Sage SALT R8 Review - The Best All-Around Saltwater Fly Rod
Welcome to our ongoing, very thorough review of the new Sage SALT R8 fly rods. We are in saltwater all the time, being based in the Florida Keys. I have to be honest, I've seen a lot of flat out wrong takes on the new rods online by inexperienced or primarily freshwater fly fishermen and shop employees. Remember, most of them have not really used these rods much yet, so take everything with more than a grain of SALT. For example, people saying it is "medium action" is completely ridiculous, this is without question a fast-action hardcore saltwater rod. It just loads a little deeper into the blank which actually gives it more overall power, not less. How do I benchmark performance? I personally own and use every single one of the top saltwater fly rods on the market, just to be sure I know what I am talking about and that I am only offering the very best gear there is. I use these rods and reels in actual saltwater flats conditions, not on a patch of grass in a landlocked state (no offense guys but it isn't the same for conducting proper testing). I have spent several decades fishing the saltwater flats and mangroves of Florida and beyond.
Here's the "Executive Summary" for the Salt R8: It's very, very nice. This is the best "All-Around" Saltwater fly rod series. Why? Versatility and Performance. Requires less effort to cast with more power, a huge help when you cast all day long. It works well with every single line I tested on it - 11 different fly lines from the 3 top brands that I have personally tried with these rods so far, and I will test more soon (I go into great detail on my line testing a few paragraphs below this). Performance is exceptionally good - Seriously, it's pretty much just between this rod, the Scott Sector or T&T Sextant series so get one or the other, these rods are the best there is and that's why we sell them. Fit and finish are excellent. This rod is noticeably lighter than the Salt HD and also has titanium stripping guides (doesn't really matter but cool). Keep in mind for a fair comparison here, the Scott Sector has had these features for years and is actually still a little lighter feeling than this new Salt R8. Reel seat is excellent, nicest of any Sage rod, a little bit nicer than the R8 Core rods which were already very nice. Scott Sector still has a slightly better reel seat in my opinion but this Sage reel seat is definitely better than anything else on the market except the Sector. So I guess my only tiny complaint with the Salt R8 is just that the very deep blue color isn't more apparent except in bright sunlight. Also Sage did not do nice blue thread wraps like the Salt HD has; they stuck with the fairly boring color scheme of the R8 Core. Thomas & Thomas wins hands down for best-looking rods with Scott behind that and Sage in third place (only for looks). Sage still has a nearly perfect score on the performance side - it does everything I need it to do in saltwater and it does it all very well.
--> So far, I have personally tested the new rods using 11 different popular saltwater fly lines (so far) from the 3 major brands: RIO, Scientific Anglers, and Airflo. Check out my notes on each fly line later on in this review. The rod performed flawlessly with all of these. From "true-to-weight" SA Bonefish all the way up to nearly two line sizes heavy with the newest Rio Warmwater Predator line, the SALT R8 simply handles them all with ease. You don't have to take my word for it, you're welcome to try one from us and return it if you don't feel what I feel.
Everyone wants to know how good they are and how they compare to all the other saltwater rods on the market. "Should I buy this or that one?" Completely fair question and we answer it every day for people.
It's very obvious from the first cast that the new SALT R8 is exactly what I was hoping it would be, ever since I tried the original R8 series last year (and I have used them the entire time since then in 8wt and 9wt). This is the fusion of R8 and SALT HD that I wanted. Lighter and easier to cast than the SALT HD, but built more like it than the regular R8 Core series. Finally, a rod to surpass the G. Loomis NRX+ for heavy lines and challenge the Scott Sector on lightweight Bonefish expeditions. No other rod performs this well at both extremes, period.
I like all the rods I carry for different reasons and uses. This is my shop, so I actually own them all, and of course I could use anything I want in the entire industry but I choose to use the brands you see on my website and in my shop because I genuinely feel they are the very best of what's out there and I thoroughly enjoy these rods and reels.
