I don’t really want to get political on Twigwater, but I think I can now explain why England is ditching the European Union and no, it’s not just because they, unlike the rest of Europe, refuse to bathe. The main reason is that Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Spain and Italy have all stolen Frank Sawyer’s genius idea of fishing upstream with a simple sinking fly and then complicated the hell out of it with their own processes and naming rights. No doubt there are Russians hiding in there somewhere as well.
Now, I won’t claim to know very much about European nymping as such, but for a long time I’ve wanted to try my hand at one of the long, light rods that are the tool of that trade.
I first came across the two-weight Sage ESN at one of Peter Morse’s casting days in Canberra. He handed it to me and suggested I see how well it cast exceptionally long leaders. The rod was rigged with a reel and backing but, unusually, no fly line—just a hand-tied twenty-six-foot leader and a bit of fluff as a fly. Amazingly, it laid the fly out perfectly straight without fuss and, intrigued, I set about talking Peter into a longer-term loan.
Once home, I cast the rod in the yard with a RIO DT #2 Trout and WF #3 Perception line and both worked so well I ended up alternately fishing them unable to decide which suited the rod more.
I would call the ESN true to line weight, though I would add that I’ve always liked the feel of ten-foot rods with a bit of extra line when fishing heavier flies under indicators.
Sage describe the ESN’s action as ‘medium’ probably to save on typing, but I would call it ‘slow-tip, medium-middle with a fast butt’, as the action is, in my opinion, too complex to sum up in a word. That said, were I limited to one word to describe the rod, it would be ‘communicator’, as it’s easy to feel all the blank’s differing personalities while it’s working.
In a lot of ways it reminds me of the Sage Xs I’ve tried (#3,#4 and #5), only with an extra foot or so of softer tip added. Like them, there’s virtually no bounce in the tip and the tracking is easily controlled. Unlike the X, the tracking does eventually go home in a sulk if you really push it with aggressive hauling. However, being ten feet in length, the two-weight ESN will hold a lot of line up in the air if needed.
Clearly the design brief was all about fishing as opposed to just casting and if you’re only looking for big distance, keep looking, because while any short to medium cast is little more than a flick of the wrist, busting out a big line is a quick reminder that this is still a two-weight, even though it’s a big one with more beef in its buns than any of them.
Out on the river with lighter fly rigs, no indicator and the DT #2, the rod works beautifully at shorter working distances and offers its full range of feel though the tip. For this line, I did a simple two-nymph rig on a very long fine tippet with a size #14 or #16 tungsten bead top fly and a smaller nymph with a little colour a couple feet away on the point. On a short cast with no slack and the rod held high, the flies can be felt ticking along the bottom and even subtle takes are easily detected, while the big hits are awesome.
If the two-weight set-up is subtle, the stiffer-cored Perception #3 is more like a hammer that will cast a pair of heavier flies and a big NZ indicator like a five-weight even on a very long tippet. I used this line set-up on a fast boulder-strewn river that had a lot of deep corners, plunge pools and pockets, and walked the rig in and around the obstacles like a boss. It’s not exactly twiggy, but it sure is fun.
Fishing with this bad boy is, in many ways, like a glass rod or a double-hander, in that you need to acclimatise to the physics before it all really starts to sing, and that can take a minute. Once you do, however, it’s a brilliant tool for nymphing of any race.
So, the burning question: does it work as a normal rod?
Well, yes and no. No, in that if you try to swing it around on tight two-weight stream you will likely end up licking windows on a short bus. Yes, in that out in the open it can still function perfectly well as dry fly stick once you’ve hit its rhythm. Whatever you’re doing, for line and fly control, the ESN has no equal amongst the two- and three-weights I’ve used.
In build the big ESN twig is top-shelf, but differs from most Sages in that it has a down-locking reel seat and a slightly longer grip that looks more suited to a heavier-weight rod. The blank is black with rich ox-blood red wraps and there’s also single foot guides that, from what I understand, increase the flex and feel of the rod. In use, I initially found my hand tended to choke up on the reel and that upset the balance of the rod and pilfered tip feel, but with a little concentration and a couple days’ experience on the water, this sorted itself out.
In balancing, all my smallest two-weight reels like the Hardy’s and little Abel TR Light’s are a little underweight and I found that the heavier Able Super 2 or Hardy three-inch Bouglé felt much better.
A big thank you to casting guru and born-and-bred Sage guy Peter Morse for loaning me this rod for the last few weeks to give it a proper test. It’s been very cool. Any rod will work better if you can actually cast and, if you’re in Australia, Peter would be the guy to ask for help with that —hook up with him here: