8 Weight Saltwater Fly Rods
I was recently asked to do an eight weight Fly Rod review and a recent trip to Weipa provided the ideal testing ground. Eight weights are perhaps the most common salt water weight used in this country and certainly in my experience in the Kimberly, the Northern Territory and now in Weipa I would suggest it is the single most appropriate rod weight for the job. If you are going to buy just one rod for salt water work - make it an eight weight.
There are literally dozens of rods on the market and here are just a few that I had the opportunity to fish with, and watch mates fish with, over a five day trip to the Gulf.
We fished the estuaries, beaches and blue water for 40 odd species from 20 cm to over a metre in length. Some of this fishing required very accurate short distance casting when polaroiding for species like slatey bream. Much casting was pelting long distances to tuna schools which demanded speed more than anything else. The real test of some of these rods was in the fighting ability and robustness in general.
In general all the rods I worked with cast well. Especially if you are used to using 5 weights for short distances on trout you will be really impressed when you belt out your first cast with a shooting head on any eight weight. These rods varied in price from $99 to $1295. There actions were also as varied from very slow soft rods to super fast powerhouses.
It is quite easy to break any rod when attached to a big fish. They are fragile and light, and we expect a lot from them. Virgin saltwater fly fishers strike like a trout took their dry fly and hi-stick the rod when playing the fish. Both these situations are bad. You must strip strike without lifting the rod and when playing the fish keep the rod pointed towards the fish, or within thirty degrees or so of it. Hi-stick your rod only if you have some spare rods with you.
Understand also that I will always have my personal favourites and as a professional guide I am offered product from all the listed manufacturers on guides buying arrangements. Price has not influenced my opinions.
Sapporo 890 RRP $99
Manufacturers fault warranty.
By appearance this rod was obviously a budget priced model. The fittings and bindings were of adequate quality but certainly not flash or extravagant. A medium action with a lighter tip meant that it cast well. Unfortunately the rod broke within an hour of using it. The break came while playing a tuna and it snapped cleanly in the butt a few centimetres below the lowest ferrule. Looking back at photos taken of the rod bent in battle you could plainly see there was a weak point in the blank at this spot and at some time it was likely to break. Hi-sticking any rods in not condusive to a long life and in less expensive rods it is likely to bring them undone even earlier. My feeling, and I think it is accurate, is that the quality control on these lower priced Taiwanese or Chinese rods is not sufficient. You get what you pay for.
Vision 890-4 RRP $225
Manufacturers fault warranty.
This was a smart looking rod that also cast well. A medium action helped this. On first impressions it looked and cast like it was sensational value for money but unfortunately it didn't last the distance and also broke while playing a fish. It broke at the female ferrule of the second section. These less expensive rods may well last a long time on smallish fish and if not put under too much pressure. Attach an eight kilo angry tuna to it though and hi-stick it, like with trout, and you have another broken rod to put in your pack.
Redington Wayfarer 890-5 RRP $350
Unconditional lifetime warranty.
This was a surprise package to me. At first I was dubious about the 5 pieces being too many. Often more pieces means the rod comes apart more often and more joins adds weight and stiffness. How wrong could I be. This was a very, very, soft action, slow rod but I loved it. Only a couple of the other 8 people enjoyed the slower action - most casters like the medium fast to fast actions. The rod never once came apart and it was not obviously heavy in the hand. It cast heavy flies well and if you know how to cast it will throw them a long way. Over the term of our trip it never looked like coming apart at any of the joins. Unfortunately this rod broke on the second last day. I wasn't on board at the time but the break came when casting a short line on the second cast of the day. I suspect that the rod may have had a whack from a Clouser late the day before. I think the breakage was simply bad luck. One negative aspect of the rod was that a couple of the corks were loose on the grip. This resulted in a squeaky noise as you cast. When I arrived home I checked several others in the local tackle store and none of these exhibited the same problem. The problem was easily fixed with an injection of PVA and the guy at the shop said he had never seen this problem in this range of rods before.
Reddington Wayfarer 890-7 RRP $450
Unconditional lifetime warranty.
This was the real surprise package of the trip. When I first took it out of the bag there were so many small pieces I thought it was a toy. It turned out to be a very serious fish catcher and a powerful casting toy. The rod had a medium fast action that everyone enjoyed. It was certainly not heavy in the hand as you might expect and no joints worked loose during use. This was perhaps the best value for money rod on the trip and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. An awesome travel rod.
Innovator HLS 890-4 RRP $550
Two year manufacturers fault warranty
I used this particular rod for a day or two in Darwin last year as well as in Weipa this year. It has cast tens of thousands of casts with heavy flies and I have seen it bent double on many occasions whilst fighting strong fish. The fittings and quality of workmanship are excellent. The rod seems to be a good casting tool but I personally feel it is a little dull or lifeless for want of a better term. Most casters would perhaps not be this picky. In two serious saltwater trips this rod is still in one piece which is a good start.
Sage XP 896-4 Custom Built RRP $850
Unconditional lifetime warranty on broken blank but not rebuild.
A beautiful action rod for saltwater work. Light enough in the tip for close presentations and great strength in the butt for fighting fish or pelting long distances. The additional 15cm makes a big difference to the ease of casting. There were more of this specific rod on the trip than any other - some indication of their popularity among Tasmanian anglers "in the know'. I saw a couple of these rods used in Darwin last year with great success. Compare the casting feel of this rod to the HLS and you will instantly know what I mean about "liveliness'.
This was probably the best casting rod on the trip and at $850 for the custom or $1095 for the factory they are good value for money considering you are buying the Sage brand.
Sage Xi2 890-4 RRP $1195
Unconditional lifetime warranty
This is the latest technology rod from the Sage stable. Certainly very light weight and exceptionally well finished which is expected from this premium manufacturer. If you care for the marketing blurb then this rod is well ahead of the pack. Beautiful to cast medium fast action. Everyone who cast this rod really enjoyed it. Use one for a day - let alone a week, and you will understand why many anglers are happy to spend this sort of dollar on a rod. Again I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this rod. On the second last day of the trip the owner managed to break 2.5 cm off the tip when a tuna took off at a million miles an hour with a huge shark up his clacker. The tip broke purely because the fly line was wrapped around it. Again simply bad luck but who cares with a lifetime warranty.
Sage TCR 890-4 RRP $1295
Unconditional lifetime warranty.
In the world of fly rods this is equilavent to a Ferrari. It is Sage's highest performance rod. It is as stiff as a broom handle which would stand it in good stead when fighting powerful fish. It is light and fast enough in the tip to let you cast it. It is possible to throw amazingly tight loops with ease and the line speed this rod generates is remarkable. I personally don't like the rod. It is too fast and aggressive in action to get much enjoyment from using it. Many other anglers don't like it either. There are some exceptions of course and one that comes to mind is Graham Williams - Darwin's guide extraordinaire. Graham thinks these rods are terrific, they suit his style and the type of fishing he does. Using it gives him a lot of pleasure but I'll bet one day it will give him a tennis elbow as well.
1.If you don't already do any saltwater fly fishing I recommend you start as soon as possible. You don't know what you are missing out on and it is probably at your doorstep.
2.You get what you pay for in life with very few exceptions.
3.If you are not sure about rod action then be sure to try before you buy. You will realise your expensive mistake when you cast your mates more "responsive" rod.
4.Hi-sticking will contribute to breakages more than anything else. Salt water fish, unlike trout, swim really fast and pull like trains. They never give you a chance to get organised once they have taken the fly. Get into the habit early of not lifting the rod more than 30 degrees from the direction of the line - unless you have spare rods with you.