By Ed Estlow
on 9.19.13
Photo by Brian O’Keefe

When we wrote about the Sage Circa ($775) for our fly rod roundup last spring, we hadn’t yet tested it in depth. Our trip to Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte, CO, provided the opportunity to take the 589-4 (5wt, 8’-9”, 4-piece) along. Even though it’s priced right alongside the competition, Sage’s design philosophy for the Circa is the opposite of most modern graphite rod makers, who tend to create rods with ever-faster actions in the pursuit of longer casting distances. The Circa, on the other hand, is designed to be slightly on the slow side, favoring accuracy over speed. This design works. Cast the Circa and you’ll immediately recognize a casual feel paired with extreme accuracy.

GLOSSARY: FLY FISHING TERMS

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Dry fly: A fly that floats on top of the water. Imitates a mayfly, caddis fly, beetle, or grasshopper.

Nymph: Imitates the immature form of an insect that lives on the bottom of a river.

Emerger: Imitates an insect emerging from the nymph form to the mature fly. The process of emerging is called hatching.

High-sticking: Holding your rod high and parallel to the water to lift your line over an obstacle.

Mending: Using your rod tip to adjust floating line upstream so the current doesn’t drag the fly unnaturally. Fish won’t eat a fly that moves unnaturally any more than you’d eat a steak that moved unnaturally.

Multi-fly rig with split shot: Using two or three flies tied on your leader (the very end of your line) in series with several small round weights (split shot) between them. The top fly floats on the water like a bobber (no self-respecting fly fisherman would call it a bobber, but that’s what it is), while the other flies, called droppers, sink to the bottom to imitate nymphs.

Fast rod action: A fast rod is very stiff and requires quick acceleration while being cast. This acceleration bends the rod, loading it with energy.

Slow rod action: A slow rod bends more easily and doesn’t require a fast casting action in order to be loaded with energy. This allows for a slower casting stroke.

Double-haul: The act of hauling is using your non-casting hand to tug on the line mid-cast. This will make the rod bend farther and load it with additional energy for a longer cast. To double-haul is to tug on the line during both the back cast and the forward cast. (Remember that in fly fishing the line generally goes as far behind you as it goes in front of you.)

We fished the Circa over the course of four days on three different mountain rivers, three from a drift boat and one wading. When you’re fishing from a drift boat (basically, floating downstream with the current), you only get one shot at each pocket where fish are likely to be holding; you’re also likely to be casting multi-fly rigs, usually rigged with split-shot. Though it’s not specifically designed for drift-boat fishing, the Circa has enough power to throw such a bulky rig with good accuracy out to perhaps 40 feet — we got solid cast to each fish-filled pocket as we drifted by. Hang-ups in the brush on the bank were rare.

If you’re doing this sort of fishing all day long, however, we’d recommend sheathing the rod until you encounter some nice dry-fly water. While the Circa is not a distance-casting champion, it is capable of throwing more than 60 feet of line with a well-timed double-haul when the need arises. Though the need never arose for us on the river, we proved the Circa’s prowess on the casting lawn before the first day’s drift. We suspect the rod would shine at this distance, casting a single dry fly over spooky fish lying in glass-smooth water.

So the Circa fished well out of a boat on the modest Gunnison River — but it really shined when we used it to thoroughly work a piece of water from bank to bank on the more robust Taylor River, which is accented by wild rapids up to Class III. We cast into pockets and seams on the Taylor with all the accuracy one could wish for. At 8’-9”, the 5wt version is long enough to easily mend line when drifting a fly through differing currents, and is perfect for high-sticking over boulders and snags.

The bottom line is we used the Circa to hunt, hook, and land multiple fish in the 20-inch range as well as the obligatory smaller ones who got in the way — and we’d gladly use it again due to its wide capabilities and excellent accuracy. Those other fish we lost to operator and error and fatigue? Not the rod’s fault.

Methodology: We fished the Circa on three different mountain rivers over the course of four days, three from a drift boat and one wading a river with up to Class III rapids. We fished mostly two- and three-fly rigs: a big dry hopper pattern with one or two small bead-head mayfly nymph/emerger droppers. We hooked, fought and landed numerous 12- to 20-inch fish in both fast and slow water.

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