Following the success of our 8-weight reel challenge, we wanted to take on a different aspect of the industry – this time one that has had a lot written about it – fly rods. Magazines, fly shops, bloggers… virtually everyone has an opinion on what, or who, makes the best 5-weight fly rod. So, we decided to join the crowd. But, in typical Trident fashion, we’re going to take a different twist on the traditional fly rod review. As always, this shootout will be completely data driven, and we’re going to give you better and more objective results than you’ve seen anywhere else.     As always, if you found this test helpful, interesting, worthwhile, or amusing, help us continue to create great product reviews by purchasing your next fly rod here. And don't forget to ask questions and leave comments at the end of the page. And if you don't want to read any more, you can see the full results by clicking here or going to the bottom of the page.   Here’s what we did differently:  

Real Anglers

  The first problem with testing fly rods is that guides, fly shop owners, and other ‘professional’ casters have great opinions on what makes a great rod. And while a finely honed casting stroke makes for a great caster, they probably don’t really have much in common with you. A rod that casts beautifully for Tim Rajeff, might give you tailing loops all the time. So the first thing we did was reach out to our local community and find a group of casters that was more like… well, YOU. But the ‘best’ five-weight needs to work well for everyone, so we added some pros to make sure that we had a full range of casting abilities.  Our shootout was comprised of 17 real fisherman. Some are guides, others beginners, most have day jobs, but all love to fish. No members of the Trident Fly Fishing staff had any scores added to the results.  

Blind Testing

  We wanted our test to remain truly OBJECTIVE. But, everyone has an opinion on fly rods. We knew that we couldn’t hand someone a rod without getting some preconceived notions of how a rod casts. To take that away, we covered up all of the branding on every rod in the test (except the Redington Vapen Red, which was impossible to cover up). Sure, to the trained eye, rods could still be distinguished, but for most of our anglers, they were picking up ‘a fly rod’, not a Sage One.   Did it work? Sure did. One caster commented that he picked up the TFO BVK and “thought it was a Winston”, another picked up the XF2 and commented that it was “…stereotypically Loomis”.  


Different rods require different lines. But sometimes what works best for one person, doesn’t work well for another. We had a lot of reels spooled up for our casters, and gave them the following instructions:   Choosing a fly line: We’ve taken a guess as to which line will work best for each given rod – but we’re not always right. After you take a few casts, feel free to switch lines – go to the GPX/Half-size up line if you aren’t feeling the rod load well, or go down to a standard weight if you find that it’s loading too much.   With that in mind, we’ve also provided you with our recommended lines for each rod.   So, on the important stuff:  

What Makes a Great 5-weight Fly Rod?

The 5-weight has become America’s go-to trout rod. It’s the tool you take to the river when you only want to bring one rod, or when you’re just not sure what you’ll be throwing that day. It’s got to work on both big rivers and small. It’s not a dry fly specialist, since a lot of your fishing will be with nymphs and a bobber. It’s got to be soft enough for a short cast, yet powerful enough to hit 70+ feet.   We designed our test to challenge not just the accuracy of a dry fly, but the full range of versatility required to be ‘the best trout rod’.    

The Categories


Casting accuracy was tested by casting yarn (for easy visibility) at an archery target.   25’ (10 points) – We included this distance to pay homage to other tests out there. When you’re casting a 9’ rod with a 9’ leader (18’ if you’re adding), you only have 7’ of fly line out of the rod tip, which is barely past the front taper of the fly line. It’s more of a tenkara cast than a fly cast. Sure, you’re going to make these casts when a trout sneaks up on you, but when you’re casting to a rising fish, you’re going to give him a lot more room. So, we gave it a mere 10 points. Take out your tape measure and make a few casts on your own to see what we’re talking about.   40’ (30 points) – This is the bread and butter of what makes a great trout rod. Everyone makes this cast every time they step into a river. It’s well into the belly of the fly line, yet not so far that you have trouble reaching. If we only tested one distance, this would be it.   70’ (20 points) – Sure, 70’ is longer than most of us cast for trout, but a great five weight must combine power and grace. Our 70’ target wasn’t just about distance. It’s about whether or not the rod had enough oomph to cut through the wind that you’ll face on the river, or make that reach cast when fish are rising just out of wading range.  

