Sage One fly rod Review – 8 months into the game

sage one fly rods

Sage ONE Fly Rods – 8 months into the game

As a general case, fly rods of 2012 are HUGELY different from their ancestors of 1960, and the performance differences are so tangible that any of us can feel it.    The differences between most 2010 fly rods and 2000 fly rods offered by leading manufacturers are far more subtle, I think, and I have frankly become skeptical of the routine “enhanced performance” claims made for fly rods in the last decade, with a few exceptions that are beside the point of this product review.

Sage ONE fly rods hit the marketplace, Fly Shops, and waters of the world in mid 2011.  The reaction of fly anglers who have fished these rods has been universally positive.  No, not everyone has purchased a Sage ONE fly rod.  And more than one fly fisher is still a little tweaked that Sage once again upped the bar, so to speak, on high-end fly rod performance standards. 

Sage has always been an innovator in the fly rod industry. Sage ONE fly rods, with their semi-mysterious Konnetic technology, represent the latest-greatest gem of fly rod evolution Sage has been leading for over three decades.  I was a little lukewarm when I first heard about the Sage ONE fly rod, because I was already more than happy with our existing quiver of Sage rods.  The promotional buzz about Sage ONE  cosmetics, rod tube, cool logo, thread wraps, ergonomic handles, fancy reel seats, and a newly coined term – Konnetic Technology –  had but a tiny effect on my mental fly fishing pleasure center.

I dove headfirst into research on the Sage ONE. I pestered Georgie Cook unmercifully.  While doing all the reading and talking to Sage reps and engineers, my staff, our guides, and many of our Caddis Fly clients were on the water fishing the Sage ONE fly rods.  It all sank in.  The ONE Sage earned my enthusiasm.  The performance of the ONE is indeed different and represents on-water qualities that surpass the Z-Axis in far more ways than the hype about a stunning “Black Ice” finish these rods are presented with. For more insights into the Sage ONE see our interview with chief Sage Rod designer Jerry Siem.

I have fished Sage ONE fly rods in the Bahamas, in New Zealand, and around Oregon.  Our staff have fished ONE rods in-state, in-country, and offshore.  Our clients return from local and destination adventures with rave reviews.  As far as experience and customer feedback go, the Sage ONE series of fly rods is a real advance over Sage’s already great Z-Axis series.

Here are some thoughts on the single hand Sage ONE fly rods.

1.  The ONE will improve the accuracy of 90% of the fly casters out there. Know how your hand/arm might not follow a smooth plane from back-cast to forward cast?  The Sage ONE will lay your fly line and fly pretty much wherever you point your hand on the forward cast.  At least it does for me.  This casting magic is accomplished via a new process of aligning graphite fibers along the rod shaft.  Improved fiber alignment reduces lateral instability or side-to-side rod wiggle, and this all produces a straighter rod/line trajectory on the presentation stroke.

2.  The Sage ONE is lighter, but you probably won’t notice this on the lower line-weight fly rods.  The ONE series fly rods above 7 wt , and all of the Spey and Switch rods (I expect Sage to release the One Switch and Spey rods in mid 2012) will be enough lighter (up to roughly a third lighter) that you are more likely to notice the difference.

3.  The Sage ONE is slimmer AND tougher than any rod of comparable line class you have ever owned.  In general, I am cautious about the industry-wide quest to make fly rods lighter and lighter, composed of higher and higher modulus graphite fabric.  Rather than simply upping he modulus of graphite in this new rod series, Sage developed the technology to compress the graphite fibers into a more compact bundle, held together by proprietary resins, creating a rod shaft wall that is simultaneously slimmer and denser.  Part of the weight reduction in these rods comes from the rod shaft itself and part is achieved from the ability to create slimmer/stronger ferrules with less bulk and more effective energy transfer from section to section.

4.  By using the term tougher, I also mean more durable.  Sage is already respected for their lifetime original owner warranty.  Their fly rods are tough characters in addition to being great fishing tools.  These Sage ONE fly rods have a lower failure rate than any I have ever seen.  Since we began selling Sage ONE fly rods in mid 2011 we have not had a single ONE come back for warranty service.

5.  Sage ONE fly rods are hand crafted in the USA, at Bainbridge Island, Washington.  I have watched men and women at the Sage factory build Sage rods from start to finish: slicing graphite cloth, rolling it on mandrels, dipping rod shafts in super secret goo, hand wrapping guides and ferrules, gluing cork rings on rod shafts, sanding nearly finished handles, and punishing rods in the stress machine.  Sage routinely consults with Boeing engineers and scientists at the University of Washington who specialize in cutting-edge technologies related to graphite composite development and application.   Point is, folks, that the Sage ONE fly rods have been created by a talented, dedicated team of experts that built a series of fly rods that are creek, river, lake, and ocean-ready – right here in-country.

