New Fly Rods for 2016: model by model reviews for Scott, Sage and Hardy

An exceptional number of important fly rods were introduced at ICAST this year, headlined by the Scott Meridian and including the Sage MOD, Bolt, Little One, Pulse and ONE Trout Spey.  Hardy introduced Zephrus fly rods in both freshwater and saltwater models, as well as a compelling new fast action rod called the Wraith.   In this article, we introduce and review all of these rods.  Since we fished before the show, we’ll lead off with field testing comments on the Scott Meridian saltwater and some favorite Nautilus reels.  Please note that Scott Meridian rods are reviewed model-by-model in a separate article dedicated to this important subject.

 

Fly Fishing in Jupiter with Scott Meridian fly rods and Nautilus reels

On the Meridian field test, we began our day by catching some harbor snook before heading to open water for false albacore.On Monday and Tuesday before the show Richard Post, John Duncan and Jon Blackstone fished the Meridian 908-4 and 9010-4 near Jupiter, Florida for 8 species including the hard running false albacore, snook and runners.  We were even more impressed than when lawn casting these new rods.  We can’t overstate how easy the Meridian Series is to cast.  We fished with a wide range of floating and sinking lines and came to the conclusion that the Meridian is the easiest casting saltwater rod we’ve ever fished.  Anglers are likely to generate more line speed with greater accuracy with the Meridian than any other rod they could possibly have in their hands.  Our captain, Ron Doerr, expected the Meridian to lack fish fighting power, but even he was impressed with the rod’s ability to horse deep running fish to the boat.   On more than 30 occasions our Meridians were doubled over, the top 5-6 snake guides fully under water as we raced around the perimeter, stabbing the rod tip deep to avoid the props and sharp parts of the 32 foot catamaran.  We will soon post videos of the action, but for now we wish to emphasize the quality and performance of this exciting new saltwater fly rod.

We also put some major mileage on Nautilus reels, in particular the CCF X2 Series with its impressive drag.  False albacore run as hard as any 10-18 pound fish in the ocean.  We caught over 20 false albacore on Monday, many of which ran 100 feet or more into the backing against drags tightened almost to tarpon resistance.  The range of the X2 drag is among the greatest in the industry, so it was easy to set exact tension levels.  When stripping out line, we de-tensioned the reels by approximately 3 large turns of the wrist, yet never approached either the lightest or strongest drag settings.  There is literally no start-up tension on the CCF X2 (and Silver King, the largest reel in the series).  When hooked, false albacore rip the slack off the deck and slam the drag at full speed, sometimes causing the angler to lurch forward.  As with tarpon, the angler must concentrate to clear line without snagging a digit, belt strap or reel handle.  We estimate that more than a mile of line and backing was stripped from our reels under heavy drag tensions, but not once did a drag hesitate, jerk, free spool, grind or surge.  These drags seem 100% reliable and smooth as glass.  Even though we often fish among industry friends, we rarely have the opportunity to fish our equipment under conditions that truly test functionality and durability.  As fans of Nautilus reels, it was a very convincing day on the water.

Three days later at the ICAST show, we ran into Captain Doerr again.  In casual conversation, it was revealed that the reels we fished on Monday had all been stored on his boat (the Bite Me) in the salt air full time for over a year, used over 100 times each and never rinsed or cleaned even a single time.  We asked Kristen Mustad (owner of Nautilus) if that could be possible and he replied that “there is no need to clean your Nautilus reels.”  Kristen added that every Nautilus saltwater reel, even the light weight FWX 7/8, has been tested by Captain Doerr on false albacore.

 

Rod Reviews:  New Models from Scott, Sage and Hardy

 

Scott Meridian (note that other Meridian models are reviewed in a separate article)

At ICAST, we cast all of the Scott Meridians again, including the previously uncast 2-piece models.  Following are John Duncan’s comments (on previously unevaluated rods).

