Lamson Center Axis Reviewed

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

The Center Axis fly rod and reel combo from Waterworks Lamson is something completely different.

The idea of changing the union of fly rod and reel has been kicked around for a while now. To my knowledge the Center Axis is the most serious attempt by a major manufacturer. It looks very different from a traditional fly rod and it feels very different as well. There is some solid science behind the design of this rod/reel combo and it delivers on its claims. It’s also not without its detractors, so I’ll try to be very thorough on the pluses and minuses.

The Theory

The guiding principal behind the Center Axis is simple and it’s right there in the name. The reel, being by far the heaviest part of the setup, affects the action and feel of the rod in casting. By moving the weight of the reel inline with the axis of the rod, this effect is minimized. The caster feels the weight of the line, not the reel, and the reel does not affect the caster stroke to as great a degree.

When I first heard this I thought, “Really?” Frankly, I was shocked how different it felt. There is a definite and pronounced difference in the feel of this combo verses any other I have ever cast. Is it better? That’s a serious question. Probably so. I’ll be frank. Having cast a fly rod for so many years, it’s not easy to know if different is better. As you become a more accomplished caster you adapt quickly to the feel of a new rod and the casting takes place in the hand, not the head.

I will tell you this. I felt a very pronounced difference in the feedback I got from the rod, and I very quickly became used to it and didn’t think about it any longer. I do find it very pleasant to cast. I do think that the shifting of balance makes a real difference. I don’t know that it improves my casting a great deal but it might for other anglers. I think it might be very good for beginning and intermediate casters. I do think there is serious validity to the concept and that this setup is really going to speak to some anglers. The only way to know if you are one of them is to try it out.

The Rod

CA-02-510x340Before I cast the Center Axis, I was concerned about the rod. I am a fly rod geek and the idea of buying a rod from a reel manufacturer gave me pause. That concern was immediately relieved. I have the 9’ 5-weight Center Axis and it is a great casting rod. Not the best I’ve ever cast but very good.

It is smooth and powerful. Plenty fast but with a lot of feel. It does a great job of picking up a long line. I would consider it a medium to large water rod. You’d be OK with it on small water as it is a very good roll caster. It also delivers a powerful single-hand spey cast.

It excels at medium- to long-distance casting. I was able to cast a streamer eighty feet standing in waist-deep water. The action is suitable for a variety of fishing techniques. In short, a solid all-arounder. It also gets extra points for durability as you can’t even tell that I drove off with it on the roof of the truck, launching it onto the road in a turn. Kind of my signature move.

The Reel

center-axisObviously the reel is the quality machine you would expect from Waterworks Lamson. It is a variation of the Lightspeed reel, which my buddies in retail tell me is consistently the top selling trout reel year after year. It is unique in how it attaches to the rod. The reel plugs into the rear of the grip and is held in place by an o-ring seal. It is very very solid. In fact, it’s damned hard to get off and there isn’t any need to.

What I like about the Center Axis

First and foremost I like the feel of the rod. I do think that the balance has a lot to do with that but it’s also just a nice rod. I enjoy fishing it and it does perform very well as a fishing tool. It’s not just for the casting pond. It is equally comfortable with a dry fly, nymph rig or streamer.

The reel has a nice large arbor and is simple and clean. The drag is excellent and it feels very solid. A nice piece of quality engineering, as you would expect from Lamson.

I really like the case. More than just the case really, it’s how quickly I get my fly in the water with this system. It comes out of the case with the reel attached and very quickly I’m lined up and fishing. The case has a comfortable strap and I have used it as a hike-in rod and it is very convenient.

I also feel like the balance of the system is less fatiguing. Much of that is that Lamson has clearly spent some time fine tuning this setup. The balance is superb, which makes a bigger difference in fishing than in casting.

What I do not like

There are only a few things I don’t like. They are nitpicky and very likely just a matter of not being used to something new, but I want to disclose them fully.

I do feel locked into the reel. I have a lot of fly rods and reels and I am very used to picking up the reel which has the line I want on it. I usually have four or five reels with different 5-weight lines on them. I may prefer one line over another for a specific rod or type of fishing, so I grab that reel. I suspect that isn’t really an issue for most anglers and is likely just me being spoiled. It’s also fair to say that if I chose this as my system, there is no reason I couldn’t have multiple Center Axis reels.

Changing the reel from left to right hand retrieve is a little funny, but honestly no more difficult that any reel. It’s done by removing the butt and mounting tang from the frame and simply turning the reel around. Anyway, you are only going to do it once, if that.

