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Choosing your Sage Fly Rod: a Series-By-Series Comparison

Posted on 13th Jan 2016 @ 10:09 PM

sage-logo.pngChoosing your Sage fly rod

Series-By-Series Comparison by Telluride Angler

Sage has never produced better fly rods, but with no less than 15 series currently in production, it is useful to understand the distinctions of each, whether you are choosing an all-around trout stick or a highly specialized rod for that once-in-a-lifetime expedition.  Budget is always a consideration, but in this article we will compare only the action, feel and versatility of the rods.  Also, we will identify a few of our favorite models to help anglers build their arsenals around cornerstone fly rods.

Comparative categories

Stiffness:  We grade the rods on a scale of 1-10 for relative action (higher number = stiffer fly rod).  The stiffest, “fastest action” rod is the Method.  Such a rod is designed for raw power.  The “slowest action” Sage rod is the Circa, designed for spectacular feel and a retro casting rhythm that appeal to discerning dry fly anglers. 

Distance:  The range in which each rod excels.  When choosing a rod, the angler should consider his or her most typical casting situations to select a rod that casts best in those high percentage scenarios.

Touch:  On a scale of 1-10, how well does the rod respond to subtle input from the angler?  Line mending, high sticking, slack line casts and tea cup accuracy are abetted by a responsive rod that may easily be manipulated by its caster.

Versatility:  On a scale of 1-10, is this rod everything to everyone (10) or highly specialized (1)?  This is not a quality grade, but rather a relative scale of specialization.  Many premium rods receive low versatility marks because they were designed for a specialized purpose (like tarpon fishing or long leader dry fly angling).

Feel:  As distinguished from “Touch,” “Feel” is our mark for how much feedback the angler receives in the palm of the hand while casting.  When paired with an appropriate line, some rods merely get the job done while others feel exceptional.  In general, rods with high stiffness marks offer more power but less feel to the caster.

sage-logo.png Stiffness Distance Touch Versatility Feel


longest 3 2 2
X Series 8 long 7 8 7
Mod 5 mid 10 8 9
Little One 7 short 10 2 9
Pulse 7 mid 5 8 4
Foundation 7 mid 5 7 4

Salt HD 9 long 7 6 7
X (saltwater models) 8 long 8 7 8
Method (saltwater models) 10 longest 5 4 4
Motive 7.5 long 6 6 7
Pulse (saltwater models) 7 mid 5 6 4
Foundation (salt models) 8 mid 4 4 3


Series descriptions and discussion

method.jpgMethod (freshwater):  The Sage Method is one of the most specialized freshwater rods ever designed in that it is stiffer than any rod on the market.  Jerry Siem created the Method to offer every angler an ultimate tool of power for the most aggressive casting situations.  This is an extremely high quality rod, but not a rod we would evaluate on touch and feel.  Sheer line speed, power, distance and fish fighting backbone are the defining characteristics.  If you are an experienced caster with a clear need for power, the Method is your fly rod.

Line pairings:  Heavy, long headed lines tap the Method’s proclivity for power and distance.  The InTouch Rio Grand is a great example.  Short headed lines should be overweighted to load these rods.

Outstanding model:  691-4 Method

x-590-4-jj.jpgX Series (freshwater):  These dynamic fly rods load and cast at any distance with tremendous line speed, accuracy and feel.  They are "fast action" in the classic sense, but much more rangy and versatile than any previous Sage "fast action" fly rod.  X rods stand out from their predecessors in two major ways.  They are progressive action, meaning that they load true to the amount of line being aerialized.  The ONE, XP and Z-Axis had distinct flex points, limiting their range both short and long.  These were fine fly rods, but somewhat sensitive to casting style and line pairings.  The X will cast almost any line any distance, regardless of casting style.  The second major distinction is feel.  Fast action Sage fly rods have never lacked power, but no predecessor has offered such tremendous sensitivity and touch in combination with line speed.

