For the love of 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


  1. Patrick

    I’m a Sage guy too (thought that’s not to say I have much wisdom), with a few Sage Flights/FLi rods in my quiver. Bought one new and picked up the others on eBay. I think the Flight has a fast taper and, being a little heavier and with less nice components, I’m able to squeeze the necessary cash out of my tight wallet.

    • Kirk Werner

      I must be getting old because I had all but forgotten that I had a Sage FLi 6 weight before I got the first Z. I also had a Sage Launch 4 weight (my son now has that rod). I should probably amend my blog to reflect that I did not go straight from the Cabela’s rod to the pricey Z (the process was gradual). I don’t think Sage has ever made a bad rod, depending on one’s opinion.

      • Patrick

        We all start somewhere. Began with a sub-$100 L.L. Bean rod bought for my son, scaled up to Redington, built a rod on a Pacific Bay blank, then ended up in the Sage camp. Did get a bit spoiled when a certain Derek we know slipped an unlabeled Orvis Helios prototype into my hands a few years ago on the North Fork of the Skykomish River, but guess I’m too cheap (even on eBay) and too old to change brands.

  2. Gaston

    I agree with you, z-axis is one of the best rod sage ever made for freshwater, especially in 4 to 6, but in my opinion the best rod ever made by sage is the XP, 5 wt and 6 wt, have no match. For salt water, Xi3.

    • Kirk Werner

      I tend to agree with you, at least partially, regarding the XP. I have it in 691-4 and 8110-4 and it’s action is great for those applications where chucking big bugs is the order of the day. Side by side my 6 wt Z and XP are very similar, but I tend to give the nod to the XP by a thread. Plus the XP has the fighting butt so that’s nice when tangling with big, cranky trout. The 8 weight is a great rod for nymphing for steelhead because of the extra length. It’s also casts really nicely for a big rod. Unfortunately I don’t use it much at all any more because steelhead fishing has all but dropped off my radar, and when I do have the occasion to chase them I use a Spey rod (Z Axis 7136 is the sweet rod for that).

  3. Creighton Smith

    I fully agree, the Sage Z axis rods are by far the best all around fly rod ever designed. I build rods so I have a fair amount of experience. I have two 9′ 5wts, two 9′ 6wts, and a 9’6″ 7wt. The 5wt.s have taken everything from 6″ dinks to 8 lb. steelhead and salmon. Furthermore, the fittings and finish are of the highest quality. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any rod approach it’s performance.

    • Kirk Werner

      I tend to agree. I did have a 4 weight Accel which I got after someone told me they felt it cam close to the action of the Z. It was a nice rod, but no Z so I passed it on to a buddy who loves it. If I can find another 490-4 Z-Axis I’ll snap it up as it’s my all time favorite rod of any weight.

  4. Pablo Fly Cast

    SAGE – Z-AXIS 8110 – 11¨ 4PC – (SWITCH)

    Mi primer amor en caña de pesca con mosca y estoy muy seguro de que no necesito otra caña mas ….

    Aun teniendo en cuenta que pesco generalmente de manera asidua el famoso “Rio Gallegos” en la Provincia de Santa Cruz (Argentina) .

    Una caña por excelencia en todos sus términos de pesca a pesar de la inclemencia y el rigor de nuestro micro clima. Satisfacciones y anécdotas ÚNICAS !
    Recuerdo una historia que me enseño mi maestro de la pesca con mosca de un viejo y famoso Pescador en el mundo que decía :

    … “tengo millones en mis cuentas bancarias , tengo centenar de bienes muebles e inmuebles, barcos, autos lujosos, todo eso, mucho mas y … una caña SAGE Z-AXIS” …

    Créanme, una caña muy especial e importante para mi , tanto así que sera la herencia para mi hijo el día de mañana ! Abrazo grande pescadores !

    • Kirk Werner

      Si, I agree. Muchas gracias por tu commentario!

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