Scott Meridian 848-4 (8’4” 8-wt 4-pc)

An 8’4” 8-wt is a niche rod for skiff anglers, so Scott will probably never sell very many of these.  That is a shame.  The Meridian 848-4 is the lightest, sweetest swinging 8-weight I have ever handled.  The 9’ rod in the series will make more sense for wading anglers, but I strongly urge boat anglers to consider the 8’4” model.  Thousands of anglers will cast this rod in the coming year and I bet every single one will come to the same conclusion.  Some rods are so good that we just can’t describe them with words.  As with many rods that come in a choice of lengths for a given line weight, the difference in “swing weight” is much greater than the net weight difference between rods.  This is true for two reasons:  1)  the lost weight from 8” less graphite and one or two less snake guides comes off the end of the rod, so the lever in your hands seems significantly lighter, and 2)  the rod tip bears the weight of the fly line loop.  With the shorter rod, the line weight feels closer to your body, lighter under the lever and more easily controlled.   In addition to saltwater anglers, bass and pike fishermen should take note of this rod.

Line suggestions:  SA Bonefish, SA Redfish (the new one, lightened to true line weight), RIO Bonefish, RIO Bonefish Quickshooter (underline by 1 to compensate for the extra heavy head) and RIO Redfish (underline by 1, same as Quickshooter).

Scott Meridian 906-4 (9’0” 6-wt 4-pc)

The Meridian 906-4 feels even lighter and more crisp than its larger relatives.  Like all the other 9-footers, the fast action nature of the 906-4 doesn’t make this rod tricky to cast.  The caster still has terrific loop control.  The rod literally casts well from 20 to 90 feet.  Scott has made many outstanding 6-wt saltwater rods over the years, starting with the 906-4 STS from 1995.  This is the best one ever, hands down.  The rod is very fast action, however.  Anglers accustomed to fishing their 6-wt saltwater rods in freshwater should probably plan to overline this stick with a 7-weight.

Line Suggestions: Rio Bonefish WF6F, SA Bonefish WF6F, SA Redfish WF6F (new version), SA Intermediate Full Sink Saltwater WF6F, Rio InTouch Gold WF7F (for freshwater).

2-piece Scott Meridians

John Duncan’s comments:  All of the 2-piece rods in this series are stiffer than their 4-piece brothers.  They are incredibly uniform in action and true to their line weights.  This will be to the liking of Florida Keys captains, who often prefer the most powerful rods available for clients casting in heavy wind.  Unlike most of us, saltwater guides can get away with 1 and 2-piece rods because the rods live on their boats.  I did compare the 2-piece Meridians with 1-piece rods from two other big time rod makers (both of which are carried by Telluride Angler).  We found the 2-piece Meridians to be lighter in real weight, lighter in apparent swing weight and more powerful than any of the 1-piece competitors.  In the final analysis, however, the extra stiffness in the 2-piece Meridians may not be an advantage to our customers.  As a caster, I lack the physical strength to cast the stiffest saltwater rods such as the Sage Salt 12-weight and Loomis NRX 11 and 12.  Some of my bigger, stronger friends in the industry prefer the stiffest rods available, but I personally get more power from a rod with a forgiving tip.  The Meridian 4-piece rods are easy to cast.  Meridian 2-piecers are also easy to cast, but not as easy as the 4-piece models.  For myself, the 4-piece rod is a better choice.

Richard Post’s comments:

In recent years there has been a push from several major rod makers towards one piece rods for dedicated saltwater anglers who are fortunate enough to fish out of their own backdoor. Jimmy created the 2 piece versions of the Meridian line to fit this bill. All the 2 piece models are distinctly different from their 4 piece counterparts. These rods are the rods for expert saltwater anglers and captains who don’t have to take into consideration the length of a rod tube. I felt like each 2 piece model was noticeably faster than the 4 piece model and that the 2 piece rods required the guy in the driver’s seat to know how to handle themselves. These aren’t the rods for a guy who is new to saltwater fly casting. If you’re a very dynamic fly caster that likes to push a rod as hard as you can push it these are the rods you’ve been looking for. They have slightly more meat in the butt section and are stiffer through the blank. These rods want you to punch them through the cast and they respond to this kind of treatment flawlessly. I haven’t cast a one piece rod yet that comes close to these new 2 piece models. If I decide to trade in my backcountry skis and backyard mountains for a push pole and backdoor accessible flats fishing in the future I will load up my boat with these bad boys. They are true high performance tools for the advanced and dedicated saltwater fly fisherman. You need to have one or all of these adorning the gunnels of your skiff.