Line pairings:  The X will literally handle any fly line, but since it is a pleasure to make nice, long casts with a progressive rod, we prefer slightly longer line bellies and subtle tapers.  The Rio InTouch Gold, SA Trout Taper and SA Sharkwave Ultimate Trout are the house favorites.  The Sage team prefers the Rio Perception, which is true to line weight with gentle tapers.  Steelhead/salmon models will handle any single-handed lines designed for those species.

Outstanding models:  590-4 X, 691-4 X, 896-4 X


sagemod.jpgMOD:  The MOD is exquisitely smooth and accurate.  The feeling of touch and precision experienced when fishing the Mod equates with the finest moderate action rods ever produced, including the Winston LT, Scott G and Sage LightLine.  Sage’s Konnetic Technology, which stabilizes the rod, plays a more important role in the MOD than in any fast action series.  That may sound crazy, but slower action rods tend to wobble more than fast ones.  The MOD is a progressive action rod in the ideal of the classics, but more stable and accurate by an order of magnitude.  This is not a “slow action” rod.  That would be the Circa.  The MOD is moderate action, even by the standards of Scott and Winston. 

Regular anglers of the One or Method will find the Mod to be a great departure in action, but we find the rod to be extremely versatile for all wade fishing and most dry fly fishing from a driftboat.  Sage calls the MOD “your new favorite trout rod.”  Think wade fishing in Montana 50 years ago with hippers, a creel and a box of upwing mayflies…but with a fly rod from the next century. 

The only limiting factor with the MOD is that it comes in just 5 models and they all happen to be 9 feet.  The 4, 5 and 6 weights are no-brainers, but anglers who choose the 2 or 3-weight will use the rod for long leader dry fly fishing on tailwaters or spring creeks rather than small stream fishing or versatile light line fishing applications.  The 2 and 3-weights feel terrific, but they are long for their line weights.

Line pairings:  SA Trout Taper (or Wavelength Trout) or Rio LightLine

Outstanding model:  490-4 MOD


Little One:  The length, action and fishing characteristics of the Little One series make these rods probable descendants of the TXL series rather than the One family of fly rods.  Konnetic Technology ties them to the One and the angler will certainly appreciate the sensational accuracy of these short distance specialty rods.  In choosing a creek fishing rod, it all gets down to this:  do you want your creek rod to feel like a miniature version of your favorite 5-weight?  If so, the Little One is for you.  Some anglers opt for a complete departure from fast action graphite in the creek rod department.  Those who love the Scott Fibertouch (F2) will probably not love the Sage Little One and vice versa.  The Little One offers a unique choice in creek rods:  a high line speed, fast action rod that actually loads and casts at short distances.

Line Pairings:  Rio LightLine, SA Trout Taper (or Wavelength Trout)
Outstanding model:  182-4 Little One  (Note:  several members of the Sage team prefer the 382-4 and 482-4, which are slightly stiffer relative to line weight)


sagepulsecrop.jpgPulse:  With each new generation of mid-priced fly rods, Sage improves the value proposition.   On the whole, Pulse models cast too well and look too nice to cost only $450.  Sage continues to cover all of their rods with an Unconditional Lifetime Warranty, which really seals the deal.   We cast every rod in the series and found few duds.  Our favorites, however, were the opposite models from the Accel series.  In trout models, we recommend 9’ Accel models.  In the Pulse series, our favorites are the 8’6” models.

Outstanding model:  486-4 Pulse
Line pairings:  Almost any WF line will be compatible with your Pulse fly rods.  Keep it simple:  Rio InTouch Gold or SA MPX

Sage Foundation fly rodFoundation:  The Foundation is a nice little rod for the money.  Our favorites are the 490-4 and 590-4, but anglers will find the 690-4, 790-4 and 890-4 are serviceable fly rods in almost any angling situation.  The 790-4 and 890-4 fish high in their line class.  The 890-4 is a flats-style 8-weight and should probably be overlined for freshwater fishing. 

