Sage Method 6-Weight - An Essay
Sage Method 9’/#6 – An Essay
I call it Big Red and, for me, it is an experiment in what I consider to be a renaissance of the venerable 6-weight fly rod. There was a time leading up to and overlapping into the graphite era, beginning in 1974, when the 6-weight was considered the purposeful, all-round fly rod for trout. It did everything from presenting dry flies to swinging wets, stripping big streamers and slinging weighted nymphs. The dramatic increase in stiffness of the carbon fiber matrix, relative to cane or fiberglass, however, facilitated the designing of rods that had less mass but could load during the cast with more pent-up power. Longer, lighter and lighter line-weight rated rods quickly were enthusiastically embraced by fly fishers. A 9’/#5 or even a 4-weight could perform tasks it previously required an 8’/#6 to accomplish and with a rod that weighed much less and offered enhanced sensitivity. The 6-weight line rated rods became relegated to larger payload applications like tossing streamers or large, bulky flies.
A fly rod arms race commenced in the 1980’s as makers introduced ever lighter line weight rods; 3, 2, 1 and “0”-weights became and remain popular. But something was missing. During a Theodore Gordon Flyfishers “Arts of Angling” casting event hosted by the Wulff Fly Fishing School in Lew Beach, NY , Lee put into words what some of us were feeling. Famous for enjoying little rods, even for Atlantic salmon fishing, Lee eschewed light line weights and on the small stream environment, upper Beaverkill, flowing past the school, fished a 6 ˝’/#6. He explained that presenting a dry fly with a rod like the brand new 2-weight I had brought up to show him “felt” delicate due to its diminutive line but line of so little mass provided reduced control, generally unfurling softly upon the water. “All it is doing is sending shock waves to the trout before the fly ever lands on the water”, he explained, “Whereas with a 6-weight line, there is suitable stored energy to hold the line in the air and straighten its loop to waft the fly to the surface in advance of the line. It feels more delicate with the light line to the angler but is a stealthier presentation to the trout with the enhanced control of a line of greater mass”. I have thought about Lee Wulff’s opinion on line size ever since and though, like many of us, a 9’/#5 became my go-to trout rod along with an 8 ˝’/#4 on smaller streams and spring creeks, I am ever conscious and vigilant to turn my line and leader over in the air employing a high line-speed, tight-loop style of dry fly presentation. Four-weight is, in my experience, the lightest line size providing suitable in air and on water mending control for technical dry fly presentations and is the lightest size I fish.
Over the last few seasons a graphite matrix revolution has occurred. New material science and fabrication technologies have facilitated our most sophisticated rod designers to build rods that are slenderer, lighter yet stronger than the previous generation of fly rods. A Sage ONE 9’/#5 for example weighs a mere 2.75 oz. yet is a crisp and potent performer. So little material is required to build this magic wand that it feels all but transparent, encouraging the angler to be conscious of communication with the line and its movements rather than the traditional sense of the loaded mass of the rod itself.
Slender, thin walled blanks have been built before but at the expense of fragility. Sage employs a new aero-space derived technology they call Konnetic, which combines blended but precisely aligned carbon fibers of varied modulus of elasticity which contribute to the flex profile along with the taper, with a fiber compression technique making a blank with more graphite and less resin. Konnetic rods are lighter in weight, thinner in profile but stronger and more powerful than previous attempts at building super high performance fly rods. ONE, Sage’s flagship series continues a tradition of fast action rods with plenty of power reserves going back to RPL, SP+, XP and Z-Axis, is a great rod.
Newer, extreme performance, Method forms a parallel series of rods progressing the newer tradition of TCR (Technical Casting Rod) and directly replacing its excellent descendent, TCX; rods intended to provide specialized maximum performance to demanding casters angling in environments where each cast is critical to success. Precisely dropping that crab pattern immediately in front of a permit at 75’ just as it’s dorsal and caudle fins tip up, you may only have that one shot. Or generating the line speed and bullet loop formation to provide ample aerial time to mend a reach and generate current defeating amplitudes into line and leader to drop a mayfly imitation onto the precise drift line of a big, wily brown trout. Method is master rod designer, Jerry Siem’s, masterpiece of smoothly available, light weight power with an oscillation free, super rapid tip recovery rate.
