If you read our Sage SALT R8 ‘First Impressions’ blog, then you probably picked up on the fact that we like this rod, so just know we were a little biased towards the positive when setting out on our various ventures.
However, parking lot and grass casting can only tell you so much about the soul of a fly rod. To truly grasp the capability of a fly rod, one has to pressure test it: take shots, hook fish, miss fish, fight fish, and land them in a variety of conditions. Trout rods are easier for us to get out and test, but living pretty far from saltwater poses challenges when trying out a saltwater-specific fly rod. Sure, we will have plenty of time chasing bass and pike with the SALT R8, but these were built for salty fisheries, and fortunately we had a few saltwater trips on the books to help us put together our Sage SALT R8 fly rod review.
I recently, hosted a group of anglers down in Boqueron, Puerto Rico at No Name Fly Lodge. I was lucky enough to be able to test drive the new Sage SALT R8 fly rods as well as the ENFORCER reels from Sage. Now, I didn’t take them all, but I did sample the 9wt and the 11wt rods/reels. Let me say this: you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better saltwater rod with as much “feel” and raw pulling power. I’m not the world’s foremost saltwater angler, but I have fished my fair share. These rods stack up with the best I’ve ever thrown.
Did you think they could make a better salt reel than the Spectrum Max? Well, the lovely people at Sage developed a gem with the new ENFORCER reel. Not only does it have one of the best drag systems that we all have come to know and love, but imagine that the same reel has 50% more strength. I’m not sure I’ll ever have to worry again about some of those jack crevalles that decide to speed off into the horizon. This reel can put the brakes on ‘em.
We spent the week chasing tarpon, as well as some permit action on the atolls. The 11wt has as much feel as any rod I’ve cast. I was unaware that it was possible to put that kind of sensitivity and lifting power in a rod. This helps when pulling those 80lb’ers up.
The 9wt has that delicate presentation that all permit-hungry anglers want, without sacrificing power/speed. This can come in handy when needing to pull those fish, which actually eat, away from the coral.
Both rods performed extremely well from 20-40ft, as well as, 60-80ft. I do enjoy the ease of being able to load a rod inside 40ft. On those cloudy days, being able to load a rod in a short distance is key when the fish are on you before you see them.
I paired both rods with Scientific Anglers lines. The 9wt featured a SA Infinity Salt, and the 11wt featured a SA Grand Slam.
Overall, the Sage R8 Salt rods and ENFORCER reels are high-quality saltwater fly fishing equipment that delivers exceptional performance and versatility. I firmly believe they are a great investment for serious saltwater anglers who demand the best gear for their pursuits.
As I write this, I am fresh back from the salty air of Ambergris Caye, Belize where Duranglers hosted its second annual trip with a group to the Blue Bonefish Lodge. I was able to bring along 3 in the SALT R8 rod family: the 7, 8, and 10 weights, and put them through a few paces. Fishing conditions were less than ideal (are they really ever ideal for anyone used to 20-foot trout casts?), but a lot of fun was had in the wind, and a few good fish were brought to hand. I should have a trip report coming soon…
Across all 3 models, I found that each rod was light for its class in hand as well as swing weight, with a little more flex through the tip section to give an illusion of being a moderately fast action. I say illusion as one could be duped into thinking they were not truly fast-action fly rods. The R8 has a lot of feel, but it is a fast rod, especially when I had to make quick shot 90-foot casts to rolling tarpon. They all have a lot of power, and with sustained winds up to 30 mph on the last two days, all three stood up and never faltered (if I did my part correctly anyway).
One thing we have found with the action is that it seems every model has a pretty large sweet spot for anglers of all abilities. Forgiving for newer casters, the SALT R8 also performs incredibly with advanced and expert fly anglers.
Here is my model-by-model breakdown:
The 7 weight surprised me with just how much use I got out of it. In the heavy winds, I figured the 8-weight would be my choice to punch through the wind with accurate shots at cruising bonefish. Wanting to give it a fair shake, I grabbed the 7 for a lagoon bonefish mission the first day and ended up throwing this rod all week when I could in spite of the wind. This rod is a go-to Yucatan bonefish rod but also became a San Pedro foot patrol rod when we searched out baby tarpon ponds after hours. The 7 had a lot of power to pull on these tarpon to prevent them from running back into the mangroves and causing problems.
I paired this rod with the 7-weight RIO Elite Bonefish fly line and this model seemed perfectly paired with this taper. What I did like about the RIO Bonefish taper paired with the 7 weight SALT R8 was that it felt to me like a solid all-around taper rather than just a “bonefish fly line”. It can throw laser loops and I was comfortable casting bonefish flies at cruising bones from 20-80 feet with accuracy, but also equally confident tucking 20-40 foot casts with larger tarpon toads and streamers under mangroves for baby tarpon.
