Posts tagged: Stripers

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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The Top 3 Intermediate & Sinking Fly Lines For Striped Bass

The Top 3 Intermediate & Sinking Fly Lines For Striped Bass

Top 3 Intermediate Fly Lines for Striped Bass:

Intermediate striper lines are the most popular choice here in New England. We tell people if you had to have one, this would probably be it. Intermediate lines are very slow sinking lines which are great for fishing subsurface without getting too deep and hanging up on the bottom. They fish well on beaches, rocky shorelines, and in rivers and marshes. Here are our top 3 performing intermediate striper lines according to our experience and our customers feedback. Feel free to give us a shout for help on selecting the right line for you, your gear, and your fishery!

Coastal Quickshooter XP:

By far our most popular striped bass fly line. This line is one of the smoothest and easiest casting lines on the market for targeting stripers. It is an aggressive and overweighted line. Therefore, certain 9wt rods will pair better with the 8IXP vs the 9IXP. This varies rod to rod, person to person, and technique to technique, so feel free to reach out with questions about you and balancing your specific rod. This line features a clear tip, a translucent purple running line, and welded loops on both ends. It is ideal for casting in heavy wind and turning over big flies. This line does not provide the most delicate of presentations but the clear tip does help greatly when dealing with spooky fish on sunny days. 

Click HERE for more info on RIO Coastal Quickshooter

RIO Premier Striper:

A line very similar to the Coastal Quickshooter, except it is not quite as aggressive. This line also features a clear tip and is capable of presenting a fly more delicately than the quickshooter. So in a lot of cases it is preferred by those fishing flats with decievers, clousers, etc. This line has a glow in the dark running line which takes a lot if the frustration of fishing at night out of the equation. 

Click HERE for more info on RIO Premier Striper

Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Full Intermediate:

The SONAR Full Intermediate is a great casting line with an aggressive taper capable of turning over larger/heavier flies. But, it’s most notable feature is it’s braided multi-filament core that provides incredibly strong hook sets and an increased sense of feel vs single strand cores. If you feel like you are missing hook sets or not driving the hook home deep enough to keep a fish on, give this stuff a try. This line comes in a teal color with welded loops on both ends.

Click HERE for more info on the SA SONAR Full Intermediate

Top 3 Sink Tip Fly Lines for Striped Bass:

Whether you are trying to get a big baitfish pattern down fast, or dragging crab flies on the sandy bottom, most striped bass fly fisherman like to have a sink tip line on hand. Sink tip lines are notoriously aggressive and not the most pleasant casting lines but we have narrowed down 3 lines that we hope can change that reputation. These are our top performing sink tip fly lines according to our own experiences using them, as well as our customers feedback. Feel free to reach out for help selecting the line right for you, your gear, and your fishery!

Scientific Anglers SONAR Triple Density Int/S3/S6

This line casts incredibly well and provides the most direct connection to your fly possible. Featuring 3 different sink rates per line, the SA triple density lines prevent hinge points that traditional intermediate to sink or float to sink lines provide. This allows the line to stay in the straightest possible course to the fly which in turn allows you to feel every little bump your fly might encounter. This line comes in multiple colors to indicate changes on line density. All of this coupled with SA’s multi filament braided core (a low stretch core that is great for providing strong hook sets) makes it an ideal line for striped bass. Comes with welded loops on both ends. This is our favorite line for fishing crab flies. 

Click HERE for more info on the SA SONAR Triple Density

RIO Leviathan:

Not your traditional sink tip line for stripers, and almost something that could be counter intuitive because it is a tropical line, we have found this line to be one of the most durable and well performing sink tip fly lines for striped bass on the market. With a very abrasion resistant coating meant to deal rubbing on coral reefs, this line is an incredibly good line for fishing rocky shorelines and will not immediately brake down if rubbing on rocks or barnacles. The 50lb core not only provides extra strength but also offers a thicker running line for easier handling. This line does not provide the most delicate presentation, but when it comes to getting the biggest of flies from point A to point B with minimal effort, this is the line to use. A great line to use for versatility too, as it performs well with dragging crabs on the bottom and throwing a big fly that may contain half a chickens worth of feathers. The only thing we would not recommend this line for is sight fishing in shallow water, where a sink tip line is often not necessary anyway. Do not be fooled by the fact that this is a tropical line. From late may-early October this line will work as it is intended to during our striper season here in Maine as the water is plenty warm when the stripers migrate up here. Just be weary very early season or very late season when air temps dip into the 30’s. RIO Leviathan may be an unconventional striper line but after brutally testing this line and pushing it to its limits we assure you this had to be on the list. This line comes in various colors depending on grain weight and features welded loops on both ends. 

