Posts tagged: Sage R8 CORE

Fly Rod Shootout: Sage Salt R8 vs. Sage Salt HD

Fly Rod Shootout: Sage Salt R8 vs. Sage Salt HD
Words + Photos By: Josh Thelin

Saltwater fly rods have a unique place in fly fishing. They are dealt a wide variety of environments to accommodate, have to manage larger fish on average than freshwater endeavors, get punished with corroding/damaging salt, and still need to find the balance between powerful, accurate, and responsive. For the most part, with the subject of "saltwater fly fishing" the fly fishing industry (as a whole) mostly thinks of bonefish flats and cruising tarpon. So with this, saltwater fly rods over the years have been designed more towards accuracy and presentation with fighting/lifting power as a secondary thought. It is understandable, as in many cases these characteristics can be mutually exclusive. Further, specifically within this review, Sage has been actually known as a maker of generally faster/stiffer rods than other manufacturers. Depending on what you are looking for in terms of your needs or how it matches with you as an angler, there is a lot to consider when purchasing your next saltwater fly rod. 

The Sage Salt HD has been around for a number of years providing a very capable rod in many saltwater/big game situations. I currently own the 9wt myself which I use for striped bass here in Maine, permit/bonefish in the Caribbean, and Golden Dorado in Argentina. In the words of Sage, the Salt HD has "more pulling power than a standard Fast Action Rod to bring stronger fish to hand more efficiently, and increased line lifting power allowing for long range second casts." So this tells me a few things right off the bat if I had never cast it and were reading this for the first time: this rod is fast. And in truth, if there has been a complaint about the Salt HD from some anglers, it has been that it "lacks feel/seems clunky and doesn't have the touch and responsiveness as other saltwater fly rods, even within Sage's lineup." 

But again, saltwater fly fishing is diverse. So this stiffness that some feel doesn't work for their fishing/casting needs, can also be a good tool for others in different situations. For instance I enjoy the Salt HD especially for striped bass fishing as it provides a rod that allows me to effectively and efficiently cast the flies and lines necessary for stripers. For most of these situations I am not looking for a rod that can delicately place a small + lightweight shrimp fly accurately at 70ft (a la bonefish or redfish), but a rod that can manage throwing lead-eyed clousers/crab patterns as well as wind-resistant hollow flies on sinking and aggressive tapered fly lines. Sure, there are certainly situations with striped bass fly fishing where you can target the fish in flats with a technique very similar to bonefish/permit, but a vast majority of striped bass anglers are not doing this on a regular basis. 

Sage has now released their replacement for the Salt HD. The Salt R8 is a continuation of the R8 family of rods. Using their proprietary Revolution 8 technology, Sage has replaced the KonneticHD technology which was previously available in the Salt HD. This newest rod technology has certainly provided a lighter-weight and responsive rod in the R8 CORE offerings, so let's see how the new Salt R8 fairs against its predecessor...

Rods Used:

Lines Used:

Flies Used:

  • Clouser (medium lead + large brass dumbbell eyes)
  • Crab Fly (medium lead eyes)
  • Hollow Fly (4/0 hook)
  • Articulated Beast Fly

Reels Used:

Sage Salt R8 vs. Sage Salt HD

We wanted to give the Salt R8 a wide range of tests. This included not only using a variety of different fly lines and flies, but also environments. The first place we brought the rods was into a local gymnasium. This gave us a completely sterile area with no weather/wind to effect the casting. Being able to cast the rods without any environmental interference allowed us to get a good baseline assessment. 

