When some anglers think of fly fishing, they usually envision casting small flies to trout in a mountainous river out west. Of course, there's much more to it than that. Lines can get heavy and patterns can grow to sizable proportions. Once you enter this more "extreme" side of fly fishing, a specialized fly rod will make handling things a whole lot easier.
Enter the new Sage PAYLOAD series. As the name suggests, each rod is designed to tackle heavier lines and bigger flies. With this being prime time for largemouth bass, Sage sent me a 6-weight model to try out on the local lakes!
Line Weight: 6+
Measured Weight: Approx 3.96 ounces
Stripping Guides: Tangle-free Fuji ceramic
Snake Guides: Oversized hard-chrome snakes
Reel Seat: Aluminum
Rod Tube/Sock: Yes/No
The color scheme of the PAYLOAD reminds me of my RPLX 9-weight that I had back in the 1990's. Sage calls the blank color "tannin" which is basically kind of a brownish tea-colored shade. Living here in Southwest Florida, it does indeed look a lot like many of our local tannin-stained waterways. The rest of the blank is pretty basic cosmetically, with burgundy wraps securing the guides and a bit of bronze trim around the logo and at each ferrule. There are no alignment dots.
I like how Sage didn't go overboard with the components on this stick. There's two angled tangle-free stripping guides of about standard size, while the "oversized" snake guides aren't too big. On rods built for heavy-duty work such as this one is, sometimes components can get outlandishly huge which looks ridiculous and adds unnecessary weight.
Without a doubt, the reel seat used here is one of the best I've ever encountered. No, it's not particularly eye-catching or flashy, but it is very user-friendly. Featuring a matte-black coloration, there's two up-locking rings that are chunky, easy to grip, and spin flawlessly, while the beefy slide band/hood has some stealth-fighterish angles to it along with the "6+" rod rating displayed on the top side. The rings have a nice progressive firmness when tightening my reel and the reel is held solidly in place.
One more thing to note here is that there are internal hook keepers/slots built into the seat—one on each side of the top reel seat slot. They can be a little tough to see, especially in lower light. It would be helpful if Sage marked them somehow—maybe a little white dot at the opening of each one...?
The "super plus full wells" grip is a little different in design than I'm used to. There seems to be a hint of added palm swell a bit past halfway up the handle, with a slightly more pronounced dip and flare nearest the very top. What were my feelings on it while fishing? More on that in the next section.
My 6-weight PAYLOAD tester lacked any quality control issues. All ferrules fit tightly, I found no runaway epoxy drips, and the guides were all lined up straight. Very pleasing craftsmanship here!
AFFTA classifies a 6-weight line as being between 152–168 grains with a "target weight" of 160 grains. Remember, though, our Sage PAYLOAD rod is rated as a "6+." This means it is factory-rated for a whopping 200–230 grains which is up in 8 and even 9-weight territory! Because of this higher than normal rating, I tested the rod with two heavier fly lines: a Cortland Liquid Crystal Guide WF7F (200 grains) and a WF6F RIO Bonefish Quickshooter (210 grains).
While the rod may feature beefed-up ratings and capability, I was pleasantly surprised at how it felt while casting and fighting fish—it thankfully didn't feel like an 8 or 9 weight. Swing weight wasn't heavy at all and 3-pound bass gave the rod a good workout. Sage performed some tricks with the blank by giving it a powerful tip and midsection, but utilizing a softer butt section which in their words "...allows for a slower and more relaxed casting stroke that reduces fatigue." It seemed to all work, because I found the rod quite easy and fun to cast.
The PAYLOAD did well with either line, but the Bonefish Quickshooter just felt right. Interestingly, the Sage website recommends a WF7F Bonefish Quickshooter on this rod, but the 6-weight version I had worked nicely. The slightly shorter 8'9" blank is noticeable, but not so much that it really takes much away from fishability or castability. In fact, that shorter length likely adds to the rod's nice snappy feeling. It's a smooth caster that can really rocket the line with minimal false casting—perfect for quickly shooting streamers into likely bass hangouts both near and far as I walked the bank. I REALLY enjoyed casting this thing and it's highly accurate, too!
Let's revisit the grip once again. I'm usually pretty straightforward when it comes to preference of grip design, but this slightly modified version works very well. I found it to be extremely comfortable and that slightly more aggressive depression and flare at the top gives my thumb a nice place to settle into.
Rods with added power can sometimes feel very stiff, heavy, and clumsy, but the PAYLOAD 6-weight is able to complete heavier-duty tasks while avoiding all of these negatives. Sage did a great job of assembling a rod that feels just right and truly has a serious "fun to fish" factor!
*PAYLOAD rods are all priced at $550 and each includes a tube with inner dividers.
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