2014 5-Weight shootout fly rod review and test trident fly fishing

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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!