With the Kahawai season approaching, I wanted a top-end saltwater stick that would be suitable for the large bonefish and baby tarpon we were likely to encounter on the trip to Cuba that Corona and I have been dreaming about.  I figured a 9wt would be ideal as I was looking for a rod with a bit more pulling power than an 8wt, and which would do a better job of casting larger saltwater flies in the wind.

Having long been a Loomis fan the GLX Cross Current, with it’s rave reviews, seemed an obvious choice. When I contacted Lower Hutt  Hunting & Fishing to arrange a cast, Pete suggested I also look at the new Scott S4s, mentioning it had won the Dealer's Choice Award for "Best New Fly Rod" at the 2009 Fly Fishing Retailer Show in Denver USA - no mean feat given that the dealers had also cast the new highly acclaimed Sage Xi3 before giving their vote to Scott.

With my Loomis bias I tried the Cross Current first, and found it to be an incredibly powerful casting tool that felt more like a 10wt than a 9wt.  It had more than enough back bone, but took a while to load and consequently wasn’t great at short distance work.  It also required considerable effort to cast.  After 20 minutes of repetitive casting I was fairly knackered, not to mention somewhat stiff the next day; in retrospect I probably should have tried up-lining an 8wt.

By comparison the Scott felt like a feather - weighing in at just 4.2 ounces - and the tip was considerably softer and more sensitive.  It loaded unbelievably fast, using a Teeny TS-T 300 line, and once I realized I was trying to aerialize too much line, I consistently managed smooth accurate casts of 25-30 meters - with just two or three false casts.  Shorter casts with a single false cast were equally smooth and accurate. This was a rod I could cast all day.

At home I set up the Scott S4s alongside a 9’6”  7wt Loomis original GLX and a 9 foot 8wt TFO Axiom (5.5 ounces). The S4s was noticeably lighter in the hand than both other rods.  It was also considerably lighter in the tip than the 8wt, making for an even larger difference in swing weight; as impressive as this was I was concerned the 9wt S4s may not have the pulling power I needed for saltwater targets larger than kahawai and medium-sized bonefish.

Two weeks later I was paddling out on a flat sea toward a cloud of frenzied terns and gulls making the most of anchovies a school of kahawai were forcing to the surface.  Sitting on a kayak it is not possible to aerialize a lot of line without it clipping the swell on the back cast, or a wayward Clouser smacking one on the back of the head.  Because the S4s loads so quickly I was able to achieve consistently longer casts while sitting down than I have with any other rod to date.  The casts were quick, smooth, and effortless – which is exactly what I needed for moving targets.

My initial concern that the 9wt S4s might not have the grunt I was looking for was unfounded. Once hooked up the soft tip folded away nicely, allowing the powerful butt to come into its own.  Though the rod transforms into a short fighting stick under load, the tip and butt integrate beautifully, producing a remarkably even curve.  In addition to being able to exert all the lift I wanted on feisty 5lb Kahawai, another advantage of the soft tip was that I could I pull a lot harder than I usually do with my stiff 9ft spinning rod, without the danger of capsizing my rather unstable glass fibre craft.  

The finish on the S4s is exceptional.  I was pleased to note that when developing the S4s series Scott has moved away from internal to sleeve ferrules. Not being a fan of things flashy I appreciated the matt unvarnished blank and the grey thread wraps with thin teal blue highlights on the ferrule bindings. The hand painted serial number on the rod provides a nice ‘hand crafted’ touch. 

Some anglers may not like the un-sanded finish on the S4s.  Since my student days of selling fishing tackle in the early 1980s, when all the Scott, Orvis, and CD graphite rods we sold were un-sanded, I have come to regard the circular ridges as an integral aspect of the character and texture of a good graphite rod - much the same as the hexagonal cross section and regularly spaced support wraps of cane rods.  Not sanding the blank of the S4s has allowed Scott to produce a much lighter rod.  As it is not possible to sand rods completely evenly, the walls of a sanded rod need to be slightly thicker than an un-sanded equivalent to compensate for the inevitable thinner spots which otherwise would result in breakage. 

The Scott blanks are constructed using multi modulus graphite layups with ARC reinforcement. ARC reinforcement is achieved with highly specialised ultra-lightweight unidirectional carbon which ensures that the round cross-section is maintained while casting or fighting fish and improving durability.

The hardware on the Scott S4s is without compromise. The nickel titanium Recoil snake guides are un-crushable and prevent flat spots, leading to smoother casts. The SiC stripping guides have tough titanium frames which, like the type 3 anodized (Hard Alox) machined reel seat and the snake guides, are incredibly tough and corrosion resistant. 

Knowing that there are a lot of anglers out there wondering how the S4s stacks up against the Sage Xi3, I loaned a 9wt Xi3 from Hunting & Fishing to cast alongside the Scott S4s.  I cast both rods with Teeny TS-T 300 and Airflo 9wt Ego Taper lines.  The Teeny TS-T is an integrated shooting head with an intermediate head and a clear tip – a fantastic casting line and brilliant for shallow water and near surface saltwater action. The Airflo Ego is a versatile, weight-forward, floating line with a long head; it works well on the Tongariro and does a fair job in temperate salt water.

Differences between the Scott S4s and Sage Xi3 series begin with appearance. In contrast to the muted, non-glare S4s the Xi3 is shiny and blue so Bower birds out there should love them. The high quality factory finish is what one expects from Sage, but the hardware, although much improved over the Xi2, is not of the same quality as the S4s.

In the hand the Xi3 felt as light as the S4s but the tip was noticeably stiffer. The advantage of the stiffer tip was that I could aerialize more floating line, achieve a few more metres and lift a little more line off the surface.  On the downside the Xi3 did not load as quickly as the S4s, casting required noticeably more effort (combination of more oomph per stroke and an additional false cast) and casts were nowhere near as smooth.  The distance advantage of the Xi3 seemed to disappear with the TS-T line, largely because there is little to be gained by aerializing more than the 24 foot head, before letting rip.

In addition to appearance and casting ability, the guarantee and service you are likely to receive in the country of purchase and/or residence are worth considering before shelling out NZ$1 300 – 1 400 for a top end fly rod. The life-time guarantees offered by both Scott and Sage involve sending broken rods back to the factory for repair.  The New Zealand distributors for both rods charge handling fees of around NZ$45, local service is excellent and expect turn-around time of 6-8 weeks.

My overall impression of the Scott S4s is that it is more of a fishing rod than an instrument to impress your mates with in the car park.  Although the soft tip is not designed for aerializing lots of line, or making extremely long casts, the rod will consistently produce quick effortless, smooth and accurate casts out to 30m.  In the hand the rod seems to have a life of its own, delivering a lot more energy than you put into a cast.

The Scott S4s 9 wt is an extremely versatile rod. The combination of low weight, soft tip and powerful butt give it the sensitivity of a 7 wt with the casting and pulling power of a 9wt. While smaller fish will put a good bend in the soft tip, which will also protect lighter tippets, there is plenty of low down grunt when you need it. The 9wt would be just as at home throwing heavy nymphs on the Tongariro as it would chasing bonefish on the flats or targeting larger species such as golden trevally, queen fish, barramundi, golden mahseer, fresh water dorado, tiger fish, you name it and this rod should have you well covered.