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Shootouts

2013 Wader Shootout

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Intro

Welcome to our first ever wader shootout!  Last year, in addition to our normal rod shootouts we conducted a tippet shootout.  This year we decided to take a close look at waders, and compare what we feel are the best waders we’ve used and found on the market.

Apples to Apples
Right away we realized that testing wader performance (namely breathability and durability) was going to have far more variables involved than testing fly rods.  While testing rods we are able to keep things constant by using the same line, and the same reel.  By picking up one rod and making a few casts, and immediately picking up another loaded with the same set up, it was easy to tell the subtle difference in the rod’s swing weight, action, stiffness, power, line tracking and how well each rod casts at various distances.   

Waders, on the other hand have proven to be much more of a challenge to test, and to come up with some valid answers.  One of the major reasons manufactures can get away with claims that their newest fabric is 25% more breathable – is who’s going to dispute it?  Each manufacture comes up with their own test results that “prove” their wader fabric is not only more breathable than the next, but also more durable.  With all advertising hype, it’s nearly impossible to figure out which wader is better than another.

That’s where we come in.  We’re going to find ways to cut through all this BS and propaganda that the manufacturers are coming up with and give you some straight answers.  

Originally we wanted to run our own, non-biased MVTR (moisture Vapor Transmission Rate) test but we quickly discovered this was far too cost prohibitive.  To test a single swatch of fabric you are looking at about $1000.  At a bare minimum our lab bill would have been over $15,000 to professionally compare the breathability of each wader.    More comprehensive tests (including both breathability and durability of various fabrics) would have cost a minimum of $25,000.  We had to come up with a different and much less expensive method of testing.

Our real world tests for Breathability
We are certainly not going to take for granted the laboratory testing put out by Gore-tex® or other manufacturers.   Few anglers want to take the time to wade through all this complex information. We decided we didn’t need an established ASTM test or global SATRA standards to tell us whether a wader should feel clammy or not.  What we wanted was a real world test for breathability that anyone could easily replicate themselves.  We also wanted to see if we could feel the difference from wader to wader.  George came up with the idea to use a small hygrometer (like the one we use in our cigar humidor), drop it inside our waders, cinch up a wader belt and then after a few minutes, check it for the relative humidity present inside the waders.  It worked perfectly!  Better yet, anyone can run these tests by buying an Acu-rite indoor humidity monitor available on  Amazon.com for $9.99, plus shipping and handling, (the model we got was the 00619). We’ve used hygrometers like this for years in our shop cigar humidor for years and have come to trust their ability to reliably read changes in temperature and humidity instantly.

 

Acu-rite Hygrometer

 

Living in the waders
James felt that the best way to get to know all these waders was to pull them on at work, and wear each pair around the shop for an hour or two at a crack, everyday for about 2 weeks.  This received more than a couple of puzzled looks from customers!  Part of the idea was to become familiar with each wader’s particular fit, feel, storage features, suspender design, and ease of relief, ect. But the main reason was for testing the breathability with the Acu-rite hygrometer.  By tying some 30lb. backing around the hygrometer and hanging it from each wader’s suspender, (dropping it down inside the wader, below the waist line and then cinching up the same wader belt), we were able to easily check how much humidity was building up in each wader.  Jamie took several checks on each wader throughout a period of two to three hours.  In theory, the waders that were more breathable would have lower humidity readings than those that were less breathable.  This theory checked out when we saw the old Red Ball waders (that were polyurethane coated nylon and totally non-breathable) kicking out readings in the 79-89% range, while the Gore-tex® and other breathables were coming in as low as 32-40%.   Most of this day-to- day activity was spent in front of the computer, but occasionally Jamie would walk around to rig up fly lines, sell fishing licenses, or work on shipping out on-line orders.   We figured this wasn’t enough strenuous exercise to get a real feel for how hot each wader would feel in the summer, so we called in a favor and scheduled a wader workout… 

Wader Workout!

 

 

 

We figured the best way to tell if a wader is truly breathable or not is to work up a sweat.  We figured we could simulate a hot walk to Slough Creek by getting on a treadmill at our local exercise center. We’ll be the first to admit trying to keep the exercise a constant was a real challenge.  We wanted to eliminate whatever variables we could, so to warm up, we did about 10 minutes of treadmill at 3 mph, before testing any of the waders.  Then for each wader test, we got on the treadmill for 5 minutes each – James at 3 mph, and George at 2.5 mph (slower for seniors!  Ha, ha).  Then between each wader test we took a 10-minute break, which gave us time to write down our comments and change waders.  At each break we would drink half a cup of water to try to keep our hydration levels equal.  We even checked the first two waders again at the end of the test, to make sure that our output levels were remained constant, (since one could make the case that whatever wader you tested last would be probably read hotter than the whatever ever waders we tested first or second).  As it turns out the readings were a dead on match!

After about 6 waders into the workout we threw on the vintage Red Balls, which proved to be an excellent base line in terms of a completely non-breathable wader.  Within a minute of walking on the treadmill the inside of the Red Balls felt like a tropical rainforest.  When we pulled out the Acu-rite hygrometer , the humidity inside the Red Balls read 99%!   And as you’ll see in our video, Jamie was covered with sweat.

Another bonus of testing waders on the treadmill was that we were able to see how each wader’s stride felt.  It’s one thing to feel the fit of a wader while standing there, but you get a really good feel for how the legs fit while you are walking.  Waders that don’t fit well (Ex. with too long of an inseam like the William Joseph WST) quickly became noticeable and made walking less comfortable. (Not to mention more abrasion resistance which leads to extra wear and tear).  Legs that were too short were also uncomfortable to walk in, (such as the Aquaz DryZip’s odd lower leg).  Without the treadmill test this might have gone relatively unnoticed.  Later you can read about which waders fit best in our “fit true to size” category.  We used waders that were sized as closely as possible to James and George’s build.  James wore a standard Large, while George used a Large Short or Med. King.

 

The base layer that you pick to wear underneath the waders makes a huge difference in comfort 

One thing that we have found in the past is that what you wear under your waders makes a HUGE difference in overall comfort.  One would think that wearing nothing would be the most comfortable, since there would be no extra layer for the moisture to pass through, (allowing the breathable fabric to directly draw the moisture through the wader).  In reality however, this was one of the most uncomfortable ways to wear the waders, especially noticeable with the Red Ball, non-breathables.  Not only did the fabric pull on your leg hairs, but also it made your skin feel clammier than a methadone overdose!

Next to nothing at all, the worst thing you can wear under your waders is cotton – like your favorite jeans.   Cotton soaks up the moisture and does not allow it to vent out through the breathable waders.  So forget about wearing your jeans under waders. If you are going to spend hard earned money on a pair of nice waders, take the time and money to invest in some moisture wicking long underwear that will allow the wader’s breathable laminate to work properly.

In this respect, our wader shootout almost spun off a layering shootout, much like our Tippet Shootout turned into a best knot shootout!  For this wader comparison, we tried a variety of synthetic underwear from Patagonia’s Capilene and the Simms Waderwick to some of the new natural stretchy Marino wool base layer by Icebreaker that has been so popular with skiers.

In the end we had to pick one, and we felt that Patagonia’s Capilene was hands down the most comfortable and had the greatest “moisture wicking” performance of any base layer brand out there.  Even wearing the Red Balls were relatively comfortable wearing a pair of Cap 3’s!

We chose Patagonia’s Capilene 3 for our testing, as this is what we wear most of the time under our waders in the Fall and Spring (when we most often wear waders), but we know from experience that during the hot summer months, the best layer to wear next to skin is Patagonia’s Capilene 1 Silkweight.  We’ve been wearing this stuff and comparing it with comparable brands for over 10 years and can honestly say it’s the landslide winner.  Here’s why…

Wicking Ability
The most important function for an undergarment (at least in our eyes) is how effective it is at pulling sweat and humidity away from your skin so that the breathable wader fabric can then allow your perspiration to pass through the wader.  You could be wearing the most breathable pair or waders in the word, but if you’re wearing cotton jeans underneath them you are going to be miserable.  On the other hand, we’ve found wearing the totally non-breathable Red Balls in the shop didn’t feel all that bad when wearing the best wicking base layer under them.

Garment thickness
One thing that Patagonia really excels at (and where other companies need improvement) is giving you 4 different garment thicknesses in layering options that allow you to pick the perfect wicking and warmth factor for any given day.  Keep in mind in order for to maximize wicking properties, the Capilene® must be close to your skin, hence Patagonia’s choice to have “slim fit” base layers. “Big-boned” anglers will want to size up accordingly…

Capilene® 1 Silkweight Stretch ($35) – Patagonia’s stretchiest base layer for hot summer wear. These puppies are what guides in New Zealand wear in the summer for sand fly protection. We’ve even used them in the blazing hot sun of Belize to keep away the no-see-ums. With 50+ UPF you won’t have to worry about getting burned through the fabric. Hands down the best and most comfortable thing to wear under your waders during the summer season.

Capilene® 2 Lightweight ($45) – Patagonia’s best base layer for cool conditions.  These work in a wide range of temperatures, aside from late July and August these are exceptionally comfortable year round. With excellent wicking properties, Cap 2 will pull the sweat and moisture buildup away from your skin and keep you comfortable in your waders all day long.

Capilene® 3 Midweight ($49) – The most versatile base layer for cool to cold conditions. This is what we use 80% of the time under our waders, (since often in the summer we’ll choose to wet wade in shorts or Cap 1). This is the base layer garment that we chose as the ultimate “next to skin layer” for our wader shootout.  Cap 3 Mid-weights are exceptionally comfortable and incredible at wicking away sweat from the body.  They are also great for skiing and other fall / winter sports.  Bottom line – buy some, you’ll love them!

Capilene® 4 Expedition Weight ($79) – The warmest, most breathable synthetic base layer for winter wear.  These babies are warm when you need it, and are highly effective at wicking away sweat when you’re hiking hard, and comfy all day long.  If you are doing some hardcore winter fishing or steelheading – this is THE layer to wear next to skin.  It’s also our favorite for hiking the ridge at Bridger Bowl ski area since it keeps sweat away from the body while exerting yourself and keeps you warm as soon as you stop hiking.

 

Anti-Microbial / Anti-odor
Another thing we liked about Patagonia’s long underwear is their anti-odor properties, (and trust us, they weren’t always king of the mountain in this department). The tables have turned however, and now Patagonia utilizes Gladiodor® garment odor control in their base layers.  According to Patagonia, the Gladiodor® treatment uses “molecular spears” to puncture the cellular walls of bacteria, effectively killing it.  For trout bums who are camping in tents or for travelers who don’t have the room to pack 3 pairs of long underwear Patagonia’s Capilene® is the way to go.

If you are on tight budget, the next best wicking base layer would be Simms’ Waderwick Bottoms for $29.95.  These only come in a thickness in between Cap 1 and Cap 2 and have a tighter weave to the fabric.

Merino wool (from Patagonia, Simms, or Icebreaker) is another option if you want to wear a natural base layer.  The main advantage of wool is that is remains warmer than synthetics when wet. Unless you take a spill in your waders we thought this was a nonissue.  The other plus is wool is less flammable.  Unless you stumble into the campfire, while drying out, we figure this was a nonissue as well.  The downside to wool is that it is slightly itchier than the synthetic materials, (despite what manufactures claim), it’s heavier, it’s less durable, and it’s nearly twice as expensive.

Best Socks?
Along with base layers we tried out a variety of different socks combinations under the waders, including: Simms’ Extreme Sock, Simms’ Liner Sock, Patagonia’s old Liner sock, Simms’ Wading Sock, Patagonia’s Ski sock, Patagonia’s Midweight sock, and Ice Breaker’s Hike Mountain Mid-calf.  

For James, the most comfortable sock was actually a combination of wearing the Simms’ liner socks with Simms’ thicker Extreme socks.  The liner socks wicked the moisture and sweat (which was of significant amount, even for not exercising) away from your foot, passing into the thicker sock.  The moisture would remain the thicker sock, allowing your feet to feel much less clammy or sweaty.  If you have exceptionally sweaty (and stinky) feet like James, the ultimate combo to look at is 1. Simms Liner socks, 2. Simms Extreme wading socks, 3. Patagonia’s Rio Gallegos waders, (complete with their patent pending merino wool grid).  One would think having thick socks and extra wool in the booty would be hotter, but in reality the thicker wading sock and inner grid system help to wick moisture build up away from the skin.

George preferred to go with a more simple and conventional one sock does it all – the standard Simms Wading Sock, which is 80% Marino wool, 18% nylon, and 2% Spandex.

After washing each of the socks, we found that they all shrunk a little (due to the high percentage of merino wool).  Merino wool is key in terms of pulling sweat away and keeping it away from the skin as well as staying warmer when wet.  However it does shrink – even up to one full size sock.  For this reason we recommend buying one size up than your normal sock size.  (It seemed like after the first wash the socks didn’t shrink as much as the initial wash).  The other option would be to hang dry your socks, but we felt this wasn’t practical.

Another thing to keep in mind (since wading boot manufactures do not currently offer half sizes) is you can achieve a better fit by wearing either a thicker or thinner sock.  In general, our recommendation is to buy larger boots, with thicker socks since when you are on your feet all day; your feet have a tendency to swell. A little extra room is always better than crammed toes.  Here’s a quick cheat sheet in terms of each socks thickness:

Simms’ Liner Sock – thinnest on market right now

Patagonia’s Ski sock – nice medium / midweight sock. Like the Icebreakers, it’s a very tall sock

Simms’ Wading Sock – thick, but not as cushy as extreme sock

Simms’ Extreme Sock – second thickest next to ice breakers but with less shrinkage after washing

Ice Breaker’s Hike Mountain Mid-calf – Super plush and thick new but more shrinkage than Extreme sock after washing. A very tall sock, with a higher % of wool, these socks stink less than the rest.    

Fitting into Wading Boots – what size do I buy?

Lastly, while we’re on the subject of boot sizing, we noticed that the neoprene booties from different manufactures vary somewhat in size, making it tricky to choose the right size wading boots for your particular wader.  For example, the Simms neoprene booties are almost a full size smaller than the Patagonia’s.  Hence if you bought Simms waders and Simms boots, you should get one size up from your normal shoe size (i.e. if you normally wear a size 10 street shoe, you should buy size 11 Simms wading boots).  If you buy the Patagonia Rio Gallegos waders and want to go with Simms boots, we recommend you buy a boot that is 1.5 – 2 sizes larger to be more comfortable and less scrunched.  Of course the best plan is to try on a pair of new boots with the exact pair of waders you plan to use at your local fly shop.  If that’s not possible for some reason, here are some general guidelines to go by as we see it:

Boot Fitting

Wader Specs

Wader Specs., Temperature, and relative Humidity Explained 

Available Stock Sizes
Here we count how many sizes each wader manufacture offers in their stock program.  Some wader companies (such as Simms) offer even more sizes through the custom shop program.   

Weight in Size Large (in ounces)
First we put a small cardboard box on our postage scale and weighed it out to 4 ounces.  Next we rolled up each pair of size large waders, stuffed it in the box, and weighed the box and the wader together.  Later we subtracted the original 4 ounces to give you the figures shown. 

Weight in Size Large (in pounds)
Same as above but converted to pounds instead of ounces… 

Rank in Pack ability
While going through the trouble to roll each wader (in order to fit it in the box to weigh) we noticed certain waders were much smaller than others.  Here the non-neoprene booty of the Red Balls did wonders – you can roll them up to about the size of a long sleeve t-shirt!  Others such as Cabela’s Bootfoots or the William Joseph WST were much larger and wouldn’t fit well in a backpack. 

Is Each Pair Factory Tested for Leaks?
Luckily for us, testing for leaks is now standard procedure.  Each wader manufacture guaranteed us that every single wader is factory tested, approved, hung to dry, and then boxed to ship.  Thankfully (unlike in the past) this means we should see almost no waders leak out of the box.   

Custom Availability
There are only two wader manufactures that currently offer custom shops, Simms and Patagonia.  Both shops have the ability to put any size neoprene booty on their high-end waders.  There is an extra cost for this process, as well as an extra 3-4 weeks time.  Still, we think this is extremely valuable to the consumer since a very large angler with small feet (or vise-versa) can be comfortable all day.  Simms has always had a killer custom shop, not only offering booty swaps, but also suspenders upgrades, pocket upgrades, or even a horizontal relief zipper.   

Average Humidity in Shop  (inside the wader)
These figures come from hanging the hygrometer off each wader’s suspenders, (below the wader belt) and wearing the waders in the shop.   James took 10 readings, dropped the highest and lowest readings and averaged the remaining humidity readings.   

Average Temperature in Shop  (inside the wader)
Just like above, these figures come from hanging the hygrometer off each wader’s suspenders, (below the wader belt) and wearing the waders in the shop.   James took 10 readings, dropped the highest and lowest readings and averaged the remaining temperature readings.   

Treadmill Humidity – James
Here we hung the hygrometer in the same spot inside the waders and let James walk on the treadmill for 5 minutes at 3 mph.  At the end of the 5 minutes we quickly took the hygrometer out to get the official humidity reading.  

Treadmill Temperature – James
Just like above, we hung the hygrometer in the same spot inside the waders and let James walk on the treadmill for 5 minutes at 3 mph.  At the end of the 5 minutes we quickly took the hygrometer out to get the official temperature reading.  

Treadmill Humidity – George
The only difference from James was that George ran the treadmill at 2.5 mph  (Slower is better for seniors)  

Treadmill Temperature – George
The only difference from James was that George ran the treadmill at 2.5 mph. 

Total Average Humidity
An average of all the humidity readings derived from James wearing each wader at work, James on the treadmill, and George on the treadmill.  

Total Average Temperature
An average of all the temperature readings derived from James wearing each wader at work, James on the treadmill, and George on the treadmill.  

Made in the USA
While Simms does manufacture some waders overseas, all of the waders tested in the shootout were made in Bozeman, MT.  Interestingly enough all the neoprene booties are made here in Bozeman, and are then shipped to China for assembly on their non-Gore waders, (apparently so they can keep their booty fit secrets away from other manufactures).  The Red Ball waders we tested were manufactured in the US, but they closed the doors long ago.  

 

Wader Shootout Final Results

 

Our Testing Procedures/ Categories Explained

Easily worn as waist highs  – 10 points available One of the quickest and easiest ways to control your body’s temperature is having the ability to wear your waders as a “waist high” wader.   While some waders are specifically marketed as convertibles, we feel a good wader should be easily worn as a chest wader or a waist high.  As such, a versatile wader allows you to wade deep when necessary, (perhaps to get a better drift, cast a bit further, or cross to the other side where there’s less fishing pressure), while also having the ability to pull down and wear at waist height, making general everyday fishing, drift boat fishing, or hiking in warmer weather nearly twice as comfortable.   

Waders that took top honors in this category had internal suspender systems that were designed specifically for quick and easy waist high conversion.  Waders that were too stiff to roll or pull down or used suspenders that would not clip into each other as a wading belt (see suspender category) took penalty points.

Style Points – 10 points available
Here you’ll see our opinions on which waders not only look good on, but which have that cool factor going for them.  As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, hence our highly subjective results. That being said, some of these brands have spent a lot of time, money, and effort to make their waders more attractive.  Much of this success comes directly from the design side, (creating a better fit but, and consulting with fashion specialists) but also by building brand recognition through a wide variety of social media – magazine adds, sponsored film festivals, hosting guide parties/events, and supplying hi profile pros with free gear.  Waders that fit best and looked the coolest received the highest points.  Waders endorsing more of a stay-puffed marshmallow man look were awarded appropriately.

Seam Quality  – 10 points available
Here we take a closer look at the inside of the waders.   Are the seams taped?  Is the tape used to cover the seam excessively bulky?  Is it too thin?  Do the connections have an extra cross patch?  Are the seams located along the inside of the legs (which lead to more wear and tear) or do they run along an area with less potential for abrasion?  Does the wader have a secure method of attaching the breathable fabric to the neoprene foot booty?   Waders with one or two horizontal seams on the inside of the legs get knocked one point for abrasion.  Waders with a vertical seam running down the entire inside leg get knocked 3 points.

Wader Insides
Outside of waders

Stitched –vs–Welded, what’s better?
Excellent question.  Manufactures like Orvis, Redington, and Dan Bailey’s have substantial add campaigns suggesting the superiority of welded seems, (after all stiches make holes, and holes leak, right)?   Manufactures like Simms and Patagonia who do not use welded seam technology claim they’ve tried it and have rejected its durability.  Both Simms and Patagonia have a multitude of statistical data from “Killer wash” tests (basically putting your waders in the washing machine and washing them for 24 hours straight), which indicate stitched seams are significantly more durable than those with welded seams. We don’t really see a direct correlation between washing your waders for 24-48 hours straight and using them on the stream, but Simms says when waders are sent in for repair, customers fill out a form and answer how many days the waders have been worn.  Apparently a huge number of day’s wear and tear seems to match the killer wash cycle.    

We’ve worn the Bailey’s welded waders for over a year now, and as far as we can tell, both technologies work well.   Who cares what wader will hold up for 100 heavy-duty wash cycles?   All we are interested in knowing is do these different seam technologies work and hold up to normal wear?  It appears that they do.  For now our call is that both are satisfactory.

Killer washed waders

Gore-Tex vs other Waterproof/breathable coated fabrics – which is better?
While we’re on the topic of myth busters, we know that Gore has made a huge campaign over the years to convince everyone that Gore-Tex® is far more breathable than any of the other waterproof/breathable fabrics.  From our experiences in the past and our breathability tests in our wader workout, we think that we can say with confidence that both technologies produce very comfortable and breathable waders.

In our Wader Workout, the relative humidity readings of almost all the waders were in the range of 55-70%.  Our only totally non-breathable wader, the old Red Ball was at 99%, so this gives us the perfect baseline for a non-breathable wader.  For all the other waders in our Shootout, drawing any valid conclusions on one fabric being more breathable than others was just not possible.  Suffice it to say that the best waders were all very good in terms of breathability.  The Patagonia and Dan Bailey waders (which do not use Gore-Tex®, actually felt marginally more comfortable and gave us lower averages in humidity during both the shop wear and wader workout tests.  

Wader to Neoprene Booty seam? 
The most important seam in a wader is the one that connects the breathable fabric to the neoprene booty.  Once this seam fails you might as well recycle the rest of your waders into a breathable man purse.  The waders that scored highest here had longer, wider seams that better dispersed the overall pressure.  Waders that had skinnier, less significant seams here lost a point.  Bootfoots by nature lost 3 points here, no matter how wide or secure the seam was.

Available Sizing  – 10 points available
This one is simple – the models that offer the widest variety of sizes score the most points.   Those who offer only core sizes (M, L, XL, XXL) scored poorly.  One thing we like to see is a size Large wader offering two size booties to choose from, 9-11 or 12-13.   This allows for a more customized fit, and this can make a huge difference in comfort for most anglers.

Another thing we take a look at in this category is the “custom shop.” Having the ability order any size booty on any size wader is something that separates Patagonia and Simms from everyone else.  Without a doubt Simms has the best custom shop, allowing you to add custom boot foot sizes, add better suspenders, a tippet tender pocket, a camo-colored chest / hand warmer pocket, or even a horizontal YKK aquaseal zipper!      

Storage Features / Hand warmer pockets – 10 points available
Waders have dramatically improved in this category.  In this day and age, hand-warmer pockets have become almost standard issue, as have inside flip pockets and multiple zippered chest pockets.  Brands who offer a flip-out waterproof pocket (for phones, cameras, and electric key sets) score well here and also score 1 point in our bonus feature category.  Hand warmer pockets with zippers score higher than those without.  Zippered hand-warmer pockets not only store fly boxes and other gear more securely, but they also help when rowing so your oars don’t get caught in your pocket(s).  Waders who had several different pockets also scored better.  In our mind, the more option for storage the better, especially for steelheaders who often wear their jackets inside their waders to wade deep. 

Ease of Relief (for guys) – 10 points available
Another simple category, when nature calls how easy is it to answer?  To our surprise, having a zippered wader does not necessarily make this process as easy as manufactures would have you believe.  Both Patagonia and Simms have added longer zippers than previous models.  Several non-zippered waders actually scored very high because either their suspender systems were designed to bring the wader down to waist height, or their suspenders were stretchy enough to leave them attached while we pulled down the waders. If you had to take off your suspenders (or at least unclip them and leave them on your shoulders got less points) to relieve yourself, and waders that were hard to pull down (like the William Joseph WST got the least points here.       

Warranty Policy – 10 points available
How well does the manufacture take care of the customer if there are wader problems?   How quick were they at replacing them?  Was the manufacture being fair in the assessment in the wear of the wader?  Did they fix the wader or give them a brand new pair?    These are all factors we’ve learned over time, by being in business ourselves for 34 years.  

Let’s face it; unless you fish in your waders one week a year, they’re eventually going to wear out.  If you fish 25 or more days a year, asking your waders to last 5 years is like asking your Blizzack snow tires to get 100,000 miles.  It’s not gonna happen, and you shouldn’t complain to the fly shop guy that they didn’t.  If they leak out of the box however, clearly there needs to be some kind of warranty policy to take care of the customer.  Nearly every company has a warranty for the “life of the product,” which of course is up to the manufacture’s discretion.

Aside from giving the customer a brand new pair of waders, Simms scored very highly with our questions above.  To add to their warranty service, within one year of the purchase your fist repair at Simms is 100% free.  That’s good news if you’ve ever tired to fix your own barbed-wire rip or the 150 pin hole leaks you got from walking through the brayer patch.   Yes, that’s right – they’ll even repair all your pin-holes, absolutely free or charge.  Perhaps the best warranty in the game however goes to Cabela’s which has a 30-day “no questions asked” return policy.  You could literally shred them on a barbed wire fence, play tug or war with your lab, or shoot them with a shotgun for fun and get your money back guaranteed.  You don’t even have to have saved the receipt so long as your transaction is in their computer system.

We’ve also seen great customer care, especially from Orvis, Patagonia, and Dan Bailey – where in most cases a defective product is immediately replaced at no extra cost. Now that both Patagonia and Bailey’s have repair centers here in the USA (Reno and Livingston respectively), we’ll probably see them optioning a repair over replacement.  Either way, a no hassles whatsoever policy makes for a loyal customer base.

 

Here are each manufacturers wader return or repair policies and how we score them:

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SIMMS – (10 out of 10 points available)

First 30 days – If a Simms wader leaks within 30 days of purchase Simms will replace it over the counter with a new Simms wader. Original sales receipt and Return Authorization number are required.  They will immediately replace the wader or credit your account.

First 12 months – If a customer develops a leak in any Simms waders, for whatever reason, the first repair is provided free of charge by Simms.  Original sales receipt and Return Authorization number required.

After 12 months –Simms stands behind their waders for the useful life of the product, which varies by use and style of wader. All waders returned for repair are thoroughly evaluated by the Simms Repair Center professionals.

Start here for your Simms Return Process.

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Cabelas Gold Medal (10 out of 10 points available) 

“The way we look at it, we have no business asking you for our next order unless you are satisfied with your last order.  To make sure we meet your expectations, we back your purchase with a Cabela’s Legendary Guarantee.

You can buy with confidence, knowing that if you are not satisfied within 90 days of a purchase, we will provide a refund or exchange the item.  In addition, Cabela’s brand clothing and footwear is guaranteed for the lifetime of the product under normal wear and tear, and against defects in workmanship.  And, all other brand merchandise is guaranteed for one full year.

We’ve always believed the measure of our company is the way we treat our customers.  So, with every order, we make this promise to you – the best quality, the best value, the best service.  Guaranteed.”

Click here for more of Cabela’s warranty info and return forms.

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ORVIS (8 out of 10 points available) 

“While we go to great lengths to ensure that every Orvis wader is built to our high quality, waders will eventually wear out and fail, much like the tires on your car.

If you are not satisfied with your waders at time of purchase or if they fail for any reason within the first 60 days, we will replace them or refund your money, no questions asked. Beyond that, waders that fail due to manufacturing issues or defects will be repaired, replaced or refunded, at Orvis’s discretion, free of charge.

Damage or failure from normal use, wear and tear, or accidents is not covered under our warranty. There are several options and resources available to help get you back on the water. Each wader comes with a repair kit containing all the necessary items to perform basic repairs. Detailed instructions and links to purchase additional supplies can be found below.

If you would prefer to have one of our experienced wader repair specialists evaluate and repair your waders, please contact our Rod and Tackle Team at 800-778-4778 to set up a repair, or use our convenient wader repair request form. We will do everything possible to repair them for a reasonable fee and return them to you quickly. If your waders are not repairable, one of our team members will contact you to discuss replacement options.”

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Patagonia – (8 Out of 10 points available)

“If you are not satisfied with one of our products at the time you receive it, or if one of our products does not perform to your satisfaction, you may return it to us for a repair, replacement, or refund. Damage due to wear and tear will be repaired at a reasonable charge.

If you would like us to repair your waders for you, please send your washed /cleaned waders to the following address:

Patagonia Wader Repairs
8550 White Fir Street
Reno, NV 89523

Include a note with your name, a return mailing address (no PO BOX #’s please), daytime phone number, what you are sending in and why, what you would like to have happen, and if your waders have sentimental value.

Upon receipt, we will evaluate the condition of your waders, then contact you to discuss responsibility of repair or replacement. Our policy is straightforward. We stand behind everything we make.  If you are not completely satisfied with your Patagonia waders at the time of purchase or if they fail due to construction, design, or materials, we may repair, issue credit, or replace them at our discretion, free of charge.

We are not responsible, however, for normal wear and tear, nor for accidents such as the occasional run in with thorns or barbed wire. In other words, if your waders fail prematurely due to a quality problem, we will fix or replace them free of charge. If they fail due to normal use in the field, we will charge for repairs or replacement. We cannot replace waders free of charge if they have come to the end of their normal, useful life. We promise to evaluate your waders thoroughly and fairly.”

(Patagonia wader warranty PDF coming soon)

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Dan Bailey (8 out of 10 points available)

“Dan Bailey products are covered by a customer satisfaction guarantee.  This is not a “lifetime warranty”, but a warranty that covers the normal life of products we produce and distribute on workmanship, materials, and performance.  We gladly stand behind our private labeled products.  In the event that a failure of the before mentioned should occur, we will repair or replace at our judgment free of charge.  Our customer satisfaction guarantee does not include misuse, mistreatment, or the inevitable breakdown associated with extended use. We reserve the right to inspect products for misuse, mistreatment, or extended longevity breakdown.  Repair, replacement, or other options will be done at our discretion.  Dan Bailey is proud of the products we offer and wish to make all outdoor adventures as pleasant as possible.