 

Sage MOD Series

The beautiful new Sage Mod offers a range of 9’ rods in lines 2-6 for the angler who seeks the stabilizing benefits of Konnetic Technology in a medium action fly rod.  It should be noted that the Mod series fills a significant action void in the current Sage line up.  In terms of flex characteristics, a country mile lies between the Circa and the One.  This space is now occupied by the versatile and lovely Sage Mod.

Action notes:  By design, the action of each model is appropriate to its line weight.  The slowest action rod in this series is the 290-4 and the fastest is the 690-4.  Our favorites are the ones in between, but the angler will be impressed by the refinement and casting quality of every rod in this series.

290-4 Mod (9’0” 2-wt, 4-pc)

Admittedly, this is an unusual length for a 2-weight.  When paired with the new RIO Lightline fly line, this is a silky tailwater-style dry fly rod that excels with long leaders for ultra-fine presentations.  I would recommend this rod only for technical dry fly fishing, however, because like the Circa it will be limited in windy situations or with large flies, split shot or strike indicators.  The angler must slow the casting stroke to accommodate the 9’ length of this 2-weight.

Line suggestions:  RIO Lightline, SA Trout Taper, RIO Trout LT

390-4 Mod (9’0” 3-wt, 4-pc)

This is my 2nd favorite rod in the series.  I expected this 9’ rod to feel tip-heavy and bouncy, but it is neither.  The physical lightness of the tip offers a magic wand feel that makes this rod possible.  With that out of the way, the 390-4 Mod is a sensational caster from 20’ to 60’.  It roll casts like a dream and offers stability and loop control for precise, consistent long leader presentations.  Like the 290-4, I would specifically recommend the 390-4 Mod for technical dry fly fishing because that’s where it really excels.

Line suggestions:  RIO Lightline, SA Trout Taper, RIO Trout LT

490-4 Mod (9’0” 4-wt, 4-pc)

The Sage MOD casts best with long bellied lines.My favorite rod in the series is among the finest 9’ 4-weights I have ever cast.  In my opinion, the 9’ length and moderate action of this whole series are most appropriate in the 4-weight category.  Two qualities of this rod stood out from the other models:  1)  The lightness and stability of the tip are superior, and 2)  when paired with a Rio Lightline or SA Trout Taper, the loop control at all distances was unmatched.  I was not a bit surprised to hear several Sage staff members remark that the 490-4 is also their favorite rod in the Mod Series.

Lines:  Line suggestions:  RIO Lightline, SA Trout Taper, RIO Trout LT

590-4 Mod (9’0” 5-wt, 4-pc)

This is a pleasant casting rod with plenty of range and a cadence similar to the 490-4.  However, I left the casting pond unsure which line to recommend for it.  I tried a Rio Lightline WF5F and found loop control to be outstanding, but I couldn’t feel the rod load as much as I wanted.  Next, I tried an InTouch Rio Gold WF5.  The Gold felt terrific, flexing the rod with pleasant feedback to the palm of my hand.  My loops were not particularly pretty, however.  When fishing, tight loops are not the end-all be-all, but I still felt that another line might pair better.  I think a Rio Perception might be the answer.

Lines:  RIO Perception WF5F or SA Trout WF5F

690-4 Mod (9’0” 6-wt, 4-pc)

What a pleasant surprise.  The 6-weight Mod is appropriately stiffer than the 2-6 weights.  It casts with a combination of ease and authority at a wide range of distances.  I would recommend this model for large dry flies and nymphs, but not specifically for streamers.  This is a great rod to take if you expect to fish a variety of techniques during the day.  It would honestly cast a size 18 dry fly quite pleasantly, but still has plenty of horsepower for most nymph rigs and small streamers.

Lines:  RIO Gold, Rio Perception, SA MPX, SA Stillwater, all common WF lines of typical head weight.  The SA Titan Taper and RIO Grand are not particularly recommended.