Before we started casting, I did the ol' wiggle test with the 9wt Salt HD and Salt R8 side by side. Right out of the gate it was clear that the Salt R8 was not only lighter but also had more flex, especially in the top section. It did feel "softer" but not in a bad way. The flex styles of the two rods are distinctively different. After rigging up the different lines and flies, casting them side by side with the Salt HD, the Salt R8 felt not only more pleasant to cast, but surprising capable at managing the heavier lines and bigger flies. Additionally, it seemed that I had to work less while casting the Salt R8 to get similar (distance) results as the Salt HD. It took very little effort to get the Coastal Quickshooter 9IXP line with a hollow fly tied on to shoot across the gym. This told me that the power of the Salt R8 is there and comparable to any saltwater rod currently on the market. Plus, with the softer tip section accuracy was enhanced and it was overall a more efficient and pleasant rod to cast compared to the Salt HD.

The 10wt echoed similar results. In the gym, the 10wt Salt R8 performed better than the Salt HD is almost every way. However, once we both tied on aggressive sinking lines and big flies, the Salt R8 seemed to run out of gas a little, but not by much. This was true with the 9wt as well. Certainly doable and the rod could get the job done, but the stiffer Salt HD had an easier time managing the grunt work. 

So, then it was time to bring them outside...

Sage R8 Salt vs. Sage Salt HD

It was windy on this day. Gusts of around 20mph kept things interesting. But, what is a saltwater fly rod test without some wind? Using the same setups as inside the gym, we cast at various targets/distances, changed flies, changed lines, and cast at different angles into the wind. The Salt R8 continued to be the more pleasant casting rod between the two. However, it did start to suffer a little quicker than the Salt HD when the wind picked up and we were trying to negotiation larger/heavier flies and more aggressive lines. This was one of the few instances that the Salt HD had a leg up. 

As we continued to cast both the 9 and 10wts, the differences between the two models became greater. The more I cast the R8 Salt I was able to manage all of the lines that we brought with comfort and, with the exception of the Beast Fly, could easily cast all of the flies accurately with less effort needed than the Salt HD. But the wind was a deciding factor between the two. With either the hollow fly or the Beast Fly, the Salt R8 started to suffer quicker than the Salt HD. However, something to consider: throwing these types of flies or aggressive lines is not what everyone does or needs to do. Which brings me to fly lines...

Best Fly Line

Sage Salt R8 Review

One of the things that I like to take note of when doing these types of fly rod shootouts is to see which lines the rod really prefers. This can not only be a good indication of the type of action the rod is but also what techniques, situations the rod will do best in, or even which species it's best suited for. Testing rods with only one line doesn't really give much information. So that is why we picked fly lines from floating to sinking, aggressive or presentation minded, and also coldwater and tropical. 

A while back we tested a group of 9wt rods with specifically striped bass fly fishing in mind. (You can read our "9wt Fly Rod Royale" HERE). At the end of that shootout the RIO Coastal Quickshooter was our favorite line across the board. It was aggressive enough to load the faster action rods that we like for this type of fishing. In this shootout, although I was pleasantly surprised athte R8 Salt's ability to manage all of the lines we brought, I found that the RIO Elite Flats Pro was the best matched line for this rod. This makes sense as although the Salt R8 is a very capable rod with both power and feel, I think that it will shine brighter on the tropical flats than it will chucking big flies and heavy lines especially in windy situations. 


Joe Webster from here at All Points had a good overall assessment of the Salt R8 after our testing: 

"The R8 Salt 9 and 10wt models are overall a much smoother and pleasant experience to cast than the Salt HD. I think the R8 Salt will probably outperform in every situation other than in rough windy conditions, more specifically windy conditions when wading from shore. For our local striper anglers, I think there are better tools out there, even amongst Sage’s current offerings. But it certainly may be a better tool for our local striper anglers who may not like the broom stick feel of rods that handle heavy sink tips and large flies so well. It just may be more difficult during poor windy conditions (which isn’t for everyone either). If I had to reach for one of the two on a calm day I would choose the R8 Salt every time. But if a rough windy day came about I’d probably still be fishing the Salt HD with a more aggressive and heavier line. Overall I see this series going over very well with everything from sea trout to sailfish with the unfortunate exception of shore bound striped bass fisherman."

