This week we’ll take a look at the flagship offerings from two of our favorite rod manufacturers, Sage and Winston. The folks on Bainbridge Island released the Sage X early last summer as a replacement to the wildly popular, high performance One. Over in Twin Bridges, the designers at Winston matched the release of the X with an all new rod of their own in the Air. It is important to note that these rods are not meant to compete with one another, and that each epitomize the respective philosophies that Sage and Winston take in their approach to rod design and manufacturing. The results are two incredible rods designed to offer the most enjoyable and effective fishing experience to anglers, each showcasing the best attributes and technologies of each company.

Sage X

The X was born from the Konnetic Technology Sage first introduced with the One in 2012. A modified High Density (HD) version of the technology increases the density of graphite fibers in the blank and uses new resin technology, further dampening unwanted lateral vibrations and improving accuracy. Additionally, an all new fast action taper used in the X means the rod flexes deeper and provides more feel to the angler in casting, mending, and fighting fish. The result is a rod that offers incredible performance in a variety of angling situations, while noticeably improving feel and accuracy over its predecessor.

Available in weights 3-11 and a variety of lengths, there truly is an X model for almost any angler. The components are some of the highest quality found on mass-produced rods. Ceramic stripping guides, hard chromed snake guides, and a premium cork handle create a durable and ergonomic foundation for performance and fishing pleasure. Lighter weight models are equipped with a Vera wood reel seat and black anodized aluminum hardware, while heavier models incorporate salt water ready full black anodized aluminum reel seats. Combined with the black spruce colored blank, the X is designed to provide the best all around performance of any rod in the industry.

Winston Air

Winston’s Air is the latest rod to incorporate the revolutionary Boron technology found in Winston’s premium line up of rods. The technology incorporates small tungsten fibers into the lower sections of the rods, increasing strength, minimizing weight, and improving taper and manufacturing accuracy. These technical advances combine to change the way power travels through the rod from the angler, and ensure that the slightest touch and nuance put into the handle are accurately translated through the rod and into the line. Burled Box Elder reel seats and nickel silver hardware coupled with premium cork and ultra hard chrome plated snake guides create a rod of unmatched beauty that will perform alongside any rod on the market.

The Air is advertised as a medium-fast action rod, and stays true to the deep flex and soft feel found throughout Winston’s Lineup. It is designed as a true trout rod, and is available in a variety of lengths and weights 3-6. The Air’s flex is centered in Winston’s line-up, but maintains a recovery rate second only to the fast action BIII Plus. This means the rod reacts to inputs from the angler with incredible speed, without sacrificing the deep flex and incredible feel that Winston has built its reputation on.

I was fortunate enough to experience the best the industry has to offer, and take out the 9’ 5wt models of each rod for a couple afternoons of fishing in the past week. The rods are astoundingly different to cast and fish, and I quickly realized that the attributes characteristic of each manufacturer are present in the most pure and technologically advanced culmination of research and development each company has produced to date.

I’ve fished the X a fair amount, and have always been happy with the updates that separate it from the One. The new taper does provide a noticeably deeper flex, which translates to more accuracy when casting short distances. Sage has managed to enhance the angler’s ability to sense the movement and flex of the rod, providing the feel that so many fly anglers enjoy, without sacrificing the incredible performance capabilities that made the One the choice of anglers around the world.

On the water, the X feels capable and direct. Every input from the angler, from a precise mend while fishing dries to a powerful casting stroke when throwing nymphs at distance, is immediately transferred through the rod to the line exactly as expected. The rod feels like an extension of the body, and for such a high performance rod is very forgiving. It is easy to form tight and precise loops in almost any situation, and slight mistimings and errors in the casting stroke do not preclude a delicate and accurate presentation. It’s no surprise that the X stands out in its ability to deliver flies effectively, regardless of the situation or conditions. The same technologies that allow for tight loops and accurate presentations also means the rod has the backbone to punch through wind and throw long mends over fast and volatile currents. The X puts the angler in control of any situation.

Having never fished the Air, I was uncertain of what to expect when as I lined the rod for the first time. I am still astonished at how soft the rod feels for a rod advertised as “medium-fast.” With the graphite flexing to the cork on every cast and mend, I was skeptical of the rods ability to cast at distance or with a heavy nymph rig. That skepticism was quickly erased as the Air demonstrated its ability to meet any challenge I could muster with unmatched grace. The Air pairs the smooth casting reputation of Winston with incredible recovery speed to create a rod that feels moderate, but can generate the line speeds of fast action rods without hesitation.

The results are remarkable, and the Air is truly unlike any rod I have ever fished. The smallest of inputs and slightest touch are transformed into absolutely effortless casts that will put a smile on the face of even the most hardened angler. It is light in the hand, and provides a very pure sense of each movement that goes into creating beautiful loops, roll casts, and mends. It is not as forgiving as the X, and a slight slip of the hand will affect presentation, but so long as you give uninterrupted focus the rod will perform in way that is hard to put into words.

The rods are different enough that they are difficult to compare. In my opinion the Air is undoubtedly the best dry fly rod, and would likely be my first choice as an angler who prefers a moderate action rod. That being said, there is nothing I am aware of that can match the all around performance capabilities of the X. On big water and in tough, windy conditions, the X would likely be the rod to best deliver flies from dries to nymphs and heavy streamers. The X is available in models capable of handling big game species and delicate trout the same, where the Air is designed to be used on the trout stream exclusively.

It is exciting to experience the developments in fly fishing technologies from two of the companies at the forefront of research and development in fly rod manufacturing. The Air feels like a classic Winston in the best way possible. The X incorporates some of the best attributes found in Sage’s slower rods like the Mod and Circa into an utterly capable fast action fishing machine. These are not small feats, and I would suppose that every angler has a different opinion on which rod is the one to have in the quiver. It all comes down to personal preference on this one, it’s good to see separation and variety, even at the technological peak of what is available.

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