All our preparation, consideration and decisions regarding our gear come to the test at the moment we begin our first cast. The gear has to perform at the level we demand ... as we expect it to ... as we know it will. That's what this section is all about. Performance and expectation! The products ... rods, reels, lines and the rest of the angler's arsenal ... featured in these articles are evaluated by our staff of anglers. These anglers come from every level of the sport ... novice to expert. Each has a different perspective, and experience level from which they view and evaluate "quality and performance" in the products reviewed. This is good ... it provides you with definite information from the eyes of real anglers fishing their streams, increasing their knowledge and taking this opportunity to share it with you.
Sage BASS Rods Review
I am always on the lookout for products that will improve my fly angling experience. After years of fishing for largemouth bass in lakes and pursuing calico bass around the local kelp beds I was certain that that and ideal rod for many situations would be something between 7’6” and 8” for an eight or nine weight rod. I find shorter rods easier to handle from a tube and also reduce the fish’s mechanical advantage during the fight, helping the angler haul fish away from cover. I also find shorter rods preferable when fishing from a kayak. Soon after Sage announced the introduction of their 7’11” four piece BASS series rod and line combinations I sought out and received feedback from anglers who had tested the prototypes. Based on their reports I decided to have my local shop order a “Largemouth” model for me sight unseen. Within a few days the package from Sage arrived while I happened to be in the store had and we eagerly opened the package.
The rod is packaged in a light olive cordura covered rod and reel travel case with the Sage logo and rod model embroidered on the side. The rod has a full wells grip and fighting butt as you would expect on heavier weight rods and sports a basic black aluminum reel seat with two locking rings. The cork grip is smooth and of a fairly good quality with a few minor imperfections that were filled in. The blank is a striking golden yellow with red guide wraps. The wraps at the female ferules and the end of the grip are bounded by black borders and gold highlights. Two stripping guides, six snake guides, and an oversize tip top round out the hardware. Absent is a hook keeper, which is not an issue for me since I prefer to hang the fly on a guide with the leader around the reel seat to keep some of the fly line outside the rod tip. A close inspection showed a few gaps in the thread wraps where the blank was clearly visible. This is the first time I have observed this with a Sage rod. The side effect is only cosmetic and then noticed only if you look very closely. The SAGE 330 grain floating BASS line completes the package. When I got the rod home I spooled up a reel with the line, added a practice leader tipped with a big wad of orange yarn, and then went to the back yard to make a few casts. With the first few casts I realized I had a very impressive combination that was just pleasant to cast. The rod is fast action rod but bends well down into the butt section when casting a long line and to me feels light in the hand compared to many nine weight rods I have used. With this combo making both wide loop and very tight loop casts at short, medium, and long distances was not difficult. However, I would need to get on the water to really get a feel for how it would perform.
That opportunity would come soon enough. Within a few days the rod saw its first action, tossing 7” long Gartside Gurglers to calico bass off La Jolla. Casting flies to holes and slots in the kelp beds with a seven to ten knot breeze and a four foot swell can be quite a challenge and the rod was up to the task. I was able to drive that big foam fly at all angles to the breeze and put it on target at distances up to 60 feet, the 330 grain line pulling the gurgler though the air without any special effort on my part. I quickly hooked a calico bass and was able stop it from digging into the kelp. The rod was just what I was looking for. A few weeks later I put the rod to use tossing big Dahlberg divers to largemouth bass on Lake Martinez and the lower Colorado River. On this trip we were plagued by strong winds in the 15 to 20 knot range with gusts over 40 knots on a couple of days. I was again impressed with the rod and line combo’s ability to drive casts into and across the wind when necessary. We had some nice calm days too and I was able to put the combo though its paces under more friendly conditions. The combo was excellent for tossing large wind resistant flies and short and medium ranges and pretty darned good even beyond 70 feet. I was able to pick up a hair bug, seven feet of leader, and 40 feet of fly line without much effort. I did not find it at all tiring to use for an all day fishing session. The ability to cast tight loops with bass bugs is often essential when fishing around some types of cover and many anglers find this difficult to accomplish. I found casting tight loops with the combo almost automatic. Executing underhand or pendulum casts to put a fly under overhanging vegetation is a breeze. As expected, the shorter rod length was a benefit compared to nine foot rods when pulling bass from the aquatic vegetation. The Largemouth model is more than enough rod for most bass that I encounter. So I decided to get a Smallmouth model to complement it. The Smallmouth model is a bit lighter and packaged with a 290 grain line. Aside from those differences, it is identical to the Largemouth rod. The lighter line will still carry most of the flies typically used by bass anglers, including weighted streamers like clouser deep minnows. Many anglers find casting bass bugs and other bulky flies to be a lot of work; even novice anglers will find these rod and line combos are so well matched that casting the big stuff is a fun experience.
