Sage Launch 690-4
6 wt 9' 4 piece
The Launch is Sage's entry level fly rod, part of their Value series which also includes the FLi and VT2. This is a hands-on review, based on over 18 months experience with the rod. I also thought I'd talk a bit about choosing your first fly rod, because I didn't find a lot on the web when I was first looking.
First I should perhaps say a little about myself, to give some context for the review. At the time of writing I have been flyfishing for around 18 months, and casting for a few months longer. I'm lucky to be able to get out and fish a lot, and I practise casting several times a week. When I cast my Launch in the car park at the fishing shop it was the first time I'd cast a fly rod for well over 20 years. I would call myself an intermediate caster, but in lots of ways still a beginning fly fisherman! I can double haul and cast my whole fly line, about 110' (33m) when the stars align. I can do a few different casts, with reasonable accuracy. The Launch is my first fly rod. Recently I have been been able to try out several more expensive Sage rods, namely the FLi, Z-Axis and TCR, for a week or so each. I now also own a 6 wt TCR. I feel that has given me a good basis for comparison to the Launch.
Picking a first fly rod is often a bit daunting. Fly rods can be very personal things. Some people really like a rod and others really dislike it. Ideally you should try out a variety of rods and pick the one which suits you best. The catch-22 is that before you can do a good job of picking a rod you need to be able to cast a bit and unless you've had a few lessons then as a beginner you might not be able to cast at all! Couple this with the fact that fly rods range from pretty cheap to very expensive and there is a bit of a clash between buying a cheaper rod you might quickly outgrow and buying a more expensive rod "because it will last me a lifetime", only to find it doesn't really suit you in the long run.
The choice of the Launch as my first rod was a bit of an accident. After scouring the internet I decided I would get a FLi, which is the next model up from the Launch. I had set myself a hard budget limit and as it happened the FLi was just over that. It was also close to Christmas and there weren't any in the shop. I didn't want to leave without a fly rod. The next best option seemed to be the Launch, which was well under budget. It wasn't talked about as much on the web as the FLi, but I had seen some very positive comments about it. I had a bit of a flick with it in the carpark and having no basis for comparison it seemed ok, so I bought it. As it turns out, I'm glad I ended up with the Launch instead of the FLi. Having now had a chance to try a 6 wt FLi I like the Launch a lot more.
Sage describe the Launch as having a medium-fast action. This means it bends pretty smoothly along the length of the rod when you cast, but the rod still has a bit of "snap" in reserve for power. I find it easy to cast and it has an undemanding feel. Some other rods I've tried definitely require a more aggressive approach than the Launch. It is a reasonably sensitive rod and requires a smooth stroke to get the most out of it. I found this helpful when I was getting started because any wobbling of my hand or poor application of power was communicated through the rod to the line where I could see the effects and then work on smoothing things out.
The Launch is a nice rod to fish with. My fishing mainly consists of small river fishing where I often only have a couple of rod lengths of line out of the tip, as well as lake fishing where I sometimes fish a long way out. When fishing on rivers my main nymph rig consists of 3 flies, one of which is a heavy double tungsten bead nymph. It took a bit of getting used to, but I can cast this rig quite well. You can also make delicate casts with dry flies. The rod is light enough to fish with all day without becoming a burden.
The three biggest fish I've landed were all 5 lb. The Launch handles fish this size with ease, even though one of those fish in particular required quite a heavy hand to keep it under control. I have hooked a couple of fish which certainly felt larger. With one in particular the rod was bending in an alarming fashion right into the butt. The guide I was with kept yelling "Keep the tip up!", and I was doing my best but when the rod seems to be bent in a semicircle that's easier said than done! That being said I certainly didn't feel as if the rod was about to break, but I suspect that trying to control a double figure trophy trout would be a bit of an experience.
From an aesthetic perspective, the colour of the rod is perhaps not for everyone. It's a sort of greeny-coppery gold colour, rather hard to describe. I have seen it called "a sort of fungus colour", but I wouldn't go that far. It isn't the colour I would choose, but it doesn't seem to impair the rod's fish catching ability and that's what counts. The ring wraps are all one colour and match the rod. The reel seat is a nice hardwood. All in all the Launch is a plain but well finished rod.