All authorized return packages must be postage pre-paid.  Product returned by any other means will be refused.  Dan Bailey’s doesn’t assume any responsibility for shipping charges or any other charges occurred in return shipments.  Retain tracking information on each package to assure a confirmation signature.  Dan Bailey is not responsible for packages that the delivery cannot be confirmed in this manner.”

Warranty Return Ship To:

Dan Bailey
Attn: Warranty Dept.
120 South Second Street
Livingston, MT.  59047
1-800-356-4052

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Redington (7 out of 10 points available)

“We understand the importance of quality gear and you deserve products that perform.  If you are not satisfied with any Redington product, you may return the product in accordance with Redington’s warranty policy.

Our Waders are covered by a one-year warranty against defects in material and workmanship. Any claim against this warranty must include a dated proof of purchase. This warranty is limited to repair or replacement of the product only, and does not cover direct, indirect, consequential, incidental or any other type of damage resulting from the use of the product. This warranty does not cover misuse, neglect, normal wear, fire, theft, loss, or intentional damage. Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitation or exclusion may not apply to you. This warranty gives you specific legal rights, and you may also have other rights that vary from state to state. Redington reserves the right to determine whether to repair or replace any Redington Product covered by this warranty and the right to replace any discontinued models with the newer models when necessary. Colors may vary between original and replacement parts. In order to invoke this warranty, the original owner must send the entire Redington product, freight paid and insured to the Bainbridge Island address listed below. All waders and wading boots must be washed and cleaned prior to sending the product back to Redington. To service your Redington product, you must fill out the Warranty Service Form. Please follow the instructions stated below and be sure to include this form in the package. Thank you.”

Click here for Redington’s warranty info and Service Form.

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William Joseph (7 out of 10 points possible)

River Wear Warranty:  “Waders will be repaired or replaced at our discretion at no cost to you for the first year after purchase. After the first year, waders will be repaired at a reasonable price. If they cannot be repaired they will be replaced at the following rate( Drynamic: $80.00, V2: $50.00, WST: $100.00, RT Wader: $50.00). Additional shipping fees will be added.”

THE FINE PRINT: Hey there had to be some! A registration card must be submitted for clothing and waders with a copy of the sales receipt within 30 days of purchase. Warranty is only valid to the original purchaser.

Click here for William Joseph’s Warranty page.

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Aquaz DryZips (8 out of 10 points possible)

Summary of Aquaz USA Warranty Service Procedure

  • Protects the original user against defects in material and workmanship. – Warranty does not cover abused or misused products, or products used in commercial applications.
  • Aquaz USA will repair or replace the product, or refund the purchase price in exchange for the product.
  • In no event shall Aquaz USA be liable for any incidental or consequential damages arising from the sale or use of the product.

3 Easy Steps for Obtaining Warranty Service:

.    Step 1. Call Aquaz USA at 800-501-6602 or file a Warranty Service Request Form online to start a case.

.    Step 2. After an initial diagnosis over the phone, obtain a service case number.

.    Step 3. Send the product to Aquaz USA Service Center by prepaid shipping with the service case number, $20 check for return freight and a copy of the receipt.

Your product will be returned to you repaired or replaced or you will be contacted for a refund.

Aquaz USA Warranty

“Aquaz USA stands behind the products we make and your satisfaction is important to us. We understand the importance of quality gear and you deserve products that perform. If you are not satisfied with any Aquaz product, you may return the product in accordance with Aquaz USA’s warranty policy.

Our waders are covered by a three (3)-year warranty against defects in material and workmanship. Any claim against this warranty must include a dated proof of purchase and it applies only to the original (first) owner. This warranty is limited to repair or replacement of the product only, and does not cover direct, indirect, consequential, incidental or any other type of damage resulting from the use of the product. This warranty does not cover misuse, neglect, normal wear, fire, theft, loss, or intentional damage. Aquaz USA reserves the right to determine whether to repair or replace any Aquaz Product covered by this warranty and the right to replace any discontinued models with the newer models when necessary. Colors may vary between original and replacement parts. In order to invoke this warranty, the original owner must send the entire Aquaz product, freight paid and insured to the Service Center address listed below. All waders must be washed and cleaned prior to sending the product back to Aquaz USA. To service your Aquaz product, you must fill out the Warranty Service Request Form. Thank you!”

Click here for Aquaz’s Warranty page.

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Testing Procedures/ Categories continued…

Gravel Guards – 10 points available

In this category we take a detailed look at the form and function of each brand’s gravel guard (the gator-like fabric that hangs over the bottom of the wader and attaches to the laces of your wading boot, designed to keep gravel and debris from entering the top of your wading boot).  Here we gave more points to gravel guards with better stretch, draining ability, and a well-built metal securing device.  Crappy plastic securing devices that are sure to break or that are not designed to fit easily over your laces lose points. (Ex. Redington Sonic Pro)  Same for Velcro straps that can be easily ripped of the wader.   

Comfortable / well made booty – 10 points available
One thing we’re adamant about, if your feet are not comfortable while on the river, you’re not comfortable on the river.  This category is perhaps the number one overlooked aspect by consumers.  Waders that have bulky or non-ergonomic feet scored low, while brands that have spent more attention to detail scored high.  Brands who use seams that do not intersect, score higher (one less place to leak later) than did brands with crossed seams at the heal).  Brands with more dense or better quality neoprene on the bottom of the foot also got more kudos.  Brands like Simms (who easily have the best shaped booties) and Patagonia (who have added R1-style checkered merino wool) take top honors here.  Too bad Simms and Patagonia couldn’t team up here and more a booty that would blow everyone else away!  

Suspender System – 10 points available
Suspenders have come a long way since the old red ball system.    Suspenders which were comfortable and also enable the angler to easily wear their waders as waist-highs scored best in this category.  It blew our minds to find that some waders did not have a reverse suspender clips that allow them to convert into a wader belt by clipping to each other.  Simms had this figured out a long time ago.   This is a big black mark for whoever let this simple and easily fixed design flaw slip through the cracks.  Clearly the designers who came up with such suspenders need to get out and fish a little more often – call it a mandatory water conference and get those designers out there!  We’re surprised the reps didn’t noticed this before production as well… too much time on the road?

Other flaws which we could easily fix on our own (such as being able to cut off the Rio Gallegos’ “back jabber” wader clip) were not punished as severely.  Still, we question what were they thinking?  Didn’t anyone notice the clip jabbing them in the back while they rowed one of the new popular high seats you see in driftboats these days?  Or didn’t they notice it while they drove from one wade spot to the next in their car.  Much like having a gravel guard with a clip too skinny to go over most laces, it seemed down right strange that this would get overlooked.

Fit True to Size – 10 points available
This is an important category. Wader companies who have been around the block for a while have ironed out the kinks, while up coming brands still need to do a little work to get things right.  Finally, after years of growing pains, Patagonia has a wader that fits well in each designated size.  (We heard a rumor that they bought every single Simms size available and copied them).  While some might say this is doing it the easy way, we recommend that all wader companies currently struggling in this department to do the same.  Simms has always had a lock on the best sizing. 

Double and Triple points for important categories


As in past shootouts, we decided to award more points for categories which we felt had more importance when choosing a wader.  Sure, proper attention to details makes a good wader a great wader, but to begin with, a wader needs to be breathable, durable, and comfortable.  We also feel that price plays a major role in terms of consumer choice when selecting waders. 

Price – 20 points available
We decided to keep this category simple, the waders with the least expensive price tags scored the highest points.  In many cases we found that cheaper waders were made with less durable (and less breathable) fabrics, which compromised both the comfort and longevity of the product.   Try not to let price be the determining factor when buying a pair of waders.  When you take into account your level of comfort on the stream and how many days you will get out of your waders, often a more expensive wader ends up being a smarter buy. 

Breathability – 20 points available
This category was a controversial one to say the least.  Almost every manufacture boats the fabric they use in their waders is more breathable than their competition’s wader.  They each provide a breathability test in which their fabric is superior, with statics and fabric analysis that only a scientist could understand. We also hear manufacturers boast that their new waders are up to 25% more breathable than past models.  But we don’t take their word for it!   We wanted to give you a real world test, that anyone can duplicate, that showed us the breathability levels of all these waders.  In the end all these “breathable” waders proved to be pretty darn good.  

Our solution? Use a cheap hygrometer that reads the temperature and humidity (often used in cigar humidors) and hang it inside your waders.  We measured both day-to-day activity (by wearing waders to work) and also more strenuous exercise in our Wader Workout, (see above). 

Longevity – 20 points available

This is our basic durability category.  The more days you’ll get out of your waders, the more points we awarded. Unfortunately we cannot take the time to wear each wader 100  – 200 days.  So we’ll take the word of some of our guides that have. 

It’s not rocket science to figure out which waders are going to be more durable and last longer than others.  Just take a good look at them and feel how heavy the material is.   We also relied on comments from anglers and guides that we’ve sold the waders to in the past.   Of course as we’ve found out, the heavier the material, the less comfortable the waders are to wear and hike in.

You need to make your own decision on how you want to balance comfort with durability.  Fortunately the best waders we tested offer both.   For example, you may see your guide wearing the Simms G-4 Pro, because he wants the most bulletproof wader out there, but we think you’ll be a whole lot more comfortable with the G-3.

The BUSHWACKER TEST

 

 

 

Bushwacker Durability  – 20 points available
No one likes a sock-wringer at the end of the day.  Aside from a gaping barbed-wire gash or manufacture seam defect, small pinhole leaks are the number one factor leading towards a wet sock.

So which waders seemed to give the best protection when bashing through our briar patch of wild rosebush thorns?   Take a look at our videos to find out.

We do know that past Gore-Tex waders had more problems from thorns and thistles than some of the other waterproof/breathable fabrics that seem to self-seal once the thorns pull out.   This is why Simms has gone to a heavy 5-layer fabric on the legs of their G-3 and G-4 waders.   To us, the most bulletproof waders we’ve seen look to be the Simms G3 and G4 Pro, as well as Patagonia’s Rio Gallegos.   

Overall Comfort – 30 points available
We all agreed, at the end of the day the number one important thing about your waders (aside from keeping you dry) is overall comfort. Do they fit well, and not bind at all when you are walking long distances.  Do they breathe well on hot days, and do they have a pocket where you can warm your hands on the coldest and nastiest days?  There was no question that the Dan Bailey Ultra Guide wader cleaned everyone’s clock in this category.   These waders fit and felt so comfortable, it was like they weren’t even there.   But with their lighter fabric, you’ll have to be a little more careful not to tear them up.

 

Extra Features Bonus – various points
Some waders had a little something extra here and there (like Patagonia’s removable knee pads) that give it the extra edge.  However many extra features each wader had we gave them an extra point per feature.  We decided that having the ability to order new waders with a custom neoprene foot on any size wader was worth an extra bonus.   

Wader Shootout Final Results

#1 SIMMS G3 GUIDE STOCKING FOOTS – OUR WADER SHOOTOUT WINNER!

Simms G3 stockingfoots

Buy Now

SIMMS G3’s  $499.95

Wader Workout –  James:  62% / 79°    George:  49% / 77°   –  base humidity in the exercise center was around 40-42%
Bushwacker Test – 20 

Wader Workout notes – Very Good! Significantly more comfortable than G4’s. Lighter weight material in crotch throughout the upper body helped to make these more comfortable.  Only Patagonia Rio Gallegos and Dan Bailey’s Ultra Guide felt comparable.  These G-3’s gave the lowest humidity ratings of all waders for both James and George in the Wader Workout!  The G3’s also provided a very comfortable stride on the treadmill. This is a good looking wader!

Right away we were surprised to see the hygrometer readings were a good 10%-15% less than on the heavier G4 models.  One thing I also like about them is the hand warmer pocket goes over the actual wader fabric, which is to say it is attached to 3-layer gore rather than how the G4’s hand warmer pocket is attached to a non-finished wader fabric (only two layer).  If you often find yourself wading deep, I think in this respect the G3 is better as there’s less chance of water coming through and eventually soaking your socks.  With 5 layer legs and a 3 layer upper they were more comfortable, and for 90% of anglers (other than hard core steel headers) this would be a better wader.

26 sizes available plus more under Simms’ custom shop!

James’ take:
There’s a reason this is our number one selling wader.  As soon as we added up the figures it blew everyone away!  We asked Simms and it’s their number one selling wader as well… and for good reason.  It’s exceptionally well rounded, a true 4-season wader that is impressively breathable and exceptionally durable.  The seams are top notch, the fabric isn’t loud while walking, and the suspenders are stretchy enough that you can relive yourself without having to unclip them. The only improvements I can think of is a Nipper Zipper (see bottom of page under brainstorming), knee pads, a waterproof pocket for your phone, and some kind of moisture wicking grid on the inside of the neoprene booties, (Like the Rio Gallegos).  

George’s take:
An extremely nice wader that has proven to be bulletproof.   Absolutely the best fit and best bootie in the industry.  Great gravel guards too.  This was the most breathable wader in our test . You simply can’t go wrong buying this wader and these are going to last you a long time!  I like the handwarmer pocket design better than the G-4’s.

 

 

#2 PATAGONIA RIO GALLEGOS

Patagonia Rio Gallegos

Buy Now

Patagonia Rio Gallegos $499.95

Wader Workout –  James  68% / 79°   George:  54% / 77°    – Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%.
Bushwacker Test – 20 

Wader Workout notes – Felt WAY more comfortable than Simms G4 Pro’s.  Night and day difference in walking and stride.  About on par with the Simms G3’s.   The new, revised fit seems perfect now. The neoprene foot is slightly thicker than most and a person may have to up in wading shoe size.

James’ Take:
Hats off to Patagonia for bringing it hard!  These waders impressed me on many levels.  I was blown away with how breathable they are – especially since they relatively thick and super burly.  The fabric feels less stiff than the Simms G3’s or G4’s which is nice when climbing up steep hills, sliding over rocks, or crossing barbed wire fences.  The suspender system is awesome for wearing the wader as a waist high, also making it easy to “water the bushes.”  However, the adjustment buckle on the back of the suspenders became a problem.  Before I cut it off, it would jab the middle of my back, lower back, etc. which sucked for long car rides, desk jobs (haha), or sitting in a tall rower’s seat all day long.  You’d think breaking it off would effect the wader when you wear them high, but as long as you wear a wader belt and pay attention to pulling them up if your are crossing some deep water, having no buckle in the back made no difference at all.

The knee pads are killer for sneaking up on fish, keeping your profile low, and taking low angle photos.  I would say the only improvements would be to make a better fitting, more ergonomic foot like the Simms booties while still keeping their moisture wicking grid.  As is, the booty tends to bunch up inside my wading boot, where the Simms booties slip right in and fit like a pair of old running shoes.  Figure out a different back clip for the suspenders, (Orvis figured this one out), add a Nipper Zipper, and a slightly longer gravel guard (or at least one with more stretch).  A jet pack would be nice…   

George’s Take:
Patagonia has done a great job with the redesign of the Rio Gallegos waders.   Finally, the fit is just about perfect. These waders proved to be more comfortable for us than either the Simms G3 or G4 but seem every bit as tough.The Knee Pads are a terrific idea.   You never know they are there until you have to kneel down on sharp rocks and then they are worth their weight in gold.   They are removable too.  Our only complaint about these waders is easily fixable, which is cutting or breaking the back suspender clip off. Patagonia needs to come up with a better system for this adjustment.   All they have to do is to copy what Orvis has done with their Silver Sonic waders.  These use somewhat the same type of suspender system, but their back clip lies very flat, and is perfect!    We loved the totally waterproof cell phone pocket on the inside of the waders.  This is the best one we’ve seen. The Marino wool inside the neoprene booties seems to allow less condensation build up than the Simms booties, but this was impossible to test and just our impression.   These waders came in a close 2nd to the Simms G3’s, and you can’t go wrong buying a pair of these.

 

#3 SIMMS G4 PRO STOCKINGFOOTS

Simms G4 Pro waders

Buy Now

Simms G4 $699.95

Wader Workout –  James:  70%  /  81°    George:  62% / 81°  – base humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%
Bushwacker Test – 20

Wader Workout notes – Very comfortable stride and cut of fabric. They did feel relatively hotter than many of the other waders tested. Great fit in the foot.  The 5-layer material is stiffer and not quite as easy to walk in as the Patagonia Rio Gallegos.

James’ Take:
River warriors and guide workhorses take notice, this is one seriously bad ass wader.  It feels like you could live in the middle of a briar patch when you’re wearing these bulletproof bombers.  They fit exceptionally well and feel great as you navigate through the worst stuff imaginable.  The 5 layer goes up higher on these than the G3’s, all covers up your butt, so if you are the type that is going to spend a lot of time sitting in a drift boat rowing seat, or you really abuse your gear and want to get the longest life out of it, the G4’s are the way to go.  It’s also the only wader in the test with a D ring for your net.  Like all the Simms Gore-tex waders, the seams run down the middle and back of the legs, slowing the process of seam abrasion.  Pop the hood on these babies and you’ll find the best detailing of any wader in the test.  Downsides?  Despite Gore’s improved breathability, these are not going to be pleasant in the summer months.  (That’s probably not a big deal for those who wade wet in the summer).  The waders also feel stiffer than the Rio Gallegos or G3.  I wish they had the same suspenders as the G3, as these will not stretch far enough down to allow you to relive yourself – the only option is to unclip the suspenders (which is a pain in the winter to get under all those layers).  Also the hand-warmer pocket is not attached on top of the wader fabric, like the G3, so if you are wading deep and forget to zip up your handwarmer pocket, it is possible to get water inside your waders thru the much lighter two layer fabric inside the pocket.   This happened to one of our guides wading deep for a few hours on the Missouri River.  Knee pads might be a nice edition.  The little trout “bug” started to peel off our sample, and the Gore-tex sticker fell off somewhere (probably in the thorn bushes).  All and all this is one of the best waders money can buy, especially when it’s cold outside.

George’s take:
I’ve never liked the heavy 5-layer material of the G4’s running up through my crotch and up my back.  It just doesn’t breathe nearly as well as the design of the G3’s, and it isn’t as comfortable to me while walking.   These are certainly the most bulletproof waders you can buy and this is why you see a lot of guides wearing them.  I cannot understand why these waders cost so much more than the G3’s.   Seven hundred dollars for a pair of waders is crazy unless you are a guide and buying them at the Pro discount.       

 

#4 ORVIS SILVER SONIC CONVERTIBLES – OUR WADER SHOOTOUT BEST BUY!

Orvis Silver Sonic waders

Orvis Silver Sonic $259.00

Wader Work out –   James:  73% / 79°    George:   52% / 79°    – Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%
Bushwacker Test – 16

Wader Work out notes – Definitely felt hotter than Patagonia Rio Gallegos.  Seems like stride was more comfortable in Patagonia Rio Gallegos.

James’ Take:
A landslide winner for the wader shootout “Best Buy,” the Silver Sonics look and feel more like a $500 wader than a $259 wader.  Think of them as a poor man’s Gallegos – they have a similar suspender system, waterproof pouch, great breathability, quality neoprene booties, and quality gravel guards.  They don’t have a handwarmer pocket, and the durability isn’t going to be as good as the Simms or the Rio Gallegos, but at that price who cares!  Major Kudos to Orvis in making a top quality product and not overcharging for it… 

George’s Take:
A very nice wader for $259.00!  Almost the same exact functions as the Patagonia Rio Gallegos (minus the handwarming pocket, knee pads, and camo color suspenders).  They were definitely lighter with fewer layers than the G4 or Rio Gallegos, and perhaps a little more comfortable, but there is going to be a trade off in terms of decreased durability.   These are not the brushbusters the other waders are.  Gravel guards have nice stretch and work very well.

 

#5 DAN BAILEY ULTRA GUIDE

                            Dan Bailey Guide Ultra Waders

Dan Bailey Ultra Guide  $399.95

Wader Work out –   James:   70% / 79°   George:  55% / 77°   Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%.
Bushwacker Test – 17 

Wader Workout notes – Felt like wind pants, extremely light and comfortable stride.   These waders are noticeably lighter than all others, and this would lead you to believe that they wouldn’t fare too well in terms of puncture resistance, but our bushwhacker test seemed to prove otherwise.   The articulated leg design contributed to the comfortable stride on the treadmill.

James’ Take:
I have to agree with the old man, these waders were incredibly comfortable.  It all comes down the fabric used, which is incredibly light, flexible, and breathable.  They literally felt like I was wearing Nike Air wind pants.  I thought for sure my legs would come back bloody after the bushwacker test but to our amazement they held up great.  Also it was the only wader in the shootout that you never have to worry about losing your wader belt!  I’m always loosing those things – so for me, wearing this wader is often safer than others.  They have a nice Velcro waist adjustment on each side. The neoprene booties fit very well, and I would say second only to Simms in terms of a perfect non-bunched up fit.  With a little fine-tuning and detail work I think Dan Bailey is in the running for winning the next wader shootout.  A couple things to improve would be a better suspender system, (I like how the Simms cross in the back) . The current suspenders can twist on you in the back, which takes time to fix.  The Gravel guard straps can go away (mine did anyway when I pulled them clean off the wader by accident) but this doesn’t seem to be a big deal as they hook down to your wading shoes quite nicely.    A stretchy gravel guard would be better, as the current one is a little too short.  I like all the pocket options, which are similar to the G4’s, but the size of each pocket could be slightly larger.  Nice work fellas!    

George’s take:
This was hands down the most comfortable wader we tested.   Walking around in the shop, it didn’t even feel like I had waders on!  Amazing.   A nice compromise between breathability and durability, Dan Bailey waders were a very pleasant surprise.  The biggest improvement has been in the neoprene booties, which are now much more comfortable, and the second most comfortable behind Simms.  The wader pocket is smaller than the Simms but still very functional with several options and zippers for storage compartment.  Good hand warmer pockets.   The seams are located on the outside and middle thigh rather than anything on the inside of the legs.  These waders are built with a comfortable articulation in the legs, making for pleasant walking.    Even though these waders are very light in weight, fabric wise, they proved to be quite durable in our Bushwhacker test.

 

#6  SIMMS HEADWATERS

Simms Headwaters waders

Simms Headwaters – $349.95

Wader Workout –   James:  74% / 81°   George:  58% / 77°  – base humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%
Bushwacker Test – 19

Wader Workout notes – Felt like one of the most comfortable stride wise, but not any better than the G-3’s.  Great fit, and felt pretty cool until about 2:00 mark, then they got hotter. The color of these waders is very light – bone color, and it is going to show more dirt and stains than the G-3’s or G-4’s.  Suspenders are good and you can clip them together to wear them waist high, like other Simms waders.

James’ Take:
Another great pair of waders, these are very similar to the G3 in design and $100 less.  I say spend the extra $100 and get the G3’s.  You’ll get a better inside pouch for increased storage (there’s no inside pocket at all on the headwaters), a more breathable wader, and most importantly you won’t be wearing such a bright colored wader.  (The designers at Simms thought the headwaters would absorb less light if they were a lighter color), and they are probably right, but I’d rather be half a degree hotter and be far less visible to the fish.  If the light color doesn’t bother you, and you cut the inside pouch out anyway, then go for the headwaters and spend the extra money on flies or a new line…

 George’s Take:
A very good wader at a moderate price.  We were impressed at how tough the 3-layer fabric was.  It seemed almost as tough as the Simms 5-layer on their G-3’s and G-4’s.  These Headwaters waders did surprisingly well in our Brushbuster tests too.   I don’t like the all off-white color though as it is going to show a lot of dirt and stains. 

 

 

#7  PATAGONIA RIO AZUL – (TIE)

            Patagonia Rio Azul waders

Patagonia Rio Azul $279.00

Wader Work out – James:  78% 77°   George:   75% / 79°  –   Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%.
Bushwacker Test – 16

 Wader Work out notes – Nice relaxed fit, but felt hotter than Rio Gallegos. Stride was very nice.  Fabric felt very lightweight, similar to Bailey’s, just a little heavier.

James’ Take:
These waders look and feel cool.  They’d be a great summer wader, (they’re super packable and not very hot).  Unfortunately they’re not very durable and the big deterrent for me is the suspenders.  Sure, you can tie your suspenders together and clip them back into the chest mounts but they’d make a much better wader belt with reverse clips.  Also we noticed the quality of the neoprene booty was way off the Rio Gallegos, with a much thinner less dense neoprene.  Still, for $279 it’s hard to complain…

George’s take:
A very good wader for the money.   A simple, clean design but no hand warmer pocket and no Marino wool on the inside of the booties like the Rio Gallegos.   Maybe the best light-weight, packable pair of waders you can buy.    Like the Rio Gallegos, it has a terrific, totally waterproof inside pocket for your cell phone.

 

 

#7 REDINGTON SONIC PRO – (TIE)

Redington Sonic Weld Waders

Redington Sonic weld $299.95

Wader Work out –  James:  76% / 81°   George:  78% / 79°   – Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%
Bushwacker Test – 17

 Wader Work out notes – Foot felt very uncomfortable.  I had to take waders off thinking there was something in the booty, but when I reached in there was nothing there – just bad seam work.  Decent stride, not too hot.  Terrible gravel guard clip.

James’ Take:
If you are going Redington, I honestly feel the $99 Crosswaters are the way to go.  They have a MUCH better gravel guard than the Sonic Weld, (almost on par with Simms in terms of nice stretch), and the gravel guard keeper is metal with a much wider gap, allowing them to actually hook into your laces.  The Sonic Weld does have better storage however, and the color is better than the lighter colored Crosswaters.  The neoprene booty could use some work so the seams don’t cross, and for this price I’d expect a fabric that didn’t feel like something I’d find in Walmart.  I’d probably loose the logo “bug” too but that’s just my taste.  Until they fix the clip on their gravel guards, these are a no go for me.

 George’s Take:
We’re not really impressed.  For $300 you’re not getting nearly as much as you’d get in $259 Orvis Silver Sonic.  The feet are not as good – the seams look like they will leak sooner than later, and they don’t feel very comfortable compared to the best waders.    The gravel guard clip was nearly impossible to clip to your laces, and then once you did clip it in, it would not come off!  This alone is a deal breaker.  At least the outside zippers shut the hand warmer pockets,  and you get an outside pocket as well as an inside flip station.  

 

#8 REDINGTON CROSSWATERS – (TIE) and winner of our WADER SHOOTOUT’s LEAST EXPENSIVE QUALITY WADER

Redington Crosswater Wader

Redington Crosswater $99.95

Wader Work out – James:  77% / 77°   George:  75% / 79° – Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%.
Bushwacker Test – 10

Wader Workout notes:   Felt pretty darn good for less than a hundred bucks.  They did leak a bit more than others after our Bushwhacker testing.  Lots of pinhole leaks.  No front hand warmer pocket or gravel guards, but if you want those, get the Sonic Pro.

James’ Take:
Attention trout bums who need to stay dry and still pay rent, (that $50 a month to sleep on your buddy’s couch)  THIS IS YOUR WADER.     What’s the number one thing a wader should do?  Keep you dry.  Well these not only do the trick, they are comfortable as well.  You might have to keep a tube of Aqua Seal handy to repair the pinhole leaks, but that’s no big deal. Yeah, the suspender clips are cheap and the color is bright, but at this price you can’t loose.  Hands down the best inexpensive wader we’ve seen.

George’s take:
These actually felt pretty good for a $99 wader.  But the breathability was not as good as the better waders.   If you are looking for a cheap pair of waders, that will get the job done, this is your baby.

 

 

#8 CABELA’S GOLD MEDAL BOOTFOOTS – (TIE)

                    Cabela's Gold Medal Bootfoots

Cabella’s Gold Medal Bootfoots $199.95

Wader Work out – James:  80% / 79°  George:  78% / 77° – Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%.
Bushwacker Test – 10 

Wader workout notes: The boot foot waders did not give nearly as much as support in the boot foot than the stockingfoot waders and this was noticeable on the treadmill.   Otherwise they felt pretty good.  Super easy to get on and off.

James Take:  
Surprisingly, these boot foot waders didn’t feel very hot at all.  Definitely less support in the ankle, not as confident in taking big strides like all others.  More wobble from side to side inside the boot and very little support.  At the time of ordering, these were the only bootfoots available on the market, other than Hodgeman.  Both Orvis and Simms are working on new bootfoot waders, and we expect to see these sometime soon.   I have to say these boot foots were actually quite nice – breathable, easily converted into a waist high, easy to water the bushes, and quick to put on.  These were my lunchtime fish slayers until I tore a huge hole directly above the boot on day three.  I wish I had known they had a “no questions asked” 30 day guarantee at the time, as I could have had a free new pair.  I think I’d probably ask for one size foot down on my next pair as these were a little sloppy walking around the rip-rap.  While the wader straps are insanely chinsy, they actually weren’t uncomfortable.  Sometimes function over fashion just works.

George’s Take:
They were comfortable enough, but I didn’t like the lack of support in the rubber boot.    With a thick pair of socks, they would be nice and toasty warm in the winter though.    I wouldn’t want to walk any long distances with these boot foot waders.   Nor would I want to be wading in mud.   

 

 

#9 WILLIAM JOSEPH WST – (TIE)

                              William Joseph WST waders

William Joseph WST (Wader Safety Technology) $299.95

Wader Workout – James:  94% / 77°  George:   92% / 80° – Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%.
Bushwacker Test – 19

Wader Workout notes – Felt hottest next to the Red Balls for sure!  Legs too long…

James’ Take:
As they say, “Safety First!”  Although these waders were super hot and very stiff, there’s a time and a place for everything – Namely crossing the Yellowstone in the dead of winter above the rapids or wading deep on the Kvichak river in Alaska where one slip could mean taking a seriously long swim.

I would say the only thing William Joseph needs to do is re-work their sizing.  Since the inflatable air bladder takes up a lot of chest space you absolute have to jump up one size.  The problem is then your legs are two inches two long.  They need to revise this into more of a King size for normal wear.   A more breathable fabric would be good too since these waders felt the second hottest and had the second highest humidity to the Red Balls.

George’s Take:
The double zipper sided inflatable bladder is removable!  Amazing that a company like WJ can make a wader for $299.95 that is cheaper than the others, yet nearly as good of quality AND have the ability to save your life. 

As you’ll see in our Wader Workout video, this inflatable bladder may not be the best answer to wading safely.   We feel that a better choice is to get yourself an Anglers Inflatable PFD from Outcast for $150.  This is worn around you neck and has a better design to keep you floating with your head up, should you get knocked unconcious.   And remember the best wader safety precaution of all is for you to wear a wader belt and cinch it up.

 

Check out William Joseph’s built in PFD in action!

