With the ever-growing popularity of chasing large fish on fly, every manufacturer is trying to enter the 11-weight market. In most applications, the 11-weight fly rod is replacing the use of the 12-weight altogether. Being a fly-fishing guide, and having industry ties has allowed me to cast almost all of them. In the never-ending search for the best, there is a clear winner in determining the best 11 weight saltwater fly rod.
The best 11-weight fly rod currently on the market is the Hardy Zephrus SWS 1-piece. It is one of the most popular rods used among tarpon guides in the Florida Keys. This is due to its cast ability, feel, amount of backbone, and quality of the rod build.
Now stick around, as below I will review how the Hardy Zephrus SWS 1-piece 11-weight performs across various categories. Additionally, I’ll review pricing which I know is an important factor. By the end you’ll understand why it is the best 11 weight saltwater fly rod, and why adding this rod to your arsenal is a MUST.
Cast Ability of the Zephrus SWS 1-piece
Keep in mind that not every scenario will be the same. Throwing small flies at 100lb Tarpon in shallow clear water is vastly different from throwing large meaty flies at blitzing Striped Bass in the cold waters of the North East. Having a rod that will perform well in multiple situations will increase your chances of success. The Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece does just that.
Today’s fly rods are measured in two actions, fast and slow. The amount of bend and the speed in which you can complete your casting motion determines which action the rod will fall in. A fast action rod tends to be slightly stiffer and can be casted with a quicker casting motion. In recent years, fast has become the preferred action as they load faster and allow quicker casts. The downside to fast action rods is that they are less forgiving for novice fly casters. Slow action rods require a slower casting motion as there is more bend in the rod. You can learn more about different rod actions in my article Why Do Fishing Rods Bend?.
The Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece is a considerably fast rod. When testing, I did find rods that had faster action than the Zephrus. However, they sacrificed in other areas we will discuss later. When casting the Hardy Zephrus, I did not have to slow down my cast at all.
In an ideal world, every fish casted to would be seen from a hundred yards away with plenty of time to prepare your cast to the fish. In reality, most fish are seen a short distance away with little time to react. This is why the rod’s ability to make accurate, quick short casts may be the most important factor in selecting an 11-weight. Fish will not always follow the same path and often times come out of nowhere. Even when I am fishing the clear waters of the Florida Keys, tarpon will pop up right next to the boat often times swimming the wrong way. For fly anglers who target species such as Tuna or Stripers that come up from the depths to feed on the surface in spurts, short quick casts are key.
One of the reasons for selecting the Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece as the best 11-weight, is the rod’s unbelieve accuracy at short distances. Often times, short casts are harder to be accurate than long casts due to the limited amount of line carried in the air. The Zephrus carries small amounts of line exceptionally well with plenty of load. This results in the best in class short distance accuracy.
While a solid short game in golf will often save you strokes, driving distance steals the show. This is the same in fly-fishing. Everyone wants to cast all 100ft of their fly line with minimal false casts. The reality is that a cast this long is often not needed or afforded when fishing for larger species.
This doesn’t mean that being able to make long casts isn’t beneficial. However, the ability to dump the entire fly line on the water isn’t realistic. Therefore, for the purposes of measuring an 11-weight’s ability to make long casts, 80ft is the mark that I measure against.
The Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece 11-weight performs relatively well in this category. Being able to throw accurately at 60-80ft was no problem when casting this rod. I was able to make long casts into the wind throwing large baitfish patterns.
I would not say this rod is top in class in this category, but its ability to throw long and short distances well makes it a better all-around rod. For example, some other rods such as the Scott Meridian cast longer distances with greater ease, but struggle with the needed short finessed shots. Some rods are just designed to throw long. The Zephrus was designed to do both.
How Does The Zephrus SWS 1-piece Feel?
When making a cast, the ability to feel what rod is doing is key. This allows me to know when the rod has loaded and when to change directions in the casting motion. There is a fine balance between a rod being too stiff and not stiff enough.
One of the most popular 11-weights for saltwater fly-fishing is the G Loomis NRX + 1 piece. This is a great rod for the power caster as it is very stiff. In my opinion, it is slightly too stiff. The rod feels like casting a broomstick to me. The extra stiffness of the rod takes away the ability for me to feel my cast. When casting a rod of this caliber, I tend to rush my cast as the rod feels too fast.
