A detailed review and performance comparison of Scott Centric, Sage X, G.Loomis Asquith, NRX+ and Winston Air 2 fly rods
Fast action fly rod review model-by-model comparison
Why we chose these rods: In short, these are the general purpose fast action fly rods that anglers most often ask us to compare. They are designed to be fished widely and are similar in nature. Any one of these might be the only rod in a given line weight that an angler would ever need. So, we’re comparing the rods we feel epitomize the “versatile fast action” category. The Sage Igniter is also a fine fast action fly rod, but most models are so much stiffer that we can’t learn much by comparing them. The Winston Air 2 was introduced after we did the side-by-side comparison and wrote this article, so we have updated our review with notes about those rods.
This article was written by John Duncan with significant input from fly shop manager Richard Post, as well as Parker Thompson, Jim Harris and Jack Healy. On a sunny November day in Telluride’s Down Valley Park, all 5 of us cast the rods side-by-side in rapid succession with between 2 and 5 different fly lines per rod group. There were plenty of surprises among both rods and lines, including the prowess of the Rio Elite Technical Trout line and SA Infinity Taper, favorites on the majority of rod models. Above all, we reconfirmed that line pairing is critical to rod performance and that fly rods should not be uniformly recommended to all anglers. Every fly fisher will have a favorite rod but there is no one fly rod for every angler.
The Scott Centric is a return to fundamentals for this company. It seems to answer the question, “What would you expect from Scott in a fast action fly rod?” More important than what we expect from Scott is what we want from Scott: a fast action fly rod that is still a terrific all-around fishing tool, rather than just a hammer. Centric’s predecessor, the Radian, was iconic because it seemed etched from stone, totally unique for Scott, and at the time of its introduction in 2013, unique in all of rod design. It was an ultrafast fly rod by any definition, terrific for blasting into the wind but lacking in the refinements that make Centric a legend from birth.
Defining characteristics: ease of casting, wide range of line tolerance, line speed and exceptional fishiness in non-casting techniques
The mark of a great fly rod is one that grows in popularity with each passing year. So many anglers who loved their first X added others to their arsenal and spread the word among friends. The Sage X is such a useful rod. The action is fast, but not too fast. The blanks are remarkably progressive, casting well both short and long. Of all the great fast action rods that Sage has made over the years, the X is by far the most refined, casting a wider range of fly lines in diverse conditions. For many anglers, it is love at first cast.
Defining characteristics: range, loop control and exceptional feel for a fast action fly rod
Like a concept car, the Asquith pushes the boundaries of material and design. It’s the Porsche with a rocket engine. The freshwater rods in this series range from 4-wt to 6-wt, but we included the 9’ 7-weight because many anglers who buy a saltwater class #7 will use it for heavy trout streamers, bass and other aggressive freshwater techniques. Asquiths are uniformly powerful and light, perhaps the lightest in class, but like many finely tuned instruments they perform best within specific tolerances. Asquiths are futuristic fly rods designed to conquer great fly fishing challenges.
Defining characteristics: “airy” lightness, line speed at all distances, lively feel throughout the blank
The logical counterpart to the Asquith is the NRX+, a classic fast action rod designed to fish anywhere for anything. Much more than “a working man’s Asquith,” the NRX+ is a rod that any angler might choose when power and durability are priorities. They may not match the Asquith for feel but handle heavier lines with tremendous confidence and lethal casting accuracy. We found the NRX+ to be the fastest action series in this comparison. Accordingly, we recommend them for the most aggressive fishing scenarios appropriate to each line class. If you need tight loops and distance, the NRX+ delivers. If you fish stoneflies, size #6 hoppers and conehead streamers, the NRX+ might be your fly rod.
Defining characteristics: power and stability in challenging conditions, tight casting loops
True to the brand and highly capable in this action category, Winston Air 2 rods are most unique in this comparison. On initial inspection, the Air 2 are a notch “slower” in their casting characteristics. They do, in fact, require a somewhat longer and more patient stroke. Line speed, overall power and responsiveness are every bit the equal, however. These are “fast action rods” the Winston way, just as we hoped from this manufacturer.
