October2019

For the love of Z-Axis

Z-Axis

In the wake of last week’s troubling loss of my new Winston Pure 590-4, I do have some good news to report: the lost rod has been replaced with something new. Well, new to me anyway. My recently acquired Sage Z-Axis 590-4 is at least 9 years old and likely it’s older than that.

Why this old rod to replace the lost Winston?  The answer is simple:

  1. The Z-Axis is the best rod Sage has ever made (my opinion, but also one held by many others).
  2. Before I bought the Winston I looked far and wide for a used Z-Axis 590-4 but was always too late to the party by the time I’d found one for sale.
  3. See #1 above.

The Z-Axis model lineup was in production from 2007 through 2011 and my love affair with the Sage’s “Generation 5 Technology” began in late 2007. Prior to that I had happily fished a Cabela’s 5 weight rod and had no complaints: the rod cast as well as my abilities allowed at the time. But, as is so often the case with we fly angling gear whore types, we begin to acquire more rods over time. I then upgraded to a Sage FLi 6 weight and a Sage Launch 4 weight (both were Sage’s less premium-priced rods). Shortly thereafter I had begun to hear an awful lot of praises being sung about the then-new Sage Z-Axis and, being that Sage is a local-ish western Washington-based company, it seemed appropriate to throw some business their way. With that I decided to splurge on my first high-end rod, a Z-Axis 490-4. It was love at first cast it, and since then my love for the rod has only grown. The 4 weight Z-Axis remains my favorite all-around rod of any weight. I have a couple of slower-action Sage rods which are nice for delicately presenting dry flies, but the 4 weight Z does a fine job of that and it casts much better in the wind than a slower rod. However, while it is a fast-action rod, it doesn’t feel like a broomstick by any means. It’s light in hand and the tip section has a lot of feel. It also has plenty of backbone for fighting bigger fish than a 4 weight should probably be targeting.

Varsity lineup

Varsity lineup

Because of the last statement, I picked up a gently used Z-Axis 690-4 in the winter of 2008. Now I had a stick that could throw bigger bugs, fight the wind even better and handle bigger fish than the 4 weight. I still use the 6 weight when the situation calls for it but it shares duty with my Sage XP 691-4 (purchased used in about 2010). I may prefer the XP just a tad more simply because it has a fighting butt, but the XP also has less feel so there’s no clear winner between the two. If the Z-Axis had a fighting butt, I’d probably never fish the XP.

I also have a couple of 2-handed Z-Axis rods in the 7136-4 and 8134-4. The 7136 has been my go-to steelhead rod (when I was doing more of that). The Z-Axis 7136 established a name for itself amongst the lineup of Sage Spey rods, and for good reason. A couple of years later I picked up the 8134 on the used market, thinking I might go to Alaska some day where a beefier rod would come in handy. So far the Alaska thing hasn’t happened (yet) and subsequently I’ve only fished the 8134 a couple of times. It’s similar to, but different than, the 7136 which is not surprising given that no two rod weights from the same lineage are going to feel the same. The 7136-4 and the 490-4 are particularly sweet spots in the Z-Axis lineup, in my opinion.

This brings me back to the Sage Z-Axis 590-4 which I just picked up on the eBays. Years ago I made the decision to fish even weight trout rods in 4 and 6 weight and because of that I don’t really need a 5 weight. So why, then, did I purchase the Winston 5 weight in the first place? Plain and simple: I had a 5 weight line sitting around that someone had given me a couple years ago. The line needed a reel and the reel would need a rod. It would have been a shame for that 5 weight line to go to waste, right? I made a point to fish the Winston 3 times this past Summer and Fall and really enjoyed it. Yes, my 4 weight would have served just as well on the waters I fished and the few fish I caught and I did bring the Z-Axis 490-4 as a back-up rod on one trip. And yes, I felt a twinge of guilt for having left the 4 weight Z-Axis wrapped in its tan sock, tucked inside its brown rod tube.

Was it a cruel (and expensive) twist of fate that brought me to the Z-Axis 5 weight? I believe so. Will I be disappointed? I highly doubt it. Since I love my Z-Axis 490-4, and really like my Z-Axis 690-4, I have no reason to think that the 590-4 is going to be anything but a delight. It was also consierably less expensive than had I elected to replace the lost Winston with another Winston. In the eBay listing this particular rod was described as being “clean” and I would have to agree: it appears to have been lightly-fished and well-cared for by its previous owner. I just need to take it fishing now.

The Destiny Rod?

The Destiny Rod?

For anyone interested in a model history of rods from Sage, this article is straight from the horse’s mouth: The Sage Story

 

An expensive day fishing

I recently had my best day on the Yakima river in 2 years, which also happened to be my first day on the Yakima river in 2 years. My long hiatus may be due to the fact that I just haven’t had the opportunity to fish the Yakima, or that I haven’t had the desire to fish the Yakima. Whatever the case may be, I got an email a couple weeks earlier from my buddy “Bob” asking if I’d like to join him for a day on the Yakima.

