November2012

Sage One 7136: A Hack Casters Thoughts

Commence jubilation.

A particular parcel arrived the day before leaving for a recent steelhead trip on the Clearwater River in Idaho: a long, cardboard tube with a return address on Bainbridge Island, WA. That could only mean one thing—the Sage ONE 7136 had arrived.

Let’s be clear that this rod was not mine to keep and covet; I was merely sent the demo rod to take for a test spin. Still, I was quite delighted with its arrival and was particularly eager to see what this rod was all about. I don’t own any rods from the ONE lineup, but I’d tested a single-handed version of the ONE a year earlier and rather liked it, a lot. That was the Sage ONE 486-4, which I compared to my own Sage Z-Axis 490-4 (the ONE replaces the Z-Axis line of rods). If so inclined you can read my review HERE, but we’re gathered today to discuss a two-handed rod from the ONE family tree, so let’s proceed.

Sage introduced the ONE line of two-handed models well after launching the single-handed rods, and for good reason. The two-handed Z-Axis rods were incredibly popular and continued to sell well; no sense rushing a new rod to market given the vast success of its predecessor. Of the Z-Axis two-handed rod family, the 7136 in particular enjoyed a sizable following (myself included). I am not a great caster by any means, but I do know the Z-Axis 7136 has done it’s fair share of ensuring I don’t completely suck. With all the love out there for the Z-Axis, the ONE 7136 had some big tubes to fill.

Right out of the black powder-coated tube the ONE grabbed my attention: Shiny and black with bronze accented wraps and down-locking reel seat that make for a very attractive stick. The cork was a little clean for my liking, but then again the rod was unused so I can’t consider this a fault of the rod itself. Sure, it’s pretty, but what’s an old saying about putting lipstick on a pig? If the rod wasn’t any good, it wouldn’t matter what it looked like. Surely once we got to the river the ONE would be more disappointed in me than vice versa.

One is heavier than the other.

The second thing I noticed is that the ONE 7136 feels very light in the hand. Mind you I’ve never felt fatigued after fishing my Z-Axis 7136 (7-1/8 oz), but by comparison the ONE (7-5/8 oz) felt lighter. The strange thing is that according to Sage, the ONE is actually heavier than the Z-Axis by 4/8 of an ounce (for those mathematically inclined, that equates to 1/2 ounce). One half of an ounce spread out over the length of 13’6″ really isn’t much—and could be considered negligible—but for those counting ounces it’s worth noting. The blank is thinner on the ONE than the Z-Axis and the foreward grip is 3 inches longer. Could be that the balance point of the rod makes it feel so light and with a reel mounted, the down-locking seat places the reel farther back. The Z-Axis has an up-locking seat; another difference.

More cork, feels lighter.

Another thing that may perhaps make the ONE feel so light is that there is less movement. As far as action and feel, the ONE is much stiffer. It’s certainly not a broomstick because the forward third of the rod does have plenty of flex and sensitivity, but it doesn’t flex nearly as far down the blank as the Z-Axis. I would definitely call the ONE a fast action rod. Conversely, while many of the Z-Axis models were billed as fast action, I never considered the 7136 fast by any means. It’s certainly nothing of a noodle, but it does have considerable flex down the blank. Nutshell: there’s a lot more wiggle to the Z-Axis than the ONE, both up-and-down and side-to-side. This is particularly noticeable when casting the rods: the ONE stays on track and punches the line in a very straight path, despite what poor casting may have attempted to otherwise accomplish. I believe that’s the Konnetic Energy at play, which reduces lateral movement. So, did I cast any better with the ONE than with the Z-Axis?  Not necessarily, but in defense of the ONE I don’t believe I had the best line for the job.

I didn’t consult any experts on what might be the best lines for this rod, but instead took what I had for my Z-Axis, figuring that this was going to be an apples-to-apples comparison. The lines I use on the Z are a 480 grain Airflo Compact Scandi with a poly-leader for summer fishing, and a 510 Airflo Compact Skagit for throwing sink tips during the winter. For my trip to the Clearwater River where I tested the ONE, I was using only the Compact Scandi due to low water conditions.  I was able to get the casts out to the best of my abilities (which are limited) but I felt as though the 480 grain line wasn’t quite enough to load the rod. Individual casting strokes and abilities may have a lot to do with this because if you jump over to The Gorge Fly Shop and read their review of the ONE 7136, their opinion is that the 480 grain line is too heavy. If you’ve entered into the two-handed game you know that matching a line to a rod is nowhere near as simple as it is in the relm of single-handed rods. You say yes, I say no; that sorta thing. I’ve no doubt the folks at the Gorge Fly Shop are a much better authority on the matter, so please disregard whatever I say here about it.

