When it comes to fly fishing, few businesses can cast farther than Sage Manufacturing of Bainbridge Island.
Sage is a big fish in a small pond when it comes to fly fishing businesses.
“Sage is iconic in the flyfishing world,” Human Resources manager Mary Patterson said recently. “The automatic association is that it is the best in the industry. There is personal pride in being a part of the creation from idea to cutting, molding, painting, coating and assembling.”
Founder Don Green began the manufacturing company in Auburn, WA as Grizzly Manufacturing. Green focused on fiberglass blanks for the general fishing rod market. However, he had trouble keeping workers on the line, as they would take higher-paying jobs at nearby Boeing.
Green moved Grizzly to BI in 1966, and a few years later merged with Fenwick company. Green sold his interest in Fenwick in the 1970s and formed Sage in 1980.
“Don Green saw the opportunity of providing performance fly fishing rods with unmatched customer service,” Patterson said. “Sage was at the forefront of fishing rod technology as the industry transitioned from fiberglass to high modulus graphite blank construction.”
The company dealt with some challenges in the first few years as it broke off from its partners. “The challenge in the early days was getting the new SAGE rods in the hands of potential customers and custom fly shops,” Patterson said.
The company was able to establish a stable and experienced sales force, so it began to grow exponentially in following years.
Sage Manufacturing is now one of the premier fly fishing companies in the world. “I don’t know that USA-based largest is not accurate, but one of the largest,” Patterson said. “We are the largest focused solely on fly fishing. Our growth can be attributed to consistently developing innovative leading-edge products, materials, constructions, designs and fishery applications.”
Sage rods have been seen by fishers around the world. “A Sage rod is a symbol of someone becoming a serious fly angler,” Patterson said. “It’s usually an angler’s most prized possession both for its performance excellence and for its quality craftsmanship. Many anglers own a number of fly rods but their Sage is typically the one in which they are most proud.”
Sage built a reputation with its slogan “Perfecting Performance.”
“It can be felt when fishing and seen through the hand-built craftsmanship,” Patterson said. “If your rod has the Sage logo on it, it was built here on Bainbridge Island by twenty-seven sets of hands vigorously eyeing the quality and details that go into each and every single one.”
Those hands have been building Sage rods for years. All of the workers come from Kitsap County, including about 20% from BI. When the company started it had six employees and 1,500 square feet. The company still has two of those employees as well as 175 others. Plus, it has expanded to a 30,000-square-foot space.
“It is the partnership across the board that we know makes us successful, and makes us feel that family sense of success,” Patterson said. “We are all invested, just from different roles.”
Sage’s location also gives it a unique technological advantage. Green began to develop graphite rods to tackle all conditions fly fishers battle. When Sage’s Graphite II Technology was released in 1983, it became the world’s most talked about fly rod. Since the original release, the rods have adapted to tougher weather conditions and different landscapes.
The newest rods, R8 Technology, have stronger backbones but a more sensitive tip. It allows anglers to grow a taper diameter quicker and provides a two-way connection between the rod and hand for better control. “Not all fly rod manufacturers design and build their own graphite rod blanks,” Patterson said. “But we’ve been leading the way in this field since 1980 and have no plans to stop innovating and manufacturing the best…”
Sage’s most popular rods are designed for trout fishing: 9-foot, 5-weight, 4-piece fly rods.
Sage has a nonstop goal of adapting and giving back to its community. “We are continuously in pursuit of the next model,” Patterson said. “It is fun for us to learn from the local communities what they fish and partner to develop a rod and reel that will enhance their joy of being on the water.”