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Lighten Up
Three and Four Weight Fly Rods
By Scott Clayton

Up until about a year ago I spent the majority of my fly fishing time fine tuning my skills on stillwater. My small stream experience had been, in a word, frustrating. I felt like I was missing out on something as I drove right past miles of incredibly beautiful streams on the way to my favorite lakes. So I decided to step out of my comfort zone and get better acquainted with the enigmatic moving water I'd so casually avoided on my way to float tubing adventures.

Over the years I've collected a few rods I like to use while fishing lakes -- mostly 8'6" to 9'6" 5 weights. These rods will catch fish on the small streams I had in mind but they seemed to be overkill. No, to do these waters justice I had to lighten up. But just how light should I go?

Well, I knew I had to present flies ranging from a size 6 hopper, streamer, or possibly a lightly weighted nymph dropper to at least a size 20 midge imitation. I also expected to deal with some wind on occasion. Given these realities I decided to be conservative and try out the differences between 3 and 4 weight rods. And just to spice things up a bit I narrowed my focus to shorter rods (7'6" to 8'0").

I tried the following fly rods:

Diamondback Classic Trout 7'9" 3 weight 2 piece
Orvis Superfine 7'6" 3 weight 2 piece "The Tippet"
Orvis Superfine 8'0" 4 weight 4 piece "Tight Loop"
Powell LGA 8'0" 3 weight 4 piece
Powell LTT 7'9" 3 weight 3 piece
Powell AVS 7'6" 4 weight 3 piece
Redington Wayfarer 7'6" 4 weight 5 piece
Sage SP 7'6" 3 weight 3 piece
Sage XP 7'6" 4 weight 2 piece
Scott Eclipse 8'0" 3 weight 2 piece (current model is a 3 piece)
Scott PowRPly (G) 8'0" 4 weight 4 piece (current model is a 3 piece)

Diamondback Classic Trout 7'9" 3 weight 2 piece
Action             Medium
Rod Weight    1.7 oz.
Price                 $430

Diamondback Classic Trout Diamondback's Classic Trout is built on a charcoal gray sanded blank with brown wraps and gold trim highlights at the tips of the wraps. It utilizes internal ferrules with no alignment dots*. It has a good quality cigar grip. The reel seat is cork with a nickel silver cap and ring. It has a hook keeper.

The Classic Trout is a pleasure to cast. The medium action is exactly what I'd expect in a 3 weight; slower, deliberate strokes with enough power in reserve to easily cover up to 35 feet.

When I fished this rod it never let me down. I was able to cast dry flies and even small multi-fly combinations including a size 18 bead-head pheasant tail dropper.

Playing fish on the Classic Trout is tough to beat; it's very flexible. Last fall I managed to sneak one more day of fishing in. The landscape, right up to the stream bank, was snow covered. The temperature was around 20 degrees with wind chill as low as 6 degrees. Using the Classic Trout I managed to savor the fight of several fish while snow was falling around me. One fish in particular, a beautiful 16-inch brown trout, starting to show signs of a hook jaw, was the jewel of the day.

Summary:
Diamondback's Classic Trout is excellent while casting and playing fish. Of the 3 weights in this review it ranks a close second. The only thing I'd change about it is the number of sections (I prefer 3 or more piece rods for portability).

Contact Diamondback at (800) 847-6787 or on the Internet at www.diamondbackflyrods.com.

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Orvis Superfine 7'6" 3 weight 2 piece "The Tippet"
Action             Full Flex 4.5 (Slow)
Rod Weight    1.5 oz.
Price                 $325

Orvis Superfine The Tippet Orvis' Superfine "The Tippet" is built on a black unsanded blank with brown wraps. It utilizes sleeve ferrules with alignment dots. It has a small, good quality "Orvis superfine" grip. The reel seat is cork with rings. It has a hook keeper.

Out of the rod tube "The Tippet" is exactly what I was looking for in a small stream rod (a rod that would allow me to feel the fight of an 8 inch fish). It's the slowest of the 3 weights in this review.

"The Tippet" is a great dry fly rod. I even managed to find success with several double-fly rigs. I reached its limits when I tied on a size 12 bead-head prince nymph; that nymph was just too big and heavy. Wind also made fishing with "The Tippet" a chore. On the plus side catching fish on "The Tippet" was exciting, even the little ones. Heck, I could feel the rod flex when moss collected on my line.

Summary:
Orvis' "The Tippet" is a light, super-sensitive slow action rod. The grip is on the small side - people with large hands beware. Playing fish is real excitement, even smaller ones. As a specialized dry-fly rod it's great. Wind and weight pose a challenge.

Contact Orvis at (800) 548-9548 or on the Internet at www.orvis.com .

