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by Steven Neely

BEING ABLE TO PUNCH OUT LINES WITH ACCURACY INTO THE WIND MEANT I COULD MAKE MORE SHOTS, DELIVER BETTER PRESENTATIONS, AND ULTIMATELY HOOK MORE FISH

Saltwater fly fishing is not simply a matter of delivering a fly in the salt- it’s a different game with a different set of rules that necessitates equipment that can perform in the most challenging environments. Steeped in decades of tradition, insight, and knowledge Sage is no stranger to high-performance saltwater rods, with the SALT HD gaining cult status in the saltwater world. So naturally, when they announced it would be replaced, anglers across the globe waited with bated breath to see what they had up their sleeve. Then came the announcement that the Sage team had harnessed the power of Revolution 8 Technology, previously seen in the R8 Core and utilised it to create the Salt R8 collection

For me, the launch couldn’t have come at a better time! I had a saltwater flats trip booked for Belize, and when I knew these rods were coming, I was praying they would arrive before my departure. I already had my setups sorted for the trip ahead, but when the courier rocked up at the door with two Sage Salt R8s and two of the new Sage Enforcer reels, I knew I had some repacking to do! Before I left, I couldn’t help but take them out for a quick cast outside, and even after the first few strokes, I knew these would be special. However, what better way to get a feel for a new rod than in the environment they were designed to conquer and four days later, I would step onto the front of a skiff about to venture onto the flats and make my first few shots with the new Sage Salt R8.

Technology Enhancements

Before I go into my experiences with the rod, I think it’s important to look briefly at the technology and features behind it. Most saltwater rods are built for pure power and strength; that’s a given due to the challenging environments and high-stakes species. However, with Sage’s new R8 graphite, they added 25% more strength-per-weight but also increased the pulling power of the rod without the need to add more material, fillers or reinforcements. 

Saltwater fly rods have long been renowned for their superior strength, yet few salt rods could achieve precision or fine touch shots. It took their rod designers a significant amount of time to develop the profile and fibre alignment, allowing them to create a rod that perfectly fused strength, sensitivity and an intuitive, sweet spot. Shifting the load closer to the hand prioritizes touch, feel, and speed for shorter shots and on-demand casts, all critical when sight fishing when the shots are fewer, the stakes are higher and every second counts.

Reading the tech spec and press release is one thing, and on paper, the Salt R8 is a real game-changer. All I could think about during my long-haul flight was the Salt R8, wondering what it would be like. But there is no substitute for time on the water, and over the next week, I discovered first-hand that all the hype, marketing phrases and tech spec were true – The Salt R8 is a game-changer!

Short shots from the skiff

Although I went to Belize with the big three grand slam species in mind, bonefish, permit and tarpon, I spent a few days solely chasing bonefish in various environments. Be that along the margins, in lagoons or on the open flats. So it was the perfect test to see how the Salt R8 would cope as each location presented different challenges and obstacles. For those who haven’t tried it, fly fishing for bonefish is a thrilling experience – and the perfect way to challenge your saltwater fly-fishing skills. They are just spooky enough to make them a rewarding challenge, and their explosive power and blistering runs are something to behold. Whilst many people might target bonefish using a #7, I chose to use an #8 for this trip as there was always a high probability I would get shots at the illusive permit whilst chasing bones. The #8 gave me the perfect balance to viably target both without changing setups.

Perhaps the feature that stands out the most for me with the Salt R8 is its ability to load quickly and present accurate casts at short distances, which most fast-action saltwater rods struggle to do. This was perhaps best displayed when we spent a morning poling the skiff along the margins of the beaches. We stealthy worked our way down, looking for larger bonefish, which often swim in smaller groups, usually in twos or threes. Unfortunately, this particular flat was covered in a mixture of mud, grass and weed which made spotting these fish incredibly difficult and often meant you would see the fish quite late and close to the boat. But this wasn’t an issue for the Salt R8. I could easily make one false cast, load the rod and deliver a nice precise short line to these cruising bonefish. Stalking bonefish is a game where you need patience and urgency in equal measures. The Salt R8’s ability to quickly deliver short lines with pinpoint accuracy was outstanding, resulting in an unforgettable morning fishing.

Long shots wading the flats

When people talk about fishing for bonefish, a lot instantly think of crystal clear water, golden sand and large expansive flats. Whilst this isn’t always the case when the conditions are right, and the opportunity presents itself, I love to get out of the skiff into the water and immerse myself in these truly awesome saltwater environments. After a few days of chasing these silver ghosts around the margins and lagoons, it was time to mix things up and do a little wading. This, however, would throw up a different set of challenges as you are often entirely exposed, and the wind plays a significant factor in your ability to cast and present your fly, often at range as you don’t have the luxury of manoeuvring quickly into position with the skiff. Wading is a technical game, slowly trying to anticipate where the shoal is moving, getting into a likely position to intercept all whilst battling the wind … a lot is going on!

Of course, the day I decided to go wading, we had the strongest winds of the trip. I soon realised, though, this wasn’t an issue. The Salt R8s’ ability to deliver quick, confident casts through the wind at distance was pretty extraordinary. The rod flexes nice and deep, which feeds back into your hand, allowing you to feel when the rod is loaded up and ready to go. Then when you send it, you get this super crisp recovery as the line punches out and turns over the fly with no hesitation. This resulted in one of the best bonefish experiences I have had. Being able to confidently punch long lines with accuracy into the wind meant I could make more shots, deliver better presentations and ultimately hook more fish. 

Improving catch and release

Whilst there is little any angler can do to stop the blistering first few runs of a bonefish, we must do our best to reduce stress and do our utmost to release these stunning fish in top condition. These incredibly delicate ecosystems demand our respect, and all efforts should be made to maintain them. The added power and backbone in the Salt R8 meant that once the fish had stopped their screaming runs, you could apply proper pressure to regain control and land these flats missiles without labouring the fight. This ultimately resulted in strong releases with feisty fish bursting from your hands back to their shoal. 

Enhancing my saltwater experience

After spending a week with one of these in my hands in both the #8 and #10 sizes, I can honestly say the new Sage Salt R8 enhanced my saltwater fly fishing experience in Belize. Once you cast one of these things for yourself, you won’t need me to convince you how good it feels in hand. You’ll come to that conclusion yourself. What it did do, though, was give me added confidence that each time I had a technical or tricky scenario, I could confidently pick my line up and deliver a solid presentation, regardless of distance or wind, where previously I would doubt other rods’ capabilities. Often by the third false cast, your chance, at least for that fish, would have passed. But with the Salt R8, I could make the shot when it counted. This meant I could relax more, trust my gear and enjoy the stunning scenery and fishing experience that the saltwater flats environment brings.

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