I am an admitted fly rod fanatic. I am always buying and trying new and different rods. Some of the newer models are pretty nice. But, when it comes to casting and fishing, the rods that I love the most are "Classics". I am appreciating them more and more all of the time.
I prefer the Sage RPL and LL, the G Loomis GLX (original), and the Winston IM6 over the newer Sages (XP, Z-Axis, ZXL,One, Circa), G Loomis (Streamdance and NRX) and Winston (Boron II's and III's). These "Classic" models often seem to be just right. with a great balance of talents. The "New" models may be a little stiffer/softer in different places, and maybe lighter, but seem to have become more specialized.
I often wonder if the "New" isn't really an improvement, but just new to generate sales. The performance capabilities of the newer models don't seem to be any better than the classic models, and definitely more limited in some cases. I don't know if I am a "Luddite" or not. I usually like new shiny stuff, but these classic rod models speak to me best and are my favorites.
I tend to agree depending on the application. In some instances, I really appreciate a slower, as you call it "classic" action rod. There are instances that I do love to embrace the newer technology that has created some very powerful rods. I think it is very hard to say what is better but it is nice to have more choices available.
Got some classic models...and really enjoy fishing with them...I'm not the only one ,my son Nico wouldn't swap his Scott G for anything in the worldclassic rods in good condition are highly rated on ebay for instance.New models are lighter for sure...better ,I don't know
The examples sighted are very interesting. It may be less New vs. Classic and more that Coolhand prefers the work of one great rod designer over another. I have often commented that rod "brand" is far less relevant to me than rod "designer", much like in the golden era of cane rod makers. The Don Green's Sage RPL's, LL's, etc. are very different from the XP forward work of Jerry Siem, Gary Loomis distinctly influenced Steve Rajeff but original GLX has a very different personality than current NRX and, obviously, Tom Morgan and Glenn Bracket designed much loved Winstons and that green rod company does not have a designer of note at the helm today. I like the work of Siem, Rajeff and Howard Croston at Hardy and the new lighter stronger carbon matrix technologies influence on rod design too. Surely, in saltwater, the newer designs have proven advantageous even more than in trout fishing. There is also a learning curve that makes a great GLX of a quarter century ago feel like a "comfort" rod next to the aggressiveness of NRX for example. Also fly line designs have evolved even faster then fly rods and many of the newer rods require we change our opinions about the lines we "like" relative to the lines the newest rod's cast best with.
I don't "dislike" some of the new models, but find them more specialized. For powerhouse rods I love the G Loomis NRX and Sage One, if I know that I will be nymphing , streamer fishing, or throwing big hoppers/chernobyls they are great. But, if the wind goes down and the Baetis start hatching, then it feels like those rods lack the versatility to change over to small dry flies.
With a GLX or RPL, I can get away with it without having to hike back to the truck and get a light dry fly rod (i.e. Circa, BIIIX, Whispercreek, etc.). Also, pretty tough to throw an effective Hopper/Dropper rig or streamer with one of those dry fly wands, if conditions warrant during the day.
In a particular genre, some of the new models are definite improvements, the Sage One is an improvement over the XP, in almost every way. The BIIIx is way better than any of the BII's. I tried like hell to fall in love with the Z-Axis and ZXL and the Streamdance rods, but they just don't "speak" to me. I still fish them at times, but still like the RPL, and GLX's better.
Probably is a designer thing. My first "good" rod was a Fenwick HMG designed by Don Greene, so that probably shaped my biases.
20 years ago I already caught fishes and I still use these rods today. They are in an excellent condition and I still love them. In my opinion the experience of the fisherman who holds the rod in his hands is more important than the newest material
The newest material of today is the old material for tomorrow
Naturally it is true that we anglers, merely assisted by our tackle, do the fishing and that rods and reels we treasured 10, 20, 30 years ago are still fine tackle today; further imbued with recollections of great moments past. I too, upon occasion, continue to fish Orvis, Scott, Sage rods from as early in my life as a fly fisher as the late 1970's. There is very little doubt in my mind though that my current quiver features superior performance. Are my newest rods more specialized, perhaps yes, but since I really limit myself to sight fishing only (95% of the time) and while trout fishing, surface flies only (99% of the time), my specialization is more habitat-scale driven then technique driven. I do enjoy rods with differing personalities though and might chose a different rod of the same designation while wading than when drifting but that is personal style while distance and durability in boats might be a factor. Further, I favor crisply communicative, fast recovering tipped rods for dry fly presentation rather than the popular more mid-flexing, slower responding variety, so Sage ONE is, for me, a dry fly specialty scalpel of consummate responsiveness as its progenitor, RPL was a knife and few rods are more sensitive now than Hardy Zeniths are or as Scott Pow-R-Plys seemed 35 years ago.
Someday these too will be yesterdays models and I may update them. By then they will be imbued with rich memories.
Personally, I group my fly rods into 2 categories : the "Preference Casting" and the "Performance Casting" categories.
Those in the "Preference" group includes most of my Bamboo rods, with the Winston LT series and the Sage SP series being the only graphite members. By and large the "Preference" membership consist mostly of members that had been in this club for more than 20 years. Incidentally, the 2 newest inductee had been a member for the last 15 years and I've not found a new member since. And I doubt I'll be able to find another new member any-time soon.
Membership in my "Performance" group however has a very high turn-over rate of perhaps 3-5 years. Right now the Sage One series is the only member. And I will be very surprise it stay a member for more than 3-5 years.
I must be doing it all wrong. I find modern rods to be a vast improvement over older plastic rods in that they aren't as specialized.
Going back to the classic, stealthy looking GLX's I had them in 4,5,7 and 10 weight. They were very rangy for their time and were a decade or so ahead of their time. It took some time for even the biggest name in fly rods to learn to squeeze more resin out to make them light weight yet retain the strength of the carbon used and to use a carbon fiber scrim instead of cheaper and heavier fiberglass. The classic GLX's cast well off the tip and shifted gear as needed all the way to putting the powerful butt sections into play. A true progressive action rod is a joy to work with. No one else came even close to building a rod series as special as the old GLX's for a very long time.
These rods weren't the best for banging around in a boat or being kissed by weighted flies though, these were pure performance rods that pushed that fine line between durability and performance. You simply had to treat them differently than the other rods of the time that were clubs in comparison. I broke a couple probably through stupidity. One 2 piece they replaced with a 4 piece and the other broken much later was replaced with a Streamdance. That one didn't last very long in my quivver and neither did the GLX Max Linespeed I had for a short time. They both seemed comparatively heavy and thumpy. On reflection I might have taken GL-4's for replacement instead of the new-fangled GLX.
Though I used the above rods in all situations from spring creeks to salt water the specialized rods of that time were pure joys to use in the limited range they were built for. Scott G's and Winston IM-6's before they had the two letter series designations were magic wands.
To answer your question with less blather I'll say yes, the new models are better. They are better because everything to do with them is better. We know more about materials and testing and have better manufacturing techniques. This internet makes it easy for consumers to share information compared to back then when secret fishing holes were still kept secret and research on consumer items involved waiting for a magazine article. There are few secrets now so that keeps rod makers on their toes.
One very poor change is the rush for plastic rod makers to make $1,000.00 rods the norm.