First, congratulations to Hardy, whose 9′ 5wt Zenith fly rod won the Yellowstone Angler 5wt Fly Rod Shootout (and by a handy margin).

In recent decades, Hardy was the manufacturer you turned to if you smoked a pipe and spoke like Rex Harrison, but it’s interesting to note that they – and the formerly tweed-friendly Orvis – both now offer cutting-edge fly rod technology (they’d suggest “industry-leading” technology), which is proof, I suppose, that you write off the old guys at your own peril (I’m not drawing parallels to the Underground, though you kids should stay the hell off my lawn).

Despite the win for an Underground advertiser, I’m compelled to offer a couple comments about the testing, which – despite the language – doesn’t appear to be a search for a truly “all-around” 5wt.

Only Speed Demons Need Apply

In fact, a quick glance at the criteria suggests a test that’s highly biased towards strong, fast-tapered rods – the kind of rods that are often more useful in daydreams than on small and medium-sized rivers.

For starters, the testing was conducted with an SA GPX line – the “half-line-weight-heavy” line that falls perilously close to 6wt territory, and represents (to me anyway) a sad admission that many modern fly rods are simply too stiff to function at “normal” distances with normal fly lines.

For other signs of what I’d consider a skew towards fast “power” tapers, look no farther than Yellowstone Anglers’ own evaluation criteria:

If you’re in the market for a good 5-weight rod, we are going to assume that you want one rod that will do it all – a rod that will cast in close with delicacy and accuracy with small drys and fine tippet, a rod that will launch larger drys like hoppers seventy feet into stiff breeze, and a rod that has enough backbone to throw a couple of nymphs, a wind resistant strike indicator and maybe a little split shot as well. It also must have the guts to chuck a streamer with a split shot clamped next to the eye, and put it on that cut bank 80 feet away.

Uhh, casting weighted streamers 80′? Throwing hoppers 70′ into a “stiff” breeze? Really??

It’s interesting to note that the only two “medium” tapered rods in the test (both by Orvis) finished no higher than the middle of the pack.

And that – to my eye – two of the four critera aren’t exactly the native habitat of the 5wt fly rod.

Finally, the use of the GPX line means the “5 Weight Shootout” is actually a “5.5 Weight Shootout.”

Merge those realities with repeated uses of marketing power words like “backbone,” “guts” and “launch” and I had to wonder why they didn’t simply test 6wts – which would actually handle 3/4 of the tasks far more comfortably than a 5wt.

In simple terms, Yellowstone Angler might have actually picked the best “All-Around 5wt” – but only if you were trying to sell overlined fly rods to people fishing big, windy western rivers.

That’s not the world faced by most fly fishermen – the vast majority of whom have never actually cast 80′, and probably never will.

Still, let’s not forget commerce is involved, and that reality always finishes a distant second to fantasy when you’re selling people things they probably don’t need.

Before The Emails Begin…

Before the nasty emails begin to pour in, let me be clear: the folks at the Yellowstone Angler state their criteria right up front, and I’m not alleging hidden agendas.

What I am saying is this: before you start buying your way down their shootout list (or any Top “XXX” list), consider the criteria, and see if they even remotely match your particular reality.

Being as I live in the mountains of Northern California, my “all-around” 5wt isn’t anything like Anderson’s.

Mine would cast wonderfully at small stream ranges, yet still throw a Green Drake (or October Caddis) on a medium-sized freestoner like the Upper Sacramento or McCloud. If pressed, I’d say it looks a lot like a medium-tapered 8.5′ 5wt that wouldn’t necessarily launch every 6″ or smaller small stream trout I hooked.

In all likelihood, it would barely lift a weighted streamer, much less cast it 80 feet.

It might even be bamboo or fiberglass, and could have been made upwards of half a century ago – an admission which suggests I don’t need to sell modern, high-modulus fly rods to fly fishermen.

In other words, consider the Yellowstone Angler 5wt Fly Rod Shootout a highly subjective test of strong, fast-tapered 5.5 wt rods in situations where you might normally fish a 6 wt, give Hardy their due for their apparent comeback (or simply welcome them back to the party), and let’s all move on with our lives.

See you testing anything but fly rods, Tom Chandler.