Some of you have been waiting VERY anxiously to see how this wound up! We just concluded our follow up and tallied results from the Red’s Fly Shop Ultimate 5 Weight Shootout. We had LOTS of 5 weight rods and the goal was to let the public cast and score the various rods based on the rods, feel, performance, appearance, value, etc. We simply hosted the event and let attendees rate the rods based on their personal performance and perspective. The Red’s staff didn’t cast or score any of the rods themselves, this was all civilian scoring! The best kind.
Here is a copy of the form that our test casters filled out, they scored each rod they casted and rated each rod on a scale of 1-100. We had lots of rings and targets to cast at ranging from 25’ – 60’ and beyond. The testing was hosted and setup by three champion fly casters, in fact, the Red’s Fly Shop staff has won the Pacific Northwest Fly Casting Championship in Portland, Oregon three years in a row with three different guides! Mike Canady, Joe Rotter, and Leif Kvinsland managed the testing. Each of these gentlemen were there to answer questions about each rod and segment of the testing. Rods were all set up with Rio Grande fly lines unless the caster requested a different line then it was made available to them. We had some Rio Gold fly lines available and let the testers choose which line they felt was best for them and the rod. Lines were spool onto Ross CLA 1.5 fly reels.
Scoring Sheet from the 5 Weight Fly Rod Shootout
Although there were about a dozen different 590-4 rods to choose from, what wound up happening was that most all of the testers spent their time casting four models in particular. Two Sage rods and two Winston rods created the most buzz and casters wanted to test the rods they were most likely to buy. It really turned into a Sage vs. Winston match. These testers were extremely particular as they had “money on the line” so to speak! Several casters purchased rods during the shootout. The most popular rods were the Sage ONE, Winston Biiix, Sage VXP, and the Winston GVX. We had 63 testers that cast these four rods and provided us with a huge sample size to accurately score each rod. There were other rods present but since people were allowed to test whichever ones they wanted these were the only ones that had a large enough sample size to analyze.
The Sage ONE, but only by a hair! Below you can see the final results. Pay special attention to how each rod scored in the various categories. We sincerely hope this helps you determine what your next fly rod purchase might be. Don’t run out and buy a Sage ONE without reading this entire article.
Rod Scores by Category and Final Results
Before we get to the nitty gritty analysis and the 2,3, and 4th place winners. We want to make some honorable mentions. The Loomis GLX Streamdance was a late arrival as we sold our last 590-4 the day before the event and had to commandeer one of our guide’s rods part way through and didn’t get enough tests on it. It scored really well, in fact it was a near winner but we didn’t have enough testers pick it up. It did exceptionally well in the “Overall Feel” category with a score of 95. This is one rod that you need to test cast to appreciate it. It sits somewhere in the middle between a Winston Biiix and a Sage ONE.
The Hardy Zenith was great performer and would have placed pretty well, but didn’t get enough attention down in the casting arena to report. It shouldn’t be overlooked but there simply was not tests to score it. Only 8 people chose to test the Hardy Zenith. It did very well in the 60’ plus category. It has a great feel but the consensus was that didn’t cast quite as accurately as the Sage ONE and Winston Biiix. It does have one heck of a feel and if you have always wanted to fish a Hardy then the choice is easy.
The Loomis NRX was hot and cold, some casters loved it… while others would have rather used a Zebco. It is definitely a performance rod and did well scoring in the 60’ plus category. This is a true performance rod. If you are planning on throwing big bugs into 25 mph wind (which is not all that uncommon) then the NRX should be a consideration. If our staff were in a casting competition for accuracy at 80’ then this might be the top choice. The truth is however… we’re not in that competition.
There are some great rods in the $150-$300 price range but given the choice to cast, the consumer preferred to throw the premium rods. We plan to have another shootout for rods under $300 or so. It simply didn’t work to pair them in the same category as the more expensive rods.
In summary Sage ONE, Winston Biiix, Sage VXP, and the Winston GVX are great choices and seem to be dominating the lion’s share of the 5 weight market in the “premium” rod category. We’ll write up a bit about each ones strengths and weaknesses that were shared with us during the testing. These aren’t the only rods to consider but all we can say is that these are the ones that got the most attention and scored the best at our Shootout Event.
