JoeFriday, (the winner of the 854-4 Scott Radian fly rod in the Dry Fly Guy Gear Giveaway) graciously permitted me to play with his new toy before sending it off to him. So in the unseasonably warm weather we had at the beginning of the month, I availed myself of the opportunity, and took the Radian along with my trusty reference rod (an 863-4 Winston BIIIx) for a little side-by-side comparison casting.
I don’t have another graphite rod that is 8′-6″ in length, and the only other 4 weight that I have is a seven-foot bamboo rod, so the Winston was the best I could do in getting a side-by-side of “equal” rods. As noted, both rods are four piece configurations, and both rods utilize a burled wood reel seat insert with uplocking reel seat hardware. So they do have a few things in common, even if they are a full line weight apart. But they also have a few major differences. The reel seat hardware is nickel-silver on the Winston, while the Scott is an anodized aluminum reel seat. Both rods have nice cork grips, but the Winston is a “Western” grip and the Scott is a small “Wells”. The biggest difference is of course in the line weight rating, with the Winston rated as a 3 weight, and the Scott is rated as a 4 weight. Side by side the Winston looks considerably more “slender” than the Scott, and this also translates into the actual weight of the rods, with the Winston feeling noticeably lighter.
To keep things as equal as I could in the reel/line department, I spooled up two Hardy Bouglés with S/A Mastery Trout DT line (a 3″ Bouglé for the four weight, and a Bouglé Baby for the 3 weight) to use in the comparison.
So now that you know the “context” and “variables” that may have played into my perceptions when casting these rods, it should also be noted that the Winston has been my trusted friend for awhile now, and this is my first (and only) time to cast the Scott Radian. With that information now on record, I’ll get to what you likely really want to know….
When I cast a fly rod to see how I like it, I rarely concern myself with trying to cast distance, at least at first. I’m much more interested in what the rod feels like with just a rod length or so of fly line out past the tip-top than I am with how far I can cast the sucker. So I typically begin casting with that amount of line out and cast sidearm using no haul whatsoever. Just watching the rod and line, and trying to gain an understanding of what the rod “wants” to do. I’ll gradually add more line length and eventually move to a “vertical” casting plane, again using no haul. After awhile I’ll reach a point where I have to work a little more than I’d like, to comfortably cast the length of line I have out. I’ll then make note of the distance, and then typically repeat this exercise while using a double haul to see how the rod responds, and at what point I am having to “work” again. Basically I’m a lazy caster and want a rod that will do all the work for me using a relaxed casting stroke. If I’m truly impressed with the rod after doing all of this, then I may decide to “work” and see just what I might be able to muster in the distance category. But like I said, almost all of my casting will be done with 8 to 40 or 50 feet of line out.
The Radian is a rod where I did all of the above and just came away smiling. It is considerably “faster” than the BIIIx is, and it truly throws some of the tightest loops I have ever formed. In comparing the two rods, the Radian is certainly stiffer than the BIIIx, and not just because it’s a 4 weight. It resists bending into the butt section much more than the BIIIx, and the tip of the BIIIx almost feels “floppy” in comparison to the Radian. If a really sensitive tip is your idea of “feel” in a rod, the Radian may be stiffer than you’d prefer. But please don’t misinterpret that to mean it’s stiff. It’s just stiffer than most of my rods.
Some may call the action of the Radian progressive, others might call it “tip-flex”. I’m never quite sure how to describe a rod’s action in a few words, so I’ll put it this way: Until the rod gets under some serious loading, the upper quarter to third of the rod is where the “action” tends to be. As the load increases the rod flexes deeper, and once you’ve got some serious line out, the rod is flexing well into the butt, but I didn’t really notice it in the grip. By comparison the BIIIx is down right whip like. It lacks the backbone of the Radian, and with even moderate line lengths is flexing as deeply into the blank as the Radian ever seems to.
For me there was also a marked difference in the feel of the cast between the two rods. The BIIIx has a more pronounced “flick” from the tip. Kind of like the tip is left behind in the power snap portion of the cast and then plays catch-up. Whereas the Radian feels more like the power snap is a direct connection to the line and is applying that power instantaneously. Both are very satisfying feelings, and they certainly both “do the job”. But I have to say that I prefer the feel of the Winston in this regard. That may have more to do with familiarity than anything, but the “slow” feel is something I enjoy, and a “fast” rod just can’t give it to me.
Speaking of fast… The Radian tracks straight as an arrow, and I noticed no tip bounce whatsoever in my limited time with it. It does everything I’d expect of a fast rod, but it doesn’t feel like a broomstick in my hand. Which, for example, many of the Sage offerings, and the old Winston “MX” series did/do.
I personally really like the small wells grip that Scott has used on the Radian, even with my small hands, and I actually prefer it to the Winston grip. For me it’s an outright winner, and offers great comfort and control over the rod. The cork is still under plastic on the Radian, but it looks as nice as any cork I’ve seen, and certainly better than the cork on my BIIIx.
Now casting is not fishing, and I can’t really comment intelligently regarding Scott’s claim of the Radian being a fast rod that has great feel. It certainly has feel, I’ll give them that. But in my hands (casting only mind you, not fishing) the Winston has considerably more “feel” than the Radian does. Again, this may be because I’m familiar with the feedback the Winston gives me, and I have to “search” a little more with the Radian to find it. But I truly think the Winston provides more feel overall.
But the BIIIx is no competition for the Radian when it comes to feel when reaching out a bit. The Radian and I got along really well when it came to going for distance, and it responds considerably better to a double haul than the Winston does, even though I’m not truly familiar with it and my timing could likely improve. I felt much more in touch with what was going on with the rod, whereas the Winston felt overly dampened by comparison. So from say 45 feet or more, the Radian provides as good or better feel when casting than the BIIIx did.
Aesthetically both rods are superb, but different. The Winston has perhaps a bit more “glitz” with its nickel-silver reel seat, sanded (glossy) “Winston Green” blank, and a graphite rod tube to match. Whereas the Scott feels a bit more utilitarian with an un-sanded natural graphite blank, black anodized reel seat, and the same Scott aluminum rod tube that I have with my F2. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’ll let you decide which of the two aesthetics (if any) you like best.
So which of the two rods do I like the best? Well, with my first few casts with the Radian I thought I was going to have to sell my Winston. Truly, that was my first impression. It just made the most wonderful little loops and conveyed ample feedback for me to be comfortable with it. But the more I cast it along side the BIIIx, the more I understood the differences in them, and appreciated what each of them had to offer. I think I’d truly have to fish the Radian to know if it could replace the BIIIx. But if I didn’t own either rod, and was deciding between the two, casting each of them for the first time at a shop… I’d probably be coming home with the Radian. It’s simply a fantastic rod, and is honestly the first graphite rod I’m seriously considering as a replacement to my BIIIx.
Thank you Joe Friday for the opportunity to lawn cast your rod, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I think you will.