 

 

 

 

#9  AQUAZ DRY ZIP – (TIE)

Aquaz Dry Zip Waders

AQUAZ Dry Zip $339.99

 

 

Wader Work out – James:  91% / 79°    George:  89% / 80°  – Baseline humidity in the exercise center was 40-42%.
Bushwacker Test – 16 

Wader Work out notes – Bottoms don’t feel like they are part of the top – Least comfortable stride, too short from knee down.   Seems like a strange fit in legs. Felt hottest next to William Joseph or the Red Balls.

James’ Take:
Right away the feet feel to small (I’m a size 11.5) and the large size zipper wader feels like they have size 9.5-10 booties tops.  The rest of the wader feels pretty stiff and cheap.  At least the zipper is long enough to easily relieve yourself (be careful not to pull a “There’s something about Mary, however). While the zipper is flexible enough to bring down to your waist, the suspenders don’t have a male and female end, making it impossible to clip together as a waist belt.  They are too tight to tie around as a waist belt, so if you get hot the only option is just to unzip your waders.  While the inside of the booties had the coolest color of the test (a nice vibrant green on the inside) they were way too small for a large and the legs felt too short as well.  If I had to guess, I think they may have used Korean models instead of Americans for their sizing.

George’s Take:
These waders look and feel junky.  The inseam is too short, so knees feel very tight.  The neoprene booties are way too small for a large, something that you would find on a small or medium.  Maybe size 9 or 10 foot?  The one plus I like is the zipper is not so stiff, allowing me to roll the waders down.  I would like to use the suspenders as a waist belt, however, they don’t have reverse buckles.

 

#10 RED BALLS

                Red Ball waders

Red Balls $49.95  (Last sold 1990-1992)

Wader Work out – James:  99% / 79°   George:  99% / 81° – Baseline Humidity in the exercise center  was 40-42%.
Bushwacker Test – 5 

Wader Workout notes: These waders felt really hot and uncomfortable after 30 seconds on the treadmill!   At the end of the treadmill test I was soaking in sweat. 

James’ Take:
Perhaps the perfect waders to lend to your mother-in-law or worst enemy.  While these were the go to wader back in the day, today they might be considered a torture suit or perhaps a “make weight” wrestlers training suit.  The suspenders were very flexible however, which was great for watering bushes and no zipper to get stuck on.  The feet make you look like Ralphie from the Christmas Story, that or the boy from Where the Wild Things Are.  A two-minute walk will make your skin feel clammier than a methadone overdose. Old guys like my dad remember how miserable these waders were to walk any distance in on a hot day. When I took them off after the treadmill test, there was clearly a layer of
 sweat and condensation clinging to the inside of the wader. Check this out in our Wader Workout Video.   All said, if you still own a pair of waders this old school, you’re pretty pimp.

George’s take:
We needed a good baseline wader that was totally NON- BREATHABLE, and this was it!  WAY hotter in both relative humidity and temperature than any wader we tested.  Yeah, I can remember those days of hiking two miles into the middle of the Railroad Ranch and then having to peel off all my clothes and let them dry out for 20 minutes before I could fish!   Thank God for breathable waders!

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Brainstorming

Nipper Zipper? 

How many times have you been on the river and you can’t find your nipper?  You then pat your pockets for your hemp-cuts but they’re nowhere to be found either.  As a last resort you use your god given incisors (dentists cringe here) and bite through your tippet.  This is usually no big deal if you’re fishing 3X or less, but when you are fishing streamers with 2X, 0X, 01X, or 15 pound  maxima there is a little gnawing involved.  If you are tying in a Stu Apt improved blood knot there’s lots of gnawing going on! Why not have a built in “Nipper Zipper” for your waders or outerwear?  You could have the nipper be the actual pull tab on the zipper itself or you could have an even smaller nipper “stub” at the end the cord that is threaded through the zipper pull.  Either way they would save the day (and your smile)!

We need your support!

We hope that you have enjoyed our first ever Wader shootout!  With your support, we can continue to give you more shootouts and comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future.  But this takes us a lot of time, so if you are in the market for a new pair of waders, a new rod or rod and reel outfit, or other flies and tackle, we would love to have your business!

Be sure to e-mail us your comments and any questions you have about the exact tackle you need for the fishing you are doing.  We’ll be happy to help.

– James and George Anderson and the staff here at the Yellowstone Angler

 

Shop for waders and baselayers on line with the Yellowstone Angler

Shootouts

2012 Tippet Shootout

posted by Yellowstoneanglerreview February 16, 2016 0 comments

Back in 2012 we wrote a tippet shootout for Fly Fisherman Magazine.  Our intent was to post the article on our website soon after but somehow time got the best of us, so…. better late than never?   The good news is that we included some new information on tippet-to-tippet knots, tippet-to-fly knots, some new charts, as well as our comments on 22 different tippet materials that were not covered in the Fly Fisherman article.   

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fish

Executive Summary

Who makes the best fluorocarbon out there?  TroutHunter / Seaguar GrandMax

Who makes the best nylon?   Rio Powerflex / Stroft

Which nylon ties the strongest knots?   Stroft GTM Nylon

Which Fluorocarbon ties the strongest knots?   Seaguar GrandMax / TroutHunter

Which tippet material is the least visible to fish underwater?  Fluorocarbons

Which tippet casts more accurately?  TroutHunter, GrandMax, Stroft (due to their inherent stiffness)

Which tippet gets the best drift?  Seaguar GrandMax FX, Trout Hunter Nylon, Dai-Riki Dynamic

Best Deal per yard?   Trout Hunter Fluoro, Rio Powerflex nylon (guide spool), Hardy Mach Fluoro

Is Fluorocarbon really worth the extra coin?  Yes, at least for clear running rivers, spring creeks, lakes, and saltwater.  If the visibility in the water is between one to two feet, (perhaps just after runoff on a Freestone or after a rain) then it makes more sense to use Nylon since it is cheaper and provides better knot strength than fluorocarbon in the same diameter tippet.

The Davy knot?  A popular competition knot, although quick to tie and it wastes very little material, it was one of the weakest knots we tested – even weaker than a wind knot!

Fluorocarbon Test Results

Strongest breaking strength average of 2X, 4X, 6X  – Seaguar GrandMax / TroutHunter

Strongest knot strength average of all knots tied (tippet-to-tippet and tippet-to-fly) – Seaguar GrandMax / TroutHunter

Weakest breaking strength – Hardy Mach* (thinnest diameter)

Most stretch – Rio Fluoroflex Plus

Thinnest diameter (on Average) – Hardy Mach*

Thickest diameter (on Average) – Cortland Precision Fluorocarbon

Stiffest / most accurate while casting in the wind – Seaguar GrandMAX / TroutHunter / Cortland Precision

Most supple / best drift – Seaguar GrandMAX FX

Most invisible – most fluorocarbons are about equal (we were unable to tell)

Most abrasion resistant – most fluorocarbons are about equal, (perhaps Cortland Precision due to it’s thicker diameter)

Best Price – Hardy Mach

Best all around fluorocarbon – TroutHunter (double structure for knot strength, great spool, better price per yard than Seaguar Grandmax)

Best Spool Design – TroutHunter

* While Hardy had the weakest breaking strengths, they also had the smallest diameters.  While we did not test Hardy Mach 1X, 3X, and 5X, we suspect this would have been on par with everyone else.

nylon vs fluorocarbon tippet

Nylon Test Results

Strongest breaking strength average of 2X, 4X, 6X – Stroft GTM nylon

Strongest knot strength average of all knots (tippet-to-tippet and tippet-to-fly)  – Stroft GTM nylon

Weakest breaking strength for 2X, 4X, 6X – Maxima clear*

Most stretch – TroutHunter Nylon

Thinnest diameter (on Average) – Hardy Marksman

Thickest diameter (on Average) – Frog Hair Nylon

Stiffest / most accurate – Stroft GTM nylon

Most supple / best drift – TroutHunter Nylon or Dai-Riki Dynamic

Most invisible –  Hardy Nylon / TroutHunter Nylon (since they are thinner diameter)

Most abrasion resistant – Stroft / Frog Hair Nylon (since they are thicker diamter)

Best Price – Rio Powerflex guide spools

Best all around nylon – Rio Powerflex (it always measured at or under industry average/advertised size, strong, and also a good price)

Best Spool design – TroutHunter Nylon

*While 2X, 4X, and 6X maxima had the weakest breaking strengths in our shootout, it tested one of the strongest in 0X, and above.  We use Maxima in the butt sections in our hand tied leaders, and love this material for it’s strength, stiffness, and knot durability.  Unfortunately we cannot recommend it for tippet 2X or smaller.

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thick tippet

Lee Wulff was once asked, “What is the greatest improvement you’ve seen in fly fishing?” His reply, “The tippet…”

In A. J. McClane’s “The Practical Fly Fisherman,” published in 1953, the author included a tippet chart that rated 0X as 2-pound-test. Today, the best 6X tippets test nearly double that, in fact our 6X straight pull breaking strength averaged 3.78 pounds!

Fly-fishing tippet, as well as the equipment to test it, have also come a long way, even since the 80’s.  In 1986 when my father George Anderson conducted his original “Tippet Materials Shootout” in the June issue of Fly Fisherman. Back then, fluorocarbon didn’t even exist.  To record breaking strength, George used a bronze, spring-loaded Chatillon fish scale, “eyeballing” tippet breaking strength to the half pound. Somewhat crude, but surprisingly effective, it was groundbreaking at the time.  (FYI if you are interested in doing your own tippet comparison, this is a good way to do it).

George testing tippetGeorge recording data while using the Chatillon TCD-200 testing machine

More than 25 years later, George and I knew we needed a more scientific way to test tippet materials. Luckily, our friend John Bailey, (owner of Dan Bailey’s fly shop), provided us with his impressive Chatillon TCD-200 testing machine, (which easily costs more than my car and drift boat combined).  Equipped with a digital force gauge, it accurately records peak breaking strength to the hundredths decimal place, in pounds. It also provides a measure of stretch, before breakage, to the thousandth of an inch.

If cost were not an issue, an Instron tester, the world’s foremost machine for testing tensile strength would have been the best for collecting our data. However, at a rumored $50,000, these machines are not easy to come by. No doubt, the data collected would have been more accurate, but we did the best we could with the technology we had available.

Here in the US we designate an “X” to our tippet sizes, based on thousandths of an inch. The X system itself can be confusing to beginners. For example, 6X does not mean the tippet is 6-pound-test, it means that tippet diameter is .005 inches. 0X tippet is .011″ and each step “up” in X size is .001″ in diameter smaller.

Most extruded monofilaments are produced in Germany or Japan, and some tippet labels designate their materials in millimeters.

John Stiehl from TroutHunter was kind enough to lend us a micrometer from Japan, which measures from 0.01 to 10 mm. This gave us the ability to measure materials more accurately than we could on our dial micrometer measuring to .001″. For example, 4X, which is .007″, measures .178 mm. If you are in the market for a micrometer, try to find one that reads in mm as they are slightly more accurate.

Micrometer

 

Testing Procedures

Chances are, you work for a living and have neither the time nor the resources to test tippet all day. The winters in Montana are pretty cold, so we took the time.  After a month of testing more than 30 products and tying over 2,500 knots, we have come to some conclusions.

Haha.. Our first conclusion was that comparing tippet is a complete nightmare!  Unlike the fly rod shootouts we do, we couldn’t just pick up a piece of tippet and get a “feel” for it like we can do with fly rods. Instead we had to rely primarily on numerical data.

The first problem we faced with collecting data was how many variables were involved with testing tippet products and tying knots. We did our best to keep everything “apples to apples” but there were numerous variables to juggle at any given time. While we did our due diligence performing each trial to the best of our ability, we’ll be the first to admit that further testing could refine the data we’ve collected, at least in order to make it scientifically valid.

To get truly accurate data worthy of a scientific study, we feel that each strand of tippet, and each knot should be tested 30 times in order to reach accurate averages for breaking strengths.  However, if we had taken the time to test 30 materials in three different sizes, 30 times each per strand, it would have taken a lot longer than a month of our time…

In the beginning, we started testing each strand with each knot ten times, but after a day or so of this (and still trying to run a fly shop) we had to narrow it down to six tests per knot. In the case of an aberrant test, we threw the worst test out, leaving five tests to give us a pretty good average. If all six breaks looked consistent, we averaged all six. While less than ideal, this gave all brands a chance to strut their stuff.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was getting an accurate diameter for each tippet strand. We found that the diameter of the tippet on any given spool frequently varied enough to affect our test results. After pulling 3 to 4 feet off the spool, and slowly pulling the tippet though the rubber jaws of the micrometer, we could clearly see the material was not an exact uniform diameter.  This was true for tippet from every company.  For example, RIO Powerflex 2X ranged anywhere between .225 mm to .230 mm.  We tried to use the best average we could and in this case we averaged RIO Powerflex 2X at .228 mm, which came in just under the industry standard of 2X, or .229 mm.  As you’ll see in the charts, other companies came in well over the industry average – in affect giving them a strength advantage by being thicker.

In testing the different diameters of these materials, we stated what the manufacturers advertised, but we also reported on how this size varied from the industry standard for a given X size. For example, 4X, which should measure .007″, equals .178 mm. Obviously if a material is substantially larger (or smaller) than the advertised X size, it will test significantly stronger or weaker, which we took into consideration when rating materials. In our charts below you can see the exact size of each material and how it varied from the norm.

Under our Final Results chart, you’ll see which materials we feel are the best and why. In addition to all the laboratory-style tests, we were able to use these materials on the water the summer of 2011, and of course we have fished several of these for years now, providing us with a baseline of knowledge to help judge overall tippet performance.

Difficult to Measure

Over the years, people who have tested monofilaments have come to some general conclusions that we found difficult to prove one way or the other.  Below you’ll see some of our “real world” tests in which we tried to test our tippet samples.  As you will see several of these tests did not pan out as well as we had hoped.  Still, we thought we’d include our findings, hopefully someone out there can pick up where we left off and come up with some better tests.

Abrasion resistance

abrassion resistance

 

Most fly fishers agree that one of the big advantages of fluorocarbon over nylon is abrasion resistance. This makes perfect sense because the material is denser. From our own fishing experiences, especially in salt water, it seems that fluorocarbon is slightly more abrasion resistant.  Of course nothing is going to hold up to a 10-pound bonefish or 25-pound permit running through coral.

We tried to simulate this kind of abrasion resistance by rubbing materials back and forth (with equal pressure) over different grits of sandpaper. It was difficult to see, let alone measure any difference. Since fluorocarbon is denser than nylon, it only makes sense that it is tougher to rub through.   We hate taking the manufacturers’ word for it but at this point we’ll have to throw in the towel.  All the comments we have gotten from other anglers (especially nymph anglers) support the opinion that fluorocarbon is more abrasion resistant than nylon.  We’d love to see the results of a more reliable abrasion resistance test.

Visibility Underwater

Manufacturers regularly claim that fluorocarbon is nearly invisible underwater. Seaguar’s web site tells us that water has a refractive index of 1.33, fluorocarbon has a refractive index of 1.42, and nylon has a refractive index of 1.62. This means that ­fluorocarbon refracts light more similarly to water than does nylon, thus making it more difficult to see underwater.

While this theory makes sense, we were unable to come up with a scientific method to independently confirm this.  Our real world test was to tie 6 different kinds of tippet to 6 hooks that were screwed into a piece of wood.  3 of these were fluorocarbon, 3 of these were mono (or nylon) tippet materials.   We then took underwater photos of them.  To our eyes (who knows what the fish sees) there did seem to be a subtle difference in terms of how the fluorocarbon refracted and reflected light.  Click on the photo below to see more underwater shots to see if you can see a difference…

underwater visibility

More underwater photos of Fluorocarbon vs Mono

We read an article on line that tested fluorocarbon vs nylon invisibility underwater by allowing tuna to swim into long lines of tippet in a huge fish tank.  The tuna more often than not avoided the nylon lines (meaning they could see it) and accidently bumped into the fluorocarbon lines (meaning they couldn’t see it).  Interesting…

After years of fishing clear spring creeks, local lakes, and saltwater flats, we have come to the conclusion that the majority of the time, presentation and the action of your fly are crucial to what triggers an eat or initiates a refusal. For the refusals, it is certainly possible the fish was spooked by the light reflecting off the tippet, or that the fish is able to see the tippet itself.

Any advantage an angler can use to get a fish to strike is worth a try. Our own experiences with fluorocarbon in both fresh and salt water seem to confirm that fluorocarbon does make a difference, especially here on the Paradise Valley spring creeks, stillwaters, and salt water flats fishing.  We just wish we could have come up with a conclusive test to quantify this difference.

Flexibility

We found no easy way to measure the suppleness of fluorocarbon and nylon. We pulled a few feet of material off the spool and by handling it, we could feel some difference in flexibility, especially for the extreams.  The “memory” of a material from being wound around the spool made some materials appear stiffer than others with little or no memory.

One of the ways RIO tests suppleness is to cut lengths of monofilament at exactly 6 inches, and then hang them over the counter. When we tried to duplicate this test it was difficult to tell which materials were softer or stiffer (asside from the obvious extremes).

Also, a material with thinner diameter is by nature more supple, and hangs lower than the others. This is why we shift down in tippet size to get a more flawless, drag-free drift with a dry fly or nymph. In the end, we just went by our gut feeling after handling these materials for long periods of time, running our tests on the machine, and tying all those knots. In general, the fluorocarbons were stiffer than the nylons.

Many good fly fishers have found the stiffness of fluorocarbon to be an advantage in obtaining casting accuracy, especially with fine tippets like 5X, 6X, and 7X. While getting a perfect drag-free drift is the key to technical dry-fly fishing and nymph fishing, good anglers can usually find ways to induce the necessary slack they need to get a dead-drift by mending, feeding out line, or using casting techniques such as a reach cast or slack-line cast.

For these reasons, we feel stiffer materials are better. However, we know plenty of anglers who prefer more supple monofilaments like Dai-Riki Dynamic or TroutHunter nylon, that more easily flow with swirling currents.

Water absorption

soaking knots

Since nylon absorbs water and fluorocarbon is supposed to be impervious to it, we conducted a few knot tests with materials that had been soaked for 4-5 hours.  We found both the straight-pull break strength and knot strength for nylons did decrease – about 20 percent when wet.  We found breaking strengths for fluorocarbon also decreased – however only about 3 to 5 percent when wet.

As a practical matter for dry fly anglers, most of the time your tippet won’t be getting soaked underwater more than a few minutes at a time.  If trolling is part of your program, or nymph fishing out of a boat (where you cast once and then try to keep your nymphs underwater as long as possible) then you might consider fishing fluorocarbon over monofilament as it won’t get softer overtime and won’t become saturated with water.

Buoyancy factor

Anglers sometimes worry about fluorocarbon sinking more rapidly, since it has a heavier specific gravity than nylon. (The specific gravity of water is 1.0, nylon has a specific gravity of 1.05 to1.10, fluorocarbon is denser and runs 1.75 to 1.90.) To put this in perspective, tungsten, used as a powder in sinking tips, has a specific gravity of 19.25. So there really is not a substantial difference between nylon and ­fluorocarbon, ­especially when most anglers are just using fluorocarbon for the tippet.

A much bigger factor is surface tension. If you are using small-diameter tippets and a small dry fly, the surface tension won’t usually allow either nylon or fluorocarbon to break through the surface. This seems to apply especially for tippets 3X or smaller.

Also, once the tippet material has broken the surface tension and is under the water, there is almost no practical difference in the sink rates of nylon or fluorocarbon tippets.

If you are using a full tapered leader of fluorocarbon, only then does the weight become slightly more of a factor in terms of sink rate and breaking the surface tension more easily.

Finding the best Tippet Materials

For the first round of our shootout we focused on tippet diameter and straight-pull break strength. The materials that had larger diameters, yet lower breaking strengths, went to the bottom of the list. In general, the materials that tested within industry average—yet had the highest breaking strengths—moved on to our knot shootout. We wish we could have tested knot strength for all brands of nylon and fluorocarbon; we simply didn’t have the time. For our final shootout, we limited the results to what we determined were the top three fluorocarbons, and the top three nylons.

For fluorocarbon, the top three materials based on average breaking strength and correct diameter were Seaguar Grand MAX, TroutHunter, and RIO Fluoroflex Plus. With RIO holding the greatest market share and having the most stretch out of all the fluorocarbons tested, we were curious to see how it would compare.  As you will see in the charts, Rio Fluoroflex did great with straight pull breakes, however once knots were introduced into the tippet, TroutHunter and Seaguar Grandmax held much stronger knots and were clearly the true winners of the test.

For nylon, Stroft GTM, RIO Powerflex, and Dai-Riki GTS had the strongest average breaking strength by diameter. However we decided to include Frog Hair rather than Dai-Riki GTS, due to Frog Hair’s higher breaking strength in 4X and 6X, (since most people don’t typically break fish off on 2X).

Stu Apt Improved Blood Knot

Knot Strength

In the end, our “Tippet Shootout” ended up being more of a Knot Shootout.  We had not anticipated putting so much emphasis on the knots until we noticed that once knots were introduced into the equation, breaking strength immediately decreased by 20 – 30 % and with some brands of fluorocarbon as much as 50%!

Clearly knot strength is even more important than straight-pull break strength of the material itself (unless you’ve figured out a way to fish without knots).  By looking at the tables below, you can see which knots perform the best and then learn how to tie them quickly yourself.   We found Net Knots.com was one of the best places to learn these knots since they provide animated videos rather than just step-by-step graphics which are harder to learn from.  Click on each of the Net Knots diagrams to take you to the corresponding animation.  Some knots are easier to tie than others, and most anglers prefer to stick to the easiest knots, even if they are slightly weaker than the very strongest knots.

When we crunched the data, the weakest link ended up being tippet-to-tippet knots. This was a surprise, since our angling experience suggests that the tippet-to-fly is the weakest link, (especially when using the non-slip mono loop knot to tie on your fly for more action).  Further tests we did with a rod rigged up out on the lawn confirmed that the tippet-to-tippet knot broke more often than the tippet-to-fly knot.

Note:  The past two years since we did the tippet shootout I’ve made a point to notice where my weakest link was with breakoffs and sure enough it was usually a tippet to tippet connection rather than tippet to fly.  This is one reason we started using tiny swivels (or tippet-rings) since the connection from tippet to metal is stronger than tippet to tippet.  For example I will run 2X to a small swivel and have 4Xor 5X on the other side of the swivel rather than tying a 2X to 5X blood knot.  

To our surprise, the J knot proved to be the strongest line connection knot, at least for joining materials from 2X to 4X and 4X to 6X. One of our all time favorites, the improved blood knot proved to be strong as well, and is noticeably smaller than either the J knot or a triple surgeon’s knot, making the knot less visibile to fish and also easier to go through your guides if/when necessary. The standard blood knot and triple surgeon’s knot, used by the wide majority of anglers, turned out to be slightly weaker but still pretty darn good.

The good news is that the improved clinch, which almost everyone uses to tie on their flies, ended up testing the third strongest out of 15 different tippet-to-fly knots. Only the San Diego jam and double improved clinch averaged stronger breaks.

We were also surprised to see that the Davy knot, which is fast to tie and therefore popular in competitive fly-fishing circles, actually tested weaker than a wind knot!  (In many fly fishing competitions, time is more important than knot strength, as many of the anglers know how much pressure they can get away with).

In general if you learn the improved clinch and blood knot you are good to go.  If you would like to have an even stronger system then it’s worth it to learn the Stu Apt Improved bloodk knot, the J knot, or the San Diego Jam.

In order to determine which material produced the strongest knots, we averaged the breaking strengths of 2X, 4X, and 6X for each of the 22 knots we tested with each material. For our final results, we had to factor in the diameter of the material we were testing, since larger diameters would obviously test stronger. For example, in several cases, Stroft or Frog Hair had the strongest breaking strengths, but we had to handicap them for being slightly over the industry’s average diameter.

Nylon vs. Fluorocarbon

In straight-pull break strength, when we averaged the figures, fluorocarbon proved to be stronger than nylon.  Once we added knots into the equation however nylon was stronger. The differences were not huge, but we gathered enough evidence to declare nylon the clear winner in knot strength. But in our own fishing experiences we have felt that the fluorocarbons have provided sufficiently strong and reliable knots, especially when we’ve used a lubricant like lip balm in tying the knots.  Perhaps as an angler you have to decide what is most important to you – breaking strength or invisibility to the fish.

Slickness of Fluorocarbon

One thing that we have noticed over the years, is that fluorocarbon is a lot easier to get untangled than nylon.  If you are guiding it may seem counter intuitive to use fluorocarbon due to its expensive price, however if it enables you to get your tangles undone faster it may be well worth it’s weight in gold.  You’ll be less frustrated at the end of the day, you won’t have to anchor and let the other boat by, and you might even get a bigger tip out of it at the end of the day.

Double Structure Fluorocarbons and the real winners

double structure

From experience we know that fluorocarbon tippet ties well to nylon leaders. The best we’ve found though are Seaguar Grand MAX and TroutHunter because these are the only two fluoroarbons we’ve found on the market with a “double structure.” A high-density interior resin improves tensile strength and sensitivity, while the softer exterior resin enhances knot strength. This softer exterior is close to nylon, allowing for better grip and stronger knots.  So there you have it – the best of both worlds, invisible yet also allows stronger knots.  Bottom line, if you are going to pay the difference to fish fluorocarbon, choose between TroutHunter or Seaguar GrandMax.

raw tippet
A close up shot of what Rio Powerflex Nylon looks like before it is melted and extruded.

 

Categories Explained

Final Results

Price

This one’s easy.  The least expensive tippet per yard/meter gets the highest points.  Sometimes a tippet material will appear more expensive than another, for example TroutHunter Fluoro ($22.95) at first glance appears more expensive than Seaguar GrandMax ($18.95).  However when you look more closely at how much it costs per meter it is actually cheaper than GrandMax (since they offer 50 meter spools in 0X-8X, instead of 25 meter spools).  If you are on a budget then Nylon will be your best tippet material – especially if you go with Rio Powerflex in the guide spools.

Tippet Spool Design

Here we take a close look at each brand’s spool design.  Those who scored the highest points had spools that clip together, that were not bulky, that had easy to read tippet tenders, and that had spools which the material was able to come off smoothly without damaging it in anyway.  Some spools (like Varivas) were designed to clip together but had trouble clicking together (and staying together) while others like Orvis clicked together well but were difficult to pull apart. Some brands had excellent tippet tenders like Rio (which at the time were color coated and also had easy to read information on them like what X, what pound test, and its diameter).  Others had a very skinny tippet tender (like Hardy) while Maxima doesn’t provide one at all. In hind sight, perhaps we should have only given spool design 10 points since it’s not essential to tippet performance.

Advertised Tippet Size vs Tested Tippet Size

We’ve never taken the manufactures word for it, especially with tippet which is an easy thing for manufactures to fudge inorder to look better.  Here we take a look at what each manufacture says their tippet diameter is, and then we compare it with what the tippet actually mic’d out at on the peacock micrometer.  Manufactures that were close to the truth (or told the truth exactly) scored the higest points.  We found that with each brand sometimes their 4X was thinner, while their 2X was bigger and took that into consideration and averaged their advertised size vs actual size.

Advertised Strength vs Tested Strength

Just like tippet size we found manufactures like to fudge on their tippet’s strength.  Manufactures that reported accurately on the actual straight pull breaking strength (without knots) got the highest scores.

Tested Diameter vs Industry Average

The Industry Average is what manufactures in the US are calling 2X, 3X, 4X, 5X, 6X, ect.  For each “X” a tippet material is supposed to be a certain diameter, although obviously a manufacture could extrude a material and thus make it stronger than competing brands – the down side is that their material will be easier for the fish to see and also a thicker material won’t get the same drift as a thinner material.  Manufactures who scored high in this category kept their material at or under the industry average.  Companies who over sized their tippet diameters to gain strength were marked down.

Average Tested Diameter

Here we take a look at how consistent each brand is at keeping their tippet at or under the industry average for 2X, 4X, and 6X. We found that nearly every single brand’s 2X was larger in diameter than it was supposed to be, (further suggesting that a handful of factories are extruding tippet material for multiple brands).  We also discovered that some brands pay more to “check” on the diameter of their tippet material more often during the process of extrusion.  This is more expensive but it ensures better consistency for the diameter.  Brands with the high scores in this category had an average or under average for the industry standard for diameter in 2X, 4X, and 6X.

underwater tippet

Average Tested Breaking Strength

Here we averaged each of the straight pull breaking strength for each brand in 2X, 4X, and 6X and compared who was stronger.  Brands that have high scores here had stronger breaking strengths than their competition.  We also took into consideration the diameter of each brand’s 2X, 4X, and 6X – so if someone’s 4X was way thicker than it should have been (and thus be stronger) we made sure to score them accordingly.  Brand’s with thinner, stronger tippet won.

Tippet to Tippet Knot Strength

Here we compare each brand’s tippet-to-tippet knot strength scores.  Obviously those with the strongest breaks scored highest. We found it interesting that the nylon materials were strongest here.  The two fluorocarbons that did well were TroutHunter and GrandMax, who are the only two materials that are using a double structure tippet, with a hard inner core fluorocarbon material, wrapped with a softer outter fluorocarbon.

Tippet to Fly Knot Strength

Just like the tippet to tippet version, here we take a look at which brand’s had the strongest average breaking strength when the tippet is tied to a fly (or in this case a small swivel with the same thickness as a size 10-12 hook).  Once again nylon materials reigned supreme, followed by the two double structure flourocarbons, TroutHunter and GrandMax.

Wind Knot Strength

While no one wants a wind knot in their leader, somehow they have a way of showing up.  Even the best casters in the world are bound to throw a tailing loop or an inaccurate cast at some point.  We wanted to know which brands of tippet allowed the angler the best chance of landing a huge fish with a wind knot.  Some Alaska guides will even put a wind knot in the tippet on purpose to keep a split shot from sliding down.  We thought for sure all the nylons would win here, but Rio Powerflex proved to be the best nylon.  Frog Hair Nylon and Stroft ended up having the same strength as TroutHunter and GrandMax, while Rio FluoroFlex was the worst, instantly cutting through itself.