While casting, the ONE felt very powerful, nimble and efficient (even if I didn’t feel as though I was getting the rod fully loaded). The casts went where they were supposed to go and the rod recovered quickly: very little shimmyin’ and shakin’ in the blank. I would have loved to have played a steelhead on this rod, but over the course of 3 days fishing I only managed to swing up an 11″ whitefish. To my credit, I don’t believe many anglers have swung up a whitefish. I fished the ONE for two days, then went back to my Z-Axis on the third. It was like seeing an old friend and I immediately felt comfortable. But I did notice that there was considerably more overall movement in the Z than with the ONE. Call it what you will, with the ONE I felt more connected to the rod, with fewer distractions caused by excess movement of the rod during the casting stroke. I’ll say it again: I love my Z-Axis 7136. But I can see myself falling for the ONE, especially after I spend more time with it and/or find the line that works best for me.

And that has me worried, because in the words of Junior Albacore, who took a few test casts with the ONE, “Oh yeah.”

Two weeks later I had occasion to fish the ONE again, this time on a different river. Temperatures had dropped considerably, bringing snow to the mountains and lowering river temps accordingly. This trip would be a sink tip game so I strung up the ONE with my 510 Compact Skagit and a type III sink tip and gave it a go.  I liked the results, a lot. With the heavier grain Skagit head and added weight of the sink tip, I felt the ONE loaded well and slung the load very nicely. “Smooth” comes to mind. Normally when using this line on my Z-Axis it feels a bit “clunky”, to use a technical term. This time around the ONE really seemed to come alive while casting, and while I hoped to see how the rod would feel while fighting a fish, it was not to be. In my vast (insert sarcasm here) experience fishing for steelhead in the Pacific NW, it’s really much more about casting practice than catching fish. If you’re going to spend that amount of time casting a rod and not catching fish, you really want to enjoy the rod in your hands. Suffice it to say the Sage ONE 7136 is one sweet practice rod.

I’d recommend trying out several different lines before buying a line (or two).  Visit your local shop. Borrow a few different lines. Find the one that works for your ONE. If your local shop doesn’t have a program for demoing lines, call Poppy at The Red Shed. He’ll hook you up with a few lines to test drive. Note that Poppy likes a 450 Compact Scandi for this rod, and says that a 510 Compact Skagit or a 525 Rio Flight are also great. Poppy is the guy to talk to about Spey casting so give him a shout or email him.

Unable to fish with cane.

Front Matter/Back Story:  Jason Zicha, master rod builder at Fall River Fly Rods, fashioned a custom bamboo rod especially for a promotional tour courtesy of the Outdoor Blogger Network. Accompanying the rod is a Madison II Reel by Montana Fly Company spooled with a Trout LT DT5F fly line by Rio. Fifteen blogger/anglers were chosen to spend a couple of weeks each with the outfit before passing it along to the next person. After a cross country trip that will have endured more than half a year, the outfit will conclude its journey by permanently going home with one lucky angler/blogger.  I was one of the fortunate folks chosen to spend time with this outfit during its journey.

I knew it was coming as far back as last April. I knew it wouldn’t be getting to me until Fall, hopefully in time for some Autumn baetis action on the Yakima River. Fall River Fly Rods, aptly named it would seem. I envisioned myself presenting tiny mayfly patterns to wary fish. Delicate delivery would be the ticket, and armed with a custom bamboo fly rod I would be up to the task, or at least the rod would be.