Other performance categories

Nymphing – Let’s face it, unless you live in Bozeman and are fishing spring creeks and tailwaters, dry flies only make up half the battle (or less). They say trout eat 90% of their diet underwater, and that’s where most of us are trying to catch them. Nymphing requires a different type of rod than does dry fly fishing. You still need superb accuracy, but you also need to be able to cast flies with weight and open up your loop so that your indicator doesn’t get tangled. To test this, we had each caster add an indicator and split shot to their rod and report the results.   Streamers – We didn’t stop at nymphing. We know you want to throw the occasional conehead bugger or slump buster on your 5-weight. We added even more weight to each caster’s rod and tested how each rod casted heavier flies. We were looking for rods that could cast accurately and handle the extra weight without any ‘bounce’.  

Subjective Categories

Performance is important, but there are other reasons we buy fly rods. Winston is well known for beautiful green blanks and burled wood reel seats.  Sage makes rods that are insanely lightweight and easy to cast all day long. Finally, some rods just feel great even if they don’t give you the best accuracy.   Fit and Finish – We asked each angler to inspect each rod and determine not only the build quality of each rod, but also how it looked and felt. There weren’t any rod builders in the group, so I doubt most casters could truly evaluate the quality of the wraps, but when you see a well-built rod, you know it.   Swing Weight – It’s no fun to feel like you’re casting a bowling ball. But there are light rods that feel heavy, and heavy rods that feel light, so we asked casters to tell us which rods felt great and which rods would be tough to cast all day.   Feel - This one is hard to describe, but some rods just feel better than others when you cast them. Whether it’s greater casting feedback, more flex, I’m not sure. But I can say that there’s never been a fly caster who hasn’t been able to talk about the feel of a rod, and it’s one of the most important characteristics when buying a rod.  

What about price?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the past about whether or not price should be part of shootouts. We removed price as a category from this shootout for two key reasons: first, it didn’t really matter. Two of our gold medal rods were less than half the price of our winner. Second, everyone has a different sense of value, and what might seem excessive for one angler is totally worth it to another.  


Every rod in our test included a ‘lifetime’ warranty to the original owner. Yes, some cost more than others, but it’s more or less in proportion to the price of the rod. We would have loved to break each rod and see how long it took to get back and what the options were, but we weren’t able to test that, so we realized this is the same as the price of the rod. It’s up to you to determine how much the warranty is worth to you.    

Orvis Helios 2, Tip Flex

Weight: 2.4 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   Winner of the 2014 5-weight Shootout and the prestigious Poseidon Award is the Orvis Helios 2, Tip Flex. The Helios is Orvis’ lightest rod ever, but it’s also stronger and more accurate than any other rod they’ve made in the past.   We knew going into the shootout that the Helios was a great rod, but it certainly surprised us when it took first place. Casters commented that it was “Awesome” and “Great in close”. The Helios 2 really epitomizes the perfect 5-weight. It’s REALLY good at just about everything.   Orvis didn’t stop at performance. They’ve pushed all the limits. The Helios is one of the lightest rods in the test, and also has one of the lightest swing weights in the test. Casters gave it top marks for feel too. Finally, the Helios 2 is finished with the highest quality of workmanship and materials in Vermont, USA.   Casters liked: Extremely versatile. Incredibly light, sensitive and well built in the USA Not so much: High price tag, only won one of the performance categories   Bottom line: Best of the best. If you’re in the market for a new rod, make sure this makes it onto your list.  

Buy it Here



Best Buy

Greys Streamflex XF2

  Price: $290 Weight: 3.1 oz Line Recommendation: Rio Gold   It might have the longest (and worst) name in the test, but the performance speaks for itself. The XF2 finished stand-alone in 4th place, yet cost only a fraction of the rods that beat it out. It’s the perfect example of a medium action rod that works really well for most casters, particularly at short to medium distances. Casters thought it was “light and smooth”. Not surprisingly, a rod designed by a world fly fishing champion (Howard Croston) is great at nymphing, but what was surprising is how well the XF2 cast a streamer.   Casters liked: Price tag, incredible feel Not so much: Some casters weren’t a fan of the “low end” detailing on the rod.   Bottom Line: High end performance that doesn’t break the bank  

 Get it here, while they last!



