Delicate presentations. Tiny flies. Small fish. All things that the new R.L. Winston Alpha+ fly rods are NOT geared towards. Nope, these are made for those who love the more extreme side of fly fishing involving meaty flies, heavy lines, and big fish. As a big streamer angler, I can totally relate. This type of fishing puts extra demands on both the angler and tackle, so you had better be using a rod that's up to overcoming the added punishment. Does the Alpha+ deliver as promised?
Line Weight: 7
Measured Weight: Approx 4.13 ounces
Stripping Guide: Two chrome NanoLite guides
Snake Guides: Oversized hard-chrome Snake Brand "shooting guides"
Reel Seat: Anodized aluminum
Rod Tube/Sock: Graphite tube / embroidered sock
The handle of the Alpha+ is made from some of the nicest cork you'll find; so clean it was nearly white when I took it out of the tube! Sizing and width of the handle is excellent. Adjacent to the grip, there's an anodized-aluminum reel seat that's adorned with the R.L. Winston signature logo. This reel seat feels absolutely premium—the double up-locking rings spin smoothly and tighten down with an excellent ramp-up in firmness thanks to gaskets in both rings. Finishing off this section of the rod is a fighting butt with a rounded-off end that's easy on the stomach. There is no hook keeper.
Unsurprisingly, this rod is finished in a glossy forest green color scheme with matching guide wraps. In direct light the color really wakes up and looks downright awesome, but I keep wishing Winston would start experimenting more with some different cosmetics—I can't tell some of these rods apart!
There's two chrome NanoLite stripping guides with hard-chrome Snake Brand "Shooting Guides" and a large tip-top rounding out the remaining guide set. All ferrules are reinforced for strength, and while there's no alignment dots, the rod's serial number is inscribed at each ferrule.
Craftsmanship of this rod was excellent. What else would you expect from a Winston?
Something that's really cool about these rods is that each model is assigned not only a standard line weight, but also a grain weight "window." This isn't the first time this has been done, but at a time when lines are built with wild variances in grain weights, this is a huge help for really nailing down an ideal line for each rod.
My 7 weight test rod has a grain weight window of 240–280 grains. Per AFFTA line weight standards, the target weight of a 7 weight line (in the first 30 feet) is 185 grains. The higher grain ratings of this rod are up in 9 and 10 weight line territory. This makes sense here as this rod is made in part to excel with shooting head lines which you typically want a size or two heavier anyway. I did find it weird that the rod's grain weight window was not listed on the blank. Why?!?!
I didn't have any proper sinking lines on-hand to test, so instead I tested this rod with two floating lines. The first line was rated just slightly heavier than 7 weight standards with a 30-foot head weight of 200 grains. The second line was rated much heavier at 270 grains @ 30 feet which placed it solidly within the rod's rated grain window.
At first, I imagined this rod would be very club-like and not very good for a more "standard" WF7F line such as the 200-grain version I tested with. What I found was that the Alpha+ did relatively well with this line despite the line checking-in well below the rod's grain weight window.
Since this lighter line didn't load the rod quite as well, casting at close range was a little on the vague side. However, the rod really wakes up at medium range and has power aplenty to cast quite far. While the tip is stiff, I read how the "mid-3 section" (the part that connects to the butt section) was lightened for added feedback. At all but very short distances, the rod felt how a good, solid fast-action fly rod should and wasn't too numb or rigid. Although the rod is marketed towards heavy lines and big flies, it was good to know it wasn't totally devoid of soul with a much more typically-weighted WF7F line. It's got an abundance of power without feeling like a car antenna.
The Alpha+ 7 weight threw the 270-grain line with ease. Of course the line loads the blank deeper and improves feel at close range, but the rod has the reserve power required you need to reach out far. The heavier line weight makes it easy to just pick up the line and shoot it right back out which this rod does very well. This would be a great rod to go back in time with when I used to striper fish on San Francisco Bay! I didn't get to find an area open enough to check my maximum distance, but shooting line out to about 80 feet wasn't difficult. This stick surely has enough grunt on tap for even more and will cut a tight loop through the breeze.
Hitting my scale at about 4.13 ounces, the rod was a tad heavier than other 7-weights I looked up but it was built beefed-up for more aggressive fishing. While casting, I didn't get that ultra lightweight sensation but the feel was acceptable.
The 7-weight Alpha+ was more versatile and not as harsh as I thought it would be. While it's surely up to the task of heavy lines and larger flies, it's not a dud in less-demanding situations. From sight-fishing snook with small flies at short distances to longer casts with heavier and bulkier flies on residential bass lakes, the Winston performed for me and caught fish in all scenarios. If you want a rod with a focus on big fish and heavy rigs but might also need it to pull double duty from time to time for more "everyday" fishing, this may be a rod you'll want to look at. Out of the stouter Winston rods I've tested so far, this one is my favorite.
R.L. Winston Alpha+ fly rods are all 9-feet, 4-pieces, and come in 5–12 weight sizes. Each rod runs $935 and includes a carbon rod tube and sock.
Winston Alpha+ Fly Rods