6.  Two of the fine Sage rods that precede the Sage ONE have had significant staying power.  The Sage XP had a 7-year run.  The still AWESOME Z-Axis pushed a 6-year run.  Every high-end rod manufacturer is on the hunt to improve their flagship product.  With the Sage ONE single hand, Sage ONE Spey, and Sage ONE Switch rods in their first year of life, Sage engineers are probably already dreaming big dreams about graphite fibers, resins, technologies and designs to play with.  This is the nature of Sage’s quest for combining human skills and craftsmanship with innovative materials technology to lead the evolution of high performance fly rods.

A few rod builders, especially Cane rod crafters, devote their energy to meticulously recreating rod designs that were perfected decades ago.  Their art involves tradition and natural materials to make the same beautiful fly rods that our grandparents fished.  Sage occupies a different, well earned position of prominence in the fly rod industry – as a innovator of creative and technologically advanced fly rods that allow us all to fish better, under the most demanding conditions.

7.  Sage claims that ONE fly rods eliminate torsional instability.  In other words, Sage ONE fly rods take the unwanted lateral wiggle out of our forward cast stroke, and thereby let us put the fly where we intended to, more often than not.  I put this test to the claim in the parking lot, on rivers, salt flats, and estuaries.  This is another area where I had doubts and expected that the claim was a little of an overstatement.  I am dining on Crow now, because I really do believe that the Sage ONE handles change of direction casts better than any rod I have in the den, garage, truck, or boat.  It is common for most any fly fisher to make his or her forward stroke in a different direction than the back cast.  The decision of where to point the rod is sometimes made part way through the forward cast, depending on whim, sighting a fish during the cast, or simple inattention. Our staff, our guides, and our clients have found that we made more-better casts, if you can stomach the phrase, when fishing the Sage ONE.

8.  It is easy to feel the difference between Sage’s best fly rods crafted thirty years ago and the new Sage ONE.  The difference between the Sage Z-Axis and the Sage  ONE is subtle but real.  This is our honest assessment.   When you are ready, give the ONE Sage a day on the river or estuary.  Lighter, stronger, more accurate, and drop-dead pretty.  Can’t go wrong with the ONE.  Doesn’t matter whether this is your first fly rod or your last  – the Sage ONE is incapable of disappointment.

9.  Our Caddis Fly Pros have fished Sage ONE fly rods in Montana, New Zealand, Belize, on the McKenzie, Willamette, Santiam, Rogue, Umpqua, and Oregon coastal rivers.  These new Sage ONE rods are easy for everyone to fish.  The claim that they are fast action rods with the ability to allow you to feel the rod load at all casting distances seems outlandish but we found it a fair statement.   More often than not, high modulus, fast action fly rods can cast a long line but do so at the expense of allowing the caster to feel the load through the butt of the rod shaft.  Not so with the Sage ONE.  We were able to feel the load on short casts, and were able to push the rod by carrying ridiculous line lengths and double hauling, with nary a sign of overpowering the rods.

On Topic of Sage ONE Switch and Spey rods: Sage ONE Spey and Switch rods will be offered in 4-8 wt Switch rods and 5-10 wt Spey rods and will be available in Mid 2012.  Not soon enough in our opinion.  George Cook describes these as “freakishly light, with more power and a better line loading feel than the Z-Axis.  Ok, sounds good.  George presented our staff and students at a Spey casting Clinic he taught recently.  The unmarked ONE 8134-4 was notably lighter and the class vote indicated that it was easier to cast and produced superior intuitive properties to both expert and early phase learners.  The 8134-3 likely won’t be our first rod for steelhead here in Oregon.  The 7126-4, 7136-4 and 6126-4 all look like rods we will have to get just as soon as they are ready to ship.  Promised features like a re-designed tip top, the slimmest ferrules you ever seen, tight loops and mach-two line speeds all sound nice, but we want to feel the throb of a fish on these ONE series Switch and Spey rods and spend the long hours simply casting these rods to see how they compare to our ONE single hand rods.  My guess is that I will be impressed as I have been with every ONE series rod I have seen so far.

Chris Daughters, May 2012

Post Script: I asked Jay Nicholas to support my delving into Sage ONE rods by doing his own research.  He did, and naturally, everything he learned from reading and talking to George Cook just made him more curious about the rods.  I loaned him my ONE 496-4 and an ESN 2100-4 (this rod features the new Konnetic rod shaft technology that is used in the Sage ONE) to fish this winter.

Jay’s research and limited experience sent him first to George Cook with a list of questions, and then George referred him to Jerry Siem, the genius behind the ONE rod series.  The Q/A style interview follows (precedes) this post, and is part of our effort to better understand these rods, and share what we have learned.  Please excuse Jay’s salmon centric focus in  some of his questions.


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