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Last spring, I helped with the most extensive saltwater fly rod test Field & Stream has ever done. We collected nine of the top-rated 8-weight fly rods and put them through the wringer in South Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Bahamas. Shortly after we completed the test, Hardy released their brand-new premiere line of saltwater fly rods—the Marksman Z series.

A month later, at ICAST 2024, I picked up a Marksman Z for the first time, threw a couple of casts with it, and then texted the F&S team. “This rod needs to be in next year’s test.” Eventually, I got my hands on a 9-weight Hardy Marksman Z and immediately started putting it through its paces. As you’re about to find out, this is an incredible fly rod—for snook, redfish, tarpon, bonefish, and any other inshore species you can name. And while we are still in the early stages of testing new fly rods for 2024, we couldn’t wait any longer to share our thoughts on this new do-it-all saltwater stick.

The author with a snook caught on the Hardy Marksman Z 9-weight. Max Inchausti

Hardy Marksman Z Specs

Hardy’s Newest Tournament-Ready Saltwater Fly Rods 

The Marksman Z series is Hardy’s new flagship line of saltwater fly rods. Hardy claims that their new Sintrix FLT construction (a fancy way of saying how they build rod blanks) is more durable and powerful than their previous Zane Pro series, which had an excellent following. Hardy also claims that this rod offers more lifting power in the butt section and allows for accurate, easy-loading casts. The lineup features rod models ranging from 6 to 12-weights, all fine-tuned for maximize power, accuracy, and feel.

These new saltwater rods come with fully anodized aluminum reel seats that are fit to securely hold large arbor fly reels needed to fight big fish. Other details include titanium guides that improve line flow while minimizing damage either from a dry fly line or the harsh saltwater elements and premium-grade cork handles.

Looks and Features

Premium fly rods should look just as good as they perform, and the Marksman Z does. It features a muted matte blue color, accented by black wraps. It has just the right amount of pop without being too flashy or overbearing. It’s finished with a custom-machined double-locking reel seat, and the snake and stripping guides are both high-end, just like Hardy claims. The attention to detail in this rod is apparent, even down to removable ferrule plugs and aluminum rod tube for safe transportation.

The author releases a redfish in South Florida. Max Inchausti

How I Tested the Marksman Z

The ultimate testing grounds for saltwater fly rods are the Everglades. And that’s exactly where my buddies and I pointed the truck for two full days of fishing—one oceanside and one exploring the backcountry of Everglades National Park. Here, I could put this rod through its paces and see how it held up against snook, redfish, and sea trout.  

We fished in blowing winds, tight mangrove jungles, and endless flats in search of our target species. I paired the Marksman Z with a Redington Behemoth 9/10-weight reel and Scientific Anglers Amplitude Grand Slam line. Here’s how it held up:

How the Marskman Z Performs in Close Quarters

Everglades snook have an affinity for structure. A matter of inches can mean the difference between a fish and the painful process of wrestling the mangrove jungle. Tight-quarters casting—ranging from 20- to 50-feet—demands an accurate rod. Time and time again, I was able to deliver accurate and repeatable casts under mangrove overhangs and into small pockets. Whether forehand or backhand, the Marksman Z loaded effortlessly and delivered tight, crisp loops. No matter where I wanted the fly to land, the rod did it with ease. 

After a few risky casts, tight against the mangrove banks, an eager snook shot out and inhaled the fly. I stripped tight against the fish and braced for the ensuing chaos. After all, hooking the fish is only half the battle, and with a maze of structure, the odds are in the fish’s favor. That’s where I saw the power of this rod. The lower half is built with lifting power in mind. As the snook darted for cover, I put the wood down, turning the fish well before he could reach the nearest mangrove tangle. After several minutes and eventually landing the fish, it was clear this rod was designed to tame hard-fighting fish. The rod proved its worth all day as we continued to hook snook and redfish.

In a situation where a 10-weight had become my standard, the Marksman 9-weight excelled. It had all the power of the 10-weight I normally fish, but with a lightweight feel and impressive accuracy.

How the Marksman Z Performs on the Flats

Throwing tight casts in sheltered mangrove coves is one thing, but flats fishing is a whole different beast. Here, anglers battle high winds, long casts, and wary fish. And we faced all of those conditions when we turned our attention to the flats.   

The wind was ripping, and the visibility was low—making for awful fishing conditions. The upside was that I could really find out what this rod was made of. I stood on the casting platform and placed 60 feet of line in the stripping bucket as we poled into the wind. The first fish appeared right off the bow in a stiff 15-knot headwind. I made two false casts and watched my loop roll out on cue. I didn’t hook that fish, but the rod did its job. We poled the flats for the remainder of the falling tide, consistently punching casts through 15 to 20 mph wind at ranges from 30 to 70 feet. The Marksman Z retained its accuracy, feel, and power regardless of the distance.  

What surprised me the most was the rod’s ability to land flies softly and not spook wary fish. As we learned in last year’s saltwater fly rod test, finding a rod that has the power to fight big fish while still landing delicate casts is rare. And that’s exactly what makes the Hardy Marksman Z fly rod so good—it can do it all, whether in the mangroves or on flats.