Winston Air 2 Fly Rods | Model-by-Model Review

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Winston Logo 1 300x243Introducing Winston Air 2

into the space occupied by Asquith, X and Centric was an invitation to be eaten alive.  To pull this off, the Winston design team had to create a series of fly rods that was true to Winston’s legacy but unapologetically performance-driven on the water.  Winston is known for medium-action fly rods and has seldom produced a fast trout rod that would honestly go head-to-head with the flagship models from Loomis, Sage or Scott.  These rods had to be standouts, equal or superior on a windy day with heavy flies and distant fish.  And they had to be Winstons.

A recent conversation with rod designer Jeff Evans illuminated Winston’s patient approach and pure (no pun intended) motives.  Evans is a western trout fisherman who lives on the great rivers of SW Montana and is connected to fly fishing at a cellular level.  He has no need to fish with rods he doesn’t love.  The technology platform for Air 2 utilizes new high modulus materials as well as Winston’s traditional boron in the butt section, the turbo charger for line speed and raw power.  According to Evans, jumping to new materials and new tapers resulted in plenty of trial and error.  “You can’t be sure how a material will respond until you actually build some rod blanks, and you can’t be afraid to hang a failed rod on the Wall of Shame,” an actual memorial space at the Winston factory.  “One day, I cast two prototypes and just threw them on the ground, went for a long walk.”

Reelseat EditedWhen asked what he wishes to communicate, Evans energetically responded, “The rod must be fun to fish.  I don’t think technology is the key, just a means to an end.  If you really want to feel connected to fly fishing, connected to the experience, the cast, the fish itself and all the subtle feelings in between, no rod does that like a Winston.  These are special fly rods, not mere tools.  I want anglers to feel that from the moment they uncase the rod.”


We uncased many prototypes during the development period for Air 2.  Winston sent package after package to pro staff for testing and feedback.  Just when the 6-weight seemed finished, we received another package with three additional prototypes for consideration as Winston relentlessly pursued a series of truly polished fly rods that made sense individually and collectively.  No rod in the series rewards this effort more than the 6-weight, a remarkable stick in every regard.  Asked what fuels his perfectionism, Evans says, “I want anglers to say, ‘I plan my fishing days around this rod.’”

He wants anglers to anticipate that first day of fishing in spring with their favorite Winston in hand.  “Is this the rod I’ll be thinking about all winter?”

WinstonbrownreleaseAs a Winston dealer, we hoped that Air 2 would embody our vision of the modern fast action rod, exceeding our requirements on the water, so we could fish them in the situations that call for power and confidence.  In Colorado, 5 and 6-weights often require fast action characteristics.  We fish Centrics, Asquiths and X rods on the Gunnison, Animas and Colorado.  Fast action rods are designed for such rivers and generally catch more fish under demanding conditions.  It seemed like every time we called Winston this spring, the guys were “on the Big Hole, testing rods.”  It turns out that fishing is a critical part of the job, but we always smiled when we got these reports from the factory.  Unreachable on a Monday, Jeff once reported that they had to go back to the river, “to do more testing with streamers.”

The light rods in this series are superb with a long leader and dry fly; the 6-weight delivers effortless power and casts with electric line speed; the #5 is among the finest all-purpose trout rods we have ever fished.

Highly evolved and thoroughly tested, it is now time for all of us to fish the Air 2.  These are rods we will think about all winter.

Winston Air 2 reviews

John Duncan, Telluride Angler

Winston Air 2  8’6″ 3-weight

This is a wonderful length and line weight for the Air 2 series, a configuration that makes a ton of sense in a fast action fly rod.  Like some of the others in this series, the 8 ½’ 3-weight needs a little line in the air to fully engage.  Up to about 25’, it feels as if the fly rod and line are searching for each other.  There are other rods that cast better at short range, but an 8 ½’ rod isn’t supposed to be a specialty “creek rod,” anyway.   As the caster advances beyond 25 feet, the loop tightens and accelerates.  This is one of those rods that feels “faster” the more line you aerialize.  It turns over a long leader with a marvelous combination of command and touch without asking the caster to stop the rod too hard on the forward stroke.  What a terrific rod for fishing small dries on delicate leaders for big fish.  I would never want another rod on rivers such as Silver Creek, the Frying Pan or the San Juan when a good hatch is in the air.  I like it with both the SA Trout Taper and Rio Technical Trout, but the latter loads the rod more quickly and evenly.

