Over the past few years, Hardy has consistently, and some would argue 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 turned out to be a surprisingly versatile all-around performer, and their glass-graphite hybrid Sirrus is a dry fly aficionado’s dream. In fact, I can’t think of a single Hardy fly rod that I’ve fished and didn’t immediately want to add to my collection.
When the Hardy Ultralite X showed up on my doorstep, Hardy had set high expectations for it to live up to. Now that I’m a few months into fishing the X, however, I can say one thing for sure — this rod has far exceeded my expectations. It’s fantastic. It’s fun. It’s gorgeous. And most importantly, it fishes like a dream.
Hardy built the Ultralite X to be a faster-action addition to their existing Ultralite rod family. While its regular Ultralite rods cover the 3- through 8-weight range, the Ultralite X series is only offered in weights 5 – 8. Hardy describes the Ultralite X as being “significantly faster” than the standard Ultralite, in addition to being built to handle dense fly lines with “aggressive tapers.”
My 9’6wt review model did everything Hardy promised and then some.
I live just over an hour from the Green River. I’ve spent more days than I can count floating or wading different stretches. With a river as large and varied as the Green, few constants exist. One that does is the Green’s streamer fishing. Although it slows down in February, and a bit in the middle of summer, the streamer fishing on the Green is some of the most dependable and best I’ve ever found.
The only issue with fishing streamers for trout on a big, deep river like the Green is the need for a heavy sink-tip line and large flies. My buddy Ryan Kelly and I mess around with increasingly larger and larger streamers, including some Ryan tied up with lake trout in mind.
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 cast smoother than any streamer rod I’ve ever used. It effortlessly handled the weight and mass of the sink-tip line and the big streamer, to the point where I almost forgot that’s the rig I was fishing. It was such a smooth, easy experience that it felt a bit like cheating.
Usually, with a sink-tip line and huge fly, most fly rods respond with a distinct hitch on the back cast. In other words, you feel the moment the loop unfurls and the line is completely straight behind you. The Ultralite X dampens that significantly, to the point where it feels much like fishing a big hopper-dropper rig instead of a streamer.
Overall, the Ultralite X casts and handles lines and flies smoother than perhaps any other rod I’ve fished. It’s definitely a fast-action stick. The X feels on par, action-wise, with 8 weights I own — only with the weight of a 6 weight.
The Ultralite X unsurprisingly has ample power to handle big fish in big water. Whether you’re fighting an 18-inch brown against heavy current, or a 25-inch fish in a back eddy, the Ultralite X has the backbone to keep fish away from snags and headed towards your net.
That reserve power is also on display as well while casting. This is an extremely fast rod that doesn’t have a problem punching big flies into a stiff wind. I currently live and fish in Wyoming — it’s always windy here. The Ultralite X handles Wyoming’s wind as well as, if not better than, any other fly rod I’ve fished.
It’s not surprising that the Ultralite X is so accurate. Given how effectively the rod dampens vibrations when casting heavy rigs, you can expect it to have laser-like precision with just about any fly. Need to tuck a nymph and a bobber under an overhanging rock without snagging on the bushes? The Ultralite X can deliver that performance cast after cast.
Now, I’m a firm believer that casting accuracy depends 95% on the angler and 5% on the rod. But that 5% matters a whole lot when you have little-to-no room for error. In the right hands, the Ultralite X is capable of making any and every cast you’ll ever need.
Over the past few years, I’ve fallen in love with vintage 6 and 7wt rods. Old graphite from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s is criminally underappreciated, mostly because they do what everyone wants a modern 5wt to accomplish. They’ll throw streamers, nymphs, and dries with equal aplomb and ease. In today’s era of hyper-specialization, that sort of do-it-all, blue-collar attitude isn’t prevalent in fly rods.
The Ultralite X is one of the few modern, fast-action, heavy-weight rods that also handles dry flies with surprisingly delicacy. During a winter midge hatch a few weeks ago, the only rod I had with me was the Ultralite X. I tied on some 6x leader and size 20 Griffiths gnats and went to work. To my surprise, the Ultralite X didn’t miss a beat when presenting those small dries to picky fish. Was it the best tool for that particular job? Probably not, but at least I know it’ll handle just about any fishing situation in which I find myself.
Hardy makes gorgeous rods. The Ultralite X is no exception. Finished with a metallic red coating, the blank is smooth and gorgeous in the sunlight. The spigot ferrules are a classic touch that really makes the rod unique, and the cork grip is on par with what you’d expect from a top-tier rod. On the 9’ 6wt, the half-and-half wood and aluminum reel seat is one of the prettiest hybrid options I’ve ever seen.
Hardy finished the rod with their signature single-foot guides, all of which are coated gray to reduce glare.
What Doesn’t Work
I’m grasping at straws to find something on the Ultralite X that needs improving. One of the few I can think of that might actually impact its on-the-water performance is tip sensitivity.
Now, I know with a fast-action 6wt rod designed primarily for streamers and big nymphs, that tip sensitivity isn’t at the top of the features list. I think Hardy could improve the Ultralite X, though, by increasing the feel in the tip section and allowing for the angler to more quickly feel when a fish takes a fly. There were a few times while testing out this rod that I barely felt the fish eat my fly.
Then again, perhaps increasing tip sensitivity would decrease the wonderfully smooth action? I’m no engineer, so I can’t answer that question. But I can put this forward as a possible area of improvement.
This is purely aesthetic, but I don’t like the look of single-foot guides on fly rods. I never have. Double-foot snake guides are the most visually appealing, in my mind. Hardy opts for single-foot guides, however, because their designers believe single-foot guides offer a more sensitive fishing experience. I’m not about to argue with champion angler and Hardy rod designer Howard Croston on that one.
Overall, Hardy has built one of their best rods ever with the Ultralite X. It’s incredibly fun to fish, casts smoother than anything I’ve used in years, and handles big flies with ease. If you’re searching for a dedicated big-water stick to add to your collection, or you simply subscribe to the Tim the “Tool-Man” Taylor axiom that more power is always better, then find your way to the nearest fly shop and give the Ultralite X a cast.