Again, this is really stupid and nitpicky, but I am very used to wrapping my leader around my reel foot and hooking my fly in a snake guide. The Center Axis is so clean and sleek that you just can’t do that. The upside of this is that there is nothing there to catch line either, so that’s a trade off.

Is this the future?

Who knows? Maybe. Lamson has obviously taken this innovation very seriously. The whole system has really been thought through and the design is impressive. In theory, other rod makers will start offering rods with the Center Axis mount and there are some good reasons for them to do so.

Waterworks Lamson is a huge force in freshwater fly fishing and they will be hard to ignore. If anglers like the system, no rod manufacturer will be happy about loosing market share to a reel company. The Center Axis mount is less expensive to make than traditional reel seats so it would be in their best interest to offer it. Time will tell.

In the meantime, if you are an angler looking for a great all-around fly rod and reel that will meet a wide variety of fishing demands, provide years of service and improve your casting, there are a lot of good reasons to consider the Center Axis. If you are a traditionalist, it may not be your thing, but if you want to get out an put fish in the net, the Center Axis will definitely do the trick. And at a pretty attractive price. The Center Axis is available in 4,5,6 & 8 weights ranging from $749 to $799.


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “Lamson Center Axis Reviewed

  1. Has anyone considered producing some type of counter-balance that would work with every other fly rod/reel in existence? Might be a drag on the aesthetics but hey – you never know. Makes we want to give it a go just too see how much it matters. Counter-balance weights are sold very long sinning rods; I have even made my own and they work remarkably well. Just a thought . . .

  2. I think its a cool idea, and I bet it works great. But its not functional. Like you said about having different lines, or if you break the rod or reel, then you are stuck with one that won’t work with out the other. And with the way I break rods….

    Good review guys!

  3. Sage debuted a series of SPL Center Axis rod and reel combos over 20 years ago with what appears a very similar design. While they have some hard core devotees, it has remained very niche fishing tool. If a rod company like Sage (at their rod designing prime IMO) can’t shift sentiment, I have a hard time believing that a reel company can.

  4. This system seems like a neat idea and I’d love to try it someday–maybe it will catch on. One thing I am wondering about though, and I’m no physicist, but where is the center of gravity (balance) on the cork of this rod? Yes I know it will depend what line is rigged up on it, and even how much line is out of the reel…but…

    If any rod’s CG is roughly underneath where you grip the rod, it should balance well in the hand and reduce fatigue. Obviously a lighter rod and lighter reel will reduce fatigue even more. I’m willing to bet that most people (myself included) overlook reel weight as it relates to balancing a specific rod (with backing/line on it). Maybe this is small potatoes, but something to consider.

    I’m not arguing that people say this system feels different (and feels good), just curious is all.

    This design is good for the industry and I hope other rod/reel manufacturers will produce products compatible with it. If Lamson can or has it patented, they could maybe get some kickback on the use of the design. Good for Lamson, and good for other companies too.

  5. In social media parlance I would say #gimmick

    If some of you will remember, Sage tried this a few years a ago with a rod that was actually made in the USA…it flopped. Far be it from me to say a fly reel company has reinvented the wheel (or spool), but even when partnering up with Hardy (i.e. Korean plant “c”) and using Lamson’s antiquated, yet still very adequate drag design, I still feel like we have another flop on our hands

  6. This is not a new idea. I believe it was either Sage or Orvis has tried this concept back in the early 90’s or late 80’s. It was done with light weight lines ,like 2,3 and or 4.

  7. I purchased a Sage Center Axis 2-weight in the late 90s and still fish with it. It is a great outfit to fish small streams for small trout. The new model by Lamson looks very similar and is an attempt to revive an old idea that didn’t catch on.

  8. The above posts go to show why it’s so hard to make a new idea take off. People are too stuck in their ways and take a negative tack before they’ve even had their hands on a product. I’ve been fortunate to spend a little time guiding and working at a fly shop. There has been a lot of stuff I thought looked gimmicky that I tried and actually liked, and stuff I thought looked solid that ended up collecting dust. Lamson makes quality products across the board, and I’m sure this took the same amount (maybe more) thought and testing as the rest of their stuff. I’m looking forward to demoing a Center Axis, I’m curious as heck.

  9. Remember reels with reel seat extensions
    that dropped the reel one or two inches below the
    reel seat? Think some old Ari T Hart models or
    custom options on some Abel’s. What was the
    purpose of those relative to outfit balance or
    leverage? Seems like the opposite of the “reel
    in the central axis” approach.

  10. It might be worth noting that the sage center axis was
    Lamsons design from the start. They partnered with sage to build it

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