Defining characteristics: elastic feel on the recovery, which adds line speed on overhead casts and easy power on the roll cast; touch equal to power in all techniques
The difference between these fly rods can be surmised in the knowledge of which fly lines they cast best. The X 486-4 is fabulous with either a Rio Elite Gold or Rio Elite Technical Trout. The somewhat abrupt front taper and slight extra weight of the Gold load the rod at shorter distances, but at no point does the weight of the Gold overwhelm the rod. It casts with the same cadence and feel from 15’ to well over 50’. This is a remarkable, timeless rod and line pairing for the angler fishing hoppers and other large dries, dry-dropper rigs, nymphs or small streamers. It’s also magic for all techniques on smaller rivers like our own San Miguel. If this is a dedicated dry fly rod, consider the Technical Trout, a line that makes the X 486-4 feel lighter in the swing while casting with equal loop control and smoothness. The Technical Trout would be our preference for smaller dry flies and long leaders.
The Centric 854-4 feels underlined with the Technical Trout and a little bouncy with a Rio Gold, the latter of which fishes great on the rod but leaves something to be improved in the casting feel. The SA Infinity Taper completely transforms the rod into an 8 ½’ 4-weight that may replace your 9’ 4-weight on big water. It turns this rod into an A+ for the angler who wants a lighter rod to fish at potentially long distance. Loop shape, line speed, precision and feel are in the stratosphere. To summarize, these are both extraordinary rods. The X 486-4 is optimized from 20’-50’, while the Centric is happiest from 30’-60’.
The Air 2 8’6″ 4-wt is less stiff than the X or Centric, but delivers more than enough line speed for a 4-weight and offers the best feel in the group. It is perhaps less versatile in line pairing, but excels with a Rio Technical Trout or Rio Gold. While capable of fishing light nymph rigs, I would fish this rod 90% with dry flies.
Centric 904-4 vs X 490-4 vs Asquith 490-4 vs NRX+ 490-4 vs Air 2 9′ 4-wt
The Asquith is the lightest weight with the greatest line speed and loop control. It is tempting to say that it stands apart from the others, but curiously, we found it to be the most line sensitive rod in the group. Paired with a Rio Elite Technical Trout or SA Trout Taper, it casts the prettiest loops of any rod that we threw all day. The Rio Gold makes it feel heavy, however, and it is both sluggish and heavy with the SA Infinity Taper. This type of sensitivity is common among finely tuned instruments which are designed to do one thing as well as it can possibly be done. For the Asquith 490-4, that would be throwing laser loop dry fly casts at any distance. The NRX+ feels stiff and dense by comparison. At no point can it match the pure sweetness of the Asquith, but it throws super tight loops with a Technical Trout line and casts with exceptional range and power paired with the SA Infinity Taper. The NRX+ doesn’t “cast itself” like the Asquith or Centric but is a rangy fishing tool in the hands of a strong caster.
The Sage X 490-4 may find its preference as a light line nymphing rod. The X is heavier than the Centric or Asquith, but when casting, the tip follows through with the authority to turn over a larger fly or nymph/indicator rig. For pure casting, we preferred the Rio Technical Trout line but would principally recommend this rod with an SA Infinity Taper for dry dropper and nymph rigs.
The Scott Centric is the most versatile rod in this group. It’s almost as light as the Asquith but uses more of the rod in each cast and is stabilized by a larger diameter butt section. As compared with the other 3 models, the Centric feels springy and progressive, a fast action rod that will fish in the broadest range with just about any line or fly rig. It also possesses the greatest loop control for customizing your presentations on every cast. Our favorite two lines for casting the Centric were the Rio Technical Trout and SA Infinity Taper but the Rio Elite Gold would fish fantastic.
Finally, the Air 2 9′ #4 is the least powerful but most “touchy” rod that we reviewed for this whole article. Our casters universally agreed that this is a fine long leader dry fly rod, but wouldn’t be our choice for nymphs or streamers. Think of it as a medium action rod with a little extra zip for fishing dry flies at distance, whether wading or from the boat. The defining attribute of this rod is touch rather than power.
