Gear Review: Winston Air 2 MAX

June 17, 2024 By: Spencer Durrant

When I think of a Winston, I think of my collection of pre-IM6 Fisher-rolled 2-piece graphite rods that are unquestionably the best dry fly sticks ever built. My mind is as far away from big flies and meat-eating trout as it’s possible to get.

A few months ago, however, while on a visit to the R.L. Winston Rod Co factory in Twin Bridges, Montana, longtime Winston employee Adam Hutchison put a 9′ 6-weight Air 2 MAX in my hands.

The casting experience I had on Winston’s lawn was incredible.

Light. Responsive. Incredible feedback. Accurate. And astonishingly powerful. The Air 2 MAX is the perfect marriage of Winston’s classic feel and modern ultra-fast graphite technology.

My initial impression only grew fonder the more I fished with the Air 2 MAX. This is the single-most impressive streamer-centered fly rod I’ve ever used. Until the Air 2 MAX, my go-to streamer rod was the Orvis H3D 9′ 6-weight. That rod will still get some use—it’s better at fishing dry flies and nymph rigs—but for the days that are streamer-centric, the Air 2 MAX will get the call.

I don’t purport to know anything about saltwater fly fishing, which is what the Air 2 MAX is truly intended for. My experience in saltwater begins and ends with casting to dolly varden and pink salmon in the surf off Kodiak Island. But I know a good fly rod when I cast one, and I know saltwater anglers need quick, powerful rods that deliver accurate casts at a moment’s notice. In that regard, the Air 2 MAX delivers in spades.

Let’s take a closer look at exactly where this rod excels.

Incredible Feel

“Feel” is the most subjective term to describe a fly rod, and consequently, the toughest to accurately communicate. For me, a rod feels “good” when it’s light in hand, light during the cast, and provides enough feedback during the cast that I intuitively know when to start each part of the casting stroke.

The Air 2 MAX delivers that in spades. It’s truly a refreshing change of pace to have this much feel in a rod this fast.

Now, the Air 2 MAX was designed to perform in saltwater, warmwater, and chasing larger freshwater fish. I don’t know if Hank Haen, Winston’s rod engineer, had nymphing on large Western tailwaters on his mind when he worked on this rod, but I couldn’t resist pulling it out for just that purpose. I rigged up two large nymphs beneath an indicator and spent a day fighting Wyoming’s wind, and was thoroughly impressed by how the 9′ 6-weight Air 2 MAX handled the relatively light setup. The rod provided enough feel that I was able to hook and land some gorgeous fish, including this nice cutthroat.

A 6-weight like this is overkill for indicator trout fishing, but that it has enough feel to pull off the job speaks to the rod’s overall quality. It’s a fast stick that provides feedback for subtle presentations.


If you feel under-gunned when using an Air 2 MAX, then I’m not sure what to tell you. These rods pack an insane amount of power, even for a middling caster like myself. As anyone who’s thrown larger streamers with sink-tip lines can attest, some fly rods develop a “hitch” when casting those heavy rigs. Rods that don’t quite have the guts to hit full-send on a 250-grain line and an articulated fly make the entire casting experience sloppy and ineffective.

That’s not an issue with the Air 2 MAX. In fact, I got the best performance from this rod when loading it up with an Orvis Depth Charge line, a short piece of 12-pound leader, and some of my favorite articulated streamers. I could consistently reach out to 80 feet with my casts, and if I focused, it wasn’t hard to throw the entire fly line. For trout fishing, those sorts of casts are often overkill, but it’s nice to know I could do it if needed.

Along with the right line, this rod benefits from a well-timed double-haul. Beginners, or folks who haven’t spent much time with heavy lines and flies, may not find the action terribly friendly. In that instance, heavier, shorter lines will likely load the rod more effectively.

When hooked into trout, even in heavy runoff-influenced currents, the Air 2 MAX has the backbone to effortlessly bring fish to the net. The only fish that gave me a true run for my money was a brown that, predictably, got away. But not before my buddy got a good look at it and called it an easy 24-inch fish. That fish made five long runs before working itself free, but even then I didn’t feel overmatched. I lost the fish because I played it poorly and had the wrong angle, not because I didn’t have enough rod to work it towards the net.

The last thing to mention here is how this power translates to the overall experience of casting the rod. From what I can tell, the rod tracks straight enough while casting, because most of my casts landed where I wanted. This rod has the capability to perform as a precise, almost surgical, casting tool. All the line speed the blank generates isn’t wasted by a wobbly tip section. It all feels tight, accurate, and refined.


Again, I don’t think this is what Winston had in mind for the Air 2 MAX, but I reckon the 9′ 6-weight could pull double-duty as a great bass rod. It’ll obviously be a go-to stick for pike and musky, and you might be able to make it work for carp (it might be a bit too fast to land carp flies softly enough, but with the right line and a good casting stroke, I’m confident you could manage). As I mentioned, it’ll indicator nymph just fine, so if you’re in a pinch and only have the Air 2 MAX with you, you’ll still be able to get into fish. This feels like a do-it-all rod for bigger water and bigger fish, which is exactly what Winston intended. I also wouldn’t hesitate to throw mouse flies to large rainbows in Alaska with this rod, either. Heck, I’d be interested to see how it handles silver and king salmon, too.

The Details

The Air 2 MAX comes in weights 6-12, and in lengths of either 8’6″ or 9′. All rods feature a full wells grip and a silver, lightweight anodized aluminum reel seat with the R.L. Winston script logo engraved, along with double uplocking rings. Rods in the 6-10-weight class feature a 1 1/2″ fighting butt, while all other rods have a 2 1/2″ fighting butt. The cork is typical of Winston, which is probably the best on any production rod.

This rod runs $1,245, which is just a bit more than other rods in its class. For comparison, the Orvis Helios in a saltwater configuration retails at $1,198, while the Sage Salt R8 is $1,100.

Who It’s For

The Air 2 MAX is the ideal rod for anglers who chase big fish with big flies, and want the best performance and build quality possible. It features incredible feel which allows the 6-weight, at any rate, to be more versatile than I initially expected. This rod will punch through any wind, and in the right caster’s hands, it’s a deadly-accurate tool that’ll pick apart any water. The Air 2 MAX excels in saltwater, but it’ll more than meet the task in freshwater, as well.