by John Duncan, Telluride Angler
Telluride Angler attended the 2016 ICAST/IFTD Show in Orlando, July 13-15, and took the opportunity to cast every new Sage X fly rod model. In evaluating each model, we considered fly line pairings, appropriate casting distances and a variety of casting techniques. In addition to our model-by-model evaluations below, here are some general improvements characteristic of the Sage X.
Sage X Design Achievements
1) Tolerance, not timing. In the past, many Sage rods have been considered “casters’ fly rods,” requiring a well-developed sense of timing in the stroke. X rods are classic high line speed Sage rods, but much more adaptable to casting styles and forgiving of errors. They have an uncanny tendency to throw long, parallel, gorgeous loops. They will handle a wide array of lines, whereas the ONE Series required precise pairing. “Sage casters” will love them. So will everyone else. I can’t remember saying that about a previous Sage fly rod.
2) Improved large grips. Grips on larger X models are smaller and more contoured than the grips on large ONE rod models. They are more comfortable and lend to the casting precision and feel of these rods.
3) Feels light, swings light. ONE rods were light in the hand, but some did not “swing light.” X rods have much more spring in the butt sections, smaller grips and less overall material in the blanks. Overall, they transmit significantly more feel to the caster with less swing weight. Most casters will notice the difference in any model-to-model comparison with the ONE series.
Sage X Model-by-Model Casting Review
This rod has a pleasant action for a short 3-weight, but is much softer than any other in the series. It’s a complete anomaly in action, loading with touch and ease at short distance. Overall, however, this is one of my least favorites in the series. As compared with any other model, it is soft, bouncy and unresponsive. The rod stabilizes when cast from the mid and butt sections, so I recommend longer, heavier headed lines with the 376-4. Lines: Rio Gold, SA MPX, SA Trout Taper
I found the 390-4 X to be the extreme opposite of the 376-4 X. This rod simply does not load with a 3-weight line. It is stiff enough to require an overpowering, staccato casting stroke, which is something I would never do to a 3-weight fly rod. Try it with a 4-wt line. Better yet, buy the 490-4 – it’s spectacular. Lines: Rio Gold WF3 or WF4, SA Trout Taper WF4F, SA MPX WF3F
This vintage Sage 4-weight earns some of my highest marks. The 486-4 X swings with the characteristic ultralight feel and tremendous tip sensitivity of Sage’s most legendary trout rods. This rod, like so many in the series, is highly tolerant of a wide range of casting styles. It throws gorgeous, parallel loops at all distances and casts with the intuitiveness of my favorite all time rods. Some anglers felt that ONE trout rods felt light but cast heavy. This model exemplifies one of the fundamental achievements of the X Series: it feels light and casts really, really light. Line pairings: Rio Perception, Rio Gold, SA Trout Taper, SA MPX
Very light in hand, the 490-4 X needs a slightly heavier line, like a Rio Gold or SA MPX, to load into the mid section and generate power with a relaxed stroke. Stiffer than most rods in the series, the 490-4 flex has some imperfections in its casting profile that translate to a slightly lumpy feel when casting. This rod will catch every fish In the river, but I preferred the pure casting feel of the 486-4 and 590-4 X. Rio Perception, Rio Gold, SA Trout Taper, SA MPX
This outstanding fly rod will become an instant classic among dedicated nymph anglers and float tubers. The stability, feel and perceived lightness of the 4100-4 are remarkable qualities in a rod of this length. Earning a high degree of difficulty for design, the 4100-4 X must be considered among the best rods in the series. As compared with the comparable ONE model, the 4100-4 X offer both superior stability and superior feel, seemingly mutually exclusive objectives. SA Trout Taper, Rio Gold, Rio Trout LT, SA MPX
Collectively, the 5-weight X models may be considered standouts of the X series and among the finest 5-weights ever designed. Every single model is just plain terrific. The 586-4 feels just like the older brother of the 486-4 and the shorter brother of the 590-4. The small diameter tip directs the line with pinpoint accuracy, like casting with your own finger tips. What a lovely light fly rod! Lines: Rio Perception, Rio Gold, SA Trout Taper, SA MPX
Flagship model of the flagship series, the 590-4 X casts magnificently in every range. This model above all others illustrates the tangible benefits of Sage’s technology and the strategy behind the X Series tapers. Some rods feel light in the hand, but swing heavy. Some feel terrific with a dry line and bare leader, but wobble with a sink tip or wind-resistant fly. The 590-4 X casts with phenomenal stability and a natural loading flex at every distance. Line speed grows with every stroke, but it takes few false casts to load and shoot most of the line. The 590-4 X weighs 1/16 oz. less than the 590-4 ONE, but feels much lighter when actually casting. The difference between actual weight and perceived weight will be noticeable to any caster. Our friends at Sage prefer the Rio Perception WF5F line on the 590-4, but we cast it with several other lines and found all to be equally suitable, so you can choose your line for your specific fishing situation rather than rod compatibility. With any standard weight forward line, experienced casters will notice the uncanny loop control delivered by this sensational rod. This Sage 5-weight stands alone.