Both Joe and I really liked this new rod from Sage. For those who did not like the feel (or lack thereof) of the Salt HD, this rod is definitely worth checking out. Additionally, according to Sage, the Salt R8 has also improved the durability of this rod which I know in some situations was a complaint about the Salt HD. This is not only a perk for any angler, but certainly to note for remote/traveling anglers. As their newest flagship saltwater rod, I can see this going over very well for years to come. 


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Sage R8 CORE Preview

Sage R8 CORE Preview

The R8 CORE is the latest release from Sage. From 8'6" - 10' in lengths and covering 3-9wt models, the R8 is designed for freshwater and lightweight/inshore saltwater fly fishing.


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Sage R8 CORE vs. Sage Salt HD - 9wt Tested On The Water

Sage R8 CORE vs. Sage Salt HD - 9wt Tested On The Water
Words/Photos: Josh Thelin

I have to admit, when I heard that Sage was releasing a new flagship rod which would be replacing the X, I didn't have much confidence that the heavier weight models would be good options for striped bass. For me, the X is a better freshwater/trout rod and light inshore rod. But, it didn't quite have the "umph" needed to manage the various gear and situations we face here on the northeast coast for stripers in the salt. 

For instance, fly lines designed for our water and targeted species of striped bass, are different than saltwater lines specifically made for, say, sight-fishing bonefish or tarpon on tropical flats. "Striper lines" are generally either heavier, more aggressive tapered, include more various fast sinking lines/tips, require the ability to throw very large/heavy flies, are made of different materials, or all of the above. For the most part, fly rod and fly line setups that allow us to quickly load our rods (we do a lot of blind-casting where distance and efficiency trumps accuracy), with minimal false casting, is the goal. Plus, the ability to deal with casting and lifting aggressive-tapered intermediate or fast sinking tips with heavy/wind resistant flies are ideal for our type of fishing. And even further, they have to do this in usually less than "ideal fly fishing conditions." Although most people would call these "fast action" rods (which they are), I think calling them "capable" is a better way of describing them. Just because it's fast, doesn't mean its good. I like fast rods for fishing stripers, but I also like to feel whats going on. Consistency and efficiency in fly casting is much better than working my butt off (hauling harder, etc) for the ability to cast 10ft further once every ten casts.

The R8 CORE, being the newest addition to Sage's flagship series, boasts some of the most modern fly rod technology to date. "Axial Fiber Formulation" and "Circumferential Hoop Fiber" are the two most notable build differences from previous Sage rods. The effort here is simply to make a rod that transfers energy more efficiently and can still provide a fast action rod that gives good feedback to the caster. In the past this has meant sacrificing some of the qualities that make for a good striper rod. Also, in all fairness, Sage's new R8 CORE is more targeted towards freshwater pursuits. But when I was able to cast these new rods recently, I was pleasantly surprised at this new rod's potential in the salt. They were clearly great freshwater rods across many different weights. So let's see how the R8 CORE 9wt did against Sage's more saltwater specific rod, the Salt HD 9wt...


Fly Lines Used:



  • Hollow bucktail deceivers tied on 4/0 hooks and various clousers tied with brass and lead eyes on 1/0 hooks.  

Sage R8 CORE vs Sage Salt HD 9wt

The Salt HD 9wt has been one of my favorite saltwater rods. It not only scored very well on our 9wt Rod Royale Shootout, but it has found a place as one of my 9wt mainstays for not only stripers, but a wide range of salt applications. So I took both of these rods out on the rocks and ledges with three different lines that I use to fish these rocky shorelines, and a handful of flies. 

The gut reaction I had was of pleasant surprise. The R8 CORE was able to throw all of these lines without feeling completely overwhelmed by their weight or aggressiveness. It managed to pick up a decent amount of the SA Triple Density line out of the water and re-cast competently. So far, so good. But how did it compare to the Salt HD? 