Eyebrow raiser: We cast all these rods with the SA Infinity Taper, SA Trout Taper, Rio Gold and Rio Technical Trout. The Rio Technical Trout was our #1 line on every rod. The Scott Centric was the only rod that felt terrific with every fly line.
Hats off to these manufacturers for designing 10’ 4-weights that feel as remarkable as they fish. The 10’ rod has every advantage on the water: lifting a long line for the next cast, line mending, roll casting and single handed Spey techniques, but most 10’ 4-weights have so much swing weight they leave us wishing for a shorter rod. These are three outstanding fly rods. The X 4100-4 is the most delicate caster, lovely with a floating line or light sink tip. It is buttery smooth at every distance and possesses the most sensitive tip of any rod in this group, useful for detecting subtle strikes in slow moving water or lakes. While shorter than a specialized Euro nymphing rod, it is outstanding for that purpose.
The NRX+ 4100-4 is the fastest action rod in the bunch, but no less smooth or sweet off the tip. It handles the widest range of lines and casts the tightest loops, especially with a Rio Technical Trout WF4F. It’s the best rod with a sinking line because it has the most lifting power. This is the most stable caster and line lifter of any rod in this group. The Centric 1004-4 is the most line sensitive of these three fly rods, truly outstanding with a Rio Technical Trout or SA Trout Taper, but lackluster with an Infinity Taper and only average with a Rio Gold, the latter of which reveals a bit of bounce in the tip and mid section. Like all the Centrics, however, this model is a spectacular fishing tool because it flexes deeply enough to put some tip mettle behind every casting stroke as it snaps back on its true and straight course. It is the best roll caster and single handed Spey rod in the bunch. We love the grip on the Centric, too, formed with a more customized shape to support the length of the fly rod, putting less pressure on the fingers and easing the task of casting a 10’ rod all day.
Footnote on lines: We were surprised that the SA Infinity Taper does not cast well on any of these rods. It makes them all feel heavy and sluggish. Choose the Rio Technical Trout, Rio Gold or a sinking line that is true to line weight.
Asquith 590-4 vs NRX+ 590-4 vs Centric 905-4 vs X 590-4 vs Air 2 9′ 5-wt
All hero casters on the lawn, it’s surprising how different these rods behave on the water. The Asquith 590-4 is the finest pure casting 5-weight we have ever handled. Line speed and loop shape are simply unmatched, especially when paired with a Rio Technical Trout line. There is more to fishing than just casting, however. It’s counterpart, the NRX+ 590-4, is the stiffest rod in the group. It needs to be cast with power regardless of the fly line choice. Our favorite line pairing is the Airflo Power Taper, which has a heavy head and abrupt rear taper. We think of it as a streamer line, but many use it for nymphing at short and medium range. Whereas the Asquith 590-4 is a super light rod designed for precision casting techniques, the NRX+ is a better choice for streamers and all situations that might involve horsing the rod with heavy terminal tackle. It’s like a big mountain ski that cuts through crud and ice but lacks float in powder.
The Centric 905-4 and X 590-4 are both more centered for all-around fishing techniques. That’s not to say they lack feel. In fact, we concluded that the Sage X offers the greatest feel and most even flexing, rangy action of any rod in this group. It may be the single finest rod in the entire X series. The Centric is equally versatile and casts the longest, most level loops when paired with either a Rio Technical Trout or Infinity Taper line. It’s a light rod that “swings light” with almost any line. We recommend the Tech Trout for pure dry fly fishing and the Infinity Taper for all around techniques: dries, nymphs and streamers. Splitting hairs between the X and the Centric, we found that the X is slightly lighter in the mid-section of the rod, so it loads and delivers more naturally up to about 30 feet and possesses the most even flexing characteristics throughout its range. Beyond 30-40 feet, the Centric generates slightly higher line speed with those spectacular aerodynamic loops. It is beefier in the butt section, too, so it responds well to an aggressive double haul under compromised casting conditions.
