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Sage Xi3 review

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
Today our local Fly Shop had a fly fishing fair which featured Sage rods among other things/ The Sage rep, Jamie Lyle, and his wife brought out a bunch of rods including several of the new Sage Xi3 rods, The line up for that line was 8wt, 9 wt, 10 wt, and 12 wt all in the 9 foot long model.

I test cast a lot of other rods, but focused on the Xi3 rods. Each was rigged with a Weight Forward floating line of various makes and models. Each had its own make and model of reels. Some were Sage reels, but some were other makes including a couple Tibors. Here is my take on them.

The new rods have a similar look to the Xi2 rods. They have a crisp blue almost-metallic finish that is a little brighter than the deep blue of the Xi2 rods; not quite a Royal Blue, but in that direction. The thread used guide wraps and for trim is a darker blue accented with one or two wraps of a more royal metallic blue on the non-guide wraps. The guides appeared to be the same or similar oversized chrome guides and strippers as used on the Xi2 series. They have uplocking anodized reel seats, fighting butts, and these particular rods had very nice cork. I like a nice looking rod, but don't really dwell too much on the appearance, so that is about all that I remember. If you have a question feel free to ask. If I remember I will answer, but chances are not too good I will remember anything else.

Disclaimer: I am a self taught caster who has taken a few group type lessons in recent years, but who still struggles with mediocre technique and the occasional baseball mentality (harder is better), especially when tired, so read these reviews with that in mind. Your mileage may vary.
I'll review the models in the order that I cast them.

When I started casting, the parking lot was full of casters and the only space available was on the side of the building (facing east). The shop is situated a short distance from southern San Francisco Bay, so easterly winds are often present, and were present today. The steady 20 knot winds were attenuated somewhat by the building and the few small saplings nearby, but definitely had an affect on the casting; moreso on the lighter rods. My first thought was to wish for an opening on the other side of he building, where there was less wind. Then, after a little reflection, I thought that this was perfect. How many times have you encountered good breezes while surf or ocean fishing? They are pretty common. Under these conditions, unlike most parking lot test casts that have perfectly still air, I would get a chance to see how the rods faired in tough, real world conditions.

990-4 - This was the first rod that I picked up. I selected the 9 wt first (rather than the 8wt), figuring that it would have a little more backbone than the 8wt, and therefore, would deal with the wind better. During an earlier presentation on rod design, Jamie Lyle mentioned that these rods were lighter than the Xi2 rods. How much lighter he didn't say, so I didn't know what to expect. My first impression was that the difference was not that noticeable, if at all. To be fair, it would be hard to really say since I only own one Xi2 (a 10 wt) and have not cast it recently. They had some Xi2s in the shop, but they weren't rigged for casting. They did say they would rig up any rod, but there were already so many rods to cast and many people in attendance, I never got around to asking them. I was focused on getting as many casts in with these rods as I could. I will cast my Xi2s (and my buddy's if he lets me) later, to see if I really notice a difference.

Part of the reason why the weight difference may not seem that noticeable may have been the feeling of stiffness that this rod had. My first impression was, " Hey this rod is really stiff!", but subsequent wiggling and casting altered that impression. The rod seemed to be very stiff in the region between the top of the cork and the middle of the rod, without being noticeably stiff in the top 1/3 to 1/2 of the rod. I know that may not make a whole lot of sense, but that was my gut "feeling" when I first picked it up. After I picked the rod up, I stripped off about 30-35 feet of line, flipped the line out in front of me, made a quick backcast, and let the cast go. The line shot forward like it came out of a cannon. It layed out in a straight line, tugged at the reel when it reached the end, and dropped to the asphalt. The end of the line (not including the leader and yarn) was only 70-80 feet away so it was not a huge cast (I was only trying to lay the line out to set up for the next cast), but with the wind in my face it impressed me nonetheless.

At first, I concentrated on casting with about 35 feet of line outside the tip and shooting the WF line without a double haul. The next few casts were equally impressive. I slowly lengthened the amount of line that I had out and added a double haul to see how the rod would respond. I was able to pick up about 55 feet of line and shoot it without too much effort. I was able to put the fly out at about 90-95 feet. Longer casts and casts started with more line outside the tip were more trouble. Some were okay, some piled up, and some had tailing loops. To tell the truth, I am not quite sure whether it was the wind, my poor technique, or the rod. If I had to guess, it was probably a combination of the first two; probably more of the second one than the first one. These distances are close to the max distance that I can consistently reach with my 10 w Xi2 on the water. (Of course these distances are estimates. I guesstimated the distances by measuring the casts against the number of "panels" on the adjacent sidewalk. Each "panel" was about 7 to 8 feet long- I measured this distance by laying my 6 foot frame down on one. The end of the sidewalk was 13 panels away - between 91 and 103 feet.)