Click HERE for more info on the RIO Leviathan 

RIO Premer Striper (Sink Tip):

Truthfully it was a close call between this and the SA SONAR Surf. Both are very good lines but two outstanding features of the new RIO striper line put it over the top. We do believe that SA’s Sonar sink 30 does provide a little bit of a better connection due to its low stretch multi filament core, but it came down to castability and durability. RIO’s new slick cast technology has greatly increased the durability of this line and we had no issues with cracking or splitting personally, or from any of our customers (at least to our knowledge). With striped bass fishing being so hard on lines this is a very impressive track record. On top of durability, this is one of the smoothest and easiest casting sink tip lines on the market. Comes in various colors depending on grain weight. Features welded loops on both ends. 

Click HERE for more info on the RIO Premier Striper Sink Tip

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Fly Fishing for Trophy Striped Bass in Maine

Fly Fishing for Trophy Striped Bass in Maine
Maine gets a reputation for being a producer of primarily small striped bass. However, what many people may not know is that the same prized fifty pounders being caught in the more southern states can also be caught on our beautiful Maine coastline. Because we do have such a large abundance of smaller fish in Maine, it can often be difficult to target the bigger fish, especially with a fly rod. To help gain an understanding of large striped bass behavior it is important to understand many of the following things.

Movement and Locations

Striped bass start coming up to Maine as early as May. Most of our early runners are very small fish taking advantage of the abundance of small bait in estuaries and marshes. The more comfortable water conditions in these areas also provides a more inviting habit for the stripers. It is not until our rivers are full of larger bait such as alewives and river herring that the bigger sized striped bass make an appearance. Fishing river mouths and estuaries can be very productive for early season big fish. However, once those runs of bait come to an end and the pogies (menhaden/bunker) show up (which they have been doing in big numbers in recent years) the bigger bass will start to push out into deeper water. This in turn means the ledges, rock piles, and beaches become the go-to locations.

Fly Fishing for Striped Bass in Maine

Throughout the summer months large striped bass can be caught on both beaches and rocks on the Maine coast. Access to deeper, colder water can be important during the hottest times of the year. As things cool down and our fall run takes place, big striped bass can be anywhere and everywhere. Some fish decide to push back up into rivers or cruise along the mouths to feed on bait dumping out, and some choose to stay out in their summer haunts. As they migrate south they can take advantage of feeding opportunities which will make for some of the best fishing of the year, however it can be very spotty. Fall is a high-risk-high-reward scenario in Maine. It is important to stay mobile and flexible as you never know when or where a massive feed could pop up. Time of day matters less in the fall. By mid-late October most our trophy sized bass have headed south but they seem to come earlier and stay later every year so you never know if that late season monster might still be hanging around in November. 

Time of Day

Fly Fishing For Trophy Striped Bass in Maine

Night time or low light hours is always your best bet at catching trophy striped bass. Fly fishing at night can be a difficult activity, but it is a regular occurrence for big bass to be caught on 10”+ black flies that push large volumes of water at night. The flies that work best are black or black/purple in color and mimic the profiles of either very large baitfish, or long eels. The major advantage with fishing at night is that large bass will often come close to shore in locations that you would only ever see schoolies during daylight hours. 

Daytime presents completely different scenarios. On days where we have surf, fishing rock piles and ledges can be very productive. Though high surf is limiting to a fly angler, it is often when the biggest bass are in closest to shore during daylight hours. Maine is loaded with rocky coastline and the bass take advantage of that regularly feeding in the wash that breaking waves create on the rocks. Big bass will take flies a rods length away from you more often than they will as soon as your fly hits the water 80ft out from shore. A big mistake many shore anglers make is casting as far as they can out from shore when in reality the bass are very close in when fishing ledges and rock piles with steep drop offs. Try casting your fly parallel to shore if possible and you may be surprised by the results. Productive flies for fishing rocks in Maine are large hollow flies, beast flies and mackerel patterns all of which will get the attention of a large bass. When Conditions are calm is when a fly really shines over other conventional fishing methods. Maine is a bait factory. We have an immense amount of small forage from Brit herring to sand eels to green crabs and everything in between. When conditions are calm, and the water is clear, sight fishing for large striped bass can be extremely productive. There are certainly times where you can get a large bass to eat a tiny sand eel or crab pattern when they will not touch anything else. On top of sight fishing on flats or in estuaries, rocks can still produce on calm days. The advantage of calm days on rocks is you can usually get out to casting points that would otherwise be unsafe on rough days. Like sight fishing in skinny water, usually downsizing fly is a good choice on calmer days if bass will not commit to bigger baitfish patterns. 