Finally, we come to the Winston Air 2 9′ 5-wt, a unicorn with unmatched feel and remarkable fishing capabilities. To compare several attributes….. 1) stiffness: the Air 2 flexes deeper than any other rod in this group, but also recovers with the most innate power. 2) casting loops: the others throw tighter loops, but the Air 2 offers the best loop control of any rod in this group. 3) roll casting and line mending: best rod in the group. 4) touch and feel: potentially the sweetest fast action 5-weight we’ve ever cast. 5) overall fishability: it depends upon what you are looking for. This rod comes from the Winston lineage of feel and touch as compared with the Sage or Loomis legacy of raw power. You can’t hammer this rod like you can the others, but in anyone’s hands, it’s a paradigm shifting fly rod that ranks among the finest ever designed by this rod maker.
Lines cast on these rods: Airflo Power Taper, SA Infinity Taper, Rio Gold, Rio Technical Trout
Centric 955-4 vs X 597-4 vs NRX+ 595-4
The NRX+ 595-4 possesses great range and power, especially with a Rio Technical Trout line, but lacks the polish and versatility of the Sage and Scott. It is bouncier at every distance with any fly line, but fishes dries well with a Tech Trout and nymphs with a Rio Gold. The NRX+ 595-4 is a useful rod that will catch every fish in the river, but in this review, it is up against two of the finest fly rods on the market.
From the moment the Sage X 597-4 was introduced, we knew it possessed a rare combination of nimbleness, feel, power and range. Like the X 590-4, it is lightweight and progressive, a rod that casts with equal ease from 20’ to over 80’. Most long trout rods lack feel and loop control, but this one casts with the touch and control of a 3-weight. It is more line-sensitive than the Centric, strongly preferring a Rio Technical Trout over a Gold or SA Infinity Taper. Like most 9 ½’ 5-weights, it’s terrific with nymphs and dry flies, but a little skittish with a heavy streamer, wobbly and less confident. The X 597-4 is a standout model in the Sage fly rod library.
The Scott Centric 955-4 is the most power-oriented rod in this group and perhaps the most versatile. Every fly line jumps out of the tip and shoots for days. The Airflo Power Taper loads and shoots with authority for streamer fishing. The Elite Gold would be ideal for high stick nymphing. The Infinity Taper loads the rod a little deeper and will carry nymphs or large dries with great confidence. The Infinity would be our top choice for fishing big water with mixed techniques. For dry flies and the pure element of casting, try the Rio Technical Trout. It scores 100 out of 100 on this rod, igniting line speed and distance that makes you feel like you’re about to be sucked through a keyhole.
Lines cast on these rods: Airflo Power Taper, Rio Gold, SA Infinity Taper, Rio Technical Trout
To our great surprise, the SA Infinity Taper was, hands down, the best line on all three 10’ 5-weights. We couldn’t make it work on any of the 10’ 4-weights, but on the 5s it’s our unanimous choice. All of these rods are more line-sensitive than the 9-footers. We’ll start with the Centric, our consensus favorite. It is spectacular with an SA Infinity Taper, lighter, smoother and with greater loop control than any rod in its class. All 10’ 5-weights cast to the horizon, but the Centric simply feels better while getting there. It remains connected to the fly line throughout the stroke, flexing and recovering in perfect harmony. In addition to overhead casting, the Centric is also superb in the finer techniques of roll casting, line mending and single handed Spey casting. It crosses over to streamer lines better than the other two and casts the Rio Technical Trout for greatest distance.
The NRX+ is a rod with a terrific sense of command. It’s the stiffest rod in this group, a tip-caster in the classic fast action mold. It feels heavier than the Centric and needs a heavier line, such as the Infinity Taper, to load and throw with a natural casting stroke. This may be the best rod for streamers and heavy nymphs but lacks the lightness and grace of the Centric. The X and Centric are both better for roll casting and single handed Spey techniques.
The Sage X 5101-4 feels bouncy and disconnected with the Technical Trout and clunky with a Rio Gold, but the Infinity Taper digs through the tip and mid-section to the powerful butt and throws with great power at distance. Smoothness, loop control and feel all improve beyond 40-50 feet. This rod has more tip mass than the Centric, so it’s inherently bouncier at short and mid distances. The stiff tip helps with roll casting, mending and single handed Spey casting, however. This is a very useful rod on the water, but the Centric is more polished.