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Orvis Superfine 8'0" 4 weight 4 piece "Tight Loop"
Action             Full Flex 5.5 (Slow)
Rod Weight    2.75 oz.
Price                 $360

Orvis Superfine Tight Loop Orvis' Superfine "Tight Loop" is built on a black unsanded blank with brown wraps. It utilizes sleeve ferrules with alignment dots. It has a small, good quality reverse half wells grip. The reel seat is black anodized aluminum with a cocobolo wood insert. It has a hook keeper.

If you like to feel the rod flex while casting you'll love the "Tight Loop". It bends all the way down to the grip. The more I fly fish the more I find myself gravitating to slower action rods like this one. Admittedly, after fishing with faster action rods - especially in the same day -- this one takes some adjustments.

Recently I took the "Tight Loop" out for the day and had a ball. The slower action is almost relaxing while casting. Even with a little wind I never wanted to change rods. Reaching out 30 to 40 feet was not a problem, beyond that I couldn't see my fly anyway. Periodically throughout the day I surprised myself with several self-proclaimed "perfect casts" that resulted in fish. Playing the fish is when this rod really shines; it's a great shock absorber.

The portability of this 4 piece is excellent. The rod tube easily fits inside my backpack.

Summary:
Orvis' "Tight Loop" has a relaxed, flexible, slow but not too slow action (a favorite among the 4 weight rods in this review). Casting small-stream distances is easy once the proper adjustment is made from fast/medium-fast casting habits. This fuller flexing rod is great fun while playing fish, not to mention very forgiving when it comes to light tippets. The portability of the 4 piece is a bonus. One thing to note, the grip is on the small side - people with large hands beware.

Contact Orvis at (800) 548-9548 or on the Internet at www.orvis.com .

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Powell LGA 8'0" 3 weight 4 piece
Action             Fast
Rod Weight    N/A
Price                 $520

Powell LGA Powell's LGA is built on a cobalt blue sanded blank with blue wraps and silver highlights above the ferrules. It utilizes sleeve ferrules with no alignment dots. It has a good quality reverse half wells grip. The reel seat is nickel silver aluminum with a madrone wood insert. It has a hook keeper.

Powell's LGA is definitely fast action. It handles double-fly combos with ease, even smaller weighted nymph droppers. Some wind isn't a big deal, but one gusty spring evening I asked this little 3 weight for a lot. I struggled to get my flies out to the right spot, but my efforts paid off with several feisty fights, despite the best efforts of the wind to force me into an early retreat.

The LGA is stiffer than I like, while casting and while fighting fish - especially smaller fish. On one occasion I snapped my line - losing the entire double fly rig -- when what appeared to be a big fish slurped my Royal Wulff and I, in a little too much anticipation, pulled straight up, much too hard for 5x tippet. I blame myself more than the rod, but I wonder how a more flexible rod would have handled the situation.

The LGA is quite a looker, beautiful cobalt blue with wraps that sparkle in the sunlight. The reel seat is equally nice. The cosmetics are everything you'd expect on a high-end fly rod.

Summary:
The LGA is a beautiful, fast action rod. For a 3 weight, it's a champ with weight and in the wind. It's a little too stiff for my tastes, but I did have some fun with it.

Contact Powell at (888) 6-FLYROD (635-9763) or on the Internet at www.powellco.com.

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Powell LTT 7'9" 3 weight 3 piece
Action             Medium-Fast
Rod Weight    N/A
Price                 $470

Powell LTT Powell's LTT is built on an emerald green sanded blank with green wraps and chrome metallic silver highlights above the ferrules. It utilizes sleeve ferrules with no alignment dots. It has a good quality reverse half wells grip. The reel seat is aluminum with a maple wood insert. It has a hook keeper.

I like the medium-fast action of Powell's LTT. It's easy to feel the rod load especially when casting short distances. It fits my casting style much better than Powell's LGA. It's fun to cast but it is noticeably stiffer than Sage's SP.

I enjoyed fishing with the LTT; fighting fish it is exceptional. No single fish I caught with the LTT stands out in my memory, but I remember reveling in the fights on multiple occasions.

On two different outings the bottom ferrule worked its way loose while casting. This didn't happen with any of the other rods in this review.

Summary:
I liked the medium-fast action of Powell's LTT, just not as much as the action of the Diamondback Classic or the Sage SP. Playing fish it's exceptional. I like the 7'9" length and the portable 3 sections. The cosmetics are nice. The ferrules loosening while casting is a concern.

Contact Powell at (888) 6-FLYROD (635-9763) or on the Internet at www.powellco.com.

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Powell AVS 7'6" 4 weight 3 piece
Action             Medium-Fast
Rod Weight    N/A
Price                 $265

Powell AVS Powell's AVS is built on a reddish brown sanded blank with burgundy wraps and silver highlights above the ferrules. It utilizes sleeve ferrules with no alignment dots. It has a good quality reverse half wells grip. The reel seat is black anodized aluminum. It has a hook keeper.