Gold Medal Winners

Each of these rods scored over 100 points in the test, and is highly recommended. Each of these rods could easily have won the shootout, but had one or two minor weaknesses. Read the casting notes to find out what the testers liked and didn’t like on each rod, and if it might work well for you.

Hardy Zenith


  Price: $649 Weight: 3 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX

105 points. In a tie for second place was the Trident long-time favorite, the Hardy Zenith. Casters called it “Effortless” and “best at 40-50’.” Only one point behind the Helios in performance, the Zenith is a fabulous rod. Pair it with SA GPX and you won’t look back. We’ve done a couple of staff reviews on the Zenith that you can check out here and here, for more information on the rod.   Casters liked: The effortless distance. Solid all-around performance. Not so much: Not as good in close as some. While the new reel seat helped, the details were still not as well done as the Helios   Bottom Line: Certainly a rod that makes you go “wow”. It’s subtly faster than some of the other top contenders, so if you’re looking for more distance or have a faster casting stroke, this rod might be the one for you.   Buy yours here.  


Winston Boron IIIx

  Price: $795 Weight: 3.3 oz Line Recommendation: Rio Gold

105 points. There’s a lot of debate as to what constitutes a ‘fast’ rod. The B3x is ‘fast for a Winston’, but most casters felt that it was firmly in the medium fast category overall. The B3x tied for 1st place in dry fly accuracy, no doubt due to the time that these Montana rod builders spend fishing those awesome hatches. Combine that with great feel and almost legendary Winston workmanship and you’ve got a truly top notch rod.   Casters liked: Near perfect with a dry. Flawless workmanship. Not so much: Not the greatest with a nymph or streamer.   Bottom Line: Classic Winston looks and dry fly performance. A great rod for a lot of anglers, especially those who prefer a dry to a nymph, or those with a slower casting stroke.   Shop Now  


G. Loomis NRX LP

    Price: $755 Weight: 3.1 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX

102 points. As the winner of Yellowstone Angler’s 5-weight Shootout, the NRX LP is clearly a great rod. It’s one of our best sellers, and we’ve tested it extensively (you can check out the Trident staff opinions on the NRX here). Because we’ve worked with this rod so much, we knew its strengths and weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, the NRX didn’t perform too well at 70’ – it just doesn’t have the power at longer distances that the Zenith and the Helios have. It , however, surprising to learn that casters loved this rod with both nymphs and streamers, and gave it top marks in both categories! One caster even commented that it was the “best nymphing rod at 40’.”   Loomis uses top notch components in the NRX, but some casters thought the finishing cork, and lack of wooden spacer gave it a lower end feel.   Casters liked: Top performing rod with both nymphs and streamers. Not so much: Fit and finish wasn’t as good as say, a Winston. Not as powerful as other rods out there.   Bottom Line: A perennial favorite that is still fabulous.   Buy it here and get Free 2nd Day Air  


Winston Passport


  Price: $239 Weight: 3.3 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX

101 points. A strong contender for best buy, the Passport has long been one of the top value rods on the market. It’s got near B3x performance (just one point behind!) at less than half the price. Yes, it’s made overseas, and no, you won’t get that classic Winston look, but it’s all green when it comes to performance.   Sadly, Winston is discontinuing the Passport this year, and they are sold out virtually everywhere. If you can find one, buy it!   Casters liked: Top notch accuracy, super price tag. Not so much: Discontinued! Casters also felt that fit and finish should have been better.   Bottom Line: Buy it if you can find it!