A 9’/6-weight Method weighs 3.0 oz., merely a barely detectable .25 oz. more than super light ONE #5. My previous Sage Z-Axis #5 weighs 3 3/8 oz. for comparison and I considered that a light weight fly rod! Like ONE but a bit more so, Method asks the angler to provide a refined stroke with good, symmetrical timing and no introduction of slack from the line hand and rewards such skill with unequaled accuracy from 30’ out to as far as one is capable of casting. It all but felt, as I perched in the front of our drift boat on the Missouri, that I would see a fish rise on a bank ahead of us and…the fly was there right in front of the riser, like I thought it and it happened. I found myself suggesting we drop the anchor 20 feet further above a feeding fish than conventionally appropriate because Method made accurate, delicate presentations feasible from further away thus muting trout alerting noise from anchor drag and banging oars.
Picking this rod up feels like a #4 or 5-weight it is so light, but casting it reveals weight is coming from someplace…and it is, the fly line. A #6 line weighs 20+ grains more than a #5 and is perceptibly thicker. Talk about communication with the line; the line is clearly felt as the rod, like a molten, red hot conductor’s baton, directs the line to form the precise in-air or on water shapes you wish like the conductor calls upon musicians in his orchestra. And Method is translucently red, Sage calls its color Magma, and in the crisp Montana sunshine, there is no mistaking it for anything other than a Method. We took a side channel on the Missouri only to find a guide with his husband and wife clients there ahead of us. We apologized, they said no problem as both were wading with a matched brace of Methods. As we floated past them with their red rods and me with mine, the wife exclaimed, “We love Method”.
Like other new freshwater rods in Sage’s Konnetic technology line-up, lively ONE and deep flexing Circa, Method features immaculate, bling-free craftsmanship and a blunt Wells grip. The cork is, as usual from Sage, fine quality with minimal need for fillers and the broad, non-tapered front of the grip provides a substantial platform to plant ones’ thumb upon. Good, because as you reach into Method’s taper, first with a wrist snap of the tip, then a compact stroke using the upper mid-section and, ultimately, a long tip travel with a haul, you find power everywhere. This taper invites the caster to call upon its substantial potential which only grows as you reach lower into it. Some might call this rod “stiff” upon picking it up but with a line on, it comes alive, as eager, vibrant and quick reflexed as its red color implies. And the scalpel-like tracking tip recovery rate is phenomenal, virtually no bouncing oscillations at all. This rod, amplifying upon ONE’s abilities, similarly permits loop formations with no dips or bumps…this is important to technical presentations because each such anomaly subtracts from the fly fishers purity of input into the unfurling loop. The combination of the increased mass of the 6-weight line, smooth transitions in the taper and the precision of the tip’s control fulfils the promise of a no compromise, light weight, powerful and durable, technical presentation, specialty rod.
Not every experiment succeeds in clarifying the concept that initiated it. And I’ll be the first to opine that Method is not an all-round trout rod for all anglers. Though distinctly more accessible than TCR and even excellent TCX, its performance potential is best realized by a caster with experience and focused engagement. Its personality is suited to big water sight fishing and would feel out of place in the intimate confines of a canopied small stream like an also red Ferrari would be uncomfortable in urban traffic. On big, challenging rivers like the Delaware in the East or Missouri in the West where large, wild trout surface feed selectively in difficult lies and accurate casts supplemented with slack line mended and fed into extended drag-free drifts, is where a precision rod handling the appropriately substantial 6-weight line shines. No other fly rod masters the compendium of this repertoire of techniques like Big Red.
Line Notes: I fished two different lines on Method, both from RIO; a Perception featuring a non-stretch core and an aggressive taper and Gold with a conventional braided monofilament core and an extended head, long rear taper design. Both loaded the rod and cast well but, after switching off between them over a few days, I preferred the Gold. I think the taper of the Gold contributed to superior long loop stability and more adroit line handling and the Perception seemed to have a bit of a kick at the fore and aft casting stops. I am uncertain if this is the result of its taper or non-stretch core. Casting the Gold was more fluid, making me wonder about the virtues of non-stretch core fly line for dry fly fishing. I like them in the Salt where a direct strip-strike benefits from minimal line/leader stretch but in the delicate art of slip-striking a small fly home when a trout eats with some slack in the line perhaps the amount of stretch in nylon cored lines is a beneficial shock absorber. Now that a non-stretch variant of RIO Gold is available, I will strive to try one so as to make a more direct comparison.