Of course, casting in a parking lot won't tell you exactly how a rod will respond on the water. It is hard to simulate water loading, a big wet fly, or other conditions on the lot, but you can get a sense of how a rod will respond to many conditions. My impressions are that this rod is a true cannon. It responded best to a quick but smooth stroke that wasn't too forceful. Too much force or too much arc didn't really add anything to the cast. Dropping the rod too far back made it hard efficiently load it. Again a better caster might better success with the wider arc, but I figure that I can at least describe this for the typical mediocre caster. With moderate effort it delivered good line speed and straight line tracking required to punch a fly into the wind with no wobble or bounce back. It picked up the line efficiently. It had good feel for a big stick, but not touchy feely amounts of it. After casting dozens of casts with it, my initial feeling of stiffness in this rod seemed to stem from something besides pure stiffness. It seemed as though the lower half of the rod was not really much stiffer than its predecessor, but rather transmitted more of the "feeling" down the rod along with the flex. Some rods transmit the force by not flexing, but all you get is the dead clublike feeling. It is hard to put into words, but this rod seemed flex a bit in the lower half of the rod, while still transmitting many of the details of the force through to the handle. I think it would serve well as a surf rod. If the impressions hold in real life I think it would cast all but the largest flies very well, and I would even use this rod in many of the conditions where I currently use my 10 wt.


The next rod that I used was the 10 wt. This rod gave the same overall impressions in a bigger, slightly stiffer, and heavier rod. Much of the impression of heaviness might be from the larger heavier reel (spooled to the gills) that it sported.

It provided strikingly similar performance to the 9 weight. Moderate effort and quick steady application of power (with 30-40 feet of line outside the tip) generated very high line speeds and laser-like casts. Additional line was easily picked up and carried in the air, until my bad technique kicked in. I simply have no business trying to carry 70 feet of line in the air. Between the tailing loops, the wide loops, the (mistimed) dumped casts, and backcasts that overlapped with casters behind (and 90 degrees) to me, I was glad that I was only casting yarn. I was able get casts out to past the 100 foot mark, which I normally only reach with shooting heads (even at the casting ponds). Who knows how much of this distance will translate to on-the-water situations.

As I said, this rod was strikingly similar in feel to the 9 wt, but with more power and slightly more weight. For those that prefer a lighter weight rod, it won't change your mind For those that prefer a 10 weight. This will cover all the same bases as previous 10 wts, but with a little less fatigue than most. It is a true saltwater rod, not just an inshore rod. It will be just as at home in an offshore situation as on the beach.

Given the similarities of the 9 and 10 wts, I expected this rod to exhibit the same characteristics. I was quite surprised when I first made a cast. Though it looked identical, the performance was quite different. Whereas the 9 and 10 wt rods had some flex deep into the rod, the majority of the flex was in the top third of the rod, whereas the 8wt had noticeably more flex deep into the rod. I would like to say that it fled well past the halfway point and possibly two-thirds of the way down the rod, I think that this was more of a reaction to the big difference between it and the other rods than reality. The difference was substantial, though; almost like they took the 9 wt and peeled of a couple wraps of graphite off the bottom and on off the top. It was different enough that I had to lengthen my casting arc and slow down the cast a little. It did seem to lack that feeling of stiffness in the middle that others had, which gave an overall impression of more "feel". (If you are not sure what that means, I am not exactly sure either. Maybe it means hat I have lived in Kah-li-for-ni-yah for too long)

My first two casts with it produced tailing loops (I swear it was the rod and not me). After that I managed open loops that dumped at 60-70 feet. Finally after a dozen casts, I started to get dialed in. The casting style that worked best was still a smooth steady application of power, but over a little longer time and a little longer arc. It seems that the recovery speed of this rod is a little slower than the other models. At the end, I was able to reach out the 90 foot mark regularly. I have cast the 890-4 Xi2, but that was several years ago, when I bought my 10 wt, so it is hard to compare the two. I currently own an RPLXi 8 wt and an XP 8 wt. This rod has an action that seems to be a blend of those two rods. It had a flex similar to my RPLXi (maybe a little less) with more feel like the XP. Throw in better fish fighting capabilities and there you have it.

I never have cast a 12 wt, but thought that it would be fun to see how it went. they had two rigged up - one with a foregrip and one with a standard grip. I chose the latter for no apparent reason at all.

