It’s been five years since the Sage Fly Rod company released a new high-end, fast action, multi-purposed fly rod. Designed in secret, no one except those close to the company were privy to the latest rod series that usurped the much beloved Sage X until a month ago. When the X was discontinued, rumors swirled that something new was coming, and that something was the R8 Core rod series. Between the rods we have in stock at the shop, and the International Fishing Tackle Dealer show being in Salt Lake City, I was able to cast every rod in the new R8 series. I could give you my thoughts on of every rod in the series, but instead, I will focus this post on the rods we are most likely to use in Utah, and throughout the Intermountain region. I hope that this review will give you, our loyal customers, a clear and concise understanding about what fishing situations these rods will excel at. If you want all the nitty-gritty, technical and aesthetic details about the new R8 Core rod series, you can check that out on the Sage website. They [Sage] do a great job of explaining those details; better than I can. In lieu of regurgitating rod specs, I want to focus this review on what I find most exciting about this new rod series, and where I feel each model will help an angler get the most out of their time on the water. Let's get started!
Before I delve into sharing my two cents, I want to remind all of you that my thoughts and opinions may not reflect what you will feel, or like about a particular fly rod. The only way to get to know a fly rod is to take the time to cast it for yourself, with a couple of different fly lines, and see where that takes you. That being said, my gut is telling me that the R8 Core fly rod series will be very popular. I can also tell you that the R8 is NOT an extension of, or the "improved" version of the Sage X. It is a completely new series, built from the ground up with new graphite materials, and designed to fill the gap that the X series of rods left. The R8 is, in many ways, the culmination of Sage's quest to make a fly rod capable of doing a large number of tasks, and doing them all well. This was very evident when casting and comparing the X rods and R8 Core rods side-by-side. Based on my initial experience with the R8 Core, I can tell you the R8 Core fly rods are lighter in hand than the Sage X, have a faster action than the X rods, yet still have enough feel and touch for making casts at 20'-45', and feel much more consistent across all of the various models. When I say consistent, I'm talking about how each rod feels somewhat similar to each model in the series.
The fly line weights, lengths, and components may change, but how the rod feels during casting stays similar. This is not and easy thing to accomplish, but with the R8 Core, Sage has achieved this. As an angler, I appreciate this consistency, because it means that no matter the length and weight of R8 Core rod in my hand, the rod will feel and cast like the others. This means I can focus more on the fishing situation in front of me, and less on adjusting my casting in order to make the rod work with me instead of against me. In short, the R8 is a very efficient, easy casting fly rod. It can make delicate dry fly presentations, and then turn around and fire a longer cast with a heavier flies just as well.
"Go-To" Fly Line(s):
As far as finding "the" fly line that will work best with the R8, I've found that all of the Trout R8 Core models cast the Rio Perception and the Rio Gold equally well, and that these two lines would be my first choice to pair with the R8 Core to get the best performance out of these fly rods. If you want a line that will enable you to fish every kind of trout fly and technique, I'd recommend the Rio Perception. If you want a line that will lay down more delicate presentations, and will be a better choice for fishing dry flies, I'd go with the Rio Gold. Not everyone is a fan of Rio fly lines, and for those of you who prefer Scientific Anglers fly lines, I'd recommend pairing the 5 weight through 8 weight R8 Core rods with with either the S.A. Amplitude Infinity, or S.A. Amplitude MPX fly lines. These two lines will allow any angler to feel the rods load up at closer distances, and will compliment the the faster action of the R8 Core rod series. When it comes to picking a good Scientific Anglers line for the R8 Core rods in the 3-4 weight models, I would recommend the Amplitude Trout in a Weight Forward taper for all dry fly/dry-dropper applications. We have all of the aforementioned lines on lawn reels for you to try on any of the R8 rods we have in stock, so if your in the neighborhood, come by and cast these rods and fly lines to see what works best for your fishing needs. Now, onto the rods!
R8 Core Rod Models:
- R8 Core 390-4: The 390 R8 is lighter than the 390 X, has more feel than the X, and cast both the WF-3-F RIO Gold and RIO Perception well. I cast the WF-3-F Rio Technical Trout on this rod, and it was ok, but not near as sweet as the Gold or Perception. I did not have the opportunity to throw any Scientific Anglers lines on this rod but will revisit casting the 390 R8 with SA fly lines when the opportunity presents itself. My gut feeling is that the Amplitude Trout in a WF-3-F would also be a good choice on this rod. With both the RIO Gold, and the RIO Perception, casts at trout fishing distances felt easy and effortless. The Gold would be my choice for dry flies and lighter dry-dropper rigs and presentations. If I wanted one line that would allow me to do everything from dry flies to light streamers, it would be the RIO Perception. This rod would be a great for fishing small to medium sized streams across the west, and would be a great dry fly rod for midges and Baetis hatches on bigger rivers like the Green.
- R8 Core 486-4: I had the 486 X, and was curious to see the similarities and differences in the R8. First cast, and I could tell the R8 felt lighter in hand than the X, and has more feel casting at 20’ and under distances. It still has plenty of guts, and can cast out to 30’-50’ distances with ease. Like the 390 R8, I preferred the RIO Gold and Perception on the 486 R8. This rod would be perfect for fishing small to medium sized streams with small to medium sizes flies, and would be a great dry-dropper rod, especially with the RIO Perception.
