Winston took the fly rod industry by surprise this year, releasing two new rod families less than a year after bringing out the AIR. Their new rods – the Nimbus and Kairos – are meant to provide access to the Winston family at lower price points than their top of the line Boron IIIx series.
At $475 (for all rods save the 12’3” 6wt and 13’3” 7wt) the Kairos is firmly at the upper end of mid-priced rods. Sticks like the St. Croix Legend Elite, G. Loomis IMX-Pro, and Echo 3 come to mind in this price range.
With a clear coat finish that exposes the tape lines (sanded down but still visible) on the blank and Winston-green thread wraps, the Kairos rivals the Echo 3 as the best-looking mid-priced rod. The standard knurled winding check found on the Boron series is missing, with a less-fancy one in its place. An aluminum reel seat with double uplocking rings rounds out the aesthetics of the Kairos.
What stood out the most to me during my time with the Kairos, though, is just how unlike a Winston the rod felt. For a company that produced such sought-after collectibles like the IM6 and GVX, the Kairos is a big departure from tradition.
It’s a stiff rod, on the heavier side, with only a fraction of the personality anglers expect from a Winston. That’s not to say the rod doesn’t perform well – it undoubtedly has merits – but for Winston loyalists, the Kairos isn’t what you’d expect to come out of Twin Bridges.
It features a “progressive fast action,” per Winston’s website, and multiple tapers designed to work in a variety of fishing situations. The rod’s stiff backbone enables it to throw tight loops, but out past 60 or so feet you need to time your casting perfectly or you’ll end up with tailing loops. At traditional trout fishing distances, the Kairos does well at casting off the tip and presenting flies lightly enough to fool most fish. The 6wt, though, is more a rod I’d use for streamers and driftboat fishing than small Rocky Mountain streams.
Species-wise, I’d suggest the most practical applications for the 6wt Kairos would be bass and light carp fishing along with swinging streamers for larger trout. The rod has a stiff enough backbone to handle all of those fish.
The Kairos doesn’t have the classic Winston green color, nor does it have the classic Winston feel. It’s a departure from tradition, more so than the now-discontinued Nexus was. The fast-action makes it a better choice for new anglers than a glass rod, or even softer graphite, but that line speed comes at a cost of a loss of feel in the tip section. At $475, though, for a rod built this well with decent performance and a lifetime warranty, the Kairos is in no way a bad deal.
What I Liked
I’ve long held the opinion that Winston’s rods are the most well-built production rods on the market today. After visiting their factory in early May this year and seeing how much individual attention each rod receives, I feel even more comfortable in that statement.
The Kairos has a clear gloss finish over the gray graphite blank with green thread wraps. The usual red trims adorn the wrap at the base of the blank, upon which is a hand-inscription in the same script as any other Winston rod. The cork isn’t incredible, but it’s softer than I expected for a rod that sells for less than $500.
As mentioned earlier, the Kairos is a fast rod. That makes for a solid casting tool, though out past 60 feet you need your timing down perfectly in order to avoid tailing loops.
The action suits itself well to throwing big streamers, large nymph rigs, and rocketing casts from a driftboat.
A common complaint about Winston rods is that their tip sections tend to be too soft, making for a rod that doesn’t track as accurately as it could. The Kairos definitely has more torsional stability than recent Winstons, making it a good bass/light carp rod.
What I Didn’t Like
No Winston Feel
I’ve fished Winston for almost as long as I’ve been fly fishing. Each rod company – and rod family, for that matter – has its own unique feel. Put rods in the hands of blindfolded expert anglers and, after a few casts, they’re likely able to tell you who made the rod.
The Kairos doesn’t feel like a Winston, though. That classic butter-smooth action was sacrificed for power and torsional stability.
Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh, but I feel that the Kairos is a step short in the performance department. It’s better than the ill-fated Passport series, but it doesn’t compare to the Nexus series. In the shortest terms possible, the Kairos just didn’t wow me like the AIR, Boron IIIx, and other Winstons I’ve reviewed of late.
At $475, you’re getting a good 6wt rod that’s passably competent at many things, but performs best when fishing streamers or heavy nymph rigs. It’s a good choice for a hopper-dropper rod as well, and casting off the tip is easy and soft for close-quarters trout stalking.
For longtime fans of Winston, though, there’s the lack of the classic green color, Winston feel, and soft action that have come to define the Montana-based company.
You still get their lifetime warranty, and as someone who’s had to use it twice now, it’s worth the money. Customer service is excellent and no slower than other sellers in the industry.
If you’re looking for your first 6wt, or simply want to take a step up from cheaper Redington or Fenwick options, the Kairos is likely a rod you’ll get along with.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. Find him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.