Sage BOLT Series

The Sage Bolt Series utilizes Generation V graphite technology, not far removed from the Konnetic Technology used in Sage’s top flight fly rods.  At first, we suspected that the only purpose for the BOLT Series might be price point (reading between the lines, Sage has observed that some anglers decline the Method on price).  After casting most of the key models, however, we found many of them to be unique in action and feel, excellent additions to the Sage lineup.  Sage bills these as ultrafast rods, comparable in their loading characteristics to the Method Series.  They are indeed powerful fly rods, but we found them to be approximately 10% less stiff than comparable Method models.  The Method still wins for raw power, but many anglers will find their casting stroke easier with the Bolt.

490-4 Bolt (9’0″ 4-wt, 4-pc)

This is a wonderful caster, one of our two favorites in the series.  I cast the 490-4 with a Rio Gold and found the rhythm on the very first cast.  I enjoyed excellent loop control from 30’-70’ and thought that the 490-4 would fish very well with dry flies, nymphs or streamers.  My only caveat is that with a sweet spot of 50’ the Bolt fishes beyond typical 4-weight range.  There are many situations, however (particularly in the Northern Rockies), where anglers need a 4-weight that fishes like a 5-weight for turning over long leaders or larger dry flies in the wind.  Anglers of the Missouri, South Fork Snake and Green will love this rod.

Lines: Rio InTouch Gold WF4F, SA MPX WF4F, Rio Grand WF4F

590-4 Bolt (9’0” 5-wt, 4-pc)

I liked the 4 and 6-weight more than the 5.  When cast with a short, “tippy” stroke, the 590-4 Bolt forms a mean wedge with major line speed.  I kept getting lost with my timing and power, however, partly because the rod doesn’t offer much feedback to the caster.  It was pretty darn good over 60 feet, but, at least for me, getting there was an adventure.

Lines:  Rio Grand, SA MPX and other weight forward lines that err toward the heavy end of the spectrum.  If you love the Rio Gold, consider overlining to a WF6F.

691-4 Bolt (9’0” 6-wt, 4-pc)

Hands down, this is my favorite rod in the series.  I actually prefer it to the Method because it loads a little quicker, so power comes easier and false casts are reduced.  Loop shape and line speed are superb at every distance.  For the angler who needs power and accuracy at 45-80 feet, this is your rod.  I unconditionally recommend this model for streamers, large dry flies and heavy nymphs on big water.

Lines:  Rio InTouch Gold, Rio Grand, SA MPX, SA Stillwater, wide range of popular sinking tip lines including Rio Outbound and the SA Wet Tip.

890-4 Bolt (9’0” 8-wt, 4-pc)

This is a powerful rod at distance with all of the attributes required for saltwater fly fishing, but I found the 890-4 to be heavy and clubby compared to both the ONE 890-4 and Salt 890-4.  Anglers who choose this model will have a capable fly rod, but the extra $200 for a ONE or Salt is well spent, in my opinion.

Lines:  Choose a Rio Redfish or Rio Bonefish Quickshooter to load the 890-4 Bolt quickly and reduce false casts.

Sage Little One

The aptly named LITTLE ONEs are indeed a chip off the ONE Series.  Konnetic Technology makes these rods superbly stable and helps create laser loops.  In my opinion, the 3 and 4-weight cast about one line weight heavy.  To further explain, I found that I needed to push these with their designated lines.  The 1 and 2 weights are lovely casters, true to line weight with a casting stroke of quick cadence.  The 0-weight might be my favorite.  It is the slowest action rod in the series despite the fact that its matching line is a mere thread.

All of these rods are 8’2”.  This makes them “all-around light line fly rods,” as opposed to “specialty small stream rods,” but the Little Ones will fish great on creeks.  What they lack in degree of specialization will be gained in greater versatility.  I can’t help but evaluate these as “dry fly rods,” because that’s what I would use them for.

082-4 ONE (8’2” 0-wt, 4-pc)

This is my favorite rod in the series because I prefer slower action dry fly rods.  Many Sage fans will disagree with this preference, but the wispy tip and extremely light touch of the 082-4 ONE really connected with me.  I found the effective casting range to be 10’-35’.  The 082-4 will be limited to dry flies size 16 and smaller because the mass of the 0-wt line is so slight.