Scott Radian


  Price: $795 Weight: 3 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX was preferred, but the Radian also worked well with standard weight lines.   100 points. ‘Fast meets feel’ is the slogan of the new Scott Radian. It’s also a favorite of the Trident staff and one of the best all-around rods Scott has ever made. The Radian is definitely a little faster than most anglers preferred, which hurt it on some of the performance categories. Anglers with a faster casting stroke really loved this rod, some calling it “Perfect.” Build quality, fit and finish are exactly what you’d expect from Scott..   Casters liked: Solid all-around performance. Fit and Finish were at the top of the class. Not so much: Could have used a little more in the ‘feel’ category.   Bottom Line: A great option for faster and/or better casters looking for looks that match performance     Buy one Here  


Silver Medal

95 points+. Each of these rods is great, but not great at everything. Read on for the pros and cons of each rod.

Sage Method

  Price: $800 Weight: 2.6 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX

99 points.  Sage’s latest Konnetic creation turned a lot of heads when it replaced the traditional TCX green blank with bright red. The Method adheres to Sage’s founding motto of never running out of power. While some of the more traditional users “didn’t like the color,” and some thought it was “too fast,” everyone agreed that the New Sage Method is a fabulous distance rod. Unsurprisingly, it also exceled at casting streamers. As you’d expect, a rod this fast didn’t have the best feel, and suffered in close. Casters with a fast stroke, and those fishing big rivers in lots of wind will love this rod.   Casters liked: Distance, distance, distance Not so much: The color was off-putting to some. Lacked feel.   Bottom Line: If you’re looking to reach farther there’s no better rod out there.   Order Now  


Mystic Reaper

  Price: $229 Weight: 3 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   99 points.  Mystic is a company that most of you probably haven’t heard of. They are new on the scene and are often grouped with names like Elkhorn and Clutch. We’re here to enlighten you, a little. Mystic rods are built overseas, but using top quality components and standing by their products with a lifetime warranty, just like the big guys! They are also the only one of the aforementioned bunch to send us a rod to test – and we’re happy they did.   In addition to a high-end fit and finish, the Reaper is one of the best medium action dry fly rods on the market. If you’re looking for a rod that performs in close-to-medium distances, you’ll be very happy with the Reaper. It’s packed with feel and has enough power to get it out to 70’+. Unfortunately, the Reaper suffered a bit in both nymph and streamer categories which kept it out of the top contenders. Casters called it a “Fun Rod,” “Simple,” and even “Best.”   Casters liked: Close in accuracy, build quality Not so much: Not the best rod for nymphing and streamers   Bottom Line: A fabulous rod that’s friendly on the wallet.   Buy Now  

Hardy Jet

  Price: $495 Weight: 2.9 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX worked really well, but it’s also soft enough for standard weight lines.  

99 points.  New for 2014, the Jet is the latest Hardy rod to utilize their proprietary ‘Sintrix’ technology. What makes this rod cheaper than the Zenith? It uses a lower grade of Sintrix than its high-performing cousin. It’s a softer rod than the Zenith, and if you’re looking for a replacement for the Artisan (at a much lower price point), this might be the Hardy to offer up similar performance.   The Jet was the best performing rod at 25 and 40’ (tied with the Winston B3x). This makes it an excellent addition to the Hardy lineup. The lower grade Sintrix is unfortunately a bit heavier than the Zenith and reduced feel just a tad. While the Jet is a great dry fly rod, it suffered a bit at both nymphing and chucking streamers. We’re really interested in checking out the 4-weight!   Casters liked: Dry fly performance Not so much: Not the most versatile rod out there.   Bottom Line: It’s a great fit into the Hardy lineup, which lacked a rod for the dry fly enthusaist, and a low-cost replacement for the discontinued, but still loved, Artisan.   Shop Here  



  Price: $240 Weight: 3.1 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX

98 points.  TFO is well known for producing some the finest fishing tools in the world, on a budget. The BVK (which stands for Bernard Victor Kreh), has long been TFO’s performance leader, and one of Lefty’s signature rods. While the BVK is mostly known for its 8-weight performance, the BVK is also a pretty stellar 5-weight. It earned top marks in both distance and streamer categories. Unfortunately, it was just a little too fast for the average angler (much like the Sage Method). The BVK had great fit and finish and a very light swing-weight to go with its superb long-distance reach.   Casters liked: Distance and Streamer performance. Great price. Not so much: Too fast for this crowd   Bottom Line: A great option for casters looking for more power on a budget.   Buy it Here  


