A detailed review and performance comparison of the Winston Pure, Sage Trout LL and Scott G Series
Sage and Winston have answered the Scott G Series with the best moderate action rods that either maker has ever designed: the Trout LL and Pure Series. Collectively, these three manufacturers have raised the bar for refinement in rods that can do much more than just cast. In the hands of most anglers, medium action rods out fish stiffer rods in all the little ways that add up to more fish caught and greater reward in the process: roll casting, line mending, touch and tippet protection, not to mention effortless casting the addictive feel of fly rod and line working in harmony.
This is our side-by-side evaluation of the most comparable models in each series. In some cases, we compare multiple models of “tweener” length to help the angler choose from the reasonable proximate range. We also call out signature models in each series. There are several future legends in the offering, each of which has ties to its manufacturer’s legacy. After all, Sage, Winston and Scott didn’t get here overnight.
This article is written by Telluride Angler’s John Duncan in collaboration with fly shop manager Richard Post. Each rod under consideration was cast side-by-side with its contemporaries with multiple fly lines. In some cases, we found that a specific line brought a given rod model to life. Our fly line recommendations are noted for many models in an effort to help the angler choose the very best rod for his or her purposes and optimize the performance of that rod.
…or, to most of us, the “Light Line.” Reincarnations of beloved historical fly rods are risky. In too many cases, the soul of the original is simply lost, the mark missed, the fly rod over-modernized or otherwise poorly designed. In other cases, the process reveals that the rod we remember loving wasn’t actually all that good in the first place. The move is often a marketing ploy rather than an act of fly rod innovation.
Sage’s accomplishment with the Trout LL is remarkable. By any measure, these are some of the finest rods Sage has ever produced. They stand confidently on their own, but the reference to the original Light Line is right on the money. From the casting cadence to the color of the blank, the characteristics of the Trout LL gracefully acknowledge part of the Sage legacy too often forgotten in the face of its prowess in power-oriented fly rods: Sage has made outstanding medium-action trout rods for over 30 years. The Trout LL is truly world class.
Defining characteristics of Trout LL: superb “progressiveness,” intuition in casting, command and stability throughout its range
In the Pure series, Winston cemented its future by returning to its roots. The Pure series hits the mark in two huge ways: 1) the action lies somewhere between the WT (slow) and LT (medium) from Winston’s past. In the wake of several fast action fly rod introductions, the WT and LT are the rods that many diehard Winston acolytes behold as the classics from this manufacturer. 2) several models in this series will be considered among the finest individual Winstons ever designed. Rod Designer Annette McLean put her best work on display in the Pure 904, 905 and others in the series. These are just really, really well executed fly rods.
Defining characteristics of the Pure series: feathery feel, like blowing pixie dust from a straw
It is a tremendous challenge to create a moderate action fly rod with a light tip. To do so, the rod designer must master the relationship between the four parts of the rod so that the weight and relative stiffness of each has the desired effect upon the rod’s overall load and feel characteristics without requiring a heavy tip to make the rod flex deeply. Perhaps more than any other rod designer, this is Jim Bartschi’s strength. Scott has been a leader in moderate action rods for more than 40 years. Many consider the G Series a creation of unmatched fly fishing wizardry.
This is the third generation of Scott G Series fly rods. In the early 1980’s Scott achieved industry benchmarks with the original G. The G 904 was the first graphite 4-weight over 8’ ever produced. The G 844-5 and G 845-5, introduced in the 1983, were the first 5-piece graphite rods to market. The G2 Series, introduced in 2005, improved the original in lightness and casting range while retaining the signature appearance and feel of the G. The modern version, simply called the “G Series,” is by far the most refined rod in this legacy, showcasing historical design elements including the Scott Internal Ferrule in combination with the most cohesive tip-to-butt tapers Scott has ever conceived.
