Sage Salt R8: A High-End Rod Ideal for the Saltwater Flats.
Who among us hasn’t been wowed during the first 10 minutes of casting a high-end manufacturer’s newest fly rod? It’s happened to me dozens of times over the years because I fully expected a highly-touted rod to sing. About half the time, the “wow” factor lasted a while. The truly great sticks became welcome additions to my rod stash.
Whenever afforded the chance to test drive a new fly rod, I try to also cast a rod I own and favor. I like to switch back and forth using the identical, or nearly identical, fly line and reel and identical leader and fly. This allows for a fair assessment.
When asked by this publication to review Sage’s Salt R8, I had already planned a week-long trip to South Florida, my home for 63 of my 67 years, to fly fish for bonefish in Biscayne Bay and reds and snook in Florida Bay out of Flamingo. A perfect pair of fisheries to give an 8-weight rod a workout. After one postponement due to cold front weather, I finally got on the water with a friend I’ve fished with for over 30 years. I stashed the Sage and an old faithful, my 9-foot, 8-weight cosmetically battle-scarred Orvis Helios, aboard his skiff.
The first stop was a grass flat in Miami’s South Biscayne Bay where at dawn we were greeted by little wind and a few tailing bonefish in about 18 to 24 inches on a late falling tide. What appeared to be a tailing pair about 100 feet out was heading toward us, feeding into the current. My fly was a beadchain-weighted Strongarm Crab pattern, all the rage as of late, tied on a No. 2 hook. My 11-foot leader tapered to a 10-pound fluorocarbon tippet. A good setup for such fish.
As soon as one of the fish tipped up again about 60 feet away, I roll cast the fly from my hand, shot about 15 feet on my back cast and put the fly about 2 feet ahead in their path of travel. It touched down lightly, but I may as well have thrown an egg sinker. More than 20 unseen bonefish exploded in panic. In the low light, we had no visual clue that our two fish were part of a large school spread out in a 20-foot circle. Richard and I just chuckled while I stripped in my line to grab my fly. The panicked school alerted yet another big school (adding insult to insult) about 300 feet away before they made the channel.
In the next hour this happened two more times, forcing me to cast well ahead of the tailing fish we could see in the event that they, too, were flanked by non-tailing fish. In that hopeless process I lost two flies to little ‘cudas. Not fun. Then the tide died, the switch was flipped, and the bones did not return to the scene once the flood tide started. Despite the frustration, I was liking the feel of this rod.
We turned to mudding fish later that day at high tide. They were in almost three feet of water, but the bright midday sun helped us spot them, or at least the “smoke” in the water where they grubbed. It was necessary to lob heavily weighted crab flies (medium-sized lead dumbbell eyes) on No. 2 hooks to sink quickly to their level. In all honesty, this 8-weight struggled a bit in helping me reach the fish 60 feet out, and ones that showed right at the bow were already wise to us. I shortened my leader to 9 feet and retied on a 15-pound-test tippet to better turn over the heavy fly. I suspect a 9-weight would have been a better choice, especially once the breeze increased to 10- to 15-mph. But the R8 did help me reach a few fish, a couple singles in the 8-to 10-pound class. None showed any interest in my flies. Typical of hard-fished Biscayne Bay bones some days.
With lighter standard bonefish patterns, I was impressed that the rod allows you to “fish from the tip.” Basically, and you can verify this by simply holding the rod straight to the sky while pulling down on your line alongside the rod, the flex in the blank extends from the tip top to just “south” of ferrule of the top section. I’ve fished faster rods, and they were not ideal for short, quick flats casts when matching rod and line weight. Overlining would be a help, but I rarely do it. With this rod—which has in my opinion a moderate-fast action— I was able to get my fly to bonefish closer than 40 feet and flats potholes closer than that, with one roll cast, a back cast and a quick shot to the target. The rod’s tip flex allows for that. The rod loaded effortlessly for me, even with a 12-foot leader and just 15 feet of flyline outside the rodtip at the start. As mentioned, it only suffered a bit with the heavy “bombs” we fished for deep fish. Accuracy was exceptional at 40 to 70 feet out, and that is what flats anglers face most often.
I would be inclined to say the Salt R8 has the flex that can serve even the intermediate caster on shorter casts yet please the advanced caster who is able to hold adequate line in the air to make the long throws.
During a day of nonstop blind-casting to Florida Bay mudflat potholes my casts ranged from 30 to well over 60 feet, and the rod handled everything remarkably—lightweight Clousers, bushy Sea-Ducers, Maribou Muddlers and Gurgler poppers tied on hooks up to size 1/0. I was impressed that I could hit a pothole, fish it through, pick up the line and leader cleanly and go right back to the spot without false casting. I was fishing the Rio 8-weight Elite Bonefish floating line and may have found my favorite flats line. It needs very little stretching after storage on the reel (due to the proprietary, low-memory DirectCore) and lays flat on the deck. Floats extremely high and is super slick, too. This line has a long head and long back taper which aids in holding maximum line in the air. Our air temperature was the typical low 80s of a South Florida May day, so stickiness was not an issue. I can’t comment on how the coating will feel come July and August.
Fit and Finish
The Salt R8 has the company’s signature full-wells grip fitted with quality, small-pored cork. Other features include a double uplocking reel seat and the anodized aluminum is corrosion-resistant. Sage numbers the reel seat spacer for quick identification on a racked rod. The blank is a handsome, classy blue/grey, the guide thread wraps are flawless and this 8-weight has upturned, Fuji stripping guides which Sage claims helps reduce friction between the rod and the fly line.
All of these refinements along with performance are exactly what you would expect from a fly rod priced at $1,000 and change. The price may be prohibitive to some. But as is often the case regarding purchases of any kind— you get what you pay for.