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Retro Rod Review: Four Graphite Models that Changed the Fly Fishing World

by Kirk Deeter
Retro Fly Rods

Four retro freestone classics

In marketing-speak, we’ve been through so much “next generation” graphite hype in the last 20 years that, if you actually buy the hyperbole, you might just think a rod made in the mid-1990s is virtually unfishable.

That is, of course, utter hogwash. No matter what anyone tells you, fly rods have not, in fact, evolved at the same techno-pace as things like digital cameras, laptop computers, and cell phones.

A rod is still a rod, and in some cases, some graphite “classics” still have a look and feel that cannot be replaced, even by the very manufacturers that shelved these models in favor of the “faster, lighter” brands they replaced them with.

It’s like driving a classic Ford Mustang, Chevy Corvette, or even a Jeep CJ-7. There’s inherent beauty in the standard. And there’s still inherent beauty in some fly rods that cost a whopping $350, or $450 when they were introduced back in the day.

If you can find one of these on EBay, sold second-hand, at a garage sale, or maybe have one willed to you by its former owner—hang onto it. It’s the real deal.

Sage 590 RPL

I remember begging and pleading with my wife to let me buy a Sage RPL, some 20 years ago. The sticker shock hit both of us—over $350 for a fly rod. Blew my mind at the time, but I bit the bullet. The Sage RPL is the model that got many anglers thinking and feeling beyond anything Orvis had to offer. It’s still a steady performer; not too fast, by modern standards, but not sluggish by any means. It’s still an honest rod, with plenty of backbone and casting punch. This is the rod that taught me to cast, and I still fish it in a variety of situations, east and west.

G.Loomis GLX 9’5”

This is really the rod that changed everything. When G.Loomis developed GLX, the graphite world shifted forever. By modern standards, the original GLX models seem a bit “tippy” for many anglers, but the spine and punch factors were (and still are) impossible to ignore. GLX is the graphite recipe that added distance to the cast, in saltwater and freshwater, and if you know how to handle a GLX rod, the accuracy and distance factors still cannot be replicated, no matter what you throw.

Scott G

I won an original Scott G Series 3-weight, two-piece fly rod at a charity auction, years ago. I was immediately smitten by the design—those internal-fitting ferrules, clean wraps, and the snappy balance that extended from the tip right through the handle and reel seat. Over the years, I have seen and fished with many, many rods, but for small- to mid-sized waters, especially in dry-fly situations, I’ve never seen anything that tops the Scott 8-foot, 3-weight original G series. It’s a classic.

Winston IM-6

Nobody did IM-6 graphite better, with more sex appeal (by way of the rod finish, components, etc.) than Winston did. I remember being on a book (Castwork) trip, in Montana, in September when the hoppers were jumping and the wind was ripping.  I paid cash for my part of the hotel expenses with my book partners, so I could pay cash (and hide the purchase from my wife) for a Winston 8’-6” #6 weight rod, which I bought at George Anderson’s shop. My guide at the time, Rusty Vorous, gave it a shake, and exclaimed, “It’ll march.” It’s been marching ever since, and is still my favorite hopper/streamer rod for big water.

This might come as a relief to some of you, but age is not a detriment, even in the graphite fly rod realm. There are some things that may have been forgotten, but in truth, have never been replicated.

You have more resources now than ever to find the classics and put them in your arsenal. And if you have these rods in your quiver already, for goodness sake, don’t neglect them.

Hype is hype, and what works, works. Understanding the difference and knowing when to appreciate a gem already in hand is a very, very good thing.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
This article is filed under Fly Rods with sub-topics , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Kerry Gubits

    Great stuff. The Sage RPL was my first “quality” rod purchase, and I really became a fly fisherman casting that rod. Not really great at short distances, though. Have also owned and casted the GLX, G, and IM6 through the years. I stopped looking for the latest and greatest a short time ago; I now own Winston BiiX’s in 5,6,8, and 9 weights. It seems to be simply the best rod for me to cast in a variety of conditions.

  • sz

    Great article. However this piece will now cause these classics to increase in price. I cherish the Winston IM6 6wt and my older LT 8′-9″ 5wt is my go to rod.

  • jerry

    It seems to me that the Loomis IMX graphite preceded the GLX, and the IMX was the real breakthrough graphite.

