Think of the top fly rod manufacturers in the world, and the name R.L. Winston is undoubtedly one of those special select few. Winston is not just known for crafting some of the best performing and most exquisitely-finished rods out there, but the use of boron in many of their blanks gives them added uniqueness. Offering such benefits as added strength, light weight, and stiffness, this material is used in the butt sections of Winston Boron III series rods to increase their overall performance. You can read more about the performance benefits here.
Winston's top-of-the-line AIR fly rods use this special Boron III technology, but also couples that with a new SuperSilica resin system for even lighter, livelier blanks. Covering a relatively small range of 3 to 6-weight, these rods look like they are a real dream offering for trout anglers. Trout don't exist here in South Florida, but after receiving my 5-weight AIR test rod I had some fun yet very different ideas for my review—including pushing the capabilities a bit.
Length: 9 feet
Line Weight: 5
Measured Rod Weight: Approx 3.52 ounces
Stripping Guides: Stainless frame/nano-lite insert
Guides: Chrome snakes
Reel Seat: Nickel silver/burled wood
Rod Tube/Sock: Yes/Yes
The handle of the AIR is a cigar-shaped grip with beautiful cork that's tight and smooth. Below, there's a reel seat comprised of burled wood with nickel silver aluminum components. I really like how the reel seat is similar in color to the cork because it creates a really clean, cohesive look here. Just above the grip there's a silver winding check and yes, a hook keeper for holding those tiny dries or nymphs.
Moving on to the blank, it's a glossy deep green that pops wonderfully in direct sunlight. The single stripping guide and all snake guides are bound with matching wraps, and the first section of the rod is adorned with that familiar Winston cigar band. Each piece of the rod sports a serial number which is really helpful to help avoid mixing up pieces with other similarly-sized Winston rods you may own.
Nothing but typical Winston quality here! My AIR test rod not only sported a flawless build quality, but its beautiful and classy cosmetics should please even the most discerning trout bum.
The name AIR immediately implies to me that this rod should be super lightweight. Interestingly, it weighed about 3.52 ounces on my scale—not so light as far as premium 5-weights go. However, it's balanced well and actually feels quite lightweight in hand. I had no complaints as far a physical weight or casting swing weight goes.
Casting the AIR really brought a smile to my face. It's a smooth, progressive medium-fast action that really offers some great feel. I coupled the rod with a textured WF5F Orvis Hydros HD Trout fly line (140-grains at 30 feet) and felt this was an outstanding match. This is not a stiff blank and it responded very well to this fly line which has a pretty standard head design and is spot on to 5-weight AFTTA standards.
This rod really excels at short to mid-range presentations where it's just a real pleasure. I didn't feel like it offered a ton of extra pop for long casts, but I was still able to shoot the entire 90-foot fly line out of the guides without extreme difficulty. Of course, in most trout fishing situations this kind of distance typically doesn't matter. For more typically average work, the AIR is tough to put down.
To push the limits of my AIR, I used it to chase cichlids and largemouth bass here in South Florida. For cichlids, I used the floating line in conjunction with a loop-on sink tip (an additional 50-grains) and various small streamers both weighted and unweighted. For the bass, I used just the floating line along with a mid-sized bluegill streamer that is more suited to a fast-action 6 or 7-weight. Surprisingly, casting these rigs wasn't a major problem but of course this wouldn't be my go-to rod for stuff like this. I was able to land a handful of hard-pulling cichlids and a few largemouth bass to about 4-pounds on this stick—what a blast!
I mostly use stouter fast action rods for much of my fishing, but I still really enjoy hitting the water with something a bit more forgiving and easygoing like the AIR. I had a lot of fun with this rod and really think highly of it. While I did find it up to the task when casting heavier offerings, I'd much prefer to use this rod in lighter-duty scenarios....which is likely what most folks will use it for, anyhow.
There's one major downside to the AIR, and that's the cost. Priced at $950 no matter which model is selected, it's a healthy investment to say the least. The rod is certainly of extreme quality and is a great performer, so whether the cost is worth it is up to you!
As you can see above, unfortunately I had a mishap with the AIR after I was done testing it. This was not due to defect of the rod, but rather an accident on my behalf. As I was organizing some tackle, I stumbled and stepped on one section of the blank, snapping it into 3 pieces. Ouch. I'm one of the most careful people on earth when it comes to handling or maneuvering around tackle (I can't stand even scratching a reel!), so this was quite a freak accident. My sincere apologies, Winston!
*All AIR rods include a sock and tube.
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