Sage Factory Tour

A journey to the very center of the fly fishing universe

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Sage Factory Tour
A journey to the very center of the fly fishing universe.
Sage of the fly fishing universe...
Sage is the dominant name in fly rods world wide, to the point it would be hard to be taken seriously as a fly shop unless you are a Sage dealer. While talking to factory rep Georg Cook, I realized that we had been Sage dealers for 30-years and had never visited their factory, even though it wasn't that far away. Well, maybe it isn't that surprising because when we get time from the shop, we usually head for places where fish live so we can test some new rods, etc. Anyway, George was more than helpful, putting the wheels in motion for our factory tour.
We found  their very modern facility in a secluded location nestled into natural costal conifer forest of Bainbridge, Island in Puget Sound, Washington. We spent the our first half hour getting re-acquainted with CEO Marc Bale, who informed us that during his 22-years of employment at Sage, they had produced about 1.75-million fly fishing rods. Kinda' leads one to believe that with all that experience, Sage probably knows a thing or two about building premium fly rods.
Marc Bale assigned research engineer, Steve Greist to be our guide for the actual tour of the factory. He couldn't have picked a better man. Steve has worked for Sage since its beginning, and before that he worked for Sage founder Don Green at Fenwick and then Grizzly. Steve a smallish articulate, well organized and well mannered individual with a somewhat startling well groomed handle bar mustache that is reminiscent of a WWI Prussian officer. In his quiet fashion, Steve leaves no doubt that his knowledge of how cutting-edge fly rods are made runs deep, a fact that has kept Sage in the number-one position. This is a position that is envied by all other fly rod makers in the world. Being in the cross-hairs of every other manufacturer has made Sage super sharp. There is no doubt that the team at Sage intends to stay in the lead. *(Term pre-pregger: one who adds resin glue to graphite cloth).
Steve Greist explains to Patty the finer points of graphite rod construction...
Steve explained to Patty & I how Sage uses multiple formulas & layers of graphite in the their exclusive Generation-5 Technology, which forms the backbone of  every TCX, Z-AXIS, Xi3, TXL-F, ZXL and 99 Series rods. This technology produces rods that are incredibly crisp & strong.
All rod starts with glue imprgnated graphite clothe being cut into a specific pattern and then wrapped around a steel needle called a mandrel. Each mandrel is engineered to a specific rod design. Pictured above is part Sage's huge collection of mandrels. Sage produces hundreds of models of rods in sizes and actions suitable for species that range from tiny trout to monsters in the Worlds oceans. Each model is a different taper and length, requiring a different mandrel.
Straight graphite rod blanks can only be produced on straight mandrels. Mandrels have to be maintained by highly skilled craftsmen every time a rod is made on them. The Sage factory has a wealth of the best machinery in the industry, and it also has a dedicated team of seasoned craftsmen at every step of rod design, assembly and inspection. Many are women.
After the pattern is cut from the graphite cloth, one edge is fastened to a mandrel in preparation to be rolled on a giant machine under intense pressure. Then the rod blank is wrapped with heat-shrink tape, then put into an oven at a specific temperature for a certain length of time and cooked until the glues in the cloth flow and bind everything together. Enventually every rod blank gets polished, painted and finished. We were asked not to photograph much of this process, to keep Sages competition from gaining important knowledge.
In due time the graphite rod blanks emerge from the finishing room in a shining, glowing array. The variety is truly mind boggling...everything from 000-weights to giant spey rods. The Sage factory is impossibly clean, almost like being in a medical facility. The environment is very healthy.
Every angler contacts a fly rod at the handle. The most popular handle material for the last 100-years is cork. It takes around ninety years to grow the best grade of cork for rod handles. Because of extreme foresight (and some crafty business deals), Sage gets first pick of the best cork. It buys truck loads of cork rings, sorts and keeps the top ten percent, then re-bags the rest and sells it to other rod manufacturers. Needles to say, Sage handles feel better to the touch and last longer.
Where as most fly rods today (even very expensive ones) are built using pre-formed handles, the craftsmen at Sage prefer to build rod handles directly on each rod itself. This is a much more expensive and time consuming process, but results in handles that make perfect contact with the rod blank. At Sage each cork ring is sized and glued directly to the rod and to each other.  Sage handles are absolutely concentric with the rod blank and they never come loose during use.
After assembly of the cork rings, the whole butt section of each Sage rod is chucked into a special lathe and goes through several sanding processes to achieve the correct shape, texture and diameter. All of these processes require much hand labor from skilled craftsmen.
Women wrapping on rod guides at Sage
Rod guides are still wrapped on with nylon thread by skilled people, as they have been ever since Sage has been in business. Even though the Sage Factory has the most modern machinery in the industry, many functions are still performed by hand labor. This assures the highest quality possible.
Sage is so concerned about the quality of their products and their ability to deliver their products on time to their dealers, that they control every step of manufacturing. Where as most rod bags are made in the Orient, Sage makes all of theirs at Bainbridge Island.  Sage rods truly are built in USA.
Possibly the most impressive thing we found at the Sage factory was the business-like, but relaxed happy atmosphere and the genuine friendliness of the people who work there. We spent the entire day at the factory and met nearly everyone who works there. In every case we were treated like family. But, of course we have been part of the Sage family for around thirty years.

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