Jun 25, 2015

R. L. Winston Tour

Travis Duddles - Montana Trout Stream

You may have heard the term “It’s a Winston” or “It has that Winston feel” stated like it is something really special. Trust me there is something to this feel! Many anglers put these rods above all others, but why? Winston rods are not always the most powerful, lightest or cutting edge technology so why are they put on such a pedestal? The most common response is it has the Winston feel. Winston just has a feel that is hard to find in other rods. Comfortable and smooth! On a recent trip to Montana I discovered where that feel comes from and so much more!

It all started several months ago when Eric Neufeld our Winston sales representative and good friend called to invite me to the Winston Confluence. The Winston Confluence was something Winston put together to bring a few select sales reps and dealers together in Twin Bridges Montana. This is the home of R. L. Winston Rod Company. The plan was to bring all of us together, give us a inside tour of Winston that they never do. Yes they do tours, but this would be a special one. Winston wanted to let us see all steps of production, even the processes that were top secret! They also wanted to show us the direction they are heading and get all of our feedback good or bad. So after hearing the plan I was quick to say "I'm in!"

I flew into Bozeman, Montana where I met up with Adam and Jeff from Winston along with a couple of other dealers and sales reps from around the country and Canada. We all hopped in Adam’s and Jeff’s trucks heading towards Twin Bridges Montana. It didn’t take long to realize this was going to be fun group of guys and was going to be a great trip. After a hour and half drive we were in the small town of Twin Bridges, a classic little Montana farm town. Our lodging for the next few days was a small apartment building provided to us by 4 Rivers Fly Shop. This apartment building is where they house their clients during the guiding season.

The next morning we walked down the street to the R. L. Winston factory. The Winston factory is in a steel building on the edge of town, not quite as big as I thought it would be. When we walked through the front door into the small entry way slash show room we were greeted by Adam. Adam is the person you generally get when you call Winston. Adam was busy answering the phones as usual. While we waited I took the chance to scan through the complete line up of Winston rods displayed in the front entry. I scanned the rods every once in a while seeing a model that I had not cast or fished yet, which now sparked my interest to fish that rod. With most of my fishing being with two handed rods for Steelhead, I realized I have never fished the Boron III LS 9’ 5 weight. That would change later that day.

Lew Stoner
After a quick breakfast Jeff and Adam were ready to take us on our tour. It started in the Winston museum with the history of how Winston got started. Do you know who R. L. Winston is? There is no R. L. Winston, there were actually two original founders Robert Winther and Lew Stoner. R. L. Winston is a combination of their names; R for Robert, L for Lew, Win for Winther, Ston for Stoner. Put it together and you get R. L. Winston. Adam tells us how every year a few old timers come by and talk about meeting and visiting with Mr. Winston and that they knew him personally. Now we know there was never a Mr. Winston at R. L. Winston.

The Museum was amazing, but the best was about to begin. Annette Mclean who is the rod designer at Winston appeared to take us on our factory tour. We stepped through the door where the entire Winston rod staff was waiting to greet us. It did not take long to tell that these people love working at the R.L Winston factory. Most were smiling ear to ear. From there we went from station to station to see all the steps it takes to build a Winston fly rod. There is so much attention to detail and quality at the Winston factory and that is the difference that makes a Winston fly rod different from the rest. One such example of the attention to detail is the inscription “Barb” has personally been hand inscribing the Winston rods for 15 years. Yes, all of them are hand inscribed!

At this point on the tour I can’t tell you much about what we saw. Let’s just say we got to see lots of cool stuff behind closed doors. Annette talked to us a lot about the design of a Winston rod, the tapers and the materials. I have to say Annette has an amazing amount of knowledge when it comes to rod design and the cool part is she is so humble about it. Annette even let us cast some prototypes that are in the works, can’t tell you anymore, but I can tell you that they are always looking for the next best rod!

Reel Seats
As we all gathered at the end of the tour it all made sense now why Winston fly rods can be in short supply at times. As dealers we tend to get upset when we cannot get a rod for a customer, we need it now but with Winston's attention to detail and quality it takes a little more time to produce a rod. All Winston Employees take great pride and respect in the rods they build and their commitment to the company brings forth a feeling in the Winston factory that resembles family. I guess we have to remember the next time a Winston is on backorder that if you want this type of quality sometimes you just have to wait. We all left that afternoon excited, wanting a new Winston fly rod.

