20 points out of 20
Superb feel and accuracy in close. The whole rod seems to come alive in your hand and instills confidence that you can put the fly exactly where you are aiming. The softer tip and mid-section make delicate presentations a breeze. In addition, this rod is soft enough to protect the very lightest 7X and 8X tippets. This is the ultimate short-range tool.

45 foot performance - 18 points out of 20
Loads very well with the SA Mastery WF-5-F Trout taper but not as light a feel or as much usable power as either the Sage or Loomis. This rod is not capable of firing tight loops into a strong wind like the Sage or Loomis rods that carry line in the air with a higher line speed. But it does what it’s designed for -to deliver superb accuracy and perfect presentations at shorter distances.

70 foot performance - 14 points out of 20
The Tom Morgan rod gets it done at 70-80 feet but not without some strong double-hauling to get the line speed up in order to shoot line at these longer distances. Lower line speed, along with the lack of pop and explosive power on tap with either the Sage or Loomis limit it's long distance effectiveness.

 #2 G. Loomis StreamDance GLX
High Line Speed, 9' #5, 4 Pc.

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  Now we’re getting down to the finalists, and for all practical purposes, you can just flip a coin to pick the winner. The Sage Z-Axis and the StreamDance GLX are distinctly different feeling rods, but performed nearly identically in all our performance tests.

  Coming from the mind and hands of head rod designer and world casting champion (for about the last twenty years!) Steve Rajeff, you know that this rod is going to be a winner. For years Loomis GLX rods had the reputation of being one of the best performing rods on the market. The downside was that they were ugly, with their unfinished black graphite and crappy, cheap anodized aluminum reel seats.

  Well, all that has changed for the better with the StreamDance GLX rods. These rods still perform at the highest levels, but now they look as good as they cast! The blanks now have a beautiful, non-glare olive satin finish, complimented with matching olive wraps. The reel seat is a classy and unusual offset oval chocolate brown anodized aluminum barrel with distinctly beautiful “California Buckeye Burl” wood inserts.

  High quality cork handles with a pleasing western style grips, flared at the rear over the uplocking reel seats lends a good feel to these rods.

  Loomis is the only manufacturer to utilize the terrific, light and unbreakable one-foot nickel/titanium guides. These bend and pop back into place just like those unbreakable Flexon-frame glasses frames you might be using. These one-foot guides look fragile, but they have proven to be bulletproof! The stripping guides are also unbreakable “recoil” guides. They work well but you’ll hear some strange music coming from them when you are retrieving line and backing under pressure with a strong bend in the rod. At least those days of knocking out the damn SIC stripping guide inserts are over.

  I think that G. Loomis has developed the best rod warranty in the business. Break your StreamDance GLX, get on the phone to Loomis warranty repair and for $65, they will ship you a brand new rod by second-day air. If you can wait a few extra days for the regular ground UPS to arrive, it will cost you only fifty bucks. This beats the hell out of sending a rod in to the other manufacturers and often waiting for up to a month to get your favorite rod back. And then it’s just repaired with a new tip or butt section, not replaced with a new rod like you’ll get from Loomis (or TFO). With the other manufacturers, the shipping and repair costs are just a little less, usually from $30 to $40. Loomis also sends you a UPS call tag, so you simply stick your broken rod back in the tube and it costs you nothing to ship it back to Loomis.

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 18 points out of 20
The softer progressive tip of this rod contributes to the excellent short-range accuracy and feel. No one has mastered the technology like Steve Rajeff and G. Loomis when it comes to building really small diameter rod tips. It’s hard to believe, but the tip diameter of this 5 weight StreamDance GLX, just below the tip wrap, measures only .053”! The next best is Sage at .059” and all the rest of the rods go from .061” (Scott G-2) to .067” (Orvis Zero G.) All the G. Loomis StreamDance rods we’ve sold have proven to be extremely strong despite the tiny tip diameters. Breakage rates are one of the lowest in the industry.

Excellent accuracy at short distance, combined with a very light swing weight making this a great rod for dry fly fishing and lots of false casting.

45 foot performance - 20 points out of 20
A virtual dead heat with the Z-Axis. Terrific feel and accuracy. Slightly heavier in my hand (heavier swing weight) than the Sage but equal in mid-distance performance, accuracy and power. Both of these finalists are on a higher performance plateau than all the other rods tested.

