Yes, these new fly rods are from the future... possibly your very near future.
Many things set fly fishing apart from conventional fishing. We're crazy about insects. We read (and write) far too many books. We presume that our methods and hypotheses are more scientific. We don't use bait, instead we use obscure pieces of dead birds and animals to replicate bait. And the major keystone to our entire sport—the element that brings it all together—is the casting.
From the days of silk and tapered horsehair leaders, we have inherited the tradition of a weighted, aerialized line unfurling toward the target.
Like a touchdown pass, this is our moment of anticipation as the rod bends, building kinetic energy, then it springs forward, transferring energy to the line and eventually to the fly in an example of dynamic physics that would make Newton proud.
Let's own up to it and admit that when we're on the river, we all probably cast too much. That's because with the right rod, it's so much fun.
Can the latest generation of rods cause you to actually hook and land more fish? Probably not. But there's something special about a tool that's perfectly designed for a specific purpose. One that fits and swings in your hand in a way that is both comfortable and efficient, and makes your fishing experience more pleasurable.
The new crop for 2014 does just that, whether you are making an 80-foot cast on the bonefish flats of the Bahamas, pushing roadkill-size flies for pike and musky, or softly parachuting a size 20 Trico onto a Montana spring creek. The world's best engineers, rod designers, craftsmen—all of them fly fishers at their core—have found new ways to make subtle improvements to our most important tool.
G.Loomis PRO-4x $480-$575 (Switch Rod)
About a year ago, G.Loomis introduced its new PRO-4x rod series — rods that mimic the actions of the top-of-the-line NRX series because they share the same tapers, but they don't use the same expensive resin systems and carbon fibers as G.Loomis's best-performing rods. What you're left with is a series of well-designed rods that are fun to cast, and affordable enough that you can get more than one. Initially, the PRO-4x was a family of single-handed rods, but in 2014 it's expanding to include switch and two-handed models for everything from trout fishing in big rivers to true Spey casting for anadromous species.
Like previous PRO-4x rods, the switch and two-handed models use some tapers from the more expensive NRX series, so if you like the 13-foot, 8/9-weight NRX, you're likely to appreciate the same rod in the PRO-4x series. But you're even more likely to enjoy the price difference. With a trout rod, a PRO-4x is about $280 cheaper, but when you get into switch and Spey rods, the savings run up to $500 and more, and you still get much of the 'feel ' of a performance rod.
Although the series is based on NRX tapers, there are some original gems in the family. The 10'6" 5-weight PRO-4x has no equivalent in the NRX series, yet our tester thought it was 'the perfect trout switch rod. While most switch rods are actually too long and too heavy for extended use with one hand, this one is a real multipurpose tool that you can Czech nymph with, hit a snap-T when the bank is tight behind you, or cast dry flies to rising trout. ' gloomis.com
For more information see our Fly Fisherman Review and video G. Loomis Pro-4x
For other award winners see our 2014 Gear Guide Awards
Orvis Helios 2 Switch $885 (Switch Rod)
When rod designer Shawn Combs set out to add switch rods to the popular Helios 2 rod family, he had the same parameters — a 20% reduction in swing weight, and a 20% increase in strength.
'When we were designing the Helios 2 switch rods, we wanted to reduce their swing weight (from the original Helios) without sacrificing any power or accuracy, ' explained Combs. 'The H2's steep tapers allowed us to keep more mass in the butt section for fish fighting and longer casts, but the rods are still light enough to overhand cast like a 10-footer. '
Like the single-handed H2s, the switch rods have midnight blue blanks, crushproof REC Recoil guides, California buckeye burl reel seats with black-nickel skeletons, cork handles, and cork-composite on the top and bottom of the handle. The rods will be available in five different 11-foot models, from 5-weights through 9-weights. orvis.com
Redington Dually $250 (Switch Rod)
Price has been an obstacle for many fly fishers wanting to get into two-handed rods. It's not that there haven't been inexpensive rods out there, but that there haven't been good inexpensive rods. It seems 2014 is the breakthrough year when you don't have to break the bank to get a decent Spey or switch rod, and the Dually definitely falls into this category. Available in 4- through 8-weights in switch, and 6- through 8-weight Spey models, the Dually is a simple casting tool with an all-cork handle and alignment dots for easy setup. redington.com
Redington Vapen $350
Yes, there's an interesting story behind the blank of the new Redington Vapen Red — the X-Wrap Blank Technology creates a lightweight, quick rod with surprising power — but the bright red PowerGrip handle is what really turns heads.
Redington collaborated with the golf club grip company Winn Grips to develop the advanced polymer grip that has better traction than cork, feels softer and more comfortable in your hand, yet is firm enough that it doesn't drain power when you want to push a powerful cast into the wind. We tested this rod (and grip) extensively at Deneki Outdoors Andros South Lodge, and found many other advantages — it doesn't pick up dirt like cork, it's easier to clean, and it doesn't chip, dent, or flake. It was tactile and easy to grip and apply force in the tropics where sweat, sunscreen, and bonefish slime can quickly make a cork handle as hard to hold as a bar of soap.