- R8 Core 490-4: The 490 R8 is a big improvement over the 490 X. Lighter in hand, more responsive when casting, and not as line pairing sensitive as the 490 X, the 490 R8 is an excellent choice for the angler looking for a fast action four weight that can present a dry fly well, while still being able to cast and fish a dry-dropper, nymph rig, or small/lightweight streamer. To get the most out of fishing a dry fly with the 490 R8, I'd recommend pairing it with either the S.A. Amplitude Trout, or the Rio Gold. If you want to be able to fish any kind of dry fly, dry-dropper, light-medium nymph rig, streamers, etc.--you can't go wrong with the Rio Perception.
- R8 Core 586-4: This is the "go-to" 5 weight in the R8 Core line-up for small-medium sized rivers, creeks, and streams, lakes, ponds, etc. For these reasons, I would pick the 586 R8 over the 590 R8 as the "do-everything" trout rod for the Wasatch Front. Light, powerful, but with more touch and feel than the 590 R8 at closer distances, the 586 R8 will fish any fly and technique you like for trout, and will be more manageable in tighter quarters. Just like the other R8 trout rod models, the Rio Gold and Rio Perception work great on the 586. However, If I could only pick one line to use on the 586 R8, it would be the Rio Perception. This line really makes the rod come alive at trout fishing distances, and doesn't overload the rod when a longer cast is called for.
- R8 Core 590-4: The 590 R8 has huge shoes to fill as the 590 X was, and still is, and very good fly rod. In a nutshell, the R8 590 is lighter than the 590 X, has a faster action than the 590 X, it is more powerful than the 590 X, but still has touch and feel at distances of 20'-40'. As you would expect from a modern, fast action 5 weight fly rod, it will cast and fish every category of fly and technique, and do it well. It would not be my first choice for fishing the average sized water we have around the Wasatch Front, because I feel that it's a little too much rod, but it would be my first choice for fishing the Green River, South Fork of the Snake, Madison, Missouri, etc. If I could pick only one line to fish on the 590 R8 Core, it would be the Rio Perception. This line really brings the rod to life, and makes it feel effortless to cast at all distances.
- R8 Core 690-4 & 691-4: These rods are so similar in how they feel in hand while casting, and the fly lines that work well on them, that the only difference between the two is that one has a wooden reel seat, and one has an anodized aluminum reel seat with a fighting butt. Both of these six weights are very powerful and excellent tools for fishing streamers, nymphs, and large air resistant dry flies for both trout, bass, and carp. If you want a light-weight saltwater rod option, or just don't want to have to worry about a wooden reel seat insert, I'd look to get the 691 R8 Core. As far as line choices go, you can pair them with a Rio Gold, Rio Perception, SA MPX, SA Infinity, etc. Out of the all of the R8 Core rods, the R8 six weights seem the most versatile as far as what lines make these rods come alive.
- R8 Core 696-4: As light as the 690 and 691 R8, but with an additional six inches in length, the 696 R8 Core is an excellent option for the angler that wants a six weight capable of chucking streamers and nymphs on a large western river, and fishing lakes and reservoirs with a variety of sinking lines. Like it's "little" brothers, the 696 R8 will cast a variety of fly lines well, with my favorites being the Rio Perception and Rio Gold. The SA MPX and SA Infinity fly lines would also work well with the 696 R8.
- R8 Core 790-4: Another rod model that has a lot to prove, the 790 R8 takes the place of the much loved 790 X. The R8 790 is lighter in hand than the X, and has more feel than you may expect from a modern, fast action 7 weight. If you're looking for a rod that is capable of going after large trout, carp, bass, pike, redfish, bonefish, etc.-this is a rod that you should check out. The 790 R8 is capable of throwing any fly line: From the Rio Predator fly line for streamers, to a saltwater line such as the Flats Pro, the R8 790 casts them all well.
- R8 Core 890-4: Still the most versatile of the heavier weight fly rods, an 8 weight rod is an essential too for a lot of different fish species and techniques. The 890 R8 Core is an excellent tool for the angler looking for a rod capable of tackling fish as far North as Alaska, to as South as Belize, and points in-between. Pair it with an SA Infinity, SA MPX, Rio Gold, or Rio Predator for freshwater fishing, and a Rio Flats Pro for any fishing on saltwater flats. There are eight weight rods out there that may be better salt water specific, or freshwater specific tools, but it is safe to say that the R8 can be used well in both realms.
So, there you have it, my first impressions about the R8 Core rod series from Sage. Time will tell whether or not this rod series will be as loved as its predecessors, but from what I have seen and felt, I predict that this will be another hit fly rod for Sage. It is a smooth, efficient, easy casting fly rod that will adapt to a variety of casting styles, and fishing techniques. If you'd like to learn more about the R8, and cast one, call or stop on by the shop! We pride ourselves on helping our customers find the "perfect" fly rod for your upcoming adventures.