Sage SALT R8 Review - The Best All-Around Saltwater Rod
Sage SALT R8 Review - The Best All-Around Saltwater Rod
Welcome to our ongoing 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, nobody has 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.
So far, I have personally tested the 8wt the most out of the series, using 6 different saltwater fly lines from 3 major brands (RIO, Scientific Anglers, and Airflo). The rod performed flawlessly with all of these. From "true-to-weight" SA Bonefish all the way up to 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 (a nice business expense) 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 Sector (one of my 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 old expression goes: "An iron fist in a velvet glove."
Fly lines I tested so far on the new SALT R8 rods (and directly against competitor rods too):
On the 8wt SALT R8 and other rods:
SA Bonefish (lightest line, true-to-weight at 210gr 30ft weight)
RIO Elite Bonefish (most popular Bonefish fly line we sell, heavier at 225gr)
RIO Elite Flats Pro (heaviest flats line option with more weight and longer head than any other "normal" saltwater line - The SALT R8 loved it)
RIO Premier Redfish (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)
Airflo Flats Universal Taper (a very nice all-around saltwater line that not a lot of people know about)
RIO Warmwater Predator - Brand new line for 2023, the heaviest line tested by far, approximately two full line sizes heavy, but the SALT R8 handled it as easily as a Bonefish line. Most surprising of all the lines tested. R8 is a beast and it was effortless.
*Full disclosure: We have not yet properly evaluated the 6wt and 7wt, instead focusing on the more popular 8wt size for now but we will come back to these lighter rods later on*
On the 9wt SALT R8 and the other rods:
RIO Elite Bonefish (most popular Bonefish fly line we sell - worked great but I liked 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.
*Ok side note about one more line I accidentally tested on this particular rod... This is a pretty funny story. Went out at night (in the dark) to do some casting after work. I was pretty tired. Didn't look carefully at what I grabbed, just a rod and a reel off the rack. Making great casts, better than normal. Thought I was just really good that day. Finally realized what I did and couldn't believe it. Turns out I was throwing Rio Elite Tarpon 11wt on this 9wt rod and didn't even notice other than the fact I was casting a mile. Zero issues. This is a true story, and it makes sense considering I (intentionally) tested the 8wt with Rio Warmwater Predator which is around two line sizes heavy as well, and when I did it seemed effortless. Pretty crazy, honestly. Don't believe me? Try it for yourself. I really have to laugh at the clowns saying the R8 is not fast action. Seems like a skill issue. Not only did the line cast well, but I was picking up the first 50-60ft of line and lifting it like it was nothing, and placing it back down exactly where I wanted. No joke. Try it.
On the 10wt SALT R8 and the other rods:
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.
On the 11wt SALT R8 and the other rods:
RIO Premier Tarpon (newest version 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.
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 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.
On the 12wt SALT R8 and the other rods:
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. Also, Airflo owes me some new GT lines (on backorder for now) and I would be very curious to compare it to the current king which is Rio Elite GT.
There is also the 12wt with extended fighting grip. 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 read up on the SALT HD, it was offered in extended grip on both the 11wt and 12wt, but this new rod has reduced the options a little and only offers extended grip for the 12wt. So I am keeping my SALT HD 11wt with extended grip because it is cool but the reality is the new rod improves on everything else so I doubt my older rods will see much use.
On the 15wt SALT R8: 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 else use my 15wt but they will give me a report on the Marlin situation and how these rods handle bluewater fights. I suspect very well, as did the SALT HD before it. This time Sage went a little lighter with a 15wt instead of 16wt but there is plenty of power and the weight reduction is worth it. 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.
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).