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Sage Z-Axis Fly Rod Review
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THE LATEST FROM SAGE - Z-AXIS FLY FISHING RODS

Sage Z-Axis 590, 2 & 4 piece

Specifications

• Line Size: 5 

• Rod Length: 9' 
• Sections: 2 piece model or 4 piece model 
• Weight: 3 3/16 oz. (2-piece) or 3 3/8 oz. (4-piece) 
• Handle: Portuguese cork - Cigar shape 
• Reel Seat: Nickel silver uplock with Rosewood spacer 
• Action: Fast



What’s the word. . .

 When I heard that the folks at Sage Fly Rods were replacing the most popular and successful line of fly rods ever produced, the XP Series, I was, well, sorta shocked! It’s not often a company with an enviable reputation such as Sage, arguably the world’s premier fly fishing rod manufacture, would abandon their proven top of the line product for an unknown quantity in our current competitive market place. In fact, I had just purchased a Sage XP 696 a year and a half ago as my primary nymphing rod, and thought I had found perfection.

I’ve felt that we fly fishers have had access to some pretty good graphite rods for the last 15 years or more. As the manufacturers have learned from one another, claims of significant performance increases most often have proven to be small steps forward, if at all. That being said, I was more than a bit curious what I might find when I picked up the new Sage Z-Axis model 590. (A rod nine feet in length, rated for a 5 weight fly line is considered to be the bread and butter standard by most trout fishers).


Features. . .

The new Z-Axis 590-4 from Sage is a fast action nine foot, five-weight fly rod that incorporates the latest Generation 5 graphite technology. Coupled with a newly designed, computer enhanced taper, the result is a lightweight rocket with power and smoothness that sets a new standard. The rod casts comfortably and accurately at both short and very long distances and its forgiving nature makes it desirable for beginners and experts alike. The Z is outfitted with quality hardware; English Hopkins and Holloway guides and tip top, and a Strubel nickel silver reel seat with rosewood spacer. A cloth rod sock and protective aluminum tube are included, as well as a limited lifetime warranty. The Sage Z-Axis 590 is a beautifully finished piece of equipment that may arguably be the best all around performing trout rod ever built.


Action. . .

 My first impression was “wow”, this rod feels very light. Noticeably light. Not only light in physical weight, but more importantly, light in “swing weight”. When a fly fishing rod is accelerated, and then decelerated to transfer energy to the fly line and form a casting loop, the greatest acceleration is progressively toward the rod tip. As a flexible lever in your hand, a fly fishing rod with proportionately less material toward the tip section feels lighter and requires less effort to cast, hour after hour. That’s assuming, of course, that the lighter tip can provide the same relative stiffness and power without sacrificing durability. And therein lies the dilemma of all rod designers; overbuild a rod to withstand almost any abuse and most would consider it heavy and clunky, underbuild a rod for lightweight performance and one may end up replacing or repairing an inordinate number of broken rods for unhappy customers.

All that technical jargon aside, it’s the rod designer who is ultimately responsible for creating the tapers of a superior casting tool. Sage is fortunate to have a rod designer, Jerry Siem, who is a great caster as well, and it is this ability, along with some new computer software, that enables him to evaluate, refine, and tweak the individual rod models to ensure consistency across a given rod series. Rod companies with less talented engineers are relegated to designing by committee, a tricky process, at best.


Materials. . .

According to Sage specs, the Z-Axis 590 -4 piece weighs in at 3 3/8 ounces, compared to its 3 1/2 ounce predecessor, the 590 XP. With identical hardware, the weight difference between these rods is a seemingly mere 1/8 ounce.

But the significance is in the differing technologies used in building the rod blanks themselves. Instead of a typical fiberglass “scrim” or mesh that is rolled around the steel mandrel and binds the longitudinal graphite fibers together, the Z-Axis utilizes what Sage calls their Generation 5 technology. In this process, the scrim is replaced by a lighter layer of graphite cloth that is rolled at a 90º angle (hence the name “Z-Axis”) to the separate layer of longitudinal graphite rolled over it. The result is a rod with greater “hoop” strength with less weight.


Fit and Finish. . . 

