Yellowstone Angler Mini Shootout
Rods were Hardy Zenith, Sage One, Sage Z-Axis. George said he liked the Z-Axis more the the One in close, and that it was a stiffer rod than the Z-Axis. He also addressed the grip's shape, which was something that didn't appeal to me. I extend my index finger while casting, and the One's grip looks like it wouldn't be comfortable. Oh well, guess I'll just keep fishing.
George sure does seem to be enamoured with the Zenith. I don't have issue with this, we all have preferences and opinions.
My opinions and experiences with the Zenith:
I was in the market for a new 4wt and picked one up. Granted the reviews are for a 5wt but there have to be similarities, right? I am not the accomplished caster as the Shootout's reviewers and many on this forum are. Call me average I suppose.
I think the capability of the rod is pretty accurate and consistent from the Shootout. It's accurate, does everything well--in close, mid range, distance pretty much as described. The rod is very light. I paired mine with a Lamson Litespeed and Rio Gold, easy to fish long hours with this rig. Sensitivity of the rod was very good.
Hardware is--MEH . The REC guides were the best feature, the reel seat takes some getting used to and will likely not appeal to those who prefer a more traditional look. If you like progressive, you'll love it. I prefer a wood reel seat. The Zenith has a plastic insert for the reel foot just below the cork, I wasn't thrilled with this. The cork used in the grip is on par with most model rods in this price range and of similar quality to Sage. Winston still provides the best cork IMHO. The basis for this opinion stems from the Winston's I've held in hand and the two that I own.
Now that I've had time to fish the Zenith, I have been left somewhat underwhelmed by it. The rod lacks the soul that I have come to appreciate from my Sage rods (even lower end models) and Winstons. Admittedly, this is my first Hardy rod and maybe I don't have enough experience with their products to judge the rod this way, IDK. I know they have a rich history of fly fishing equipment and certainly appreicate the company's lineage. Bottom line is that I like this rod, but I don't love it and for rods in this price range, I want to love fishing it. It's more than just the components and the ability of the rod, it's about the overall fishing experience--fishing location and fishing buds notwithstanding. Granted, the equipment does not make the angler, the angler makes the equipment but if I don't want to pull the rod from the quiver then???
What I can tell you is that after fishing with the Zenith I have learned a deeper appreciation for my love of things Sage and Winston. I've long been a Sage guy but when I picked up my first Winston rod and threw loops with it--even before buying my very own--I felt soul. I then proceeded to buy two BIIx's while on closeout. I have another ZAxis on the way too. When I was considering a new 490 rod, it was between the Zenith and ZAxis. While fishing the Zenith, I kept thinking about the ZAxis.
I have yet to cast the ONE, but I have confidence in Sage. Discontinuing and replacing the ZAxis means big wading boots to fill.
A plastic insert for the reel seat??? Yikes! I decided not to buy a Sage VT2 because it had a plastic winding check. For $700+, I would expect all quality parts. There is something attractive about certain rods, and the Sage Z-Axis and ZXL, Winston Boron (with wood spacer), etc, all look good. The "One" has a bit of a military stealth look that is not very appealing to me, but I know some people will be thrilled by that.
I'm with you Frank, what I love about ZAxis and ZXL (don't own one but my best bud does) is the sheen coming from the blank. I'm sure the rod builders, those associated more with the industry have a more proper term for it.
I'll reserve judgement for the ONE until I have one in my hands and can see it, but I love the Z Axis, ZXL and TXL lines.
The trend with last 2 overhauls of the TXL and Z Axis seem to be going with a Full Wells and get away from the Western Grip. I guess I can get used to either, I guess my preference for trout rods would be Western.
As much as I love my Sage rods, I will say this, the upper end Winston's have flat out the best hardware components that I have yet to see. Every rod is as much of a work of art as it is a solid and capable fishing rod. I will never part with my BIIx, ever. Nor my Z Axis for that matter
Here are a few photos that show what I was talking about regarding Zenith's underwhelming hardware components. I would rather pay a few bucks more and get hardware more inline with a rod above $500. But that's just me.
WOW! I had a Cortland GRX rod ($79), and it had a woven graphite reel seat. I thought it was pretty cool at the time, because the blank was matte black, and it was reported that Cortland was copying the look of a Loomis rod (can't remember which one). With that in mind, I'm not too impressed by skeletal reel seats, and the plastic insert is crazy. I called Brandt at Ross reels a few years ago to ask for a couple extra "plastic" escapement pawls. Brandt quickly replied that they're not plastic, but a space-age delrin. It's true that not all plastics are created equally, but... In any case, that looks like a case of poor judgement on Hardy's behalf. The One has aluminum reel seat hardware, rather than the chrome plated hardware found on the ZXL and Z-Axis. My rod's plating wore off very quickly, although Sage did offer to replace at no cost. I decided not to bother, since I've read that this is a problem for many Z-Axis owners. Nothing's perfect.......
