50 Shades of Green: Choosing your Winston Fly Rod

R. L. Winston Rod Co. LogoOver time, almost every angler feels the inclination to own a Winston.  The unmatched beauty of these rods stirs a longing for tradition.  Unquestionably fine fishing tools, Winston rods all seem to inhabit the mid-action category in terms of their flexing characteristics.  This article will help distinguish the 50 shades of green, helping you choose the right Winston rod for your fishing.  We begin by defining our categories of evaluation, followed by comparisons of all single-handed Winston rods.

Comparative Fly Rod Characteristics

Stiffness:  We grade the rods on a scale of 1-10 for relative action (higher number = stiffer fly rod).  The stiffest, “fastest action” rod is the B III+, designed primarily for power.  The “slowest action” Winston rod is the Tom Morgan Favorite, followed by the members of the Pure Series.  These rods are designed for touch and are coveted by dry fly anglers.

Distance:  The range in which each rod excels.  When choosing a rod, the angler should consider his or her most typical casting situations to select a rod that casts best in those high percentage scenarios.

Touch:  On a scale of 1-10, how well does the rod respond to subtle input from the angler?  Line mending, high sticking, slack line casts and tea cup accuracy are abetted by a responsive rod that may easily be manipulated by its caster.

Versatility:  On a scale of 1-10, is this rod everything to everyone (10) or highly specialized (1)?  This is not a quality grade, but rather a relative scale of specialization.  Many premium rods receive low versatility marks because they were designed for a specialized purpose (like tarpon fishing or long leader dry fly angling).

Feel:  As distinguished from “Touch,” “Feel” is our mark for how much feedback the angler receives in the palm of the hand while casting.  When paired with an appropriate line, some rods merely get the job done while others feel exceptional.  In general, rods with high stiffness marks offer more power but less feel to the caster.


R. L. Winston Rod Co. LogoStiffnessDistanceTouchVersatilityFeel
Air Freshwater6mid787
B III+ Freshwater7mid-long676
Tom Morgan Favorite3short-mid10410
Nimbus Freshwater6mid-long565
Kairos Freshwater5mid464
Air Saltwater7.5long779
B III+ Saltwater8.5longest667
B III+ "Jungle"9.5long435
Nimbus Saltwater7long565
Kairos Saltwater6.5long454

Winston Freshwater Rods

Pure Series

PureThe Pure Series represents the best of Winston, both past and present.  Deceivingly pegged as “slow action” fly rods, the progressive flex of the Pure is a reminder that the most versatile trout rods can do more than just cast.  Winston loyalists swoon at the feeling and touch in these rods, but every angler will notice their on-the-water capability in roll casting, line mending and tippet protection.  They cast dry flies magnificently, but have enough reserve power for dry-dropper and light nymph rigs.  We generally prefer Pure models for fishing distances of 50 feet or less.  For longer distance, dedicated nymphing and streamer fishing, go with the Air or B III+ Series, but if you are looking for a classic Winston dry fly rod, you have found it.

Lines:  The SA Trout Taper is the best line for Pure Series rods that are 8 1/2′ or 9′ in length.  We prefer the Rio Perception on the 7 1/2′ and 8′ Pure models.  Either the Perception or the Rio Creek line is suitable for 7′ and shorter models.

Outstanding model:  Pure 9′ 4-weight.   [model-by-model Pure reviews]

Air (freshwater)

AirfreshwaterThe Air Series generates higher line speed than the Pure Series.  It is designed for mid-range fishing, sacrificing a bit of touch for more horsepower in the butt section.  If you fish bigger water or generally have a subsurface fly in play, an Air will be more useful than a Pure.  Whereas the Pure Series offers touch at all distances, the Air offers another gear.  The butt sections are much stiffer, so if you’re working a longer line and need to double haul or horse the rod, you’ll benefit from the extra stability.

