Expert Review: Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label Kit & Pro II RodPublished on 01/04/2023 · 7 min readThis review is my honest opinion of the rod outfit, which I purchased with my own money in May of 2022.
Casting for salmon in Alaska. All photos courtesy of Steven Merchant
About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the rod outfit, which I purchased with my own money in May of 2022.
The Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) Custom Outfit with the Pro 2 rod and NXT LA 1 reel, line, and padded rod/reel carrier is a super entry-level outfit for all beginner fly anglers that makes learning to fly cast easy. I think it is a great value as
About this rod
- Model: 2020 Temple Fork Outfitters Pro II Fly Rod
- Rod Length: 8 feet 6 inches
- Rod Weight: 5 wt.
- Rod Pieces: 4-piece
- Rod Material: Graphite
- Preferred fishing styles: I love all types of fly fishing. From tiny brook trout to striped marlin, I have cast a fly to nearly 200 species of fish. I enjoy sight casting the most.
- Experience: I have been fly fishing for more than a half-century.
- When I bought this: May 2022
- Reel Paired with Rod: In addition to the Pro 2 5 wt. rod, the outfit I used was matched with a Temple Fork NXT LA 1 cast aluminum reel.
- Line Paired Rod: The outfit includes a floating weight forward floating line with a welded front loop and it’s loaded with 20-pound dacron backing.
- Days tested: 1 month
- Waters I’ve used it on: I’ve only used this rod fishing from a boat on warm water lakes.
- Species targeted with rod: On our very first day throwing actual flies, my young student angler caught bluegill, pumpkinseeds, hybrid sunfish, black crappie, and largemouth bass—all sight casting!
How it performs
What I was looking for
I was introduced to this TFO Custom Outfit when I became a mentor to a young man at a Trout Unlimited (TU) “Foster the Outdoors” event. Both the mentees and mentors at these events are given the outfits to use for a year. I did not purchase the outfit. TFO produces these outfits with educational programs to help newbie anglers get started with fly fishing in mind, so it made sense that TU would have a bunch of them.
Why I chose this gear
As I mentioned I was given this outfit by Trout Unlimited to use when I am mentoring my young fly fishing partner, so I did not buy it. It chose me. I’m sure other programs that teach fly fishing use other outfits; Orvis’s Encounter Outfit comes to mind. It’s also very similar to TFO’s NXT Black Label Outfit. But the TFO Outfits were designed to lessen the learning curve of fly fishing and they are covered by their lifetime warranty, so I can see why TU chose it.
What I love about it
- Quality: For its quite low price point (the current NXT Black Label Outfit is around $200), this is a quality rod and reel outfit. The craftsmanship is quite good. While not fancy, it is surprisingly nice. The graphite blank is excellent and strong. It has a semi-gloss finish. The guides and guide wraps are well done. The all-black, modern-looking reel is cast aluminum as opposed to some makers who are using plastics at this price point. The cork handle has some burled accents which look nice.
- Versatility: I have only used this rod while mentoring my student angler. Its size and weight, however, make it a versatile warm water rod. It's a bit big for small trout if that is all one is using it to fish. It’s also versatile in the sense that it makes a great backup outfit to one’s primary, more expensive outfit in case it breaks on a trip.
- Use Case: I want to help kids get into fly fishing. It should be easy. I really love that this custom bundled outfit from TFO comes with a graphite rod, a more modern-looking cast aluminum reel with a decent drag, a weight-forward floating line, backing, and a rod/reel case, all loaded up and ready to fish! Tie on a fly after 15 minutes of practice, find a bluegill, and there is a kid who is excited about fly fishing!
- Ease of casting: This rod is designed to help people learn to fly fish. Casting it is super easy. I am excited about how quickly my student is picking up the game!
- Line speed: The rod is considered a medium-fast rod, which is just about right for a beginner rod. I want the student to be able to feel the rod flex without having to really load it up.
- Ideal casting distance: As a learning outfit, this rod is not designed to rocket out 90-foot casts. But again, I really like how a young kid or starting adult can pick this rod up and within a few minutes be casting 35 feet. I personally can easily get 60 feet out of it, which is more than enough!
- Weight: The rod in my outfit is a 5-weight. I like how it fishes for medium-sized bass and larger panfish.
- Length: Besides learning to cast on the lawn without a hook, I’ve got my young learner casting out of my boat. For that reason, I like the 81/2 foot length of the Pro 2. If we were wading small trout streams I’d prefer a shorter rod, or if it was exclusively used out of a boat, I’d go with the 9-footer.
- Grip: The Pro 2 has a half wells grip made of nice-looking clear natural cork with some burl, as opposed to composite cork. It's an upgrade from the NXT Black Label rod which has the composite cork handle.
- Build: I really like the carbon fiber insert and brushed aluminum reel seat on the Pro 2, which is again an upgrade from the NXT reel seat. Like all TFO rods and reels, these are made in South Korea but designed by TFO pros here in the USA.
- Aesthetics: As soon as the kids pulled the rods from their cases and put them together, I liked how the rod and reed looked. I really like the simple, “basic black” look of this rod and reel. The rod blank is gloss black as are the thread wraps with a few gold accents. It's not flashy, but that’s ok with me.
- Warranty: TFO’s Lifetime Warranty can’t be beaten! TFO’s product warranty covers breakage due to defects in materials and workmanship only. For the life of the original, registered owner, TFO will repair or replace the defective rod or reel at no charge. They also have a good and fair repair service for breakage not caused by a defect.
Issues I’ve encountered
- Literal Weight: The outfit is a bit on the heavy side is an 8’6” 5 weight, but that isn’t all a bad thing. I think a little weight helps the student fly angler feel the outfit better. In a perfect world, the outfit could be a bit lighter to reduce fatigue with kids first learning to cast. The rod itself weighs 3.7 ounces.
- Sensitivity: I would not describe the rod in the outfit as “sensitive”. I noticed my novice anglers were getting fish to take their fly, but they were not immediately feeling the take. Some fish were spitting out the fly before the study could properly strip-strip and lift the rod. I attribute some of the delay to their inexperience, but some to the lack of sensitivity of the rod.
Favorite moment with this gear
My first day actually fishing with my student angler couldn’t have gone better. The day was warm, sunny, with little wind. I had snacks and cold drinks on the boat. Sunfish and crappie were on their beds and the Minnesota lake had crystal clear water. As soon as I loaned him my spare polarized sunglasses, he was seeing the fish that were everywhere. Not even minutes into our day he turned to me and said “I can’t believe how many fish I have caught. That sunny was the biggest one I have ever caught”!
Value for the money vs. other options
This is a great outfit for the price of around $200. I don’t think I could find this good of gear at this price point anywhere. It’s a point of pride with TFO. The lifetime warranty really makes this a value compared to other brands such as the below $200 Orvis Encounter, which isn’t covered by Orvis’s typical 25-year warranty.
TFO designed this outfit to help kids and others learn fly fishing. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it's pretty affordable. For those who are thinking about getting into fly fishing, this outfit will get them there.