Gear Review: Winston AIR Fly Rod 8’3wt

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Is the Winston AIR fly rod the company’s best performing rod?

Much in the same way that no two fish are the same, neither are the fishing style of any two anglers. The wide gamut of fly fishing approaches is, in part, responsible for the glut of rods on the market. The Winston AIR fly rod caters to a specific group of anglers, but does it so well that even anglers who don’t fish slower rods and lighter tippets will likely fall in love with the AIR’s lively, light action.

Last fall Winston sent a 9’5wt AIR for me to review (you can read my thoughts on it in Hatch Magazine) and I loved it. So when time came for me to pick up a new 3wt, I turned to the AIR rod family.

The 8’3wt is a lively, moderate-fast action rod that delivers uncanny torsional stability, subtle presentation, and an enjoyable casting experience in one of the market’s lightest rods to date. Add to that the high quality of workmanship present in the Winston AIR fly rod family and you’re looking at a premium niche rod.

For a 3wt, the AIR has surprising backbone. I’ve comfortably fished it at distances of up to 55 feet and landed a few decent browns with it. The AIR handled it all as well as you’d expect from a 3wt.

At $945, though, an AIR is cost-prohibitive to most casual anglers. However, if you’re any sort of dry fly enthusiast or you simply value a stellar casting experience, you should consider putting an AIR in the budget. It may not beat out the company’s vaunted antique graphite, but it’s likely their best niche-performance rod currently available in production.

winston air fly rod and fish

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

 

Action

Thankfully, the fly rod industry is turning away from fast-action broomsticks, albeit slowly. The AIR is a moderate-fast rod – by Winston standards – comparable to Scott’s rods. I’d say it lands somewhere squarely between the now-discontinued Sage Circa and the new Sage X.

The AIR’s action, while a tad faster than what Winston is largely known for, is enjoyable and easy. It’ll deliver dry flies and smaller nymphs on target up to about 50 feet, while the backbone of the rod helps turn fish in swifter current.

Weight

The AIR feels a lot like the name implies. It’s an exceptionally light rod, though in the 3wt version I have noticed a more pronounced swing weight than in a 9’5wt configuration. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Just something worth noting.

Tippet Protection

This is an underrated aspect of modern rod construction, which I find odd since so many tippet breaks I see are due to far-too-stiff rods more than angler inexperience.

I’ll save my dissertation on physics and fly rod tips for another day, but the AIR – in all weights and lengths I’ve fished it – does a stellar job of protecting tippet. The classic Winston feel is present in the AIR, and you can comfortably fish 7x tippet on the 8’3wt. Now, why you’d want to fish tippet that small is an entirely different argument, but it’s comforting to know that sort of protection lies within the AIR’s capabilities.

The Not-So-Good

 

Weak Wind Performance

Yeah, I know this is a review on a 3wt. But it’s also a complaint I had of the 5wt model – the AIR doesn’t do well in the wind. Winston made a big to-do about the SuperSilica resin used in the AIR, but it doesn’t seem to translate directly to improved casting against a steady headwind. If you ever use your lighter rods on something other than narrow spring creeks, you’ll want an aggressively-tapered WF line, likely a half-size heavy, to coax the best performance from the 8’3wt AIR.

Price

I’m a believer in the mantra of you get what you pay for. Whenever friends ask me which rod they should buy, I always respond with, “The best you can afford.” Sure, we could all catch fish with a Wal-Mart combo, but there’s a reason we don’t.

At $945, the AIR is a heftily priced rod geared to a niche market. This rod is built for dry fly enthusiasts and light-line anglers – a crowd growing smaller and smaller as the fly fishing world’s obsession with streamers and nymphs only grows.

winston air fly rod and brown trout

Final Word

The Winston AIR fly rod is one of Winston’s best rods ever. I don’t have a problem saying that. It’s well-built, incredibly fun to cast, and a strikingly accurate tool of the trade. It’s expensive, but it’s worth the money if you have the budget for it. I’d still hesitate to dub the AIR Winston’s best-performing rod of all time, though. I have some rods built in the late 70s and early 90s that give the AIR stiff competition.

That being said, though, it’s likely the company’s best-performing rod since the WT line was discontinued from full-scale production. And it’s a rod worth having.

Buy it here from Fishwest.

Spencer is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.