Founded in 1980 by legendary rod designer Don Green, Sage was created with one idea in mind – to build the world’s finest performance fly rods. Using world-class materials and years of experience gained while working with Fenwick and Grizzly rod companies, Don revolutionized the fly fishing world.
When Sage started business on Bainbridge Island it was first known as Winslow Rod Company, and although the name quickly changed to Sage, the location on Bainbridge Island is still the same even today. Originally it had six employees and about 1,500 square feet of manufacturing space. Today it has grown to 175 employees working in a 30,000 square foot space. The following story sheds light on Sage throughout the past 21 years:
Two important threads run through the Sage story. The first is the importance of fly rod design, the second is the importance of controlled distribution.
As for fly rod design, years of fly fishing experience had taught Don that fly rods should never run out of “power.” While there might be fishing scenarios where the full power and flex of a fly rod were not utilized by the angler, the best designs were those that always held power in reserve. Hence the name Reserve Power was given to the new style of fly rod Don developed for extra long casts or for windy conditions. The name was abbreviated to the RP. This was the first major series of fly rods that Sage released in 1982 and they quickly became the most talked about fly rods in the world.
The design of Sage was set. Next came the distribution. When Sage began, Bruce Kirschner (formerly of K2 Skis) joined Don as a partner in the company, bringing with him years of specialty retailing experience. Together they set out to create a dealer network of specialty stores where anglers could always receive solid, professional help, advice and assistance. The philosophy was simple: specialty products for specialty retailers.
From the early 80s on, Sage began its two-pronged development of its core fly rod business. From the initial success of the RP and the Graphite II generation, Don quickly moved to the next generation with Graphite III RPL fly rods. By 1985 the RPLs were the high performance standard of fly anglers everywhere. Recognizing that some anglers preferred the more moderate action of traditional fly rods, Don designed the LL Series of fly rods in 2-5-weight rods for the lightline angler.
In 1986 Sage brought to the marketplace the first series of fly rods built specifically for the special challenges of the saltwater angler-the legendary RPLX fly rods. Built for line weights 8-12, these rods almost instantly became the standard of modern saltwater angling experience. Finally, working with some of the finest two-handed fly casters in the world, Sage introduced a complete line of spey and European-style double handed rods, a series that rounded out Sage’s family of fly rods. Now, anglers around the world could find a performance fly rod for whatever their needs might be.
Throughout the 80s, Sage’s business grew steadily as specialty dealers everywhere started paying heed to these performance enhancements. The brand was continually sold throughout the world with distribution in Japan, Canada, France, England, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia. Everywhere the pattern was duplicated-specialty products for specialty dealers, and by the end of the decade, Sage had secured its position as the number one fly rod company in the world.
During the early 90s, Sage continued its steady growth with the RPL, RPLX, LL, TH and DS Series. The US dealer network had grown to about 450 dealers and Sage was also being sold in about 30 export countries.
Then a River Ran Through It!
In 1994, the movie happened to coincide with Sage’s first new fly rod to be introduced in nearly a decade. It was called the SP. At the confluence of these two events was the largest growth spurt ever witnessed by the fly fishing industry. Sales and all categories jumped as thousands of people flocked to the sport. While Sage’s designs and rod families surged on ahead, none did so more dramatically than the new SP. Built from Graphite IV and using a new scrim material called Durascrim, the SPs broke all records for the new product introduction.
By 1994, Don and Bruce had been building the company for the better part of 15 years. Don, at age 60 and four decades into the rod manufacturing business, decided it was time to take more of a backseat with the company. Accordingly, Sage was sold to the Joshua Green Corporation of Seattle. Bruce Kirschner agreed to stay on as President and Don became Vice President of research and development. Jerry Siem was then brought on board as the new resident rod designer.
Today Sage continues to seek performance advantages through new materials and designs, marketing its products through a network of specialty dealers.
In 1997, the new SPL Series was brought to market and won the coveted “Best of Show award” at the industry trade show in Denver. In the same Year, Sage’s RPLX rods were redesigned as the RPLXi. Then in 1999, Sage introduced the lighter weight and narrower tapered fast action XP – again to worldwide acclaim. In 2000 Sage’s 3000 Series Drag Reels, proprietary Performance Taper Fly Line and RPLXi 5-piece travel rods all made their way to market. In 2003, Sage proudly introduced the entirely new medium-fast action SLT series of rods. That same year, we also introduced the ultra high-performance TCR Series rods, featuring an ultra-fast action for skilled casters.
