The Sage lineup has evolved significantly with the application of R8 technology in freshwater (R8 Core) and saltwater (Salt R8) fly rods. Sage has achieved greater distinction and more purposeful performance with their new rods. How do they compare with the Trout LL and Igniter? Whether choosing an all-around trout stick or a highly specialized rod for that once-in-a-lifetime expedition, this is your guide for understanding the nuances of Sage’s outstanding modern fly rods. 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. We begin by defining our categories of evaluation, followed by comparisons of all Sage freshwater and saltwater fly rods.
Comparative fly rod characteristics
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 Igniter. Such a rod is designed for raw power. The “slowest action” Sage rod is the Trout LL, designed to excel in the finer techniques of presentation.
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.
|R8 Core (saltwater models)||7.5||long||6||7||7|
|Igniter (saltwater models)||10||longest||5||4||5|
|Foundation (saltwater models)||8||mid||4||4||3|
Sage Freshwater Fly Rods
Although designed for maximum line speed and power like its predecessors, the Igniter is much more fishable. The Igniter improves over the Method in touch, feel and versatility. In the hands of mere mortals like ourselves, the Igniter is simply more fun to cast. Many anglers will buy an Igniter as their insurance policy against windy conditions on a destination trip. The Method served the same purpose, but some anglers hoped they would never have to use it. Conversely, the Igniter is a joy to cast and fish. Whereas the Method almost had to be overlined, the Igniter casts a wide variety of lines with ease. In the 4, 5 and 6-weight models, we were quite surprised to find that the SA Trout Taper is our favorite line for both loop control and distance. This speaks volumes to how finely tuned these rods are, the parts perfectly married for a refined casting action. It should probably go without saying, but Igniters also handle heavier lines with ease. Our favorites are the SA Amplitude Smooth Infinity Taper and the Rio InTouch Gold.
Outstanding model: 590-4 Igniter
R8 Core (freshwater)
The R8 Core series occupies the middle ground between Igniter and Trout LL. These are Sage’s flagship rods, the most adaptable and useful across the spectrum of freshwater angling. R8 Core are fast, but not extra fast. They are powerful, but not limiting. Unlike past Sage “fast action” rods including the One and X series, R8 core rods are not designed for crossover to saltwater. Designed solely for freshwater, they are more finely tuned for streams and lakes, from the brook trout ponds of Maine to the largest rivers of the West, Alaska and Patagonia. They fish with more power than Trout LL and more touch than Igniter. They do all the subtle techniques well: roll casting, line mending, tippet protection, single Spey casting. Every angler enjoys their feel. Advanced anglers can summon exquisite presentations from their refined blanks.
Line pairings: More so than other rods, tapers within the R8 Core series vary based upon each model’s purpose. On some, we prefer the Rio Gold. On others, the Rio Perception. On yet others, it’s the Scientific Anglers Infinity. Please consult our individual model reviews for optimal line selection.
Outstanding models: 595-4 R8 Core, 690-4 R8 Core, 1006-4 R8 Core
Trout LL (Lightline)
The Sage Trout LL offers the same technological sophistication and design refinement found in the former Sage X, but in a classic medium action rod that excels in dry fly fishing and all the subtle arts of our sport. The Trout LL is magnificently tuned for a wide casting range, much more even flexing than any previous moderate action Sage fly rod. Exquisite loop control gives the angler the sensation of laying the loop down, placing the fly precisely in both direction and distance. Whereas the Igniter generates supreme line speed and power, the Trout LL allows the angler to control seemingly every aspect of presentation. The Trout LL will be the best choice for anglers who prefer medium action rods (including former Sage rods including the LightLine, SLT and MOD), and for anglers seeking a dry fly rod to complement their Sage R8 Core or Igniter.