Lines cast on these rods: SA Infinity Taper, Rio Gold, Rio Technical Trout, Airflow Power Taper
Centric 906-4 vs X 690-4 vs Asquith 690-4 vs NRX+ 690-4 vs Air 2 9′ 6-wt (with notes about FB versions)
Observation: like rod models with and without a fighting butt will cast and fish uniquely. The differences may be minor, but the fighting butt version has the grip mounted about 3/4” higher on the blank, causing the blank to extend beyond the bottom of the reel seat for mounting the fighting butt. This shortens the portion of the rod above the grip and changes the action.
The Sage X 690-4 and 691-4 (with fighting butt) are both excellent nymphing rods. By a degree, we prefer the X 691-4 because the tip drives through the cast a little stronger, providing a nice kick to turn over an awkward nymph rig. These rods both have more tip weight than the Centric or Asquith, which helps for roll casting and mending but takes a little sweetness out of a dry fly cast. They feel more like dedicated nymphing rods than the others in this group.
The Centric 906-4 is a thoroughbred caster, so finely tuned you’ll want to try it with a double taper line to feel every inch flexing. It casts and fishes best with a long-bellied WF line, which stays connected to the rod when aerializing a long backcast. This differs from a super-stiff load-and-shoot style rod, which works best with a short line head, flinging the line as much as “casting” it. The Centric will cast shooting-style lines with ease, but our greatest enjoyment in casting the rod comes with a long-bellied line such as the SA Infinity Taper. Beyond overhead casting, the Centric 906-4 earns highest marks in every fishing technique: roll casting, line mending, casting heavy flies and playing strong fish. It is the most versatile 6-weight in this group with respect to technique and fishing scenarios. If you want one rod to throw streamers in the morning and small dries in the afternoon, you couldn’t make a better choice. The Centric 906-4 FB feels slightly stiffer in the butt section, the predicted result of installing a fighting butt. Our group of casters is divided on the effect, however. Some notice a real difference while others find it insignificant.
The Asquith 690-4 throws gorgeous loops, like all the other rods in the Asquith series. By consensus, our line recommendation is the Rio Gold. The Asquith 690-4 lacks the springy characteristic of the Centric, possessing more raw stiffness in the butt and mid-section, requiring a double haul to access its full power potential. If you have a strong preference for grip styles, take note: the Asquith 690-4 is fitted with the same cigar-style trout grip found on the 490-4 and 590-4, which we find to be a tad OG for a rod that is otherwise pure space age. Lightness and feel are superb with the Asquith 690-4, but the angler must use the rod with power in every technique. It fishes high in the 6-weight line class despite the small grip.
So, where does the NRX+ fall among these rods? Of all the NRX+ models, this one feels lightest in hand relative to its line weight. Like the others, it is dense and powerful, excellent for streamers and nymphs but lacking responsiveness for dry fly fishing. A Rio Gold brings it to life nicely with a continued sense of lightness and control, but the rod needs a double haul to cast much beyond the line head. The NRX+ 690-4 is a load-and-shoot style rod with a stiff butt section that doesn’t flex much even when carrying a long backcast. This is a power 6-weight that feels light and loves a challenge.
The Winston Air 2 9′ 6-wt achieves a special result in this comparison. It would rank #1 in ease of casting, roll casting, line mending, tippet protection and feel. It is the “slowest” rod in the group, but that deserves an asterisk because of the powerful nature of the others. If you love Winston rods but have a lingering concern about power, this rod answers the question. Fish it with an SA Infinity taper or Rio Gold.