Winston Air 2  9′ 3-weight

My guarded expectations were blown away by this model. The rod rolls gorgeous loops off the light and sweet tip as if dry flies were the only way to fish. Elegant, sensitive and plush, it casts from short to long with the cadence of a finely tuned instrument that any angler will handle with intuition and precision. Fish it with an SA Trout Taper. It will handle slightly heavier lines, such as the Rio Technical Trout or Gold, but why not split hairs and bring out the very best? The 9′ 3-weight is one of the faster action rods in the series. Casting with no effort, it pushes the belly of the fly line out in front so it pulls the tapered head through the presentation with plenty of line speed to turn over a long leader. Some of our staff feel that it’s best beyond 30 feet, but I found that it loads naturally from very short to very long. If a double haul is required for casting in the wind, tap it lightly and expect a confident response. It’s hard to make a bad cast with this rod. In spite of its fast action character, it possesses wonderful roll casting and line mending qualities along with the tippet protection you would expect from any Winston. Spring creek and tailwater anglers have a new favorite rod. From the Delaware and Silver Creek to the Frying Pan and Green, this Winston will rise.

Winston Air 2  8’6″ 4-weight

I could own this rod and never want another 4-weight.  It casts progressively with touch, line speed, control and most of all, feel.  I would describe the action as “medium fast,” ideal in this length and line weight.  I first cast this rod with a Scientific Anglers Trout Taper, which throws beautiful loops but allows for a little bit of tip bounce inside of 25 feet.  Beyond 25 feet, it’s a dream.  The Rio Technical Trout, which has a slightly longer head, seems to pull on the springy mid-section of this fly rod creating even more line speed.  Either line would be great with a dry fly, but the Technical Trout will kick over a dry dropper or indicator with a little more authority.  I love how light this rod feels at every distance.  It has a lively response to a gentle double haul but doesn’t require a haul to tap power in the butt section.  This is a rod that will throw most of the fly line without using a haul stroke at all.  It’s all about loop control and progressive acceleration.  The 8 ½’ #4 doesn’t feel stiff, but fishes in a tremendous range.  Nice rod, Winston.

Winston Air 2  9’ 4-weight

With any fly line, this model is more touch-oriented but less powerful than the Air 2 9′ 5-weight.  If the 9′ #5 is a 7 out of 10 in stiffness, the 9’ #4 is a 6 out of 10.  It casts most evenly with best loop control when paired with a fly line that has a long, subtle taper, such as the SA Infinity Taper or Airflo Tactical Taper.  Shorter headed lines tend to bounce or disengage.  The Rio Technical Trout strikes a reasonable compromise, but I like the rod best with long headed lines.  Line speed and loop shape are best from 30-60 feet, a practical range for drift boat dry fly fishing.  It’s a great rod for rivers like the Missouri, where the rising trout always seem to be 40 feet away.  It’s also well suited for wading tailwaters, presenting long leaders with a little distance between angler and trout.

The Air 2 9’ 4-weight won’t drive nails into the wind like other rods in its class, but it has the characteristic feel and presentation qualities that make anglers love Winston rods. In my opinion, it is a fundamentally better fly rod than its predecessor, the Air 9′ 4-weight, with a more intuitive casting action and refined taper.  The Air 2 9′ 4-weight is definitely faster action than the Pure 9’ 4-weight, which flexes into the middle of the rod on every cast, but not as powerful as the equivalent Centric, X, Asquith or NRX+.  In the hands of a skilled caster, this Air 2 has high level presentation capabilities, but you can’t horse it in the wind or generate much line speed with a full nymph rig.  Fish this rod with a single dry fly or light dry-dropper combo.