Line pairings (all WF5): Rio Perception, Rio Gold, Rio Aqualux, SA MPX, SA Trout Taper (regular or Wavelength), SA GPX Sharkwave, SA Sonar Sink Tips
With the bottom of the blank buried in a fighting butt, we expected this model to be stiffer and less sensitive than the 590-4. In fact, we could detect no difference whatsoever. If you like a 5-weight with a fighting butt, you’ll just love the casting feel and loop control of this model. Line pairings: Rio Perception, Rio Gold, Rio Aqualux, SA MPX, SA Trout Taper (regular or Wavelength), SA GPX Sharkwave, SA Sonar Sink Tips
This stunning fly rod is one of my 3 favorites in the series. The tip is so fine that it actually feels like a 9’0” rod. A rod this long and light simply must be bouncy, but it hardly quivers, even when reaching back for a long cast. The feeling transmitted when casting is like brushing butter onto the palm of your hand. Roll casting and line mending capability is superb, but it’s the overhead casting qualities that seem so compelling in this extra long trout model. Lines: Rio Gold, Rio Aqualux, SA Trout Taper, SA MPX, SA Sonar Stillwater and sink tip lines. It will be hard to find a line this rod does not like.
This is a highly capable angling tool, but as compared with the 597-4, the 5100-4 feels wooden in the butt section. That’s more a comment about the 597-4 than the 5100-4, but I really feel the length of this rod when casting, a pendulous weight that is magically not present in the 597-4. Many anglers will seek this 10’ rod, however, and not likely be disappointed. Power and distance come automatically, and the 5100-4 is a roll casting, line mending demon. Rio Gold, Rio Grand, SA GPX, SA MPX
Cast with a Rio Perception line, the tip of this rod follows through with the drive of classic nymphing lines. Oddly, the 691-4 X felt more light and crisp, the opposition of our presumptions about trout rods with fighting butts. If you are pure nympher, choose the 690-4. If you fish a variety of nymphs, streamers and dry flies, choose the 691-4. Lines: Rio Gold, Rio Outbound, Rio Grand, SA MPX, SA GPX, SA Big Fly Taper SA Sonar Stillwater, SA Sonar sink tips
Somehow, this rod casts with greater lightness and tip feel than the 690-4. In fact, I found it to be downright amazing with both the Rio Perception and Rio Bonefish lines, showing the rod’s versatility in line pairing and fishing applications. On rare occasion, I have found high line class trout rods that actually generate greater line speed at distance without the assistance of a double haul. This is one of those rods. The 691-4 ONE rod was perhaps the most acclaimed in the series. The 691-4 X is superior in every comparison: line speed, loop control, roll casting and mending, casting range and, characteristic of the whole series, feel. Lines: Rio Gold, Rio Outbound, Rio Grand, SA MPX, SA GPX, SA Big Fly Taper SA Sonar Stillwater, SA Sonar sink tips
Perhaps even more than the 690-4, the 697-4 feels “nymphy.” It lacks the magic wand lightness of the 597-4, but the tip and tip-mid drive through the casts for power and command with heavy headed lines, strike indicators and lead. This is a wonderful “open loop style” nymph rod, although for steelhead I would personally choose the 6100-4. Lines: Rio Gold, Rio Grand, Rio Nymph Taper, SA MPX, SA GPX Sharkwave, SA Mastery Distance Taper, any classic steelhead line and all 6-weight sink tips
Light, super castable and with surprising feel, the 6100-4 relates to the 4100-4 in both power and agility. I would highly recommend the 6100-4 X for single handed summer steelheading and big water trout applications. I came off the pond thinking I could fish this rod all day without tiring. Rio Gold, Rio Grand, Rio InTouch Salmo/Steelhead, SA MPX, SA GPX Sharkwave, SA Mastery Steelhead, SA Mastery Distance Taper, all sink tips
