Prior to purchasing my first fly set-up, I spent several months pricing out packages, reading reviews, and deliberating. At this point I was seeing a lot of positives with the new Allen line that was to be released and had to take advantage of the release sale. My first purchase from Allen was an 8wt Xa series rod, paired with an Alpha II reel. As soon as I received the rod I first put it to work targeting carp cruising some local flats. The rod could easily send flies 80' across the canal, and had more than enough backbone to turn large stubborn carp. Pike and bass were also easy prey. While the 8wt has yet to be tested in saltwater, I'm sure it will hold up well to redfish, snook, and other saltwater species, and the rod itself is ready to deal with the saltwater, with an anodized aluminum reel seat and titanium chromium coating on the stripping guides. I have been able to compare the Xa 8wt to a St. Croix Pro Graphite 8/9, both in 9' length, and while I mean no offense to St. Croix, I would keep my Xa. While no slouch in turning fish when they mean to head the other way, the Xa seems to be more forgiving in protecting my tippets when using the same reel with the same drag setting. The Allen also appealed more to my particular casting motion as compared to the stiffer St. Croix.
I have spent more time lately, however, fishing a 10' Allen Xa 6wt on some Lake Ontario tributaries in Western New York.
This rod has done everything from roll-casting an indicator, weight, and nymph or egg pattern to casting a gaudy, wind-resistant articulated streamer to the other side of the waterway. In those times when I've noticed the fly smack the water, I've also noticed the miffed cast beforehand. I have never felt like the rod could not deliver the fly softly to its destination if the proper cast is used.
First, the rod comes in a divided, labeled rod sock, inside a padded, labelled, cordura-lined tube with an adjustable nylon carry strap. I have no qualms about throwing these cases in the back of my truck, and I have yet to feel the need to purchase some other sort of protective case for traveling on airlines with my rods.
At first glance, I was rather opposed to the black of the anodized aluminum reel seat; I had grown used to the metallic shine of all the reel seats I had previously seen online. After seating the matching Trout reel, I wasn't quite so opposed. It also worked next to the black of the end of the fighting butt. I appreciate the fighting butt too, both when putting the screws to a fish AND when being lazy and leaning the rod against my leg. The blank itself looks black, but shows a deep blue ribbing in the sun. I have yet to run in to a problem where my line catches on the rounded hook-keeper. It gets plenty of use when I'm moving between spots and I'm glad I don't have to tear up my cork grip holding my hook. The full wells group fit my hand well from the first cast, and appearance-wise the darker cork on the ends of the grip, as well as the stainless collar, all look very clean.
The four pieces of the rod pair together and line up well when the ferrule markings are lined up. These markings can be seen at the bottom of the next photo.
When I first assembled the Xa, I was used to using my father's 6wt and thought I was in trouble when the tip of each section did not fully seat within the ferrule, only to realize this was the intention. However, the sections hold together well, even without wax.
The rod balances well paired with the matching Allen 5/6 Trout reel (and looks awesome to boot). I've spent some long days out on the water casting this combo and not been tired or sore from the weight of it. The action of both the 6wt and 8wt feels medium-fast by comparison to the action of the stiff, fast St. Croix 8/9, and the Xa series is highly forgiving of my multitude of casting mistakes. Both Xa rods I have are more than capable of laying out some very long casts, but they work well in close as well. The 6wt has no problem loading for close-in accurate casts either, which is great when the lie I am fishing runs three feet from the near shore.
There are two things, potentially the two best things, about the Xa series that you can't tell from casting the rod or playing a fish on the rod or remarking on the craftsmanship of the rod. First, the price as compared to the performance is an incredible bargain. While I don't have a lot of experience with high-end rods and reels, I can't imagine there being a huge difference if someone took my Xa out of my hands and replaced it with a more expensive rod, though I can certainly notice the improvement from my father's 6wt to my Xa, despite little difference in price (he now wants an Xa of his own). Even without a sale, for under $400, you can pick up one of the Xa rods (the Allen site currently has them priced between $229 and $249), one of the great Allen reels, and Allen line. Especially for someone brand new to fly fishing, this is easier than having to search through different brands of rods, reels, and lines, and the price is very, very favorable. This brings me to the second thing, which is certainly more important for me: Allen's customer service is spectacular, something you'd expect from a brand which charges far more. Product questions, warranty issues, even what's coming down the pipeline next, can be sent directly to Justin, the owner of the company. I can't say I've ever had the privilege of being able to have product concerns handled directly by the company owner. To add to that, issues are dealt with promptly, and the warranty on Allen rods is arguably the best in the business. These are the sort of intangibles that make me feel very comfortable owning Allen products like the rods from the Xa series.
Some days on the water, the reel actually gets some work too, and I've got no complaints (well, the outward click on the drag could be a little louder, but when that's the only complaint that's saying something...). And the hook-keeper on the Xa means I can do all the damage to the cork with my teeth...