Abrasion Resistance

We didn’t have a great answer on how to test abrasion resistance.  It is difficult to see which materials would hold up best to hitting underwater rocks or coral.  In the end we rubbed each of the materials on different grades of sand paper to see which ones held up best.  While it was difficult to tell the differece between each brand of Fluoro and Nylon, it was clear that the more dense Fluorocarbon was indeed more resistant to breaking when rubbed against the sand paper.

rainbow tippet

Invisibility to the Fish

Another category that was difficult to test, we tied the winning materials to some hooks on a wooden dowl and took photos of them underwater.  While we really have no idea if the fish see it differently, to our eyes the fluorocarbon definitely looked more invisible, especially when it refracted light. This test, along with the tuna reseasch (scientists rigged up several fluoro and nylon lines in a tuna tank and counted that the tuna ran into the fluorocarbon more often) suggest to us that fluorocarbon is more invisible to the fish.

Casting Accuracy

From our own experience fishing spring creeks in the wind (Livingston provides a great enviroment for that) we’ve come to the conclusion that stiffer materials are better when it comes to casting accuracy.  While manufacture reps can argue that softer is more accurate, you rarely ever see casting comeptition anglers using supple tippet.  Almost all of them use stiff materials, whether they are fluorocarbon or nylon.  We found out through friends that one of the most preferred materials for casting competitions is Stoft, since it is incredibly stiff, slightly oversized, and great at turning over.  TroutHunter and GrandMax were stiffer than Rio Fluoroflex and also had less stretch than Fluoroflex tippet.

Expert Angler’s Preference

Here we talked to about 25 of our close friends, (many who are outfitters or guides) and asked them what kind of tippet they are fishing for themselves.  We found that many of them actually fished something slighly different for different occasions but we found it interesting that nearly all of them were fishing fluorocarbon the majority of the time.

Final Results

top 6 tippets

top 6 knots

top 6 fly knots

 

The Final Results

As in our rod shootouts, we came up with a system to rate the tippet materials we tested based on our best opinions after examining each category.  Overall, TroutHunter finished first, although scores were very close.  Seaguar GrandMAX was a close second, followed by Rio Powerflex nylon.

 

#1 TroutHunter Fluorocarbon 

TroutHunter Flourocarbon tippet material

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In our closest shootout ever, TroutHunter is our 2012 tippet shootout winner by a hair. While TroutHunter’s double structure fluorocarbon consistently produced exceptional breaking and knot strengths throughout our tests (like Seaguar), what really set this material apart from the competition was its price and outstanding spool design.  While the $22.95 price per spool may give buyer’s initial sticker shock, at .46 cents/per meter it is a great value.  You get more than twice as much material on each spool compared to 23 – 30 meters on the competitions spools. TroutHunter fluorocarbon pulls of the spool perfectly smooth with no line memory or damage to the tippet.  The color-coded bands are both water and UV proof, which will protect your material from the elements.

Note – starting in 2014 TroutHunter now stocks 01X, 02X, and 03X – however due to the thickness of the material, these spools are only offered in 25m spools. 

#2 Seaguar GrandMax Fluorocarbon

Seaguar GrandMax

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Seaguar GrandMax as well as GrandMax FX has both been very popular here at our shop, providing us with maximum confidence on the water for over the past 10 years. Seaguar‘s double structure design consistently placed them on the top for knot breaking strengths. The only limiting factor for Seaguar has been it’s cost. At .69 cents/meter it is the most expense material we tested.

#3 Rio Powerflex Nylon

Rio Powerflex Tippet

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Rio Powerflex offers anglers the best bang for their buck out of any of the tippets we tested.  It was one of the top materials for best all around knot strength and stayed close to standard diameters, actually measuring slightly smaller in most sizes. Rio Powerflex is definitely the winner for price conscious anglers, which is why we probably see this material in more guide boats than any other material tested.

 

#4 Stroft GTM Nylon 

Stroft GTM Tippet

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Our top pick for overall knot strength, Stroft has found a place in our vests and sling packs here at the shop.  By incorporating half sizes into their product line, Stroft offers anglers more versatility on the stream. Since it is one of the stiffest materials we tested, it is also one of the most accurate.  While beginners may struggle to get a perfect drift with this material, for competition casting and the ultimate accuracy, we feel Stroft is second to none.  The only downsides were their poor spool design and slightly higher average cost than other nylons.

#5 Rio FluoroFlex Plus  

Rio Fluoroflex Tippet

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Overall, we found that Rio Fluoroflex Plus offers anglers a good material at a reasonable price for fluorocarbon, but it did run oversize.  While 6X measured very close to the standard, 2X measured slightly larger than 1X, and 4X measured about 3.5X.   Even running larger than other fluorocarbon materials tested, its knot strength was far weaker than the double structure fluorocarbons.  One advantage that hard-core anglers and guides appreciate is the fact that it is available in 100 meter guide spools that incorporate a well-marked spool tether, making it easy to distinguish the spool’s size.

 

#6 Frog Hair Nylon

Frog Hair Nylon Tippet

 

buy now

Frog Hair proved to be an exceptionally strong and produced some of the loudest tippet “pops” when the material broke finally snapped.  Frog Hair had the strongest 4X in our test, (while still measuring very close to the industry standard).  Once we included the 2X and 6X average diameters however, it did run somewhat oversize compared to other brands.  Frog Hair is one of the harder nylons that we tested, which lends itself well to accurate casting and better than average abrasion resistance, we just wish it was a little more consistent with knot stength.

 

Our Conclusions

Putting more emphasis on price and knot strength, our shootout proved nylon materials to be the runaway winners.  That being said, almost every expert angler we know fishes with fluorocarbon, despite it’s higher cost.   Experienced anglers feel that fluorocarbon’s increased abrasion resistance leads to fewer lost fish, and the decreased visibility underwater leads to more takes, especially in critical conditions where the fish are getting a very clear look at your fly.   In addition, increased casting accuracy pays huge dividends in making it easier for you to put your fly on the exact drift line time after time.   Break strength and knot strength for the best Florocarbons, although not quite up to the best nylons, has proven to be very good, as has the overall reliability of a system utilizing a nylon leader and fluorocarbon tippets.

Bottom line – line you’re going to spring the extra money for Fluorocarbon, buy a double structure fluorocarbon like TroutHunter or Seaguar GrandMax.  If you don’t feel like spending the extra money, buy Rio Powerflex, which tested very strong for its diameter.

 

tippet rivadavia

____________________________________________________________________________________

Below you’ll find the additional information which we weren’t able to publish in Fly Fisherman due to limited space.  Here we take a look at all the different materials tested.  First we’ll look at the Nylons, followed by the Fluorocarbon.

NYLONS (aka MONO or MONOFILAMENT)

nylon tippet chart

 

Stroft GTM Nylon 

Stroft Mono tippet from Germany

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Our top pick for overall knot strength, Stroft has found a place in our vests and sling packs here at the shop.  By incorporating half sizes into their product line, Stroft offers anglers more versatility on the stream. Since it is one of the stiffest materials we tested, it is also one of the most accurate.  While beginners may struggle to get a perfect drift with this material, for competition casting and the ultimate accuracy, we feel Stroft is second to none.  The only downsides were their poor spool design and slightly higher average cost than other nylons.

Rio Powerflex Nylon

Rio Powerflex Tippet

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Rio Powerflex offers anglers the best bang for their buck out of any of the tippets we tested.  It was one of the top materials for best all around knot strength and stayed close to standard diameters, actually measuring slightly smaller in most sizes. Rio Powerflex is definitely the winner for price conscious anglers, which is why we probably see this material in more guide boats than any other material tested.

 

Dai-Riki GTS

dai-riki gts

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Our tested diameters for Dai-Riki GTS came out very close to their advertised diameters.  Only in 2X was it over size.  In 4X it was actually under the industry standard and in 6X it was only a tiny bit larger.  While straight pull break strengths were not as strong as some, when taking diameter into consideration, GTS is right on par with most good nylons.  Back in 1986 when George first conducted a tippet shootout, Dai-Riki was one of the strongest materials available.

Since Dai-Riki spools don’t clip together, plan on using some kind of tippet leash, (or simply have them loose in a designated boat bag pocket).  Also it works better to pull the material off the spool slowly to avoid the plastic tippet tender from hopping up and down.  Dai-Riki is great stuff at rock bottom prices.

Frog Hair Nylon

Frog Hair Nylon Tippet

 

buy now

Frog Hair proved to be an exceptionally strong and produced some of the loudest tippet “pops” when the material broke finally snapped.  Frog Hair had the strongest 4X in our test, (while still measuring very close to the industry standard).  Once we included the 2X and 6X average diameters however, it did run somewhat oversize compared to other brands.  Frog Hair is one of the harder nylons that we tested, which lends itself well to accurate casting and better than average abrasion resistance.

Cortland Precision Nylon

Cortland nylon

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Like most brands, Cortland’s 2X was significantly larger than the industry standard but in 4X and 6X it ran only a tiny bit over.  It’s straight pull breaking strengths were not nearly as strong as other materials of similar diameter.  At least the breaking strength we tested more or less jived with their advertised breaking strengths, testing even stronger than what they advertised for 4X and 6X, which is respectable on their part.

Cortland Spools are a clear version of of Rio’s “Tippetmater” spools, even produced under the same patent number and made in the USA.  Since UV rays can damage nylon tippet over time, we felt black was a better option but as long as you keep your tippet in a pocket or bag while you’re not using it, this should be a non-issue. Cortland’s tippet tender is also extremely similar to Rio’s, equipped with the same brass hole for tippet to pass through.  While Cortland also marks which “X” each material is, Rio’s tenders are slightly better as they are color coded and include the lb test, kg test, diameter size in mm / inches as well as the corresponding “X”.  Cortland Precision nylon seems to be an excellent material at a good price.

Orvis Super Strong

Orvis Superstrong Nylon Tippet

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Orvis nylon tippet has always had a strong following at our shop, and nationwide – and for good reason – it is super strong!  A major leading factor towards their super strength however, is due to it’s over sized diameters.  Orvis Super Strong 2X is actually closer to 1X.  If you are looking for a material with slightly thicker diameters for better abrasion resistance and also slightly better casting accuracy (through a stiffer material) then Orvis Super Strong is a great option.  If you are more concerned with getting a flawless drift, either look at brands with thinner diameters in general or consider using one size smaller size X tippet than you usually would fish with Super Strong.

Orvis came out with a new spool design this year.  We like the switch to black instead of clear, as well as the larger arbor.  Also, their tippet tender has been improved with a wider brass hole for the tippet to pass through and a wider tender, making it easier to read which “X” the materials are.  Unfortunately the way the spools click together is more difficult to click together and especially more difficult to pull apart.  Orvis should look into getting the same spools as Rio and Cortland.  Super Strong indeed!

Umpqua Nylon

Umpqua Tippet Material

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Umpqua’s balance of diameter, breaking strength, and suppleness makes for a very well rounded tippet.  While 2X was still significantly over sized, our tested diameters in both 4X and 6X came in under the industry average, which means Umpqua nylon is a good choice for technical nymph fisherman that are looking for the perfect drift since it is softer and more supple than other nylons.  With tested breaking strengths reasonably close to their advertised pound test and over all thinner diameters, Umpqua earns our respect by keeping it real.

Umpqua’s spools are well thought out with black, UV resistant large arbor spools.   We like their tippet tender (same as style as Rio’s) except they are all white and are labeled with the appropriate “X” and pound test.  Their spools click together well, and once you learn to adjust your grip while pulling tippet off, the material comes off smoothly.  One of the softer, more flexible materials we tested.

TroutHunter Nylon

TroutHunter Nylon

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The main reason to purchase TroutHunter nylon is for it’s exceptional stretch and suppleness.  Only Dai-Riki Dynamic felt equally as stretchy and supple.  The extra stretch we found in TroutHunter nylon could be an advantage for anglers that have a tendency to strike a little too hard, or for angler’s who want to achieve the best drift possible.  The only downside we found, was that TroutHunter nylon was significantly weaker than other brands, therefore anglers who fish it should also fish with soft tipped graphite rods, or even fiberglass if possible to avoid breaking off fish during their hook sets.

TroutHunter blew everyone away in spool design.   A fusion of art and function, TroutHunter’s spools not only look fantastic, they also are the smoothest tippet dispenser out there. The spools clip together well, and are much thinner than other manufactures – allowing you to carry the same number of spools with less bulk.  Their waterproof, color-coded tippet tenders have no brass holes or hard plastic to pass through, hence the material comes off completely undamaged with little memory coil.  There’s not much room for improvement here except perhaps printing what “X” and pound test on their color-coded tippet tenders are, (like Rio). That way, you can tell what X each spool is if you don’t have the colors memorized.

Although somewhat more expensive than other nylon tippet materials up front, TroutHunter gives you twice as much material on each spool (.   At 13 cents per meter, it was one of the least expensive materials we tested.  As long as you gauge up (and use 3X when you would normally use 4X) this tippet’s extra stretch could be useful for novice anglers or guide clients.   Otherwise expert angler’s will benefit from better drifts where technical currents are always shifting.  That being said, here at the shop we sell over 100 spools of TroutHunter Fluorocarbon for every spool of TroutHunter Nylon.

TroutHunter now offers a tippet post, which will accommodate the large arbor spools and also has a waterproof “stash” compartment.

GTS Dai-Riki Dynamic

Dai-Riki Dynamic Tippet

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Our guides were some of the first to point out Dai-Riki Dynamic’s is impressive stretch and suppleness. 2X ran very large, but 4X was significantly smaller than the industry average, 6X was slightly larger.  Dynamic’s stretch factor and suppleness was very close to TroutHunter nylon, making it an excellent choice for anglers that are looking for a very soft, flexible material to help contend with tricky currents.  The increased stretch factor also helps put a damper on violent strikes.  We’ve been fishing this material on the spring creeks here for years now, and it has been all aces.  Ideal Usage:  technical angling where a perfect drift is paramount.   Stretch factor also helps dampen the effect of violent hook sets.

 

Varivas Master Spec Nylon

Varivas nylon tippet

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We were actually quite impressed by Varivas nylon.  While this product has not been as popular or as readily available as Orvis, Umpqua, or Rio, it proved to be on par with these popular materials. It mic’d out near perfect to their advertised sizes and was only slightly larger in 2X and 6X than the industry average.  In 4X it was significantly under, and its breaking strength reflected that, (can’t have it all I guess).   In 2X, 1X, and 0X you get the normal 30M, but guides and serious anglers will appreciate the 50M spools in 3X-10X.

A couple down sides, the first was it’s slightly higher than average price of  .28 ¢ – .46 ¢ per meter.  Also, we found some Varivas spools didn’t click together very well, resulting in the spools eventually separating and in some cases not clicking together at all.

Scientific Anglers Nylon

Scientific Anglers nylon tippet

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Another material that runs thicker than the industry average in 2X, thinner in 4X, and just over in 6X.   While SA doesn’t market this material as being especially supple, we felt it was on the supple side.  Consequently it was not one of the stronger materials. We like how they advertise the average break strength instead of their maximum, unfortunately our tests showed that this material broke under their advertised average nearly every time, especially in 6X.  This material seemed to be right in the middle of the pack with a solid product at a good price.

Climax 98

climax98

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Climax 98 was one of the only materials to mic’ out under both their advertised diameter as well as the industry’s average diameter.  In fact, on average Climax 98 was one of the thinnest materials we tested, making it an excellent choice for technical nymph fishing.  It is also stiffer than TroutHunter nylon or Dai-Riki dynamic, so for anglers who are looking for thin yet stiff material, this is it.   We like their spool design, another clear “tippetmaster” using Rio’s patented design, however we like Rio’s tippet tender better than their white and red neoprene tippet tender. I could see flies getting stuck in it as well, especially with the tag ends hanging out.  Buying some Shark Tooth tippet tenders would solve this quickly.

Hardy Marksman (Nylon)

hardy marksman tippet
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At first glance, Hardy nylon appears to be inferior in strength to most all the other materials.   However, when you take a closer look at its size to break strength ratio it is quite strong, especially in 2X and 4X – the difference is nearly a full size thinner in diameter than other materials.

Apparently in Europe and the UK there has been a huge push for manufactures to advertise their size and breaking strength accurately.  We probably should have tested Hardy 1X, 3X, and  5X since they would be equally as thick as everyone else’s 2X, 4X, and 6X.  Unfortunately we didn’t become fully aware of the diameter difference until it was too late.  One thing’s for sure – the price is right!  It is one of the least expensive materials out there per yard…

Maxima Clear

Maxima clear tippet

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Maxima clear nylon is a great product, and is our choice of material for the butt sections in our hand tied leaders.  It is also great tippet material for steelhead or for streamer fishing here on the Yellowstone in slightly off color water.

We were utterly shocked to see how weak Maxima tested in thinner diameters, (2X-6X).  Not only was Maxima Clear thicker than the industry average in 2X, 4X, and 6X it also had significantly weaker breaking strengths, even when compared to brands with thinner diameters – ouch!

Immediately we tested some larger sizes and were relived to see that 10 pound maxima was actually breaking at 15 lbs.  15 lb. Maxima was breaking at 20 lbs.  Clearly Maxima has the most amount of work to do with correcting their advertised size and pound test.

Maxima offers nice large arbor tippet spools but no tippet tender (other than the plastic hangtag cover that never stays on).  These spools are the perfect candidate for an orange shark tooth cutter tippet tender.  The size of the spools are a bit cumbersome for lanyard or for pockets, but are fine for a boat bag.  Also, there is no way to clip spools together so plan on coming up with a tippet leash of some kind if you want to keep them together.

Ideal usage:  Larger sizes (10 pound and up) for building mid and butt sections for leaders.   Also as tippet material for streamer fishing, as this stiffer material really helps turn over large, heavy weighted streamers and other big flies.

We Do NOT recommend purchasing Maxima clear in 2X or smaller, get Rio Powerflex instead which is much thinner and stronger.

 

FLUOROCARBONS

Fluorocarbon tippet chart and info

Seaguar GrandMax

Seaguar GrandMax

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G-Max, as we call it in the shop, has been our go to fluorocarbon for 10 years.  Tested with time we know for a fact that this material holds up better than anything while also providing excellent knot strength.  As the inventor of fluorocarbon, Seaguar has created one of the best double structure extrusion processes in the world.  Seaguar’s double structure design consistently placed it at the top for knot breaking strengths.  The only downside we found was the cost.  At .69 cents per meter it is the most expensive material we tested.  That being said, it still remains one of our top selling tippet materials.   If you are not as concerned with price and are looking for the ultimate performance, this material is the best money can buy…

 

TroutHunter Fluorocarbon

trouthunter fluorocarbon

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In Our Closest Shootout ever, TroutHunter is our 2012 tippet shootout winner by a hair.  While TroutHunter’s double structure fluorocarbon produced equal straight pull breaking strengths and knot strengths as Seaguar, it’s cheaper price per meter, the availability of “half sizes,” and it’s outstanding spool design gave it the edge.

The test results were suspiciously close between TroutHunter Fluorocarbon and Seaguar GrandMax, so close in fact that we actually called Seaguar and asked them if they extruded TroutHunter.  They said “no” but we are still a little skeptical.

While the $22.95 price per spool may produce sticker shock, at .46 cents per meter it is still a great value.  You get 50 meter on each spool of TroutHunter compared to 23-30 meters on the competitive spools.

(Note* 03X, 02X, and 01X come in 25 meter spools from TroutHunter).  

TroutHunter fluorocarbon pulls off the spool perfectly with no line memory or damage to the tippet.   There’s not much room for improvement on spool design  except perhaps printing what “X” and pound test on their color-coded tippet tenders are, (like Rio). That way, you can tell what X each tippet spool is without memorizing which color is which.

TroutHunter now offers a tippet post, which will accommodate the large arbor spools and also has a waterproof “stash” compartment, (see below).

Scientific Anglers

sa fluoro

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SA’s fluorocarbon stands out as one of the best materials out there.  The price, while slightly less than GrandMax, reflects its high quality.  We even heard through the grapevine that Seaguar extrudes SA fluorocarbon for Scientific Anglers.  We found it interesting that the knot break strengths were not identical to GrandMax however, suggesting to us that perhaps Seaguar keeps very best “double structure” fluorocarbon formula for themselves.

 

 

Orvis Mirage

Orvis Mirage

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Once again Orvis has a strong following in the shop with their Mirage Fluorocarbon material.   While it is significantly larger in 2X, and relatively larger in 4X, their 6X is spot on and very strong.  Spring Creek aficionados will appreciate Mirage’s blend of stiffness for casting into the wind, while still remaining supple enough to get a good drift.

Orvis came out with a new spool design this year.  We like the switch to black instead of clear, as well as the slightly larger arbor.  Also their tippet tender has been improved with a wider brass hole for the tippet to pass through and a wider tender itself, making it easier to read which “X” the materials are.  While the spools click together, we feel the old spools were actually easier to “unclick.”  This material has been a staple for years and with such a strong following, it looks like it has earned its spot on the tippet wall indefinitely.

 

Frog Hair FC

frog hair fc

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While Frog Hair FC was impressively strong, it appears most of their strength is due to it’s larger diameter.   While it was slightly over in 6X, it was actually closer to 1X than 2X and closer to 3X than standard 4X.   For anglers who need extra abrasion resistance and less stealth, Frog Hair FC is a great option.  For example, perhaps your home river is a fast flowing freestone and you love to Czech nymph or use a lot of split shot, causing your fly (and tippet) to frequently hit jagged rocks and boulders.  Frog Hair’s extra diameter will also help in turning over streamers or heavily weighted nymphs rigs.

We like Frog Hair’s unique hexagonal spools.  Although not as big as some, Frog Hair spools still qualify as large arbor and are quite thin, making for less bulk when clipped together.  The tippet tender is labeled with the correct size “X” and pound test, however unlike other brands there is no brass hole to pull your tippet through. They could probably cut costs a bit by doing away with the black tippet holding tabs (which are not cut deep enough to hold the tippet in place very long).   In short Frog Hair FC is very strong tippet but also expect a thicker diameter.

Seaguar GrandMax FX

Seaguar GrandMax Tippet FX

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GrandMax FX has been another shop favorite for about 5 years now.   While it is not quite as strong as the original GrandMax, it is by far the supplest fluorocarbon we’ve found to date.  When facing extremely clear water and complex currents, GrandMax FX gives you the advantage of both worlds – the invisibleness of fluorocarbon yet the suppleness of nylon.

If you are fishing to huge, intelligent browns in the Arkansas River, and you can see the two-foot shapes underwater move away from your fly, tippet, or indicator on purpose, FX may be for you.  If you look at the breaking strengths, 6X is actually about the same as original GrandMax.   2X and 4X are slightly weaker, however if you are fishing with a 3 or 4 weight rod, the softer tip and action of the rod should help eliminate any extra break-offs.

We are glad to see Seaguar going back to their original spool design, which clip into each other and are less bulky than their “flying saucer” style spools.  While their original spool design is not overly impressive it gets the job done.  Since Fluorocarbon holds up well to UV rays, their clear spool is fine. Every now and then a fly will get stuck in the hair tie tippet tender, but otherwise we have no real beef.

Ideal uses:  For fooling the most intelligent, conditioned fish on the planet or whenever you need the best invisibility and drift.

Rio FluoroFlex

Rio Fluoroflex plus Tippet

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What sets Fluoroflex aside from all the other fluorocarbons is that it has more stretch than any other fluorocarbon we tested.  Depending on your point of view, this can be either an advantage or disadvantage.  The stretch factor should help with overzealous “rip their lips” trout sets.  On the other hand, professional bass fisherman prefer less stretch in their fluorocarbon materials, as less stretch means greater sensitivity, allowing them to feel even the slightest hit or bump.

Rio has done a fantastic job with their spool design, which is why several other companies have either tried to copy their design or possibly pay to use the same patent number on the spools that Rio uses.  The spools clip together well, the tippet tenders are both color-coded and marked which X, pound test, kg test, as well as the size in inches and mm.  If the tippet comes out of the brass ring, it is a bit of a nuisance to get back in, but nothing terrible.  Hard-core anglers and guides will appreciate the convenience of a 110yard “Guide Spool” in addition to the regular 25 yard spool.

The main down side we found with Rio Fluoroflex (and all other fluorocarbon materials other than TroutHunter or Seaguar) was that knot strength was significantly lower.  While the Fluoroflex straight pull breaks were just as strong as the TroutHunter and Seaguar, once we tied knots with Fluoroflex it was breaking 1-2 pounds weaker than the double structure fluorocarbons.

Varivas Super Tippet

Varivas Fluorocarbon

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Varivas is right in the middle of the pack in terms of price (.50¢ a meter) and breaking strength. No surprise, 2X was still oversized along with everyone else, but 4X actually tested significantly under the industry standard and just over in 6X.  The diameter of the tippet seemed to be directly correlated with its breaking strength.  As far as we could tell this material is on par with everyone except our TroutHunter and Seaguar.

While some Varivas spools clicked together well, others didn’t, resulting in the spools eventually separating and in the worst cases not clicking together at all.   The spools are transparent on one side allowing UV rays to get through and almost mirror shiny on the other side.   While we appreciate the bling, we’re not so sure the fish do, but that’s only if you keep your tippet on a lanyard.  At least the spools are large arbor and thin.  Plus the material comes off smoothly.

P-Line Shinsei

P-line Shinsei Tippet

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Let’s face it – fishing fluorocarbon can get expensive.  If you are looking for the invisibleness of fluorocarbon at a reasonable price P-line is your material.  Although P-line brand tippet is almost unheard of in the fly fishing market, it has been exceptionally popular with conventional fishing and on bass tournament circuits.   2X (8 pound test) still ran large, but they came under in 4X (4 pound test) and just over in 6X (2 pound test) compared to the fly fishing’s industry average.   They do have very accurate advertised size and our tested breaking strength was stronger than their advertised pound test by over a pound in each size.  While P-line makes several kinds of fluorocarbons, with different color tints and blends, we found Shinsei tested the strongest for its diameter.  If you have never tried fishing fluorocarbon due to cost, at .35 cents a meter, experimenting with fluorocarbon has never been more attractive.

Although P-line spools are super large arbor, they are quite bulky for keeping 4-6 spools in a vest pocket.   These spools are fine for keeping your tippet in a boat bag, as many guides do.  The spools don’t click into each other and there is no tippet tender at all.  While the grey tippet tab is cut deep enough to hold your tippet, it is prone to falling out.

One of the best prices you’ll find in fluorocarbon.  If you consistently rig 6 to 12 feet of straight fluoro, this could be your material.

 

P-Line CFX

P-Line CFX fluorocarbon tippet

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P-Line CFX measured about the same as P-Line Shinsei in 4X and 6X, but actually tested as 1X instead of 2X.  Strangely enough, P-line FFX 2X was much thicker than Shinsei.  This extra thickness was confirmed when trying to bite through 2X – taking the “tooth wrecker” award of the shootout.  OUCH… be sure to use your nippers!

CFX comes on square-shaped spools that are wider than their Shinsei spools, and far too bulky for keeping 4-6 spools in a vest pocket.  The spools don’t click into each other and there is no tippet tender at all.  While the black tippet tab is cut deep enough to hold your tippet, it is also prone to falling out so you might want to purchase a shark tooth tippet band.

Umpqua Super Fluoro

Umpqua Superfluoro tippet

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Umpqua’ SuperFluoro ran thinner than many materials we tested, and was the thinnest 6X we tested, at an average of .122, (which is actually closer to 6.5X).  It was still over in 2X, (although not by much) and a hair over in 4X.  Breaking strength was pretty much equal to all but TroutHunter and Seaguar GrandMax.

Umpqua’s spools are well thought out with black, UV resistant large arbor spools.   We like their tippet tender (same as style as Rio’s) except all white with black writing for which “X” and the pound test.  Their spools click together well, and once you learn to adjust your grip while pulling tippet off, the material comes off smoothly.

 

Airflow Sightfree G3

airflow sight free tippet

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Overall our impression is that it Airflow is a good material, but their diameters vary a lot from one X to the next.  For example their 2X was one of the thinnest 2X materials out there, while their 6X had was one of the largest.

The clear spools have a very large arbor, and the “hair tie” tippet tender allows the material to pull off the spool with almost no memory.  The spools come with a built in cutter, (although a nipper is still better for trimming the tag ends off your knots).  The spools do not clip together, so plan on making or buying a tippet leash.

Climax Fluorocarbon

Climax Fluorocarbon

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Climax Fluorocarbon is one of the few fluorocarbon materials made in Germany rather than in Japan.  The quality of the material certainly seems to be on par with those coming from Japan.  The only down side was that it was over sized in both 2X and 4X, and their 6X actually mic’d out to be 5X, at .151 instead of .127 – a full size too big!  Breaking strengths good, but also a result from the thicker diameter.  Once knots were added, TroutHunter and Seaguar were the stronger materials.

We like their spool design, another clear “tippetmaster” using Rio’s patented design, however their white and red neoprene tippet tender could be improved. I could see flies getting stuck in it as well, especially with the tag end hanging out.  Might as well pick up a shark tooth tippet band if you are fishing this material to make life easier…

Cortland Precision 

Cortland Fluorocarbon

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Another German made fluorocarbon, we are not surprised that Cortland Precision is strong and stiff.  Interestingly enough, Cortland mic’d out the exact same diameters as Climax in 2X, 4X, and 6X, suggesting it is the same material as Climax.  If you are looking for the best price, Climax is a dollar cheaper a spool with an extra 3 meters.

Cortland’s fluorocarbon spools (also produced under Rio’s patented  “Tippetmater” spools) do have a different style tippet tender than Climax.   Instead of a strip of neoprene sewed together, Cortland’s tippet tender is very similar to Rio’s, stating what “X” six times.

GTS Dai-Riki Fluoro

Dai-Riki Fluorocarbon

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On average, Dai-Riki runs thinner than most fluorocarbons, hence its slightly weaker breaking strengths.  Dai-Riki was one of the only materials we tested that matched the industry standard in 2X (measuring .228 it was actually under the .229 standard). In 4X it was .172, .006 mm, (under the industry standard).  In 6X it measured a hair over.  Unfortunately other brands who are pushing the diameter limits end up looking like superior materials, but that is primarily do to their larger diameter size.  Anglers who are more concerned with getting the ultimate drift will appreciate the thinner diameters.

This is a strong material at a one of the best prices out there, plus one of the few who actually have correct diameters and are not oversized.  Another spool we recommend using a shark tooth tippet tender with since the plastic tippet tender sometimes “hops” up and down when pulling tippet off the spool.

GTS Hardy Mach Fluoro

Hardy Mach Fluorocarbon Tippet

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At first glance, Hardy fluorocarbon appears to be significantly weaker than other brands.  However, when you take tippet diameter into consideration, Hardy fluorocarbon is clearly equivalent in strength to the other materials.