Defining characteristics: light tips for a “magic wand” feel, progressive casting characteristics and surprisingly high line speed with an easy stroke
True “creek” graphite rods are uniquely difficult to design because a shorter rod tends to leverage the cast and make the rod feel fast action. Winston and Scott specialize is slower action fly rods, however, and these three are fine choices for the angler who prefers graphite to fiberglass in a small stream environment. The Winston Pure 6 ½’ 3-wt is the most specialized creeking tool in the group, reflecting 2 factors: 1) rod length is often more important than line weight in making a rod feel light weight and cast well at short distances. The 6 ½ 3-wt Pure is the shortest of the three. 2) this is the slowest action rod in the field. It excels up to 30’ with a lovely, soft action that compares more to fiberglass rods than other graphite fly rods. It is accurate and effortless, but not versatile. The Pure 7’ 2-wt has a more crisp feel and fishes in a broader range. This is a fine creek rod, but also a better “all around” dry fly rod for beaver bonds and small rivers that may allow for 30-40’ casts on occasion. The Scott GS 772-4 is the best technical dry fly tool of the group. It casts with a magnificent “progressive” feeling, rolling short casts off the tip but still quite comfortable in the 30’-40’ range. The extra 6” makes it less specialized as a creek rod but more capable with leaders over 9’ as well as the litany of techniques utilized for clever dry fly presentation: reach casts, line mending, etc. It is a fine choice for anglers who fish spring creeks or beaver ponds with ultra clear water and cruising fish slurping midges. All of these rods are recommended for straight dry fly fishing, as opposed to dry-dropper or nymphing.
This range of 3-weights make a fine accompaniment to a longer 4 or 5-weight when building one’s quiver. Short enough to fish creeks but long enough to offer a degree of versatility, these rods are superb all-purpose dry fly rods that can handle a small nymph dropper, when desired. The Winston Pure 7’ 3-weight is similar in character to the Pure 7’ 2-weight, casting with a slightly quicker cadence than its cousins. It is a fine light rod that works beautifully in close but has the balance and backbone to reach out in the 30-40’ range. It casts light and feels light. Interestingly, the 7 ½’ 3-weight Pure is a slower action rod that feels more closely related to the 6 ½’ 3-wt in this series. It’s a half measure slower than the 7’ 3-weight, so it specializes at short distances with small flies and has superior line mending and tippet protection capability. The Scott G Series 773-4 offers a small step up in casting range and line speed. This rod feels extra light in the tip compared with the others in this group. It has the greatest overall range, with superb touch and control from your boot tips out to around 50’. This rod is perhaps the best “all around short 3-weight” in this comparison. The Sage Trout LL 379-4 really comes to life with a Rio Gold WF3F line. Its action is stouter than the other three rods and with a Rio Gold, which has substantial head mass, the LL 379-4 generates more line speed and tighter loops in the 30-50’ range. This rod is light but powerful.
Guilty as charged, not a Pure Series fly rod. This is the only Winston Air model included in this review, but must be considered because it is one of the finest Winston fly rods and compares favorably with the GS 843-4. These two rods will often be compared with the longer 3-weights described next, but they are more similar to each other, so let’s split hairs. The Scott GS 843-4 has a playful nature. It flexes deeply and evenly through the mid-section, excelling in the finer techniques: line mending, tippet protection, touch at all distances and even single handed Spey casting. It is highly responsive from tip to butt and begs for manipulation from the caster. The GS 843-4 requires a slow casting stroke and isn’t designed for line speed at distance, but it is tuned immaculately for the short to mid range. The Winston Air 8 ½’ 3-weight is supremely tuned to its line class. It has a “light tip” feel uncommon in the Winston lineup. While there are limits to its range in the wind, the Air 8’6” 3-wt generates spectacular casting loops from 10’ to over 60’, when called upon. Compared with the Scott GS 843-4, it casts tighter dry loops with higher line speed in the 35-50’ range. Spectacular with a long leader, this is one of the finest tailwater style dry fly rods on the planet, offering unsurpassed line control with tremendous touch and the signature “Winston feel” on full display. Choose this rod over the GS 843-3 for long leader dry fly fishing. Choose the Scott over the Winston if you seek the slower action rod that does the most work under 40’. Both rods cast and fish best with a Scientific Anglers Trout Taper line (Amplitude Smooth is our favorite).