70 foot performance - 18 points out of 20
Wonderful power and accuracy. Unbelievable explosive power on tap when you need it. Lean on this rod and the line really flies! A great performer at long distance and an amazing amount of reserve power that you didn’t believe existed. Throwing a tight loop into a hard wind was effortless.

 #1 Sage Z-Axis , 9' #5, 4 pc.

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  The winner, by a nose. This rod is the perfect replacement for the aging XP. The XP was too stiff (by a full line size) and had too fast an action for most people. The new Z-Axis uses different technology but the end result is a rod that is slower in action and softer overall, allowing the new rod to cast effectively with the line size that is recommended – a #5 line. This is the rod that Sage should have built instead of the XP. Of course the new Aligned Fiber Technology didn’t exist back then. This new technology replaces traditional glass hoop fibers with lighter, more responsive graphite. (OK, this is good, but Loomis has been doing this for years with their GLX rods) New construction techniques were needed to align and compress these rods for maximum strength, and the new Z-Axis technology was born.

  Head rod designer Jerry Siem went back to the drawing board (and out on the water) to create new taper designs for each Z-Axis rod.

  Using the lighter weight G5 graphite and process that Sage has utilized for their excellent saltwater Xi2 rods, the new Z-Axis rods ended up with a distinct feel all their own, leading to a combination of smooth power, and low swing weight. The Z-Axis tied the StreamDance GLX in this performance category with a perfect 20 points.

  Jerry Siem used the new Sage computerized Casting Analyzer to help him examine the essential components of a cast – symmetry, arc, smoothness and speed. Then he applied what he learned into the design of the new Z-Axis rod.

  The new Z-Axis is a handsome rod, finished with a distinctive metallic deep olive color, with slightly darker contrasting olive wraps, tastefully trimmed with gold on the butt section. The cork handle is one of the all-time best in the business, hand laid up with the finest cork in the world and cut down on a lathe to a just right western style grip that we’ve become familiar with on the XP rods.

  The reel seat is Sage’s premier nickel-silver uplock seat with perfectly finished, attractive wood inserts.

  In a notable departure from previous Sage thinking about snake guide size, the guides on the tip of this rod are absolutely tiny. They are also very small in wire size and lighter in weight to provide even better performance than the previously used, larger diameter snake guides. I think that Jerry Siem is coming to the same conclusions as Tom Morgan, who has been making great casting rods with small snake guides for many years, including many of his original R.L. Winston designs.

  Here’s what Tom Morgan has to say on the subject – “The common misconception is that the bigger the guides the better the line flows through them and the farther you can cast. I have wrapped and cast identical rods with small guides and large guides and found just the opposite to be true. Apparently, the larger guides allow the line to slap around the rod too much and actually reduce the shooting ability of the line.”

  Like all the other manufacturers, Sage offers a lifetime warranty with the Z-Axis rods. They charge a nominal fee of $20 to cover shipping costs. In our experience, Sage is one of the few manufacturers that has improved turn-around time for rod repairs.

 We often get the repaired rods back to our shop within two weeks from when we send them in. We hope that this will continue. There is nothing more annoying than to send in your rod for repair during the middle of the season and not getting it back for a month or more.

Performance notes:

25 foot performance - 16 points out of 20
Very good, but not great. I’d definitely give the StreamDance GLX the edge here due to its softer tip, which allowed me to cast more easily off the tip of the rod. The Tom Morgan rod was more accurate. This rod’s extremely light swing weight (the best right behind the Tom Morgan rod) makes it a wonderful rod for dry fly fishing and lots of false casting.

45 foot performance - 20 points out of 20
This rod also bagged a perfect 20 points for winning the best Swing Weight VS Power category, and this is the kind of performance that helped it equal the StreamDance GLX in this most important of performance categories. Simply terrific accuracy and feel at 45 feet. Casting to a target, the fly rarely landed more than 18 inches off the mark. This rod definitely felt lighter in my hand than the GLX. Smooth is the best way to describe the power delivery. Like a knife slicing through warm butter.

70 foot performance - 20 points out of 20
The ability to carry a very smooth line in the air, excellent tracking characteristics and good reserve power combined with great long distance accuracy sealed the deal for the Z-axis. Another perfect score and one notch better than anyone else in the long distance category. BUT - the GLX was close - very close. Closer than the scores indicate. Not a 20, but maybe a 19.5

We hope you find this article helpful when choosing a rod that is right for YOU. Remember, the bottom line is having fun.

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 Article written by George Anderson

© 2008




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