The biggest difference is that it is much thinner than all the “US” sold brands.  Apparently the reason for this is that in the UK there has been a big push from both the retail side and European fishing tackle association to tidy up misrepresented sizes and breaking strengths.  Basically, the “tell the truth” on your spools is being enforced in Europe, while the US market is more lenient on advertised size and breaking strength, which is why popular US brands continue to push the limits of their diameter in order to increase their breaking strength.

While Hardy was spot on in their 6X for the industry average (advertise .127 and tested .127) their 2X and 4X actually comes in significantly under.  Hardy Mach had the thinnest 2X by far, (at .214) and the second thinnest 4X (.165) after Varivas.  While we appreciate Hardy’s efforts to keep diameters smaller, we think there is a little wiggle room for slightly larger diameters (and hence stronger breaking strengths).  For now, anglers who are looking for similar diameters to US brands might consider buying 1X, 3X, and 5X Hardy Mach.

The good news is that Hardy Mach fluorocarbon is one of the least expensive on the market per yard.

The major down side to Hardy Mach is the spool design needs work.  The spools are exceptionally bulky compared to other brands, don’t clip to each other very well, and the “hair tie” tippet tender doesn’t even match the width of the spool, exposing your material to direct UV light.

________________________________________________________________________

top 6 knots

top 6 fly knots

Knot comparison

(Enlarge Cart)

KNOT SHOOTOUT

After observing straight pull break strengths vs knot breaking strengths on the machine, we decided to take our experiment outside to simulate real fishing situations.  We wanted to see if the tippet-to-tippet knot really was breaking more often the fly knot.  For violent shakes and near rod-breaking strikes, it seemed like the rod was able to place more torque on the fly knot, while with the slow pull, rod tip pointed at the fly “bush breaks” the tippet-to-tippet knot was usually the weakest link.

Unfortunately we were again faced with too many variables to determine the weakest link.  Out of 10 rod shaking breaks 7 knots broke at the fly, 3 at the tippet.  Out of 10 “bush breaks” 6 tippet-to-tippet knots broke and 4 fly knots broke.   To really reveal solid data, we would have liked to test each break off simulation 50 or 100 times.  As fun as that would have been, we just decided that both knots are important.

Tippet-to-Tippet Knots

Swivel or tippet O-ring

Tippet Rings Tippet Ring

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If you are looking for the strongest way to get from a thicker material to a thinner material, we discovered that using a small metal swivel or tiny metal O-ring beat out the breaking strength of any of the tippet-to-tippet knots we tested.  We found any tippet material (especially fluorocarbon) produced stronger knots when the tippet was tied to a small metal swivel or metal tippet ring, rather than being tied to another piece of tippet.  For example you can tie the butt section of your leader (let’s say 2X) to a tippet ring using an improved clinch knot, and then tie your tippet (let’s say 4 or 5X) to the other side of the tippet ring using an improved clinch knot.  We found that time and time again this method of connecting your terminal tippet is stronger than when you tie the 4 or 5X tippet directly to the 2X tippet, even with the best tippet-to-tippet connection knots like the J-knot or Stu Apt Improved Blood Knot.  Some anglers feel that adding a tippet ring is outside the realm of true fly fishing, and is more spin oriented.  All we can say to that is to each his own…

 

 

J Knot

J-knot

None of us expected much from the  “J knot,” but we figured just to cover the bases we needed to test it.  After a few incredibly loud breaks at the tippet-testing machine, our view changed quickly.  At least for knots tied with 2X to 4X, 4X to 4X, and 4X to 6X, the J knot proved to be the winner for the strongest tippet-to-tippet knot we tested.

This knot is basically a Triple Surgeons knot, except instead of wrapping around the formed loop three times the same direction, you weave your material in and out of the loop.  We think the reason it is significantly stronger is due to the fact that the wraps align themselves very symmetrically when pulled tight, perhaps giving the knot more equal distribution when put under stress.

Out of 22 knots we tied and tested, this is one of the few knots you should add to your tippet-to-tippet repertoire as it is easy to tie and incredibly strong.  The only drawback to this knot is its slightly larger profile when compared to a blood knot or Stu Apt improved blood knot.

Double Blood Knot

By Double Blood knot, we mean that you are double overing each side of the material, (in the same way that you double over one side of tippet when tying a Stu Apt improved blood knot).  The Double blood is tied by doubling over both sides before you tie your blood knot.   The knot tested very well, and for whatever reason, was exceptionally stronger than other knots when tying the same diameter line to each other, (for example 2X to 2X, 4x to 4x, or 6X to 6X).

The good news is if you already know the blood knot, the double blood and Stu Apt improved blood knot will be easy to learn. For the double blood, start by “doubling over” about 8 inches of tippet on both the tippet materials you are tying together.  Once you get more proficient at this knot you can cut this down to 5-6 inches, but for learning purposes a little extra tippet will help you pull this knot up correctly.

When the knot is finished, it should have two loops and two tags, (like the bow on a gift or the knot most people use to tie their shoe laces). Since you’ll be cutting off the loops and tags, it would be a good idea to purchase a bio pod or something to throw your excess tippet in.

The main drawback to this knot is that you’ll go through a lot more material. Also in order to get it to seat correctly lip balm is a MUST, especially with fluorocarbon. 

 

Stu Apt Improved Blood Knot

 

 

 

George has been fishing this knot for about 25 years, for both saltwater and freshwater.  Although the J knot tested stronger, this knot is thinner and quicker for most of us to tie.  For fishing spring creeks fishing this knot is one of the best, as it is produces a super slim and strong knot.  With this knot, you double over the smaller tippet (so if you are tying 2X to 4X, you’ll want to double over the 4X side) before starting your blood knot.

We’ve also noticed if you are trying to jump gauges (say from 1X to 3X or even 1X to 4X).  While your leader may not turn over as perfectly if you took the time to tie in 1X to 2X to 3X to 4X, it is a great time saver for those blizzard hatch situations when you need to get a fly on the water again as fast as possible.

You might end up wasting a little more tippet with this knot than a normal blood knot, but the difference isn’t staggering and the added strength is well worth it.  We use this knot in all of our hand tied leaders for the final tippet section.

Tripple Surgeon’s

Surgeons knot

*Note shown above is a double surgeon’s, to tie the tripple simply go through 3 times instead of 2…

We started off testing the double surgeons, but after comparing a few breaks it was clear the triple was the stronger knot.  The difference in material and time it takes to tie the triple surgeons over the double is so insignificant that we decided the triple makes more sense.

As with the Double Surgeons, you want to be sure to pull this knot together smoothly in one pull, (rather than having to pull each tag individually).  The manner in which the wraps seat themselves is more important to the consistency of this knot than the other tippet-to-tippet knots.  If you accidently pull ½ of the knot together before the other ½ your knot could be 10-15% weaker than when the knot is seated evenly.

The downsides are a slightly larger profile and also the inconsistency with this knot is higher than with other tippet-to-tippet knots.

Blood Knot (aka Barrel Knot)

blood knot

The blood knot is one of our favorites, and is the knot we use for building our hand tied leaders (the last section is a Stu Apt improved blood knot).   The blood knot is slim, clean, and very consistent.  As a tippet knot, obviously the improved blood knot, double blood, and J knot are stronger knots and make more sense for your final tippet-to-tippet connection.

Aside from testing slightly weaker than other tippet-to-tippet knots, we can’t think of any downsides.

 

Seaguar Knot

Seaguar Knot

While the Seaguar knot is a fun knot to tie for knot aficionados, it’s likely too complicated for the average angler.  If it tested as strong as the J knot it would be definitely be worth adding to your quiver, but since it tested weaker than most tippet-to-tippet knots in 2X, 4X, and 6X, we feel it is not worth your time to learn it.

The main drawback to this knot is that it’s relatively difficult to tie.

 

Double Uni Knot

double uni knot

Another fun knot for those who have mastered of the art connecting one line to the next.  This is actually the same knot we use for mono core sinking lines like the streamer express or the Rio Outbound lines.  We’ve been calling it a back to back nail knot, which is extremely strong when tied with the end of the fly line and 30 pound maxima.  We thought for sure it was going to be the ultimate terminal tackle knot, however as we found out, with the smaller 2X-6X diameters this knot is not very reliable.

Many drawbacks:  It takes a long time to learn this knot, it takes a long time on the water to tie this knot.  While it is a super bomber knot for fly line connections, it’s not strong enough when using 2X and thinner line.

 

Tippet-to-Fly Knots

San Diego Jam

san diego jam knot

We found out about this knot on netknots.com.  Apparently it originated as a quick and reliable way to tie heavy “iron” tuna jigs.  This knot is a close cousin to the 16/20 knot, (named after an elite club of anglers who have caught 20 pound Atlantic salmon on a size 16 or smaller dry fly).  The difference is all about how the knot pulls together.  With the 16/20 you can hear a “pop” when the knot fully seats itself.  With the San Diego Jam, the knot pulls down smoothly, leaving a small loop to pull tight with your tag end.  It seems to us the “popping” sound of the 16/20 could actually cause damage to the tippet material, at least for tippet that is 2X or smaller.  Testing these two knots head to head confirmed our suspicions.

Downsides?  Not many.  All we can think of is you have to use a little more material and take the time to learn it.   You really should add this knot to your repertoire.

 

Double Clinch

This knot came to us after tying the double Uni and double blood knots.   We expected the double improved clinch to be stronger, but as it turns out the Double Clinch proved superior time and time again.   It must have something to do with how the wraps hold under stress, and with the doubled up material there is less slipping involved, making it unnecessary to go back through the improved way.

The good news is most everyone already knows this knot.  If you have a larger fly like a hopper, rubber leg, or streamer simply double the material over before threading it through the eye of the hook.  If you are fishing smaller flies (#18 and smaller you may have to thread the eye, pull about 6-8 inches through and thread it back through the eye, allowing the material to double before tying the knot.   Should the special occasion rise where you either have spotted a very large trout or seen them before in a certain run, this is a great knot.

Only drawbacks – slightly larger profile than other knots, it uses more material than other knots.

 

Improved Clinch

improved clinch knot

A true classic and one of our favorites for decades…  It is easy to tie and as it turns out it tested very strong.   If you were only going to learn one knot for tying your tippet to the fly – this is it!    Although the Double Clinch and San Diego Jam knot tested stronger, the improved clinch knot is quicker and easier to tie on the water. With practice, one can pretty much tie this knot while looking at the rising trout, which is also an advantage.

Aside from testing slightly weaker than the San Diego Jam and Double Clinch, we cannot think of any downsides to this pure and simple knot.

 

Trilene Knot

Trilene knot

 

The Trilene is another of the few knots worth learning and using.  By going through the eye of the hook twice and finishing the knot like a clinch, you are basically adding a little extra padding between the hook and your material.   Supposedly, this knot works like a champ with fluorocarbon.  Looking back at our data, with fluoro it did test stronger than the Improved clinch, and in 6X, even beat the SDJ and Double Clinch.   If you are fishing small technical dries or nymphs with small tippet, this should be your go to link to the fly.   Also, if you are tying on a dropper fly to the bend of the top flies hook, you can still use this knot – just wrap your line around the bend of the hook twice before you make your clinch style wraps.

Downsides?   Hmm… nothing comes to mind.

 

Double Improved Clinch

As the name implies, this is an improved clinch with the material doubled over.  We expected this knot to hold better than the Double Clinch, but in almost every test it turned out slightly weaker.   So… use the double clinch instead.

Downsides:  an extra step from the double clinch and also weaker.  Opt for the double clinch instead.

 

Non-Slip Loop Knot (aka “Loop knot” or “Lefty Kreh knot”)

non slip loop knot left kreh knot

Commonly referred to as the “non-slip mono loop” or Lefty “Kreh Loop” this knot’s main advantage is adding more action to your fly.  In the saltwater world, this knot is very popular for tying on crab patterns.  In freshwater, it has become a very popular knot with anglers who fish streamers often.  The idea is that the looser line through the eye of the hook will give the fly more action in the water.  We think there is some truth to that, although we have also been using the improved clinch with streamers successfully for years.

Downsides:  not nearly as strong as other knots, more susceptible to the material being cut by fish teeth, more abrasion can occur from the eye of the hook being able to slide.

 

Orvis Knot

Orvis Knot

 

The Orvis knot impressed us as a pretty slick knot.  In a way, it is an improved Davy knot, since they both start out with the same figure eight.  With the Davy you’re done with after a single figure eight, but with the Orvis knot, you wrap your tag through ½ the figure eight again twice.  The extra couple wraps seem to do a much better job at holding the knot.

One thing we like about this knot is when you begin to synch it down, there is significantly less friction on the material than say, even a clinch knot.  This is a big plus for fluorocarbon materials, which seem to “burn” easier without lip balm or another lubricant.  For whatever reason, this knot tested especially strong in 6X nylon compared to other knots.

Downsides?  Some knots did test stronger and are easier to tie, but all and all, the Orvis knot seems very reliable and trustworthy.

 

Double Uni

uni knot

*Note the above knot is a regular uni knot, to tie the “double uni” simply double
over about 6-8 inches of your tippet before threading the eye of the hook

Although this knot has the same name as the tippet-to-tippet knot, it is different.  Here the double refers to the line being doubled over instead of two knots butted up against each other.  Unfortunately none of us cared much for either.  The tippet to fly double uni, is difficult enough to tie 2X, a real nightmare in 6X.   We were somewhat relieved to see that it didn’t test as strong as the top knots.

Downsides:  especially difficult to tie in smaller sizes, use up more material, not as strong as other knots that are easier to tie.

 

Palomar Knot

Palomar knot

After watching knot wars we expected the Palomar to do much better than it did.  We know a lot of bass gear guys who love this knot.   Perhaps results varied due to the different size diameter of the line tested.  One thing we observed was that most Palomoar knots were 100% knots, in other words, when we looked at the break, the knot was still intact almost every time.  While that sounds like a real benefit, unfortunately we think the tippet is causing so much friction on itself when the knot seats that it actually weakens it – right infront of your knot.  This is why the breaking strengths did not reflect those of each material for straight pull break strengths, even though most times the knot was still intact.

Downsides:  Not ideal for smaller flies and tippet.  Tippet material can become injured during the process of pulling it down if synched without lip balm.

 

Turle Knot

Turle Knot

 

We picked this knot out with steelheaders in mind.  Unfortunately, even 2X is too small to get an accurate assessment of this knot for steel.  Also, we found when testing the snell knot, a hook up eye or down eye can also effect results.  (We tested a snell knot with 12 turns with a straight eye nymph hook and later on with a gamagatsu octopus.  Although the material was the same size and brand, the octopus breaks were significantly stronger).  Typically turle knots are typically used on up eyes, putting more pressure on the shank of the hook instead of the eye.  One of the main benefits to using the turle knot has to do more with how the material aligns your hook, hopefully increasing hookup rates when the steel swat at your fly.

Downsides:  Doesn’t seem to work as well with thinner diameter materials.

 

Uni Knot

uni knot

While the regular Uni was easier to than the double, it still seems like there are better knots out there for connecting your tippet to your fly.  Although it is supposed to test equally as strong as a clinch knot, our data showed it was significantly less dependable.  That being said, we have had 100% success using this knot to tie 20 lb. and 30 lb. dacron backing onto reel spools.  (If you get down to your backing to spool knot you’re already in big trouble anyway)…

Downsides:  At least for 2X, 4X, 6X tippet, other knots tested stronger

 

Wind Knot

Lesser known as a “bad casting knot” we’ve all created these while fishing.  Basically it is a single overhand knot in your tippet.  When put under a lot of stress, your tippet will break at this point before many other knots, therefore making it worth while to re-tie some tippet on if you notice one of these in your terminal tackle.

Interestingly enough, in Alaska, guides will actually tie a wind knot in your leader on purpose to hold a bead (egg pattern) in place.  The only fluorocarbon material guides trust to do this with is Seaguar GrandMax.  With a real shot at a 30 inch rainbow, the guides would not purposely make a wind knot unless they trusted it to hold.  After all, a guide’s tip after landing a 30 inch rainbow can be significantly different than an average day or a day of loosing fish after fish.

Downsides: If you use strong tippet-to-tippet knots and fly knots, the wind knot is usually the weakest link in your system.

 

 

Clinch Knot

While we didn’t expect the clinch to be quite as strong as the improved clinch, no one thought it was going to test weaker than a wind knot.  Clearly the improved clinch is the way to go.  For one simple added step, the improved clinch is a stronger knot with virtually the same finished look and profile.  Definitely learn the improved clinch knot instead.

Downsides:  One of the weaker tippet-to-fly knots we tested.

 

Davy Knot

Davy Knot

The Davy knot was developed for one purpose – speed. In fly fishing competitions, lost time means lost fish, and often lost competition.  Once you practice this knot it can literally be tied in a few seconds.  Once your muscle memory is trained, you can even tie the knot without looking at it, allowing you to watch for rise forms.  It also uses up very little material.  Like the Orvis knot, when you pull this tight there is less friction.

The only problem we found with the Davy knot was its knot strength.  Reportedly, it is supposed to test nearly 100% break strength.  Our data revealed it breaking strengths to be reduced by as much as 40-50 percent.  For example, Rio Fluoroflex 2X has a straight pull break strength of 11.19 pounds. After averaging 6 Davy Knot breaks (or slips), breaking strength was reduced to 5.32, which is roughly 52 percent weaker.

Bottom line:  This knot is super fast and wastes very little material, however it tested weaker than a wind knot.  Unless you are in a competition where time is of the essence, (or fishing to 8 inch trout) it only makes sense to pick a stronger fly knot.

 

Eye Crosser

eye crosser knot

Another “contest” knot that did well on knot wars, we had high expectations for the eye crosser.  Unfortunately, it averaged the weakest knot in our test.  All we can think of is that this knot does not work as well with thinner diameter materials (2X or smaller).  It was also one of our least favorite knots to tie and most likely could never be tied without looking at the knot, no matter how much practice.

Downsides:  relatively difficult knot to tie in comparison to others, also the weakest knot of our test.

Other Knots Tested

We tested a handful of other knots (see below) but they didn’t make the cut.  In most cases they did not make the cut because their knot strength was either middle of the pack or weaker.   Here’s a list of other knots we tested but didn’t include in our charts.  Feel free to call us to ask about them if you are curious on how they stacked up:

Tippet-to-tippet:  Slim beauty, albright, yucatan, huffnagel, water knot, cove knot, double grinner, double paragun, and double four fold.

Tippet-to-fly:  16/20, Pitzen, Fishi-n-fool knot, Duncan loop, arbor knot, world’s fair knot, improved davy, swivel knot, traditional snell, 12 wrap snell, uni snell, rapala knot, Crawford knot, improved Homer Rhode, and two turn cinch.

Did we miss your favorite knot?

Undoubtably there will be some trick knots out there that we didn’t know about or didn’t get a chance to test on the Chatillon
testing machine.  Got a knot for us that we should have tested?  E-mail us and we’ll do our best to give it a try and report back to you… staff@yellowstoneangler.com

Other Products:

Shark Tooth Tippet Cutters

Shark Cutter tippet tender

buy now

Herein lies a quick solution to spools that have sub-par tippet tenders.  The shark tooth tippet cutters are about the same width as a rio tippet tender, with a similar elasticity and brass holes for the tippet to exit through.   You can easily take a super fine sharpie permanent marker and add your own denominations such as 2X, 3X, 4X, 8lb. test,  .005, or whatever else comes to mind.   Aside from managing your tippet material better, the shark tooth tenders also come with a safe razor blade, housed inside a plastic guard.  Those of you who have misplaced your nippers and have bitten through 2X or stronger tippet know having an extra cutter on your person is a real bonus.  In a pinch, we were even able to use the shark tooth cutter to cut the tag ends off knots within a reasonable length, (certainly close enough to fish with).

Red Shark Tooth Tippet Cutters (larger Spools):  Rio Powerflex, Rio Suppleflex, Rio Fluorflex, Scientific Angler’s Fluorocarbon, Scientific Angler’s nylon, Seaguar GrandMax, Seaguar GrandMax FX, Orivs Mirage, Orvis Superstrong, Cortland Precision.

Blue Shark Tooth Tippet Cutter (smaller spools): Stroft GTM, P-Line CXXX, TroutHunter Fluorocarbon, TroutHunter Nylon, Varivas Fluorcarbon and Nylon.  (Note – the TroutHunter and Varivas spools are so narrow no Sharkcutter works perfectly, but blue is still the best option).

Yellow Shark Tooth Tippet Cutter (larger / fatter spools): Maxima, P-Line bulk spools.

Orange Shark Tooth Tippet Cutter (smaller / fatter spools): P-Line Shinsei, Dai-Riki Flourocarbon, Dai-Riki Dynamic, Dai-Riki GTS, Hardy Mach, Amnesia.

 

Yellowstone Angler Knot DVD

knot DVD

buy now

An extremely comprehensive knot tying video from the most simple knots to the most complex. George covers everything you need to know for both fresh and saltwater knots. Learn to rig your own terminal tackle exactly the way the pro’s do. By learning the strongest knots out there, you increase your chances of landing the big one… Knot books are difficult to tell what’s going on, but in this video George shows you exactly how tie the knots, step by step and explains where and when to use them. If you missed something, no problem, just rewind and watch it again. We’re confident that with this video and a little practice anyone can learn to tie the best fly fishing knots in the world.

Environmental Resposibility

mono master

buy now

One thing we thought worth mentioning is that Fluorocarbon, by nature, is far less biodegradable than Nylon.  Fly Fish America’s article on Flouorocarbon vs Nylon stated that nylon takes 600 years to biodegrade and that fluorocarbon takes 4,000 years.

In the article they mention a material called bioline, (which we purchased and tested along with the other materials).  As one might expect, you can’t have it all… while Bioline biodegrades in less than 5 years, it broke significantly weaker than both nylon and fluorocarbon, making it clear to us that users of bioline are certainly more into environmental resposibility than performance.

Our suggestion is to fish nylon or fluorocarbon but to use a monomaster for your used tippet sections, snippits, and waste.  It’s not often that you break your whole leader off, but it’s pretty common to add new tippet, clip off tag ends, and throw away old dinged up tippet.  For this, we recommend putting those excess pieces in your wader pocket, vest, sling bag, or monomaster…

TroutHunter Tippet Post

 

trouthunter tippet holder

buy now

After an extensive search, the guys at TroutHunter finally tracked down a tippet post that will accommodate the unique large arbor design of the TroutHunter Tippet Spool.  This post will easily hold 6 spools of TroutHunter tippet material. Central arbor post features a small waterproof stash compartment and lanyard attachment ring.  Available in assorted colors.

Best Nippers

best nippers

buy now

Last but not least – we thought we’d include our pick for the best nipper on the market.  It might surprise you that we didn’t pick Abel’s $60.00 nipper or one of Simms’ $30.00 nipper (although we actually sell more of those).  Instead of throwing down that much money on a single nipper, you could buy 2-4 $15 nippers by angler’s image – which we feel cut even better.

What makes Angler’s Image line clipper our all time favorite? Simply their ability to stay sharp far, far longer than any other clippers we’ve ever used. Nothing dulls clippers faster than cutting large diameter 60-80 lb. fluorocarbon for tarpon leaders. Most clippers last about a week. These will easily last you two full seasons of 100 days of tarpon fishing and still stay sharp! They come with a sharp retractable needle, good for cleaning out the eyes of hooks, even down to very small hook sizes.  In a pinch, we’ve even used this needle on the stream to perform a new needle/nail (the knot between your fly line and leader).   The D-ring at top is handy too for holding the hook of your fly while you tie a Homer Rhode loop knot or straighten out your tarpon leader.  If you’d rather not have the retractable needle you can purchase the Angler’s Image “nip it” instead, which offers the same cutting jaws as the line clipper.

We need your support!

We hope that you have enjoyed our 2012 Tippet Shootout!  With your support, we can continue to give you more shootouts and comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future.  But this takes us a lot of time, so if you are in the market for some new tippet we would love to have your business!

Be sure to e-mail us your comments and any questions you have about the exact tackle you need for the fishing you are doing.  We’ll be happy to help.

– James Anderson

Shootouts

2012 Four Weight Shootout

posted by Yellowstoneanglerreview February 16, 2016 0 comments

Welcome to our first 4-weight Shootout!   In the past we’ve concentrated on the popular 5-weight and 8-weight rods, and you can read our 2011 reviews – but for trout fishing I’ve always been partial to using lighter rods like 3 and 4-weights, especially when fishing to rising fish in difficult conditions, where presentation and accuracy are the keys to success.  As I grow older I find that myself and other fishing buddies get a lot of pleasure in stalking big rising fish on flat water – Spring Creeks, and tailwater rivers in our part of the country like the Missouri, the Bighorn and especially the Henry’s Fork of the Snake. (On the flat water sections and below the famous Railroad Ranch).

We are fishing mostly small dry flies – emerging nymphs, emergers, duns, cripples, pupa, adults and spinners to imitate the exact type of mayflies, caddis or midges that the fish are keying in on.   Most of this is dry fly fishing, drifting the fly in or on the surface film.  Tricky undulating currents as well as wind and weather conditions make for some very difficult and demanding situations, and an angler needs a rod that can help him make very accurate, yet delicate presentations, (not to mention a thinner line to achieve the ultimate drift).  To my way of thinking, this means the best 4-weight rod I can lay my hands on.  On windless days a 3-weight can be delightful, but for an all around rod capable of delicate fishing and decent power, you can’t beat a good 4-weight.

Over the past forty years I’ve learned a lot about 4-weight rods and what makes them great companions for a day on the stream. They must be versatile rods, capable of fishing a variety of techniques and flies. By no means am I a dry fly purist, so a good 4-weight rod is going to have to serve its duty doing a good amount of nymph fishing, and even chucking a leadeye or cone head streamer when conditions dictate such vile and desperate moves in order to catch nice trout.

What I am looking for is that “Perfect 4” – a rod that can do it all, but above all, a rod that excels in accuracy and delicate presentations.  The perfect 4 must be a great rod at distances from 15-20 feet right out to 60-70 feet, and be strong enough to handle windy conditions as well as have the backbone to chuck split shot or moderately large and heavy streamers when needed.

brown trout

As we found out, there are far too many very powerful 4-weight rods on the market.   At least the manufacturers are calling them 4’s, when in actuality they are closer to 5-weight rods.  A lot of these didn’t make the cut!   I think the Perfect 4 weight rod should load well with a standard 4-weight line – for example a Scientific Anglers Trout taper, rather than their heavier GPX.   In this shootout, we again used the Scientific Anglers lines and tested rods with whichever line felt best on each rod. The lighter rods took the Trout taper, while the stiffer rods got loaded with the GPX.  We didn’t really penalize rods that felt better with a GPX, except perhaps in our “Perfect 4” category.   As you’ll see, some of the stiffer rods like the Sage One performed very well with the GPX, but lighter rods like the Hardy Zenith, Sage’s TXL-F, Winston’s BIIIx and the Tom Morgan Rodsmith’s rod loaded better with a S.A. Trout, and definitely had the edge in terms of getting a more delicate presentation, especially at closer distances. But if these rods didn’t have the power to deliver the goods at mid to longer distances, we knocked down their performance scores accordingly.

As in past shootouts, we doubled the points available in our performance categories.  Since most people using 4-weight rods are fishing closer distances than they would with 5-6 weight rods, we set our distance performance categories at 25 feet, 35 feet and 60 feet.  Expert casters will be able to cast a lot further than 60 feet with some of these rods, but when I’m using a 4-weight rod, I find that I’m rarely fishing at distances that exceed 50 feet.  (We thought about making the last target 50 feet, but from our experience in past shootouts we discovered the rods that throw long are also better into the wind or with streamers and lots of split shot). Most of the time I’m more likely to be fishing in that 25-40 foot range, and if I spot a rising fish that is farther away, I’ll take a little more time to sneak into position to make a much shorter cast in order to get the better accuracy, a more delicate presentation, and a more precise hook set.

For this 4-weight shootout, we added one more performance category, and called it “Light Tippet Protection”.  With a 4-weight rod I’m normally using 5x, 6X and 7X tippets. A quick strike with heavier rod or one that has a stiffer tip will often find you parting company with that pig you’ve been stalking in a big hurry.    If you look at the scores in the “tippet protection” category, rods that were very light in swing weight and had softer tips turned in the highest scores.  Incidentally, they were also rods that called for a S.A. Trout rather than a GPX.

Another category that we revised somewhat this year was Swing Weight.  In recent shootouts we have used the Sexyloops fly rod Moment of Inertia Calculator, but after making all these calculations, I compared these to our original method we had been using to determine swing weight, and I found some very notable discrepancies, especially with light rods that have very light tips.  For example the Hardy Zenith 8’6″#4 had the lightest swing weight by our calculations and the lightest feel in the hand, but using the M.O.I calculations, the Sage TXL-F should have felt far lighter in swing weight.  It the hand, it felt heavier in swing weight than the Hardy!  So I decided to go back to our old method of calculating the swing weight, which I think gives an angler a better sense of the “real” swing weight feel when the rod is held horizontally in your hand.   Later in the shootout you can read exactly how we made the new calculations, and this is easy to do yourself.

This year there were some pleasant surprises like the silky smooth Beulah 8’8″#4 Platinum, and how well the inexpensive St. Croix Imperial 8’6″#4 performed at all distances.  The short 7’10” Sage TXL-F was awesome, especially at shorter distances.  The Sage ONE 8’6″#4 turned in a solid performance, as did Winston’s wonderfully smooth BIIIx 8’6″#4.   The 4-weight Shootout turned out to be a close race in the end.   We won’t keep you in suspense any longer – Hardy’s 8’6″#4 Zenith is our 4-weight shootout winner!   We expected the Hardy to be a great rod, after their 5-weight Zenith cleaned house last year in our 5-weight shootout.  (It still blows all the other 5-weight rods we’ve found out of the water)!

I’ve been fishing a Zenith 9 foot #4 most of this past year and have liked it almost as much as their 9 foot #5 Zenith, but the 9’#4 is a fairly stiff rod that needed a WF-4-F GPX to make it work.   When we got to see and cast the new Hardy 8 ½ foot #4 Zenith, we were all impressed!  This is a much lighter rod than the 9 foot #4, with far lighter swing weight, and more importantly, we were able to get the maximum performance with the 8’6″#4 Zenith using a SA Trout line in WF-4-F.

A surprise second place finish went to Sage’s delightful TXL-F – their 7 foot 10 inch #4 rod that is sure to be in big demand from Eastern anglers that are often faced with tighter quarters than we are out West.   Still, on any water, this is a wonderfully light rod that is tough to beat at those 20-30 foot distances we fish so often.   It had the lightest overall weight by far, and one of the lightest swing weights we tested. Plus it actually has some guts and can punch through the wind.