What I always make an effort to do is present a variety of lines and rods in different combinations, and explain what aspects of each I enjoy or find to be ideal. The best thing I can do is help people decide for themselves.
Why do I say that Sage makes the best "all-around" saltwater rods? Notice I didn't say "This new rod is "the best" saltwater fly rod because that varies by specific application and line choice, and of course as I remind people "Best compared to what else?"
Well, it's the all-rounder because of line options and how versatile the SALT R8 really is. This is your one rod to do many things well. Going head to head with the Scott Sector (one of my all-time favorites) in the Bonefish category, but also able to cast super heavy peacock bass or jungle lines with ease. Not many rods can do everything well. For example, I'd give a very narrow edge to the Sector using SA Bonefish line specifically, not with all lines though. That's more of a testament to just how good the Sector really is considering the SALT R8 is brand new. Getting into mid-weight lines like Airflo Flats Universal Taper, it was the SALT R8 and the T&T Sextant that actually did a little better. The NRX+ is a good rod but couldn't really match the finesse of the others, and the stiffness of it doesn't give any advantage with normal weight lines. In fairness, it isn't meant to, the Asquith is Loomis' finest casting rod. Personally, I prefer the Sector and I am really liking the new SALT R8. It's just so easy to cast, whether delicately or with significant force and power. As the expression goes: "An iron fist in a velvet glove."
Fly lines I have tested so far on the new SALT R8 rods (and directly against competitor rods too):
6wt - Why are you using this rod size in saltwater? Are you trying to catch some bait? I'm just joking, this is a great rod actually and nice if you want a crossover fresh and light saltwater option, especially if you love fishing streamers and/or heavier fly lines like hover or sink tips. In salt it's normally just going to be for ultralight bonefish applications but if you want some more muscle than the RIO or SA Bonefish lines you can use Rio Elite Flats Pro with no problem.
7wt - Get RIO Elite Bonefish or Premier Redfish line, both are bestsellers and proven performers. Just tested Airflo Flats Universal Taper and no surprise, it worked perfectly. I also tested the 7wt with an 8wt line and it did fine casting that too. The rod feels super light but has plenty of power.
8wt SALT R8: The most important saltwater rod size to get right, and Sage absolutely nailed it with this one. Light and powerful, couldn't ask for more. I was casting in the flats in 20mph wind with my relatively normal (not heavy) fly line, no problem. I tested a TON of fly lines with this rod and it handled them all very well:
SA Bonefish Lightest line tested, true-to-weight at 210gr and performed very nicely. The Salt R8 is MUCH better with this light line than any Sage saltwater rods before it, which needed more line weight to load properly.
RIO Elite Bonefish The most popular Bonefish fly line we sell, a little heavier than the SA line, coming in at 225gr - No surprise this was a top performer. Typically this is what I put in most Bonefish combo outfits.
SA Infinity Salt Another excellent line on all the Salt R8 weights I just tested it with, from 8wt to 11wt so far. SA states this line is a half size heavy. Pretty close to Flats Pro (below this) in terms of the idea behind it, a heavier but much longer head than Redfish, Grand Slam, or QuickShooter types of saltwater lines, which allows much more control at distance and really continues to load the rod well even with a lot of line out.
RIO Elite Flats Pro Similar excellent performance to SA Infinity (see above) - Heaviest flats line option with more weight and longer head than other "normal" saltwater lines - The SALT R8 loved it.
RIO Premier Redfish The newest version, it's a Redfish line so not a long head; works great on pretty much every rod but I prefer longer tapers personally. This is a great line though for sure. Redfish fans rejoice, the Salt R8 is perfect for you.
Airflo Flats Tactical Taper This is a great line, performs well on almost every rod I have tested it on so the Salt R8 is no exception. You can go up to the Universal Taper (next one on this list) for heavier flies.
Airflo Flats Universal Taper A very nice all-around saltwater line that not a lot of people know about. Great with the Salt R8, Scott Sector, G. Loomis, and everything else I have used it with.
