Fair warning: this is a long review. TL, DR: This rod is awesome. Buy it if you want a long-ish 7wt and need something that's fun on big smallies and any other fish you can swing up between 5 and 15 lbs. Definitely buy it if you like long lines, fish the "Steelhead Alley" region, and are tired of surfboarding up everything you hook. Put a Fall Favorite 55' 550 or a WA 55' 6/7 on it. Or something longer.
I'm not quite sure how I first came across B&W a few years ago, but suffice to say I was jazzed enough that one rod turned into a small collection since then, both vintage and current production. As I've transitioned into longer bellies and double tapers, they seem to be among a small group of rods that really shine with these line systems, especially with sinking tips and/or big heavy flies.
My primary rod was a 13'6" Walker. As a stout 8wt it is quite strong for my local fish (Lake Erie steelbows and a few monster lake run smallies in the Spring). So two years ago I began talks with Gene to develop a light 7wt in a 14' length. I told him there was no rush and I'd rather have a perfect rod than one delivered in a month. Fast forward two years and who knows how many prototypes, and last Thursday a 14' 7wt Powerlite shows up at my door.
I won't spend much time on the aesthetics, as there are many pics of Powerlites floating around on the internet in general and this site as well. I selected a traditional Walker grip, gloss black blank with black wraps and gold whippings. The reel seat is a beautiful wood insert capped with a champagne hood and hardware. The end cap is new--champagne aluminum with rubberized cork composite. Everything is perfect. The cork has no soft spots or voids and is finished satin smooth. The wraps and epoxy work are flawless.
When the FedEx guy came my wife and I were leaving for Philadelphia in an hour, but I scrambled and took it on the lawn for the tried and true wiggle test. I don't weigh rods because my only concern is how they feel in hand. The first impression was of utter lightness--I've never felt a 14 footer with such a feather-like swing weight. At the same time, you can tell there is substance out there, that the rod has balls the whole way through the blank. The flex is huge, even and deep, right into the reel seat. The tip is substantial, stiff and flexes on the same curve as the rest of the rod, yet manages to snap back to neutral with lightning speed and a tactile "whump". There are no residual oscillations whatsoever.
I immediately made the decision to pack it in the car and take it to the speycasting mecca of Philadelphia, PA. Friday at 6am I found a local duck pond and strung it up with a Fall Favorite 55' at 550 grains. The first few casts revealed what I suspected, a rod that is purpose built for casting a long line a long, long way. Stroke doesn't really matter, although the rod certainly has its preferences--you can keep your elbows locked in tight, no drift and no rise, and underhand a 100 foot shot no problem. Abrupt forward stroke and a hard 11 o'clock stop and the eight inch loop flies out toward the horizon. Or as I prefer, you can grip it like a twelve pound splitting maul, rip the line off the water into a flat V-loop, throw your hands up high and chop it down and out as hard as you want. Nothing collapses the rod. It flexes, flexes some more and then unleashes godly amounts of energy wherever you point it.
The biggest difference between my Walker rods (13'6" and 14'6") and this one is that you can feel every minute communication the line is sending. If you move into the sweep before the leader is straight, you can feel the shudder and jitters of the fly and leader killing the tension. If you over rotate the rod pulls a little downriver right before the forward delivery, indicating you may end up with a new earring if you don't abort mission. Your fingers tell you when the anchor has touched down and they tell you explicitly when to pull the trigger on the forward cast. The Walkers filter out some of the line noise and make you cast the rod, which to their credit will make you a better caster because you can focus primarily on form and tempo, and less on the bits of sometimes distracting tactile data coming from the line. The Powerlite plays telephone between you and the line, chattering the entire time about what the long green cord is doing out there. If you have ever driven a manual rack 911, Miata, etc. you'll understand what I'm trying to get across. Stimulating and almost alarming if it's your first tango, but pure sensory magic when you get used to it.
A couple other comparisons with equally awesome rods that a lot of you probably have experience with. The comments were taken in a notebook and are initial raw thoughts having cast both rods back to back. All rods lines with NC FF 55's.
Meiser MKS 13'6" 7/8: B&W Longer feeling, more feeling of inertia in movement, but not necessarily weight. Less firm throughout the blank, especially in lower 1/3 but recovers equally as well and dampens down like crazy. I naturally want to use more arm and hand motion with B&W, MKS makes me want to keep everything tight and use body. Likes a more 50/50 power application, whereas the MKS loves a hard bottom hand pull. MKS is ultra refined zen in that every good cast feels the same, easy to achieve consistency and confidence. B&W says everything might look the same on the outside, but we both know you could have had a better lift and you let the anchor soak for one millisecond too long. Anyway, I threw it out there perfectly straight and with a pristine wedge loop so you look cool for everyone... but there's a lot of room for improvement.
Beulah Onyx 13'7" 7wt: Beulah is a feather. Much lighter weight in the tip than B&W, but when lined heavy the flex feels similar. Onyx grip is thinner. B&W has more swing weight, but not annoyingly so. B&W is more flexible in lower 1/3, but again they feel like they are in the same family. Onyx is effortless hoot with lighter lines (Rio Mid Spey 6/7, NC FF 55' 525 or 500). Super, super smooth--did I even cast just now? B&W requires more input and more muscle, but gives more satisfaction when the rod "whumps" at the end of the forward cast. There is more noticeable energy going to the line. Onyx "sneaks" the energy into the line. Beulah likes same stroke as B&W--50/50, but prefers gentler inputs. Onyx is like barefoot trail running on moss. B&W is like power cleaning a light-weight bar when you can go a lot heavier. Both immensely satisfying and equal in physical demand, but in different ways.
Lines: A Nextcast Fall Favorite 55' 550 is a nice medium load. I may go a size lower to a 525 as my main fishing line and see how that works. I will try a 500 just for fun and I suspect it will give a light sporty feel and will go out with crazy speed. The Rio
Mid Spey in 6/7 is a scandi line on this rod. Darts all day long. A Skagit Compact 510 is silly easy--you can dump the entire line in a squiggly curly cue in front, lift, fire and boom out it goes. A Sci Anglers UST 460 is also a riot, and I might use this line on small rivers or when it's just one of those lazy casting days. When I get my hands on a Gaelforce 54' and 63' I'll report back.
Reels: The rod balances perfectly with a Young 1535, a Tibor Riptide, Marquis #2, and probably anything else in that 9-10oz category.
Feel free to leave any questions in the thread. I'll answer what I can, and maybe others can chime in regarding ones I can't. Thanks for reading!