Every so often as fishing guides we are given truly cool assignments. We love our day-to-day routine of helping people catch fish on all our favorite waters, but when the opportunity arises to try something new and different, it’s always welcome. This last week offered such a task. Here at Fly and Field we recently took temporary possession of the brand new, not even available to the public, Sage X HD rod. Our model was a 9’ 5wt. It was handed to me a few days ago with the implicit instruction to put it through the paces. I had a trip on the Lower Deschutes the next day, so I figured I’d take it along and see how it handled compared to the old trusty Sage One. The following days we would see how it worked on a couple different lakes, each requiring unique presentations. And so, yes, the arduous burden of Research and Development beckoned.
But first, lets look briefly back to the X’s predecessor. The Sage One was a truly ground breaking, revolutionary rod in the fly-fishing world. It utilized a proprietary technology called Konetic construction, which basically was a composite and tapering method meant to direct the flex of the rod forward and back, with minimum lateral flex. This made for an exceptionally accurate rod as well as a very efficient one. If the energy being stored and released is directed fore and aft, less will be wasted moving side to side. And so with less effort by the angler, the rod projected the line where it was intended to go. The Sage One became an instant classic, easily the most sought after and adored rod the industry had seen in a long, long time. And it still is. Will remain so.
The new Sage X is more an evolution than a revolution. The Konetic design remains the same but the construction is revised. Sage’s newest technological advancement is a High Density graphite and resin composite. The result is an even light, more accurate rod. It also has a smoother flex, allowing incredibly precise loading and releasing of casting energy. I won’t bore you with all the techy mumbo jumbo; that can be found on the Sage website. If you’re into that kind of thing, visit the site for the tech-talk.
While the Sage One was always the rod I’d take to casting competition due to its power and accuracy, there were times when I felt it lacked a bit of feel. With the stiffness required to throw so much line so easily, came a slight deadening through the butt section. This is in no way a complaint; I do own Sage One rods and have adored them. Now with the Sage X it seems as if the rod maker has built a rod every bit as stout as the One but with more sensitivity down to the cork.
So how does it work? Well, I was fortunate enough to spend three days with the new X last week and feel well positioned to make a few observations. My first day with the X was on the Lower Deschutes on a guide trip. I put my Sage 3200 reel with a new Rio In-Touch Grand line on the 5wt. This is the system I use on my Sage Accel 596 for working nymph rigs on the big river. The line has a ton of grain out near the tip and is perfect for loading fast-action rods for tension and roll casting. At our first stop of the day I couldn’t help myself and began working line out to test the new stick. One of my clients for the day, Steve, had agreed to allow me some fishing time in exchange for getting to use the rod throughout the day. Right away I was struck by the overall lightness of the X. The 590 we were given to test is just over two and two-thirds ounces. High-performance fast-action rods under three ounces are not unheard of anymore, but the X has an even more dramatic “cork weight”. This rod just feels like a feather when you get into a casting position. The sensation actually takes some getting used to. But then when I loaded the rod and cast out over the run, I think I may have heard angels sing. I shook another ten feet of line out and reached up to roll cast farther out and the symphony began. Another ten feet were worked out and put a tight loop stack mend out a foot above the bobber and the crescendo awoke the canyon. I had just felt the most amazing rod ever. This on-the-water test cannot be replicated in a parking lot or on a lawn. It can only happen right there, with a triple-nymph rig below a couple big split shot and a 1” bobber, thigh-deep in a river flowing nearly 4000cfs. While this is not the way most of us would prefer fish, it is the most effective method much of the time. So to have a rod that makes the job way, way easier is certainly a major benefit. Cast after cast, whether tension or roll casting, lengthening presentations with secondary roll casts, stack and bump mending, the X proved easily the most capable tool I’ve ever used for that technique.
And then there’s the feeling with a fish on. We were fortunate enough to fool some really nice Redbands that day. The rod performed beautiful in heavy water, protecting fine tippet while maintaining enough pressure on the fish to keep the little hooks their mouths. This is that time of the year on the Lower Deschutes when 5 and 6X reign and the biggest bug is an eighteen. The X with the In-Touch (a system one might presume too quick and stiff for this method) we landed some beautiful fish. The rod bent happily from just inches above the cork out to the supple tip. After a day of putting the X through the paces on the big river not one complaint exists, not one hesitation in proclaiming this the finest rod I’ve ever wielded on my favorite river.
We then spent two days touring the Cascade Lakes with my boss, Scott Cook, our fellow employee, Gabe and Steven Yochum, a hugely talented photographer and filmmaker. Our plan was to work out the X in stillwater situations and see if we could get a couple big fish on it. The first day we began with the same Rio Grand line, but quickly realized the Gold was better for distance casting. While the old One may have better handled all the tip grain of the Grand, the X was far happier with the slightly less aggressive Gold. Once that line was on, the new stick just moved line! While a bit out of practice airing it out -a legacy of being a Lower Deschutes bobber guy!- the rhythm quickly came back with each effortless double-haul. Scott was quickly with the program once he began playing with the X. Both of us were to be heard often babbling to ourselves about the innate power the rod possesses. And while I can’t claim to throw the tightest loop consistently, the rod communicated my little mistakes while still humoring them. We eventually found a couple nice trout willing to put a proper “taco” into the X. Like on the Lower D, the rod bent fully into heavy headshakes and burrowing runs. We were constantly impressed with the full flex of this “fast-action” rod when under duress.
Throughout the two days on the lakes with the X there was simply nothing it couldn’t do. We had sessions casting sixty-feet into the banks with dry-dropper rigs, windy conditions roll casting bobber rigs, intermediate line long-distance presentations to cover maximum water. Every cast, every fish fought, every new challenge was greeted with as little argument as we’ve ever known in a new rod.
So we have a winner here, folks. But don’t just listen to us, the rod turned many heads at the IFTD show in Florida and won Best New Rod easily. It isn’t often that one rod really sticks out from the rest. When Sage introduced this rod, many of us rolled our eyes in anticipation of another incarnation of the same thing we’ve all loved dearly for the last handful of years, just with a different name. With so many new and “improved” rods brought into the market recently many of us have developed a skepticism regarding actual performance advancements. Well, I’m here to tell you that Sage has made another significant stride forward in both technology and fishability. The new Sage X is every bit better than its predecessor than it was for the rods before it. We will have these rods in the shop early August. Be the first of your fishing buddies to come give one a test drive. Or better yet, get one into your quiver ASAP! You won’t be disappointed.