Controversy

What you read in our Shootouts is definitely going to be controversial. Some people are going to want to tar and feather us, while others will give us two thumbs up. You’ll be able to read George’s opinions on the main page but you can click on the photos on the right side to read staff comments and counterpoints from James Anderson, Steve Galletta, and Josh Edwards, all great anglers and casters.  As you’ll read, some of our staff comments didn’t totally agree with mine, but in general we all came to some solid conclusions that we want to share with you.

If you don’t like what we have to say about a certain rod, remember it is only our opinion.   We’re not out to burn Scott or Orvis as many have suggested, we’re simply giving you our honest opinions instead of “being nice” and agreeing with everyone as you see in so many fly-fishing magazine articles and product reviews.  Yes, you will see winners and losers and find out why the rods placed where they did. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from previous shootouts and we know that well over 85% of the anglers that e-mailed us comments agreed with our opinions and thanked us for sticking our necks out.

 

New order

This year, with twenty rods to test, we’re going to switch up our format in an effort to keep your interest. After our table giving the final results, we will give you our comments on each rod and our casting notes, in the order that the rods finished.   For example – our winning Hardy 8’6″#4 Zenith will be first, the rod that finished last will be at the bottom.  We know that many of you will want to read every word, but we felt that wading through twenty rod descriptions and performance data before getting to the winner would be sleep inducing, and I couldn’t blame you!   For a lot of people a quick look at the results tables are all that’s needed.  But dive in and check it all out.  Hopefully you’ll have fun and learn a lot.

Once again in this shootout, as we did in last year’s 8-weight shootout, we are providing a table with just the results based onperformance and nothing else, since performance is the real meat of this shootout.    Lots of people don’t give a darn about factors like the warranty, or the price.   Two categories that tell the real story are:   “Fun to fish, Got to Have” and “Perfect 4 Performance” The rods that scored the best in these two ARE the best rods!

(click to enlarge)

If you want the very best, plan on spending $650-$795 to get the cream of the crop, but it amazed us to see how well the $200-$395 rods performed!  Throw in a nice reel and line and you are still under $500.00 for the whole outfit!

We have tried to sample all of the best 4-weight rods on the market, including several of which we do not even stock in our shop.  We received over forty 4-weight rods to test, and quite a few didn’t make the cut.   Although we are an Orvis dealer, they declined to send us any test rods!  Evidently they didn’t like our criticism of their rods in past shootouts.  Fortunately we had a friend that provided us with his new Helios 9 foot #4 mid-flex rod, and you can read about how it fared, finishing in the middle of the pack.   I suspect they may have a better 4-weight rod than the one we tested, especially one shorter than the 9-foot model.   Word on the street is that Orvis is working on some new rods right now, and hopefully we can include these in our future shootouts.

Once again we decided to include a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8 ½ foot #4 graphite rod, despite the fact that this is only available as a two-piece rod.  But what a rod it is!   Nothing comes close in terms of Craftsmanship, and at short to medium distances it is simply fantastic, having wonderful feel and accuracy in a very light rod.  The only drawback is that price of $1350.00 and the fact that repair costs are a lot higher than other rods.   But if you can afford it, you will instantly fall in love with this rod.

We hope you enjoy our 2012 4-weight shootout.  These shootouts are always a lot of work; so if you like what we are doing, help us out by letting us sell you a rod or outfit.  With your support we can spend more time and effort doing these shootouts.   Check out Our Favorite Outfits on our website.  We’ll save you some money by throwing in a free line or one at a reduced price on less expensive outfits.   Keep in mind that there is no sales tax here in Montana, and we are happy to ship you any orders over $100 within the continental US for free.  Please e-mail us your comments, and suggestions for future shootouts.

Why put your trust in our opinions?

Over the years many of you have read George Anderson’s articles in the various fly fishing magazines, or have watched him on TV on various fly fishing shows around the world. Most anglers in the know agree that George Anderson has a 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 terrific nymph and dry fly fisherman.

But you may not know that over the last thirty years, rod manufacturers like Sage, and G. Loomis have asked for George’s help in designing rods. The light action Sage LL 389 and 490, as well as The Loomis Streamdance GLX and WhisperCreek GLX series of trout rods were all rods that George had a hand in designing. 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.

George as well as the staff here at the Yellowstone Angler has done a lot of fly-fishing all over the world, for a variety of game fish in both fresh and saltwater. This has given us ample opportunities to test rods and other tackle in a huge variety of conditions and fishing situations. The best rods, reels and other products that have proven themselves time and time again are the ones that rise to the top and are the ones we want to report on in our shootouts and other tackle comparisons. We’ll try to keep giving you our unbiased opinions to help you make the best buying decision for your needs.

New materials means lighter and more durable rods

In terms of rods, I’ve always felt that lighter is better, as long as manufacturers can give us rods that have the right amount of power to load a rod well for their designated line size. As you’ll read here, we feel some have gone overboard. There have been huge advances in technology and materials in the past ten years. A lot of the advances in graphite technology have been taken from the aerospace industry, and this is even true today. Graphite modulus has jumped up dramatically in the past several years. Even more dramatic improvements have come about with new nano-resin systems from 3M and other companies. Advances in these new materials have given us some of the most incredible rods we’ve ever fished!

Just when you think that fly rods cannot possibly get any better, some totally new technology pops up, and other manufacturers scramble to meet or beat the competition. All this R&D costs a lot of money, not to speak of the materials and workmanship that goes into building a great fly rod, and this is why the top rods in the world cost $650 to $800.

Being able to buy the world’s best fly rod for under $1000 is a real bargain if you compare it to buying other sports equipment, taking up skiing at posh resorts, or golfing at some of the country’s best courses.   Not to mention motorcycles, or the world’s best sports cars that start out at $150,00.   But come to think of it, you very well may have more fun with the best fly rod in the world.

Great rods at bargain prices

Like past shootouts, we have included some terrific rods that are very light and perform surprisingly well for less than $250.00. You are not going to find the highest tech materials, the very best components, cork handles or guides on these less expensive rods, and they are not going to cast quite as well as the very best rods in our shootout, but the gap is closing fast!  Take a close look at the Beulah Platinum 8’8” we tested that costs only $395 and you can’t come away not being impressed at both the performance and craftsmanship.

The overall quality of “imported” rods has increased dramatically over the past few years.  Inexpensive rods that were junk just a few years ago are now using far higher modulus materials and better resins to produce imported rods that are as light in weight in some instances as the finest rods made here in the US.   Their actions are good too.   It’s all in the design and quality control.    Sure, many import firms rip off our best designs but in many instances they have hired the world’s top rod designers from the US or Europe to help them design these impressive new rods.

Not only do these good imported rods cast well, but the craftsmanship has improved by leaps and bounds.  The quality of cork you’ll find on import rods today is far better than what we’ve seen in the past as well.  They are using quality guides, and the wraps are well done and finished nicely.   Sure, there is still a lot of bad stuff out there when you look at rods under $100, found in a lot of discount stores.  But the best companies are finding that building rods offshore can make sense, if they can control the designs and the quality of materials and craftsmanship.

Don’t believe the hype

Manufacturers have done their best to convince us that their rods are better than anything else on the market. I don’t blame them for trying to beef up their market share, but some of their claims are pretty far fetched.  A lot of what they are giving us is pure and simple old-fashioned BS.  But these big fancy ads in the magazines do tend to make you believe what the manufacturers are trying to get across. It’s just human nature.

That’s where we come in. At the Yellowstone Angler, we’ve always tried to give our customers well-informed, unbiased opinions and answers that help them cut through this avalanche of propaganda, and steer them to the right rods, reels, and other products that fit their specific needs and price considerations.    Reactions to our previous shootouts, coming from all over the world, have been extremely positive. Many anglers, beginners to experts, are now enjoying rods they would have never tried if not for reading our shootouts.

If you have specific questions, don’t be afraid to e-mail us or give us a call, (406)-222-7130.  We can almost always come up to a solution quickly to help you get just the right stuff.   Be sure to check out Our Favorite Outfits on our website and in our on-line catalog.   This will give you a great place to start and we offer a variety of packages in all price ranges.

The best rod designers are also great anglers

After casting, fishing and testing thousands of rods over the past thirty years, as well as getting to fish with the best rod designers in the world, one thing has become crystal clear to me – the very best rods in the world have come from rod designers who are also some of the finest fly-fishermen on the planet.

These guys that know exactly how rods need to perform for whatever type of fishing they have been designed, and the little tweaks and design changes they need to make give us rods that approach perfection. A lot of people come to mind and many I’ve known and fished with personally. Steve Rajeff at G. Loomis, Tom Morgan who has given us the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths line but who was formerly the owner of Winston Rods, Jerry Siem at Sage, and of course Don Green who started Sage as well as the late Jimmy Green of Fenwick (and later Sage). Lefty Kreh, helping design rods for TFO and especially their terrific new BVK series, is renowned for his angling ability. Howard Croston, who is now the head of the design team at Hardy, who have given us the spectacular Zenith series of rods, is also a great angler, whom I’ve fished with here in Montana. Many of these great anglers, like the Rajeff brothers, Steve (Loomis rods) and Tim (Echo rods) are also some of the world’s finest competition casters, and this has also helped them in the design process to give us such outstanding rods.  These great casters and great anglers are now the best rod designers the world has ever known.

 

Our Testing Procedures

Our goal – keep it apples to apples.

 

In testing rods, we’ve found that very subtle differences are only detectable if we can cast several rods at one time that are set up with the exact same reels to give us equal weights, and the same brand and type of lines.   Then we can pick up one rod, take a few casts at say 35 feet, immediately pick up another rod and be able to make some valid conclusions in comparing one to another.

We found that just taking the time to strip all the line through one rod, then change the reel and line to another rod and begin casting again made it far more difficult to determine these subtle differences.

For this shootout, we used two different lines from Scientific Anglers, their standard Trout Taper and their GPX taper, which is about a half size heavier, with more weight forward in the line.   We then set up four reels with Trout Tapers and four with GPX tapers.   Very quickly we could determine if a given rod was soft enough to load well with a Trout taper or stiff enough that it needed a GPX to perform at its best.

Again, trying to keep the playing field level, we used our own hand tied 12-foot leaders, which we are normally fishing under demanding conditions. We’ve found that our hand-tied leaders turn over better and give the finer accuracy we’ve been able to obtain with any other commercial leaders, especially knotless leaders.  We used 4x tippets with a small bright colored yarn indicator at the end to approximate a fly.    In fishing situations, we would normally be using 5x, 6x or even 7x tippets, but for testing purposes a slightly heavier tippet reduced time spent re-tying on our indicators that are a great help in judging accuracy.

With several rods loaded up in this manner, while testing we could switch very quickly from one rod to another, even with 35-60 feet of line laid out on the floor or grass.   By having at least 4 reels set up with the same lines, this allowed us to keep a couple of the best rods loaded up to use as benchmarks with which we could compare the other rods tested.   This way we could also run some mini-comparison tests on the best performing rods at different distances and then switch off and do the same with the inexpensive and mid-priced rods.   Other mini-comparisons included which rods were the absolute best at 25 feet, 35 feet and then 60 feet.  Often our initial scores were changed when we had a chance to go back and make these more direct comparisons that allowed us to see subtle differences between rods.

Reels

As in our last two 5-weight shootouts we decided to use Ross Evolution LT reels.  For the 4-weight shootout, the 1.5 size was perfect as this reel is smaller and lighter than the size #2 we used for the 5-weight shootout yet still has enough capacity to hold about 90 yards of 20 lb. micron backing plus a WF-4-F line.   These Ross Evolution LT’s are very well made reels and have an excellent and smooth drag that doesn’t get knocked out of kilter the moment you put your rod down.   These are light reels too.  The LT 1.5 weighs only 3.7 oz. compared to the LT 2.0 at 4.1 oz.    With a WF-4-F line and 100 yd of 20 lb. micron backing these LT 1.5 reels weighed 5.0 oz.    The cost is $285.00 and they come in three good-looking colors:  black – (which looks great on just about any rod) green- (which looks great on the Winston rods) and Gray Mist –  (which looks terrific on the Hardy rods).    Our winner, the Hardy 8 ½ foot Zenith with the 1.5 Evolution LT reel weighed only 7.9 oz overall!   That’s light!!   And the balance point with the reel on the rod was 2 ¾ inches below the top of the cork grip, and right in the middle of the swell of the grip, just about where you would hold the rod.    It felt just right to me.   Lighter is better, and the way the Zenith sets up with the LT 1.5 is one of the reasons it is such a delightful rod to cast and fish.

Lines

As in past shootouts, we decided to use the standard Scientific Anglers Mastery Lines, mainly because we simply like the way these lines perform better than others we’ve tried.  This year we decided to use both the Trout Taper and the GPX taper in WF-4-F, and then decide which line to use on each rod depending on the overall power and stiffness of the rod.  We quickly tried each rod with both lines and made a decision on which line felt best with each rod.   People that like rods to load more heavily might want to switch from a Trout to a GPX but good casters are most likely to agree with our choices to get the maximum performance out of each rod.  Comparing 5 weight lines, the lighter Trout uses a 6 foot front taper with a 21.7 foot belly and then a 11 foot rear taper to the running line, while a GPX uses a 6.5 foot front taper, with a 26 foot belly and then a shorter 5.5 foot rear taper into the running line.  Most of us feel that the GPX lines are about a half size heavier than the standard Trout taper.  I wish we could have cut some up and given you the exact grain weights, especially for the whole head.  Maybe next time SA will give us a few extra lines to chop up.

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In the near future, we’ll have a comprehensive report on about twenty different 4-weight lines from different manufacturers that we’ll compare using some of our best performing 4-weight rods.   We’ll also have line charts and diagrams for each line so that you can see exactly how each line is constructed.   We’ll also give you our recommendations and comments on all the lines.  So this will make some interesting reading.   It won’t be a real shootout – more of a comparison.   But we’ll sure give you our opinions and recommendations.   There are a lot of good lines out there and we’ll tell you all about them.  I just wish that we had the time to include these results with our 4-weight shootout but it would have added a couple more weeks to our time schedule.

 

Why didn’t we test with the SA Sharkskin or Textured lines?   Well, we still don’t like them.   We’ve proven to ourselves in casting here on the lawn that they don’t cast any farther than the standard Trout or GPX.  They may lift off the water a little more easily, but they are rough and when I’m using a hand retrieve, it feels like I’ve got sand or dirt on my hands.   They are noisy going through the guides and will cut your fingers if you grab them when a fish is running fast.  Some people rave about them, but I’d rather use the old standards that cast beautifully and with a lot less noise.   Fly-fishing is supposed to be a quiet sport.

 

Leaders

 

Once again, we used some of our own Yellowstone Angler 12 foot hand tied leaders that are tied with relatively stiff Clear Maxima butt and midsections and Rio Powerflex nylon 4X tippets.   The name of the game with 4-weights is accuracy and delicate presentation, and we are convinced that our hand tied 12 foot leaders will turn over better than ANY of the 9 foot knotless tapered leaders we’ve found. On my own 4-weight rods, I’m normally using a 12-14 foot leader, unless I’m fishing a larger wind resistant fly or hopper, and then I’ll cut the leader down to around 9 feet.  (Or use one of our 9-foot models). For fishing nymphs I’ll also use a 12-14 foot leader, but one of our Hot Butt leaders with five feet of fluorescent red butt section. For our shootout, we felt that using long 12-foot leaders would give us a better feeling of how these rods would turn over the fly, especially at shorter distances. We did use a small fluorescent yarn indicator at the end of the 20-inch tippet so we could better judge the turnover and accuracy.

Casting where it’s warm with no wind

Winter and early spring in Livingston in late February can be pretty nasty, in terms of both the temperature and the wind conditions.   Fortunately, we have found the perfect place to do our wintertime rod testing – in the Livingston Civic Center, a spacious gym with a full sized basketball court.  Casting on the lawn is certainly our preference, and sometimes it an be done in the winter, when we are having temperatures in the 40’s and even 50’s but the wind is almost always blowing and gusting hard in these winter months. Casting in hard gusting wind is no way to judge subtle casting characteristics between one rod and the next.

So the Civic Center works perfectly, especially for distances out to about 70 feet.  The total lack of wind makes it very easy to judge loop control and accuracy at all distances.   We measure out the correct distances and then use large white paper plates as targets, and tape them in position on the maple floor of the gym.   Being able to soft mop up the floor to get off all the dirt and dust also helps keep the test lines in perfect shape for the two days we’ll need to do all our testing.

After our inside testing we did have a pretty nice day with temps in the high 30’s but the wind was blowing at about 20 mph, with gusts to 30.   We decided to take some of the top scoring rods out and try them in the wind.   The results were pretty much the same although the rods using the GPX lines did prove a little better in fighting that nasty wind.  Still the best rods, like the Hardy Zenith, with its lighter Trout line still zinged them in there and had plenty of power to throw nice tight loops right out at 60 feet.   We had set up to cast not with a tailwind but more of a side wind.    But it would have been insane to try to make any judgments on the rods in these conditions.   It was encouraging to see that the best rods in windless conditions were still extremely good in a hard, gusty wind that you might face in a day on the stream, especially in early spring here in Montana.

Searching for the best all around 4-weights

We wanted to take a good look at what was on the market for 4-weight rods, so we had the manufacturers send us what they felt were their best 4-weights.  We ended up with a pile of perhaps 40 or more rods to sort through and cast.  We needed to cut the number down to a more manageable 20 rods for the shootout, so that meant that there were a number of rods that didn’t make the final cut.   In many instances we had to cast 8, 8 ½ foot and 9 foot #4’s from one manufacturer and pick what we felt was the best one.   We ended up testing two and sometimes even three different 4’s from one company if they were dramatically different or in different price ranges.   This year we did manage to get some Echo rods and we especially liked their less expensive Echo Edge.   We got some really stiff rods like the Imago and the Scott S4 that felt like stout 5’s so they didn’t make the cut.   Winston sent us a bunch of BIIt rods, which we’ve found to be WAY too soft in the butt and mid section, and not pleasant rods to fish in any size, especially when you can get one of their great BIIIx rods which proved to be one of the best light rods we tested.

We decided to concentrate on 4-piece rods but we again allowed in one very notable exception, the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths two-piece 8 ½ foot #4. These Tom Morgan rods are some of the sweetest casting rods around, especially at shorter distances.  The also set the bar for the ultimate in craftsmanship but also for price.  They are hard as heck to obtain, taking up to two years after getting on their waiting list, but once you get one, you’ll love it.

We had hear a lot of good things about the CF Burkheimer rods and from previous casting here on our lawn we wanted to get some of the 8’9″ rods to test.  We picked the standard Trout action over the Deep Action Load for the shootout. The Burkheimer rods proved to be a bit heavy but were exceptionally smooth casting rods.  And the Craftsmanship was second only to the Tom Morgan rods.

We eliminated most of the inexpensive rods except for a few that we found to be exceptional in both performance and value.

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Categories Explained

Objective categories

Price in US $ – 10 points available

This is pretty straightforward – the least expensive rods get the highest points.  We gave the top score to St. Croix’s Imperial at $200 so it gets the 10 points.   The TFO Finesse is actually less expensive at $179.95, but one we added a hard case for $30 it was $210.  We keep pleading with TFO include a hard rod tube like everyone else on the planet but get nowhere.  They do have some great rods, and almost everyone that buys a TFO wants to add the hard case. Other good rods near $200 were the TFO BVK and the Winston Passport.  Both were impressive rods.

Try not to let price be the deciding factor in buying a rod. Today with all the lifetime warranties the manufacturers offer, even if you break a $700-800 rod, it may cost you only $50-60 to replace it! If you consider how much enjoyment you will get fishing one of the best rods over even a few years makes sense to save up a little more money and go for the best.   Even total beginners will improve their casting dramatically with the best rods, and in the process, be catching more and larger fish.

 

Expert anglers expect to pay more for the best rods as they know how important it is to have a tool that gives them a bigger edge in accuracy, and a rod that provides the ultimate in delicate presentations needed to fool the largest and most difficult fish.

Overall Weight – 10 points available

We’ve learned that manufacturers can stretch the truth about the weight of their rods, so we don’t take their word for the weight – we carefully weigh every rod ourselves on a very accurate digital scale that is calibrated down to .0001 oz.   To make things easy, we round up to .01 oz. in our tables on statistics.  Overall weight is one factor that is easy to measure, but what is more important for an angler is the swing weight of the rod – how heavy the rod feels in your hand when you are casting and fishing it hard all day long.   We have found lots of rods that have low overall weight but a surprisingly high swing weight.  The key to building a pleasant rod to fish is to have both a light overall weight AND a light swing weight.

Swing Weight – 10 points available

Every golfer knows about swing weight, and every good pro shop has a simple scale to measure swing weight – which is the weight of the head of the club in relation to the shaft when you hold the club in your hand and waggle the club.   Since a scale like this won’t work with a fly rod, we had to come up with a better way to measure swing weight – and for anglers the swing weight of a rod is the weight you feel out ahead of your hand when you hold the rod in a horizontal position and flex it lightly.

Rods with a low swing weight are a joy to use and fish all day. False casting while fishing dry flies 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 while you try to set the hook. Rods with a high swing weight are not nearly as pleasant to fish, and at the end of the day your arm will be feeling the fatigue caused by all those false casts!   With swing weight being such a big factor in fishing with any given line size rod, we felt that we needed to come up with a way to best measure this.

In past shootouts it was brought to our attention that swing weight as we think about it is closely related to a mathematical calculation for the Moment of Inertia.   Europeans Grunde Lovoll and Magnus Angus have provided a MOI calculator for Sexyloops.com and you can check this out at:http://www.sexyloops.com/eric/moi.php

 

Swing Weight – going back to our original method of calculation

After making our MOI calculations this year and checking it with our old method, there were some definite discrepancies that we couldn’t overlook.  The Sage TXL-F had a very low MOI, mainly since it is the lightest rod we tested by far, but in my hand the swing weight felt heavier than the 8 ½ foot Hardy Zenith, and this is because it has a slightly heavier tip.   So in an effort to provide more meaningful swing weight figures we decided to go back to our old method, using a scale to measure the downforce.   I’m confident that our method gives anglers a better way to gauge the swing weight of a rod when held horizontally in your hand and flexed lightly as you would when checking the action of a rod.

We intend this term to mean the weight you feel when you flex the rod in your hand, while holding the rod in a horizontal position. (Without the reel attached to the rod).

This is a test you can do yourself with little effort.   We start with a very accurate postage scale, and then in the center of the scale we mark a position where we’ll place a small foam peanut like the kind you use for packing material.  It is good to pick one that is somewhat dish shaped so that when you put the rod handle on it, it will not slide around and allow you to get an accurate measurement of downforce.

Next, we take the rod and holding it horizontally, position the middle of the grip (where you would naturally hold it, and not necessarily the middle as measured from one end to the other) on the foam peanut, used as fulcrum point.   First I’ll zero out the scale and then once the rod is positioned, I’ll put my finger on the back end of the reel seat, and keeping the rod horizontal the whole time, read the force exerted in oz. on the scale. So this is giving me the weight in oz. I’m feeling out ahead of where I’d normally grip the rod.  A few tries is necessary to determine the weight as this is a sensitive operation and we try to position our finger at the same spot at the end of the reel seats each time.

You will see that the swing weights we obtained range from 7.1 oz to a little over 10 oz and this gives us a good way to judge the swing weight from one rod to another.   Rods with swing weights from 7.0-8.0 oz. were ones that felt nice and light, while the rods with swing weights in the 9.0 -9.5 oz. range felt pretty heavy.

As you’ll see, a rod can have a low overall weight, but a high swing weight.  The Burkheimer rods were one example, and their heavier weight in hand was one reason they did not score as well as others. It seemed that they had more weight out in the mid section and tip than many of the other rods, and their action was more moderate with their stiffer tips.

One rod that had a higher overall weight but a low swing weight was the Beulah and it felt light in hand and performed very well.

Obviously the best combination was a light overall weight and a light swing weight.  This is one reason the Hardy Zenith felt so good in our hands.

Warranty – 10 points available

Almost every rod manufacturer today has a lifetime warranty that covers almost all breakage, if it is a factory defect or simply slammed in a tailgate. There are exceptions though, like Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, Burkheimer and Loomis.

All manufacturers are charging some kind of nominal fee that runs from $25-$60 for shipping and handling.   Then it also costs you $15 or more to get the rod shipped to the manufacturer. We have tried to simplify this as much as we could, but only a few manufacturers make this straightforward and easy.  Bottom line is that it can cost you as little as $25-30 for the best warranties, or as much as $100-$200 for others if the breakage was your fault or neglect and not a defect. Also, nearly all warranties apply only to the original owner, so if you break a rod you have bought second-hand you can be out big bucks, especially on rods that have serial numbers the manufactures can track.

Finally, we tried our best to come up with some kind of reasonable way to calculate a sore for the various warranties.  The least expensive that were in the $25-40 range got the 10’s, and most firms that were in the $50-$90 range got 8’s and 9’s.

Warranties

Since Warranty is one of our categories we feel should be rated, we wanted to give you a relatively concise explanation so that you can see how we judged this category.  Some manufacturers, like G. Loomis are making this very complicated but we’ll do our best to give you the short version.

Most every manufacturer offers a “Lifetime Warranty”, but this applies only to the original owner.   In almost every instance, the manufacturer charges a handling fee, and you also need to know that it will cost you a minimum of $10-15 to send the rod in to the manufacturer, or have your local shop ship the rod, in addition to that handling fee.  In most instances your rod will be repaired, not replaced but this varies from one manufacturer to another.

Beulah – Original owner lifetime warranty for defects must be registered within 30 days.  Breakage from misuse or negligence will be repaired at reasonable cost.  $50 fee for all rods for shipping and handling.

C.F. Burkheimer – under warranty for life for defects to original owner.  For other mishaps or accidents, for single-handed rods cost is $50 for tips or mids and $75 for butts.

Echo – Lifetime warranty for original owner.  $35 handling fee.  Rods are replaced.

Hardy – Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $25 handling fee plus 10% retail cost of rod.   Shipping is from their US warehouse, normally about 10 days.

 

G. Loomis – Lifetime warranty to original owner.  You send in rod and their warranty dept examines rod.  If rod broke because of a defect, replacement is free. No handling fee.  If from neglect, charges can be well over $100.  One time Expeditor service, no questions asked – $100. Gets you a new rod in 3-5 days.   NRX owners get a one time Wild Card that gives them a free replacement, 3-5 days. After that, if NRX break is deemed a defect, replacement is free.  From neglect charges will vary but over $150.  Defect claims usually take 1-2 weeks.

Orvis – 25 year warranty to original owner.  $30 handling fee.  Rod is repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

Ross Worldwide – Lifetime warranty for original owner.  Rods are repaired or replaced, shipments to Ross must be prepaid.

R.L. Winston – Lifetime warranty to original owner, $50 handling fee. Older rods not under warranty cost $120 or more. Rods are repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 3-4 weeks. “Lender” rods are available in the meantime, should the expected wait time be longer than normal.

Sage – Lifetime warranty to original owner. $50 handling fee.  Rods are repaired, not replaced.   Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

Scott – Lifetime warranty to original owner, $45 handling fee. Rods are repaired, not replaced. Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

St. Croix – Lifetime warranty for defective materials and workmanship.  $20 handling fee. In practice, $20 fee usually covers repairs to Legend Elite and Imperial rods. In the case of a broken tip, customers may choose to simply purchase a replacement section for $30. This method is the fastest, as St. Croix ships the section within a couple days.  Older rods with an expired warranty may cost $50-$75. Rods are repaired, not replaced.  Usually takes 2-4 weeks.

Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) – Lifetime warranty to original owner.  $25 handling fee.  Rods are repaired or replaced with a new rod.  Usually takes 1 week.

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths – Rods have lifetime warranty for breakage that is deemed to be due to a defect – replacement is free.  If from accident or neglect, costs are $225 to replace broken tip, $275 to replace butt if reel seat can be re-used, and if not, $325.

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Subjective categories

Craftsmanship – 10 points available

In determining how well a rod is made, we take into consideration a lot of factors.  A quick look at the real seat and handle tells you a lot.  Most of the expensive rods utilize very high quality reel seats, usually uplocking, and often with exotic woods and nickel silver fittings.   The reel seat should screw down easily yet hold the reel very securely without coming loose during a day of fishing.  The best cork handles are traditional ones built up using single corks and then sanded down on a lathe.  Very high quality cork has become harder and harder to find, but the best handles have few spots where filler has been used, and have a nice smooth feel.   On less expensive rods, pre-shaped handles are used that require far less work to fit, and generally you can see the inferior quality of the cork used.

What kind of guides are being used on the rod?  The best are the flexible nickel/titanium guides but these are expensive.  You’ll find them on the Loomis rods as well as the Orvis Helios, and the Hardy.  Some manufacturers like Hardy and Loomis use flexible single foot guides.  These are lighter than standard snake guides, and this helps to give the tips of their rods such a light feel.  Good hard chrome guides are still an excellent choice and are tough, but these new flexible guides are even better.   A close look at the wraps will tell you how good the wrapping is – are the threads packed tight and finished nicely?  How good and how smooth is the finish coating over the wraps?  The best coatings require 2-4 applications and each coat is sanded down between finish coatings.  This is how Tom Morgan Rodsmiths gets such wonderful looking wraps on their rods.   Most manufacturers use one-coat finishes that can be good when done perfectly, but tend to bulk up and add more weight to the rod than necessary if done poorly.

The ferrules should fit up well and tightly, and many have dots that help you align the sections.  Ferrules on the best rods won’t come loose easily but this is something you’ll find out about over time.

Nice little touches like nickel silver winding checks and trim wraps add class to the rod and now we are seeing some very interesting looking cork handles that are laid up in a beautiful manner. The best looking ones we’ve seen, coming from C.F. Burkheimer are works of art. There was only one perfect 10 awarded for craftsmanship, and that was to the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rods, which are simply superb in every way.   A close second were the Burkheimer rods.   Most of the best rods with excellent craftsmanship rated an 8 or better.

Fun to Fish/Got to Have – 10 points available

We got the idea for this category from the Car and Driver magazine shootouts, but you know all about this one. If the rod looks like a million bucks and casts like it too, then any normal fly fisherman will lust for this rod. For some, it might even be considered a status symbol.  For others, they see how this rod performs in their guide’s hands and they know that if they get the same rod, it will take them to that next level. Surprisingly enough, often they are right. Great rods don’t make great casters, but they can sure help an average caster get a lot better in a hurry. Good anglers know the value of an exceptional rod, and price usually doesn’t slow them down one bit. After all, an angler can never have too many really good rods, can they?   Any rod that scored a 9 or 10 in this category is so good that you really want to consider adding it to your collection.