This rod was very similar to the 9 and 10 wt rods. It is noticeably heavier, thicker and stiffer than those two, as was the fly line, so I expected much different. Again, my first cast was simply a quick one-handed cast with no haul just to get the line out in front of me and prepare to start casting. The line seemed to leap forward. For some unknown reason, I thought that a 12 wt rod would require a bit more effort, but using about the same amount of effort that I used on my first casts with the 9 and 10 wt rods yielded a laser sharp 70 foot cast.

It responded to the same relatively short arc, smooth techniques that the other two responded two. It was noticeably heavier, though not oppressively so. I am not saying that it is a rod that I would want blind cast all day long, but the relative length of time that I could cast it versus the time for 10 wt would likely be closer to 1:1 than 2:1. It had a little less feel than the 10 wt, but since I have never cast a 12 weight rod before I was not sure whether this was a function of the heavier rod wt, the particular rod line, or the fact that I was not loading it efficiently. If I were a betting man, the latter reason would be closest to even odds.

This rod was also a cannon. I was able to reach out to distances around 110 feet, which is in the neighborhood of my longest cast ever in a pond or on the water. Next time I will bring a tape measure!

Overall Impression
My overall impression of these rods is quite favorable. They have many of the same qualities that led me to buy a 10 wt Xi2. They are relatively light for a heavy-duty fish fighter. They have a good amount of feel without sacrificing line speed or (perceived) durability. Most importantly, they seem to generate tremendous line speed with a minimum of force, which makes it easier to cast them for long periods of time. The line speed seems to be a little more than that generated by the Xi2, but since I fish mine with a lot of heavy sinking lines and these all had rated floaters, it may have little or nothing to do with rod designs.

The 9wt, 10wt, and 12wt all had similar feel and performance, while the 8 wt seemed to be aimed at slightly different target. I would be curious to see if the 7wts and 6wts feel like the 8 wt. My guess is that 8wt was designed with a more all-around usage in mind. While 9-12 wts will be primarily used in the open ocean, be it on the beach, inshore, or blue water, an 8 wt will likely be used on the flats, in the back bays and sloughs, and on tidal rivers and sounds as well as on those other conditions. A slightly softer rod and slightly slower action (though far from slow) might have been deemed more appropriate. I like a little faster, lighter rod for the flats (hence my 8wt XP), but for an all around saltwater/brackish rod it would be a good choice.

I would not ditch my Xi2 for an Xi3, but if I were in the market for a good saltwater rod, these would definitely be near the top of the list.

Hopefully, some other anglers that attended this function will share their thoughts
post #2 of 17
Nice reviews,thank you crashq
post #3 of 17
Great review, I'll have to check them out.
post #4 of 17
Thanks Crash! Very well written. Almost like you had a note pad with you!
post #5 of 17
Good job, Crashq. If, when and as time permits, I'd like to hear from other parking-lot testers, too.
post #6 of 17
i was hoping they would upgrade the reel seat design, something less generic looking. so basically the real difference is the rod weight?
post #7 of 17
Chicky ,

I think the rods are different if my interpretation of Crash's report is accurate. I do have the 8, 9 and 10 wt Xi2. Reel seats are really just detail as are the other bits fitted to a rod as long as they do the job thats fine. Me I prefer generic if that means stuff like REC and Struble.
It is getting harder to show step changes with a revised rod range until we get serious advances in new pre pregs I think. Taking the comment lighter. Is this a lighter blank or lighter weight rod components or both. Mopst top rods weigh in at very little these days.
We have to personally cast any rod and preferably fish it a while before we know if we love it or hate it.

post #8 of 17
the reason for the reel seat comment is that given the rod color isnt much different the reel seat being different would give a good visual change
im curious if sage used the 5 layer graphite blank
post #9 of 17
Chicky, Are you refering to Generation 5 carbon as depicted by Sage or are you saying a pr- preg with 5 wraps. I doubt that Sage would tell us how many turns of pre- preg go around each mandrel.LOL I agrree that you would think they would like to really differentuate the two ranges. Time will tell if the new range is a real step forwrd or a gradual step change.

post #10 of 17
not exactly sure about the 5 layer technique but if i recall correctly it was the graphite. i spoke extensively with a sage rep in the spring specifically about the xi2. i swear i would have bought 8 xi2's on the spot if i had the money. the guy was so well informed and truly had exceptional knowledge of just about every rod makers rods and tech. the one thing he told me that stayed with me was that the xi2 wasnt going anywhere, but again this was back in march or so. i got a great deal on a helios so the 10 wt xi isnt in the line up but with the discontinuation price im tempted to pick one up.....but the lil guy in my head says dont go backwards, go forwards and drop the couple extra hundo on the xi3. just like the rest i really need another fly rod
post #11 of 17
Good review. I've been eying the XI2s since casting them at the Somerset show. Did the Sage reps mention what the price points would be? I hope they won't jump too much.
post #12 of 17
Thread Starter 
Sorry about not responding, I've been busy.

