Last summer, Sage introduced their ’99 Series’ rods – purpose-built nymphing sticks from 4 to 9 weight, and all 9 feet, 9 inches long.
We cast them at the big industry trade show last year and thought they felt fine, but after a shoulder shrug and a grumble that “the world doesn’t really need dedicated nymphing rods”, we pretty much forgot about ’em. This summer at Alaska West we fished the 699-4 a whole bunch and man did our opinion change.
Yes, the world needs dedicated nymphing rods, and you should try the Sage 99 series before you blow them off. You really need to try them on the water with a nymphing rig though. Casting these rods with a piece of yarn in the parking lot doesn’t really show their strengths – you’ll just think they cast weird.
All the Sage 99 rods are 9’9″ long. The extra length is primarily for line control – allowing bigger mends and drifts that are more drag-free. We fished the 699-4 back to back with a 696-4 Z-Axis (9 feet, 6 inches long) and we’re here to tell you that yes, the extra 3 inches is noticeable. If you compare one of the 99s to a standard 9′ rod in a similar weight, you’ll be amazed at how much better you can mend with the 99.
It’s not just the length that makes these rods different though. The 99s are designed with a relatively soft mid-section and a relatively stiff tip. That flex profile does two things for you.
- It opens up your loop – not good for impressing the angler next door, but great for getting some combination of an indicator, some lead and a bunch of flies turned over without tangling.
- The stiff tip allows you to lift all that junk easily when you’re starting your cast, and to pick it up and put it wherever you want it when you’re mending.
What They Do Well
We decided to try out the Sage 699-4 at Alaska West, late in the season on the Lower Kanektok. We target bigger rainbows on this stretch of river, and our rigs are not delicate. A few #3 split shots, a giant flesh fly and 15 pound Maxima for tippet are standard fare here. The 699-4 was awesome for the job – much more so than expected, it made it easy to lift that rig at the beginning of the cast, and most importantly to steer that giant hunk of flesh all around the snags and other structure that big rainbows love on the Lower Kanektok.
Even with a heck of a lot of mass on the end of the line, we were impressed by how well this setup roll cast and single-hand spey cast. We suspect the extra length and the stiff tip (in addition to the Indicator Line which we’ll cover below) helped out here.
Based on our experience so far, we’re going to reach for the 99 any time we’re fishing multiple nymph rigs, or significant amounts of weight on the leader, and any time we decide to fish under an indicator.
What They Don’t Do Well
These rods are not designed to throw tight loops. If you try hard in the parking lot you’ll eventually figure it out, but that’s not the point. As well as these rods fish nymph rigs, they’re definitely less versatile that other more general-purpose rods (like the Sage Z-Axis series, for example).
Don’t reach for the 99 if you want to sneak a mouse fly under overhanging branches, or if you’re trying to present that #20 Micro Baetis as delicately as possible.
Here’s one caveat to our review – the only line we’ve fished with the 99 Series is the Rio Indicator Taper. Some of what we like about the nymphing performance of the 99 rods may in fact be due to the line. Regardless, the combo is bang on for nymphing.
Our 699-4 was strung up with the 6 weight Indicator Taper. The most obvious feature of this line is the bright orange tip section, which is super visible and helps you detect strikes and mend more accurately. Although Rio says the line is designed to turn over indicators, we spent most of our time fishing flesh flies with no indicator. In any case, the thick tip diameter front tip definitely helped turn over our embarrassing amount of split shot and giant flesh fly.
We’ve had good luck with Sage reels in the past, so we decided to try out another one with the 699-4. We ordered up the Sage 4560 and had zero problems. Like other Sage reels, its design is simple, it’s light and so far the drag has been smooth and reliable. It balanced great with the 699-4.
One ‘item of note’ – the teeth on the spool that engage the drag mechanism are exposed (you can see them in the photo above). If you set your rig down, make sure you wash off any sand or grit that happens to find its way onto the teeth.
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