In this article, we present a detailed design evaluation for Sage IGNITER fly rods, follow by model-by-model reviews.
by Richard Post, Telluride Angler
SAGE IGNITER Fly Rod Design Review
Sage’s newest offering, the IGNITER, continues the tradition of ultra-fast expert-oriented fly rods meant to solve problems and take on the toughest conditions faced by fly fishermen head on. After casting through the lineup, I feel like these rods are slightly more friendly in close than the previous METHOD rods while possessing the same uncompromising ability to generate line speed and throw the tightest, flattest loops. The rods throw the prettiest, flattest loops, intoxicatingly good loops. For the caster that appreciates the control afforded with such immaculate tight loops, there is no equal. These rods are supercharged and intended for casters who have a firm grasp on proper technique and an understanding of what situations they can overcome with this style of fly rod.
What makes the IGNITER rods standout to me is the way they handle the longer bellied standard weighted fly line. The IGNITERS that ought to cast a Rio Gold do, and they do it well. They cast surprisingly well, in fact, at close range for the 490, 590 and the 690. These are fast action dry fly rods, especially the 490. The 490 formed loops in close and was predictable and remarkably accurate at normal trout ranges around 20 to 30 feet. These dry fly sticks don’t possess the full bend feeling of a rod like the MOD, but a good caster can load these rods into the butt section even at moderate distances. Think of the fly getting to the same place only more quickly and with less effort. The IGNITERS have what I would call an automatic sport tuned transmission while a rod like the MOD is a super smooth manual transmission. Efficiency is the name of the game with all the IGNITER rods. They require less energy to achieve the same results. Think about this over the course of a day on the water and that translates to less false casts and more soak time for your flies in the feeding zone.
The same principles apply to the bigger rods. The 691, 790, 890 and 990 are tactical overhead casting weapons. Whether you are throwing streamers methodically towards the bank or making “the only shot you’re going to get” count on the flats, these rods help the angler maximize their opportunities. IGNITER rods work with a line in a way that makes the caster feel completely connected to all parts of the casting process. No energy is wasted, not a wobble is detected and everything feels very predictable. They just inspire confidence. Ultra-fast rods are not for every caster, but the angler in the know is in for a treat once he picks one up.
I have always felt that Sage creates the highest level of stability in their blanks. Sage rods tend to soak up extra grain weight and keep on casting without compromise. I love that these rods throw standard lines wonderfully, but I do believe they could be overlined significantly and still perform. That being said, the rods feel the most alive and have the most play with a standard line. When overlined or fished with a short heavy headed line, the rods seem to tighten up and feel too automatic to me.
Cosmetically, the IGNITERS are much more subdued and better adorned than the METHOD rods. The blank is a smooth garnet color Sage calls Chipotle. Wraps are slightly bolder cayenne red and accent wraps are clean gunmetal. Freshwater rods feature gunmetal hardware with a single uplocking ring and laser etched line weights on the slide band. The cocobolo wood insert has a slight red hue to complement the overall color palate of these smart looking rods. Saltwater models sport an aluminum gunmetal real seat with twin uplocking rings that seat the reel securely and confidently. An appropriately sized cork eva fighting butt finish the larger rods and Sage includes their hidden hook keeper underneath the cork.
The IGNITER rods are meant to live in the fast lane and provide a smooth ride along the way. There is not a manufacturer on the market that makes a fast rod like the team on Bainbridge Island and let me tell you I think they hit a home run with the IGNITER. Smooth, clean power and total control are the hallmarks of these amazing fly rods. Get one of these things in your hands and find out what you can really do with a fly rod.