The R8 CORE, overall, has a softer action compared to the Salt HD. This I expected, but it's a little more complicated. You feel this softness mostly in the tip section, yet as the rod continues to flex/load, the remainder of the rod has enough "umph" to help compensate if necessary. So with some slight casting changes, I could rely on the butt section to help turn over the heavier flies and mange the heavier/aggressive lines. The R8 CORE felt lighter in hand and in swing-weight, which is a great thing. This is especially true with the amount of blind casting usually involved with striped bass. I can certainly see myself being able to comfortably cast this rod all day.

In head-to-head comparison, the Salt HD provided a better tool for the "grunt work" that is sometimes involved with stripers, especially when the wind picked up. Over the course of a couple of days of casting in different conditions, I tried the various lines on the R8 CORE while casting directly into 10-20mph winds and although the R8 did ok, when I swapped over to the Salt HD, I felt it could punch through better when matched with these heavier setups. It also faired better with picking up/lifting line to re-cast and just generally managing the SA Triple Density sinking line off the rocks, which can be challenging. 

How The R8 CORE Will Shine in Saltwater Fishing...

The R8 proved to be a capable rod in the salt. In an "extreme salt" application such as this, it provided a lightweight and extremely sensitive casting rod with plenty of power for most saltwater applications. As a striper specific rod, it would be a great option for a wide range of anglers. Its ability to have as much simultaneous feedback and power was surprising. 

Even further, I will venture a guess now that the R8 CORE 8wt and 9wt will become a preferred rod for tropical saltwater applications. The softer tip, with plenty of sensitivity, and reserved power in the butt section, will make for a killer bonefish rod! In fact, the next time I am planning on headed south for bonefish I'd love to bring it with me. With setups that include lighter-weight flies and (mostly floating) tropical lines, the R8 will sing! The accuracy and feel was certainly one of the biggest take-aways from this test. The R8 CORE provides a very feel-oriented rod which is very accurate. In sight-fishing applications, this is exactly what we are looking for!

What the R8 CORE proved to be, when the dust settles, is an incredibly versatile rod. Between the two rods, the Salt HD got the edge purely in this niche situation. But the R8 certainly won the more "versatile rod award." Not only will this new Sage offering shine in all heavier-weight freshwater applications like salmon and steelhead, but it clearly has cross application in many saltwater applications as well. On a day on the flats in the Bahamas, trying to softly and accurately put a size #6 shrimp pattern in front of a school of bonefish at 50ft, even in windy conditions, I'd rather have an 8wt R8 CORE than a lot of other "saltwater rods" on the market!

Sage R8 CORE 9wt

Best Fly Line Match-Up

The RIO Premier Striper WF9I felt to be the best match for the R8 CORE in this test. It loaded the rod well at common distances and suffered the least (compared to the other two lines) when trying to cast directly into the wind. It is the least aggressive tapered line amongst the three so this makes sense. All three of the lines included in the test weigh in at 330gr for their AFFTA weight (first 30'). But they are all very differently designed lines. This 330gr weight has proven, in my opinion, to be a great home base for 9wt striped bass fly lines. It tends to properly load most 9wt rods and can be translated into a wide range of suitable tapers and sinking lines for a lot of options for striped bass. Between 300-350gr is what I generally see as a good match for modern 9wt "fast action" rods specifically for coldwater saltwater. 

Overall Take Away

With its wide range of applications, the R8 CORE 9wt is going to be a great rod for anglers looking for not only a lightweight and responsive rod, but one that they can bring salmon fishing as well as for stripers or redfish and bonefish. Compared to the Salt HD, the R8 was a lighter-weight and "easier" rod to cast with clearly more sensitivity. I soon expect to see this rod start to find some attention outside of just the freshwater world. Between these two rods, if I were to pick one 9wt striper rod it would be the Salt HD. If I were to pick one 9wt in general, it would be the R8 CORE.

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