RIO Warmwater Predator - Brand new line for 2023, the heaviest line tested by far, nearly two line sizes heavy, but the SALT R8 handled it almost as easily as a Bonefish line. Most surprising of all the lines tested on the new Salt R8. The new rod is a beast and it was effortless to cast this heavy line.
9wt SALT R8:
RIO Elite Bonefish The most popular Bonefish fly line we sell - worked great but I liked Rio Permit line just a little better personally. It's only a 10 grain difference between the two though.
RIO Elite Permit - Pretty much the most likely fly line to be matched with the 9wt and performs flawlessly but we will also test other lines on it soon.
RIO Premier Redfish The newest version, it's a Redfish line so not a long head. This is a great line though for sure. Redfish fans rejoice, the Salt R8 is perfect for you. Go up to Rio Redfish XP line for even more power.
RIO Warmwater Predator - Brand new line for 2023, the heaviest line tested by far, approximately two line sizes heavy, but the SALT R8 handled it with ease. This was the most surprising of all the lines tested on the new Salt R8. The new rod is a beast and it was effortless to cast this heavy line.
*I also cast an 11wt Tarpon line on this 9wt and it handled it with zero issues. So your typical Outbound Short lines will work fine (they are two sizes heavy).
10wt SALT R8: Great all-around saltwater size for many different fish species, most likely the main targets will be Permit and medium-sized Tarpon.
RIO Elite Permit 10wt - This one or RIO Elite Flats Pro are the most likely fly lines to be matched with the 10wt but we will also test other lines on it soon. Probably awesome with the brand new RIO Tarpon series as well, since it was perfect on the 11wt SALT R8. RIO Flats Pro is another good choice here if you like the heavier lines.
RIO Elite Flats Pro Heaviest typical flats line option with a bit more weight and longer head than most other saltwater lines - The SALT R8 loved it!
RIO Premier Tarpon Clear Tip (Newest version for 2023) - New but a familiar taper for me since it is based on Rio Elite Tarpon. Works perfectly and has a clear floating tip which can be nice to have for Permit or Tarpon.
RIO Predator series Just tested this real quick but it casts a mile. Make sure you have enough line outside the tip or it won't load rods properly at all (not just the R8 but in general for this type of line). I will spend more time with these very heavy lines later on but just know this worked very well in the 5 minutes I was casting it.
11wt SALT R8: The go-to Tarpon rod, especially here in Florida.
RIO Premier Tarpon Clear Tip (Newest version for 2023) - Hard to tell if this new line is just insanely good or the rod is, or both. Very nice. As a bonus, this new line has a clear floating tip which RIO says they have spent years perfecting. Super nice and performed incredibly well with the new SALT R8 11wt. Majority of people who buy an 11wt are going after Tarpon (maybe a very large Roosterfish or a small Trevally species) so I have only bothered to review Tarpon lines for now.
RIO Elite Tarpon This has always been the best-selling choice for the majority of my Tarpon customers. HOWEVER, the brand new Premier Tarpon Clear Tip I just mentioned above is pretty nice so far and seems to have a similar taper, so both are great options here.
SA Amplitude Textured Infinity Salt - This was a nice surprise, casting extremely well and actually another great contender for a Tarpon line even though it doesn't specifically say "Tarpon" on the box. This line did well with all the 11wt rods we tested.
RIO Elite Flats Pro Always a popular choice. No major reason to get this over the Rio Tarpon line though, but you can if you want. Longer head, different taper design. I like the other versions of this line such as the clear tips or full intermediate if you are going deeper.
Most heavier lines will undoubtedly also perform well on the SALT R8 as they do in other sizes. I was laughing at other reviewers and "armchair experts" saying they didn't think this 11wt was as good. Not the case. Better than the SALT HD it replaced, better than the vast majority of other options out there. Not sure which lines they tested but the new Rio Tarpon line is perfection with this rod. I will do an "Ultimate 11wt Shootout" at some point but for now, believe me this rod performs.
12wt SALT R8: Mega Tarpon, Giant Trevally & offshore fly fishing.