SAGE IGNITER FLY ROD MODEL REVIEWS
The more rods I cast and the more reviews I write, the more and more I realize that line pairing is paramount. The IGNITER 490-4 was a fine example. The rod was rigged with an InTouch Grand WF4F initially. I made some casts, thought the line was a Grand, made sure it was, then I switched for an InTouch Gold WF4F. With the Rio Grand, the rod felt stiff and automated. I just don’t like the Grand and feel like overlining the IGNITER 490 with a heavier line is not what this rod was designed for or what the rod wants to do. With the InTouch Gold WF4F, this rod was fire! Loop formation was instant. The IGNITER 490-4 throws superbly flat parallel loops at all distances. Line speed is easy and instantaneous, control is supreme and it just flat out commands the fly line. At 20 feet the rod formed wonderful loops and had a surprising amount of touch. This is a fast rod, but you can certainly notice the load point even with a short line. At 30-40 feet, there is no equal in this fly rod category. Robin Hood-like accuracy, surreal intuition and not an iota of wasted energy. This thing is tactical, but I feel like it requires a lot of input from the caster for it to perform. This is not a rod for the novice angler looking to achieve more distance or a rod to be overlined to make it load. It wants a longer headed line, a commanding caster and a worthy challenge.
The Method 590-4 was perhaps my favorite rod in the series, so I had some lofty expectations for this stick. The IGNITER 590-4 did not disappoint! This rod is a problem solver. Need to make an honest 50-foot cast into a headwind from a seated position in the boat and turn over a 15-foot leader with a single dry fly? If so, consider this rod. Big western rivers with great dry fly fishing and even greater winds are where this rod wants to live. Pair it with a Rio InTouch Gold WF5F and get ready to make things happen. Inside of 20 feet the rod was a little tight – I preferred the IGNITER 490 in close – but add a little more line to the mix and enjoy the stunning loops this rod lays down. The rod throws dream loops: flat, fast, parallel and completely controlled. The IGNITER 590-4 is optimized at 30 to 50 feet and carries line in the air as confidently and effortlessly as any I have cast. The IGNITER 590-4 is noticeably more powerful than the X 590-4, but not an automatic distance rod like the Method 590-4. I feel like this rod is tuned to fish in the 30 to 75-foot range, and it feels like a fishing tool instead of a casting instructor’s demonstration stick. I am very impressed with this rod and could see myself putting it in my personal quiver. I own an X 590-4 and X 597-4, but the IGNITER 590-4 feels specialized enough to earn a spot between these two inside the gunnels. Again, these are rods that will shine the brightest in the most challenging circumstances and I look forward to winning a battle with the wind holding this rod.
Like the X 6-weights, the IGNITER 6-weights are two different rods separated by more than just a fighting butt. While the Igniter 691-4 felt like a power-oriented 6-weight tuned for streamer fishing or light saltwater work, the IGNITER 690-4 is a trout tool. The action is similar, but tuned down a quarter measure from the 691-4. The IGNITER 690-4 likes the Gold WF6F more than the 691-4 and behaved quite nicely inside of 30 feet with that line. I felt like this rod was noticeably improved over the Method at this distance as well. Do you have a trip planned to Argentina? Check out this rod. Out of all the IGNITER models, the 690-4 is the rod that an intermediate caster could benefit from in a windy environment. This angler should fish a Rio Perception WF6F and be ready to have new doors opened up for them. The lower end stability in the Igniter 690-4 actually slows the tempo of this rod down slightly and allows it to be more approachable on a trout river than the 691-4. The friendliest IGNITER in the series in my opinion.
This may be the most versatile IGNITER in the series. The IGNITER 691-4 is equally at home wading a flat for bonefish or tossing streamers and sinking lines from the bow of a drift boat. With a Bonefish WF6F, the rod was a pure joy to cast. Like the rest in the series, the loops coming off the tip are immaculate: great feedback with the bonefish line, ultimate control and a surprisingly light touch. This is a top contender for a highly specialized light touch bonefish rod. I threw some heavy-headed streamer lines as well in the 7 and 8 weight line class. The IGNITER 691 did not bat an eye at the heavier lines and seemed to ask for more. The grain weight window for this rod is phenomenal. This adds to the versatility of the rod by allowing the angler to fish a vast array of grain weights, tapers and flies of different sizes and weights. Unlike the rest of the rods in the IGNITER line-up, the 691-4 liked the Rio Gold the least and you needed about 30 feet of line outside of the tip to provide the proper amount of rod load. With that length of Gold out of the tip, the 691-4 was everything you wanted it to be. If you select this rod and opt to fish a floating line for your general trout needs, go with the Perception WF6F. Ideally, the trout niche this rod fills is “streamer rod” with a new Big Nasty Sink tip in the 3D or 4D configuration. The IGNITER 691-4 is very similar to the ONE 691-4 (one of my all-time favorite Sage rods) but with noticeably more tip stability and a preference for a true-to-weight bonefish line. Another exceptionally impressive offering from the Sage team.
