A little over a year and a half ago, when Thomas & Thomas announced the sale of all company assets and its manufacturing facility, the response from long time Thomas & Thomas rod owners was a bit unexpected. Typically, when brands with long histories and a loyal customer base change hands, the reaction is considerably negative. However, when word of the sale was spread by then CEO Gerry Metcalfe, the news was overwhelmingly met with cautious optimism.
The fact of the matter was that the T&T name had lost its luster in recent years due to a myriad of reasons that included slipping product quality, poor customer service and a general lack of innovation. Customers looking to purchase a premium fly rod had moved on to brands like Sage, Scott, Orvis and G. Loomis, amongst others. Thomas and Thomas was no longer on most people's must have list. The buzz was that the new owner, Florida based businessman and fisherman Mark Richens, had the zeal and determination to get the company back on track and once again seat Thomas & Thomas amongst the pinnacle of fly rod makers. As we approach 2013, the Thomas & Thomas name is well on its way to restoring its former glory, due in no short part to the T&T 'No Sanctuary' NS5.
The NS5 was developed to meet the demands of customers that wanted a fast action offering. Before the NS5 was in a lot of hands, skeptics accustomed to slower action offerings from T&T wondered whether the NS5 would fish well in close, cushion tippets and deliver dries with grace. Those skeptics needn't fear as, despite being a fast action rod, the NS5 has fished well in virtually every situation we've put it through and done so with smoothness, consistency and a great deal of feel and finesse. We've fished it on small spring creeks, thrown long dry fly casts on the Upper Delaware and tossed bushy hoppers with it on the Yellowstone. The NS5 excelled regardless of what we asked of it.
Getting finesse from a fast action rod isn't something you expect. Sure, what qualifies as a rod with finesse (or as a fast-action rod, for that matter) is a moving target. My beloved 5 weight Sage Z-Axis is now considered a finesse rod by some and that classification possesses some validity when that rod is compared to the most current generation of fast-action rods. The NS5 is unique amongst the offerings in this current generation of fast-action rods we've spent time with, in our opinion.
The first day we had the NS5 on the water, we paired it with RIO's Grand line. If you're not familiar with the Grand line series, it is a line that RIO intentionally overweights by a full weight class. So, a 5 weight line really a 6 weight. RIO also distributes more weight forward in the line as compared to a normal weight forward line. This was the default pairing as most fast action rods we've cast like this sort of thing. The Sage ONE, for instance, we found benefits from a overlining and additional weight forward distribution. This wasn't the case with the NS5. While the NS5 still allowed us to deliver long casts and loaded quickly with the Grand, something felt off.
A day later, we hit the water again with the NS5, but this time paired with Airflo's Ridge Supple Tactical Trout line. It was clear within the first cast that the NS5 was designed as a 5 weight and intended to be paired with a true 5 weight line. The rod shined. The rod loads quickly and easily, but does so with a great amount of feel. Whether tossing a short 25 foot cast or throwing one in the 50 plus range, there's a great deal of feel present in the way the NS5 loads. The lack of such has been my primary complaint with the latest and greatest fast-action rods and the reason why, unless I'm pitching weighted sculpins on a polyleader, you're likely going to find me fishing my Z-Axis. Well, perhaps until now. The Thomas & Thomas NS5 seems to bring together the best parts of these two generations of fast-action rods. I get the aggressive power and punch of rods like the ONE, but with the feel and deeper load of rods like my Z-Axis.
Chances are if you're a slow-rod aficionado, the NS5 still isn't for you. Sure there's a touch to the NS5 you won't find in other fast action rods, but slow rodders didn't like the last generation of fast-action rods, or the one before that. The NS5 may be a one-of-a-kind offering, but it's still a fast action rod.
Aesthetically, as one would expect, the NS5 is a standout. The rod (blank) is dark olive, with brown/burgundy wraps and a silver anodized aluminum reel seat. The blank is adorned with Thomas & Thomas' signature script and the design is conservative but classic and full of richness. The craftsmanship is superb.
The NS5 is a standout in its class and is, without question, the most balanced and versatile fast-action rod we've cast. That doesn't mean it will become your go-to spring and mountain creek rod, after all, T&T designed the NS5 to be a big water rod. However, the NS5 would feel more at home in either of these settings than any of its competitors. On big water, whether you're fishing the river within a river, or chucking flies across its expanse, the NS5 excels. In our opinion, Thomas & Thomas has a true winner on its hands with the NS5, and the reception this rod has received is well deserved.