We’re now entering an era where fly rods have not only approached, but eclipsed the $1,000 mark (G Loomis’ Asquith Fly Rod). That’s a lot of cheese for a graphite stick. Is a fly rod worth it? Is there that much difference between the highest end models and less expensive rods? These are tough questions and ultimately depend on many variables surrounding the angler who is asking. One such rod to recently enter the market of high-end fly rods is Sage’s X series, which retails for $895. I recently had the opportunity to build one and fish it. Here’s my Sage X Fly Rod review...
My Sage X Blank Model specifications: 697-4 X. That translates to a 9’7” 6 WT 4 PC blank intended for a fighting butt (which I ultimately decided against installing), hence the extra inch difference (697-4X vs the standard retail 696-4X non fighting butt). For all intensive purposes, my rod is a 696-4X. I matched my X with a Nautilus FWX 5/6 reel loaded with Scientific Anglers Sharkwave GPX fly line.
Straight out of the package the rod looks black, similar to the Sage ONE. But when you’re on a stream bank in the sunlight, it’s actually a very dark green color (technically labeled Black Spruce). I decided to go with the 6 WT, because why not? It's a great all around choice for the fish, the flies, and the notorious big winds we get here on the Madison River. I chose the 9’6” length for that extra reach from a drift boat, and because I wanted just a little more range when high stick nymphing from shore.
Sage Fly Rods has a history of developing some of the best fly rods on the planet. Virtually every series they spin out creates a cult following. The XP, SP, Z-Axis, and most recently the ONE. Each time you think they can’t improve on the previous flagship series, they do it again. The X (Roman numeral for 10 – Sage’s tenth flagship rod) is now their crown jewel fly rod of the future, employing something Sage refers to as “KonnecticHD” technology. Up until this point, I honestly haven’t given much thought to a rod manufacturer’s proprietary technology. Graphite is graphite, I thought. However, after testing the X, whatever “KonneticHD” means to Sage’s engineering team, it’s for real, and accomplishes something in a “fast action” rod I haven’t experienced before. Namely, power and strength to make long casts with big heavy flies relatively effortlessly, combined with precision and touch to delicately and accurately deliver light flies to tight spots in close proximity.
The demand for “Fast action” rods is increasing rapidly, and rod manufacturers are happy to oblige. Some rods on the market today are so fast that they flex about as much as a broomstick. While Sage considers their X a “fast action” rod, I was immediately surprised at how much feel and flex it had compared to some of its counterpart “fast action” sticks. Moreover, for those of you who love the ONE, the X also has that same snappy tight loop ability, but you can feel the bend further down in the rod than the ONE and it seems a touch lighter in your hand. The X has a noticeably “softer” tip feel to it than the ONE as well. All of these features are what I would consider major improvements to an already spectacular ONE.
Take, for example, this from Sage:
“The X rod’s all-new fast action taper built with our KonneticHD Technology delivers greater blank recovery and a crisper tip stop - creating tighter, more efficient loops throughout all ranges of casting styles. This taper allows you to dig deeper into the rod and access the lower sections, shifting power closer to the angler. Decreased lateral and medial movement and vibrations in the blank result in a more accurate and efficient presentation, resulting in a performance driven, forgiving fast action blank - refining the synergy between angler, rod, line, and fly.”
That’s a lot of science speak and a very eloquent description of a fly rod, but it’s all true. Some phrases I’d use to describe the X are: versatile, extremely fun, fast but flexible, and laser accurate.
I grew up in the south waking up every morning to watch Bill Dance and Roland Martin on TV and learning to flip jigs to dark holes under magnolia trees for lunker bass. It’s something that has stuck with me as I learned to fly fish in my teenage years. As such, I tend to keep false casts to a minimum and employ a lot of roll and current loaded flip casts to put flies exactly where I want them the first time. So an ideal fly rod for me needs to have the power to load up on one cast, and the feel to place flies accurately. The latter not being a feature often used to describe typical fast action rods these days. I would consider the X to be one of the leaders among all my rods at roll casting and current load flipping accuracy.
Next came the wind challenge. When I had the chance to try out some double hauling in a Chinook wind here on the Madison River with the X, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s the ultimate test to determine if a fly rod in my quiver is going to see plenty of playing time or collect dust. No matter how high the number is behind the dollar sign, it MUST be able to deliver heavy nymph rigs and wind resistant bunny fur streamers in the gale force winds that are commonplace here on the Madison. Most fast action rods have this ability, but the X did so with slightly more accuracy than others. It perhaps didn’t have the distance of faster rods in strong winds, probably due in part to greater flex further down in the rod, but the loops were still tight.
Swift rivers like the Madison demand another quality among fly rods: great mending ability with soft enough touch to not yank your rig out of the feeding lane. This was a non-issue with the X. Perhaps the best thing about the X is that you can alternate between streamer, nymph, and dry rigs fairly seamlessly and not feel like you have the wrong rod for the job.
One note on fly lines: A fly rod’s performance ultimately depends on matching the right fly line for your fishing scenario. Many anglers overlook this point and don’t pay much attention to trying different lines. After trying the X with several different reels loaded with various lines from various manufacturers, I really like how the X behaved with a Scientific Anglers Sharkwave GPX WF line. The heavier taper and slightly textured line really loads and shoots well out of the X.
For someone who has collected more fly rods than my wife approves of, I don’t really have that one rod that is my go-to for virtually any situation. The X might be the rod that is up to any challenge, while not being too much for delicate circumstances. So is the X worth all those Benjamin’s? Considering how many rods are in the $800 and up range these days, if any is worth their weight, it’s definitely the Sage X Fly Rod.