My BIIX (6w) has the green woven graphite reel seat, so does the 8w. On those two rods, I'm happy with the graphite seat. It's lighter (but I doubt if it's noticable), and for some reason, it fits both rods. My LT (5w) on the other hand has the silver hardware and beautiful wooden insert. Joni's JWF has the silver hardware and wooden insert too. Classy look for those rods.
The industrial grade polymer up-locking reel foot hood on the Zenith, like the nickle-titanium single-foot guides, is all about weight reduction. It is a clever innovation that I would expect other makers of technologicly advanced ultra light weight blanks to follow just as many have begun to port their reel seat hardwear as Orivis initially did with Helios. Regarding "soul", or "personality" as I prefer, I can only say that I lack sufficient angling experience with Zeniths to get into that but I did fish an 8 1/2'/#4 for two weeks and compared it to a BIIx of the same size while in Idaho...plastic hood aside, the Zenith was far superior in taper, line feel and performance, including delicacy of presentation...the Winston literaly felt dull and "hingy" in comparison, even to the green rod afficianado who tried to make a case for it.
I love my Z-Axis #5 (with RIO Gold) and "One" is crisper but is also more "communicative". Again, aesthetics being in the eye of the beholder, and having fished them on back to back weeks, One may prove to be the superior rod. I am leaning that way and will take it away again next week for more "testing".
The industrial grade polymer up-locking reel foot hood on the Zenith, like the nickle-titanium single-foot guides, is all about weight reduction.
That reminds me...I had an Scientific Anglers 6wt that was very light...it had a graphite reel seat and light hardware. That rod was inexpensive too...around $40. That 6wt was far lighter than my more expensive 4wt. This was several years ago!
I tend to believe that many people prefer wood reel seats; wood is attractive but also adds considerable weight. People also like the heavier snake eye guides instead of single foot ones. We have the resources to produce lighter rods than ever...but people like to fish with attractive rods that are heavier than composite materials. Even the "One" by Sage has a wooden reel seat for the smaller wts.
Sage, Winston and many of us fancy cane era aesthetic values. Flor grade cork hand tunrned, figured hardwood spacers, fine and subdued wraps, burnished nickle silver... My first fly rod was a Sewell Dunton Supreme for HDH line from Turners Falls, MA. The most beautiful rods I have ever seen have been cane. Even today, the hollow builts from artists like Per Brandon are breathtaking to behold as well as cast. But we are talking about advanced composit technology rods - plastics - and what makes some of them spectacular fly rods is very different from hand split cane except that, in both cases, taper design rules. When G.Loomis introduced original GLX more than 20 years ago now, they were the first to use a woven carbon spacer and single foot guides on an un-adorned, graphite-gray, matte sanded blank with black wraps. UUUgly! many said. Great casting, others said. Form follows function and integrity of materials is where it was at and the personality of a fly rod may lie deeper in its taper transitions and directness of communication with what its fly line is doing than in tung oil finished burled walnut.
I knew there had to be a more technical term, learn something new every day. The industrial grade polymer, I am sure helps keep the weight down and the rod itself is very light. I was easily able to highstick all day with it and not feel the slightest bit tired. None the less, I can't imagine that switching this insert from industrial grade polymer to aluminum--same material the reel seat is made of would make that much of a weight difference. I'm no rod designer and not an engineer, this is just my comprehension of logic and more over, my opinion.
Again, I'll say that the rod performs as described in the 5wt shootout--for whatever my experiences with it are are worth. Valid point made--and certainly I realize that it's not about what rod looks like that determines its effectiveness as a fishing tool--which is why I mentioned that I do like the rod, I personally don't love it, nor do I feel as connected to it as I do with my Sages or Winston. Not only from an aesthetics perspective, but how it feels and performs in my hand. Just my opinion.
My 7wt BIIX has the woven graphite reel seat and it took me a bit to get used to it at first. I have come to appreciate it for what it is and actually like it on that rod. On the 4wt, the wood insert and nickel aesthetically look much more in line with what I appreciate about a trout rod. Perhaps I'll learn to love the Hardy one day. Perhaps it came across as if I were bashing the rod, that is certainly not what my intention was. I am keeping it