Winston Freshwater Air Fly Rods
The concept behind the Freshwater Air Series is to offer a range of rods with light tips and stiff butts that behave like conventional “fast action” fly rods without sacrificing the hallmark Winston tip sensitivity and overall casting feel. In casting through this series carefully, we noticed that the “fast action” characteristic on the longer rods doesn’t kick in until the rod flexes into the stiff butt section. On short casts, they are still very “touchy,” not unlike the Pure Series. When the caster lengthens the stroke or applies a double haul, the stiff butt section responds with power. The graduation from the light tip to stiff butt is steep, however, so some of these rods cast with a hinge in the middle of the flex profile. When casting with a fixed length of line, 30-35 feet, many of these rods are bouncy and instable, the casting loop hard to control. Longer casts load these rods into the butt section and deliver higher line speed with power and grace like a sailboat cutting through chop under full sail. We recommend the Air Series for fishing nymphs and streamers, or dry flies at distance.
Model-by-Model Reviews by John Duncan and Richard Post, Telluride Angler
Winston Air 8’6” 3-weight
John Duncan: This is the finest Winston fly rod I have cast and the only long 3-wt that belongs in the conversation with the Scott GS 883-4. It belongs in the Air Series only in terms of core casting action: medium to medium-fast. The balance between tip and butt is exquisite, the progressive flex profile immaculate. With an SA Trout Taper or Rio Light Line, it casts perfect dry fly loops from 10’ to over 60’. There is no hinge whatsoever in the loading action. The feel transmitted to the hand of the caster is in the 100th percentile of fly rods. Once in a blue moon, I cast a rod that feels like the line was made specifically for that rod. I didn’t want to put it down.
Rich Post: Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a long three weight. I own a few and find excuses to fish them as frequently as time allows. The AIR 8’6” 3 weight is right up there with the all-time best rods in this line weight and length. The rod feels good in the hand and has a nice feel when you waggle it, but once it’s lined up it truly comes alive and has surprising spirit and soul. Loop formation is spot on, with the AIR 8’6” 3 weight forming wonderful loops right out of the tip. Loops are flat, parallel and the rod finishes the cast expertly. This is my favorite AIR rod from Winston and its casting profile and touch remind me a lot of the PURE rods. This is a perfect technical trout dry fly rod. It doesn’t have the range that some other longer three weights possess, but this rod is beautiful, confident and very capable to 60 feet. The one thing that stands out to me about this rod and separates it from similar rods is the overall suppleness of the blank. You can really feel the length of this rod bend through the cast. It is noticeable, but not lagging. It casts confidently but doesn’t cast out of its line weight. There is just the right amount of bend in the blank and paired with the taper, you have about as close to a perfect 8’ 6” 3-weight as I’ve ever cast. This is a special rod. Both the Rio Gold and the SA Trout taper were wonderful on this rod.
Winston Air 8’6” 4-weight
John Duncan: This model has a lot of good qualities, but it’s hard for me to recommend over the Pure 8’6” 4-wt. The Air 8 ½’ #4 is light weight and casts with a nice combination of line speed and touch. I found it to be “bouncy” with every line that I tried, however. Its parts aren’t perfectly married, as are those of the comparable Pure model. The Air will be a better nymphing 4-weight than its Pure counterpart, but for dry flies or most dry dropper rigs, I would reach for the Pure every time.
Winston Air 9’ 4-weight
John Duncan: Honestly, I don’t care for this rod. The Pure 9’ 4-weight is magnificently balanced, but this one is not. The parts seem out of sync. I have a hard time generating line speed at any distance or with any casting stroke. In my hands, the Air 9’ 4-weight is neither faster nor more powerful than the Pure 9’ 4-weight, which is a finely tuned marvel of fly rod design.
Rich Post: This isn’t a bad rod by any stretch of the imagination, but I just think that the Pure 9 foot 4 weight is a lot better, so that rod gets my stars. The AIR 904 is a touch quicker but doesn’t have the buttery smoothness of the Pure. I would fish this rod with a line that is half a line heavy weight heavy. That extra weight will help bring the blank together through the cast and smooth this rod out. A faster action 9 foot 4 weight is a really hard rod to get perfect and I think this rod comes close, but it’s not as smooth as the Pure 9 foot #4.
Winston Air 9’ 5-weight
John Duncan: This rod smooths out with distance and power, but I can feel pronounced tip bounce up to 40 feet. The transition between the tip and butt is just too steep. It feels like a slow action rod at 30 feet and a fast action rod at 50 feet, but unrefined in both cases. The four rod parts just aren’t in sync. Most of my casting comrades liked this rod more than I did, but in the words of Hank Williams, I’m a man of preferences, not standards. A long-bellied line helps smooth out the bumps. Choose a Rio Gold (dries) or SA Infinity taper (nymphs or streamers).
Rich Post: This is a fine all around 5 weight, and it seemed to perform better with a slightly exaggerated weight forward fly line. The Amplitude Smooth Infinity taper was my favorite on this rod and it seemed to help the tip follow through and clean up the loop through the finish of the cast. Despite being a quicker rod on the recovery scale, this rod had a noticeable load period that felt like the rod was winding up. Not the best rod for a quick stroke caster, but a fine pairing for a caster who appreciates a distinct pause to the cast. I personally prefer the Pure 9 foot 5, but the AIR 9 foot 5 has a little more power in reserve.
Winston Air 9’ 6-weight
John Duncan: In my hands, this rod feels more cohesive than the 9’ 4-weight or 9’ 5-weight. The casting stroke is more intuitive and line speed comes more naturally. It is highly sensitive to fly line pairing, however. The Winston Energy and other long-headed trout lines cast sluggishly. The rod simply lacks command to throw a Rio Grand or SA Distance Taper with line speed and agility. Shorter headed lines perform much better. For example, the Rio Perception brings the rod to life without overflexing the tip and mid-section, which tends to happen with Rio Outbound tapers. With the right line, the Air 9’ 6-weight is highly versatile for nymphs, larger dry flies and smaller streamers.
Rich Post: The 9 foot #6 is a very similar rod to the 9 foot 5-weight AIR. I liked a slightly heavier line on this rod as well, and felt that the rod performed nicely with that style line. This is a great nymph/indicator rod that throws a very practical fisherman’s loop. Easy, repeatable and casual on the caster. I would not call this a fast action 6-weight, or one that is particularly suited to streamers. This is a trout rod, and I think you’ll enjoy it fishing it dry/dropper in the summer out of a drift boat. This model is better than the 9 foot #4 and close to the 9 foot #5, but the 9 foot 5-weight AIR is my favorite of the 9-footers in this series.