Double points for the performance categories

We have always felt that the most important factor in determining the best rods in our shootouts is how well the rod performs. Sure, craftsmanship, price and all these other categories need to enter into the final equation, but the real meat of these shootouts are the performance categories, and this is why we double the points here.   You will find a table that gives only the performance scores.  But as you’ll see, the top six rods are pretty much the same with the Hardy Zenith leading the pack.

“Perfect 4 Performance” – 20 points available

Again, we felt that one category was needed to reward the best #4 line rods for their superior performance and that special feel that gives you total confidence in putting your fly just where you want it at any distance right out to 60 feet. The best 4-weight rods are going to be very light, delicate rods, capable of extremely good accuracy and the ability to make delicate deliveries with small flies and fine tippet.

But to be the Perfect 4, the rod must have some guts too, and be capable of throwing tight loops into a good stiff breeze, even at 60 feet.   It must also have enough butt and mid section power to be a good nymph fishing rod, capable of throwing nymphs with bead head droppers and even some split shot.    On occasion it also must be capable of chucking a lead headed wooly bugger or other small to medium sized streamers when conditions dictate a switch to the bigger ugly stuff.

As a perfect 4, rods that load well with a standard S.A. Trout taper take precedence over the stiffer rods that need the heavier GPX.  With a 4-weight, a delicate delivery is what we’re after, and in this regard, the lighter lines definitely work better.  We’re looking for rods that will do it all, and do it well from 25 feet right out to 60 feet, and the Hardy Zenith 8 ½ foot #4 was an easy choice to take top honors.

Light Tippet Performance – 20 points available


Here’s a new category this year that we decided was important, especially for the 4-weight rods. When you consider that a lot of your fishing done with your 4-weight will be using 5x, 6x, 7x and maybe even 8x tippets, any rod that will help protect these very light tippets is good thing!    A rod that is light and has a nice soft flexible tip will help eliminate a lot of break-offs caused by inadvertent heavy-handed hook sets.  Or perhaps the fish grabbed your fly halfway submerged in the surface film when you weren’t watching closely enough, and surprised you while bolting away.   Having a rod with a softer tip and light swing weight in situations like this will save a lot of potential break-offs, and make you appreciate the importance of our new performance category.

Tippets are getting stronger every year, and we end up fishing 6x and 7x a lot of the time now in trying to get that perfect drift to entice a big fish to sip in your fly. Using a rod that will dramatically reduce your number of break-offs just makes a lot of sense.  The best rods here are both light in overall weight, light in swing weight, and have nice soft tips. Rods that are very light, but have stiffer tips don’t work nearly as well.

 

Performance at 25 feet – 20 points available

We debated on making this first distance 20 feet, but after a bit of casting, using our 12 foot leaders, it became apparent that 25 feet gave us enough distance to get a little more line out of the rod for the best control.  4-weight rods are first and foremost rods designed for closer distance fishing, where accuracy and presentation is the #1 factor in catching fish.   At 25 feet, the best 4-weight rods should be able to consistently land your fly (or in our case the yarn indicator) on a 12” plate 90% of the time.

This requires a rod that can bend enough in the tip to deliver the fly accurately when you are only using your wrist and very little arm movement to complete the casting stroke- casting mainly off the tip of the rod.

Does the rod load well enough to give you the feel you need to make delicate presentations?  Good feel also contributes to good accuracy, which is perhaps the #1 factor I’m taking into consideration when rating rods at these short distances.  The best rods give you the confidence needed to put your fly exactly where it needs to go, into the exact right drift line to go over the fish’s nose.  I’m convinced that the key to catching more trout and especially larger trout, is casting accuracy. Fly selection is far less important. If you have something about the right size and color, you can often force-feed a selective fish with perfect presentations.

The best rods for short distance fishing are usually the lightest rods, especially if you are doing a lot of false casting as you would fishing dry flies.

Performance at 35 feet – 20 points available

25-35 feet are the most important distances for the 4-weight rods, since 90% of the fishing we are doing with these light rods is in this range.    At 35 feet the rod must work a lot harder but you should not have to double haul at all to get the rod to perform well.  What I’m looking for here is the rod’s ability to throw effortless tight loops with extremely good accuracy.   Just like at 25 feet, casting accuracy is the key to catching more and larger fish.   A good 4-weight should feel totally solid at this distance and the line should track perfectly.   The best rods are silky smooth but have the ability to deliver the fly with some authority, especially into a breeze.

With the best rods I was able to hit the plate about 50-60% of the time, and the other casts were not more than a few inches off once I had the distance measured correctly.   Casting to determine all out accuracy requires casts are fairly hard casts that will straighten out the 12-foot leader and tippet. Much like a cast I’d be using in a dry fly accuracy competition.   But in fishing situations I’m often setting up short and off to the side, and shooting that last 4-6 feet of line in to the fish, so the rod needs to have enough power and backbone to rifle these casts in there and do it accurately, with the fly hitting the water gently enough so that I don’t spook the fish.

The best 4-weights also make for very good nymph fishing rods, especially at short distances but also right out to 50-60 feet.   They need to have enough power in the butt and mid section to be able to set the hook quickly as well as throw a combination of flies, droppers and split shot and an indicator.  And they also need to get this job done in the wind!    Personally I like the 8 ½ foot rods over the 9 footers for nymph fishing because they are more sensitive and I can also set the hook a little more quickly than I can with a longer 9-foot rod.  Many people are going to 9 ½, and even 10-foot rods for fishing nymphs but these are pretty worthless for fishing dry flies.

Using faster action rods with stronger butt and mid-sections will also make it far easier for you to land big fish in a minimal amount of time, allowing you to release them in perfect shape.

Performance at 60 feet – 20 points available

The best 4-weights must be able to cast longer distances too, and the best rods had excellent loop control and the ability to throw nice tight loops with good accuracy at this range.  Naturally, you must use a good double haul technique to deliver at long distances with a 4-weight rod.  There are not many situations when you’ll be fishing this far with your 4-weight, but I’ve certainly had many situations especially fishing dry flies in larger rivers, where I just had to throw it this long and do it accurately in order to catch fish.

The best rods in our shootout could handle this distance with ease and were actually capable of casting much farther in an expert caster’s hands.  Especially a gun like that Sage One!  Other rods that were extremely good at shorter distances like the Sage TXL-F and the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, just didn’t have the beans to cast with authority at long range.  But they weren’t designed to either.  I know that Tom Morgan feels that he wants his rods to perform at their best at 20-40 feet and he isn’t too concerned one bit that they don’t have the muscle to match other rods at long range.

Although I’m very rarely fishing small dries at 50-60 feet, I do find myself in situations where throwing a hopper or small streamer that far can produce some spectacular results. Also, on larger rivers fishing nymphs with an indicator, I’m often throwing these longer distances just to get to the fish, or to get a nice long dead drift with my nymph below the indicator.

The rods I liked best at long range were the Hardy Zenith, the Winston BIIIx, the Sage One, the G. Loomis Streamdance and the Orvis Helios.

 

 

#1  Hardy Zenith 8’6″#4 $629.00

The Winner – Again!   Last year in our 5-weight shootout, the Hardy Zenith blew everyone else out of the water with a rod that was just magical.  So this year we knew that Hardy would again be a force to contend with.  I’ve been fishing a 9 foot #4 Hardy Zenith most of this past season and have been impressed with how well the rods fished, and what a versatile rod it was- fishing everything from dries to streamers.  But this rod was relatively stiff, and certainly needed a GPX 4-weight line to make it perform.  They also had an 8 foot #4 Zenith, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with that rod and stuck with the 9 foot #4.

But this year Hardy gave us a much lighter 8 ½ foot #4 that is just fantastic!  When we picked up the rod, it was like WOW, this thing is light and has such a low swing weight- let’s see how it casts.  Very quickly we could see that this rod was going to be another winner.  Much like the 9 foot #5, it has good butt and mid section power and tracks so perfectly that you feel like you know just where your fly is going.  This rod has a nice soft tip that allows for wonderful feel and accuracy in close, but then I need to reach out and throw some line, there is plenty of power on tap, and it threw extremely tight loops at 60 feet, even in the wind.

Howard Croston and Jim Murphy helped with the new design, and Hardy’s team of engineers, headed up by Chris Bond have utilized their Sintrix material that was introduced this past year for the new rods.  Sintrix combines Hardy’s high modulus carbon fibers with a new resin system from 3M in which the fiber is held together with tiny silica nano spheres that are incorporated into this new resin system.  With the 3M technology, they are able to get an even distribution of the nano spheres throughout the resin, and these nano spheres resist compression better than any material known.  The end result is that Hardy is able to produce rods that are 30% lighter and 60% stronger than their previous rods built with more conventional methods.

Other manufacturers are also using this 3M resin technology, but Hardy seems to have the edge in making it work better than anyone.  These rods are extremely light, but very tough.  We heard of almost no breakage this past year from the many customers that bought these new Hardy Sintrix rods in either the Zenith line or the saltwater Proaxis line.

Hardy has once again given us a rod that performs extremely well at all distances, a rod that is extremely light, and with the lowest swing weight of any of the rods we tested.  You immediately notice how light the tip is when you pick up the rod.  Part of this is due to the sintrix technology, but also to the small, flexible nickel titanium single foot guides that Hardy uses on their Zenith rods.

and part of this is due in part to the Sintrix technology, but also to the small, flexible nickel/Titanium one foot guides that Hardy uses on these Zenith rods.

They have taken the finish off the slip over ferrules, and this may be why these ferrules hold very tightly all day, with no tendency to come apart.  Aligning dots at each ferrule are also helpful when putting the rod together.

Craftsmanship is excellent, as we’ve come to expect from Hardy.  They are using some extremely high quality cork in the handles, as good as you’ll find on any rod. This is good looking rod, finished in an olive/gray color with contrasting darker wraps.  This is a conservatively styled rod – nothing fancy but it just looks good.  The reel seat uses no wood spacer but is an attractive design with a slip ring that fits over the seat with two locking rings that hold the reel securely once screwed down tight.   A silver butt cap with the Hardy insignia is a nice touch.    They also give you a hook keeper, which I like.

George’s casting notes:   

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20

My immediate reaction is that this is a very light rod, that has a pleasing feel in my hand. This rod has a nice soft tip and this make it very easy to make short cast with just a flick of my wrist with little arm movement.  Accuracy and feel are excellent, but perhaps not quite as precise as the Sage TXL-F or as delicate and accurate as the Tom Morgan rod.

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20

This seemed to be this rod’s sweet spot and I was hitting the plate on almost every cast.  It felt like I could control my cast so precisely –and form such tight loops.  I had complete confidence where the fly was going on every cast.   The rod is so light that false casting all day would be a pleasant, effortless experience.

Performance at 60 feet:  20 Points out of 20

At long range I could power up, using a double haul and throw extremely tight loops, even with the Trout taper line.  The rod tracks so well that accuracy was superb.  I also noticed that my cast timing with this rod was very quick.   When you power this one up, it really zings them in there.

 

#2  Sage TXL-F  7’10″#4  $625.00

 

Having the TXL-F finish second was a bit of a surprise, but we knew that this was a very nice 4-weight rod, especially at closer distances.   This rod was new last year but often overlooked here out West where anglers are looking for longer 4-weight rods.   Sage makes this series of rods in line sizes from 4 all the way down to line size 000!  Rio is producing their Trout LT DT lines in these very light sizes down to 000 to match up with the TXL-F rods.   These rods all use Sage’s new G-5 technology to produce rods that are 33% lighter than the older but still very light TXL.

Jerry Siem, Sage’s head rod designer has certainly come up with another winner with these very light TXL-F rods.   They are all short rods too, mostly 7 foot 10 inches, but some, like the 4-weight also come in a 6 foot 10 inch length.   Eastern anglers are going to love these rods, especially for fishing smaller, tighter streams, where using an 8 ½ foot or 9 foot rod is impossible.

This is an extremely light rod and the overall weight of 2.03 oz. makes this the lightest rod we tested, by far.  In addition, it also had one of the lightest swing weights, nearly as good as the Hardy Zenith.

When you pick up this rod you immediately notice the grip shape, which is somewhat unusual – larger at the back with a slight flare and then it tapers down like a cigar grip but then turns back up at the front like a half wells.  It does feel pleasant in my hand, and is perfectly sized for this small rod.

Craftsmanship is superb, and what we have come to expect from Sage.  The color of these rods is a rich brown with brown wraps.  The reel seat is an uplocking seat anodized in a light brown to compliment the rod, and uses a nice looking walnut spacer.  They use one stripping guide, while all the rest of the guides are small diameter hard chrome snake guides.  The small sized snake guides used help eliminate line slap and give nice line control and the ability to shoot line more smoothly.  Standard Sage slip over ferrules are used, which have proven to be excellent and the sections are designed to give the rod a nice one-piece feel even though there are 4 sections.

Although this rod feels stiff at first, I can notice that the tip does bend a lot under load and this softer tip really helps give superb accuracy in close.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  20 points out of 20
I was impressed with the extreme light weight of this rod and how much confidence it gave me in putting one perfect presentation after another, right on target.   Once loaded, the slightly softer tip made short distance accuracy a delight.   Only this rod and the Tom Morgan scored a perfect 20 at 25 feet.   Just exactly what a good angler wants for short distance work.

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
At mid-range I was having a bit more trouble getting the kind of accuracy I expected.  It was still very good but the rod felt like it wanted to bounce around a little and didn’t have the same kind of tracking capability as the Sage One or the Hardy Zenith.   Still, making good, precise and delicate casts at this distance is a strong point for the TXL-F.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
This rod still has lots of power to hit 60 feet and threw nice well-controlled tight loops. It didn’t track quite as well as the Sage One or the Hardy Zenith though, as you might expect with a much shorter and lighter rod.

#3 (tie) Winston BIIIx 8’6″#4, $795.00

 

Everyone here at the shop was impressed with the BIIIx.  We initially cast the 8, 8 ½, and 9 foot models, which were all good, but decided that the 8 ½ foot model performed the best as a 4-weight, and was light enough in action that we could use the Trout Taper line rather than the GPX the 9 foot required.    Winston sent us all their BIIt rods in 4-weights to test as well, but we felt that they were just far too soft, and the actions too slow, so they didn’t make the cut.  The BIIIx is a far better rod in our estimation.

Winston introduced these BIIIx rods last year and we felt that they are a nice improvement over the older BIIx rods, which had tips that were just too soft and sloppy.  The new BIIIx still utilizes boron in the butt section but they redesigned the mid and tip sections, beefing them up just a little, which was needed.  Winston got prototypes out to a lot of good anglers and casters and veteran rod designer Annette McLean refined all the needed changes, tweaking the final design to give us the new BIIIx.   The new rods are exceptionally smooth casting rods at all distances.

This is going to be a very popular rod with dry fly anglers.  It delivers good accurate and very delicate presentations, and is certainly one of the very best rods we cast in our shootout.   I was impressed at how smooth this rod was, especially at short to mid distances.  I scored it slightly behind the best rods, but was tempted to give it 20’s at both 25 and 35 feet – it was that good.   It just didn’t seem to track quite as well as the Hardy and I couldn’t form tight loops quite as easily.

The Winston rods are some of the most beautiful rods we’ve seen and the craftsmanship is excellent.  In the sunlight that Winston emerald green is magnificent.   The cork handles on their smaller rods come with cigar grips that are flared on the bottom end and very comfortable in my hand.   Reel seats are gorgeous too, with nickel silver uplocking fittings and a Birdseye maple insert.

Winston uses both nickel silver grip checks and winding checks, a nice touch.   One stripping guide is used while the rest are hard chrome snake guides.  The Winston slipover ferrules are perfect and give the rod a nice one-piece feel when flexed.    Winston also gives you a classy looking graphite case, one of the nicest we’ve seen.  I couldn’t find many negatives at all other than perhaps the price.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20
I was impressed at how smooth this rod cast in close and what delicate presentations I could make at short distances.  However I was just not getting the kind of accuracy I was with the Sage or Tom Morgan rod.  Even the Hardy felt a little more precise.   I just didn’t have as good a feel for where the fly was going than I did with the other rods.  I ended up scoring this a 19 but it was perhaps 19.5.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
A very nice feel with good control.  The BIIIx is silky smooth at this distance but I had to work a little harder to get the same kind of tight loops and the precise accuracy that I was getting with the Hardy Zenith. The soft tip helped me make nice delicate presentations at the distances I’m fishing most of the time.  This is a lovely rod for fishing dry flies.

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
Good solid performance at long range, even with the Trout taper.   I was impressed with the control I was getting at long range. On the day we cast out in a hard wind this rod still got the job done well at long distance.  I felt the Hardy and the Sage One tracked a bit better out long and both threw tighter and more controlled loops than the BIIIx.

#3 (tie) Sage One 8’6″#4,  $715.00

 

Sage introduced their One rods late in summer of 2011, and they have been impressive.  Head rod designer Jerry Siem utilized Sage’s new Konnetic Technology to build a rod that is amazingly light and powerful.   In Sage’s words, “The key to the new construction is what Sage calls it’s Advanced Modulus Positioning System (AMPS) that precisely aligns the bundles of high modulus carbon fibers along the taper of the blank for ultimate strength and straight tracking during casting.   Smaller and lighter blanks are made possible by compacting Sage’s carbon fibers and proprietary resins using a high compression molding process, fusing the 50% lighter all-carbon fiber inner core.”

When I picked up the new Sage One, my first impression was that gosh, this is a really light rod, but it has lots of power.   After using a variety of the One rods this past summer, the very best seem to be the 9 foot 6 and 7 weight rods.  These are both awesome rods and perhaps the best in their class.   The One 5 weight proved to be not nearly as nice as the Hardy Zenith 9 foot #5, mainly because of its overall stiffness.

The 8 ½ foot #4 One suffers from that same overall stiffness. I was hoping for a rod that had less stiffness and a softer tip.  Still, this rod turned in some very impressive scores and was perhaps the best long-range rod of the bunch, especially in the wind.   But it was so stiff that we had to use the heavier SA GPX line on this rod to get it to perform.

Performance at short range was not nearly as good as the best rods, due to the stiffer tip that didn’t allow much feel or accuracy in close.    It is a very light rod though, with the overall weight an impressive 2.45 oz., but the thing that held it back against the best rods was its heavier swing weight of 8.6 oz.   With this heavier swing weight and stiffer tip, fishing very light tippets is going to be a challenge.   I can see a lot of popped off 6x tippets with this rod.    At long range though, this rod is a real gun, and rips 60 footers in there with precision.   This will also be a very good rod to choose on a windy day.

Craftsmanship is excellent, typical of the best Sage rods.   The rod is stealth black, with complimentary dark wraps and a few brown trim wraps.   The handle is different for Sage, somewhat of a full wells, fairly straight through the middle, with a little taper, getting smaller towards the top of the grip before the flare back up at the very top. It feels comfortable enough to me although some anglers would prefer more of a cigar style like Sage uses on their ZXL.     A good single uplocking aluminum seat is used in anodized brown along with a nicely finished walnut insert.    A single stripping guide is used while the rest are hard chrome snake guides.  The wraps are good but the finish coat of epoxy over the wraps looks a bit heavy overall.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
Although this is a very light rod, the stiffer tip and heavy swing weight didn’t produce enough feel and accuracy in close to challenge the best rods.   I was getting very little feedback from the rod to let me know where the fly was going and the accuracy suffered accordingly.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
Once I get a little more line out, the rod feels a lot better.  It is still feels a lot heavier in my hand than the Winston or Hardy though, and this is due to the high swing weight.   Now I’m seeing the line track very well and am getting very good accuracy.  But the stiffness is not allowing me to get the kind of delicate presentations that I’m getting with the Hardy, Winston BIIIx or Tom Morgan rods.    Also, there is no question that I’m working a lot harder at this distance to get nice tight loops than I am with the Hardy Zenith.

Performance at 60 feet:  20 points out of 20
Now we’re talking!  This rod is a gun at this range and the only thing that’s close is the Hardy Zenith.  I rated both a 20, but the One definitely has a bit more power at long range.  In my notes I felt that the Hardy was slightly more precise in accuracy. Both rods track very well and throw well controlled tight loops at long range, but the One does it with a bit more authority.  Again I can feel the much heavier swing weight when comparing it to the Hardy and this would lead to more fatigue at the end of the day.

#3 (tie)  Beulah Platinum  8’8”#4,  $395.00

                                                  

We were all impressed with this lovely rod from Beulah, an Oregon company better known for their Switch and Spey rods than trout rods.  In fact, Beulah was the first company to introduce the Switch rods (shorter, lighter Spey rods) back in 2005.  Now Switch rods, considered an oddity at the time are now a staple for everyone building Spey rods!   Beulah also built classic single-handed rods using Im8 graphite, but recently switched over to a new process, calling these new rods their Platinum series.  Using the newest graphite technology with carbon scrim, and they employ better resins and extremely high blank rolling pressure to achieve extremely high consistency from blank to blank, which also results in some of the lightest rods in the business.

When I picked up the Beulah 8’8” #4 rod, I could immediately tell that this was going to be a very good performing rod.  They hit it on the head with the action – it seemed just right, and in a rod that has a nice light swing weight.    When casting the rod my first comments said it all – “Light and smooth”.

This is a very good-looking rod too with excellent craftsmanship.   Blanks are a pleasing Olive/brown with lighter brown wraps and four color trim wraps!  The reel seats are uplocking nickel silver fittings with attractive burl wood inserts.   The cork handles are a very attractive mix of laminated cork with standard cork rings in the middle and contrasting cork burls on both ends.  These handles are a Western style with a flare at the back a swell in the middle and tapering toward the front.   I found them quite comfortable but perhaps a bit large for a 4-weight rod.   For guides, they use a single stripping guide followed by hard chrome snake guides that are a bit larger in diameter than most.

Without knowing the cost, you would guess that this rod would be in the $600-700 range, but amazingly it sells for $395.00, which we feel is a heck of a value, especially for a rod that feels and performs as well as this one does.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet: 19 points out of 20
First impression is that this rod feels just right in my hand.   A nice low swing weight, despite the slightly heavier overall weight than most.  The action is just about perfect with good butt and mid-section power but a nice softer tip that gave good feel and very good accuracy in tight.   This rod was light enough in action to take the Trout taper and that was a plus for good delicate presentations.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
Nice, well controlled loops at this distance made it easy to get good accuracy.  This rod feels very well balanced and loaded perfectly with the trout taper. One of my notes said “buttery smooth”.  It tracks very well and was a lot lighter in hand than the St.Croix Imperial.   Very impressive for a mid-priced rod.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
At long range the Beulah lacked the overall power to blast it in there like the top rods and I had to work just a little harder with my double haul, using the trout taper, but then I was getting pretty good accuracy. I’m thinking that the GPX would have been better at long range.

 

#4 (tie) Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8’6″#4, $1345.00

This is the only two-piece rod in our 4-weight shootout, but since this is one of the best 4-weight rods I’ve ever fished, we decided to include it in with all the other 4-pc. 4-weight rods.  The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rods are special in many ways.  They are some of the most gorgeous rods you have ever laid eyes on, starting with the heavy octagonal rod case finished in the same deep burgundy color as the rods, and the fancy rod bag inside. The rods themselves are a masterpiece of fine craftsmanship.   Nothing else in our shootout even comes close.  Tom designed all of the blanks himself, and I helped him with the designs and casting of the final prototypes. Tom has the blanks built by Gary Loomis’ company, North Fork Composites.  Then they are sent off to C.F. Burkheimer to be finished in that beautiful deep burgundy color that Tom refers to as Garnet.  Tom designed all the nickel silver hardware himself, from the beautiful uplocking reel seats to the butt and grip checks. Struble Mfg. Co, who builds many of the finest reel seats used by Sage and other rod builders, makes these for Tom Morgan on a custom basis.  Tom uses about two dozen different fancy burl woods for inserts and these are finished there by hand.  His most popular are Amboyna and Box Elder Burl, but the customer gets to pick whatever he likes.

Handles are laid up using the finest cork you can find and shaped to either a cigar style or half wells. Customers can also provide their own custom handle designs.  Another special touch is a genuine agate stripping guide!  The rest of the guides are hard chrome snake guides with a lot of very small size snake guides out on the tip to help eliminate any rod slap.  Tom is convinced that this is one reason his rods cast so smoothly.  Tom’s wife Gerri Carlson does all the wrapping and finishing and the results are stunning.  Gerri showed me how she often uses 4 or more coats of thin epoxy finish on the wraps, sanding off the high spots lightly before applying the next coat.   This is how they get such a perfectly smooth finish, but this all takes a lot of time and effort.

These rods cast just as good as they look!  Tom has always insisted on building rods that load well with a standard Trout Taper, and these rods load more heavily than anything I’ve used, but they feel just right, especially at closer distances.   Tom’s design philosophy is to create sweet casting rods that will handle perfectly out to 45 feet or so. Out at 60 feet they are a bit too soft, but Tom never built them thinking of casting that far! He knows well that the best accuracy and presentations from light rods like this need to come at 20-40 feet and no more.

The performance at 25 feet was a perfect 20, and there is no rod here that can make delicate presentations like this one.  Accuracy was just superb in the 25-35 foot range, and I was tempted to give this rod another perfect score at 35 feet.

There a couple of downsides in obtaining a Tom Morgan rod.  First is the price, which is far above any other rods in our test.   But once you see the rod, you’ll understand how much time and effort it took to build it.    Then there is the availability.  The Morgans build only about 100 of these graphite rods a year, so there is a waiting list of up to 2-3 years to get one.  But the long wait will definitely be worth it!

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  20 points out of 20
A perfect performance in every way.  This rod loads beautifully; giving me lots of feel and the very light tip gives terrific accuracy as well as the ability to give the most delicate presentations possible.   This rod has a very light swing weight that is close to the Hardy and Sage TXL-F. One of the reasons of course is that it is a two –piece rod.   Although the TXL-F also rated a 20, there is no question that the Tom Morgan is a shade better in close.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
I felt like this could also have been a 20, but I knocked it back to 19 as it didn’t have the ability to drive the line in as precisely as the Hardy, and the accuracy suffered just a tiny bit.  I felt it didn’t track quite as well as either the Hardy or the Sage One that are using more sophisticated materials in their blanks.  Still, this rod is certainly the best of the lot for making the most delicate presentations in this 25-35 foot range.

Performance at 60 feet:  16 points out of 20
At long range, this rod proved to be overloaded, even with the Trout taper.  I’ve found myself that on days when I’m fishing this rod mainly at longer ranges I’ll drop down in line size to a WF-3-F and that did the trick.   Certainly you can hit 60 feet with this rod and a Wf-4-F trout, but it doesn’t want to track well and the accuracy is not very good.

#4 (tie)  Echo 3  7’10”#4, $349.99

Tim Rajeff sent us over a couple of his Echo 3 rods to test, the 7’ 10”, which was extremely light and cast pretty well, and an Echo 3 in 9 foot #4, which was heavy and a not much fun –that one really needed a #5 line.   So The 7’ 10” rod got in, and it placed very well overall, mainly due to its perfect scores for overall weight and swing weight.  But as you’ll see in the performance only scores, it was way down there with the Echo Edge sliding in one point higher.

I loved the light weight of this Echo 3. In swing weight, it was tied right at the top of the heap with the Hardy Zenith, with the Sage TXL-F one tenth of an ounce behind.  They all got perfect 10’s.  But this is a much stiffer rod than the TXL-F needed a GPX line to get it to bend.  The Echo 3 is the most advanced high performance rod that Echo builds, using very high modulus graphite and modern resin systems.   These rods are both extremely light and exceptionally strong.   I was impressed with the power and smoothness of this rod, but it was perhaps just a little too stiff at short range. It did feel great in my hand, with such a low swing weight.   At close range it gave good accuracy but wanted to slam the fly in there pretty hard, so other rods are definitely going to be more delicate, and Sage’s TXL-F was far better.  Even though they scored the same 18 points at 25 feet, I’d give the edge to the Echo Edge for delicate deliveries.  In the wind the Echo 3 was better, but the delivery was just a bit too strong.   At 35 feet I seemed to get the same good performance I got with the TXL-F but at long range the TXL-F threw tighter loops with less effort.

These Echo 3 rods are very good looking, and the craftsmanship is up to par with the much higher priced rods like Sage, Loomis and Hardy.  The blank is a brilliant olive green with darker contrasting wraps.  The handle is just right – a Western style cigar grip that is shorter than most and fits my hand perfectly.  It is sized just right for a delicate 4-weight rod, and the cork is the high-density variety, and more durable than standard cork rings.  This Echo cork is much like what Loomis uses on their NRX rods – I like it.  The good-looking reel seat uses silver anodized hardware and an attractive burled wood spacer.  The wraps and finish are first rate.  A single SiC Stripping guide is used followed up with hard chrome snake guides.  But WOW, are they big. The first three look like the guides on my 11 weight rods!  But they do get progressively smaller towards the tip.   Tim is a great caster, so I’m guessing that he came up with this system to increase line shootability, and I’m not one to argue about that.  This rod really drills them in there with high line speeds.   But this also means you’ll have to back it off a bit to get delicate presentations.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
This rod feels wonderful in my hand with such a low swing weight, but it’s stiff, and it was hard to get delicate presentations at close range.  Accuracy was good, but I had to downgrade it a point for slamming the fly in there a bit too hard.  The Edge made much more delicate presentations but wasn’t quite as accurate, thus the scores were the same.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
Well balanced with the GPX line and I was getting nice tight loops with pretty good accuracy.  The high line speed was still a problem in getting delicate presentations, and that GPX line will be hitting the water pretty hard.   I rated this the same as the TXL-F, but I’d give the TXL-F the advantage for making much more delicate presentations.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20
Heads up, the TXL-F had better loop control and more accuracy at long range despite the fact that it was using a lighter Trout taper line.    The Echo 3 was still blasting them in there but lost a bit in accuracy over the other best rods.

 

#5  St. Croix Imperial 8’6″#4, $200.00

Here is our winner for the best inexpensive 4-weight rodwe’ve found!   After Winston’s 9 foot #5 Passport proved to be the best inexpensive #5 line rod, we had big hopes for the 9 foot #4 but is just didn’t cut it, compared to the Imperial.  It wasn’t even close.  This is a case of one good inexpensive rod hitting the nail on the head when it came to design and the ability to perform exceptionally well at all distances.