This makes for a fantastic multi-use bass and streamer rod as well as a 7 weight redfish rod paired with a RIO Flats Pro fly line.
It’s hard for me to say this is my favorite SALT R8 model, as I really, really loved the 10 weight as well. What I will say though is this: this is my favorite 7 weight fly rod currently in production by any rod manufacturer, salt or fresh water. Sadly, these are not my rods to keep, so I am saving my pennies for this one. Everyone has their opinion on “the best”, but I would challenge any opinionated caster to at least give this one a few throws. They may love their preferred brand and model, but there is no denying that the 7 weight SALT R8 is a great rod.
Thanks to the 7 weight SALT R8 fly rod, I honestly didn’t fish the 8 as much as I would have liked, but I did get a little time with this rod in hand. Again, I paired the 8 weight with the RIO Elite Bonefish fly line which again, felt like they were tailor-made for each other. Right away, this rod is night and day better than the predecessor SALT HD 8 weight. As weird as it might sound, I always felt like the SALT HD 8 weight was the rod I would be least likely to enjoy, while the SALT HD 9 weight is the model I enjoy a ton. Just goes to show you not all models in a family are created equal.
Anyway, back to SALT R8 8 weight. Like every rod in this family, you can feel the rod load with ease and even direct the power with very little effort. You can be a tip-casting stickler, a huck and duck bomber, or anything in between. These rods handle so many different casting styles it’s kind of astounding. While I didn’t chase permit with this model, I did hook and land enough bonefish and baby tarpon to know that this rod handles a wide variety of fishing and wind scenarios. I feel more than confident in saying that it is the best saltwater 8 weight that Sage makes, and one of the best all-around saltwater 8 weights on the market today.
There are two sweet spots we have found with the SALT R8 family, which has not been a common statement with Sage rod families the past few years. The sweet spots are found in the 7/8 weights and the 10/11 weights. It shows in the 10 weight SALT R8 fly rod.
It’s wild, when you pick this rod up, it does not feel like you are holding a clunky 10 weight, more like an 8.5 weight (if that were a thing). It is light, smooth, responsive, and immensely powerful when you need it. With shorter casts, there were times I questioned if it would collapse under a load of a long cast, but when that 90-foot shot showed up, this rod performed flawlessly. Long casts were made with less effort, and it took me a few times to dial it back to prevent overshooting targets past 80 feet. The lightness in hand and casting smoothness might very well betray the secret power held deeper in this rod when it comes time to launch line or pull on heavy fish.
According to Sage:
With our new R8 graphite, adding 25% more strength-per-weight was the easy part—a simple function of material advancement—but one that also increased the fight in the rod even down to our six-weight. We increased the pure pulling power without the need to add more material, fillers or reinforcement. The outcome is simple, providing the ability for faster landing times and reducing fish stress and catch-and-release pressure on ever so delicate ecosystems.
This, I can attest, is 100% accurate. It’s a hard pairing to marry strength with finesse in a fly rod, but Sage did it.
For the 10 weight I paired the RIO Elite Tarpon 10-weight fly line, and it was just about perfect. I say “just about” perfect because every person has their preference, and I have heard from a few others that they preferred a slightly different line from RIO or Scientific Anglers with the 10. It just goes to show you that a good rod can function well with many lines. For the 10 weight if you are not sure about the RIO Tarpon taper, check out the RIO Elite Flats Pro, RIO Elite Permit, SA Infinity Salt, or SA Grand Slam fly line tapers.
The beauty of this rod is that it is a 10 weight you can put in the hands of folks who are not used to big game rods, and they will find it smooth and light; lacking the weight and clunkiness of other 10 weights on the market.
We don’t have a lot of bad things to say about this rod. Even the color of the rod is cool. The ‘Tempest Blue” shows up as a pretty lackluster dark grey under the fluorescent lights of the shop, but pops beautifully in the sun’s rays as a deep beautiful blue. The cork grip has a solid feel in the hand, and guides and components balanced out the look. The upturned first two stripping guides are also a good added touch for when the unfortunate wind knot shoots through your guides after a powerful fish eats. Tip to butt, this rod has been thoughtfully designed by Sage.
Probably the one glaring obvious is the price tag. The best comes at a cost, and with top-end saltwater rods from most manufacturers breaking the 1k barrier, this is to be expected. The price isn’t the problem really for this great of a rod, it’s the fact that this rod and taper are absolutely fantastic for beginner saltwater anglers. We would feel confident putting any SALT R8 model in the hands of any angler headed to the flats for their first time and know the rod would aid them in making better shots. It’s a hard pill for many who are just dipping their toes into the game, whereas veteran saltwater guides and anglers alike will find this to be a peak-performing rod for all levels.
At the end of the day, we could say all the nicest things in this Sage SALT R8 fly rod review, but honestly, you should just swing by the shop and cast one and make up your own mind.