    • bigspencer

      +1

  • jaym

    I still fish my 15 year old 11wt RPLX as my primary tarpon rod. Even with other “next generation” rods strung up and ready.

  • Bmalfait4
  • jerry

    I believe the IMX graphite rods preceded the GLX rods, and were the first of the “new” graphite rod revolution.

  • DMc

    Amen … I have a Winston 81/2 X 6 IM6 that I bought in 1981 from Tom Morgan, and it is still justifying its price tag. So far, it has cost me around $10 per year for a first-out streamer and light saltwater flats rod.

  • http://www.chuck-stranahan.com Chuck Stranahan

    Thank you, thank you, for another dose of common sense, Kirk.

    I have a few favorites that I would add to your list, but your point remains and is a well-taken breath of fresh air amid the dust cloud of rod marketing hype.Tom Morgan, who was in charge of Winston during the ascendancy of graphite, said flatly, “If it was a good rod 30 years ago, it’s a good rod today.” I wonder how many of the “lighter, faster, newest technology” fad rods will make that grade in retrospect. A couple of them might – and bring top prices on the internet and garage sales when they are discontinued, as the majority of them fizzle.One factor that has pushed the “development” (if you can call it that) of so many “new, revolutionary” fly rods is the so-called lifetime warranty. It used to be, if you backed your rig over your favorite rod after a post-fishing tailgate session, you berated your stupidity and then did the responsible thing: you went out and bought another one. Not so with the no-fault guarantee. Result: repeat sales vanish as rod prices escalate beyond reason to cover warranty claims. To generate new sales, the manufacturer discontinues the old rod and introduce a newer one in its place. 

    Some of these new rods are good, no doubt. They are also expensive. The market is limited to those who are willing to endure the sticker shock to own one. The development and production cost difference between a dumbed-down entry level rod and the $895 top model simply isn’t that great. Small wonder that so many anglers buy American- designed and capitalized offshore-built rods that perform at the high end but don’t cost so much money. 

    I own a few new rods, but tend to fish most of the time with my old ones. As a dealer, I stock rods that cast and fish well that the average angler can afford. Too bad that many older rods were discontinued – and that rod development wasn’t funneled into fewer new models that represented significant advances. The no-fault guarantee changed all that.

  • Rick Teague

    I still have a great love for my 5’3″, 5WT Fenwick IM6 for small stream pure fun!

    Rick Teague

  • Max-p

    Probably the tour most popular retro-graphites are:
    - Sage LL 389
    - Orvis Far & Fine
    - G.Loomis IMX 9′ #6
    - Fenwick HMG 8’6 #6

  • Cs2824

    i agree reewith the Scott G Series, i have a 2 wt. that is over 20 yrs. old, still my favorite Trout rod when there is no or little wind. Check out the prices on eBay for G Series….always over 300$  :

  • Cs2824

    oh yeah, what about GLoomis IMX, I still own and fish several…4, 8, 12 wt. Smooth and Accurate!

  • Twinlakesflies

    Great piece…I admit I got caught up in the whole “have to have the latest and greatest”. Buying and selling rods every year or two. That was until I fished a 379 LL that belonged to a friend……..He ended up letting me buy that rod and I’ve since added an older 7’9 5wt Far & Fine. Love fishing them both!

  • Chuck S

    Well done!   But I might go a bit more retro and add a Fenwick HMG and a Browning Silaflex and perhaps shift from that Loomis to a Sage SP.  One thing for sure, I wouldn’t turn down any of those rods.  Still think the old RPLX is one of the tops saltwater rods ever built.

  • Neilmtrv

    Truth is truth, and you have stated the truth very well. I have been beating this drum for many years. A rod that was a good rod when it was new is still a good rod today. The mechanics of fly casting have not changed with the passage of time. Thanks for affirming what I have been preaching for many years.

  • Lancton

    My 1994 Winston IM 6 is my favorite rod! Thanks for reinforcing what I already belived.

  • 3weight

    I miss the Sage SLTs – to me, the fly rod that came closest to perfection.

  • Anonymous

     How could you not include the Fenwick HMG? This was the stick that weaned (for better or worse) an entire generation of anglers from fiberglass to graphite. Of all plastic rods the HMG was THE game changer.

