This is hands-down the most difficult gear review I’ve ever sat down to write. Not because I’m struggling to come up with positive things to say about Sage’s buzz-generating MOD, but because I feel the rod is a puzzle I haven’t figured out yet, despite fishing it for a solid three weeks.
The MOD is touted at Sage’s latest and greatest trout-centric rod. The company itself says they built the rod to handle the, “Distances and scenarios most often encountered by the trout angler.”
Those distances would be, generally speaking, 25-50 feet. Inside that ballpark, the MOD excels in both accuracy and presentation.
The MOD is a very solid fly rod. It’s labeled on Sage’s website as a moderate action stick, but remember – that’s moderate by Sage’s terms. It’s still a strikingly fast rod when compared with other leading rods like Scott’s Radian or Winston’s Boron IIIx series.
The action of the MOD is actually reminiscent of the VXP (which I own in the 590 configuration). It’s an absolute line cannon that can punch big flies and long leaders through a stiff Wyoming headwind. Where the MOD has a leg-up on the VXP is its presentation abilities. While still not as soft as a Winston or Scott, the Sage MOD lays down flies well enough that an experienced angler can get their flies in front of trout with minimal disturbance on the surface.
The MOD doesn’t perform as well at shorter distances, however. Casts inside 20 feet just didn’t lay out like those between 25-50, and I still felt like the tip section was too stiff to handle 7 or 8x tippet. And yes, before you ask, I regularly fish 8x tippet. I landed a 22-inch brown in Oregon three weeks ago on the stuff.
Anyways, the MOD feels like Sage’s best attempt at a true 9’ 5wt do-it-all rod in a long time. It’s not the rod I’d choose if my day of fishing entailed lots of beaver ponds, long sections of slow-moving water, or the need for fishing dry flies under size 20. For that, the Circa is a good option if you’re looking to buy Sage. My personal preference is the Winston Boron IIIx 9’ 5wt (my favorite overall rod is my Winston TMF 8’4wt WT – but let’s stay on topic here).
However, if you’re fishing bigger water like the Green, New Fork, Henry’s Fork, South Fork of the Boise, or the Snake, the MOD is a solid option. If you’re in a driftboat, the MOD will serve you well while nymphing (it does roll cast very well), throwing big flies like cicadas or hoppers, or making the long casts and mends driftboat fishing is known for.
This is where my comment about this rod being a puzzle comes into play. I primarily fish streams like the one pictured below – a small spring creek up in the Wyoming Range. The MOD isn’t the rod for my style of fishing, but it feels so close to being that rod honestly, it’s a bit frustrating. If Sage built the MOD a tad bit slower and made the tip softer, it’d be an excellent rod to use on smaller streams – especially in Wyoming or Montana, where the wind never seems to stop.
At $850, I feel it’s not the best choice for anglers looking for a true do-it-all 5wt. If you’re fishing big water, bigger flies, nymphing, or love throwing your entire fly line, then the MOD is your rod. If you spend more fishing time stalking 12-16 inch trout in the high country, I’d recommend something else.
Now let’s dig into the nitty gritty of what works and what doesn’t with the MOD.
What I liked
Accuracy and Power
Sage has long been heralded (for good reason) as the builder of the most powerful and accurate rods available. While that claim is subjective, this MOD is an accurate, powerful rod. An experienced caster can throw an entire fly line easily with the 590, and it’s springy, quick action is forgiving enough that it’s a good rod for beginners to learn with.
As with nearly every rod on the market, the MOD doesn’t fish well with a true-to-weight fly line. I lined it with some RIO LightLine WF5F and it just didn’t work. I switched to Cortland’s Trout Boss HTx line (a full line size heavy) and it cast like I imagine Sage’s rod designers want it to. Because it needs at least a half-weight heavy line, it punches through wind, tracks exceptionally well, and forms tight fast loops.
As mentioned above, the accuracy and presentation within 25-50 feet is great. Leaders lay out flat with minimal surface disturbance, and shooting line to a certain pocket or riffle is pretty simple. Outside that ballpark, however, the MOD isn’t as great as it could be. But inside those traditional trout fishing distances the MOD compares to the Scott Radian.
What I didn’t like
Lack of Feel
It’s the classic tradeoff – do you take a powerful rod or one that has exceptional feel in close for those tight-quarters fishing situations? Because the MOD is a line cannon, you do lose the feel and delicacy inside 20 feet that I personally think every trout-centric rod should have.
Now, that’s not to say the MOD doesn’t have any delicacy or feel. At 25-50 feet, it lays line out softly enough that you can comfortably stalk wary trout in calmer water. As I mentioned above – I fish small water, small flies, and short rods. I don’t remember the last trout I caught on a nymph (I quit so I could focus on becoming a more adept dry fly fisherman, not because I’m a dry fly snob), and a lot of my trout fishing is done with an 8’ 4wt and 7x leader. I’m the outlier, so for me the MOD isn’t a great trout rod. For probably 80% of trout fishermen who enjoy fast-action rods, the MOD is a solid choice.
Build Quality and Finish
This is an $850 rod, but it doesn’t look or feel like one. The cork on my Winston Boron IIIx is better than the cork used on the MOD. Sage uses a zebra wood insert with black anodized hardware to for the reel seat, but it doesn’t look like a reel seat that belongs on a top-of-the-line rod. This might be me being nitpicky, but I feel that an $850 rod should feel and look like one.
Which leads me to my other issue with the MOD – the highlighter green blank is so bright and reflective it scares trout for miles.
The MOD isn’t everyone’s trout rod. It’s the rod for guys who nymph, throw big flies, fight the wind, and like to make those ridiculously long casts. It’s not the rod for dry-fly enthusiasts who spend more time on creeks a hop, skip, and a jump wide than big water. The MOD throws line well, but isn’t as accurate in close as other rods; however, Sage managed to dial in the rod’s power and presentation skills at 25-50 feet. It’s a rod that you can’t just buy after giving it the fly shop wiggle test. The MOD is a rod you need to cast on the lawn behind the shop before buying. I think it’s a step in the right direction from Sage, in terms of moving towards true moderate-action trout rods, but it’s not quite that perfect do-everything-well 5wt it could be.
Spencer contributes to the Orvis Fly Fishing Blog, KSL.com, Hatch Magazine, On the Fly Magazine, the Standard-Examiner. Connect with him on Twitter or Instagram @Spencer_Durrant, or on Facebook @spencerdurrantauthor.