Gear Review: Sage R8 Core Fly Rod

sage r8 core

Sage R8 Core

The Sage X was, I thought, the company’s best flagship rod since the fabled XP. The X was fast but still had most of the feel I want and need in my trout rods. That’s not to say I didn’t like the other flagship models Sage introduced, I just really enjoyed fishing the X. So when the R8 Core showed up for testing, it had a lot to live up to.

The R8 met and exceeded nearly every expectation. It’s a bit slower than the X but has much more power. I love how it fishes in close and at traditional trout fishing distances. The 9′ 5-weight model I reviewed had the backbone to fight through the stiff spring winds here in Wyoming but maintained enough delicacy in presentation that I felt comfortable fishing it during blue-winged olive hatches.

The R8 Core is the most complete Sage rod I’ve fished in years. Sage found a fantastic balance between their renowned fast-action and the feel that trout anglers demand.

What I Like

Rod Action

My first casts with the R8 were on my in-laws’ front lawn. My initial reaction was surprise at how much I felt from the line and rod during short, in-close casting. The R8 is a fast, stiff rod, but it provides a wonderful amount of feedback at all fishing distances. According to Sage, that increased feel was on purpose.

“We’ve increased the purity of graphite in the rod for even more reactivity and sensitivity, shifting energy further down the blank and into the handle,” reads some of the press release about the R8.

While I’m no engineer and can’t speak to the purity of graphite, I can say they hit the mark with increased sensitivity. At all traditional trout fishing distances, the R8 provided the feedback I needed to make big mends or to set the hook on subtle takes.

While fishing during a blue-winged olive hatch on the Green River, I was able to pick up and quickly recast 40 or 50 feet of line. The R8 slows down a bit under the load of a heavy streamer or nymph rig, but it’s still a quick, lively stick that delivers flies on target. At all distances, with everything from size 20 emergers to 2/0 streamers, the R8 was an absolute pleasure to cast.

Perhaps most importantly, I found something Sage said in their initial R8 press release to be completely true: “Rather than dialing up parking lot distance, we’ve shifted the thinking back to the roots of rhythm and awareness.”


The R8 Core isn’t just another new fly rod for Sage. It’s actually the first time since the XP series was introduced that Sage is using an entirely new set of graphite fibers and resin for constructing their flagship rod.

Because they’re using brand-new graphite and resin, the R8 is noticeably lighter and more torsionally stable than other models. Since the R8 has less side-to-side movement during the casting stroke, your loops are tighter, resulting in a rod that’s inherently more accurate than others on the market. While accuracy is largely the responsibility of the angler, a rod built to minimize casting variables helps close the gap.

What that boils down to is a rod that makes it very easy to deliver casts on point and under duress. Even when casting into the wind, I was very pleased with how accurate the R8 was.


I tested the 9′ 5-weight version of the R8, and I was surprised at how much power it packed. Whether it was throwing flies into a relentless wind, or nymphing with a huge rig and mending across a lot of water, the R8 has the power to get just about any job done. I even threw streamers that were bigger than I would normally cast on a 5-weight just to see what would happen. The R8 handled them fine.

In addition, the R8 had the backbone to pull big fish through heavy currents, allowing me to net fish quickly and get them back in the water as soon as possible. The R8 made tasks like that feel easy instead of arduous like they often do on many lighter 5-weights.

Tippet Protection

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the R8 in terms of tippet protection. When I finally tied on some 6x fluorocarbon to get me through a picky pod of fish, though, the R8 handled the light line flawlessly. The R8’s tip section is light and soft, which helps protect tippet from fish rolling or making big runs.


The 9′ 5-weight R8 clocks in at 2 11/16 ounces, which is ridiculously light. The rod almost disappears in your hand. Despite that light weight, it’s no slouch when you need it to fight a big fish or turn over long leaders. This is just another example of the advances Sage has made with its new Revolution 8 graphite and resins. Rods this light shouldn’t have the vast range of abilities the R8 does.

What I Don’t Like

Usually, I find a few aspects of a rod’s performance that I’d like to see improved or changed for future models. On a select few rods, though, I’ve been at a loss for suggestions on how to make them better.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time fishing the R8, and I think it’s one of the best fly rods currently on the market. It can—and will—go toe-to-toe with flagship models offered by other manufacturers. For Sage aficionados especially, I think the R8 will create a well-deserved cult of fans.

But I’d like to see some change in the aesthetics. Specifically, more choices. I love the dark green color of the R8 blank. It looks fantastic in direct sunlight. However, I’d like to see Sage expand the color palette a bit (as we’ve seen them do with a few rod models over the years) and at least offer a few different options. Even adding a brighter wood to the reel seat would help the R8 really stand out on the rod rack at your local fly shop.

Finally, I’m not a huge fan of the price. The R8 retails for $1,050. While I understand that Sage has a lot of research and development costs to recoup here (the new graphite, taper design, and product testing just to name a few) $1,050 feels a bit high.

As a bamboo rod builder myself, I’ve always thought that the $1,000+ price range would be reserved for rods that require 80-100 (often more) hours of hands-on labor to create. While I’m not surprised to see graphite finally break through that $1,000 price tag, it’s still frustrating to know that this rod is out of financial reach for so many anglers. If nothing else, I’d like to see a more reasonable price so more anglers have the opportunity to fish such a fine fly rod.

Final Word

The Sage R8 Core is the company’s best fly rod since the XP, in my opinion. It’s light, has a ton of reserve power, and delivers excellent feedback to the angler. The R8 is inherently accurate, and is designed to increase the feel and rhythm that is such an integral part of the fly fishing experience. Whether you’re chasing trout, carp, or bass, the R8 has all the performance features you need to get the job done. It’s an incredible fly rod that I feel lucky to have fished with. I’d love to see Sage offer a few different color options and introduce it at a price point more affordable for many fly anglers.

You can learn more about the R8 and buy it here.