Fly rod design is ever-changing, new technology, new fly fishing tactics, trends, and new ideas are all driving rod designers to break the barriers to keep making better and better fly rods. Many will “skoff” at the price of these top of the line fly rods. But if you have ever fished with one of these rods it is a night and day difference. A premium rod is much lighter, casts farther, and is more accurate.
Fly rods have come a long way, with new rods coming out every year. So what makes these new models better? Like everything in today’s world technology and innovation drive change. And anglers on today’s waters fly fish much differently than back in the day. Many anglers prefer a fast action rod that can deliver heavy flies with power while also being able to deliver dry flies with ease. We all want a fly rod that can do it all, and if we are going to be paying $1000.00 for this rod it better be able to right?
What premium fly rod should you choose?
In the landscape of the fly rod market, there are a dozen different fly rod companies that have a “premium” priced fly rod so how do you differentiate between them? For most, each premium fly rod does differ from one another, and finding the perfect one for you will be based on your fly fishing style. For sake of this blog, we will classify a premium fly rod as one with a price point of over $875.00. Below you will find specifics about a few of our favorite premium fly rods including the Sage R8 Core, Gloomis NRX+, Orvis Helios 3D, and the Winston Air II.
#LetItFly as Sage would say, as the R8 Core is the latest fly rod to be released at the premium price point. The Sage R8 fly rod replaces the Sage X in the lineup. The key difference between the Sage X and Sage R8 seems to be there is a little more feel in the Sage R8, it is a tad bit less fast action than the X was. Or even the rod before the X the Sage One. Sage has been known to produce faster action freshwater rods. With the release of the R8 it seems they want to cater to the dry fly anglers a little more that really want to feel that rod flex when casting dries and lightweight setups.
And by all means, this is not a slow action rod. The R8 Core is a medium-fast action rod. This rod has power too, it can huck a heavy rig with ease. Sage has really bridged the gap between the two with the R8.
Sage has enhanced that two-way connection from hand to fly and back for greater feel, flow, and control. This amplified two-way feedback loop, due to Sage’s new axial fiber formulation, allows you to feel when the power needs to be applied throughout the cast, presentation, and when applying the appropriate pressure to fish – ultimately giving you the angler complete control.
The R8 is a perfect rod for an angler that prefers fast action but it still can cater to casting lighter-weight setups. The cost for this rod tips the 1k mark, coming in at $1050.00. It comes with a lifetime warranty, warranty replacement costs $60.00, and wait times can be quite a long time 1-4 months on average.
Winston’s Air II fly rod dropped back in 2021, in an attempt to meet the demands of many fly anglers wanting a dry fly rod that can do it all. For decades the Twin Bridges-based Winston Rods has been making touted trout rods for dry fly anglers across the west. It hasn’t been in the last decade that Winston has begun to add a little more backbone to their fly rods. Allowing anglers more versatility on the river, and the ability to fish double fly rigs or indicator rigs.
The Air II is the complete package, the rod is extremely lightweight. It makes mending, casting, and setting more precise. The Air II still casts like the classic Boron models where you can really feel that rod flex. This rod is built for anglers who like precise presentations and don’t want to work too hard to get the fly to where it needs to be.
The Air II taper design provides a faster, progressive all-around action. Introducing S-2000 a next-generation high modulus graphite material for faster recovery speed and smoothness. New Boron configuration for enhanced power and energy transfer.
This rod is for the anglers that have that dry fly style to them, it is a rod that can and will fish all the water but it sure does cast a dry fly nicely. The cost for this rod is $1050.00 similar to the other latest and greatest rods. The warranty is lifetime and costs $75.00, wait times are 1-3 months.
“Accurate from AnywH3re,” the Helios 3D is the rod on this list that is probably the oldest, it was released back in 2017. And for a good reason, this rod is here to stay, the H3 is a perfect rod for every angler in every situation. The rod is designed to do everything. From throwing streamers to dries, the H3 has backbone and some feel. Definitely not as much feel as the other rods listed here. The “D” in the name refers to distance, while Orvis also had the Helios3F, the “F’ referring to feel. So you do have to choose which model. But the D is more the all-purpose fly rod.
Helios 3D was designed to significantly reduce the variables at the point of release, focusing the energy of the cast to the intended target. No matter what happens behind you, the energy of the forward cast is crisply released through a tight window created by the most significant reduction in horizontal and vertical tip frequency ever conceived.
This rod priced at $995.00 comparatively to the others listed here is perfect for the angler that may not be as experienced. The Helios 3D is by the far the easiest rod to load and cast. Orvis also has one of the best repair and warranty programs. They just ship you the piece of the rod you broke so you can get on the water faster.
The NRX+ is definitely the sleeper of the fly rods mentioned here. This rod comes from our friends over at G.Loomis who are reputable in the traditional spin and gear world but have applied some of their technology to fly rods and man did they hit it out of the park. The NRX+ feels and casts like you as the angler have ultimate control from the back cast to the forward cast.
Back in the day the G.Loomis rods were so stiff and could be hard to hit the sweet spot. But, with the NRX+ they reimaged the proprietary Multi-Taper Design technology. Traditionally used to enhance durability and swing weight. The G.Loomis design team developed a method of applying a similar process to improve loading efficiency and feedback. NRX+ provides the power, line speed, and loop stability expected from modern fast-action rods, without compromising “feel” and finesse in the short game.
This rod lets the angler be in control of all scenarios in the freshwater game. The rod has a lifetime warranty and can be free of charge based on the age of the rod.
What does this all mean?
One thing is clear, you can’t go wrong with any of these fly rods. Each rod casts a little bit differently but they all perform exceptionally. They are also all made in the United States. The best way to figure out which one is for you is to cast them. Swing by the shop today to cast these rods for free. Or give us a call and we can figure out which rod might best suit you.
Patrick Perry, Former Float Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor, @patperry