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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 18 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
Method 10 longest 3 2 2
X Series 8 long  7 8 7
Mod 5 mid 10 8 9
Circa (discontinued) 3 short-mid 9 3 10
Little One 7 short   10 2 9
Bolt 9 long 3 5 3
Accel 6 mid 7 8 6
Pulse 7 mid 5 8 4
Approach 7 mid 4 6 3
ONE (discontinued)  8.5 long 
Salt (line wts 5-6) 7 mid 8 6 8
Salt (line wts 7-9) 8 long 7 7 7
Salt (line wts 10-13) 9.5 longest 5 5 5
ONE (saltwater models) 9 long 6 7 7
Method (saltwater models) 10 longest 4 5 3
Accel (saltwater models) 7.5 long 7 7 6
Motive 7.5 long 6 6 7
Pulse (saltwater models) 7 mid 5 6 4
Approach (saltwater models) 6 mid 5 5 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)


sageboltcrop.jpgBolt:  Bolt models are uniformly very fast action, but some are more finely tuned than others.  Sage designed the Bolt series to make the company’s specialty – fast action fly rods – more price accessible.  In doing so, Jerry Siem built the rods using Generation V graphite rather than the more expensive Konnetic Technology.  In Sage’s view, the most powerful fly rod is the most specialized.  The Method Series is slightly faster action and more powerful than the Bolt, and thus more expensive.  In the hands of many casters, however, there are models within the Bolt series that may actually prove to be more useful fly rods.  If you need the absolute most powerful rod available, choose a Method.  If you want a fast action rod for everyday use, however, consider one of our favorites in the Bolt Series. 

So, which ones do we like? 

Outstanding models:  490-4 (Surprise!), 691-4 (No surprise.  Sage makes amazing 6-weights.)

Lines pairings:  The Bolt will handle almost any WF line.  Don’t hesitate to overline the rod if you want to slow it down and fish shorter, but any popular WF line will cast great on these rods.  If in doubt, try a Rio InTouch Gold or SA MPX.

sageaccel5wt.jpgAccel:  The Accel Series generally represents a great bargain for Sage fans.  Most of the rods in the series have a familiar action and fish with great versatility.  The Accel clearly descended from the RPL and Z-Axis, a pleasant casting fast action rod that will fall into the hands of almost any angler.  By the standards of Sage, the company that drives the pursuit of “high performance” fast action fly rods, Accel rods are “medium fast.”  Scott would call these “fast action,” but Sage makes three series that are uniformly stiffer rods:  One, Method and Bolt.  So, the Accel series is a fast action rod for anglers who don’t specialize in fast action casting. 

Our only complaint with the Accel series is that it’s just too broad.  The sheer number of models should give the angler pause.  We cast every rod in the series and came away with clear favorites but also cast a couple of rods that, God willing, we hope to never cast again.

Outstanding models:  376-4 and 890-4 Accel.  These are wonderful fly rods.
Model generalizations:  The 9’ rods are all terrific.  Stay away from the 8’6” models.
Line pairings:  Rio InTouch Gold, SA MPX, SA Trout, Rio Aqualux, standard saltwater lines and sink tips that do not have overweighted heads (stay away from Rio Outbound lines with these rods).

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

approach-resized.jpgApproach:  We understand why Sage offers the Approach series.  It’s a big world and all of these rods are expensive.  In the balance, however, the angler is well-served to save the next $100 and buy a Pulse.  That is more of a comment on the Pulse series than on the Approach.  At $350, the angler gets plenty of bang-for-buck with the Approach.  As one might imagine, however, they leave plenty of upside in the departments of feel, swing weight, loop control and overall sweetness.

Outstanding model:  590-4 Approach
Line pairings:  Rio InTouch Gold or SA GPX


Saltwater Rods

sagesalt10wt.jpgSalt Series:   The Salt Series could be considered three series of fly rods because, by design, the actions vary greatly per line weight. 