Winston Air 2  9’6″ 4-weight

This is a really well crafted fly rod with specific purpose:  line control for presenting smaller flies.  From the first cast, I pictured myself fishing this rod on The South Platte, Green or San Juan with either dry flies or a long, light nymph rig.  The rod casts a surprising array of fly lines quite well, from the SA Infinity Taper to the Airflo Universal and Rio Gold.  Choose your line for your fishing situation, but keep in mind that heavier lines (such as the Infinity Taper), slow the rod down into a medium-fast action and you’ll lose some of the benefit of keeping your line high on the backcast.  The rod can handle heavier lines or wind, but not both.  It may struggle when lifting a heavy double nymph rig, but will excel with small flies, weight and strike indicators that don’t create excessive drag.  I appreciate the Wells grip Winston chose for this model, which reduces fatigue and accentuates the feeling of lightness. Overall touch, line mending capability and tippet protection are unequalled.  Fish this rod for tough trout, whether on the surface or beneath.  Winston elegance springs from this rod with every cast.

Winston Air 2  8’6″ 5-weight

This magic fly rod is among the lightest and sweetest I have ever cast, especially with a Scientific Anglers Infinity taper WF5, which forms gorgeous loops right out of hand and holds them up confidently for casts of 60 feet or more. I also cast the rod with a Rio Gold and found that the loops don’t tighten until I add a little double haul or have at least 30 feet of line in the air. My conclusion is that it loads best with heavier lines, such as the SA Infinity or MPX. I cannot overstate how beautifully this rod casts. It will be second to none for dry fly fishing on small and medium sized rivers, but will also turn over a long leader (13′-16′) much better than other 8’6″ trout rods thanks to sensational line speed and impeccable loop aerodynamics. It has plenty of guts for dry dropper and light nymph rigs, as long as the distance between strike indicator and flies is reasonable. After casting this rod, I did a complete mental inventory of places I would fish an 8 1/2′ 5-weight. The list is long.

Winston Air 2  9’ 5-weight

As polished as any rod I’ve cast in years, the Air 2 9′ 5-weight will beg its way into your quiver, whether you need a new 5-weight or not.  The lightness is striking.  It’s light in hand and at all casting distances, the mark of a rod that swings in perfect harmony with its fly line, efficient, crisp and resilient.  This is an outstanding example of “fast but progressive.”  The flex and recoil are intuitive and ideal for a power-oriented rod designed to fish the world’s most versatile trout lines.  Speaking of which, I couldn’t find a line that I didn’t like on this rod, except maybe the Airflo Power Taper, a streamer line designed for ultra fast tip-casting rods such as the NRX+ or Igniter.  My very favorite is the Rio Elite Technical Trout, which loads this rod with no effort from fly-in-hand to beyond the backing knot.  What a magic combination.  Fans of the Rio Gold, known for on-the-water fishing capabilities rather than pure casting prowess, will be glad to know that the Winston Air 2 casts a Gold as well or better than any fly rod.

Small but big:  I love the modified half Wells that Winston crafted for these rods.  The Air 2 is now one of the few modern fast action trout rods without a Wells grip.  This grip is wonderful.  It feels “touchy” but fits the hand in a way that offers plenty of support from the fingertips through the palm.  I love the way it feels and I love the way it casts.

The Air 2 9′ 5-weight is a dark horse entering the arena with the Scott Centric, Sage X and Loomis Asquith.  In overall quality, it matches every one of these rods.  It would be fair to say that the Centric can handle more power than the Air 2, especially when driving a wedge into the wind with a sharp haul, and that overall line speed may be higher with the X and Asquith, but for a combination of casting ease, natural line speed, stability and the intangible “fun factor,” the Air 2 ranks near or possibly at the top of this list.

Winston Air 2  9’6″ 5-weight

Like the 9’6″ 4-weight, this model is a deadly fishing tool in the appropriate arena.  Casting and presentation capabilities are truly extraordinary.  The mid and butt sections are super springy, making it a joy to cast and exceptional in all those on-the-water techniques that contribute to a prodigious day on the water.  My favorite line on this rod is a Rio Gold, which hops from the tip and makes the rod feel extra light and crisp throughout the delivery.  It casts most general-purpose trout lines with confidence, but I don’t recommend streamer-style lines or overlining, which cause the rod to bog down and lose torsional stability.  I would choose this model over the competition for technical fishing on tailwaters, but not for double nymphing on rivers such as the Gunnison where large flies, heavy weight and bulky strike indicators are the norm.