Most people buying a 12wt are going after Tarpon or GT. Maybe a Sailfish - or an Arapaima. This rod can handle all of those and more. I'd go with Rio Elite Tarpon or Elite GT for the first two species, or Rio's Leviathan series for the Sailfish and other offshore applications. Maybe a Tropical Outbound Short if you just love really heavy lines.
Tested our new SALT R8 against the SALT HD and the T&T Sextant which are both well-established GT and Tarpon fighters. Needless to say, the R8 performs impressively. Lighter than its predecessor the SALT HD and easier on the arms in terms of flex as well as weight. Most likely uses for this are big Tarpon or GT (Giant Trevally) and this baby was made for it. I need to do some more testing for line suggestions but my standard would be Rio Elite Tarpon or Elite GT.
I strongly suspect the new Airflo lines will be fantastic on here too, but I have not tested them yet.
*There is also the 12wt with extended fighting grip which I prefer. Basically the same rod just more to hold onto. I actually like this one a little better but not everyone likes these grips. If you know the SALT HD, it was offered in extended grip on both the 11wt and 12wt, but this new rod series only offers extended grip for the 12wt. This new rod improves on everything else so I doubt my older rods will see much use.
*Note that between 12-15wt there is nothing, unlike the Salt HD which used to come in a 13wt. So for this size range it's just the Scott Sector 13wt (very nice) or the Sage Maverick 14wt (Really a steal at that price point).
15wt SALT R8: This is a big boy. Almost nobody buys these (although I have sold a few surprisingly) but it is a cool one. Not going to do a bunch of line tests on this as only a few lines even work for it anyway (RIO Leviathan is going to be a favorite here). Also, I let someone borrow my demo 15wt for Marlin and these rods can handle big bluewater fights. Note that Sage went a little lighter with a 15wt instead of 16wt like the previous Salt HD but there is plenty of power and the weight reduction is well worth it. The only serious competitor is the Scott Sector in 15wt. Both are very nice. If you like Marlin you will probably end up buying one or both of these rods. Maven also makes a very cool bluewater fly rod but they are exceedingly rare. I have handled them in person when we special order for customers and they look exquisite but I have not tested them out.
So, the Salt R8 rods are fantastic. What about the competitors? Not that many $1,000+ saltwater-specific fly rods even exist anyway. Basically just Sage, Scott, G. Loomis, and Thomas & Thomas make serious saltwater fly rods at this level. Winston makes a saltwater rod but you likely never heard about it (I have one, they are nice but I don't use it much). Hardy and Orvis are well-known brands but they have their rods made by third parties. Technically they do offer saltwater rods even if they don't actually manufacture them in-house (doesn't mean they aren't good rods, and plenty of people like them). There are a few smaller brands but these are all the main ones. This new Salt R8 rod replaced the Sage Salt HD and sits above the Sage Maverick (which is only $650 so I don't consider rods in different price points to be competitors). Scott makes the Sector and the new Wave (at $675 the Wave competes with the Sage Maverick not the Salt R8). Thomas & Thomas makes the excellent Sextant series, another of my favorites. G. Loomis makes both the NRX+S (Saltwater-specific) and the Asquith (over $1,300 which is a bit crazy) and that's about it. That's all the major high-end saltwater-specific fly rods out there. Sage is always reliable and offers one of the most versatile and powerful fly rods on the market. The new Salt R8 is definitely in my list of top fly rods ever, since my second or third cast. Purists for Bonefish should seriously consider this or the Scott Sector. T&T wins on looks and is very close in performance too. I own all three, and I could use anything, so I hope that answers that. Other fly rods are very good, these are just even better.
Have questions about this new rod, or any other rod, or fly line? Call me: 941-483-6847 or if you prefer to email: email@example.com
*We will update our review as we do more thorough testing. Most of the opinions we have seen online are based on very limited use (or none in the case of a popular fly fishing forum, where some members have thoughts on the new rods that are clearly not based on any actual testing, some of them never having seen a bonefish either).