Salt Series, line weights 5-6:  These are lovely, lightweight, smooth casting fly rods, but in our opinion, the best use for them is freshwater rather than saltwater.  The 5 and 6-weight Salt models would have to be considered “medium fast” action compared with the rest of the series, ideal for nymph and streamer fishing but, in our estimation, too slow for regular use on the flats.  They also cast trout-style lines better than saltwater lines.  Many of our friends have them on their driftboats on big western rivers.

Salt Series, line weights 7-9:  Built on the same mandrels, the 7, 8 and 9-weight Salts are very true to line weight and share an easy casting rhythm.  These are fast action, but not extra-fast.  When this series was introduced, some described it as “extra-fast” and others as “moderate-fast.”  If you cast every model, you’ll understand the disagreement.  Line weights 7-9 are nowhere near as stiff as line weights 10 and up.  This is by design according to Sage’s theory of saltwater rod purposes.  Higher line weights have a much greater premium on lifting heavy fish.  An 8-weight, on the other hand, needs to be a powerful caster but will never lift a tarpon from deep water.    

Salt line weights 7-9 flex into the mid-section and snap back with authority and control.  They are somewhat line sensitive, however.  Since these Salts require a longer casting stroke than the comparable ONE or Method, they handle much better with long-headed lines.  For example, both the Rio and SA Bonefish lines feel terrific on these models, but the Rio Bonefish Quickshooter and SA Redfish lines do not.  SA Sonar full sink intemediate lines have a nice, long, gentle taper and really bring the best out of the Salt Series, but Rio Outbound lines feel bouncy and overlined.   

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

Salt Series, line weights 10-13:  These are classic Sage big game sticks, ultra-fast action and super strong in the butt sections.  They differ significantly in action from the lighter line weights in this series.  Strong casters and dedicated saltwater anglers love them, but some anglers find them too stiff for a gentle casting stroke at shorter distances.  These rods require a bolt of energy from the caster, but they respond with a lightning bolt of their own.  It’s almost impossible to throw a tailing loop with these Salts, so Keys casters who “stab the tip” can throw these rods into the next ocean.  We recommend Salt 10-13 weights for anglers who cast with physical strength and fish for large fish in deep water.  Any angler who has enjoyed the classic Sage Saltwater rods, including the Xi3 and Xi2, will absolutely love these heavier Salt models.   

Outstanding model:  1090-4 Salt    If other modern 10-weights seem too wimpy, this is your rod

Line pairings:  whereas the 7-9 weight Salts don’t like short-headed lines, the heavier Salts will cast any modern saltwater line.  So, choose your line for the fish, not for the rod.


x-896-4-jj.jpgX 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.

sageaccel8wt.jpgAccel Series, saltwater models:  7-9 weight Accel models are highly recommended for anglers who prefer an even-flexing saltwater rod or who simply didn’t budget $850.  Although ultimately not as powerful as ONE, Method and Salt models, the saltwater Accels are true saltwater fly rods with plenty of power for aggressive casting and fighting heavy fish.   You’ll have an easy time loading the Accel, which casts accurately from 20 feet to over 70 feet.  Loop control is outstanding, so you can either unfold a long leader with delicacy or drive a wedge into a stiff breeze.  Accel saltwater models double nicely for bass, pike, musky and even salmon.  The butt sections are not as powerful as Sage’s top end saltwater sticks, but Accel rods are highly accessible to a wide range of casting styles and experience levels.

Outstanding model:  890-4 Accel

Lines:  longer bellied lines are best, including Rio and SA Bonefish tapers, Rio Permit and SA Sonar Intermediate full sink lines.

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:  like the Accel and Salt Series, we recommend longer bellied lines on Motives.   Good pairings include the SA Bonefish, Rio Bonefish, Rio Permit, SA Tarpon and Rio Tarpon

Sage Pulse and Approach, saltwater models:  Although highly practical fly rods, we recommend that dedicated saltwater anglers choose a Motive over a Pulse or Approach in the 8-weight category.  Pulse and Approach 8-weights are crossover rods, intended for both freshwater and saltwater fishing.  They are medium-fast action, which makes them superior to a Motive for salmon and steelhead fishing, but inferior for casting in the wind and playing heavy fish.  In the $350-$500 8-weight saltwater category, we recommend the Motive.


 [Sage Fly Rod Pages]