Every year, fly fisherman around the globe hold off on their big new fly rod purchases for the moment when George Anderson releases his annual “5-weight Shootout”. This year, there was a changing of the guard (again), when the G. Loomis NRX LP unseated the Hardy Zenith as the “king of all fly rods”. Needless to say, we couldn’t wait to test them out head-to-head. To do this right, we had to ask ourselves:
What makes a great 5-weight?
A 5-weight is the answer to most anglers’ question of: “What if I could only have one fly rod [for trout]?” For me, the owner of far too many fly rods, the 9’ 5-weight is the rod I take anywhere unfamiliar ,or if I’m fishing too far from my car to go back for my second or third rod. (tweet this)
In order to get to this “one rod quiver”, you have to think about how you fish. Here in on the east coast, I spend about 50% of my time nymphing, 35% fishing streamers, and only about 15% of my time fishing dries. When fishing in Montana, this might be more like 50% dry, 25% nymph, 25% streamer. While this will be different for everyone, the 9’ 5-weight is still synonymous with versatility and a good 5-weight will excel at all forms of trout fishing.
For the test, both rods were armed with our favorite rod and line combination:
Fit and Finish
While I felt the wraps were a little neater on the Hardy Zenith, the NRX is the clear winner here. It’s got nicer cork, a better reel seat (standby for the Z2). Both rods have single foot Recoil guides, but the NRX also includes Recoil stripping guides. Both rods have Reverse Half Wells grips. +1 for the NRX being made in the USA as well.
The Zenith isn’t without its merits in this department – it’s got a rod tube bag (which having left it at home once or twice I can tell you, matters) and plugs for the empty sections when in storage.
From a casting perspective, the rods were nearly identical, swing weight wise. I could cast both of them all day long, with no problems.
On the scale, the Zenith comes in at 3.0 oz, while the G. Loomis NRX LP weighs in at 3.25 oz.
Power and Distance
While neither rod is an “extreme” distance rod, the Zenith is definitely easier to cast, further. At 70' both the NRX and Zenith were accurate, but I really had to try with the NRX. Want to throw the occasional 100' bomb? Go Zenith.
At 25', the soft tip of the NRX made it the clear winner. It's a joy to cast. If you're looking for a 5-weight for smaller streams, look no further. If you've never actually measured a 25' cast, it's very close. I for one don't fish at these distances very often (unless I'm Czech nymphing...).
At 40', the Zenith comes into its own. I was able to deliver casts accurately and w . The NRX is no slouch either. I'm going to declare this a tie, but it's a little unfair since I've been casting the Zenith for so long. If 40' were my maximum distance, the NRX would be still be a great choice.
Last but not least - 70 feet. Both rods were accurate, but I'd give the Zenith the edge, purely because it's a lot more forgiving.
Flex & Feel
This isn't really a category that needs to be scored, but the NRX has a more moderate progressive action, compared the the fast action of the Zenith. Both have a lot of feel. The NRX feels like its built for a slower casting stroke (mine is fast), whereas the Zenith can go both ways.
BB split shot, two flies, and an indicator. That’s what we tied on for this part the test. The key to a good nymphing rod is being able to open up your loop and throw your rig sans tangling. Where the Zenith does this easily, the NRX is built for tighter loops.
Winner: Hardy Zenith
To test this one, I tied on a #8 Conehead Woolly Bugger. As you would expect, the NRX performed a little better than the Zenith up close (<25’). At longer distances the Zenith was just plain easier to cast. Could I get similar results with the NRX? Yes… but I really had to pay attention. The Zenith is effortless. I could even bomb it out to 80+ feet with ease.
Winner: Hardy Zenith
Both rods have lifetime warranties, neither is great. Hardy’s warranty is “No fault”, but costs $80+. Loomis has free replacements for defects, but only one “Wildcard” for “No Faults”. If you’re a chronic tip-breaker, go Hardy (or maybe TFO). If you’re careful, Loomis wins it.
Who should choose the NRX? If you’re a 50+% dry fly fisherman, if you have a slower casting stroke, you'll love it. Also, if you like to throw really tight loops, the NRX is a better option.
For me, however, the ability to throw a wider range of flies outweighs the extreme accuracy in close.
Thus, I'm declaring the Hardy Zenith, the winner, and reigning king!
Recommended Lines: I like the Sharkskin GPX, but many don't like the sound it makes through the guides. The 9' 5-weight Zenith and the GPX is a magic combination. I wouldn't use anything else. While the NRX can definitely handle the GPX, it could also cast a standard weight line, like Rio Gold, as well.
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