Red Shed fly shop

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.

Pink, Red and White: Not catching steelhead Part I

I suppose I should look into the origins of the name “Pink House“, but I’m too lazy busy to do so. Suffice it to say that the recreation site and campground on the Clearwater River near Orofino, Idaho is simply named just that: Pink House.  And that is precisely where we camped while flogging the waters of the Clearwater with Spey rods on a recent trip.

The Albacore Clan.

“We” consisted of the Albacore Clan: Junior, Large, Chunky and Papa. And myself, the odd man out. This is a great group of tall fellows who enjoy good food, good beer, and good scotch. Conversely I am not so tall, and while I do enjoy good food I’d be content living off of dry roasted peanuts and elk pepperoni. I prefer cheap beer and am incapable of discerning much of a difference between a good single malt and Cutty Sark. Truth be told I’m not much of a scotch guy, preferring instead a blended whiskey myself. This made me somewhat of an outcast in camp, as if being a foot shorter than the others wasn’t challenging enough. And still, despite my shortcomings, I was invited along on this trip to chase steelhead with the Albacores.

Smokey sunrise in central Washington.

Backing up a bit, I began my journey by departing western Washington at 5:45 Thursday morning. By the time the sun crested the eastern horizon I was over the hump of the Cascades and well into central Washington. The sunrise was particularly lovely, due in large part to the smokey haze from the wildfires which had been burning for months to the north.  Across the entire expanse of eastern Washington the skies bore the reminder of our unprecedented dry summer and fall, and where the smoke from the central Washington fires lost its reach the smoke from the fires burning in Idaho took over.  The bottom line was that there was a smokey haze the entire way to Idaho.

The mighty Clearwater.

The Clearwater River is a beautiful stretch of water that flows from  the Bitterroot mountains toward its confluence with the Snake River in Lewiston, Idaho. From Lewiston the view upstream hardly suggests the beautiful river that beckons anglers to come hither and seek out its steelhead trouts. But once one gets past the Potlach pulp mill the view improves and the river actually begins to resemble a river. From Lewiston it’s some 40 (plus or minus) miles to the Pink House near Orofino. The road follows the river the entire way, and as I proceeded onward like a modern day Lewis and Clark on their homeward journey through this same country more than 200 years earlier, two things became obvious: First, there are limited roadside pullouts in which to park; and secondly, there were rigs parked in nearly every roadside pullout. It appeared that there were other fly anglermen who’d had the same idea as us.

The Red Shed, Peck, Idaho.

But before an angler gets to the Pink House they must turn right at the Peck Junction and pay homage to The Red Shed. This place needs no introduction, as folks come from near and far just to say they’ve been there.  From what I could discern, Peck is just a speck— a wide spot in the road. But set boot inside the Red Shed and you’ll find a very well-outfitted fly shop where one would not expect to find such a well-outfitted fly shop. Spey is the name of the game here, although if one looks hard enough they will also find beads (one must look behind the door, near the floor. I doubt the product placement is purely coincidental and I was hoping to meet the legend himself, Poppy Cummins, and ask him about that. Unfortunately he had the afternoon off when we stopped in.

Beads in low places.

In addition to the full line of rods, reels, lines, tying materials, assorted gear and sundry, one can also find a fine selection of fly fishing books. The orange cover caught my attention: Olive Goes for a Wild Ride. I believe it’s the third in a series of three, and I hear that they are all excellent.

Olive Goes for a Wild Ride at the Red Shed.

Onward, upriver. After arriving at the Pink House and meeting up with the Albacores, it was time to hit the water. I was the last to arrive, and while my compadres had fished the morning, a steelhead had yet to be caught. Not to worry, the day was young and there was plenty of time for that. I strung up the Sage One 7136 Spey rod that I’d brought along to test out. I was looking forward to seeing what the rod was all about and putting it to a head-to-head comparison with my Z-Axis 7136.  It would be fun to not only cast the One, but also play a fish on it. I didn’t have to wait long, as we quickly got down to the business of fishing.

Whitefish on the swing.

I’ll not spend a great deal of time talking about the Sage One here; there’ll be a time and place for that later. Suffice it to say the rod cast nicely, felt light in the hand, and had no problem landing the 11″ Whitefish that I swang up that afternoon. It was the only fish caught that day, and before the peanut gallery criticizes the Unaccomplished Angler for catching a diminutive whitefish, when was the last time YOU caught a whitefish while swinging flies for steelhead?  That’s what I thought. Besides, a Whitefish is a native indicator species; not something to be maligned by way of gamefish snobbery.

Back at camp that night we dined, drank and toasted my angling prowess. I was decided that a campfire would have to wait for the next night as Large and Junior Albacore had already fallen asleep; after all, not catching steelhead is hard work. Begrudgingly the rest of us turned in for the night; the Albacores sharing the comforts of a tent trailer while I slept in the relative comforts of the Fish Taco. With it’s 5-foot bed, it would prove a bit tight even for the sawed-off likes of me. But with no rain in the forecast for another day, I opted to leave the tailgate down so I could extend my legs. I slept just fine until the alarm went off at 5:15. Time to fish.

To be continued…