The key to this rods surprisingly good performance is the fact that it has medium fast action that is very close to some of the other top rods.  Good butt and mid section power that give it good performance at long range, but a softer tip that give this rod good feel and accuracy in close.

There is nothing fancy about this rod, but the craftsmanship is really quite good when you consider the low price.  The color is a deep burgundy, much like the Tom Morgan Rods.  I liked the Western style cigar grip handle, and the reel seat is anodized alum. uplocking, with a reddish colored wood insert.  Guides are one stripping guide and the rest hard chrome snake guides, fairly large in size.  The overall weight is surprisingly light at 2.7 oz. and the swing weight is about in the middle of the pack at 8.5 oz.   This rod does feel well balanced in my hand and would be a pleasant rod to fish all day. We think this rod is an incredible value, especially for a rod that is built right here in the US in Park Falls Wisconsin.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20
I was amazed at what good accuracy and feel I was getting from the Imperial at short distance.  It felt every bit as good as the Beulah, and a lot better than either of the inexpensive TFO rods or the Winston Passport.   The softer tip helped to keep the Imperial ahead of these other rods, providing excellent accuracy that was almost as good as the very best rods.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20 
This is a smooth casting rod at this distance.  I can feel the extra swing weight now and it feels heavier in my hand than the Beulah, and the accuracy wasn’t on par with the Beulah either.  Still a pretty impressive performance.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Very good control and plenty of power to reach out this far.  I can form nice loops but now I’m feeling the heavier swing weight and working a little harder to do it.   I keep thinking this must be a $300-$400 rod to perform this well.

#6  G. Loomis WhisperCreek GLX  8’6″#4, $645.00

Since the WhisperCreek’s introduction a few years ago now, this has been one of my favorite 4-weight rods.  I actually helped Steve Rajeff with the design of this rod, which was initially called the Streamdance Presentation series.  It’s still the same rod, but the name and the color have changed.  We are also testing the Streamdance 8 ½ foot #4, and it also is a fine rod.  The big difference here is that the WhisperCreek is a much softer rod that loads very well with a SA Trout, while the Streamdance is a faster, stiffer rod that requires the GPX.  The WhisperCreek is more of a medium action rod that handles better at the shorter distances than out long.

The craftsmanship is excellent, and love the unbreakable guides used.   There is one recoil stripping guide and the rest are nickel/titanium flexible one-foot guides that reduce weight and give this rod a nice feel.   A smaller cigar style grip is used, and the aluminum uplocking seat has an unusual, pleasing design with a burled wood insert.  The color is a flat finished medium olive, which I like.  Pretty stealthy.

I’ve loved its smooth action and the ability to cast very accurately, and its ability to make nice delicate presentations using small flies and fine leaders.   But I’ve also put this rod to work plenty of days fishing nymphs too, and it will certainly do a good job, but is not quite as good as the faster action rods.    If you like rods that load up well, and give you confidence to hit where you are aiming, you’ll appreciate this rod.  It is also soft enough to do a great job protecting light tippets.

The newer, more technologically advanced rods bypass even long time favorites and this is the case for me.  Now when I’m pulling out a 4-weight, it will be the Hardy Zenith rather than my old WhisperCreek GLX.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F line matched this rod.

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20

I love the softness of the action at close range and the ability to make very delicate presentations.   This rod transfers a great amount of feel to my hand and it seems that I can put the fly right where I’m thinking it needs to go.  Accuracy is very good, but not as precise as the best rods.  Fishing light tippets is a joy with this rod and I rarely experience any break offs on 6x and 7x.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
This distance seems to be a sweet spot with this rod and I just love the overall feel and balance.  Making light, accurate deliveries is effortless, but if the wind is up, then I feel that I’m at a disadvantage over the faster action rods.  Still one of my favorites!

Performance at 60 feet: 18 points out of 20
At long range, the softer action doesn’t allow me to fire shots in there as quite as well as the faster Streamdance or the other top rods, and accuracy suffers accordingly.  It is still quite good though, especially if I just slow down the timing a bit and allow the rod to do its work. If the wind comes up hard though, I’m not going to have a whole lot of fun.

#7 (tie) G. Loomis Streamdance GLX  8’6″#4, $655.00

This rod has been around for quite awhile now, but is still a delightful rod to fish.  It has a faster action and is stiffer than the WhisperCreek.  It is a fairly heavy rod in swing weight when you compare it to the others, but in casting this rod, the weight didn’t seem to be a factor and it put in a very respectable performance at all distances.  These Streamdance GLX rods have always been a top performer in our shootouts, and the 5-weigtht finished 2nd in our 5-weight shootout years ago now.  Steve Rajeff’s designs have proven themselves over time to be some of the best, and this 4-weight has a good strong butt and mid section but then the power tapers off progressively in the tip and this is what gives it such good accuracy at all distances.

The craftsmanship, like the WhisperCreek is excellent.  The blank color is a darker olive but still with nice flat finish that I like.  The guides are the same as the WhisperCreek with one recoil stripper and the rest the flexible nickel/titanium one foot guides.  The tip diameters on these Loomis rods is very small in diameter, but they hold up well and we have seen very few broken.  Again the handle is a smaller cigar shape with a flare on the back end – just right on a rod this size.  The reel seat is the Loomis dark brown anodized aluminum uplocking version with that unusual design and a handsome burled wood insert.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  19 points out of 20
Although this rod has an even higher swing weight than the WhisperCreek, it certainly didn’t detract from the performance.   In close it delivered very good accuracy with enough feel to be a pleasant rod for short distance work.   Sure, if you compare it to the Hardy it feels heavier in the hand but at this distance the accuracy was just about as good.

Performance at 35 feet:  20 points out of 20
What a solid feel with the line tracking very well, giving accuracy as good as anything in the shootout.  I was surprised that an older design like the Streamdance would perform at this level.   I could zing the indicator onto the plate most of the time.   But I would still give a tiny edge to the Hardy Zenith, especially in getting a more delicate presentation.

Performance at 60 feet:  19 points out of 20
The GPX line felt very well matched and despite the heavier swing weight, I could maintain good tight loops and excellent accuracy at long range.   I wouldn’t want to do a great deal of false casting all day at this range though.  The 9 oz. swing weight would wear me out.   

#7 (tie) Orvis Helios 9’#4, mid-flex, $795.00

 My first impressions – Like the other Orvis Helios rods, this is a gorgeous rod with excellent craftsmanship. In my hand it was impressively light in overall weight – as light as the Sage One at 2.45 oz!    But like the Sage One the swing weight at 8.6 oz was a lot heavier than the best rods that were 8 oz. and below.   Still the Helios is a very pleasant rod to cast, and I was especially impressed at 60 feet, where it would throw very long tight loops all day long.

I’m sorry that Orvis declined to send us any rods to test, as I would have liked to see how the shorter Helios rods fared like their 8 ½ foot #4 as well as their less expensive rods like an 8 ½ foot #4 Access or perhaps their Superfine Touch 8 foot #4.  Maybe next time.
The rod we tested came from a friend, and was a new rod.   At least we were able to get one Helios in the shootout so that Orvis fans can see how it fared compared to the best rods.   In this respect, it didn’t exactly blow us away.  Finishing in the middle of the pack, I’d call it good but not great.   Even the much heavier Loomis NRX was a lot more accurate and had better feel at 25 feet.  And the Sage One was a far better casting rod, even though the weight and swing weight matched up exactly with the Helios.   I think the biggest reason is that in close, the rods with softer tips just performed better.  This mid-flex has a more moderate action, and a stiffer tip than most.  Stiffer tips are never good, at least on 4-weight rods.

There were a lot of things to like about this rod though – especially its good looks and craftsmanship, which have always been high points with Orvis rods.  I especially liked their use of the flexible and unbreakable nickel/titanium snake guides, but perhaps the one -foot nickel/titanium guides as used on the Loomis and Hardy rods would have been even better.    The rods are a pleasing brown in color, with a comfortable Western style cigar grip.  The fancy looking uplocking reel seat worked quite well and held the reel very securely.  The matching brown graphite rod case was pretty classy too.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: SA GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
This rod has a nice light feel in my hand but the stiffer tip wasn’t allowing me to get the kind of accuracy and presentation I was after at short distance.  The much heavier NRX was a lot more accurate, mainly because of its softer tip.

Performance at 35 feet: 18 points out of 20
The rod casts a nice smooth line, but like at 25 feet I’m just not able to get really good accuracy.   It does feel better at 35 feet than 25 and the presentations I was getting were good, just not great.

Performance at 60 feet: 19 points out of 20
This distance was the highlight for me with the Helios.  I loved its ability to throw long, tight loops with excellent accuracy.   It was also exceptionally smooth and well balanced at this range with the GPX line.   Not quite as good as the very best rods, but close.

#8 (tie) Scott G2  8’8”#4, $725.00

Scott bills the G2 series as their ultimate presentation rods.  They are light in weight and feel good in your hand.    The actions are moderately fast with fairly soft tips that will help protect light tippets.   I’ve always liked the softer Scott rods and this rod was pleasant to cast and turned in good solid performance scores at all distances. It didn’t score as well as I imagined it would though.   It was hard to pinpoint the reasons why, but this is one rod that you must slow your casting stroke to take advantage of its softer action.  One of my notes in bold read “You can’t overpower this rod or bad things will happen.”  That more or less sums it up.  It is a lot like the Tom Morgan in this respect, but the G2 is a more powerful rod and a lot better at long range.  At short range though it wouldn’t come close to matching the Tom Morgan rod for either accuracy or delicate presentations.

This is a good looking rod, and one which they have not sanded down the tiny ridges left from the tape they wrap the rods with while being cured.  They just add a light finish coat of epoxy over the natural gray blank.  The wraps are chocolate brown, and well done and finished perfectly with just the right amount of epoxy and no more.  Spigot ferrules are used on this rod rather than the more common slip over ferrules found on other rods.  Supposedly this gives a better one-piece style action but every rod manufacturer today has this figured out even with the slip over ferrules.  Scott uses a comfortable Western style grip with a flare on the back end and a black anodized uplocking aluminum seat with a very good-looking box elder burl insert. One SiC stripping guide is used and the rest are hard chrome snake guides with smaller and very fine diameter guides out near the tip – a nice touch to maintain that light feel in the tip of the rod.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
I was a little disappointed after reading everything Scott has to say about this being the perfect tool for stalking big wary trout with fine flies and light tippet.   I found that I could not cast off the tip of this rod as well as I could with the Hardy or the Sage TXL-F, just using my wrist and little arm movement.  It was slightly better than the Sage One though.  I just couldn’t obtain the accuracy I was getting with the best rods.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
The G2 was much better at this range but still felt a little mushy compared to the best rods.  The line tracked noticeably better with the Hardy and the Sage One. The presentations were nice and delicate though and with the soft tip you won’t break many fish off on light tippets.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Overall a good performance but I had to be careful not to overpower the rod.  It was tough to get really good accuracy when I could not produce the tight loops I was getting from the Zenith or Sage One at long distance.

#8 (tie)  Echo Edge  8’#4 $229.99

 

 

This rod was a pleasant surprise for all of us and especially at this price level!  It has a nice light feel in your hand and a much softer tip than the more expensive Echo 3 models, making it a better rod for light line 4-weight fishing.   The light flexible tip also does an exceptional job of protecting light tippets.    This is a light rod and has a very light swing weight – one reason it feels so good in my hand.

There isn’t anything fancy about this rod, but it is a good-looking rod with a deep burgundy gloss blank. Craftsmanship is good and when I look closely at the guide wraps and finish, I’m impressed.   They are using one stripping guide and then the rest of the guides are single foot hard chrome guides.  They look tough even though they aren’t the flexible ones used on the more expensive rods.  The slip over ferrules worked well and fitted up tightly. The ferrules also have aligning dots, a good feature that makes it quick and easy to set up the rod.  A single uplocking anodized aluminum seat is used and seemed to work quite well.  A burgundy colored wood spacer is used that compliments the color of the blank.  At first I thought that this might be our inexpensive rod winner, but it just couldn’t match the performance scores of the St. Croix Imperial.  Still, this is a very nice rod at a good price.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  18 points out of 20
A nice light swing weight makes this rod feel great in my hand and the soft tip contributed to good accuracy in close.   But when compared heads up with the St. Croix, the Imperial had a slight edge in accuracy.

Performance at 35 feet: 17 points out of 20
Again, I loved the lightness and feel of this rod but it just did not track as well as the Imperial and once again, the Imperial was just a bit more accurate.   Getting delicate presentations was easy though, with the nice soft tip.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20
At long range, this rod just doesn’t have the beans to maintain the loop control needed for good accuracy.  The Echo 3 rods were better at long range because of their stiffness.

 

#9  Ross Worldwide RX  8’6″ #4,  $299.00

I’ll have to admit I haven’t been much of a fan of the imported Ross rods, but this rod is a lot different – it isn’t a heavy club like the others I’ve sampled.  This rod is light – really light in overall weight at 2.7 oz. and with an extremely light swing weight of 7.4 oz which is just a couple of tenths off the very best rods in our shootout!   So Ross must be using some very good high modulus graphite in these rods and good resin systems to put them together.   This is also a very good-looking rod with pretty good craftsmanship.

I was excited until I cast the rod.  The deal breaker is the action.  It is just too slow and the tip is way too stiff.   This rod has a moderate action and all they would have to do is to soften the upper part of the mid and the tip section to make it a much more pleasant rod to cast and fish, especially short distances.

The color of the blank is a handsome steely reddish brown with darker brown wraps. They use a comfortable Western style grip, with a flare at the back end, a swell in the middle and then the grip tapers down towards the front.  A nice double locking aluminum uplock seat is used with an attractive reddish brown graphite spacer that compliments the blank color.  For guides, they use one stripping guide and then hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way to the tip.  The wraps were good but the finish a little sloppy, with wide overruns and too much one-coat finish. Not really bad, but just not quite as good as most of the other less expensive rods.  For example, the Echo edge finish coat over the wraps was far better.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  16 points out of 20
Here is where that stiffer tip hurt the most – at close range.  I had very little feel and the accuracy suffered badly.   I had no feeling for where the fly was going to land on most casts.    I’d like to see this rod with a softer more flexible tip.  That would turn it into a far better rod, especially at short distances.

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
Better, but still not great.  With more line in the air, the more moderate action and stiff tip became less of a problem. Heads up, the St. Croix Imperial had better feel and a little better accuracy.  Come to think of it, 18 points was probably too high, it should have been a 17.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Ok; I’ll stick with 18 points on this one.  At this range the rod has good power and feels well balanced with the GPX Line. I’m getting good loop control and the stiffer tip actually helps a bit at this range.  The light swing weight makes it pleasant to cast for long periods of time.

#10  St. Croix Legend Elite  8’6″#4, $420.00

 

Here is another surprise- in the past all the Legend Elites we have tested have scored very well and placed highly in our past shootouts.  The two things that killed this rod’s performance scores – this rod is too stiff and too heavy!   The overall weight was pretty good at 2.70 oz, but the swing weight, at 8.5 oz was a lot heavier than the best rods tested.  The stiffness and lack of feel hurt a lot at short range, and the much less expensive Imperial was far better at 25 feet.  Sad but true.  This was just not a very delightful rod to cast and fish and its low score of 17 in the “fun to fish” category reflects this perfectly.    Maybe we expected too much from the Legend Elite, since the past 5-weight and 8-weight models were so darn good.   This rod is so stiff that it probably needs a 5-weight line!  And the tip is noticeably stiffer than on past Legend Elites, which really hurts at 25 feet.

The good news is that the craftsmanship is excellent and what we have come to expect from past Legend Elite rods.  The blank is a pleasing dark olive green with matching olive wraps. The wraps were good but the coating was a tad too heavy.  One stripping guide is used and the rest are hard chrome one-foot guides, which should help but this blank is just too stiff. A comfortable Western style cigar type grip is used with an uplocking light gold anodized aluminum reel seat and a light colored maple wood insert.

George’s casting notes: 

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F but a WF-5-F would have been even better!

Performance at 25 feet:  16 points out of 20
The overall stiffness hurt a lot here, as there was little feel and the accuracy suffered accordingly.   Heads up at close range the cheaper Imperial kicked its butt.  There is no way you are going to float a delicate cast in there with this rod.

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
Now the stiffness is less noticeable and the rod actually tracks quite well and delivers respectable accuracy.  Still feels more like a club than a delicate 4-weight rod.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Finally we are getting enough line in the air to load the rod.  Now it feels pretty smooth and tracks well like the Legend Elites we’ve known in the past.   Accuracy is good but not great.

#11  TFO BVK  8’6″#4, $224.95

 

The TFO BVK rods have been outstanding rods since their introduction and went on to place in a tie for 7th in our 2011 5-weight shootout, and an amazing 2nd overall in our 2011 8-weight shootout!  So we were hoping for another strong performance, but it just didn’t happen.  These BVK’s are strong rods, and although the medium fast action on the 8 ½ foot #4 seemed about right, it was still a little too stiff for a good 4-wight, even with the GPX line.  For the money, they have proven to give anyone a good bang for their buck.   Lefty Kreh helped a lot with the designs of these rods, and of course they carry his initials although not many people know what BVK stands for.  Lefty’s a great caster and good friend and he knows how a rod needs to be designed to perform well.  The BVK line up are really power rods that pack a punch, and maybe this is why they didn’t try to soften up the 4-weight more.  As you’ll see, TFO has another one of Lefty’s designs in our shootout, the 8 foot 9” “Finesse” and this rod was designed for more delicate presentations.   Despite the stiffness of the BVK, it still beat out the Finesse though with better performance scores.  This rod would make a good nymph fishing rod, and certainly has the power to reach out long and pound some streamers on occasion.

The TFO rods are good looking rods, utilizing a dark green blank with complimentary dark green wraps.  The handle is a conventional Western style grip with a flare to the back, the swell in the middle of your palm and then tapering forward.  It felt good in my hand and it was sized just right for this rod.  The reel seat is a light Aluminum uplock screwlock with double locking rings in a pleasing gray color with a rich looking olive green graphite insert to compliment the blank color.  Guides are one unbreakable recoil stripper, with hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way.

One thing that drives us crazy is the fact that TFO is the only rod company making good rods that doesn’t give you a hard case with the rod!  They come only with a cloth case.  TFO makes a good hard case, but we have to sell them for 29.95.  When we explain this to our customers they are always a little miffed, but 90% go ahead and get the rod with the case.   I think TFO should just throw in the rod case and tack another $15- $20 to the price of the rod and everyone would be happy.  These are inexpensive rods in the first place, so a slightly higher price isn’t going to slow down any potential buyers.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  17 points out of 20
The overall stiffness didn’t allow for a whole lot of feel or accuracy in close.  But surprisingly it did perform marginally better than the Finesse!  It gets the job done but making delicate presentations is not going to be easy with this rod.

Performance at 35 feet:  17 points out of 20
In casting this rod heads up with the Ross RX, the Ross was a lot lighter, especially in swing weight, and we liked it a bit better at 35 feet.   The BVK did seem to track well but wanted to slam the fly in there rather than landing it softly.   If they could just back off the power of this rod a tiny bit, it would be so much better.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Finally at long range this rod comes alive and feels much better.  I was getting good control and there is certainly enough power to cast this far and much farther.    At this distance my notes are telling me that it felt much better than the Finesse, but not quite as good as the Ross RX.

#12  C.F. Burkheimer Trout 8’9” # 3-4-5, $795.00

After casting the Burkheimer rods on our lawn last fall, I was impressed with their smoothness and their feel.  So Kerry Burkheimer offered to send us over a couple of his 8 foot 9 inch rod for the shootout.  One was an 8 foot 9 inch Trout rod (with a beautiful “vintage” finish) and the other was an 8 foot 9 inch Deep Action Load, a rod that is slightly slower in action and designed for a caster that prefers a more relaxed casting stroke.  Both rods were surprisingly similar but the DAL was just a bit slower in action.

After casting both rods, we decided to put the faster action Trout series in our shootout. At first glance you immediately notice the painstaking craftsmanship that went into the building of these rods.  They are simply gorgeous rods and the level of craftsmanship is very nearly as good as the Tom Morgan rods. The handles and reel seats are spectacular!  They use a cigar style grip with very nice cork, but at the rear portion of the grip, they sandwich in a series of thin, very interesting looking cork rings with another composite darker cork ring at the very back end of the grip.  The front of the tapered Cigar grip is very tastefully wrapped and finished.  One comment that everyone had about the grip was that it was too fat in the middle, especially for a delicate 4-weight rod.

Fancy looking nickel silver uplocking reel seats were used (for an extra $25), and you can order them blackened at the same price.  Upgraded exotic woods like the ones he provided are an extra $50. But they looked fabulous!   Other upgrades are possible too, like titanium stripping guides for $75, or Agate stripping guides for $75.   In addition, if you would like to order an extra tip for your rod, it’s available for only and additional $125, which is a bargain, considering the overall price.

The rods are a dark emerald green, much like the Winston rods.  Darker green thread wraps compliment the color of the blanks and each wrap is finished with a very small contrasting trim wrap.  The epoxy coatings over the wraps are close to perfect.  These rods have one SiC stripping guide and then the rest of the guides are snake guides.   The Vintage rod we tested had very small and very thin black snake guides, a nice touch. The DAL came with hard Chrome Snake guides but again they were quite small and fine, especially out on the tips.   Looking at these rods, they are really a piece of art, and it almost seems a shame to take them out on the stream and ding them up.   I suspect that a lot of people are going to buy them just to add to their collection and very rarely fish them.

I was really surprised that these rods didn’t score higher.   The big factor that knocked them down was the fact that these are medium action rods with stiff tips, and they just felt heavy compared to the best rods in our shootout.  The overall weight was good at 2.07 oz, but the swing weight was one of the heaviest, at 9.4 oz.  – which is why they felt so heavy in our hands.   The stiff tip knocked the 25 foot score all the way down to 17 and this hurt.  At short range I had very little feel and the accuracy suffered accordingly.  At longer distances they were nice and smooth but just felt a lot heavier than other rods with their high swing weight.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  17 points out of 20
Short range performance was disappointing, and mainly due to the heavy swing weight and the stiffness of the tip that didn’t allow me to cast well at all off the tip of the rod since it didn’t bend much.    There wasn’t much feel at all telling me where the fly was going.    In casting this rod heads up with the Winston BIIIx and the Hardy Zenith, both were far better in close.

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20
Nice and smooth at this distance and feels well matched with the GPX line. The accuracy was very good but just not as precise as the Hardy.   I found it didn’t track as well as either the Hardy or the Sage One at this range and this hurt the accuracy a bit also.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Good, but just not in the same league with the best rods.  I liked how smoothly these rods cast but there was no question that the heavy swing weight would take a toll on my arm by the end of the day.

#13  G. Loomis NRX  9’#4, $715.00

 

After casting the Loomis WhisperCreek GLX and Streamdance GLX rods, we knew that they were lighter in action and would perform better as 4-weights than the NRX, but since the NRX rods have performed extremely well in the larger weight sizes (the NRX 9 foot #8 won our 2011 8-weight shootout!), we felt that everyone would want to see how well it performed as a 4-weight.   Unfortunately, it was just a little too heavy and too stiff to match up with the better rods.    Loomis only offers a 9 foot #4 and nothing smaller.   I was hoping for at least an 8 ½ foot rod to test.    Loomis uses the same high modulus graphite combined with the new nano-resin system developed by 3M for all the NRX rods.  These rods have proven to be extremely strong, and of all the ones we’ve sold, we have had almost none break that we know of.

The rod that they sent us to test is one of the new green NRX rods, and it is really quite handsome.  This rod is a dark olive green but not as dark as say the Winston rod, which are more of a dark emerald green.   Dark green contrasting wraps on the NRX looked good, and the Craftsmanship was excellent, as we have come to expect on the Loomis rods.   The cork handles use a very interesting and very dense cork rings in a Western style seat.  The Reel seat is an excellent uplocking black anodized aluminum seat with a nice looking green graphite spacer.   The guides are all unbreakable and flexible, like on the other NRX rods.  They start with a single recoil stripper, and then the rest of the guides are the super nickel/titanium flexible but unbreakable single foot guides.   Since Loomis introduced these guides a few years ago, we have yet to see one break.

Even though this NRX was slightly overpowered and a bit heavy for a 4-weight, it still cast very, very well and turned in some very respectable scores.  A good part of this is due to the softer tip that allowed me to get very good accuracy, especially at close range.

For larger line rods, like from size 8 on up to 12, these NRX rods rule.  There is nothing better.  But for the lighter line rods, they need more work.  They cast well, but what holds them back is the overall stiffness and weight.    Hopefully they will redesign the size 6 rods on down to the 3-weights rods a bit and give us lighter rods with much lighter swing weights that will perform as well as their big rods.  And some shorter rods in the 3 and 4 weight sizes would be another big help.    For now, if you like the Loomis rods as I do, take a good look at both the WhisperCreek and the Streamdance over the NRX.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. GPX Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet: 18 points out of 20

With a rod this big and with such a heavy swing weight, I was surprised at how well it cast at short range.  I was getting nice tight loops and fairly good accuracy. Loomis has always been able to give us softer tips and this was the key, as well as the excellent tracking capabilities.   The rod still felt pretty heavy in my hand, and getting delicate presentations is not nearly as easy as with the lighter, shorter rods.

Performance at 35 feet:  19 points out of 20
This rod forms very nice loops with good smooth control.   Heads up with the Sage One it felt a lot heavier, but I was getting very good accuracy and the pretty good feel through the rod which I attributed to the softer tip than the ONE, so it matched the One’s score at this distance.

Performance at 60 feet:  18 points out of 20
Here I was casting the NRX heads up with the both the One and the Orvis Helios, and both of those rods felt a bit better.  The NRX was not as smooth, nor as accurate as the Helios at long range.   But the Sage One killed them both, scoring a perfect 20.

 

#14 Winston Passport  9’#4, $229.00

In our last 5-weight shootout, we rated the 9 foot #5 Passport as the best “inexpensive” 5-weight, and for a lot of good reasons.  It is a terrific rod at a very low price.    So we had high hopes for the 9 foot #4 Passport, but it turned out to be a far different rod and certainly nothing to get very excited about.   It still has that nice soft tip that we like, but the whole rod isn’t soft enough for a delicate 4-weight.  The heavy overall weight and especially the heavy swing weight killed it for this Passport.  All of the performance scores were pretty dreary and just mediocre at best.   And they are still using that weird grip style that has the swell way too far forward – just about where you want to put your thumb, so if you want to hold the rod with the swell in the palm of your hand like most anglers, your thumb is off the forward end of the cork handle!

Overall craftsmanship is good, just not great. The cork in the handle is pretty poor, with a lot of filler.   The uplocking reel seat looks to be metal that is chromed and uses a light brown wood spacer. It functions well but on some early models we had the wood spacer split but Winston gladly replaced all these rods.  Looks like they have that problem under control now.  The cork handle had chromed metal butt and winding checks.   The rod blank itself is rich brown color with slightly darker brown wraps.  This is a nice looking rod. One single stripper is used and followed by standard size hard chrome snake guides the rest of the way out. All the wraps were good but the finish was a little heavy on some guides.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  17 points out of 20
Going heads up with the St. Croix Imperial, the Imperial was far better, with better feel and much better accuracy. The Passport’s far heavier swing weight hurt too and eliminated much good feel in close that is so important in achieving good accuracy and delicate presentations.

Performance at 35 feet:  17 points out of 20 
The Passport felt smoother at this distance, but didn’t pack the same kind of punch that I was getting from the lighter Imperial.  I could also notice that it was a lot heavier in hand than the Imperial.  It didn’t track nearly as well as the best rods and I had trouble getting any decent accuracy.

Performance at 60 feet:  17 points out of 20
Better at long range, and could have been an 18, but the swing weight made it feel pretty heavy and not very responsive.  Tough to form good tight loops at this distance. Heads up, the TFO BVK was better and pounding shots in there with a lot more authority.

 

#14  TFO Finesse  8’9”#4,  $179.95

 

Years ago, when this rod first came out, we were pretty impressed, but like a lot of other rods, it has been bypassed by rods with lighter materials, better technology and better design.   This is also a rod designed by Lefty Kreh and is nice and light in action but today, it just feels too slow in action and too sloppy.   The newer BVK proved to be a better 4-weight rod but it wasn’t great either due to its overall stiffness.

The Finesse would have been the least expensive rod in our shootout, but we awarded that to the St. Croix Imperial at $200 since it comes with a hard case.   If you want that hard case for your Finesse, it will cost another $30.  TFO is the only manufacturer that does not give you a hard case with the rod – only a cloth bag.  Most people do opt to get the hard case anyway and this makes sense, even if you are just throwing it in the back of your car for the day.

The one big factor that killed the Finesse scores was its weight, and especially that heavy 9.5oz swing weight   For a rod that is shorter than 9 feet, this is just plain heavy.  New graphite technology would help this rod a lot.  The action is OK but I’d prefer a slightly softer tip and I’d lighten up the whole action a notch.

Similar to the BVK, the blank is a dark olive green with darker green wraps.  A western style cork handle is used with a double locking aluminum anodized seat colored dark gray.  The wood insert was a burgundy color and nothing fancy.   The guides used are one huge SiC stripping guide that appears way too big, then running down into black hard chrome snake guides.   The wraps were good but the finish coating was a little heavy and sloppy in spots.  But for such an inexpensive price, you can’t expect perfection.  I see that you do get Lefty’s signature on the rod though.   They don’t even give you that on the BVK’s.

George’s casting notes:  

Line Match: S.A. Trout Taper WF-4-F

Performance at 25 feet:  16 points out of 20
Comparing it heads up with the St. Croix Imperial, my notes say – slow and sloppy.  That about sums it up.   It was very hard to drive the tip and turn over the 12-foot leader and get the fly to land close to the target.  The resulting accuracy was pretty poor.

Performance at 35 feet:  16 points out of 20
OK, but certainly nothing to write home about!  I was getting some aftershock and kickback through the rod and that hurt the accuracy.  Not nearly as smooth as the BVK.

Performance at 60 feet:  15 points out of 20
At longer distance, the slower action made it difficult to get anywhere close to the target, even when using a double haul.  My notes say, “Not very good” so we’ll just leave it at that.

We need your support!

We hope that you have enjoyed our 2012 4-weight Shootout!  With your support, we can continue to give you more shootouts and comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future.  But this takes a lot of time, so if you are in the market for a new rod or outfit, or other flies and tackle, we would love to have your business!

Be sure to e-mail us your comments and any questions you have about the exact tackle you need for the fishing you are doing.  We’ll be happy to help.

George Anderson