 The sanded blank of the Z-Axis is an olive green with gold thread wraps over English Hopkins and Holloway snake guides and a single stripping guide. No color preserver is used, so the wraps become semi-translucent when the finish is applied, resulting in a rich, uniform appearance. Ferrules and hook keeper are trimmed with a few wraps each of gold, black and rust thread for a nice, subtle accent. Handles are turned smoothly from the finest individual Portuguese cork rings and complimented with a sealed rosewood spacer and Strubel nickel silver uplocking reel seat. Due to several layers of inspection during the manufacturing process, the fit and finish of the Z-Axis is nearly flawless and what one should expect from a top of the line rod. The rod comes in a cloth sock with fold over tie down and a substantial, olive colored aluminum tube. Overall, a handsome rod, indeed.

• Sage G5 technology graphite construction

• Very light in hand

• Fast, yet smooth rod tapers for high line speed, accuracy, and comfortable casting, near or far

• English Hopkins and Holloway guides and tip top

• Nickel silver reel seat with rosewood spacer

• Cloth sack and aluminum rod case

• Limited lifetime warranty


Reliability and Durability. . . 

When a fly fishing rod bends, its circular cross section becomes an oval, with the greatest stress occurring in the compression element at the inside of the bend. This phenomenon is typically what causes graphite rods to shatter when they’re overstressed (aside from car doors, dog teeth, and nicks from weighted flies). In addition, when the G5 layers are compressed with tape and baked in an oven, as all synthetic rods are, the epoxy resin fuses the layers together more effectively than it would with scrim, and uses less resin in the process. G5 tech has already been proven within the existing Sage line of Xi2 Salt Water rods and one might assume this durability will carry over to the Z-Axis line as well.


Customer Support. . . . Company profile.

Sage was founded in 1979 by Don Green, an experienced rod blank builder and one of the architects of the modern fishing rod, as owner of the Grizzly Fiberglass Company, which later partnered with Fenwick. It was originally called Winslow Manufacturing (after the city of Winslow on Bainbridge Island, Washington) but within a year had changed its name to Sage. Emphasizing high quality fly rods sold only through specialty stores, Sage rode the crest of the fly-fishing boom in the post “A River Runs Through It” years. Today, although there is no industry repository for exact numbers, Sage is probably the world’s largest producer of premium fly rods and employs over 100 workers in their manufacturing facility.

So, has being the 800-pound gorilla affected the quality of their product as it has with so many other companies in the outdoor industry? Although challenged by industry wide flat sales, the growth of the Internet, and increasingly higher quality Asian imports, my impression is no, for several reasons. Sage has continued to retain talented people and spend money on research and development. The proximity of Bainbridge to the Boeing Aircraft manufacturing plants near Seattle and Toray Composites in Tacoma provides access to a wealth of knowledge from the aerospace industry, the primary end users of graphite fiber. More importantly, aside from a few casting and spinning rod models over the years, Sage has pretty much stuck to their original intention, building very good fly rods.

The Z-Axis has a limited lifetime warranty for the original owner. If you damage or break your rod, you are responsible for the shipping charges and insurance to send ALL of the pieces to Sage, plus a $40 handling fee, to cover return shipping and insurance within the U. S. International owners are charged the actual shipping and insurance fees. Not a bad deal for an expensive, relatively fragile tool. The other five or six top US makers offer similar rod warranties, but not all provide the same level of service. I’ve seen some customers wait 3 or 4 months, or longer, to get their rods back. Sort of puts the damper on the fishing season. Sage’s lead time for repairs is currently about 2 to 2 ½ weeks during their busy summer, and shortens to about 1 ½ weeks in the winter.


Overall Rating. . .

The true revelation occurs in casting the Z-Axis rod. It’s powerful. Yet powerful in a way I hadn’t really experienced before. Most powerhouse rods in the past, that were able to generate the highest line speeds for casting in wind or for distance, have usually had a broomstick feel to them, requiring a short, compact technical stroke. They’ve been limited in their ability to cast comfortably at short to medium distances and not as effective at roll casting. Not great rods for beginner or even intermediate casters and, in general, not great all around fishing tools.

Not so with the Z-Axis. With a short amount of line out, about 25 feet, the rod cast comfortably and crisply. As I extended my casts to 60 feet, and then, beyond 80 feet, I was struck not only with the rod’s reserve power, but how smoothly that power transferred to the tip of the rod, with seemingly little effort. The transition zone seemed wide and forgiving. The light tip tracked very accurately.

In a nutshell, the Z-Axis is a fast action rod that is capable of developing tremendous line speed, yet it doesn’t feel that fast when you cast it. This is a high performance rod that even a beginner would find easy to cast.

