It has finally arrived: the most anticipated gear release of 2022, and with it our Sage R8 core fly rod review! The brand-spanking, sparkly new Sage R8 is here for the world to see. It has pulled us out of 2 years of ho-hum fly fishing industry releases to a blissful post COVID utopia full of happiness and hope. We welcome the latest and greatest fly rod to this earth, let it bless us with an eternal future full of bright rising trout possibilities. The R8 will help you cast further, mend smoother, land more fish, and even refrain your outlook on life to live more disciplined and intentional, making choices to eat less sugar, exercise more, get better sleep, and even finish that online knitting course you started last year but forgot when your cousin sent you hilarious french bulldog Tic Toks.
A little hyperbole never hurt, right? Let’s see what Sage says about it:
“It’s standing on the deck of a boat for eight hours and calling it a good day if you see a fish, a great day if you get to make a cast, and having no words for it if the fish actually eats.
It’s about being more yourself than at any other time. Flying your freak flag. Casting like nobody’s watching. Fishing because you can honestly say there is nothing in the world you would rather be doing.
Call it what you will. At the end of the day, it’s about not being afraid to let it fly.”
AKA, Live, Laugh, Love.
As Dan Carlin so eloquently puts it: “My wish is for an America that matches the marketing material.” To dial that back to a less geopolitical scope, does the R8 live up to the marketing material? For many of us, it does. For me, it exceeds it.
It’s a darn fine fly rod, damn fine even. The marketing makes sense after 5 minutes of fishing with the R8 Core. If you stop reading this blog post right now, here is the quick takeaway: blending new materials and innovative rod design, Sage created something truly special. Fun factor 10. One of the best, if not THE best trout rods available these days.
For those who want a more in-depth analysis, read on. I may only go a little into the science behind the R8 Core and its Revolution 8 Technology, but for those interested in how this rod was crafted and designed, you should certainly read the write-up of R8 technology from Sage. It’s pretty cool. We had the opportunity to cast and fish the 490-4, 590-4, 690-4, 790-4, 890-4, and 990-4 models for this review and will discuss our thoughts on each.
For our Sage R8 Core fly rod review, we wanted to break down the individual characteristics of how this rod performs. First up: casting.
The Sage R8 Core fly rod family is labeled as “Fast Action”. I disagree, but it’s a weird disagreement. The R8 Core replaced the Sage X, which is indeed a fast-action rod. What the X had going for it was a stiff tip and butt section, which allowed a little more bend down the blank when you really needed to launch some line. This worked well for many anglers, for some not as much. It seems Sage took a note from the design of the X family with the R8 and built upon that foundation. What resulted is in sort, a rod with a really big sweet spot. It’s not a tip casting broomstick like a few other fast action rods, but rather a very nice progressive taper that you can feel bend easily when casting 5 feet of line or 50. What resulted, with this larger sweet spot, is a rod that anyone from a beginner to an expert can really enjoy and use effectively which is light in hand with a very light and pleasant swing weight.
Anglers who are used to casting faster and stiffer rods will need to adjust, and even slow their casting stroke a little to get the most out of the R8 Core. Pushing this rod too hard like some faster rods call for will result in a tailing loop. Relax and let the rod do the work, and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish with little effort. You will even start to see how Lefty Kreh made casting 90 feet of fly line look effortless. We were pretty surprised to actually see how the R8 Core was able to launch an entire fly line with less effort while remaining easy to cast and mend 10 feet of line.
Parking lot hero casts are one thing, but for me, it came down to the accuracy at normal fishing distances as well as decreased effort in casting heavier loads such as nymph rigs and streamers. I know I jokingly said above, but this rod is SMOOTH. You can feel the rod load into the butt section with minimal effort, with a smooth transfer of energy through the rod and into the line. With this deeper load, roll casting and single-handed Spey-type single hand casts were not only easy but really fun.
All that to say, the marketed “fast action” feels more like a medium/fast action while retaining all the necessary elements of a fast action rod: higher line speeds, ability to cast into and knife through wind, and longer casting ranges; but accessible for most any angler skill level. For the majority of trout and freshwater situations, the Sage R8 Core fly rod casts like a dream.
A rod that roll casts well should mend well, right? Well, not always…but the R8 Core isn’t the case. This is where this rod feels like a medium action rather than fast.
