Between now and July, Sage is shipping their brand-spanking new ONE spey and switch rods. We were lucky enough to spend some time with one of the standouts in the line, the 8136-4. Today you get to hear what we think about it.
Sage’s ONE two-handers have been highly anticipated for good reason. The rod family they’re replacing – the Z-Axis lineup – is loaded with models good enough to be called ‘classics’. We’ve written about a number of them here before – the 7136, the 8129, the 8134, to name a few – and have been eager to see what Sage had planned for an encore.
Last year Sage launched the single-handed ONE series. Now it’s time for the double-handers.
Design and Features
Today’s write-up is focused on the 8136-4. Just in case you’re not familiar with Sage’s nomenclature, that means it’s a 4 piece, 13’6″ rod for an 8 weight line. The 8136-4 ONE weighs 7 3/4 oz, compared to 8 1/2 oz for the 8134-4 Z-Axis, the rod most similar in the Z-Axis line. We’ll talk more about the weight (or lack thereof) in a minute.
Rods in this size range are perfect for winter steelhead in most places, and summer steelhead on the Dean. They’re also in play for small- to medium-sized king salmon.
The 8136 has a downlocking reel seat – this is a change from the Z-Axis series. Some folks are really passionate about uplocking vs. downlocking…we can’t claim to have strong feelings either way. The idea with the downlocking seat is that it puts the weight of the reel closer to the butt section of the rod. This affects the balance of the rod such that it’s easier to keep the rod tip raised when you’re mending or swinging your fly. If you’re a downlocking aficionado, you’ll be happy!
The big pitch with Sage’s single-handed ONE rods is that they’re more accurate. We agree with the accuracy claim on the single-handers, but we also feel like accuracy isn’t as important with a two-handed rod. When you’re blind casting and swinging a fly, landing it in the ballpark is typically just fine, and accuracy matters less. So why care about the ‘Konnetic Technology’ in the ONE two-handers?
Two reasons – one objective, one subjective.
These rods are light – light enough to maybe even change your perspective on rod length. The 8136-4 ONE is about 10% lighter than the 8134-4 Z-Axis. The weight different is obvious when you hold the rod in your hand, but when you start casting, wow – it makes a huge difference. The 8136 definitely feels shorter than the 8134 (even though it’s 2 inches longer), and we’d even go so far as to say if feels like a rod that’s well under 13 feet long. We tend to be short rod junkies (read our review of the 8119-4 TCX for proof), and our short time with the 8136-4 ONE has made us reconsider how long is ‘too long’. The weight matters a lot.
So that’s the objective statement. The subjective side of things is that this rod ‘feels alive’. Laugh if you want to, but those of you who have cast a lot of spey rods know that certain models have a kind of life/energy/spring to them that’s really hard to describe. The 8136-4 ONE feels like it wants to jump out of your hands.
Casting and Line Match
We cast the 8136 ONE and the 8134 Z-Axis side by side to try to get as good a comparison as possible. We started off with a head/tip combination that we know and love on the 8134 – a Skagit head in the 570 grain range, with 12 1/2 feet of T-14 and a weighted fly. Guess what – bingo! Loved it.
That seems to be the sweet spot for your typical Skagit head – 570 or 575 grains. The rod loaded up really easily, without needing a really stiff bottom hand pull. It felt really lively and threw super tight loops. Getting it out to, and past, any practical fishing distance was not a problem at all. Easy loading, powerful and lively.
We also tried the same setup (12 1/2 feet of T-14, weighted fly) with a 600 grain Skagit head. Although we generally line our two-handers pretty heavy, 600 grains felt like the upper end of the window. Casting performance was fine but the loops weren’t as tight and some of the ‘life’ definitely left the rod.
Compared to the 8134 Z-Axis, the 8136 ONE felt a little faster, a little more powerful and a whole lot lighter. Where you can really feel the power in the butt section of the 8134, the 8136 seemed to bend a little more consistently throughout the rod. Although the 8136 ONE felt a little more powerful overall, it seemed not to quite have the lifting power of the 8134 Z-Axis.
How does the 8136-4 ONE fight fish? Don’t know – haven’t hooked one on it yet. We’ll let you know this summer!
An Unconventional Line Option
We threw a 510 grain Airflo Skagit Switch head (all 20 feet of it) in our kit just for kicks. We’ve been hearing from more and more folks lately who are fishing really short Skagit heads on their two-handers and thought, what the heck, let’s give it a try. We attached the same 12 1/2 feet of T-14 and weighted fly and gave it a go.
Casting a 20′ head on a 13’6″ rod requires a slow, compact sweep, or your anchor will wind up in the bushes behind you. We calmed ourselves down, swept easy, gave a solid bottom hand pull, and…Holy Kastmaster, Batman! Commence launch sequence! Clear the far bank!
Yeah, the rig just sailed. Once we pulled off 17 strips of line we finally made a cast that didn’t pull drag off the reel. Really.
So, anyhow, that’s a testament not only to the wonders of modern short heads, but also the fact that these rods are getting more and more versatile and have bigger and bigger grain windows. We liked heads in the 510 to 600 grain range!
The 8136-4 ONE is destined to become a new classic. We’re really bummed to have to send it back to Sage. It’s light enough to change your perspective on rod length, but still has a lively, powerful feel. The wait was worth it.
If you want to pick one up, they’re in stock here.
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