Powell's AVS impressed me the first time I cast it at the Fly-Fishing Retailer (FFR) show over a year ago. If feels light with a smooth medium-fast action.

While fishing I felt like I could do anything I needed to with this short 4 weight, it's very comfortable to cast. Fighting fish it was super sensitive, I couldn't ask for anything more.

The closest rod that compares to the AVS in this review is the Redington Wayfarer. The AVS holds it's own functionally, it's a little softer than the Redington - which I like. On the other hand the cosmetics are simpler on the AVS (especially the reel seat) and the price for this 3 piece is $70 more than the Redington 5 piece, giving the Wayfarer a slight edge overall.

Summary:
The AVS is my favorite Powell; I like the action. It's great to cast and fun to play fish. The cosmetics are simple especially compared to the lower priced Redington Wayfarer.

Contact Powell at (888) 6-FLYROD (635-9763) or on the Internet at www.powellco.com.

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Redington Wayfarer 7'6" 4 weight 5 piece
Action             Medium-Fast
Rod Weight    N/A
Price                 $195

Redington Wayfarer Redington's Wayfarer is built on a dark charcoal gray sanded blank with black wraps. It utilizes sleeve ferrules with no alignment dots (I can't believe they made a 5 piece rod with no alignment dots!). It has a good quality reverse half wells grip. The reel seat is anodized pewter colored aluminum with a rose wood insert. It has a hook keeper.

The Redington Wayfarer is another rod that caught my eye at FFR over a year ago; test casting the Wayfarer I knew I had to get to know it better. The thing that impressed me the most was that a company, other than Cabela's, was interested in producing a 5-piece rod for under $200.

Fishing with the Wayfarer I was just as impressed as I was while test casting it. The action is medium-fast, and while this rod is slightly stiffer than the Powell AVS it's very comfortable to cast. It is flexible and feels great with a fish on.

The portability of this rod (it comes in a miniscule 23 inch rod tube) and it's price make it stand out as the best bargain in this review.

Summary:
A 5-piece for $195, bonus! It's so easy to pack I always take it with me, even when I'm not sure a 4 weight is in order. I enjoyed the action while casting and its flexibility while playing fish. The cosmetics are surprisingly good especially given this is the lowest priced rod in this review.

Contact Redington at (800) 253-2538 or on the Internet at www.redington.com.

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Sage SP 7'6" 3 weight 3 piece
Action             Medium-Fast
Rod Weight    2.69 oz.
Price                 $565

Sage SP Sage's SP is built on a green sanded blank with green wraps. It utilizes sleeve ferrules with alignment dots. It has a good quality reverse half wells grip. The reel seat is nickel silver aluminum with a nice hardwood insert. It has a hook keeper.

Sage's SP is the quintessential fly-fishing tool. It strikes the perfect balance between cast-ability and fish-ability.

Its action is medium-fast but it's closer to medium than it is to fast. The SP is very comfortable to cast especially in the short range. Each time I picked it up I could really feel the rod load while getting line out. It has backbone too, enough to punch out 30 to 40 feet easily. It's not the best rod when a stiff wind picks up, but it'll work (it is a 3 weight).

Fishing with the SP is always fun. It's very flexible; it feels great with a fish on - nearly electric sometimes. I used it in a variety of situations often fishing multi-fly combinations (dry fly and a nymph dropper) and it never disappointed me. The most memorable experience I had with the SP was last fall when I used it to get a closer look at a colorful 16-inch brown.

As of September 2001 Sage has discontinued the SP line and replaced it with the SLT. This is a big disappointment, however it means SP rods can be found at closeout prices.

Summary:
The SP is the measuring stick to compare the other rods to (best overall in this review). It's great to cast and great to fight fish with. It's a portable 3-piece. It's not the greatest in the wind, but it is everything I wanted in a 3-weight fly rod. Too bad Sage discontinued the SP.

Contact Sage at (800) 533-3004 or on the Internet at www.sageflyfish.com.

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Sage XP 7'6" 4 weight 2 piece
Action             Fast
Rod Weight    2.06 oz.
Price                 $490

Sage XP Sage's XP is built on an olive green sanded blank with olive green wraps. It utilizes sleeve ferrules with no alignment dots*. It has a good quality reverse half wells grip. The reel seat is nickel silver aluminum with a nice hardwood insert. It has a hook keeper.

My first time casting the XP it was surprisingly light and definitely fast. While it works in short line situations I was disappointed by how stiff it feels till you get more line out.

On stream it was difficult to feel the rod load, casting short distances (less than 20 feet). From my very first cast the XP begged to be let loose. It's kind of like driving a Ferrari through a congested downtown area with red lights on every corner. Once you get some line out the XP starts to shine. I found myself casting farther and more accurate than ever before. A pleasant surprise was how flexible the XP feels while fighting a fish, no complaints in this category.