A faster rod is sometimes a chore to mend in a variety of currents, but the R8 Core with a softer midsection is an absolute dream for mending. I was able to fish the 5 weight on the Animas for a few days and the first thing I noticed was the ease of mending in every situation. From upstream and downstream mends, stack mending, feeding line downstream, and aerial mends which made for getting longer drifts with less drag even when fishing across multiple current speeds to reach that far drift across the river.
Setting the Hook and Fighting Fish
Again, the R8 Core fly rod does what it is designed to do extremely well and is a fantastic freshwater fishing machine. The snappier tip sets the hook nicely on smaller bugs without breaking lighter tippet. The tip and midsection continue to protect lighter tippet through the fight, while the stouter-built butt section allows you to put a lot of low angle torque on larger fish when the fight turns to a bulldog tug of war for a quick landing.
A true and unbiased review of any consumer product will contain some downsides, and while we don’t have a lot, we have a few.
This is certainly not the first fly rod to break a 1k in price, and it isn’t even the first Sage rod to break that barrier. This is the 2022 flagship rod from a rod manufacturer that has been designing and building fly rods by which other manufacturers set their standards. With an incredible marriage of function, modern materials, science, and engineering, the R8 Core comes with a price tag to suit. A lot of chedda for some, but the R8 Core is worth every penny. Just like a high-end car.
To that note, we would expect other rod builders to follow suit with their top-end pushing over the 1k mark in the next few years.
One thing we did find with the Sage R8 Core fly rod series is that while it shines in most freshwater applications, the 8 weight did not love giant pike flies. While the larger rod weights in the R8 Core family do very well with a variety of sinking lines and streamers for lakes and rivers, the issue came when tying on massive flies for pike. The 8 weight R8 Core just didn’t take to the big wet sock wind-resistant bugs as well. Not saying it couldn’t be done, but with a marketed “all water” rod so good at so many things, there is bound to be weaker link somewhere. When we scaled the fly size back to smaller pike and normal bass flies, the R8 again cast like a dream using the RIO Predator Floating Fly Line or intermediate sinking lines.
The catalyst which seemed to break the formula was the fly size and not necessarily the fly line used. We are talking about big pike flies that most anglers are not often casting for their daily driver. Not a deal-breaker at all for us as Sage has at least 4 rod families that already fit this bill for throwing monster flies and streamers for pike and musky in heavy winds if that is your main goal. Standard streamers, bass bugs, and light pike flies; the R8 Core 7-9 weights handled great, but sizing up to the 9 weight model may help push bigger flies when targeting esox.
We will concede that there may be a better line combo out there for pike flies and the R8 Core 8 and 9 weights but had not found it at the time of writing. In the meantime, watch what Sage has to say about throwing big streamers for trout on the R8 Core…
Overall Fishability and Model by Model Breakdown
With this Sage R8 Core fly rod review, let’s quickly talk about the fishability of this rod. But what does that even mean?
It seems Sage took a hint from where industry rod design was trending and built their flagship series to put fishing first, parking lot casting second. This translates to a fly rod that is exciting to get out and actually cast, mend, or fight fish on the water. They say it isn’t the rod, it is the angler (which is true), but generating power through the entirety of the rod rather than making another tip casing launcher, the R8 Core is far more accessible for most any angler, from beginner to expert.
Casting dries on the R8 Core is a joy as it has the capability to throw close or long-distance laser beams with your favorite trout dry. Going deep, fishing heavy nymph rigs with a lot of weight and an indicator is not a chore as the tip makes beautiful mends while the butt section contains a lot of reserve power to lift heavy rigs and make longer roll casts. The 9 foot 5 weight handled buggers and small streamers very well with the same reserve power, and I found I really liked the tip flex for imparting fly movement or jigging a meat whistle through a deep drift.
So for the Industry Awards and Best of Show at the 2022 IFTD (International Fly Tackle Dealer) Show this year, the Sage R8 Core 990-4 model took home the award for “Fly Rod Saltwater”. Personally, I think the R8 Core should have also taken the award for “Fly Rod Freshwater”…but that’s just a humble peon’s opinion, I digress…
Not yet having the chance to wade the flats of Florida, Belize, or Mexico with the R8 Core, I don’t have a fair or full assessment. I do find this to be a perfect freshwater rod, even promoted as such by Sage in all the marketing (watch the promo video), but labeled as “all-water”. A rod usable in fresh and salt.
Is it the perfect tool for the job? I am not sure as of yet, but the R8 Core cast well in the larger weights with standard bonefish line tapers. I certainly would not hesitate to grab the 7, 8, or 9 weight to fish mangroves and backcountry for snook, redfish, and juvenile tarpon, or when heading to coastal saltwater such as Puget Sound for trout, salmon, or steelhead.