As the months droned on I grew increasingly Worried (yes, with a capital W). Having a last name that begins with the letter “W” I’m no stranger to being at the end of the list: all during my school years I got one of the last picks of a desk in the classroom (which usually meant right by the teacher’s desk); when it came time for class registration I got the leftovers. Nor am I unaccustomed to being one of the last ones chosen during kickball team selection, but that had little to do with alphabetical order. This time, however, I cannot blame my forefathers because the schedule for this travelling rod was not based on last names. I thought per chance the schedule was based on the alphabetical listing of the host states because, after all, the first visit along its journey took the rod to Arizona. But then it skipped ahead to New Mexico so that blows my theory out of the water. All I know is that the package didn’t arrive at my home in Washington until November and unfortunately that was too late for me. Certainly there are still trout fishermen out plying the frigid waters this time of year, but with no available weekends until after Thanksgiving I simply ran out of time. The rod was on a schedule: it had places to go; people to see.

And so here this beautiful rod arrives after all these months of waiting and anticipating, and because of bad timing I don’t even get to fish it. I reckon this was my destiny—the ultimate angling unaccomplishment.

The Bazooka.

Knowing that I would not be able to give this rod its due, I gave it what I was able. I sat with it, fondling and admiring the rod. The experience began with the shipping tube, which resembled the barrel of a bazooka in both size and weight. This monstrous PVC fortress was created with protection in mind and for good reason: inside were valuable contents. More than just a shipping tube, the Bazooka itself tells the story of cross-country travel as it was slathered with stickers of all sorts, and enough Priority Mail tape to span from one coast to the next, from border to border. Following directions, I opened the end labeled, “Open This End.” It took me a while to cut through all the clear tape.

The goods.

The first item to emerge was a small aluminum box containing a few flies that the blogger/anglers had donated. I contributed to the collection but won’t tell you what I offered up (it wouldn’t earn me any respect or gratitude). Next up was the neoprene pouch containing the Madison II reel from Montana Fly Company, emblazoned in their river rock pattern. Last to emerge was a hand-made oak case containing the rod (the case is a functional work of art in and of itself). Once I had extracted the goods, I got down to the business of looking at it. In a discussion over at the Facebook place, Poppy Cummins of the Red Shed Fly Shop was quoted as saying:

“Playing with cane is like looking over the back fence at the naked neighbor lady. Once you start you can’t stop.”

The naked neighbor lady.

I will say that over the next week and a half I did an awful lot of looking, and it was hard to divert my gaze. Though I enjoyed the scenery, guilt gnawed at my gut, slowly eating away at me. The burning in my belly was a reminder that as beautiful as it is, this is a rod to be used; not just ogled over. I wished like hell I could have fished it. I read through the journal that accompanied the outfit along it’s journey: no one else prior to me had mentioned not fishing the rod.

I know next to nothing about bamboo rods. In my ignorance I always assumed all were delicate, flimsy noodles: either antique collector’s items or modern showpieces. But the rod’s designer states very clearly that this rod is not your grandfather’s bamboo rod, and I will echo that sentiment. I have an old bamboo rod that belonged to my grandfather and it would be accurate to describe it as a whispy piece of grass. I’ve never fished it; never wanted to after wiggling it—I mean, who has 5 minutes to wait between forward and back casts? I do remember a tip my grandfather gave me many years ago which I was prepared to employ with the Fall River rod until I read the directions from Jason Zicha that were included in the Bazooka: “Do not apply any oil or nose grease to the ferrule.” So much for my grandfather’s advice.

Don’t take my grandfather’s advice.

After a lengthy lawn casting session with the Fall River rod (during which I did not rise a single Lawn Trout), I can tell you that it is no limp-wristed wussy. It does have ample flex, but it is not a slow-action rod.  I was able to quickly adapt to the rod’s action and get casts out to around 40 feet with ease. I was surprised, and then I read the description of the South Fork on the Fall River website:

“The South Fork model was designed with a new generation of anglers in mind.  It’s moderate/fast action has a more familiar feel to today’s modern angler who has grown accustomed to the feel of graphite fly rods.  8’ in length, it’s powerful spine has the power needed to fish our large, open, windy Western Rivers.  The smooth action has been refined to throw anything from a midge to streamers.”

“South Fork” Outdoor Blogger Network 2012

With the delicate tip—not delicate so much in construction but rather in feel—I could unfold a cast and lay the tippet onto the grass with a certain finesse that is difficult with my graphite rods. In the time I spent on the lawn with the rod, I did notice that it’s heavier than my graphite sticks, but that’s to be expected. The action of the rod felt remarkably familiar and was not what I expected. I’ve become so accustomed to the uber-light, nimble ways of my fast-action arsenal of graphite rods that I’ve also become disconnected to the casting experience that only slowing down can bring back. Getting into the slower rhythm of this rod had a sort of soothing effect— even if I was standing in my front yard as school buses drove past and the neighbor’s dog barked from behind its fence. A bubbling mountain stream would have been a more suitable setting in which to cast this rod. A suburban lawn just seemed wrong—an injustice. Again, my destiny.