Since Sage rates the Largemouth and Smallmouth models as 330 grain and 290 grain rods respectively, many curious anglers wonder how they compare with more traditionally rated rods. Since these weights correspond to 11 and 10 weight lines, anglers who have not handled these rods often assume that these rods are 11 and 10 weight rods and overkill for bass. I am fortunate enough have multiple rods in each weight from six through 12 to compare to the Sage BASS rods. I have found that when pulling on fish the Largemouth model roughly comparable to my nine weights and faster/stiffer eight weight rods. It does not have anything near the same backbone as my 11 weight Sage RPLXi, 10 weights Sage VT2, or any of my other 10 weight rods. It is definitely much less tiring to cast all day. It seems to fall nicely between my eight and nine weight Sage RPLX rods in how it fishes. Anglers often up line their rods by one, two or even three line weights when casting bulky flies at short to medium distances and it appears that this is essentially what Sage has done with these combinations. I found the Largemouth model to perform quite well with a nine weight bass bug taper and a 330 grain integrated shooting head. Similarly, the Smallmouth model is roughly comparable to my eight weight and faster/stiffer seven weight rods. I have found this rod to perform well with an eight weight bass bug taper, a seven weight distance taper and 250 or 300 grain integrated shooting tapers.
The Sage BASS lines are an important part of the combo package but are excellent products in their own right and available separately. Though custom designed to match the Sage rods the 330 grain line will help you cast big flies with any nine or ten weight rod and the 290 grain line matches up well with many seven weight rods and any eight weight rod. The lines are a pale olive in color and easy to see in most conditions. According to Sage, these lines feature “a short, heavy belly and quick front taper” which is the secret to why these excel at turning over bulky flies with tight loops with any rod. The line works well in cool through hot conditions. I have put them to use with air temperatures near 100° F in the air and 80° F in the water. The coolest conditions my lines have seen are 60° F air and 65° F water. The lines required a little stretching to start the day under those cooler conditions but otherwise performed fine.
You will recall that my first action with the Largemouth rod was in the saltwater. Don’t let the names of the rod models constrain your thinking on how these rods might be employed. The Sage BASS rods are ideal for many freshwater and saltwater applications, especially where short to medium range precisely targeted casts are required such as when fishing mangroves or other visible structure. The Largemouth rod has sufficient backbone for baby tarpon and both models have seen action with acquaintances for snook, snappers, and other species. Stripers, pike, and peacock bass are also worthy targets. The Smallmouth rods will be great for smaller examples of these species as well as smallmouth bass, wipers, trout, walleye, redfish and a host of other finned creatures.
A year after the introduction of the Largemouth and Smallmouth rods, Sage added the “Bluegill” model with a 230 grain line. My experience with this model is limited to lawn casting. Based on this experience it feels to me like a 6/7 weight rod. It is just the thing for some of the big bluegill available in my local lakes but many anglers may find it too heavy for their local fish. It would be great as a light bass rod, and like its bigger brothers it will be useful in many situations. The 230 grain line will help anglers toss small to medium size bass bugs with six and seven rods.
Sage’s marketing literature notes that the 7’11” length “slides them just under the strict bass tournament rules for rod length.” This is true for some bass tournament tours, but others prohibit the use of fly tackle. If you are contemplating using a fly rod in a bass tournament I suggest you verify the rules for the event you are interested in.
The Sage BASS rods are not the first short graphite fly rods in their weight range. There were some examples in the 7’6” to 8’3” range that preceded them. Other manufacturers introduced similar rods concurrently with and subsequent to these rods’ appearance on the market. But the Sage rod and line packages are unique among these offerings and very successful designs that will appeal to novice and advanced anglers alike. With two years of angling with these rods behind me I have found them to be among my most satisfying fly rod investments.