Lines:  RIO Trout LT WF0F

182-4 ONE (8’2” 1-wt, 4-pc)

This model and the 2-weight both offered a classic Sage action with their designated lines.  The loop shape is tight and gorgeous from 10’-40.’  I would evaluate the 182-4 ONE as a wonderful caster with superb touch that is most true to its line weight.

Lines:  RIO Trout LT WF1F

282-4 ONE (8’2” 2-wt, 4-pc)

This is a perfectly designed and executed fly rod.  True to line weight with immaculate balance, I think almost any caster would pick up this rod, cast it once and say “fantastic.”  Range is comparable to the 1-weight (approximately 10’-40’) with just a little more pop from the 2-weight line.  The 282-4 will be more versatile with fly sizes, but still limited to size 12 and smaller.

Lines:  Rio Lightline WF2F

382-4 ONE (8’2” 3-wt, 4-pc)

Light and punchy, the little one throws gorgeous dry fly loops for short distance angling.Many “Sage casters” will prefer the 3 and 4-weights in this series because the action will be familiar.  I cast them with the true-to-line-weight Rio Trout LT and found that I had to push the rod to tighten my loops.  Since I don’t like pushing light line fly rods, I would resolve that issue by choosing a line with a slightly heavier head or overlining the rod by one.

Lines: Rio Gold WF3F, Rio Perception WF3F, SA MPX WF3F, Rio Lightline WF4F, SA Trout WF4F

482-4 ONE (8’2” 4-wt, 4-pc)

Again, the Sage guys love this rod but for me it fishes out of the 4-wt range.  Put a Gold or MPX on it and you’ll be fine.  Or, overline it.

Lines: Rio Gold WF4F, Rio Perception WF4F, SA MPX WF4F, Rio Lightline WF5F, SA Trout WF5F

Sage Pulse Series

The Sage Pulse replaces the Response Series with a rod that utilizes Graphite 3E Technology.  How soon we forget that this material was used in some of Sage’s most beloved fly rods of all time, including the great XP.  Now offered in a $400-class fly rod, the Pulse represents outstanding value for the angler.   In casting through the series, I consent that many of the models lacked appeal for me, but there were also some distinct gems.

486-4 Pulse (8’6” 4-wt, 4-piece)

A distinct gem.  The 486-4 Pulse is a little slower action than others in this series with a lovely tip that flexes with great feel as one begins false casting.  Its range met my exact expectations: 20’-50’ with great loop control and an even flex profile.

Lines: RIO Gold WF4F, SA MPX WF4F, Rio Perception WF4F

490-4 Pulse (9’0” 4-wt, 4-pc)

A fine rod for the money, I found the 490-4 Pulse to be a capable, pleasant caster from 20’-55’.  It lacks the high-end sweetness and light feel of the 486-4, but anglers who prefer a 9’ rod will be completely satisfied with this model.

Lines:  RIO Gold WF4F, SA MPX WF4F, Rio Perception WF4F

586-4 Pulse (8’6” 5-wt, 4-pc)

Just as refined as the 486-4 Pulse, I cast this rod again and again to make sure my first impression would stand up.  The range, touch and casting cadence are ideal for an 8 ½’ 5-weight and rod’s lightness will make you smile.

Lines: RIO Gold WF5F, SA MPX WF5F, Rio Perception WF5F

590-4 Pulse (9’0” 5-wt, 4-pc)

We were pleasantly surprised at the overall performance and value proposition of the Sage Pulse.I would describe this rod as “practical but not sweet.”  It casts adequate loops in a wide range of distance, but is notably heavy and a little bouncy compared with some others in this series.  The angler will be satisfied with the fishing performance of the 590-4 Pulse, but not particularly impressed with its touch and feel.

Lines:  RIO Gold WF5F, SA MPX WF5F, Rio Perception WF5F

690-4 Pulse (9’0” 6-wt, 4-pc)

This is a pleasant caster and will be quite capable with large dry flies, nymphs and streamers up to 55 or 60 feet.  The 690-4 can certainly cast farther, but I had to work at my casting over about 60,’ so the comfortable fishing range is probably inside of that distance.