A work of art.

The nickel silver stripping guide is inlayed with a natural agate that is saw-cut, drilled, polished and then set into the frame. Fall River Fly Rods buys these pre-made, because as Jason Zicha says, “It is an art form of its own.” Everything about this rod is beautiful in it’s craftsmanship, but it’s no showboat. Again, the South Fork is built to fish.

I begrudgingly place the rod, reel and box of flies into the shipping tube and sealed it closed with a pound of strapping tape. I slapped on an Unaccomplished Angler sticker and drove to the post office. Next destination, Spokane WA. I hope Josh Mills has an opportunity to fish it. I know the weather in Spokane is colder than it is on my side of the state and trout fishing may be a bit out of season.

If the rod could speak, its parting words for me would surely have been, “Good riddance.”

 

 

A Deliberate Life

During this past summer of my discontent, I wrote of plans cancelled, dreams dashed, accomplishments unaccomplished. Of the several things I missed out on, missing out on one event in particular still haunts me. I was invited to partake of a very special opportunity not only to fish with a bunch of great folks who I’ve wanted to meet in person for a long time, but to witness the filming of  A Deliberate Life, a film being produced by Matt Smythe and Grant Taylor.

Despite my lack of attendance somehow the folks who were there managed to have a great time and the crew captured some incredible film. And in the time since then they’ve been very busy in the editing room, matching the footage to an introspective narrative that touches the soul. Just released is the official trailer for A Deliberate Life, which has been selected as a feature film for the 2013 International Fly Fishing Film Festival. I cannot wait to see the entire film, but I’ll have to wait until sometime next Spring to do so.  Check the IF4 schedule to see when the show rolls into a town near you—2013 dates don’t appear to have been posted yet.

Set primarily against the diverse, rugged and breathtaking landscape of Idaho and Oregon, A Deliberate Life explores the stories of five unlikely friends who share the same love of fly fishing and the outdoors and their choice to lead a life according to their passions.

Read more about A Deliberate Life—the project and the people behind it—here: Silo4

How short is your rod?

“Did you order more fishing crap?” called out the very supportive Mrs. UA when recently an anonymous gift arrived by one of my favorite brown delivery vans.

Honestly I had not, and I admitted as much. I had no idea what it might be: the box wasn’t long enough to be a fly rod, nor was it small enough to be a reel. I was perplexed. Upon opening said box I was still perplexed, for inside was a short plastic tube containing what appeared to be a two-piece fly rod from Redington. A very short, two-piece fly rod (insert short rod jokes here; get it out of your system now).

Longer than the inseam on my Redington Sonic Pro waders, but not much.

Called the “Form”, this diminutive stick is just 50 inches long. Unlike many who exaggerate the length of their rods, Redington actually tells it like it is, although truth be told the Form may even be a just a tad longer than 50 inches. Kudos to Redington for their conservative honesty and self-confidence.

Tale of the tape.

As one might expect from a rod this size, it has a proportionately small cork grip (a mere 6.5″ long) and just 4 snake eye guides (there is no stripping guide). Like other Redington sticks, the Form has alignment dots to help ensure the sections are placed together properly (I wish all rods had alignment dots). It looks just like a small fly rod, except for the lack of a reel seat.

There’s a fly line and a strike indicator, too.

It even comes with a 30-foot length of specialty Rio fly line with a very thin tapered tip. Tied to the tip of the line is a chunk of orange yarn, which may or may not be a strike indicator.

I will say that despite what it lacks in size the Form makes up for with good looks and castability: the one I received sports a handsome, crimson-colored blank (Redington also offers it in blue); the reliable old wiggle test suggests that it’s a slow to medium action rod; you can feel it load down to the cork but it recovers nicely. As for line weight, I’m not sure what it’s rated for because the blank isn’t stamped with a numerical designation. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest it’s probably not a steelhead rod.

