As one would expect. These are very much specialty rods designed for sensitivity and presenting nymphs with fine tippet in a variety of conditions. However, because of this specialization both are manufactured in limited quantities and repairs and replacements can take time--as I discovered. Add this to the fact that Greys has been discontinued in North America, and you are looking at what may be considered a "one time buy".
The ESN is a beautiful rod. Sage has really pulled out the stops and built a highly functional rod in a gorgeous package. I won't bother to quote the company blurb, but this is like the Ferrari or Aston Martin of nymphing rods. Dark forest green glossy body, dark green wraps, immaculate finish on all components, and a solid single ring up locking reel seat. It incorporates one Fuji ceramic stripping guides and 10 hard chrome snake foot guides to the tip. It comes in a a super light 79.3 g (2.8125 oz). Add in a beautiful cocobolo reel seat insert and perfect half well cork handle and you've got one sexy piece of kit. (MSRP $695 US)
If the ESN is a Ferrari, the Greys is an economical family car. Dependable, a little stylish and made overseas. Not to say that the rod is in any way ugly. I described the 3 wt Streamflex in a previous review as "top notch" for fit and finish and the 2 wt XF2 follows this mold. The only visual difference is the anodized reel seat insert "cage" seen in other rods on the market. This rod has a single ceramic stripping guide and 9 chrome single foot guides to the tip. This rod comes in at 90 g (3.17 oz), and also features a half well handle made of slightly lower quality cork than the ESN. (MSRP $300 US)
In spite of their common application both rods are different beasts.
The ESN has a ultra fine top section progressing to a stiff strong butt. The tip flexes extremely well to protect fine light weight tippets, while the butt makes controlling larger fish a simple task. In a lot of respects it has all the hallmarks of a typical modern Sage rod: it's fast, recovers quickly and casts crisply and cleanly. My largest fish to date with this rod has been in the 14" range and at no point have I ever felt under gunned.
The Streamflex is much closer to a traditional rod in that the action is more uniformly progressive through it's length, although it's butt section like the ESN is more stout than with a traditional rod. The tip is soft and flexible and has protected fine tippet from breaking on some very large fish indeed. While I have landed fish in the 24" range with this rod, controlling larger fish with it is a bit of a workout.
Any rod review is going to have a strong subjective element, but I'll give you my opinion anyway. Leaving aside the price differential for a moment, both of these rods are excellent for the purpose for which they are designed--namely sensitively fishing for smaller trout with fine tippet and light nymphs. Both of course will do more than that, and this is where one might be better suited for your needs than the other.
If encountering larger fish is an issue and you need to throw a longer line as in French style nymphing, the edge has to go to the ESN. It's action and stiffer butt section lend themselves well to these applications.
If a comfortable casting stroke and wet fly or downstream presentations are more important, then the Greys gets the nod. It's slightly slower action and increased mid rod flex make casting very easy and I feel there is less chance of losing fish to the dreaded "bounce" on wet fly presentations.
If budget is a concern then the clear winner has to be the Greys. At less than half the price you've got a great nymphing rod that will allow you to do everything the more expensive ESN is designed to do in a well built package--but hey, if you can afford a Ferrari to shuttle the kids to soccer practice, then go for it. For what it's worth I'm keeping both.
Typical Rod Configuration(s) Used:
- Lines: Rio competition nymph; Rio classic 1wt DT; Generic Trout Legend competition line
- Reel: Hardy Flyweight
- Leader: 20' Nymphing Leader/tippet
Similar rods used/tested:
- Greys original Streamflex 3wt 10' and 4wt 11'