Here we have two legendary long 3-weights, same in purpose but different in character. The Sage Trout LL 389-4 is all about command, stability and control. It is a tool of lethal precision, excelling in the 30-60’ range with any type of leader or fly. Paired with a Rio Gold, it offers unmatched line speed with the ability to turn over delicate dry fly leaders in the wind. This rod feels more substantial than the GS 883-4, but not in a way that detracts from the fun factor. Rich Post describes casting, “like skiing the trees when time slows down and focus sharpens.” The Scott GS 883-4 is believed by many to be the single finest rod in the G Series. More stable than the shorter 3-weights, it offers the best loop control of any comparable rod, particularly in the fishy 25-50’ range. The angler may float a dry fly on an open loop for a slack line presentation or deliver a laser for cutting through the wind. As much as any Scott rod, the GS 883-4 showcases Scott’s “progressive” action. Short casts roll easily off the supple tip, delivering the fly just as accurately at 10’ as at 40’. Compared with the Trout LL 389-4, the GS 883-4 feels lighter and casts more naturally throughout its range. The Trout LL offers more command on longer casts. What a choice to make!
The two 8’6” rods in this group represent the extremes in action. The Pure 8’6” 4-wt casts with the slowest cadence. It has a buttery feel and loads with almost no effort but lacks the backbone to fish over about 40 feet. The tip follows through with authority on a cast of any length, so it turns over leaders precisely and consistently. This rod is designed for fishing at relatively short distance for its length and line weight, however. The Sage Trout LL 486-4 is the fastest action rod in the group. It is magnificent for casting tight loops with a dry fly and has plenty of command for dry dropper rigs. This rod delivers more line speed than others in the group and fishes to at least 60’ under the right circumstances. The Scotts each offer something unique. Not surprisingly, the GS 844-4 feels lightest in the group, on account of both its length and super light tip design. Paired with an SA Trout Taper, it offers superb loop control and surprising line speed out to about 50 or 55.’ It possesses more range than the Pure 8’6” 4-wt and more loop control than the Sage LL 486-4. Intuitive, springy and playful, this is a magnificent all-around rod for wade fishing as well as a drift boat dry fly rod. The legendary GS 884-4 is the most progressive (even flexing) rod in the group. Though the longest rod in this group, the “light tip” design of the GS 884-4 is notable compared with any 9’ fly rod. In addition to being a lovely caster of dry flies, the GS 884-4 offers the best roll casting and line mending capability of any rod in this group. If you’re looking for an all-purpose 4-weight that swings lighter than your 9’ 5-weight and offers more touch than heavier fast action rods, this is perhaps the most versatile and highest overall quality rod.
Although each of these qualifies as a medium action 4-weight, they differ notably in character. The Sage Trout LL 490-4 is the stoutest of the group. Similar to the other Trout LLs, it casts with unusual command and line speed with a relaxed casting stroke, especially over 30 feet. This is the most even casting, or “progressive,” of the 9’ 4-weights. It can do just about anything with a Rio Technical Trout line, but the Trout LL 490-4 is also the most adaptive to a wide range of lines, including the SA Trout Taper, Rio Gold and Rio Perception. The Winston Pure 9’ 4-wt is the slowest action rod of the group, designed with a classic stiff tip that forces the rod to lean into its mid section regardless of how much line is in the air. You can really feel the tip follow through on every cast, creating line speed and turning over a long leader. Cast this rod just by rocking it back and forth. The Pure 490-4 fishes best with an SA Trout Taper WF4F line and a single dry fly. The Sage LL and Scott G are more versatile both short and long than the Pure 9’ 4-weight, but in the 25-50’ zone the Pure is magic in both form and function. The Scott GS 904-4 also tolerates a range of lines and fishes with great versatility out to about 60’. Overall, it is slightly slower action with more tip weight than the Sage Trout LL 490-4 and a little quicker than the Winston. It fishes just fine in close but comes into its element between 30 and 50 feet. Choose this rod as your mid-to-long 4-weight if you value progressive action but want a rod that’s a little slower than the Sage Trout LL 490-4. We’re splitting hairs, but the differences are noticeable on the water.