In terms of build quality, it's hard to fault. It's nicely put together. The rings are not as fine as those on its more expensive brethren and the reel locking ring and threads are a bit more coarse. I actually prefer the locking ring on the Launch to that on the more expensive Sage rods I've tried - it's just easier to use for some reason. The rings are not showing any signs of wear after a lot of hard use. The cork of the grip has quite a bit of filler in it, and the filler has come out in a number of places, leaving behind pits. It hasn't made the grip uncomfortable though. The Launch is hand made in the same factory as all other Sage rods. It also comes with the same lifetime warranty that all Sage rods have.
The Launch comes in a Cordura covered rod tube. The "lid" unzips and the inside is fabric lined with separate compartments for each rod section. This is another thing I prefer compared to the higher end rods. Those have an aluminium tube with a threaded end and a separate rod bag which goes inside. I find the Launch tube a lot more convenient, and it doesn't rattle about so much in the back of the car!
If the Launch has a weakness, I would say that it lacks the power to really punch a line into strong wind. Most of my fishing is done in the High Country of Canterbury, in the South Island of New Zealand. If there is one thing we have here it's plenty of wind. Learning to double haul has helped me a lot with casting in the wind, but I have found the higher end rods such as the Z-Axis and TCR definitely have an edge here. As my casting has improved I find I can cast in conditions which earlier would have made me reach for my spinning rods, but with a rod like the Z-Axis I am able to cast a bit further and more consistently get the leader and flies to turn over.
At one time I felt that the Launch suffered a little when I had a lot of line out. It felt a bit dead, almost as if it were overpowered. Not surprisingly the problem turned out to be me rather than the rod, and through better technique I was able to overcome it. Another issue I've had is that for some reason I really don't enjoy casting my intermediate line with larger flies. It's ok with my fast sinking line though.
Choosing a line well suited to the rod can make a difference. That's another thing which can be a bit hard to do when you don't have much experience. At the moment I'm using a 6 wt Rio Gold with my Launch. I like this line a lot. As I do a lot of fishing with a pretty short line I wanted one which would flex the rod well without much line out. The profile of the Rio Gold helps with this. It's also good for longer distances. I've found it to be pretty durable, although I don't use it when I'm practising on the grass.
As I said before, picking a first fly rod can be tricky. I think the Launch is a great rod which represents excellent value, and it would be hard to go wrong with it. It's a good rod to learn to cast with, forgiving but sensitive enough that it lets you know when you're not being as smooth as you could. It is still possible that you might be more suited to a stiffer rod like the FLi, but it seems to me that the Launch is a rod that most people will get on with.
As you progress you may find that you want to move on and up a step, and that's only natural. Slightly Unnecessary Tackle Acquistion Disorder (SUTAD) is a well known symptom of flyfishing. I myself now have a TCR, which many would see as one of the best rods you can get. It's a very nice rod, no doubt, and my first choice especially when the wind gets up or I'm casting my intermediate line with big flies. It's not suited to everything though, and in some situations the Launch is better for fishing with. Even now it's still great for 85% of my fishing, and not bad for most of the rest. It's good to have as a backup rod, one I'm more than happy to fish with if something should happen to the TCR. I'm not planning on retiring it anytime soon.
Perhaps the biggest recommendation I can give is this: on a trip recently I lost my Launch when a willow grabbed the rod (in a rod bag) out of my backpack. I didn't realise it was gone until I got back to the hut I was staying in. I promptly turned around and several kilometres downstream I came across the rod in a shallow riffle, edging slowly toward a deep run. On the way down I'd already decided that if I couldn't find it I was going to buy another Launch, even though I could have got something higher end. A great rod and excellent value.
Reviewed by Jo Meder
Rod as reviewed:
Sage Launch 690-4
RRP $225.00 USD
Jo Meder (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in New Zealand's South Island on the side of a mountain. Since rediscovering fly fishing a few years ago he's become a hopeless addict and can often be found roaming the banks of both rivers and lakes, supporting his habit through work as a software developer. One day he will catch a fish from his kayak. He likes to cast just because and seeks to pass on the enjoyment of casting in his capacity as an FFF Certified Casting Instructor.