Pros and cons, the Sage ONE dominated the performance oriented categories. One caster stated, “that thing is so damn accurate I feel like I should be casting at insects not trout!”. It lost points in the Appearance category and the Ease of Casting but other than that, it edged out the Winston BiiiX in all categories. The Sage ONE 5 weight is the absolute lightest mass weight fly rod out there, it is literally like having a 3 weight that will throw streamers to ridiculously tight spots and distances. The feel is incredible. The rod was built with a new Konnetic technology that eliminated many of the superfluous materials that have traditionally hampered rod performance. The Sage ONE is the rod you want if you enjoy throwing dry flies, nymphs, and streamers alike with the same rod. Whether you are casting 25’ or 80’ the Sage ONE can handle a broad variety of situations and is unanimously the most accurate fly rod on the market.
The line of choice for more experienced anglers that want performance at distance and delicate dry fly delivery is the Rio Gold. At distance with light flies there is no contest. For less experienced casters (most of us) the choice should be a Rio Grand to start and then eventual graduation to a Rio Gold with experience. The Rio Grand is a slightly heavier line and allows the angler to feel the rod load.
Regarding reels, consumers typically buy fly reels that are approximately half again the cost of the the rod. So for instance, a fly rod that is $500 typically matches well with a reel that costs somewhere around $250 give or take. On the Sage ONE, we most commonly pair it up with the Sage 4200 series fly reel.
The best way to understand the performance and what makes this rod difference is to check out this video put out by the Sage company on how the rod was conceived.
The main rival to the Sage ONE is the Winston Biiix and it only lost by a margin of a couple points, it is a smooth caster. It won out in the “Ease of Casting” category and the Appearance. The Winston family of rods has a gorgeous finish and the color is so pretty. Great rod, very smooth and only came up a bit short on final score. The contest was very close and this rod is like poetry in motion. The Biiix only came up significantly short (no pun intended) on the 60’ plus category. This probably isn’t the rod you will want when drifting down the Missouri or the Yakima Canyon throwing sink tips and buggers towards the bank. However, we will say that having cast the Biiix as professionals a lot, the slightly more moderate action of the Biiix doesn’t necessarily limit the distance potential of the rod but it does require a bit more skill to fully take advantage of the rod. A double haul technique makes an enormous impact when casting this more classic fly rod action. It is easy for novice to intermediate casters to “shock” the rod when attempting casts at 60’ and beyond. The action of the Winston rod is very friendly for casters that might suffer from fatigue or tendonitis. It has smooth transitions from back cast to forward cast and setting the hook as well. If your main game is dry fly fishing and you simply like casting light lines and setting the fly down delicately, think Winston.
Fly Reel and Fly Line Buyer’s Guide for the Winston Biiix
The Winston Biiix casts best with a Rio Gold Fly Line. The Rio Grand bogged this rod down and it didn’t get to show its true colors we encouraged casters to use the Rio Gold on this rod each and very test.
This is an example of why we had the public cast and test these rods. This rod happens to a favorite of our guide service manager and author of this post and it came in dead last! The Sage VXP is a great rod but came in just behind the Winston GVX. This does not mean shouldn’t consider this rod however. It has a feel that covers an incredibly broad range of performance and has a “feel” that is very fishing friendly in real time conditions. We have also had incredibly high customer satisfaction, to the point where we receive thank you letters for setting people up with this rod. It prices out at $495 but feels like it should cost more. Ok, there I am interjecting my opinion again. I’ll try to keep this unbiased. Man, I thought this rod would have done better! LOL. Give this rod a test drive for yourself next to the Winston GVX and decide for yourself. It is a great series of rods. It scored right around 77-81 points in every category so it wasn’t weak in any one category. Just a good solid “B” student all the way across. Here are some helpful videos with the Sage VXP in action at Red’s Fly Shop.