The Sage Trout LL 586-4 is the best tight loop dry fly caster, whereas the Scott GS 885-4 loads more deeply and offers superior line mending, roll casting and tippet protection. Both rods cast and fish best with an SA Trout Taper line. The Sage delivers considerably more line speed, but the Scott holds up a long loop beautifully and has superior touch for carefully placing slack line casts. The Sage Trout LL 586-4 may be the finest pure caster in the whole Trout LL series. If you ever dreamed of owning a medium action Sage fly rod that casts as well as the company’s remarkable fast action rods, you just found it. As a mid-flex rod, it does all the little things well, including mending, reach casts and single Spey techniques, but you’ll want to just cast the rod over and over and over, short, long and all point in between. Like a lot of great Scotts from the past, the GS 885-4 impresses more when fishing than parking lot casting. Line speed is slightly lower than the Trout LL, but it possesses greater ability to manipulate the cast and line on the water. Like the Trout LL, the GS 885-4 is marvelous on foot or from a boat.
We should have worn tuxedos for casting these three rods side-by-side. You can’t possibly go wrong, but each rod is unique. The Sage Trout LL 590-4 casts with the highest line speed and greatest overall command, especially at distance. Snappy, rangy and stable, this easy-casting 5-weight fishes comfortably at distances more typical of fast-action 5-weights, from 40-70’. Paired with a Rio Gold line, the Trout LL 590-4 maximizes line speed and power with minimal input from the caster. The Winston Pure 9’ 5-weight is the greatest surprise in the group because it casts and fishes in a much wider range than other Pure Series fly rods with a light tip feel more characteristic of the Winston Air series. It doesn’t die at distance. It generates more line speed than any other Pure model (a lot more!), especially with an SA Trout Taper line. Tight loops roll out naturally without popping the rod for power or stopping it hard when delivering the fly. This is a legitimate all-around 9’ 5-weight, not a specialized dry fly rod. The Pure 9’ 5-weight delivers that sensational Winston feel and might be the “most fun” caster of the three 9’ 5-weights. Characteristic of the Scott G Series, the GS 905-4 is the most progressive action rod in this group, finely tuned in the extreme. It casts effortlessly from zero to over 70’, maintaining the intuitive “connectedness” for which this series is known. The GS 905-4 reminds us of the GS 884-4 in the way that the whole rod works to deliver your fly, manipulate line and play fish. Not an inch of graphite is wasted. The action of the GS 905-4 falls between the Pure and the Trout LL. Fish it with an SA Trout Taper for unmatched results.
These rods prove that a medium-action 6-weight makes a great all-around trout rod. While many 6-weights are essentially designed for casting streamers, these are primarily dry fly and nymphing sticks. All will handle a modest streamer, but they do what super-fast 6-weights do not: cast dry flies with touch, form easy casting loops with nymphing rigs and take a minimal toll on the caster over the course of a long fishing day. The Scott GS 906-4 and Sage Trout LL 690-4 are wonderful, progressive action rods that can do it all for the angler. The Sage is slightly faster action than the Scott. It offers the most line speed, casting for distance with power and loop control. You can’t pound this rod as you would an X or Igniter, but with a relaxed stroke, it does a sensational amount of work for the angler and feels great in the process. Ditto the GS 906-4, but the Scott is slightly more touch-oriented than the Sage. The Sage fishes best with a Rio Gold, whereas the Scott prefers an SA Trout Taper. The Sage will cast and fish a little longer and handle a streamer with more confidence. The Scott offers more loop control and touch for dry fly presentations and technical nymphing fly line manipulation. The Scott GS 886-4 is a unique rod in our industry, designed for a singular but compelling purpose: hopper-dropper fishing. This rod flexes into the mid section on every cast, loading deep for maximum leader turnover even at short distance. It will drill a hopper to the bank, with or without a dropper, and you’ll love how light it swings all day long (or all week, or all month). At only 8’8”, it offers terrific leverage for pulling on heavy hopper-eating fish without fatiguing the angler. Fish the GS 886-4 with a short-headed line for maximum casting efficiency.