Line pairings:  Up to 40 feet, an SA Trout Taper or Rio Perception works great with most Air models.  We actually prefer a Rio Gold or SA MPX, however, because a heavier, longer head loads the Airs into the stiffer butt section, resulting in higher line speed.  In our opinion, if you don’t need line speed, you should probably be fishing a Pure.  If you want line speed, a slightly heavier line finds the butt section more readily.

Outstanding model:  Air 8 1/2′ 3-weight.  Most popular Air:  9′ 6-weight.   [model-by-model Air reviews]

Boron III+ (freshwater)

Designed primarily for higher line weights and saltwater fishing, there are two five weights and two six weights in the B III+ Series that are among our favorite nymph and streamer rods from Winston.  The B III+ 9′ 5-weight and 9′ 6-weight are both offered in freshwater and saltwater configurations.  The saltwater models have aluminum reels seats and fighting butts, whereas the trout models have the more conventional wooden seat inserts.  We feel that the “trout” models cast a little sweeter than the “saltwater” versions, but many anglers simply prefer a fighting butt on their 5 and 6-weight trout rods.  It’s nice to have a choice.

These trout rods fish best at mid-long distances.  They are great nymph and streamer rods, but still have enough Winston feel to make you smile.  While regarded as “fast action” by Winston, they do not compare in stiffness to the Scott Radian, Sage X or Loomis Asquith.

Lines:  Rio Gold, Rio Perception, SA MPX, SA Infinity taper, SA Sonar Sink tip lines and RIO In-Touch Sink Tip lines.

Outstanding model:  B III+ 9′ 5-weight, standard version.     [model-by-model B III+ reviews]

Tom Morgan Favorite

Tom Morgan FavoriteThe TMF (8′ 4-weight, 2-piece) could remain forever in the Winston lineup.  Regarded as a legacy fly rod by many, it remains among the finest dry fly rods ever made and completely unique among 8′ 4-weights on the market today.  Here’s how the Tom Morgan Favorite fits into the lineup.  It serves the same purpose as the Pure 8′ 4-weight, but is approximately 15% slower in action.  We recommend the TMF as a pure dry fly instrument, if only for the luxury of owning a pure dry fly instrument.  You couldn’t choose a finer fly rod for fishing single dries at 15-45 feet under calm weather conditions.

Lines:  SA Trout Taper, Rio Perception, Rio Light Line    [see rod model for reviews]

Nimbus and Kairos (Freshwater)

Admittedly, we get more excited about Winston’s flagship rods than the Nimbus and Kairos series, but these rods offer a high quality choice with authentic Winston action for a very reasonable price.  Both rods are described as “fast action” by Winston.  We would describe neither as fast action, but they both offer the range and line speed expected from a versatile trout rod.  Don’t stray far from the 9′ 5-weights in these series.  There is a major gap in refinement between mid price and high end Winston rods in the 3 and 4-weight line classes, where Winston earned its reputation among dry fly enthusiasts.  Both series are highly functional, but the Nimbus is noticeably lighter in hand.

Lines:  SA Trout Taper, Rio Perception, Rio Gold

Winston Saltwater Rods

Air Saltwater

AirsaltWinston has done a fine job of differentiating saltwater fly rods.  The Air Series is easy casting with intuitive timing at almost any distance.  Anyone would pick up an Air Salt and cast it reasonably well on the first try because it flexes evenly and offers terrific feedback to the caster.  The Boron III+ has a classic “tip action,” stiffening abruptly in the middle and lower sections of the rod.  These must be cast with a quick cadence and keen sense of timing, but ultimately offer another gear in terms of line speed and power.  They feel classically light in hand and you can really stomp on them when the wind is in your face and your target is swimming out of casting range.  We’ll talk about the B III+ below, but the Air Saltwater Series is a distinguished group of fly rods with unique appeal.

The Air Salt is designed for three kinds of anglers:

  1. Inexperienced saltwater casters who want a rod that feels vaguely familiar to a trout rod and helps transition to saltwater.
  2. Experienced saltwater anglers who possess sufficient casting ability to cast a somewhat softer fly rod in the wind.
  3. Dedicated saltwater anglers who own a multitude of fly rods for different purposes and wind conditions.  We all agree that a Winston Air is a luxurious choice on a calm day.

