Review: Hardy Ultralite X Fly Rod | Hatch magazine


Over the past few years Hardy has consistently, and some would say quietly, introduced one fantastic fly rod after another. Hardy’s Zephrus Ultralite is the best small stream trout rod I’ve fished in years, their Euro-focused Ultralite LL has proven to be a surprisingly versatile all-around performer, and their glass-graphite hybrid Sirrus is a dry fly lover’s dream. In fact, I can’t think of a single Hardy fly rod I’ve fished that I didn’t immediately want to add to my collection.

When the Hardy Ultralite X arrived at my doorstep, Hardy had set high expectations for it to deliver. Now that I’ve been X-fishing for a few months, however, I can say one thing with certainty: this rod far exceeded my expectations. It’s fantastic. It’s funny. That’s wonderful. And above all, it fishes like a dream.

Hardy built the Ultralite X to be a faster addition to his existing Ultralite rod family. While its regular Ultralite rods cover the 3 to 8 weight range, the Ultralite X series is only offered in weights 5 to 8. Hardy describes the Ultralite X as being “significantly faster” than the standard Ultralite, as well as being built to handle dense fly lines with “aggressive tapers”.

My 9’6wt review model did everything Hardy promised and more.

What works

Gentle action

I live a little over an hour from the Green River. I’ve spent more days than I can count floating or wading through various stretches. With a river as vast and varied as the Green, few constants exist. Whoever does this is the Green’s streamer fishing. Although it slows down in February and a bit in mid summer, streamer fishing on the Green is some of the most reliable and best I have ever found.

The only problem with fishing streamers for trout on a big deep river like the Green is the need for heavy casting line and big flies. My buddy Ryan Kelly and I are having fun with bigger and bigger streamers, including some Ryan tied with lake trout in the lead.

So with a 9′ 6wt Hardy Ultralite X in my boat, I knew I had to put it through the streamer test first. Loaded with a type 7 sink tip and a size 2 sex dungeon, the Ultralite X is smoother than any streamer rod I have ever used. It effortlessly handled the weight and bulk of the sink tip line and fat streamer, to the point where I almost forgot that was the rig I was fishing. It was such a smooth and easy experience that it felt a bit like cheating.

Usually with a dip tip line and a huge fly, most fly rods respond with a distinct hitch on the back cast. In other words, you feel the moment the loop unfolds and the line is completely straight behind you. The Ultralite X mitigates this significantly, to the point that it’s a lot like fishing a big hopper rig instead of a streamer.

Overall the Ultralite X casts and handles lines and flies easier than any other rod I have fished. It’s definitely a fast acting stick. The X feels on par, in terms of action, with the 8 weights I own – only with the weight of a 6 weight.

Reserve power

The Ultralite X unsurprisingly has enough power to handle big fish in big water. Whether you’re fighting an 18-inch brownfish against a strong current or a 25-inch fish in an eddy, the Ultralite X has the backbone to steer fish away from snags and into your net.

This reserve power is also displayed during casting. It is an extremely fast rod that has no problem hitting big flies in strong winds. I currently live and fish in Wyoming – it’s always windy here. The Ultralite X handles the Wyoming wind as well, if not better, than any other fly rod I’ve fished.

Photo credit: Hardy.

Precision

It’s no surprise that the Ultralite X is so accurate. Given how effectively the rod dampens vibration when casting big rigs, you can expect it to have laser-like accuracy with just about any fly. Need to tuck a nymph and bobber under an overhanging rock without snagging on the bushes? The Ultralite X can deliver that performance cast after cast.

Now I am convinced that casting accuracy is 95% dependent on the angler and 5% dependent on the rod. But that 5% counts a lot when you have little or no room for error. In the right hands, the Ultralite X is capable of making all the casts you will need.

Presentation

Over the past few years I have fallen in love with vintage 6 and 7wt rods. Old graphite from the late 70s and early 80s is criminally underrated, mostly because it does what everyone wants a modern 5wt to do. They will cast streamers, nymphs and cuttlefish with equal poise and ease. In today’s age of hyper-specialization, that kind of blue-collar do-it-all attitude isn’t prevalent in fly rods.

The Ultralite X is one of the few modern fast action and heavy rods that also handles dry flies with surprising delicacy. During a winter midge outbreak a few weeks ago the only rod I had with me was the Ultralite X. I tied a 6x leader and size 20 Griffiths midges and went to work . To my surprise, the Ultralite X didn’t miss a beat when presenting these little dries to tough fish. Was it the best tool for this particular job? Probably not, but at least I know it will handle just about any fishing situation I find myself in.


hardy ultralite x fly rod

Photo credit: Hardy.

Manufacturing quality

Hardy makes beautiful rods. The Ultralite X is no exception. Finished with a metallic red coating, the white is smooth and beautiful in sunlight. The spigot ferrules are a classic touch that really make the rod unique, and the cork grip is what you would expect from a top level rod. On the 9′ 6wt, the half wood and half aluminum reel seat is one of the nicest hybrid options I have ever seen.

Hardy finished the upper with his single-foot guides, which are all coated in gray to reduce glare.

What doesn’t work

tip sensitivity

I’m clinging to straws to find anything about the Ultralite X that needs improvement. One of the few I can think of that might actually impact its performance on the water is tip sensitivity.

Now I know that with a fast action 6wt rod designed primarily for streamers and big nymphs, that top sensitivity is not at the top of the feature list. I think Hardy could improve the Ultralite X, however, by increasing the feel in the tip section and allowing the angler to feel faster when a fish is catching a fly. There were a few times while testing this rod that I barely felt the fish eat my fly.

Then again, maybe increasing the tip sensitivity would decrease the wonderfully smooth action? I’m not an engineer, so I can’t answer this question. But I can highlight this as a possible area for improvement.

Single foot guides

It’s purely cosmetic, but I don’t like the look of single-foot guides on fly rods. I have never. Double leg snake guides are the most visually appealing, in my opinion. Hardy opts for single leg guides, however, because their designers believe that single leg guides provide a more sensitive fishing experience. I’m not about to argue with champion angler and rod designer Hardy Howard Croston about this.

Wrap

All in all Hardy has built one of his best rods with the Ultralite X. It’s incredibly fun to fish, it casts easier than anything I’ve used in years and handles big flies with ease . If you’re looking for a dedicated big water stick to add to your collection, or just subscribe to Tim the “Tool-Man” Taylor’s axiom that more power is always better, then find your way to the nearest fly shop and cast the Ultralite X.

SHOP THE HARDY ULTRALITE X FLY ROD

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