Ask anyone involved in the business of fly fishing what fly rod price range sells the most and they'll tell you the same thing: mid-range. And mid-range, these days, means rods in the $300 to $500 price bracket. Some of the bigger brands in the industry are only just beginning to realize this and have started turning their focus more intently to the middle ranges of their lineup. It's not that they haven't long been selling less expensive rods than those at the pinnacle of their lineups; they just weren't selling ones that were all that good. Smaller companies and rod building upstarts, however, figured out the draw of the mid-range long ago. In fact, selling quality, high-performance fly rods at prices that most anglers could live with is what allowed many of these upstart companies to get a foothold in the industry.
Some of those fledgling companies have gone on to become household names in the industry (think Redington and TFO). Others continue to grow rapidly and are approaching household name status. And as they grow, more upstarts pop up, most of which are seeking to do what they did -- offer quality, high performance products at attractive prices -- to make their own name in the world of fly fishing.
Shadow Fly Fishing, out of Pennsylvania, is one of those companies. Started a little more than a year ago by Mike Skibo, an avid steelheader from Pennsylvania's northwestern reaches, Shadow has been offering two rods -- its "Stalker" and "Warrior" models -- to fishermen since its launch and has received positive feedback from anglers in the field. We've been fishing the a 7 weight Warrior for almost a year, everywhere from trout streams to frigid steelhead waters to sunny bonefish flats.
Typically, price is one of the aspects of a rod that we talk about after we've discussed more "important" aspects of the rod such as build quality, performance and so on. But given that we've already been talking about the mid-range of fly rod pricing, it's worth discussing price right out the gate. Perhaps more importantly, it contextualizes the rest of the Warrior's strengths and weaknesses.
Currently selling for $249, the Warrior comes in below the suggested range above, stretching mid-range to the very most affordable reaches.
The carbon fiber blanks the Warrior is built on are auburn-brown and have an excellent finish that's comparable to rods that come at 3 times the price of the Warrior. Its reel seat seems well machined and high quality, has held well up to a year's worth of abuse and has been less finicky than reel seats we've seen on some other mid-range rods.
We don't normally talk extensively about the grip on most fly rods we review, but like Redington with the Vapen Red (read our review here), Shadow is trying to do something different with the grip on the Warrior. The grip is what Shadow calls "slim cork", which can perhaps best be described as a full wells grip with a very slender, uniform profile. The result isn't subtle. The grip is noticeably more slender than any other rod we've seen and feels decidedly different in the hand.
According to Skibo, feedback from guides, customers and the like that have fished the slim cork handles has been overwhelmingly positive. In its marketing, Shadow says the slim cork gets your "hand closer to the blank than ever before". And while we're not sure what that translates into, or whether it is more marketing than substance, the reality is that the cork handle on the Warrior is something new. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing may simply come down to personal preference.
There is definitely a different feel to casting the Warrior due to the slim handle and, during our time with the Warrior, there was a consensus that the slim handle led to less hand strain on long casting days. For folks with smaller hands or a tendency to over-grip their rods, the Warrior and its slim cork handle may be of particular interest.
Shadow describes their goals in building the Warrior as building the lightest 7 weight on the market and one that was a true fast-action 7 weight, not an "overly stiff" 7 weight that performed more like an 8 or 9 weight. In our opinion, they've achieved this. The Warrior is a fast-action rod, but probably by 2008 standards and not 2014 standards. And in a world where the fly fishing industry is just now emerging from several years of trotting out far too many lifeless broomsticks, that's fine.
Undeniably light, the Warrior weighs in at a mere 2.95 ounces. This is 5-weight territory in terms of weight, and not just on the spec sheet, the Warrior feels 5-weight-ish in the hand as well.
The rod has a smooth, crisp action. The rod loads deeper into the blank than you'd expect given its reasonably quick recovery. As a result, there's a surprising amount of power, especially given the rod's paltry weight. We were able to carry a significant amount of line and launch it accurately, even when lining up to an 8 weight while chasing bonefish.
During times where we taxed the rod with a combination of a heavy sink tips and a heavy fly, the rod's action became a little less predictable, but with the exception of those demanding rigs, the Warrior offered consistent casting performance.
The Warrior comes with an extra tip section. Why? We're not sure. But it does. So if you break one, you don't have to deal with the company to have it replaced under the Warrior's lifetime warranty.
The Warrior is a versatile rod that will take you virtually anywhere fresh water flows. Toss heavy rigs for trout, swing flies for steelhead, cast big bugs for bass. But it isn't a do-it-all rod. In all fairness, one shouldn't expect it to be given its price.
That said, the Warrior isn't a saltwater rod. At least not by our standards. While still a fast action rod, the Warrior's tip section is too soft for the saltwater world. While we had fun with the Warrior on the flats, where it gracefully shot and laid out long lengths of line, it wasn't the best tool when the pressure was on -- when saltwater rods need to pick up lots of line quickly and launch it with a single back cast. But, if we're being fair, that's not the kind of rod we'd want on a trout or steelhead stream, either.
The Reel Seat
Yes, we spoke well of the reel seat when discussing build quality. And we stand by that. It's a nice reel seat. But, it is a skeleton reel seat. If you're not familiar with skeleton reel seats (and we weren't), they leave the blank exposed underneath by removing the casing. Some people like the look of the skeleton seat, but really there's little reason for it. There's no compromise in strength or durability, but the feature seems to be relatively pointless. At best, it looks "neat", at worst it exposes the blank to damage in an area of the rod that most anglers aren't accustomed to being protective of.
The Warrior is a well crafted rod that offers good performance and quality for its extremely attractive price. If you're in the market for a 7 weight that will take you to all sorts of freshwater destinations, you might want to take a gamble on the relative newcomer that is Shadow Fly Fishing. But then again, at $249, it's not that much of a gamble, is it?