    I totally agree with you on the Scott G series – designed well outside the box and cutting edge for a number of 
    reasons. The IM-6 was also a nice departure from the norm and deserves kudos.

    The GLX was an incremental step from the IMX. It was the IMX that actually pushed Loomis to the fore.

    RPL????? Simply stepping stone in the evolution of the RP series. Hardly a milestone. Nice rod, but change the world?

    • bigspencer

      Think there are always certain rods, not rod-lines, that are terrific rods. For example..some of the RPLs never, as said, made much of a difference…but the 8′ #4wt RPL was quite a rod…everything just clicked…making a great rod.(just my $.01) ;-)

  • Dave Smethurst

    Although I have others, or could get other rods, I still go to my Orivis Far and Fine for small steam work, either with a 4 or 5 line.  I got mine the first year they came out with that model.   

  • VintageFlyTackle dot com

    I started out liking the Scott G rods too. But once I tried bamboo there was no going back. Good article!

    Gary

  • BillA

    I think I’ll stick with good bamboo that is always classic and handles any basic trout fishing need I have ever had. It’s all “first” generation, too. The only time I really reach for a graphite rod is in salt water or when I need a rod much over eight feet in length or over 6 weight.. Today’s “latest” graphite rod today is worth little next year and it absurdly priced to begin wih. I find little need to cast trout flies much father than 50 feet anyway, because you have little control at that range, except when stripping streamers, ect. If you need to win a distance tournament, go with high end graphite, but if you are just a trout fisherman like myself, bamboo is more pleasing, both to cast and for fighting fish.  

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  • J2helring

    All good rods for sure but the rod that changed the flyfishing world forever was the original Fenwick graphite. It did ween generations of fiberglass guys over to the lighter ,stronger,  faster, and more importantly longer advantages of the new material. However perhaps its best and most influencial feature was the internal metal less ferrule that Fenwick developed. That ferrule not only changed flyfishing but it changed every other form of fishing also as that design was incorporated into other types of rods. To me that was one of those epihfany (sp) moments. The only medium unable to incorporate this new design remained Bamboo. Try and think of the 3 or 4  real flyfishing game changing development in say the last 50 years.

  • rich

    I’ll still stay with my T&T 3-weight.

  • Da Ax

    When I took my first casting class, I had a real hard time dealing with the 9ft 5wt older model Imperial.  The instructor set a Scott G in my hands and the light bulb came on.  Although I don’t really remember the length or the weight, I remember casting it.

    I’ll throw my vote in with the Orvis Far and Fine (even though mine is a Superfine, not the orginal F&F)

  • Flyfisherman444

    The IMX came before the GLX and was the real breakthrough model

  • bigspencer

    A few:
    - A few of Ted Simroe’s Boron-Graphites. Maybe not all totally successful, but neither are many products that changed how things are done.
    - Winston’s IM6 lightline/light-weight rods.
    - GLoomis’s IMX
    A few possible(that I haven’t cast a line with yet):
    - Sage’s Methods
    -GLoomis’s NRXes

    oops, that’s 5..;-)

    • Sern

      What’s wrong with 5? ;~)

      • bigspencer

        Lost track Sern…really nothing…was there something in thread about 4?…
        Hey what weather(at least in the NE) for late Sept-early October(& skiing *hopefully)…

        • Sern

          I know was just throwing out a little sarcasm. IMO, every major iteration a rod company puts out is a change on some lever that revolutionizes out fishing. Look at the newest Sage rods in the “Economy”Class. Compare these to the Fli and one or two others. Evolution is a good thing.

  • Doc

    Does Winston still manufacture the IM6 rod? Thanks.

    • Ryan McCullough

      In the sense that the im6 rod essentially became the WT series, yes they do. It is (was) a custom order. You won’t be able to order one from winston now, i do not believe. they are discontinued. There are several new WT rods floating around and if you can get one with a warranty on it, I would jump on it in an instant. I would recommend getting a used im6 with a serial number in the 100,XXX serial number series. That means it was rolled by blanks in-house at winston and was not a loomis blank. The loomis blanks may be on-par or in some opinions, better, but the real issue is that if you break anything, they can repair it because they were produced with lifetime warranty and thus, the mandrels will never leave the winston shop- they could potentially rebuild a section of a rod if it were to break.

