July 11, 2017
I caught wind a couple months back that Sage might be unrolling a new saltwater rod. I was immediately intrigued. While you won’t find many Sage guys that would downright put down the Salt rod, I think the overwhelming opinion of that lineup was, these rods are good, but they aren’t all great. There were certainly some show stoppers in the Salt line, but there were also some rods that never really seemed to meet my expectations for a Sage saltwater fly rod. With the introduction of the X rod and Konnectic HD technology, and the subsequent success of that rod line, it was inevitable that the new Konnectic HD graphite would find its way into a saltwater specific fly rod. On the day before ICAST, I had the opportunity to meet the new rod, field test it on the Florida flats and reach my own conclusions.
Shaking hands with the Sage Salt HD 890-4
Sage decided not to waste any time and went ahead and rolled out the new, and as it turns out improved Salt HD. Cosmetically the rod is a home run. At first glance you’ll swear the blank is black, but put the rod in the sunlight and the deep sapphire hue Sage calls Squid Ink shows off underneath the wraps. The rods are finished with black wraps and topped with metallic blue accents. The reel seat is a non-glare matte black with the corresponding line weight marked in white on the back of the slide band. The reel is held securely by two very large and deeply knurled up-locking rings that run up the reel seat so smoothly they are almost automatic. A hook keeper is also machined into the reel seat at the bottom of the cork, completely hidden from errant line. The stripping guides are oversized Fuji guides with ceramic inserts and the snake guides and tip top are oversized and hard chrome. Overall, this is a very attractive fly rod with components that are meant to take a beating in the saltwater.
Field Testing the Sage Salt HD: Fishing is Working
On Tuesday before ICAST in Orlando, I was lucky enough to be invited on a guided day of fishing courtesy of the great folks at Simms. We met at 4 am on International Drive in Orlando and headed toward the boat ramp near Titusville. My guide for the day would be Captain Justin Price of https://www.rightinsightcharters.com/. Justin has a pair of awesome East Cape skiffs and has that no-nonsense let’s get serious about catching some fish demeanor that a lot great saltwater guides possess. Justin knew where the fish would be, what time we ought to be there and he absolutely worked his ass off on the poling platform. A big thank you to Capt. Justin Price for putting us on great fish all day.
The day began with mosquitos lined up in wait outside of the window of the pickup and the welcomed pre-dawn run to a little spot for baby tarpon in the early light. We were throwing a #2 gurgler on the Rio Permit line. Admittedly, this is not the ideal fly for this fly line, but the lower end of the Salt HD 890 really helped to turn over the wind resistant fly and tuck it under the mangrove edges. This was all blind casting and it was a great way to get warmed up and used to the rod. The Salt HD 890 did not like to be under-powered, but also did not mind being over-powered. This means that it was hard to get the rod to throw a tailing loop and that the fly, line and rod combo wanted the caster to seek the happy medium between too much and too little energy. Hit it easy, but just right and the loops zipped out to the tip top with confidence, distance and accuracy. I caught a snook and a speckled sea trout that together stretched the tape at about 19 inches.
The sun was climbing higher into the sky and with it our visibility. We left the blind casts behind and started hunting tails. We did not have to wait long. We crept onto a flat that had no less than 30 tailing reds in three or four small groups. The casts had to be lengthy and light. We began fishing a bead chain eye #4 and the rod came alive with this setup. The Rio Permit line has become my go-to redfish line and it was an absolute dream to cast on the Salt HD 890. At this time of day the winds were light, the leader was about 9 feet and the fish were sensitive. We managed to get some really top notch shots, but found no reds foolish enough to take our fly.
Our search continued. We had pretty consistent shots at very large redfish throughout the day, but they appeared to be in a negative mood and uninterested in eating fake fish food. Some days it’s like that. We fought on and kept taking shots as they presented themselves. Along with the increased visibility came the ever increasing coastal breeze. I actually like the wind on the flats, not because I like it to be tough, but because the wind lets you get closer and allows the angler a larger margin for error. Not all fly rods like the wind, but the Salt HD 890 did not seem to mind.
The shot that stands out in my mind from that day had the largest redfish I’ve ever cast to as the prize. We saw the fish from a long way off, closer to 200 feet away than 100. Capt. Justin set the bow into the wind and we began our pursuit. Generally, I like to get inside of 40 feet of an unsuspecting redfish, but the behavior of the fish so far made me ask the man on the platform to hold us a little farther away. The wind had picked up to that speed where it whistles between your fly rod and line and you can hear the audible sound of nylon polyester being blown around your body. It was blowing directly into our face. The mega-red was facing away from the boat about 65 feet off the bow. I began my casting stroke and laid the fly out 10 feet to right of the redfish that still had his tail toward us. The rod made this shot so simple. The fly landed lightly and I let it settle on the bottom and waited. By some stroke of fate the fish turned to the right, unaware of the fly and began to move from left to right. I tapped the fly off the bottom, intercepted the fish’s path and let the fly fall 2 feet right off the nose of the beast as gently and softly as I have ever presented a fly. The fish saw the fly and blew up and bolted clear off the flat in a split second. I hollered back to the Capt., “Justin, that’s about as good as I can do that.” He nodded and said, “Sometimes they don’t like to eat flies.” He was right, sometimes they don’t.
A few minutes prior to this we found a tremendous school of tailing black drum and had a great session of close quarters target practice. Black drum are notoriously nonchalant when it comes to eating a fly and they lived up to their reputation. We changed flies enough times that I had to convince myself we weren’t trout fishing to selective risers, but finally cracked the code and got a couple big drum on the rod. The shots at the drum were anywhere from 10 to 30 feet and they had to land in a thimble. The Salt HD 890 proved to be accurate and an expert judge of distance. This is perhaps one of the toughest scenarios in the saltwater game. Having a big tail waving in your face and a preoccupied fish hard at work stirring up the bottom. As a caster you can only let the fly hit the water one time, and all of your distance judging has to be done with the line in the air. I was very impressed with the touch of this 8 weight. When we finally got the fish to eat, the strength in the lower end of the rod became clear. I could put serious heat on the heavy, tall fish that fought with his heft and shoulders. The rod kept me feeling confident throughout the fight and gave me the ability to steer the fish where I wanted him to go, and after all the fly changes and snooty big redfish denials, it felt really good to get a hold of big tail.
Sage’s Best Saltwater 8-weight
Overall, I believe this is Sage’s best 8 weight. The rod is a great all around flats rod, but gave me the impression that it would be an excellent striper rod as well. It has lots of power in the lower end for fighting fish and driving a cast into a stiff wind, with a taper that allows for accurate and intuitive shots in close. The Salt HD 890 is an 8 weight capable of filling the roles of a 9 weight, but has the touch to keep the angler in the game when a 7 weight would be the better choice. While most of my personal flats fishing will still be done with a 7 weight, the Salt HD 890 is a rod that I would consider taking on a trip in place of a 7 weight and a 9 weight combo when space is a concern. I can confidently say this 8 weight has quiver killer potential. I fished the Rio Permit WF8F, but I cast the new Rio Direct Core Flats Pro line and the Rio Bonefish line as well. All three lines cast equally well on the rod, and I really liked this. This aspect allows me to fine tune the rod according to what I’m chasing or the specific conditions on that day. Most rods tend to like one particular fly line, but the Salt HD 890 had a much more eclectic taste for fly lines. Seriously consider this rod for your next saltwater adventure along with the rest of Sage’s new Salt HD saltwater series. They are sure to impress and help give you the edge in the saltwater arena.
Tight Lines and Loops,
Sage Elite Pro Staff