I cast the IGNITER 697-4 with a Rio Gold and a Rio Perception WF6F. The Perception was magical and the 6-weight Gold was just a shade light. If you like the longer headed lines, consider a Rio Gold WF7F for this rod. Back to the Perception, yes! The IGNITER 697-4 loves the Perception and threw that particular line better than any other IGNITER. Casting overhead with that line, you would swear you were casting a 9-foot rod. That rod and line came to life and gave me the impression that this rod could do an awful lot. It roll casts effortlessly, even off angle. Want a side arm, off shoulder roll cast bomb dropper? Look no further. I preferred this rod to the X 697-4 and, like the IGNITER 690-4, has broad appeal across ability levels. This is the “nymphy-ist” IGNITER in the lineup and did not feel too heavy to be a serious streamer rod on the trout river. The 697-4 has a preference for heavy-headed lines similar to the 691-4, but it is a sublime roll casting tool. It is the best IGNITER 6-weight with a nymph rig and as good as the 690-4 with the streamer. Choose the IGNITER 697-4 if you plan on keeping this rod in cold water. Opt for the IGNITER 691-4 if you want a 6-weight that plays well in the salt water as well as on the trout river.
If you’re looking for a 9-foot 7-weight and not considering a Sage rod, you are making a mistake. Sage’s latest 790s are so, so good and the IGNITER 790 is no exception. I cast the rod with a Rio Flats Pro WF7F and it was just too good. Effortless distance, dead to rights accuracy, all encompassing control and flat out confident in the hand. I probably spent less time with this rod than any of the other IGNITERs for the simple reason that there was no warm up time required. From the first cast, the IGNITER 790-4 felt just right and the rod left me completely impressed. This is a serious tool for the expert light saltwater angler and, bottom line, you cannot miss with a Sage 790-4 right now.
Admittedly, I am not the best person to comment on a 10-foot 7-weight rod. This line weight and length is built to serve a specific purpose and when I’m in that situation I’m generally fishing a two hander. For the heavy weight nympher and single hand swing guy, this is a very capable rod. Easy casting and smooth for a long single handed rod, it casts overhead well and roll casts superbly. Choose this rod over the X when maximum distance and pure power are a consideration.
Holy line speed! The 890-4 is a line speed machine and forms perfectly flat fast loops at all distances. I cast this rod with a standard Rio Bonefish WF8F and the pairing was dreamy and very welcomed. I have struggled to like some of Sage’s former ultra-fast action rods with a standard longer bellied floating line like the Rio Bonefish. Rods like the ONE and the METHOD always seemed to feel and perform better with a short, heavy, condensed head like the Rio Redfish line. I really liked the ONE and METHOD series with Redfish style fly lines, but in general, I prefer to fish a line with a head closer to 50 feet. This IGNITER 890-4 felt like a less stiff ONE 890-4 that actually generated higher line speed and loaded up wonderfully with the standard bonefish line. The 890-4 IGNITER was automatically accurate and gave me the ability to control all aspects of the cast at all distances. I felt completely connected to the line and the rod gave me the impression that there is no situation I could not command. This is a very confident, extremely intuitive 8-weight for the advanced angler looking to do more on the water.
This thing casts all the line without batting an eye with instant distance on command and the ability to hit your target from nothing to 90 feet with minimal false casting. With a Flats Pro WF9F, this setup is perfect. This rod begs to be a technical permit rod and possesses a powerful butt section that an experienced caster can dig into. I could not overpower the rod and loved the way it handled the Flats Pro line. I’m selling most permit anglers 9-weights rather than 10-weights these days, and this rod is a 9-weight that makes a WF9F line bust through wind like a 10-weight and carry that crab pattern to the dinner plate. Choose the Salt HD 990-4 for a more all-around saltwater rod if lifting power is your predominant concern or if you are still perfecting your double haul. The IGNITER 990-4 is meant for the guy that understands and appreciates the importance of wind on the flats and knows what it takes to excel in that environment.