Winston has a distinguished legacy in this style of saltwater fly rod.  In the 1990’s, the Winston BL-5 raised a metaphorical middle finger to the rest of the industry, a medium-fast action rod in a time when Sage and Loomis were chasing fast with faster and fastest.  Anglers loved the BL-5, even if there were days when an RPL+ was needed.  The Air Salt is made from the most modern materials and refined taper designs, but still intended for the angler who wishes to choose his or her fly rod for the day, rather than feeling compelled to fish a super fast rod simply because that’s what we usually do in saltwater.

Lines:  SA Bonefish or Rio Direct Core Bonefish, SA Tarpon, SA Sonar Saltwater Intermediate

Outstanding model:  Air Salt 9′ 9-weight   [model-by-model reviews for Air Salt]

Boron III+ Saltwater

Boron III+ SaltwaterAs mentioned under “Air Saltwater,” above, the B III+ is completely unique in action, appealing to the caster who seeks a lightweight saltwater rod that offers maximum power.  Sage and Loomis pioneered this style of rod.  Feather light.  Airy tip.  Stiff mid and butt section.  Tip casting with proper timing required to load and shoot a heavy saltwater line head.  Huge butt section for fighting strong fish.  Winston’s B III+ matches any fly rod in the world for line speed and butt section power.  If you are concerned that choosing a Winston may cost you a fish or two on windy days, get a B III+.  These rods look like every other Winston (magnificent), but cast like fire.

Lines:  Rio & SA Bonefish, SA Sonar Saltwater Intermediate.  They also work great with the Rio Bonefish Quickshooter and other load-and-shoot style lines.  The Air Salt Series cannot handle such lines, but B III+ excels with them.

Outstanding model:  B III+ 9′ 8-weight   [model-by-model reviews for B III+]

Boron III+ “Jungle”

“Jungle” models in Boron III+ are designed to cast heavy-headed fly lines with oversized flies for peacock bass, golden dorado and other predators.  They are quite different from standard B III+ saltwater models, which are designed for flats fishing, surf, tide rips and other common saltwater applications.  Jungle rods must be fished with specialized fly lines (see below).  When fished with a flats style line, they should be overlined by one line weight.  These rods are well-designed for their purpose, stiff from tip to butt with an even flex profile and terrific leverage for stopping heavy fish in tight cover.  In addition to true Jungle applications, they make a fine rod for mangroves because they can stop a big snook from burying you.

Fly lines:  Rio Tropical Outbound Short, Rio Bonefish Quickshooter, SA Mastery Jungle Titan and others with overweighted, short heads.

Outstanding model:  B III+ “Jungle” 8’9″ 8-wt

Nimbus and Kairos (saltwater models)

KairosBoth Nimbus and Kairos saltwater models are fundamentally well made and functional saltwater fly rods.  The angler choosing one of these should do so with the understanding that they are selecting a medium-fast action fly rod for a job that often requires more horsepower.  These are less powerful than the Air Saltwater Series and lack the refinement of that select group of rods.  They look great from tip-to-butt, but casting actions are more hinged and less smooth.  In both the Nimbus and Kairos series, the saltwater models are definitely designed for that purpose with beefy components, plenty of epoxy applied under the guides, sturdy butt sections and heavy duty aluminum reel seats anodized for saltwater protection.  If you are satisfied with the casting action, rest assured that you will have a high quality, authentic Winston fly rod in your hands.  It is, in fact, the casting action of Winston’s top quality rods that convinces many anglers to make the greater investment.

Lines:  You’ll want a true-to-line-weight saltwater fly line on your Nimbus or Kairos rod.  The SA Bonefish taper and SA Tarpon taper are our favorites for warm water situations.


[Winston Fly Rods Page]