One outing I started the day using the XP. While I had a great time catching fish with it I couldn't wait to swap rods to get more feeling casting short distances. Once I switched I wanted to switch back. The XP definitely grew on me, and I didn't notice it till I starting using a different rod. I ended that day catching the majority of the day's fish with the XP.

Summary:
The XP is an acquired taste. It is difficult to feel the rod load casting distances less than 20 feet. However, casting medium to longer distances this rod excels. It is surprisingly flexible while playing fish. It is one of the best rods in this review for handling windy conditions.

Don't be surprised if it takes a few trips to get in sync with the XP. It's still not my favorite rod in this review, but after giving it a few tries it's closer to the top than the bottom (where it was after my fist trip with it).

Contact Sage at (800) 533-3004 or on the Internet at www.sageflyfish.com.

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Scott Eclipse 8'0" 3 weight 2 piece (current model is a 3 piece)
Action             Medium-Fast
Rod Weight    2.9 oz. (for the 3 piece)
Price                 $585 (for the 3 piece)

Scott Eclipse Scott's Eclipse is built on a deep green sanded blank with green wraps. It utilizes internal ferrules with alignment dots. It has a good quality full taper grip. The reel seat is nickel silver aluminum with a fiddleback maple wood insert. It has a hook keeper.

The Scott Eclipse is medium-fast action and it is on the fast side. As much as I enjoy slower action rods I surprise myself once in a while casting faster rods. I had one chance to place a fly at the nose of a rising brown. Using the Eclipse I positioned my fly across the slower current to the far bank 35 feet away. It was a sweet cast. The only thing sweeter was that brown's tail disappearing back into the current a few minutes later.

For a 3 weight the Eclipse is disappointingly stiff, it barely flexed with smaller fish on. On the other hand it does handle the wind as good as any in this review.

I really like the looks of the Eclipse, I'm a big fan of the deep green blanks and gold guides.

Summary:
The Eclipse is a beautiful rod. It casts well, especially in the wind. It is a bit too stiff for me, and not as fun when playing fish 12 inches and under.

Contact Scott at (800) 728-7208 or on the Internet at www.scottflyrod.com.

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Scott PowRPly (G) 8'0" 4 weight 4 piece (current model is a 3 piece)
Action             Medium
Rod Weight    2 oz. (for the 3 piece)
Price                 $525 (for the 3 piece)

Scott PowRPly (G) Scott's PowRPly (G) is built on a charcoal gray unsanded blank with reddish brown wraps. It utilizes internal ferrules with alignment dots. It has a good quality trout western grip. New rods include a nickel silver reel seat with a cocobola wood insert. This one has a black aluminum reel seat with a cocobola wood insert. It has a hook keeper.

The Scott G is a classic medium action rod. The only rod I've ever built was on a Scott G 8'6" 2 piece blank. Casting this rod I felt like I'd met up with an old friend. I had no problem settling into a nice rhythm. It worked well with multi-fly rigs. I even had a great fall afternoon flipping a hopper through some riffles.

The G is nicely flexible while playing fish. I met up with a beautiful fall orange cutthroat that made a day with the Scott G a special one.

Summary:
Scott's PowRPly (G) has a classic, smooth small stream medium action (a favorite among the 4 weight rods in this review). It's comfortable while casting and excellent while playing fish. The cosmetics on this demo rod are simple, the newer rods look a lot nicer.

Contact Scott at (800) 728-7208 or on the Internet at www.scottflyrod.com.

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Wrap-up

The differences between the 3 and 4 weights in this review are slight at best. For the most part I could do everything I needed to with the 3 weights. Fishing with them was the best until the wind really picked up or I needed more weight than a size 18 bead head pheasant tail. Connecting with the fish during a fight, even small fish, is what makes the 3 weights so sweet.

On the other hand since the differences are so minimal the slightly better versatility of the 4 weights make them appealing. In general they are better in the wind and handle more weight, without sacrificing a lot of fish handling flexibility.

One school of thought is to skip line weights odd or even (e.g. 2, 4, 6 or 3, 5, 7). I think that works well for rods of the same length but that theory breaks down when you choose a shorter rod. In other words a 7'6" 4 weight would complement a 9' 5 weight very well and won't overlap much at all.

So if you lean towards power and versatility 4 weights would be better. If you're looking for finesse or to specialize then the 3 weights are the way to go. Now if you're a gear fanatic like me it's not too hard to find excuses to own a couple of rods in this range. I loved the softer medium-fast to medium action 7'6" 3 weights for most situations. As a backup for those blustery days I'd carry any of the 4 weights, the easier to pack the better.

* Even though the rod is a 2 piece I'd still prefer to see alignment dots.

Scott Clayton is the Fly Fishing Editor at GearReview.com.


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