Sage Circa

  Price: $775 Weight: 2.5 oz Line Recommendation: Rio Gold

98 points.  Sage has hyped the Circa as their version of a ‘slow’ rod. If you’ve read our review, it’s not really that slow. It is, however, Sage’s latest attempt at a dry-fly specific rod, and they did a fabulous job. It uses Jerry Siem’s Konnetic technology to create a rod that casts well “for the rest of us.”   It’s got typical Sage good looks, and was one of the lightest rods in the test in both actual weight and swing weight. It came as no surprise that the performance of the Circa was excellent in close. But casters noted that it was “not a bomber…” While it did better than some of the other rods in the dry fly specific categories, it wasn’t stellar with nymphs and streamers.   Casters liked: Close in performance, weight and feel. Not so much: No casting competitions will be won with this one.   Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a dry fly rod with a little bit of versatility, the Circa is a great option, but don’t expect 100’ casts.   Buy it Here  


Greys GR50

  Price: $180 Weight: 3.2 oz Line Recommendation: Rio Gold   96 points.  New for 2014, the Greys GR50 replaces the GRXi in the Greys lineup. It’s a low-to-mid-priced do-it-all rod. It performed well across all of the performance categories (except streamers), and had great feel, but really only stood out in its price tag.   Casters liked: Price and versatility Not so much: If you like to throw around some weight, look elsewhere.   Bottom Line: Packs a lot of performance for $180.   Check it out here  


Winston Boron III-SX

  Price: $795 Weight: 3.9 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   96 points.  Winston revamped its much-disliked B2-MX with Boron 3 technology to add extra feel in the tip of its ultra-fast, saltwater/big fish rod line. Amongst better casters, it was a favorite in the distance category, but beginners and intermediates thought it was ‘clunky’. 3.9 oz is too heavy for a rod in 2014.   Casters liked: Classic Winston fit and finish. Solid with streamers. Not so much: Mediocre performance across other categories coupled with a high price tag.   Bottom Line: It was designed for the salt, you probably shouldn’t take it into the fresh unless you're casting big flies into big wind.   Buy it Here  


Sage ONE

  Price: $775 Weight: 2.7 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   95 points.  Sage’s flagship rod, the ONE was the first rod to utilize Konnetic technology. It’s built in Washington and encompasses everything Sage has stood for from day 1. Better casters and those with faster casting strokes really liked this rod. They highlighted the ONE’s “great feel” and “effortless distance.” In this test, however, they were overruled by the masses who preferred a more moderate rod.   Casters liked: A favorite amongst new-schoolers with faster casting strokes and better casters. Not so much: Too fast for the average user.   Bottom Line: Every bit a Sage, the ONE is perfect for the faster caster, but the Method doesn’t give up much in terms of feel and close in accuracy and gives you a lot of extra power.     Buy it Here  


Worth Casting

88-94 Points. Rods in this category have some shortcomings, but might make a decent choice for specialists or brand loyalists on a budget.

Scott G2

  Price: $745 Weight: 2.9 oz Line Recommendation: Rio Gold   93 points.  Building on the legendary G Series, Scott’s G2 is a medium action dry fly rod that was a favorite amongst casters of all abilities. Unfortunately, it’s too much of a specialist for this test, and it’s great build quality and superb accuracy with a dry was not enough to overcome the G2’s shortcomings in both nymph and streamer fishing.   Casters liked: Amazing close-in dry fly performance. Great Scott build quality. Not so much: Not versatile enough to be competitive in this test.   Bottom Line: Get it for dries and leave it at home when the bugs aren’t rising. Better yet, get it in a 4-weight.   Buy it Here  


Sage Approach

  Price: $295 Weight: 3.4 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   92 points.  Sage does a lot of things right when it comes to rod building. It’s no surprise that casters thought this rod “Looked Great”, and had a “great moderate action.” We’ve long thought the Approach was the sleeper in Sage’s lineup, so we were a bit surprised it didn’t do better, but it’s not really well suited to faster casters. Yup, it’s a Sage that wasn’t fast enough for some.   Casters liked: Slower casting strokes and intermediate casters really liked this rod. Not so much: “Heavy.” Not for everyone.   Bottom Line: If you want a US built rod, this one is the lowest priced in the test. Get it if you’ve got a slower casting stroke.   Buy it Here  


