Sage ONE vs. Z-Axis
I’d been wanting to test cast the new Sage ONE ever since hearing about it a few months ago, but due to high demand in the world of rod reviewers I had to wait my turn. Recently on a particular Wednesday I learned that it was my time. Two days later it showed up via my favorite brown parcel delivery van. That’s the kind of power and influence the Unaccomplished Angler has. Or it could just be that Bainbridge Island-based Sage manufacturing is only a short ferry ride from Seattle, and Seattle is only 25 miles from the testing facilities of the Unaccomplished Angler. Whatever the case may be, I wasn’t expecting the rod to arrive so quickly. After opening the box I took a few moments to stare at the pieces that I held in my hands. To clarify, the rod was not broken into pieces during shipping; all was as it should be. I just wanted to take it all in for a bit before piecing the rod together. The ONE is aesthetically easy on the eyes; understated, but with a certain cool factor. The blank is “black ice”with bronze-toned wraps. A walnut and bronze-colored, aluminum anodized up-locking reel seat. Chrome plated guides.
What? Another Review?
There are many reviews out there for this rod, with more likely being added daily. So how is another review beneficial to you, the reader? Many reviews will regurgitate the same information, and regardless of what the reviews say, all are subjective and may mean nothing to you. Casting any rod is the only way for the individual to know if it’s the right one for you. In this review I will draw comparisons between the ONE and my Z-Axis that I’ve had since the Z was first introduced. Since the ONE is replacing the Z-Axis the comparison makes sense in that regard. For me personally, it makes even more sense because I absolutely love my Z-Axis. It’s my go-to trout rod that I begrudgingly set aside only when conditions call for a 6 weight. For a 4 wt rod, the Z has a lot of backbone so I use it most of the time. If I were going to be replacing it, the ONE would be a natural rod to consider.
Anyone who has ever grabbed a rod knows that the old “wiggle test” really tells you nothing meaningful about the rod’s casting characteristics. It’s akin to kicking tires when you go to look at a new car. But it’s something most of us do, so once I assembled the ONE of course I gave it the old wiggle test. The rod I wiggled was a 486-4, meaning it’s a 4wt, 8’6″ 4 section rod. At 2-7/16 ounces it felt not-surprisingly light in the hand. My Z Axis 490-4 (9 foot, 4 piece), at 3-1/6 ounces, is a little heavier than the ONE but the difference could not be noticed from my perspective. The Z-Axis has a reversed half wells grip that I am very accustomed to, so obviously the ONE, with its full wells grip, felt different (not a bad thing). The full wells grip will make the rod more comfortable in large hands (not a problem for me). The side-by-side wiggle test did reveal that the ONE is stiffer than the Z-Axis–there is noticeably more flex down the shaft of the rod with the Z. But both are considered fast action rods.
Out on the Lawn
I’d read about the incredible tracking and accuracy of the ONE and was eager to get it out on the lawn. There’s been a lot of talk about Konnetic™ technology, whatever that is. And Sage uses the tagline, “Accuracy Redefined” to describe the ONE, which is said to have virtually no lateral or torsional movement. I was curious to see if I would notice, or better yet–if I could defy those claims. I decided I would grip the rod incorrectly with my thumb to the inside, and break my wrist (not literally, mind you) to see if I could thrown some line off course. Then I gripped the rod properly, with my thumb aligned down the spine of the rod, locked my wrist and employed proper technique. I noticed two things: First, casting poorly comes easily to me; secondly, the ONE does a very good job of maintaining a true course. In other words, I noticed that it does have very little lateral movement and the energy seems to flow in a straight line, as is intended. But if you use improper technique you will not get the casting results you want, even with the ONE.
While not an apples comparison due to the additional 6 inches of length with the Z-Axis, I was able to cast equal amounts of line with the ONE. The lawn casting session revealed that in my unaccomplished hands, the ONE felt very similar and yet different than the old Z-Axis. I definitely felt more flex down the blank with the Z, but that’s not to suggest that the ONE is anything resembling a broomstick. On the contrary, due to it’s slim profile you can definitely feel it load, and it does so quickly. But lawn casting isn’t the ultimate test for a fly rod–getting it out on the water, actually fishing it was what needed to happen next. For the record and much to my dismay, while lawn casting I did not hook up with a single Lawn Trout.
One fishy rod
Fortunately within a week I had an opportunity to test the rod on the water and off to the Yakima River I went, with the ONE cradled safely within the rod tube for my Z-Axis (the demo rod didn’t come with a tube). I will say that while no rod will make you a better caster, the ONE may make you a better angler. At least this ONE might because I caught a nice rainbow within 5 minutes of the put-in. Believe me, that doesn’t happen very often (if ever) on the Yakima. I landed half a dozen fish on this day: enough to discover that quick hook sets are a snap due to the tip flex of the ONE. And when the fish put their noses down in some heavy current, the rod flexed enough that I enjoyed playing the fish. The tip is quite sensitive such that the 5X tippet was well protected. Casting my weight forward line with a large single dry fly or a large single dry fly with a dropper was a easy. One thing I’ve always really liked about my Z-Axis is the rod’s ability to pick up a lot of line off the water and get it moving in the air quickly. The ONE did not disappoint in this regard. The wind blows often on the Yakima and thankfully it wasn’t much of an issue on this particular day. Still, it blew for a while and the ONE punched through the gusts in fine form. The rod put my fly where I wanted it to go and did so very efficiently. By the end of the day I felt that while perhaps not quite an extension of my arm (as Sage says), the ONE felt like an old friend: very similar to my Z-Axis, but different. A bit more nimble perhaps? Casts that really were right on track? I don’t want to say too much for fear of pissing off my Z-Axis, which has been very good to me and I need to continue being good to me for years to come. It was bad enough that I left the Z at home and borrowed it’s rod tube for this day on the water with the ONE. If I say anything else flattering about the ONE, I’m likely to regret it.
With a retail price of $715, the rod as tested is going to cause many to roll their eyes and make snide remarks. Others will openly admit they wish they could afford it and will hold out for the time when they either win the lottery or the ONE can be found on the used market. And then there will be those who will buy the rod without blinking an eye. Me? I’m not parting with my Z-Axis any time soon, but after my kids are both done with college in a few years I may have some disposable income once again. Then I’ll go shopping for a ONE.
If you’d like one of two free Sage ONE hats, quickly head over to my Unaccomplished Angler Facebook page and leave a comment where indicated.