The Vapen is also available with a regular cork handle for $50 less, and although it won Best Saltwater Rod at the 2013 International Fly Tackle Dealer show, it comes in a range of weights from 3- through 12-weight, making it just as applicable in fresh water. redington.com
For more information see our Fly Fisherman Review and video Redington Vapen
Sage Method $800-[imo-slideshow gallery=148],050
Although Sage isn't officially calling this a saltwater rod, we tested the new fast-action Method on the bonefish flats of South Andros Island and found it's the perfect tool for launching long, accurate casts in calm conditions where you can see the fish coming (and they can see you) from a long way off. And it's just as effectively when the wind is howling, and you need to make a powerful cast right into the teeth of a gale.
But since there are also 4- to 6-weights with wood insert real seats in the rod family, and nine different Spey and switch models, it's much more than a saltwater series — it's a high-performance casting tool for people who enjoy pushing the ceiling higher and higher.
'Sage's DNA is synonymous with fast-action rods, and through Konnetic Technology, we've taken seriously smooth, ultra-fast action performance to a new place entirely, ' said Sage chief rod designer, Jerry Siem. 'Our newest high-performance rods will make any caster better, but will also help experienced casters notch exceptional casts with regularity. ' sageflyfish.com
For more information see our Fly Fisherman Review and video Sage Method
For other award winners see our 2014 Gear Guide Awards
Sage Pike & Musky $595
Everyone knows about Sage's Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass II rods — deeply loading rods for big flies and big fish in warmwater situations. Sage has now created two more specialty species-oriented rods, the Pike and the Musky. These rods have the same cosmetics and hardware as the 7'9" tournament-inspired rods in the Bass II series, but are 9' long and designed to throw even bigger flies, and they also have oversized stripping guides and extended fighting butts.
The Pike rod is a 9' 10-weight, and the Musky is a 9' 11-weight, and each comes with an appropriate floating Pike or Musky line. Our testers used both models on Wollaston Lake, Saskatchewan, for pike up to 50 inches, and found they were perfectly suited to giant flies up to 18 inches, and surface-churning topwater bugs that attract monster pike in shallow bays. sageflyfish.com
Scott Radian $795
Sometimes it's major improvements to rod blank technology that set a new rod apart. Other times, it's little functional switch-ups and cosmetic changes that woo consumers. In the case of the new Radian, it's both. Jim Bartschi and his crew at Scott Fly Rods have hit a home run.
The Radian uses Scott's X-Core design to create a wide, stable tube with thin, sensitive walls, along with ReAct technology to speed rod recovery time and reduce vibrations when the rod stops. Getting rid of these extra 'wobbles ' has been a goal of rod designers for a long time, and Scott seems to have brought us a step forward with a rod that casts with crispness and authority, but still has the feeling of connection you need in a trout tool.
And while some might consider a rod handle 'cosmetic ' I'd have to disagree. Your grip, and the handle on the rod, can affect the way you cast, and a full wells grip reduces hand fatigue and is a better grip for a wider range of distances and conditions. Sage did it last year with the ONE series, and we may be seeing the beginning of a trend here with the full wells grip on the Scott Radian.
Another improvement is the REC wood-insert reel seat with an uplocking ring Bartschi calls 'self-indexing. ' What this means is that you don't have to spin the reel seat ring to find a proper alignment for the reel foot. It's always perfectly aligned in relation to the forward hood under the handle. It's a very small thing — and no one has ever failed to seat their reel properly due to lack of a self-indexing reel seat — but it shows that Scott is thinking about consumers, and considering just about every possible path to make things slicker and more convenient.
Other small details like Universal Snake guides with curved, 'radiused ' feet that fit slimmer on a rounded blank; alignment dots; and measuring wraps on the blank all add up to a rod that has forward-thinking design and higher performance in mind. The fly-fishing industry seems to agree, as the rod won Best Freshwater Rod at the 2013 International Fly Tackle Dealer show, and also overall Best in Show. The 4-piece rods are available in 4- to 8-weight models. scottflyrod.com
For more information see our Fly Fisherman Review and video Scott Radian
For other award winners see our 2014 Gear Guide Awards
St. Croix Legend X $480-$490
The black Xtreme Skin handle on St. Croix's newest rod series is durable, easy to clean, and is solidly adhered directly to the rod blank in thin layers. Think of it as a handle that is painted millimeter by millimeter right onto the blank in the Park Falls, Wisconsin, factory. The solid Xtreme Skin handle gives you greater feel with what's going on at the other end of the rod because of this direct contact with the blank, and there's no dampening effect caused by the cork and glue in traditional handles.
The rods also have a new combination of four carbon fiber materials, chosen and designed for the extra casting power needed for large flies, and for fighting large fish. The rods have custom, saltwater-safe reel seats, fighting butts, and Fuji K-series stripping guides to prevent tangles when shooting long casts. Built with bass, pike, and muskies in mind, the 9' rods are available in 7- through 10-weights. stcroixrods.com
For more information see our Fly Fisherman Review and video St. Croix Legend X
Winston Boron III LS $795
The hallmark of boron is its powerful strength-to-weight ratio, but you don't need a big gun for most dry-fly situations. What Winston has done with the new Boron III LS series is use 10+ years of boron experience to create a light, accurate dry-fly rod with the best modern technology and hardware behind it. While you can get the LS with a traditional nickel silver and burled wood reel seat, you can also choose an updated, lightweight, skeletonized, aluminum-over-graphite reel seat. The rod has chrome, Nanolite stripper guides, comes in a graphite rod tube, and is available in 2- through 5-weight models from 7' to 9'. winstonrods.com
For more information see our Fly Fisherman Review and video Winston Boron III LS