This rod edged out the VXP for 3rd place and was probably the most impressive rod. The “Buzz” surrounding this rod along the casting arena was electric. It is a great rod and a good all around performer. It recently won Fly Fish America’s Editors Choice award for great new fly rod in 2012. Super great rod. It beat the VXP in every category especially the 25’ performance category which is your most common trout fishing distance. This rod comes in under $500 and is debatably the “Best Fly Rod for the Money” but you should decide. VXP versus the GVX, the age old battle of Sage vs. Winston. On paper the GVX has it beat but you need to decide for yourself. The GVX has a moderate action and is very smooth, friendly, and fun to cast. It is getting great reviews all the way around. We liked the Rio Gold fly line best on the Winston GVX.
Winston’s boron-graphite composite rods are consistent Editors’ Choice Award winners, but they don’t come cheap. Recognizing that there’s only so much demand for $800 fly rods, Winston decided to offer a graphite-only series befitting the Winston name. The result is their new GVX Series of high-performance, graphite-only rods that look just like their $800 stable mates—but cost $300 less. Hand made in downtown Twin Bridges, Montana, GVX rods are built on the same mandrels, have the same tapers, and get the same Winston-green paint job as Winston boron-graphite composite rods. The GVX Series consists of nine 4-piece models priced at $495: 7.5- and 8.5-foot 3-weights; 8-, 8.5- and 9-foot 4-weights; 8.5 and 9-foot 5-weights; a 9-foot 6-weight; and a 9-foot 8-weight. The 3- through 6-weights are fitted with premium cork cigar grips and uplocking nickel-silver reel seats with maple inserts. The 8-weight gets a full-wells grip and uplocking aluminum reel seat with dual locking rings and cork fighting butt. Our evaluation rods were the 9-foot 5-weight and the 9-foot 8-weight. We tested both extensively—the 5-weight on trout and landlocks, and the 8-weight on stripers, blues and steelhead. Both were powerful, smooth and progressive fast-action designs that were an absolute delight to fish.
The Lamson Guru Fly Reel is one of the best $200 machined aluminum fly reels. The body and spool of this reel is cut from solid bar stock aluminum and built to exacting tolerances, precision that you won’t get in cast reels. When customers get to see this reel in person at our shop they are shocked that it only costs around $200. It is hard to appreciate in the photos but the lines and cuts on this reel are very sharp and attractive. A lot of time goes into building these reels.
The Lamson Guru mounted on a Sage VXP and a Rio Gold Fly Line… I would hate to be a trout around that setup!
We try recommend fly reels based on several things, but the most important is relaying where we see the most customer satisfaction. Right now we are seeing great customer satisfaction in the Lamson Guru 1.5 and 2.0 for 5 weight rods. This reel is smooth, lightweight, and very reliable. The customer seems to pick this reel out of the lineup in the fly shop nearly every time at the $200 price point. There are some other great reels out there, but this one seems to be the most popular.
This is just like the Ford vs. Chevy debate. Nobody will ever win this one. There are some considerations to take in other than the score of the rods. All rods come with a lifetime warranty. Historically the Sage company is much faster at turning around rod repairs, while Winston seems to take their time. They most likely are just trying to “get it right” and not hurrying which is why they are one of the hallmarks of quality in the fly rod industry. The Sage ONE, Biiix, and GVX all come with aluminum travel tubes and are all 4 piece rods. The Sage VXP does come with a rod/reel case so that you can store the rod with your reel attached. Take another look at the final score sheet and see if this is helpful for you in determining your next purchase.
Please let us know if there are questions that we can answer for you, in fact here are a few contacts of friendly staff members at Red’s and the rods that they have particular experience with.
Roger, firstname.lastname@example.org is currently fishing a Winston GVX
Mike, email@example.com is currently fishing a Sage ONE 590-4
Steve, firstname.lastname@example.org is using a 691-4 Sage ONE for all of his streamer fishing
Joe, email@example.com is using a 590-4 VXP for nymphs and streamers and a 586-4 Sage ONE for most dry flies
Troy, firstname.lastname@example.org is using a 486-4 Sage ONE for most dry fly applications