      • Doc

        Ryan, Thanks for getting back to me on the IM6 rod question. I value your opinion and have learned much from your writings. What would be a current rod on the market that would be close or the same action as the Winston IM6? I love that action. Is there one? Thank you again. Doc

        • Ryan McCullough

          Doc-

          I have an im6 I bought used. The closest you’ll get with a new rod would be a WT in the “Tom Morgan Favorite” or TMF designation: it’s a two piece rod with a slightly more moderate action. You may be able to scour the internet and find one new. Otherwise, I would highly suggest purchasing a used im6 even above looking for anything newer. They truly are superior in workmanship and have a wonderful action. If you want a WT that is new you had better buy the first one you see as you’ll never get a warranty on one again. They are built the same with internal spigot ferrules in a three piece rod. It seems Winston is moving away from these old (and in my mind, superior) techniques.

          If it doesn’t have to be an IM6, I have some ideas, but for my money, a used im6 is probably the best value in a fly rod out there.

          • http://midcurrent.com/ Marshall Cutchin

            Ryan (and Doc): I have to agree. My personal favorite trout rod is a custom rod built on one of Tom Morgan’s IM6 blanks. If you find one, get it! Thanks for posting all the good feedback and info.

          • Ryan McCullough

            Yes, Marshall-

            They are fine rods. I think the original graphite is just a bit sweeter. The real genius comes from Tom Morgan. He goes into detail about his falling out with fisher which is why the partnership with loomis began. The rods that Morgan had a hand in designing are the best ever made in my opinion. Save your money and buy a rod from him before he is gone. (Tom Morgan rodsmiths)

            If you can handle a new slightly faster action, fish a Winston GVX that is one line under what you think you need. I have a 8.5foot four weight that I got on clearance for $220 before they went with the “GVX Select” name change. Crisp, but responds very well to a slower casting stroke. I have fished this rod 80% of the time this year. I just can’t put it down.

          • Ryan McCullough

            I guess that didn’t come out very clear… What I mean is if you fish a GVX rod a four weight will do great where you’d normally fish a five… It’s a very relaxed rod considering how fast it is in actuality. Nice, soft tip, but with enough backbone. This rod is basically a boron rod taper that is built with all graphite instead. I’ve always had a gripe with “boron” rods. They cast amazing and are so sweet, but you can’t feel the butt section!! A real disadvantage when you can’t feel line lift off the water.

  • Dave Maynard

    Great write up Kirk! Found a deep, gut felt, hell yeah! when you described several rods!!!

  • Waltzin Matilda

    My husband has a lot of cane, glass and graphite.

    My personal rod is a Dave Lewis built on a Powell blank from the mid-late 90s,

    However, when I can, I will grab his Walton Powell custom 8′ 3″ Hexagraph.

    Closest thing to cane.
    :)

    Waltzin Matilda

  • Bob Robertson

    Am hoping that you can give me some advice. I am a 75 yr old fly fisherman who has to give up the sport due to medical issues. I have had an R.L. Winston 2 piece, 8 1/2′ for 5 weight fly rod since 1987. It has a serial number of 6928. Very good condition with original tube and sock. Any idea how much it might be worth? I have not a clue.

    • Ryan McCullough

      Bob- The rod would be worth about $300 if you sold on ebay, etc. There are several buyers on the used rod market who continually bid on these rods up to and occasionally over that amount. That rod is referred to online as a Winston “original graphite”. It is a Fisher-rolled blank that predates the partnership with Loomis rolled blanks that became the im6 rod. If you still have the rod, i am interested. My favorite rod and the one I looked for the longest is a 8′ 6wt. Winston serial number 4428. contact me at dryfliesforever@gmail.com

    • Sern

      I’ll buy it for $300!

  • Sern

    I worked in a shop for a short period and the guys gave me a hard time about my Winston WT 8’6″ for 5wt because it was a 2 piece. That rod had more soul than anything coming off the racks back in 2008 that my employer sold. I got it a few years earlier as a Birthday present from the wife. It was the last of its kind in any of the local shops. This happened right before the cost for a premium rod nearly doubled.

  • Trouter George

    Hi, great read. The old G-Series rods ARE epic. I just listed one on ebay yesterday. I believe it is a California production, pre-Colorado. I thought I would let you know in the event that you have anyone looking for something of the vintage: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=161438312136

    Thanks, and tight lines,

    George