Review: Sage DART fly rod

Sage's new small stream and creek-minded specialty rod hits the mark
sage DART fly rod
The DART in its target environment.

In a world where die-hard anglers must have a fly rod for nearly every possible angling scenario (‘No, Honey, one rod doesn’t do everything”), rod manufacturers are happy to oblige.

Need a fast stick for the flats? No problem. A slow rod for throwing tiny flies at picky trout? Check out that sweet little glass baby that just hit the market. A tournament-legal bass rod? Gotcha. A light rod for in-close casting under brush and cover that might give smaller trout some heft?

Oh, yeah.

Given where I fish and where I live, the latter is where I seem to invest most of my fly-rod attention. If I’m at the fly shop, I don’t gravitate to the two-handed beast meant for Salmon River steelhead. I might take a look at the latest 8-weight saltwater rod, but only if it’s winter and I’m dreaming of some sun-bleached flat in the middle of nowhere.

I’m the guy who gravitates to the skinny rods that might push seven feet in length—these are the rods that I use the most.

And, thanks to Sage, I may not need to flip those wispy suckers around the fly shop anymore—the company’s new DART will serve me for years to come on the backcountry trout streams I frequent so often.

What works

Small stream minded
Given that Sage designed this rod for small water and the trout that live there, it’s virtually ideal. Even in the lightest of weights, the DART is surprisingly fast, but not aggressively so. Its design reduces rod wiggle and really does lend itself to those oft-challenging shots under cover or over obstacles that offer the best shots at fish without feeling like a noodle in your hands. And it seems to be built in a way that makes the presentation completely up to you. You need a fat hopper to “splat” on the water at the head of a run? No problem. You need to put a size 18 Adams lightly over a feeding fish? Again, not an issue. If you’re a seasoned small-stream angler the DART simply becomes an extension of your fly-fishing brain.

I’ve spent most of my time—and have thoroughly enjoyed—fishing the 1-weight, 7-foot, 6-inch DART in and around Yellowstone National Park, on water where the DART is perhaps the ideal tool (many of the sweet little cutthroat streams in the Yellowstone backcountry). But I think this is a rod that would be equally at home on some Appalachian freestoner where 8-inch brookies are trophies and where tight quarters are the rule, not the exception.

Sage’s KonneticHD materials give this light rod the ability to handle most up-close angling scenarios, but with enough backbone to toss in the odd longer cast that, while rarely vital, is occasionally necessary. The rod is marketed for it’s short-range ability, and it lives up that billing. But even the 1-weight version (it comes in weights 0-4) has enough gumption to give you the confidence to go longer if you need to. While Sage claims it’s made for casting small flies, I had no issues throwing size 8-10 hoppers and Chernobyls, and I even added the occasional dropper with little or no reduction in performance.

Able to slide ‘hoppers under fly-catching willows at 30 feet and still able to launch a 50-foot cast to a feeding beast on the edges of an undercut bank, the DART is a true small-stream performer.

It’s hard to decide whether the DART’s price is an asset or a drawback. Coming in at $700, this isn’t the rod for the casual creek freak. But, for anglers who spend most of their time on small water where accuracy and presentation are vital, specialty rods (bamboo) that are designed for those waters often come with big price tags. Ultimately, for a high-end specialty product, the DART seems fairly tagged.

What doesn’t

Reel seat
The DART comes with an uplocking reel seat, and that’s just fine for most folks. I’d honestly prefer the friction-based ring system, simply because the reels you’ll be using for this rod are pretty tiny, and there’s no need to add the complications that come with the screw-up hardware. In boulder-hopping, willow-grabbing fishing scenarios, the potential for grit in the threads is greater than, say, casting from a drift boat.

Also, the half-wells grip might be preferred by some, but, on a rod this small, give me the cigar grip any day—it feels lighter, looks sleeker and is more in tune with how I prefer to cast, with my thumb on the spine of the grip. Nit-picking? Sure, but we all have our preferences.

Final word

The DART shows again that Sage is really the only manufacturer willing to take a chance on producing a graphite rod in the tiniest of weights. This isn’t the first time it’s come out with light small-stream rods—the DART’s predecessor was available in weights as light as 00. But the DART’s technological inclusions make it easily the best graphite creek rod on the market today, and, as the company notes, it’s built to last, with premium hardware and the Sage reputation backing it up.

If small water calls to you, answering it with the DART in hand is the way to go.