I fish with “Bob” about once a year, maybe less, depending on his tolerance for slow days on the water. He’s a good dude and an accomplished angler if you factor in that he’s been catching fish since he was a kid (which is long before I was born). But when we fish together he seems to fare as poorly as I do—sometimes worse—which can only be attributed to my bad luck as an angling person. Often the dark cloud that follows me around rains on others as well. So you can see why he doesn’t want to fish with me more often.

Anyway, I met up with “Bob” at a mutually convenient location and loaded my gear into his car, which was hitched to his chartreuse Aire raft, and we headed to Cle Elum. Once there we arranged for a shuttle at the Troutwater fly shop ($40, which we split) before heading to Pioneer Coffee shop for a cup of joe and a raspberry oat bar ($2.95). I skipped the coffee. We drove to our put-in at Bristol, a private launch that requires (on the honor system) $10 to launch. “Bob” tried to split the fee but I insisted on covering the entire $10. After all, he did drive and provide the boat. I had spent $32.95 and I hadn’t even put on my waders yet. It’s a good thing “Bob” wasn’t my guide because his tip would have been insultingly small this day.

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It was a clear, cool morning with an upstream breeze. We set out toward our eventual take-out at the Green Bridge several miles downstream. Along the way we would attempt to fool one of the 11 dish in this stretch of the Yakima. The breeze turned to a wind, which was the leading edge of a system that would eventually bring cloud cover. We looked forward to the clouds, anticipating that it would bring the fish to the surface. We awaited the arrival of the clouds, which would take their damn sweet time arriving, and angled away over cold, clear and low water.

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Eventually I landed my best Yakima fish in nearly 2 years: a 15” cutthroat that turned on my dropper and proceeded to become ass-hooked. Oh well, it made for a good initial fight on my 5 weight Winston Pure (which I had picked up last Spring and really enjoyed while in Montana and Idaho in July). It was my first Winston and I really liked the way it cast and presents dries. But I digress.

My best Yakima dish in 2 years!

My best Yakima fish in 2 years!

About the time that the wind peaked we decided it was a good time to stop for lunch. After consuming a light bite I took a spell on the oars. I hadn’t rowed a boat since selling my Streamtech a year and a half ago, and I had to admit that it felt good to be on the sticks again, despite that the wind meant having to row with the current much of the time and my torn rotator cuff argued with me the entire time.

That’s “Bob” in the front of his boat.

That’s “Bob” in the front of his boat.

The remainder of our float was fairly uneventful, and other than the fact that the wind saw to it that we enjoyed a couple of impressive wind tangles, there wasn’t much worth noting.  As the oarsman I may have put “Bob” on a small fish, but the Yakima tends to suck the life out of a person so I cannot accurately recall. We stopped to work a particular fishy looking run where “Bob” allegedly caught a decent rainbow. I was upstream not catching anything so I cannot confirm the honesty of his claim (I don’t have any reason to doubt him, but you know fishermen and their lofty exaggerations). Apparently pleased with himself, “Bob” resumed command of his watercraft and we continued downstream. Along the way I added 2 more rather unimpressive fish to my list.

I’d nothing else, the Yakima is a beautiful river.

The Yakima is, if nothing else, a rather beautiful river.

The end of an expensive day.

“Bob’s” boat at the end of the day.

The clouds finally arrived, and the wind died down, though too late to make any sort of difference in our favor. We reached our take out, geared down, and hit the road toward home. Once back at our rendezvous location, “Bob” and I bade farewell under the cloak darkness and went our separate ways. Upon arriving at home 45 minutes later I unpacked my gear. I placed my boots on the boot dryer, hung my waders from the handlebars of my upside-down-hanging-bike, stowed my other gear in the cabinet where I keep my other gear, and reached for my rod. It was nowhere to be found. I looked under the seat and in the back of my truck (where I know I hadn’t put it). I looked under the seat again. Then I mentally retraced my steps: I vividly recall removing the rod from the back of “Bob’s” car, and placing it on top of my truck bed cover as I loaded the other gear into the back seat of my truck. A sick feeling overcame me as I realized that on top of my truck bed cover is exactly where I had left my rod before driving off.

In a panic I sent Marck a text, asking him if he would take a look on his way to his office the next morning (he works close by and drives right past this spot). Jump ahead 12 hours and unfortunately Marck did not find the rod.

Whomever did find it got themselves a sweet rod. I hope they enjoy and catch many fish with it. The rod had pretty good mojo in the short time I’d possessed it.

But it was just a rod and I have several others. Just no other 5 weights, and no other Winston rods. And now I have a 5 weight reel and line with no rod to match.

Misery loves company so please share your most expensive day on the water (guide fees/tips don’t count).

The loneliest reel.

The loneliest reel.