I've been fishing the Oconee River in Athens, Ga. every day for the last 18 months and while my Orvis Clearwater 590-4 was great for smaller flies, it just wasn't cutting it for chucking some of these cat-sized flies into tight spaces 60' away. Having fished the Clearwater for 18 months I felt I had reasonable control of my casts. They weren't all perfect and certainly don't look like the cover of the Orvis Fly Catalog where burly woodsmen with wallet-busting gear are chucking perfectly horizontal lines into the next county but they got the job done and I'd been catching some nice fish. With all the reviews I was reading about some of these hot rods I couldn't help but think I could improve my casts with something really expensive and for someone who fishes every day, I could justify it.
I read the YellowStoneAngler's review of all the hottest rods and was particularly interested in the SAGE Z-Axis and Orvis Zero-G Helios. I knew I wanted a 6 wt as a mid range rod with a little more punch and fighting power than my Clearwater 5wt. Bass aren't much for delicacy anyway. The YellowStoneAngler's review seemed particularly biased against the Orvis rods and didn't rate them well in either the 5wt or 8wt categories but loved the Sage. I jumped on the forums for a second opinion and heard some more rave reviews of the Sage and not much on the Orvis. The Sage is also $150 cheaper! I was game for trying something new and didn't want to become a brand loyalist so, after much wincing and bizarre cost-analysis that included ($675/365=$1.8 per day fun tax), I decided on the Z-Axis. (Note: There aren't many places to test any of these rods in Athens, Ga. I can't even get 3X tippet locally!)
There aren't many deals to be found on these high end rods so I went looking for a friendly shop with deals on other gear I needed that might save me some shipping costs. Front Range Anglers
in Boulder, Colorado fit the bill and had a great deal on a Fishpond Wasatch Vest, AND was throwing in free line with the Z-Axis. I gave them a call to see what line was included and got a real person on the 2nd ring! They were tossing in the Sage Performance Taper II WF-F line. Saved me $65! I ordered online and pushed the purchase button with the trepidation one might use when testing a wall outlet for power with a fork. That's a lot of money for a graphite stick! I received confirmation that the package shipped out that afternoon. After 3 sleepless nights and much giddy anticipation, it arrived! I know it's a silly thing to be impressed by, but when you're used to a plastic PVC rod tube, the quality of the Sage tube was impressive. You just know what's inside is special. The other thing that impressed me was the handwritten note from Jon Spiegel at FrontRangeAnglers thanking me for my business and wishing me well on the water! Nice touch!
Two things struck me about the rod. The finish is beautiful and the cork is baby-butt smooth. Compared to my Clearwater the reel seat seemed less substantial and the wood wasn't as pretty but fish, particularly bass, don't care about pretty. To use Sage's marketing "it's about fishability" right? I slapped my Orvis Clearwater III reel on it with some older, unknown, but mostly unused 6wt line and headed down to the Middle Oconee for a test flail. I know it seems a travesty to put a $39 reel on a $675 rod but it's one of the lightest reels around, bested only by the Battenkill LA (probably my next purchase). First cast was a roll cast and was disappointingly limp. The reviews I'd read made it sound like the hand-o-god, neptune, whomever actually came down and pulled the line across the river for you! My next cast was remarkably better and chucked a wooly bugger a healthy distance. Not mind-blowingly farther than my Clearwater, but definitely with less effort, more power, and more "feel". You KNOW when the road has loaded up during the backcast. I fished the next 2 days with the unknown 6wt line before putting the Performance Taper on. I was having a hard time justifying thrashing a $65 line while learning the quirks of this new stick. The performance taper REALLY makes this rod come to life. I suspect the PT is a little heavier through the belly which loads up the rod a bit more. I'd been trying to hit brush on the opposite bank for months with my Clearwater and with the new stick and Performance Taper, the dream came true. It's odd what we dream about.
I managed a few nice Largemouth Bass that day ("nice" is relative, they're still Bass and are about as cuddly as a bag of nails). It's certainly a very nice rod and will probably replace my Clearwater as my default for Bass in these waters. For small rivers, backpacking, or spooky trout I'll probably go to the Clearwater which, at my current level, is just a hair less like firing a howitzer across the water.
Is the Z-Axis worth it? My Clearwater was $200 and has 80-90% of the range of the Z-Axis. I caught plenty of fish on the Clearwater and it's a nice rod. However, the Z-Axis puts a big stupid grin on my face, puts flies that look like what you'd find in Kenny-G's shower drain on the opposite bank, and it's nice to know that any problems with my cast are MY problems and I can't blame them on equipment. I feel good about the $1.8 price/fun ratio.
I'm still learning to double-haul the Z-Axis and I'm not sure I'll ever get used to the speed at which those rock-hard poppers go past my head when I get it right. I have to fight the urge to drop to the ground and cover my head. One of these days I'm going to end up with a Size 4 earring.
If a rod gives you perma-grin, buy it. The best angler is the one having the most fun!
Paragliding Instructor Administrator, Tandem Instructor
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