Fly Fishing for Trophy Striped Bass in Maine

It is important to not be under gunned when targeting large fish and hoping for that bass of a lifetime. Trophy bass will often give an extremely long run when they are first hooked. This is especially true in shallow/flats areas. In deeper water, they can make deep dives. This is why a reel with a large capacity for backing is important. 150 yards of backing or more is highly recommended. A smooth and strong drag system is imperative (and ideally fully sealed). Also understand that super light weight reels may not be the best option. With lightness usually comes fragility which can become an issue on the rocky Maine coast. Reels will see rough wading conditions such as rocks/ledges and almost constant submersion while flats fishing. These situations combined with salt water make it nasty on gear. A light reel can also negatively effect balance of a rod when casting heavy lines and big flies. A 10 weight rod and line set up is highly recommended for big striped bass in Maine. Conditions can often be unforgiving and a rod and line with the power to cooperate with wind and waves is very helpful. On top of a 10 wt being a better tool for battling the elements, the heavier grain lines also allow for a wider array of flies to be thrown from 12” long beast flies to a tiny green crab fly and everything in between. Give us a call at the shop if you need help getting geared up for fishing for big Maine striped bass on the fly!

Written By: Joe Webster

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Video: Fly Tying - Articulated Beast Fleye

Video: Fly Tying - Articulated Beast Fleye

In this video, Joe Webster takes you through how to tie the Articulated Beast Fleye. This is a variation on Bob Popovics' Beast Fleye, but uses articulated shanks instead of mono extensions. A large profile pattern with unmatched movement in the water, this fly is traditionally used to target striped bass and other large predator fish.


Check out the video below!

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8wt or 9wt For Striped Bass?

8wt or 9wt For Striped Bass?

This is a common question that I get a lot in the shop, via email/chat, or on the phone. It makes a lot of sense, as there is a fair amount of confusion surrounding saltwater fishing in Maine and the northeast. Questions regarding which types of lines are most effective, do you need a sealed drag, what pound tippet/leaders, etc. etc. But this is by far the most reoccurring question. So here is what I will usually say: 

If a customer walks in and explains that they already have an 8wt because they go bonefishing in the winter, target redfish in Florida, or have one for salmon, then I will tell them there is no need to purchase another rod. The 8wt will make do. But, ideally the 9wt is the way to go. For "New England Saltwater Fly Fishing" for the big three - Stripers, Bluefish, False Albacore - here is why the 9wt makes the most sense...(this is specifically only considering single-handed rods)

  • Lifting Power - This is exemplified while targeting false albies, but holds true for stripers just the same. The smallest, generally speaking pound-wise, of the "big three" is the false albie. But when those guys sound deeply, you need the lifting power of a 9wt. Ask 10 albie guides and 9 will recommend bringing a 9wt.
  • Bigger Fish - Stripers get big! If you are lucky enough to hook into a 30" or more bass, having a rod with the fighting power to negotiate these strong fish is really ideal. The fight is the best part, but you also want to get that fish in quickly. This cuts down on the possibility of losing the fish and also bringing it to hand in a healthy manner so you can release it without killing it from exhaustion. 
  • Wind - There is no getting away from the wind on the ocean in New England. Most days on the water you will have to be dealing with wind, and a lot of the time it can really effect your cast. The added strength of a 9wt will give your rod the ability to not be as manipulated by the wind. 
  • Heavier Flies - Most fly tyers designing and tying flies for striped bass and bluefish (false albie flies are usually small) are doing so with the desire to keep them light and manageable. When I am tying deceivers specifically, I try to tie them sparsely and easily capable of shedding water so they are castable, especially all day long. But heavy crab patterns and clousers are also extremely popular and effective. In much the same way anglers like to use a 9 or even 10wt for Permit solely to help cast the heavier crabs, this is true for the heavy flies we use here in New England. Can an 8wt cast a lot of these? Yes. But it's much easier on a 9wt.
  • Waves and Current - When fishing for stripers in heavy current/tidal areas like rivers/mouths of rivers, and in heavy surf such as off the rocks, these water conditions can put significant added pressure during the fight. It is much different than fighting them on the flats. After hooking a good sized striper and having it run down current, it can be very difficult to turn its head. They certainly have the advantage here. Also, when fishing off of ledges, large rolling waves can also make it difficult to land fish. The 9wt gives you just that much added fighting power.
  • Heavier Lines - For those that like to fish crab patterns or clousers/baitfish along the bottom, the sinking line is the most effect line to use. The heavier the sinking line, the faster and more efficiently it sinks. For example - a popular setup for those searching along the bottom, is to use Rio's InTouch Level T sinking tips. They are tungsten tips that sink extremely well. The T-11 sinks at 7-8ips, the T-14 at 8-9ips, the T-17 at 9-10ips, and so on.

 I hope that helps! If you have any other questions, shoot me an email:

Written by: Josh Thelin

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