In 2004, Sage again revolutionized the industry with the introduction of the Xi2 Series saltwater rods. Created by the “Sage Dream Team” members Steve Greist, Jerry Siem, Don Green and Kerry Winkler, the Xi2 was the first rod built featuring our new Generation 5 (G5) Technology. This technology was developed by the team over a three-year period in an effort to create a completely new type of rod from scratch, with the idea that every inch of a fly rod has different performance needs based on the different task that it must accomplish. A brand-new way of constructing rod blanks, G5 Technology was designed to increase the amount of “line feel” by reducing the swing weight of the rod.
In 2005, after an astounding response to G5 technology the previous year, we introduced three new rod series that utilized the new technology. The near-weightless TXL Series rods were an instant hit with the growing light-line crowd and were popularized by their ability to maximize the experience of dry fly anglers around the world.
This same year Sage introduced two entry-level rods, the Fli and Launch Series. The Launch rods offered a smooth, progressive power curve and extremely high strength-to-weight ratio, all while offering incredible sensitivity so you could feel the line load for improved casting. The FLi Series rods featured a fast-action taper with maximum power transfer and efficiency-resulting in more intuitive casting when it counted. Between the two mentioned entry-level rods, we were focusing a significant amount of energy on novice anglers, and really giving them more options than ever before in terms of rod choice.
All the while, Sage was holding steady with a very solid offering of reels to compliment the extensive line of rods available. In 2005 we introduced the 3600D Drag reel, which featured the same buttery-smooth performance that had come to be expected from our 3000D Series reels. These were known for their abundance of stopping power in landing big game fish and the capacity to hold even the largest of the newly popular RIO Skagit Spey lines. The 2500 Series large-arbor reels offered a lighter-weight reel with a smooth, reliable drag for maintenance-free operation in all conditions.
The following year welcomed the medium-fast action VT2 series that remained at the mid-price-point in the Sage line and offered an upgraded replacement for the long running VPS. Although this was a small product introduction year, the energy at Sage during this time was mounting in preparation for the largest and most exciting product introduction in Sage history which would take place in the fall of 2007. When the time finally arrived, the new Z-Axis Series was a hit across the board. The ultimate in fast-action rods, it became an instant favorite for anglers of all types, known for its fast action coupled with a tremendous amount of line feel. A broad family in terms of configurations, the Z-Axis Series included 2 and 4 piece models as well as 7 spey rods and 4 switch rods (which were the first of their kind in the Sage line).
When the 2008 product season finally arrived we were still riding the high of the Z-Axis and were proud to be able to bring a couple of new niche series of rods into the fly fishing market. The BASS Series, after several years of development, was finally released to the public and the medium action cousin to the Z-Axis, the ZXL, was released in weights 3-6. With the extensive Z-Axis Series covering a huge amount of product territory we were able to dedicate more energy and effort to the growing demands of niche fisheries. These rods, despite their focused design and marketing, proved to exceed most peoples expectations and suddenly BASS rods were showing up on magazine covers next to Snook, Baby Tarpon and Pike; not exactly their initial intention, but who was going to complain?
Outside of the product arena, 2008 was also a year where Sage and it’s sister companies, RIO and Redington, joined a growing alliance against the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay Region of Alaska. In an unprecedented effort, the three mentioned companies joined forces and marketed a rod/reel/line combination that equated to a significant donation to TU Alaska and a film documenting the cause called ‘Red Gold.’
Like many years before, the 2009 season at Sage is filled with exciting new product additions in Z-Axis, BASS and ZXL, but in a departure from the past, if the 2009 season is defined by any specific product, it will undoubtedly be the extensive new selection of unique Sage reels. A total of six new reel series, which includes a total of 19 models, helps to round out the vast selection of quality products that anglers have always counted on from Sage. After several years in development the new reel line is filled with options on price, colour, and material, but one thing remains constant between all models, the quality.
On the rod front, the new ultra-fast action TCX was designed to answer the call of anglers seeking cutting-edge technology and the finest components. Like their predecessor, the TCR, these rods are not designed for all anglers but unlike the TCR, they are designed to fit a wider range of casting styles and preferences. Within the Sage line these new kryptonite green rods, while still considered a niche series of rods, are just another option for the discerning angler looking for the latest and greatest tool for their fly fishing arsenal.
In conclusion, from our earliest days as a small rod blank manufacturer to the comparatively large 175 employee company that we are today, Sage has continued to seek performance advantages through new materials and designs, marketing its products through a network of specialty dealers. Today, more than ever before, Sage remains focused on one goal, which is best summarized by its statement of purpose: We are passionate about our business of creating fly fishing products that continually exceed the fly angler’s expectations. Wherever in the world your fly fishing takes you, it is safe to say that Sage has the products to enhance your fly fishing experience.
Whether you own a brown GFL blank from 1980 or a kryptonite green TCX hot off the manufacturing floor, I am sure you will agree that our mission has remained focused and true all these years.
Thanks for taking the time to read a little Sage history.