Regarding the reel seats, I honestly don't remember whether they were different or not. The rods were already rigged, so I didn't pay much attention. As long as they were functional and not cheap-looking I would not have noticed unless they were chartreuse. I can barely remember what my Xi2 reel seat looks like.

As far as the rods go, Jamie Lyle said they were Generation 5 graphite, but could not/would not specify how many wraps were in each. It fell under the trade secret thing. They didn't mention the price at least not when I was around. I didn't ask since any rod is out of my price range right now. I would guess a little more than the Xi2, maybe $750-$800 for the midrange rods, but that is just a WAG (wild-a** guess).

When they were talking about the weight, Jamie was referring to the blank, but later he discussed how using lighter guides couls make a larger than expected difference on rod perfomance, but I didn't take that as referring tothese rods as he was messing with a TXL (Trout Xtra Light) rod at the time. The guides appeared to be the same or similar oversized saltwater guides as are on the Xi2.

As far as the rod perfomance goes, there was a distinct difference in feeling between the Xi2 and the Xi3. I was trying to not make too much comparison between the two lines until I could dig out a 10 wt floating line and fire off a few casts with my 10 wt Xi2. My impressions were that the Xi3 was a little stiffer in the bottom half of the rod, and a little different in the top half, too, but that difference was hard to describe or quantify. I opurchased my Xi2 for a few reasons including my belief that it had a fairly large "sweet spot" for timing. Being the firmly mediocre caster that I am, I figured that the large sweet spot would allow me to make longer more accurate casts, and to reduce the chances of planting a 2/0 Clouser in the back of my neck when I got tired and my technique went from mediocre to something less than mediocre.

The Xi3s seemed to have an even larger sweet spot, though my brain did not want to acknowledge that at first because of the "stiff" feeling that I mentioned. My brain seems to equate stiff with "clublike" because I hacve cast a few rods like that in the past (like the RPLX). While these'clubs" are often great for tossing leadcore, they are less than stellar for casting floaters. Once I cast the Xi3 rods for awhile and got past that initial bias, I was firing off long casts; much longer than usual for me with floating lines. I was reaching or in most cases exceeding the usual distances that I get with mono running line and shooting heads at the casting pond. I thinkthat they are faster and generate more line speed for the same effort.

As I said, I am not a great caster, but these rods allowed me to cast pretty well despite some obvious flaws in technique. How much is open to debate. I was trying to avoid one of those reviews that gets caught up in the excitemnt of a new rod line and touts how much better they are than the last rod line. I felt these rods were better, but it isn't "a giant leap for (flyfishing) mankind" kind of improvement. A lot of it will depend on the individual caster. Some might not care for "stiffer" feeling of the 10 wt and higher rods or might not care for the slightly less stiff feeling of the 8wt.

IMHO, they are worth trying out.
post #13 of 17

Well balanced view as usual. As I see it most of the better rods can out perform even the very best casters. Hard to make real massive step change in measuarable performance. It seems more about getting good perfromance with an action that suits the individual caster.
Same with fly lines. I laugh out loud with the claims I see written in reviews and on the packaging. My best cast in all honesty is around 30 yards with a 9wt and the all singing dancing fly line with special lubes and grooves etc would not make a jot of difference to that figure. Same would be true for rods to. I am the limiting factor.

Chicky I agree with you about moving on. When Sage were dropping the previous range to the Xi2 I thought I needed the old range why I can't figure now. I went with the Xi2 and am glad I did. When I did cast a friends RPLXi whatever it was it did not suit me at all. Now the current Xi2 for me is so good that even if I was incredibly rich I am staying with them as I like them so much. No need to change to Xi3. They may feel sweeter like they did for Crash but I doubt I can cast them any further. Weight wise there will be nothing in it in totally practical terms. It ain't the rod it's the bloody great reels we have to use that break your heart in this game. Quality rods are already very very light. Good that designers continue that trend.
Is the Xi3 is worth the extra money over what you may pay for a close out Xi2, only you can decide. Based on Crash's review I would say not for me personally..

post #14 of 17
Well, we can wait for the arrival of the Xi4 to cause a price drop.
post #15 of 17
Originally Posted by BrianBM View Post
Well, we can wait for the arrival of the Xi4 to cause a price drop.

Cinic. LOL

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