Line pairings: Rio Technical Trout or SA Amplitude Smooth Trout Taper
Outstanding model: 490-4 Trout LL
The Sage Dart answers a question that has vexed many of us who fish the high country: Will Sage ever make a true creek rod? The most important distinction between the Dart Series and the Little One is rod length, not technology or action. At 7’6″, the Dart Series is completely superior for fishing the small waters. It offers a tight loop alternative for those who prefer graphite to fiberglass at short distance. So commonly the case, line pairing is critical. For true creek fishing, we unequivocally recommend the Rio Creek line, the heavy head of which loads these rods at zero distance and delivers the fly with incredible accuracy. In our opinion, the Dart is superior to short rods in the other categories from Sage. These are small stream specialty rods at their very finest. The Dart series offers more range than comparable Scott F Series models, but these are still “specialty” rods, as opposed to “versatile rods.” Darts comfortably cast leaders up to 11′ with maximum fishing range of around 40 feet. They will cast farther, but we prefer longer rods beyond that distance.
Outstanding model: 376-4 Dart
Line Pairing: Rio Creek line
The Sonic offers a fresh rod action from Sage, falling squarely between the Trout LL and X in stiffness. From Winston or Scott, these would be considered “fast action” rods. In the Sage lineup, they are “medium fast.” Each series of rods Sage introduces is better than previous offerings in the same price range. In overall quality, the Sonic seems like a high-end rod restrained just enough to offer at a lower price. Impressively, Sonics cast beautifully in a super broad range, with “sweet spots” that span 40 or even 50 feet. These are refined fly rods that even the most experienced angler would take just about anywhere.
Outstanding model: 590-4 Sonic
Line Pairing: Rio Gold on most models, Rio Technical Trout on the 379-4, SA Trout Taper on the 486-4 Sonic.
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
Sage Saltwater Fly Rods
Salt R8 Series
The Salt R8 are designed for the flats angler. As it turns out, a world class flats rod is also useful for other saltwater purposes, such as blitz fishing and beach casting, but Sage tuned every characteristic of the Salt R8 to catching a moving target in windy sight fishing scenarios. These rods leave nothing to be desired. They are light, strong, easy to cast and deadly accurate. In overall quality, they surpass any rod previously designed by this famously salty company. Most casters will fall right into their rhythm. They have “tip actions,” but the sweet spot is large and easy to locate. They accommodate a wide range of lines, fly sizes and casting strokes. The angler seeking the very stiffest, fastest action rod should consider an Igniter, but most anglers will prefer the Salt R8 in any saltwater scenario.
Outstanding model: 890-4 Salt R8, the finest saltwater 8-weight Sage has ever designed.
Line pairings: Rio and SA Bonefish and tarpon tapers, Rio Flats Pro, SA Grand Slam, Airflo Ridge II Flats Universal , Rio Permit, SA Bonefish, SA Sonar full sink intermediate, Rio or SA Tarpon lines
Anglers who seek a combination of lightness with an extra-fast action may favor the Igniter over Salt R8. The Igniter gains power from its taper and materials, rather than from blank thickness and diameter. Choose the Salt R8 unless you specifically seek the fastest action, most power-oriented rod, but if needed, the Igniter is a rod you can over power to receive a maximum output of line speed. In the hands of an advanced caster, the Igniter will throw tighter loops with almost any saltwater fly line. The Igniter is also the best choice for angling situations that call for specialized heavy-headed lines, such as the Rio Outbound. The Igniter loads easiest with a Rio Flats Pro, which has a heavy head. This is a great combination for delivering your fly quickly at typical fishing distances. For tight loops or extra long casts, choose a regular bonefish taper or its equivalent. High line weight Igniters will also cast both floating and sinking freshwater-style lines with ease.
Outstanding model: 790-4 Igniter
The Maverick series punches well above its weight. Designed expressly for saltwater, these rods have the backbone and components to fish in challenging conditions anywhere in the world. They will catch all the same fish as Salt R8 and Igniter rods, but their more expensive cousins are lighter and more specialized to their purposes. Salt R8 rods are especially easy to cast. Igniter saltwater rods are the stiffest in class, lending to the windiest conditions. Maverick falls in the middle, a highly serviceable saltwater fly rod that does everything pretty well and will make almost any angler smile.
Outstanding model: 890-4 Maverick
Foundation (saltwater models)
Although highly practical fly rods, we recommend that dedicated saltwater anglers choose a Maverick over a Foundation as their primary saltwater fly rod. Foundation 8-weights are crossover rods, intended for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. A Foundation would make an adequate backup rod on a saltwater trip.