Ross RX

  Price: $299 Weight: 2.9 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   90 points.  Ross makes fly rods?? That’s probably what you’re thinking. That’s what we thought. It’s lightweight, it’s well built (overseas). This rod seemed to be a love-it-or-hate-it rod. Some casters “loved it” (literally) while others called it “dull”. A nice rod across many of the categories, but didn’t turn the caster’s heads.   Casters liked: Solid all-around. Not so much: Didn’t stand out in any way. Polarizing.   Bottom Line: Ross makes fly rods?? Cast it if you can – you might really like it.  


Orvis Clearwater

  Price: $198 Weight: 3.25 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX (Rio Gold worked well for some casters, too)   88 points.  The Clearwater is Orvis’s entry level rod with much better than entry level performance. If you’ve been paying attention to this test, a recurring theme is that there are a lot of mid action rods that work really well for most anglers at most distances. The Clearwater is no exception. Unfortunately, it just didn’t have the power for longer casts and testers found it to be “clunky” for streamers. Not the best built rod in the test.   Casters liked: Great for dries at short to medium distance. Not so much: Suffered at distance. Heavy. We wish this rod was made in Vermont…   Bottom Line: One of the lowest priced rods in the test, it still managed to produce solid performance   Buy it Here  


Scott A4

  Price: $395 Weight: 3.1 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   88 points.  Scott bills the A4 as ‘high-performance for everyone’. It’s their most affordable rod for sure, but the performance didn’t seem to match. Casters thought it was “ok” in close, but not great at most of the other distances. They did, however, really like the build quality of the rod, which appeared to be almost on par with Scott’s higher end rods.   Casters liked: Scott build quality and looks Not so much: Not a great nymphing rod, a little on the heavy side in terms of swing weight.   Bottom Line: Get it if you’re a Scott fan on a budget.     Buy it Here  


Not Recommended

Below 85 points. These rods were pretty much universally disliked by the testers.

Orvis Access, Tip Flex

  Price: $425 Weight: 2.8oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   82 points.  Little brother to the champion Helios 2, the Access was Orvis’ attempt to blend light weight and performance into a value priced package. While the Access certainly looks great, the Access was simply too fast, and probably more of a 6-7 weight than a 5. Testers felt that the rod “needed a heavier line” and that it was “unforgiving” even with a GPX line.   Casters liked: Solid fit and finish. Made in the USA. Not so much: Casted like a telephone pole and had performance to match.   Bottom Line: If you want a budget Orvis rod, you’re better off saving some money with the Clearwater.   Buy it Here  


Redington Vapen Red

  Price: $350 Weight: 3.3 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   80 points.  The Vapen Red is the newest ‘flagship’ rod for Redington.  It’s built with X-wrap technology, and is really a great looking rod. We had high hopes for the Vapen, since we cast the 8-weight in our previous review, and thought it was great! Unfortunately, our casters, perhaps a more traditional crew, “didn’t like the grip” and thought it was “flashy.” Unlike the 8-weight, the casters thought the five was “too stiff”, despite the GPX line and had a heavy swing weight. I wonder how the cork version would have fared…   Casters liked: A decent streamer rod Not so much: The grip… and pretty much everything else about the rod   Bottom line: New schoolers might like the grip, but the performance didn’t match.   Buy it Here  


Echo Carbon

  Price: $170 Weight: 3.7 oz Line Recommendation: Scientific Anglers GPX   75 points.  The Echo Carbon was the oldest rod in our test, and it showed. It was over an ounce heavier than the Helios 2, and had the heaviest swing weight in the test. This is a classic example of why old rods should be removed from the product line, rather than continuing to be sold.   Just to be clear, Echo makes some really great rods, but this just wasn't one of them.   Casters liked:Not so much: The Carbon finished last in virtually every category.   Bottom line: This rod should be discontinued.    

Finally, The Full Results