It's probably not fair to say that G. Loomis is "back". After all, Loomis hasn't gone anywhere. But, it has been around 6 years since G. Loomis last dropped a high-end rod release on the fly fishing world. And that one was a big one, Loomis' NRX which, for a couple of years after being introduced, was one of the fly fishing world's most coveted rods. In the years since, the NRX has quietly remained one of the finest fly fishing tools on the market, has maintained devoted fans and an unwavering hallmark as one of the industry's finest rods. Three years ago Loomis expanded the lineup to include the NRX LP (light presentation) models. The NRX series has won many accolades, including winning George Anderson's much heralded (albeit somewhat overvalued) rod "shootouts" no less than 4 times. The assumption has been that Loomis wasn't planning on bringing a new flagship rod to market until it felt it had something big, and with its new, oddly-named Asquith, Loomis thinks it has just that.
Innovations in rod design these days, somewhat across the industry, are being driven by more and more by advancements in materials and blank construction. Several rods that hit the market this year feature such innovations, but Loomis' new Asquith may have the biggest story to tell. Loomis, which has been owned by parent company and conventional fishing industry juggernaut Shimano for many years now, built the Asquith using Shimano's "Spiral-X" technology. Spiral-X, a technology that is proprietary to Shimano, is only produced at one factory in Kumamoto, Japan. The Asquith blanks are manufactured in Japan and shipped stateside, where the rest of the rod building process is completed in Loomis' Woodland, Washington facility.
Shimano has a lot of fancy words — ones like "InfinityTape" and "Musclecarbon" — that it uses to describe exactly what Spiral-X is and what it does, but here's the gist: Spiral X blanks are built using layers of carbon fibers laid in alternating directions. The result is a three layer structure featuring an inner and outer layer cross-wrapped on opposing axes, with a straight or longitudinal middle layer. According to Loomis, this patented construction process significantly increases rod rigidity and reduces torsional motion (twist) without adding weight. Spiral X also allows for a thin wall blank, which reduces rod ovalization. If you're not familiar with rod ovalization, don't worry, most people aren't. It's a worry of big fish fighters — in the fly world think big steelhead, tarpon, barracuda, false albacore and so on — put simply, rods that feature less ovalization are less likely to break under big loads.
“We are making a bold statement with Asquith,” noted chief G. Loomis rod designer and world champion fly caster Steve Rajeff. “By collaborating with my Shimano fishing rod associates at our world headquarters in Sakai City, Japan, and our facility in Kumamoto, we are able to bring together cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and materials with proven G. Loomis actions and design," describing the Asquith as a rod series that marks "the culmination of efforts to provide anglers with fly rods that offer exceptional casting distance, pinpoint accuracy, a lighter than expected blank and reduced blank twist."
The Asquith is a rod that folks at G. Loomis, chief amongst them Rajeff, are excited about, and seemingly with good reason. It's a rod that breaks a lot of barriers and treads ground in new territory, some of which might be a bit controversial.
Perhaps chief amongst the new territory that the Asquith treads in is its price tag. Loomis is bringing the Asquith to market starting at a lofty $1,000 (saltwater and two-hand models will run you more) — likely marking the first time that any major rod maker has introduced a rod series that hits the 4-digit mark with its base price. It's a ceiling that was bound to be broken eventually, but one that you'd imagine Loomis would've been squeamish to be the first to crack. But, in talking with the folks at Loomis, it's clear they think the Asquith has the balls to back up its price. And, if we're being fair, the Asquith isn't in wholly uncharted territory — other manufacturers have been flirting with the $1,000 mark for years.
In addition to the Asquith's price tag, due to the marriage of technologies in the Asquith, the rod is co-branded with both the G. Loomis and Shimano names. Fly anglers, who are notorious for prioritizing aesthetics and image over performance, are often finicky about these sorts of things, leaving some question marks about how accepting the fly fishing community would be of a Shimano (read: conventional fishing) branded piece of kit in its midst.
But, at this year's IFTD (International Fly Tackle Dealers) show, where fly shop owners, retail buyers and media folks were repeatedly toting the Asquith out to the event's casting ponds, the buzz around the Asquith was squarely focused on how well it cast, and not on its sticker price or the logos painted on the rod blank. Casters touted it as a surprisingly light rod with punchy response and precise tracking — exactly the sort of hallmarks you'd expect from something new from Loomis and Rajeff.
The last time Loomis tried to make a splash, it did so in a big way with the NRX. Given how big Loomis seems to be going with the Asquith, one can only assume they expect to do so again.