Winston Air 2  9’ 6-weight

Winston showed great discipline is designing this model, prototyping and field testing relentlessly until they had a rod with the power and command to meet all the demands of a cutting edge 6-weight but also the lightness and feedback to belong in the Air 2 Series.  Like the 5-weight, the Air 2 9’ 6-weight will fish a wide variety of fly lines, from an SA Infinity Taper to a Rio Technical Trout, Gold or Big Nasty.

Casting this rod with a range of lines, I can distinctly feel the different rod sections performing their intended tasks.  The top half of the rod throws tight loops with high line speed at 20-40 feet, unusual for a power-oriented 6-weight.  When adding power to the stroke at longer distances, I feel the butt section tighten and kick back with authority.  It’s stable, accurate and easy to cast with heavy line heads, nymph/indicator rigs and streamers.  It has a sensitive tip for precision angling but plenty of spine for lifting a long line or dragging a sink tip to the surface.  In the past, some Winston 6-weights have lacked the bottom end to overcome challenging conditions, like high wind or the necessity to hold up a long backcast while wading deep.  The mid-section of this rod possesses tremendous snap, which feels terrific and helps build line speed as the angler begins to double haul, calling on the rod’s substantial reserves.  The Air 2 9’ 6-weight is like a horse that knows how to finish a race.

On the water, the Air 2 9’ 6-weight is equally well suited to nymphing, dry fly fishing and streamers.  It is designed to fish, not just cast.  Line mending, roll casting and loop control all come naturally.  The rod is capable of blazing line speed, but still allows its master to manipulate its capabilities on the water.  This is a wonderful fishing tool.

For general purposes, my favorite line on the Air 2 9’ 6-weight is the SA Amplitude Infinity WF6F.

Winston Air 2  9’ 6″ 6-weight

Like a concert piano, this is another expertly tuned rod in the Air 2 series.  I first cast it with an SA Infinity Taper, which is a half line weight heavy with a long head.  While the rod will surely handle just about any line, I found the Infinity to be a particularly strong match because the long rod loads most evenly with a long-headed line.  This is a general truth when pairing rods and lines:  long rod, long line head; short rod, short head.  The Air 2 9’6″ 6-weight has an immaculate, progressive flex profile.  The rod holds back tremendous reserve power which unleashes naturally when more line is aerialized.  No double haul is required to cast 70 feet or more.  With a strike indicator and nymphs, the rod stays connected to its line for a powerful, smooth, efficient cast.  While some fast action rods “fling” the line and fly, this one loads and explodes with truly optimized mechanics.  On the water, it possesses a rare combination of command with touch.  It will roll cast forever and deliver precise stack mends without exhausting the caster.  Every angler will be impressed with the Air 2 9’6″ 6-weight.

[Air 2 rod pages]

4 thoughts on “Winston Air 2 Fly Rods | Model-by-Model Review

  1. Hi guys,Thanks for you’re excellent review on the Air 2 line.I really enjoyed reading it.I fish Winstons and looking to get the Air 2 5wt.I need a five to “bridge the gap”.I have a older dl 4 and the Alphas 6 and 8 and really should get a five its needed.Just curious what you think bout the Airflo superflo universal taper on that rod.Really digging the Airflo lines lately as Rio has been falling apart on me and not holding up past that six month mark dissapointing but things change sometimes.Like to stick with Airflo just wanted you’re thoughts about this.Looking forward to hearing from you and thanks for the help.

  2. These reviews…You had me at “was an invitation to be eaten alive”. Nothing truer said. All those great rods, very tough group to compete with. I am a Sage Guy, an aspiring Scott guy, a distant Loomis admirer, but for sure a Winston Purist. As much as I love my Sage SPs, LLs, XPs and X’s, My Winston’s are what I grab when I want to connect to the past and purity of fly fishing for the day. I am so pleased with this rod, that they have found a way into the room of this crowded conversation but did it with a sense of grace. I have this rod in a 5 weight and it is no less the combination of grace and power you speak of. And if I may say so…
    “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up”. – Ferris Bueller 🙂

  3. I own the 9ft 5 wt Air 2 and could not agree more. It is my favorite trout rod period.

  4. My Air 2 5wt is as connected to the line as any rod I’ve ever fished. It is what a fly rod should feel and act like.

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