Review: Winston Kairos fly rod

Winston enters uncharted territory with its mold-breaking new rod
Winston Kairos fly rod
Photo: Spencer Durrant

In an effort to broaden their lineup and offer more opportunities to fish their rods, Winston rolled out two new families of rods this year—the Nimbus and Kairos.

At $475, the Kairos essentially replaces the popular Nexus (a rod which, in a 9’7wt is one of my all-time favorites) as Winston’s entry-level offering. But, unlike the Nexus, the Kairos is a significant departure from the features that make Winston rods what they are and the Kairos will no doubt gain some level of notoriety for that fact alone.

Aesthetically, the clear finish on top of gray graphite, all-aluminum reel seats regardless of weight and length and triangular Cordura rod tubes are all firsts in the Winston family.

But looks aren’t the only thing that set the Kairos apart from the rest of its Winston bretheren. This rod is fast, unquestionably much stiffer than we’ve all come to expect from Winston.

For some anglers, especially Winston purists, these departures will represent somewhat of a sacrilege, while others may welcome Winston’s willingness to expand its horizons and build rods for different types of anglers.

What Works

Big Bugs
The Kairos is a ton of fun for fishing hoppers, streamers and hopper-dropper (or hopper-dropper-dropper rigs, if that’s your thing) rigs. The stiffer tip section in the Kairos helps with setting the hook on streamers and deep nymph rigs since there’s less bounce in the hookset.

I’ve never been a huge fan of fast-action rods, largely because the majority seem so focused with line speed that they neglect being accurate.

The Kairos isn’t groundbreakingly accurate by any means—remember, this is a sub-$500 fly rod—but it gets the job done well enough that I can’t complain. The only time I had to make a conscious effort to get my flies where they needed to be was when fishing flies larger than one should be fishing on a 5wt.

Swing Weight
This is one aspect of Winston’s new Nimbus that I didn’t like—the swing weight was far too heavy. On the Kairos, though, faster action and tight tracking help eliminate the swing weight that results from a heavier-than-average all-graphite rod. I fished the Kairos for an entire day out of a driftboat on the Green River and didn’t really notice the swing weight at all. That’s the sign of a rod that’s doing a good job at being a fast-action stick.

What Doesn’t Work

Stiff Tip
The stiffer tip on the Kairos does aid in hook sets with larger flies, but other than in that instance the tip is just too stiff to be effective for other types of trout fishing. I, and most everyone else who likes fishing Winston rods, enjoy fishing small flies on light tippet.

In fact, the tip is stiff enough to give me pause about fishing anything smaller than 5x on the Kairos. In my neck of the woods, the mayflies and caddis are out in huge numbers, and I haven’t thrown anything smaller than a 14 in a while. While the Kairos does manage to present those flies with enough delicacy to not spook most fish, it’s decidedly not a dry fly rod, nor is it a precision presentation tool. The tip is just too stiff to make it effective at those tasks. It’ll work in a pinch, but wouldn’t be my first pick for smaller flies on a tailwater.

Build Quality
I’ve never once looked at a Winston and thought it was poorly built (well, aside from the Passport). By no means is the Kairos poorly built, but it’s nowhere near the standard Winston has set for itself over the years. The cork, winding check, reel seat, and rod tube all feel like areas where Winston willingly cut corners to reduce cost. That’s usually fine by me if the blank’s performance makes up for it, but with the Kairos, I’m not entirely sure that’s the case.

Final Word

Here’s the thing: anyone who knows me well knows how much I love Winston rods. My rod quiver is predominantly green, and I’ve collected some of Winston’s earliest graphite offerings.

The Kairos doesn’t feel like it belongs in that family of rods.

The Kairos is a great rod for larger flies, like streamers and bass poppers. I’d also recommend it as a go-to driftboat rod. I really like those aspects of its performance. The minimal swing weight is great as well, since throwing big bugs all day easily wears out your shoulder. Accuracy is on point with a $475 fly rod, as are line speed and loop control. And, at that price point, it gives anglers a chance to experience a Winston without an $800+ price tag.

But this isn’t your grandad’s Winston. It’s something completely different. At $475, it’s not an entry-level rod, either. The niche for the Kairos is small—it’ll be up to the rod to carve itself a name in the industry.


If this is all you can do, why bother Winston?...

So sounds similar to a Sage Ignitor without the nano resins?