Fifteen years ago a ten foot three weight rod would have been a very rare thing indeed. The advent of new techniques and the progress in the quality of fly lines and leaders has opened up a whole new style of fishing to the mainstream market. Whether you like it or not the current trend for “no fly line” style fishing is here and it’s here to stay. These deadly style of nymph fishing, Czech, French, Bugging – whatever you want to call it – are without doubt the most effective way of fishing nymphs at short to medium range and if you’re willing and able to learn these techniques then you’re going to catch more fish.
A look through the retail catalogues now is evidence enough of the rise and rise of the longer, lighter fly rods. It’s possible to purchase a rod of anywhere from 1# to 5# and between 9’6″ and 11″ from a number of different manufacturers so the breadth of choice is wide and a little complex. Whether these rods should have a line rating at all is moot point, after all they will very seldom be strung up with fly line. Through working at a tackle retailer I’ve been fortunate enough to handle and fish with a number of different nymphing rods, one stood out from the moment I picked it up.
If you’re the type of person who gets sensitive about the price of fishing kit then this may not be the review for you. There’s no escaping it, this is to the best of my knowledge the most expensive range of specialist nymphing rods on the market. With a retail price of £629 this is among the highest end of high-end trout rods. I myself made a claim a few years back that I would never spend big money on a trout rod that I never even actually cast properly, so much as lobbed with, but after my first encounter with the Sage ESN (European Style Nymph) 10′ 3# I was doomed. Almost to the day twelve months ago I bought myself a little Christmas treat.
I’m a bit of a Sage fan-boy, I admit it. I’ve got a couple more, as many as my wallet will let me, so I always know what to expect in terms of the build quality and feel of a top end Sage. Simply put they’re the best, and the ESN is no departure from their standard of manufacturing greatness. I don’t know how they manage it but Sage cork is always of a quality so far above and beyond the industry standard it can only be that the guys at Bainbridge Island are far more selective than everybody else. Out of the tube the cork feels like velvet with little or no evidence of filler and even now after a year of heavy use it was that same luxurious feel. The standard Sage anodised uplocking aluminium reel seat is practical, understated and proven. It really bugs me when a manufacturer over engineers a reel seat to look pretty, it isn’t necessary. The wood spacer is apparently Cocobolo wood, I would call it dark brown. The forest green coloured blank is understated and slim, the guides are of the highest quality and there are a couple of neat whipping trims on the butt section. This rod looks like a serious fishing tool, not a gimmick.
The 10′ 3# ESN immediately feels light, very light and at 2 7/8 of an ounce this is one of the lightest rods of its class.Many rods of this weight have a frustrating tip-heaviness about them which not only increases user fatigue but also results in missed takes and a more wobbly rod. This is the least wobbly 10′ 3# I have ever handled. A shop waggle reveals a rod with an action bordering on the miraculous. How Sage managed to produce a long rod with such a delicate action that can recover with such positivity and speed as beyond me, the Sage ESN seems to have barely any counterflex at all. I don’t understand Konnetic technology or even know what it means but the end result is a carbon blank that behaves like no other.
Passing the waggle test is one thing but it isn’t a reflection of how a rod fishes. Soon after Christmas I rigged the rod up with a 1-3# Nautilus FWX reel and my favourite French style leader, the nine metre Hends Flouro Camo Tapered Leader. Everything worked perfectly from the very first cast, the balance of the outfit was spot on and the rod showed an ability to throw as long a line as I could ever need it to, infact I realised quickly that to get the most from this outfit I needed to up my game and push myself a little more!
I’ve fished the rod for twelve months now in many different situations for a number of different species and not once have I been let down. The tip is light and sensitive which means that I very rarely bump fish off, that is strike a take and lose the fish almost immediately due to the rod pulling the hook from the mouth of the fish. The weight and balance of the kit means I can fish for a whole week and not feel any fatigue in my shoulder. This isn’t to say the rod is too light and dainty for proper work. I’ve landed some really good fish in tight spots thanks to the steely backbone of the bottom two sections. I hooked a fish in Slovenia that really put the heat on me and at the point I would have liked a 5# rod, though the Marble Trout in that river go to twenty pounds and I never even saw this fish the whole time I had it on so I find it hard to blame the rod here.
I’ve become so used to the rod now that I often lose track of just how great the ESN 10′ 3# really is, so when I fish with friends I like to share the love a little and get their opinions. To a man everyone who has used this rod has commented on how sensitive it is compared to other nymphing rods and this to me is the key feature of the rod. Whatever magic dust they sprinkle in the carbon gives the most fantastic transmission from the very end of the tip through to the cork and every single bump of the fly on a rock, or when the rig trips through weed or even better when a fish takes the whole event is so positive and so easy to read, it becomes difficult to miss any takes.
The process of constantly lobbing these rigs can be a long and laborious one but with a light and sensitive rod the experience is more exciting and interesting. These aren’t words I’d use to describe what happens if you don’t keep an eye on the joints though as a few times now I’ve had the rod split apart, mostly between the butt and number three sections. In defence of the rod the torque involved in throwing heavy bugs around is quite intense and maybe I should be more diligent in making sure the rod is secure but this has happened a few times now. Watching three sections fly off in to the river gets the pulse racing but I know that the flies will catch in the tip guide. While we’re at that end of the rod the guides are another slight beef, albeit a very technical one. Given that these rods will seldom – if ever (mine hasn’t) – seen fly line I think that all manufacturers could reduce the size of the guides at the tip end of the rod. This would reduce the swing weight of the rod and also prevent frustrating wrap around tangles with the very fine monofilament leaders we use.
That said, the Sage ESN 10′ 3# is a fish catching tool sent from heaven to ensure that you catch a load of fish, enjoy doing it and dont feel like you’ve spent the day throwing the javelin the morning after. A mixture of radar like sensitivity, hook holding delicacy and fish stopping power when you need it makes for a rod that I firmly believe is the best of its type available. The finish of the rod belies its class and I know that anybody who buys this rod is going to be as happy with theirs as I am with mine. £695 is an awful lot of money for a rod you don’t cast with but given the more intensive workload of a rod of this type it’s a worthwhile investment and one that the serious nymph angler will appreciate for many decades thanks to the Sage warranty which is still the best on the market.
I won’t be parting with my ESN for a long long time. We’ve caught thousands of fish together already and I think there are even more to come. It’s the river rod I can’t leave home without.