Lines cast on these rods: SA Infinity Taper, Rio Gold
It will be easy to choose between these rods because they are unique in character. The X has a medium-fast action with plenty of tip weight for throwing awkward nymphs, making easy line mends and generally working with a nymph/indicator rig in a high sticking situation. It will fish great to 40 or 50 feet but is not a cross-the-river flamethrower. That might describe the Centric 956-4. Probably the most powerful rod in the Centric series, the 956-4 possesses the greatest distance-fishing capability of any trout rod we have ever cast or fished. Most fly lines seem too short. Our favorite is the Infinity Taper, which loads the rod ideally and has a long enough head to really fish at the distance the Centric wants to cast. Why cast 70 feet if you can only mend 40 feet? The Centric is an excellent choice for mixed techniques: nymphs, dries, streamers, big rivers and windy lakes, and single handed steelheading. It casts the full range of 6-weight lines without flinching, from the Rio Technical Trout to the SA Infinity Taper, Rio Big Nasty and every sinking line in the catalog.
WMD on big water, the 10’ 6-weight is a potentially tiring rod to cast and fish all day. So, which does the most work for the angler? The X feels lighter than the Centric or NRX+, but loop shape is not automatic. The caster needs to “stay on it” to avoid a different outcome on each cast. A Rio Gold is the best line pairing, forming pretty loops consistently. This rod is highly line sensitive, however, not particularly good with an Infinity Taper or streamer-style line. This rod competes with the Centric and NRX+ only when paired with a Rio Gold. The Centric and NRX+ outclass the X for versatility and overall performance. The Centric flexes deeper and uses a little more of the rod in each cast. The NRX+ is more of a pure “tip caster,” which makes it feel even lighter in hand and commanding when picking up a long line. The Centric offers greater loop control and slightly better capability with subtle techniques. The NRX+ delivers raw power and line speed like no other rod. Both of these rods will handle virtually any fly line, but we especially love the Centric with an SA Infinity Taper and the NRX+ with an SA MPX.
Asquith 790-4 vs X 790-4 vs NRX+ 790-4 vs Centric 907-4
Spectacular rods, each has a distinct nature that will be favored for certain conditions. The Centric 907-4 is the most “trouty” of the group by far. It feels lightest in hand, has a lovely light tip and a trout-style Wells grip. It’s the big brother of the Centric 906-4, similar in its progressive nature, rangy casting and unequaled feel. Some of us think this is the best rod in the whole Centric series. It casts the Rio Big Nasty with control and power, but the way it throws the SA Infinity sets our feet on fire. It likens other long and fast projectiles, like the Shinkansen ripping through the center track in Tokyo station. It is simply sensational.
The next most “trouty” is the X 790-4. For mixed techniques we would probably choose the Centric, but the X is an extraordinary streamer rod. There is simply nothing better with a Big Nasty and a conehead Autumn Splendor. It casts and fishes the Infinity Taper just fine, but the rod has more tip mass than the Centric, which adds swing weight but does more work for the caster with heavy lines and awkward flies.
The NRX+ 790-4 S might be considered a bass and carp rod that crosses over to trout streamers when called upon. (It is technically listed as a saltwater rod). It fishes high in its line class and performs best with a heavy line such as an SA Infinity Taper, but also a variety of bass tapers, sinking lines and streamer lines. This is a pure caster that fishes best in challenging conditions where wind, distance and heavy flies may be involved. The saltwater-style Wells grip may feel bulky to trout fishers. Roll casting does not come naturally but beaching a heavy fish most certainly does. Line mending requires a lot of effort but turning over a size #4 fly is automatic.
In the Asquith Series, Loomis does not distinguish between freshwater and saltwater rods. Many anglers choose the Asquith 7-weight for bass and trout, but in our opinion, it’s a saltwater rod in form and function. The blank is supercharged for long casts and laser deliveries. It’s hard to find a line that doesn’t work on this rod (we haven’t found one yet). We love the Infinity Taper, but also a variety of bonefish lines and sink tips. It’s a stiff rod that requires power from the caster on every shot. The grip is a large Full Wells, beefy even by saltwater standards. Some anglers may find this to be “too much rod” for freshwater fishing. Even if you prefer the al dente action, the grip is monoform and bulky, tiring to cast all day. The Asquith 790-4 fishes like an 8-weight, excellent for heavy bass and pike, but in trout world only suited to the most demanding streamer fishing.