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Gear Review: R.L. Winston Nexus Rods

Anyone familiar with the fly fishing industry knows the reputation of the R.L. Winston fly rod company: buttery smooth performance labeled as the Winston “feel,” top of the line technology and quality craftsmanship, and the iconic green color of their high-end Boron rod series. But there’s a new dog in the fight for Winston–the all new, mid-price point graphite Nexus rod series. If the Boron rods are the older, more mature siblings that listen to Miles Davis vinyl records, the Nexus rods are the younger, more rough around the edges siblings who prefer their music a bit louder, and with a bit more funk. Their all-black finishes serves as notice of the transition from the sensitivity and feel of the “Winston Green” Boron rods, to the bring your lunch pail to the river blue-collar Nexus rods whose graphite blanks have sacrificed a bit of feel in the pursuit of speed and power.

Make no mistake, however: these are still Winstons at heart. The burled wood inserts on the 3wt. through 9′ 6 wt. rods, the anodized aluminum reel seats on the 9’6″ 6 wt. through the 12 wt., the overall lightness in your hand, and just enough of that classic feel all let you know that you’re holding a rod built by a company that prides itself on quality. And while these rods certainly have their flaws, they are a massive upgrade over the former entry-level price point Passport rod series, and they continue the recent movement by the classic rod companies to put a rod series on the market at the entry to mid price point, but that have a touch of the feel and look of a rod three or four hundred dollars more expensive.

Over the last few days, Reid Curry and I have had the chance to cast the 4 Nexus rods that we are carrying in the shop–the 4 rods that fit into Western Washington specific fisheries: the 8’6″ 3 wt., the 9′ 5 wt., and the 9′ and 9’6″ 6 wts. So while this review isn’t completely comprehensive since it only covers 4 out of 17 rod models, a few things have jumped to the forefront on all of these rods that make it seem possible to make a generalization or two that most likely will hold true across the spectrum. Most notably in that regard is that these rods are definitely on the faster end of the rod action range, and we felt that each of the rods cast best when either over-lined by a full weight, or when matched with a more aggressively tapered line. A standard trout taper of the matching weight just didn’t keep the rods loaded, and in the case of the 3 wt., you just couldn’t feel the line much at all.

So, without further ado, here’s our thoughts on casting these rods in front of the shop over the last 2 days (which maybe that’s an “ado” I should mention–these aren’t on the water tests, which could very well change the feel of these rods a touch):

8’6″ 3 wt. ($475)– As I mentioned above, we ended up with a 4 wt. line on this rod because the standard Airflo Elite Trout taper in a 3 wt. just wasn’t doing anything for it. Once we over lined it, the rod began to come to life (there’s a chance that a line like the Airflo Xceed in a 3 wt., which has a slightly more aggressive taper would also do the same for you). Either way, what you should hear in that statement is that this is a quick 3 wt. If you’re looking for a mid flex rod to deliver dry flies in tight quarters on small creeks, this probably isn’t the rod for you. We felt that even with a 4 wt. line on it this rod really started casting well after about 15-20 feet of line was out. As such, we could see this rod being fun to fish on some of the larger West side trout rivers, definitely on the Yakima, or in situations where you might be needing to throw weighted nymphs or smaller streamers for trout. This 3 wt. has enough backbone to it to really hold its own in those situations, while maintaining the lightness of a true 3 wt. rod. (As as side note, there’s a chance that the 7’6″ 3 wt. would be a totally different rod, as we’ll talk about in a minute with the difference between the 9′ and 9’6″ 6 wt. rods having noticeably different feels–the extra length of rod could lead to a faster rod, as it does in the 6 wt. If the 7’6″ does have a bit more bounce to it, then it could become a really good option for our smaller mountain creeks. Hopefully we can cast one soon to find out for sure.)

9′ 5 wt. ($475)– Hands down, this was our least favorite of the 4 rods tested. While it could be wedged into the “do it all” category that is reserved for 9′ 5 wts., we felt that it lacked a bit of the touch you normally look for in a lighter rod as well as the backbone you look for in a heavier one. With a standard 5 wt. trout taper line, the rod performed relatively well in the 15-30 foot range, but really started to lose power once you moved past 30 feet. When we lined it up to a 6 wt. of the same taper, the feel in the 15-30 foot range disappeared, and the troubles past 30 remained. If you’re looking for a “do it all” rod that can handle closer casting fairly well, and longer casting with a bit of effort, this rod can do it for you. But, there are certainly several other rods on the market that perform a lot better than this one in both of those departments.

9′ 6 wt. ($485)– Definitely our favorite of the 4 rods. If you’re looking for a “do it all” rod from this grouping, this one would be it, and it would also stack up fairly well with other “do it all” trout rods across the market. The action is nice and smooth throughout the casting range, and there is definitely a backbone hiding underneath of it that allows you to reach out with longer casts. This is a rod that would fish well on Puget Sound for cutthroat, pink salmon, and most likely even have enough power to handle cohos. On the flip side, you could also turn over dry flies pretty well, and it certainly could handle any nymph or streamer applications you would want to toss its way. One of the draw backs of this rod for us in the Puget Sound region is that the 9′ 6wt. only comes with a burled wood reel seat and no fighting butt–you have to step up to the 9’6″ 6 wt. in order to get those. While that obviously has no effect on rod action or performance, and if you’re only going to freshwater fisheries the wood has a more classic look, it would be nice to have the anodized option for those of us looking to fish this rod in the Sound so you don’t ding up the wood insert. Overall this is a nice rod for those not wanting to spend $700-800 on a high-end rod, but who want the performance sometimes missing from the entry-level rods. It will cover a lot of situations for you, and will do so well.

9’6″ 6wt. ($485)– In addition to the anodized reel seat and fighting butt, as well as the obvious length difference that gives you better mending control and clearance off of the water, the major difference in this rod is added power. While some rods lose power when length is added to the same line weight rod, this one has more backbone than the 9′ 6 wt. But, it comes at the expense of feel. This is a true nymph/streamer/Puget Sound rod that allows you to launch line with a relatively smooth action, but is one that would fall short if dry flies or finesse casting are in your daily schedule. One other thing we noted with this rod was that it cast best when matched with a true shooting head line like Airflo’s 40+. When matched with the Airflo Xceed (which does have a slightly more aggressive taper than a standard trout line), the rod just didn’t stay loaded on longer casts. Shooting head lines will also help in the Puget Sound/streamer/nymph situations where punching heavier flies on longer casts is crucial. Bottom line with this rod is that power is the name of the game. The added length can feel a bit cumbersome if you’re brand new to casting, but if the above mentioned situations are what you’re looking to do, this rod will handle them well.

All in all, the Nexus rods are a nice addition to Winston’s line-up…especially at the sub $500 price point. What they sometimes lack in feel and finesse, they make up for with power, a light weight feel in your hand, and a blank that tracks well throughout the casting range. Add in high-end looks and components, and you have a quality addition to the ever-advancing mid price point rod market.
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