We went back to the lodge and geared up for a couple hours of fishing on the Ruby River. Eric asked “what rod I would like to fish?”. I quickly replied “the BIII LS 9’ 5 Wt.” Once we grabbed our gear we raced to the Ruby, we only had a few hours until we return to the Winston factory for a BBQ.

After a 20 minute drive we ended up at one of Adam and Jeff’s favorite spot on the Ruby River. Eric, Jeff and I headed up river and on the first run I handed the rod to Eric to let him have first cast. Rigged with a dry dropper set up he quickly caught a nice brown trout. It was my turn, I made a few cast, I quickly forgot about fishing. Casting the LS on a small river like this was a dream, it is so smooth, loads easy, very nice! Ok! Snap out of it, time to catch a fish. We worked our way up to the next run, first cast I hooked and landed a nice rainbow. With its deeper flex the LS plays fish very nice also.

Eric and I quickly forgot all about the streamer rod we brought with us and took turns casting and catching fish with the LS. This continued for about 2 hours, many cast, many fish, but most of all the enjoyment of casting the LS. The LS was the perfect rod for this size river with plenty of power for the hopper dropper set up yet still very capable of a delicate presentation.

Our time was up and it was time to head back to the Winston factory for a BBQ. When we showed up burgers were all ready grilling. Some of the staff had stayed late to make dinner for us and the gentleman cooking even raided his own freezer supplying the elk burger for our dinner that night. It was an enjoyable evening, great company, great food and cold beer.

After dinner Jeff brought us all back to our lodging where we had a round table about Winston rods. We discussed the pros and cons of Winston rods. What is needed? What trends we see coming and so on. After the discussion was all over Jeff presented to the four of us authorized dealers with a very special, very limited custom R. L. Winston Boron IIIx rod that does not exist on the market, the “Silver Label”. This rod was your standard Boron IIIx, but dressed and finished completely different from your traditional Winston. We were all stunned we did not expect this, it was a very special surprise. Remember this does not exist so don’t ask you cannot get one. In fact we were warned if any of us sold one of these we would be banned from getting personal rods from Winston for life!

The next day we were greeted by guides from the 4 Rivers Fly Shop, this was our last day of fishing before heading back home. Eric and I were off to the Jefferson with our guide Joe Willauer. Joe said that we would be fishing a lot of streamers that day on the Jeff, searching for those big hogs that live in its waters. He had us start off though with nymphs below and indicator where I got to break my Silver Label in on a few nice trout.

We then shifted over to some bigger 6 weight rods and started chucking streamers. The day started off a little slow with streamers, but quickly improved. We caught several nice 14 to 18 browns and rainbows by the end of the day. We both had fish on over 20 inches, but they were never landed. That is why you fish the Jefferson though, not for quantity, but for the chance to land a real pig, maybe even over 30 inches!!! Not that day, but I will fish it again, next time I will have my 11’ 4 weight Winston MicroSpey with me though. That is my favorite streamer rod, no sore shoulder when I am done.

It was sad to see the trip come to an end. The next day we all headed home, back to our families and work. I left this trip with a much more appreciation of Winston and their fly rods. I have always fished Winston’s and enjoyed them but now I really understand that extra mile put into the attention to detail to every Winston fly rod. That gives you that much better of feeling when you pick your rod up. Speaking of that I am going to grab my Winston and go catch a few big Crane Prairie rainbows!

Travis Duddles
Owner and CEO | Gorge Fly Shop

"Fly Fish the World with Us"


  1. So for a small stream rod on the east coast, would you recommend a biiix or biiils? Mostly will be fishing nymphs and dry flies. Thanks!

    1. Tough one! Both so good. I would think on small east coast streams the LS would feel right at home. I'm going to throw one more in the mix to ponder. Winston Air...This new rod from Winston has incredible feel and a wide range going from unbelievable presentations to power when you need it. Check it out. If I was buying a new small stream rod the Air would be right on top of my choices.

      See it here - http://www.gorgeflyshop.com/store/pc/Winston-Air-Fly-Rods-Free-Fly-Line-232p10936.htm


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