Lines:  RIO Gold WF6F, SA MPX WF6F, Rio Perception WF6F, SA Stillwater WF6F

ONE Trout Spey rods

3110-4 ONE (11’0” 3-wt, 4-pc)

I am no Spey caster, but had to try this rod just to see how it would feel.  I can’t think of any reasonable fishing application for an 11’ 3-weight Spey rod, but you could also argue that fly fishing itself is not reasonable.  So, I went to the pond with the 3110-4 ONE and a Rio line designed with a matching Skagit head.  On my first few tries, I overpowered the rod, but when I backed off and let the rod swing forward under the power of its own weight, an actual Spey cast occurred.  It was surprising and pleasant, so I did it again.

Lines:  RIO Trout Spey 3-wt

Hardy Zephrus Saltwater Series

At ICAST in Orlando, I cast two rods in the new Zephrus Series, the 4-piece 8 and 10-weights.  I must confess a general malaise for Hardy since its clumsy acquisition by Pure Fishing, but the company’s show presence was strong and their new fly rods impressive on the pond.  I threw the Zephrus 908 with a true 8-weight Hardy saltwater line and found it both light in hand and through the swing.  I couldn’t seem to form a poor casting loop.  The rod is both forgiving and very powerful.  Distance came easily, but the Zephrus 908 also casts accurately at 25-40 feet.  The 10-weight was perhaps even more impressive because it felt so darn light.  I need that from a high line weight, because I don’t swing the rod with much strength. I don’t care for the double wire loop Recoil guides.  They make a sound that I interpret as line drag.  Also, for better or worse, the Zephrus looks like a modern Hardy fly rod.  Aside from these issues, I really like the Zephrus and think it could represent a step toward Hardy’s rebound here in the United States.  Hardy has a strong saltwater following.  Loyalists at ICAST all agreed that Zephrus is the best Hardy to date.

Line suggestions:  true line weight with conventional length heads, including the RIO Bonefish, SA Bonefish and SA Saltwater Intermediate

Hardy Zephrus Freshwater Series

Zephrus 905

At ICAST, I cast the 905 figuring it to be the most important rod in the series.  If the manufacturer introduces a new freshwater series and doesn’t nail the 905, there isn’t much hope for the others.  The manufacturer did not nail the 905.  I threw it with a Rio Gold and was just not impressed.  The rod certainly had some strengths, including a nice grip shape and very low swing weight, but the 905 Zephrus is bouncy in the tip and casts with a lack of crispness.  I would describe the action as “medium fast.”  It is true to line weight and works at appropriate distances, but I don’t love the rod.

Lines:  the action might be improved with a more level tapered line, such as the new Rio Lightline WF5F


Hardy Wraith Freshwater Series

Wraith 905

Powerful, light and sensitive, the Hardy Wraith is a well designed fast action fly rod.As unimpressed as I was with the Zephrus freshwater rod, I must say that the Wraith 905 really impressed me.  Hardy describes the rods as “very fast,” but I would call it “fast” by the standard of the Sage Method and Scott Radian, perhaps an 8 out of 10 in stiffness.  It’s fast, but highly castable to any angler.  Cleverly, the action of the Wraith is almost unique in our industry right now.   It is faster than the NRX but slower than the Radian or Method.  I found the Wraith to be most similar to the Sage ONE in basic casting cadence.  The ONE may be more accurate, but the Wraith might offer better feel.  The rod has spectacularly light swing weight.  It’s light and feels even lighter.  Casting loops come from the tip naturally and easily.  With a Rio Gold, the rod offers both line speed and loop control in a tremendous range, from 25 feet to over 75 feet.  To me, what really distinguishes the Wraith is the feel transmitted back to the caster.  Most fast rods really aren’t as sensitive as slower ones, but the Wraith is an exception.  As with the Zephrus, I don’t like the guides, cosmetics or name, but Wraith is an outstanding fly rod.

Line suggestions:  Rio Gold, SA Trout or SA MPX WF5 lines

 

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