What makes the Hardy Zephrus SWS 1piece 11-weight win this category for me is the combination of a soft tip on a fast rod. I don’t have to sacrifice the speed and power of the cast while still being able to feel where the rod is at in the casting motion. As important as feel is, if Hardy didn’t deliver here I wouldn’t have been able to claim this rod as the best 11 weight saltwater fly rod.
Novice anglers often struggle to differentiate feel between rods. This will become more apparent the more rods you are able to cast. Every manufacturer has a different feel.
Once you have made the cast and hooked the fish, now the fight is on! A great casting rod will be of no value if it doesn’t have the strength to fight the fish. The ability to put maximum pressure on the fish is dependent on the rod’s backbone. How far can I make the rod bend without breaking?
The action of the rod will greatly affect the backbone of the rod. A soft or slow rod will tend to have more bend and decrease the pressure that is applied to the fish. When fighting large fish, I will typically place the rod at a 45-degree angle. This allows the pressure to be placed on the thickest part of the rod, near the handle. This section of the rod is referred to as the butt-section. It is the 4 feet of rod closest to the cork.
While we want the maximum amount of backbone possible, we cannot sacrifice casting ability. The stiffer a rod becomes, the less feel the rod has. This will make it exceptionally difficult to make short accurate casts.
The Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece 11-weight has significant backbone for a rod with great feel. There is a reason that the majority of Florida Keys tarpon guides are using the Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece for landing large tarpon. I personally have put this rod through the paces and have yet to feel under gunned when fighting large fish.
Build Quality of the Zephrus SWS 1-piece
Hardy boasts their award winning Sintrix construction material. This allows the rod to maintain fast action while not sacrificing any of the feel. The Sintrix material also makes the rod incredibly strong and powerful. While fighting large Jack Crevale along the beach, I have been able to arch the rod completely over without the rod breaking.
The use of 1-piece rods for larger fish is ideal because it reduces breakage points. In addition to less fail points, 1-piece rods tend to be slightly faster and lighter.
One area of debate is Hardy’s decision to use Recoil guides instead of traditional clay insert guides. While many people prefer the traditional clay insert guides, the recoil guides tend to be more durable and easier to repair.
The one drawback of the recoil guides is the sound the line makes when slipping through the guides. While this does not affect the casting performance, it can become a sound annoyance. This is especially true when the line has not been cleaned in quite some time.
Overall Hardy spared no expense when constructing the Zephrus SWS model. From the cork to the guide wraps, the materials used are top of the line.
As a fulltime, fly-fishing guide, my fishing gear is put to the test. Novice anglers tend to be exceptionally hard on rods as they learn the ropes. I have yet to break a Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece 11-weight. Over the extended use of these rods, I have only ever had to make a small repair to a guide.
No matter how well built a rod is, situations arise that can cause them to break. This is typically due to angler error but Hardy has a great warranty program. By registering your rod within 60 days of purchase, you will be eligible to send back the rod for repairs. The current cost to repair or replace a broken rod is $75. This price includes the cost of return shipping to you.
How Much Does the Zephrus SWS 1-piece Cost?
Currently the Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece 11-weight retails for $749.00. While this is not the cheapest rod on the market, it is comparable to other high-end fly rod manufacturers. In fact, it is cheaper than its direct competitors in the space.
Based on the capabilities of the rod and the build quality, I believe the price point makes this rod a bargain.
The old adage, “You get what you pay for”, has never been truer than when selecting a fly rod. I have dealt with many clients who decided to purchase bargain rods and ultimately upgraded soon thereafter to higher quality rods. The most important piece of equipment for a fly angler is the rod. I would rather have a lower end reel and splurge on the rod. After all, the ability to make a cast is the most important aspect of fly-fishing.
After casting virtually every rod on the market, I have not found another rod that checks as many boxes as the Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece 11-weight. While it may not be the best in each category, it performs above average in every category. Other rods that excel in certain areas fall short when looking at the holistic performance.
Hardy has been around since 1872. They are one of the largest fly rod manufacturers in the world. I trust that Hardy will continue to innovate and produce high quality products for many years to come. I have and will continue to use the Hardy Zephrus SWS 1 piece 11-weight personally and for my clients. It is truly the best saltwater 11 weight fly rod on the market.