This is by no means a full breakdown of the R8 Core family, as we did not have the opportunity to put every weight and length in our hands at the time of writing this, but will add more as we are able. from a 9 foot 3 weight to 9 foot 9 weight, and a variety of rod lengths; the Sage R8 Core family runs the “all water” gamut, covering everything from smaller midwest spring creeks, to big open Montana trout waters, bass lakes, steelhead rivers, saltwater flats, and wherever else you find yourself.
- 490-4 Just an incredible trout rod. Pair it with a standard fly line taper for dries, nymphs, or swinging wet flies and never look back. Our favorite lines: Rio Technical Trout or SA Trout Taper
- 590-4 This seems to be the flagship model. An instant classic 9 foot, 5 weight; if you only had one this would be it. Jack of all trades and still a master of them. Dries, nymphs, buggers, and small streamers are no problem. Our favorite lines: Rio Perception for beginner to intermediate anglers, best all-around is Rio Gold, with SA MPX working well too
- 690-4 Would it be weird to call a 6 weight a dry fly rod? Ok so maybe not a total dry fly rod, as it is a fantastic heavy Animas nymph rig rod for making long casts with big and often weird mends. But large dry/dropper combos and summer floats are what this was made for This rod had a remarkable feel through the cast (and felt like casting a rod lighter than a 6). Our favorite lines: Rio Gold, or SA Infiity Taper
- 691-4 FB (fighting butt) Pretty much the same as the above 6 weight, but with a fighting butt if that’s your thing…which might be for lifting big trout from deeper rivers or lakes. Our favorite lines: Rio Gold, or SA Infiity Taper
- 790-4 We actually really liked this rod for nymph fishing with super heavy stuff, which means the 7 makes a great steelhead rod. However, it is a 7 weight with a smooth progressive taper which makes for a great bass or even Alaska fishing stick. Our favorite lines: Rio Predator, Rio Bonefish for salt
- 890-4 Another fantastic casting rod with reserve power, though it has a more moderate/fast feel. Salmon, steelhead, larger bass, sinking lines, or even tucking baitfish patterns under mangroves is what I envision casting this bad boy. If you need one do-it-all rod, but you are mostly fishing for larger freshwater fish with an occasional trip to salt, this is it. Our favorite lines: Rio Gold or SA MPX, Rio Predator fished great, Rio Bonefish for salt
- 990-4 So far, the largest rod in the family. Salmon and sink tips, this rod was built for them. A better choice for bigger pike flies than the 8 weight or for targeting juvi tarpon or mega redfish. Our favorite lines: Rio Predator, Rio Permit for salt
Looks, Lines, and Final Thoughts
While we saved the looks for last as it really does not help us catch fish, the Sage R8 Core fly rod still looks dope. Thread wraps are cool as hell, or in Sage’s words: a silver pine blank accented by slate primary thread wraps with graduated white and grey trim. A timeless classic to match with your tweed overcoat, Chacos, or flat brim. 3 to 6 weights carry a snub-nose half-wells cork handle and sustainable ziricote wood insert with anodized aluminum up-locking reel seat and the 5 to 9 weights come with a full-wells cork handle with cork/EVA fighting butt and gunmetal anodized aluminum up-locking reel seat. All boast a laser etched line weight on slide band, aluminum rod tube, and black rod bag with NEW quick-tie cord lock. The quick-tie cord lock is actually a pretty cool detail and makes for quicker building and takedown. It’s the little things.
The R8 Core, we were really happy to discover, casts a variety of fly lines really well. Our favorite overall lines for this family were the Rio Premier Gold and Rio Perception, with the SA MPX making a decent case for overall usage. We did find in the lighter rod weights, the SA Trout Taper cast and mend really nicely. In the heavier weights, depending on your goals, the Rio Elite Predator line was a really good caster in the 6-9 weights.
To round up this long-winded Sage R8 Core fly rod review: this is the next generation of freshwater rods that I am sure many others will attempt to emulate. Designed and built from the previous generation Sage X, but refined and fine-tuned to be a rod family focused on maximum versatility, this is truly a Core rod series.
The R8 Core has become our day in, day out trout rod for Colorado, New Mexico, and beyond where anything can happen and anything can change in an instant. Light, versatile, and exciting to fish, it’s a damn fine fly rod.