Outstanding model:  590-4 Foundation
Line pairings:  Rio InTouch Gold or SA MPX


Saltwater Rods

Sage Salt HD fly rodSalt HD Series:   The Salt HD Series represents a collective refinement of Sage's saltwater fly rods.  All line weights have a similar action:  very fast with super powerful butt sections and forgiving tips.  Some anglers found the Salt Series to be too weak in the light line weights and too stiff in the heavy rods.  The Salt HD takes the middle road.  These are classic, fast action Sage fly rods with overbuilt butt sections for playing heavy saltwater fish.  As compared will all predecessors, however, they are easier to cast and tolerant of a wide range of fly lines.  

Outstanding model:  990-4 Salt HD    This is one of the great 9-weights ever produced, at once easy-casting and extremely powerful.
Line pairings:  Rio Bonefish, Rio Permit, SA Bonefish, SA Sonar full sink intermediate, Rio or SA Tarpon lines


X Series, saltwater models:  We find the X Series saltwater models to have a casting ease and lightness that helps make the transition from freshwater to saltwater.  The Sage Salt Series emphasizes lifting power.  The X Series emphasizes pure casting proficiency.  X saltwater models offer more feedback to the caster and a little more line speed, especially with a trout-style casting stroke.  

Choose an X over a Salt if you cast with a long stroke and generally prefer moderate action trout rods.  The X is a terrific choice for shallow flats, where casting is more important than lifting fish from deep water.  Choose a Salt over an X if you fish with Sage Method or ONE trout rods and prefer an extra strong butt section.  The Salt is also a better choice for striped bass, false albacore, tarpon, jacks, roosterfish and other species that may require extra lifting power.

Outstanding models:  790-4 X, 1090-4 X    

Line pairings:  Standard tapered saltwater lines bring out the best in the X Series:  Rio and SA Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon Tapers.  The SA Sonar Saltwater Intermediate casts magnificently on these rods, too.

method.jpgMethod saltwater:  Like Method freshwater rods, Method saltwater models are the choice of anglers who need the most powerful fly rod, no holds barred.  These rods require a physically strong casting stroke at all distances, but can ultimately deliver the greatest line speed and most lifting power of any saltwater fly rod.  We recommend the Method only to experienced anglers who have cast other saltwater rods and know they need something stiffer.  There are many saltwater fishing situations that demand a Method, but not everyone can cast these rods easily.

Outstanding model:  790-4 Method

Line pairings:  heavy headed lines such as the Bonefish Quickshooter and Outbound lines load the Method faster and shoot with fewer false casts on the Method.

motive.jpgMotive:  The Motive has gotten lost in the subsequent introductions of the Sage Salt, Scott Tidal and Scott Meridian, but it represents outstanding value and performance in a mid-priced saltwater rod.  Motives are wonderful casters.  They lack the raw backbone of ONE, Method and Salt models, but almost any saltwater angler would agree that they load and shoot at a wide range of distances with pleasing feel, excellent accuracy and surprising line speed.  As compared with premium Sage saltwater rods, they lack a little in feel, accuracy and backbone, but a Motive will likely exceed your expectations in all three departments. 

Outstanding model:  890-4 Motive
Lines:  Good pairings include the SA Bonefish, Rio Bonefish, Rio Permit, SA Tarpon and Rio Tarpon

Pulse and Foundation, saltwater models:  Although highly practical fly rods, we recommend that dedicated saltwater anglers choose a Motive over a Pulse or Foundation in the 8-weight category.  Pulse and Foundation 8-weights are crossover rods, intended for both freshwater and saltwater fishing.  In the $350-$500 8-weight saltwater category, we recommend the Motive.  A Pulse or Foundation would make an adequate backup rod on a saltwater trip.


 [Sage Fly Rod Pages]