I was curious to learn more so I jumped online to Redington’s website to see what the Form was all about. Turns out it’s not really a working fly rod, but rather a “game play” tool designed for having a little fun off the water. However, just a toy the Redington Form is not: it can be used to practice your  casting and improve your form. It could also be a great tool to help beginners and youngsters develop their casting stroke, so keep all that in mind when you’re shopping for your favorite angler this Christmas.

This informational video does a better job of explaining things than I could ever hope to do. What it doesn’t tell you is that the Form costs only 79 cents per inch (that’s just a tidbit of data I calculated—no charge for that).

I suppose the lack of a reel seat should have been an early indication that this was not an actual rod to be used for fishing, because anyone who’s anyone knows that you do not go angling without a reel. That would just be ridiculous.

Then again, perhaps this is Redington’s entry into the Tenkara market.

 

 

 

A kinder, gentler, Rugged Eddie Bauer Man

Most fly anglers I know are not casual about their passion for the sport activity: it’s an obsession, or at least it becomes one after a period of time. Be it for better or worse fly fishing eventually consumes them as it becomes woven into the very fabric of their lives, and for those with OCD tendencies, channeling that intensity and restlessness into a productive* activity is paramount to maintaining sanity. To that end fly fishing calms the beast within. (* Nobody ever said fly fishing was productive)

I need something more…

Let’s take one particular individual for example: Rugged Eddie Bauer Man.  We first met him over a year ago, HERE. The man we encountered was intense and stern; humorless. His all-business expression suggested that he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders as he dabbled in a variety of meaningless activities, seeking to squelch the fire that burned in his belly. Neither climbing the masts of sailboats, toting large cargo nets nor carrying heavy rope could provide the escape he needed from a cruel reality. These empty endeavors did not speak to him; nothing satisfied his thirst for more. When we left him last he was deep in contemplation, wondering perhaps, “What else is there?”

A year later, we caught up with Rugged Eddie Bauer Man. The first thing we noticed was that he seemed somehow…different; the powerful jaw, while still prominent, was no longer clenched intensely.

He definitely seemed more relaxed; more at peace with himself and the fast-paced world around him. The smile appeared genuine; not contrived.

 

No longer fiercely comptetitive, Rugged Eddie Bauer Man had become the guy who would  reach out with a fingerless wool glove-clad hand and help a brother cross the street as opposed to throwing him under the bus.

 

He appeared, for all intents and purposes (not intensive purposes), to have become the guy who would engage you in a friendly conversation and perhaps even tell a good joke, or at least laugh at one. Warm hands, warm heart.

 

Rugged Eddie Bauer Man seemed to be less about work and more about play.  He appeared to have embraced recreation for the pure enjoyment of it, rather than as a means of competing against and dominating others.

 

Sure, there were moments when Rugged Eddie Bauer Man would lapse into images of his former self, but these moments were short-lived. And cut a guy some slack—he’s not perfect. But he is obviously making a concerted effort to not take things so seriously.

 

Like an addict in recovery, at times Rugged Eddie Bauer Man seemed troubled by his serious past and would give pause to ponder where he had been just a year earlier. During these episodes we step back and give him space while at the same time letting him know we are there for him; rooting him on:  “You can do it, Rugged Eddie Bauer Man—resist the darkness…lighten up.”

 

Fortunately that steely resolve which made him so intense also served to bring him back around and it wasn’t long before the muscles in his face and neck had relaxed once again. Maybe it was the new corduroy blazer that made him happy again; whatever the case may be, the lighter side won out. Rugged Eddie Bauer Man had fully embraced the notion that it takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown.

 

And he got himself a dog. Dogs are good for people. It’s been proven that man’s best friends have a calming effect, and Rugged Eddier Bauer Man’s best friend certainly brought out the best in his master. The former Rugged Eddie Bauer Man wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing a cardigan sweater. Time changes a man. Fred Rogers, rest in peace, would be proud.

So what was the cause for this transformation? Had Rugged Eddie Bauer Man taken sensitivity training? Did he have a an epiphany? Perhaps a brush with death that made him appreciate life? Or had that intensity simply been channeled productively** into an activity that tempered his fiery soul? The transformation was remarkable. One can only conclude that Rugged Eddie Bauer Man had found fly fishing.(** Again, nobody ever said fly fishing was productive)

Welcome to the club, Rugged Eddie Bauer Man. Let’s go wet a line, brother.