I first cast this rod with a Rio Perception WF7F and found it heavy and balking. For one evening, I couched it as “just not my favorite,” until the Sage guys, emboldened by the magic of an Orlando Scottish pub, declared it their favorite in the series. So, Rich and I cast it again with a Rio Bonefish line and discovered a completely different fly rod. I’ve learned that lesson so many times, it’s way past cliché, but I can’t help reprimand myself for overlooking the potential of a different line pairing. The bonefish line shoots so much better that the whole rod feels lighter, less hesitant and ultimately much more powerful. Perfect loop shape and tremendous line speed developed with every cast, no matter how hard I tried to bastardize it. This is one heck of saltwater, bass, carp, big trout 7-weight. Love it. Lines: SA Amplitude MPX, any modern carp or bass line, Rio Bonefish, SA Bonefish, Rio Redfish
Like the 7-weight, this is an easy casting 8 weight that naturally forms gorgeous loops with a Bonefish 8-wt line. The action is pure saltwater, but of the “accessible and fishable” variety. Trout anglers will pick up the 890-4 X and throw it with ease on the first try. Sage makes a lot of good 8-weights, however, so the distinction of this model is less evident within the crowded field: Salt, Method and Accel 8s are all outstanding. This may be the lightest of the group, however, so don’t overlook its potential just because it lives in an all-water series. Rio Bonefish, SA Bonefish, Rio Redfish, Rio Outbound lines (both fresh and salt), SA Sonar Intermediate Sinking Saltwater, Rio Gold
One of my 3 favorites in the series, I would place the 896-4 X in the top 20 fly rods I have ever cast. It swings like a 9’ rod and throws even tighter loops, but with 10 feet more distance. Some rods transmit feel in every inch of the tip, but these are rarely 8-weights. The rod casts with the calm of a sleeping tiger, but when the angler gives it a little pop, it might produce the longest cast of your angling career. This is an astounding fly rod. SA MPX Amplitude, Rio InTouch Gold, SA Mastery Distance Taper, SA Mastery Steelhead, RIO InTouch Salmon/Steelhead, Rio InTouch Indicator, Rio and SA Bonefish lines, SA Sonar Intermediate Saltwater
As I found with the long 5-weights, the 9’6” rod is much sweeter than the 10-footer. The 8100-4 X has tremendous power, but the butt section is necessarily still and quashes any inkling of casting sensitivity and feel. In the last decade, the 10’ 7-weight has surpassed the 10’ 8-wt in popularity for single handed steelheading. This rod should be chosen by anglers who have historically fished 10’ 9-weights. Rio InTouch Salmon/Steelhead, SA Mastery Steelhead, Rio InTouch Indicator, all freshwater sink tips from SA and Rio
All X Series saltwater models offer greater castability than comparable ONE and Method models. The 990-4X is no exception, but I found this rod to be merely workmanlike, rather than truly special. The angler who seeks a light and powerful 9-weight will not be disappointed, but there are other rods in this series that offer something truly unique within Sage’s impressive lineup of heavy line weight fly rods. Lines: Rio Bonefish, Rio Permit, SA Bonefish, SA and Rio Redfish lines, SA Sonar Intermediate Saltwater lines, all SA and Rio striper lines
Sensational. Unlike most 10-weights (and all other Sage 10-weights), the 1090-4 X continues to flex into the lower mid-section under the weight of a long line. The result is a tremendous snapping recoil the hurls the long line over the horizontal. It feels incredible and requires very little effort from the caster. If you’ve ever struggled with high line weight fly rods, try this one. Lines: Rio Tarpon, SA Tarpon, Rio Permit, SA Sonar Intermediate Saltwater, all Rio and SA Striper lines.
I finally had a chance to cast this rod with a proper tarpon line and was so impressed with its lightness and range. I actually prefer the X 10 and 11-weight rods to the comparable models in the Salt HD series. They feel just as powerful, but not as heavy. They load quickly for short shots, even without the whole line head out. They stiffen progressively and, without sacrificing even a little bit of power, load easily into the middle and lower sections of the rod for longer casts. The 1190-4 X has the kind of springy action in the butt section that delivers more power with less casting strength than a rod that is purely stiff from tip to butt. This is my favorite Sage tarpon rod.