The Sage Z-Axis 590, and the entire Z-Axis series, in my opinion, represent a noticeable improvement in all around fly fishing rod performance and are the first rods in a while that would influence me to replace the majority of my favorites that I currently use. Based on this technology, I’ll probably start recommending 9 ½ footers as the standard.



PROS - What’s not to like? A surprising blend of lightness, power, accuracy, smoothness, and, hopefully, durability. Suitable for beginners and experts alike. Limited lifetime warranty.

CONS -
At $695, there are some decent rods out there at half the price, yet most top-of-the line manufacturers have models in a similar price range. Nickel silver reel seats are pretty, but require more care than aluminum.

BOTTOM LINE
Perhaps the best all around fly fishing rod series produced to date, at any price.


Reviewer. . .

Having been in the fly fishing industry for over 25 years as a guide, fly fishing school director, writer, and manufacturers sales representative, I’ve been fortunate to cast and fish with a wide array of fly rods from almost all of the top makers.
– Dean Schubert


Here's what one of our customers had to say recently about his new Sage Z-Axis rod;


"I live in South Africa and have just read your opinion on the Sage Z-Axis. In my mind you hit the nail 100% correct. I purchased the rod not knowing what to expect seeing that every fly rod company proclaim their rods to be the “best”? I took it out for a cast and was silenced… Then I took it to the pond and was blown away with the forgiving nature of the rod when a sudden breeze came up, I thought it was awesome and didn’t even think of the fish I was actually targeting, until one took the fly and I was still on ”hey this is an awesome rod..” when I suddenly had to think “OK, now you have to perform on landing this fish with this pricy rod?” We’ll it handled a 23 inch rainbow with an attitude of dominance. I am currently looking at investing in a 7 weight outfit, seems I’ll look no further than Sage and its good friend Abel." -- Marius Calitz

Back to the Sage Z-Axis 590 Fly Rod


Leland on sage z-axis fly fishing rodS

 

The Z-AXIS Fly Rod! Mr. Wizard is back and talk about pressure! You know the design team at Sage was sweating some serious bullets when they looked to replace the XP. For more than six years the XP Fly Rod Series was the industry standard by which fast action fly rods were measured, and now, it's been replaced. Enter the Z-Axis. We know you’re going to be completely awed by this Sage Fly Rod Series! These rods are lighter, and although they generate the fastest line speed of just about any rod, they're easier to cast (if that's possible) than the XP models. The added advantage of the extreme line speed is accuracy and control of your fly. And if you want to talk trackability...

Here's what one of our customers had to say recently about his new Sage Z-Axis rod;
 
"I live in South Africa and have just read your opinion on the Sage Z-Axis. In my mind you hit the nail 100% correct.  I purchased the rod not knowing what to expect seeing that every fly rod company proclaim their rods to be the “best”?  I took it out for a cast and was silenced… Then I took it to the pond and was blown away with the forgiving nature of the rod when a sudden breeze came up, I thought it was awesome and didn’t even think of the fish I was actually targeting, until one took the fly and I was still on ”hey this is an awesome rod..” when I suddenly had to think “OK, now you have to perform on landing this fish with this pricy rod?” We’ll it handled a 23 inch rainbow with an attitude of dominance. I am currently looking at investing in a 7 weight outfit, seems I’ll look no further than Sage and its good friend Abel."  --  Marius Calitz

Even though we now expect lightness from today’s fly rods, we never thought the Z-Axis' seemingly near-weightlessness could be achieved without giving up strength. Oh, how we were wrong! To bore you with a little technical talk, by replacing the glass hoop fibers (the fiberglass scrim cloth) with lighter, stronger graphite fibers, Sage found that during the curing process, the graphite fiber fabrics bind together more effectively. These now welded fibers give rise to a stronger fly rod blank and the lighter graphite fibers up the performance! Sure, we're simplifying the whole process, but we know when you first pick up one of these rods you will have the same reaction; WOW! You're going hear more clichés than you can shake a stick at (we couldn’t resist just one) about this rod series but just remember; if you want the lightest, most accurate fly rod on market, then reach for the Z-Axis. As Sage says it in one word “Magic”… and we couldn’t agree more.

  • Rod weights: 3 through 10
  • Rod lengths: 7'6" to 10' for single hand rods and 11' to 16' for Spey rods
  • Reel seats: Nickel/silver with Rosewood inserts or anodized aluminum
  • Cork handles: Cigar grip, small cigar grip or full wells
  • Aluminum tubes with cloth socks
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