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#19.    Sage Salt HD   9 foot #8       $950.00

Sage Salt HD
Sage Salt HD fly rod
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George’s Notes:

In our last 8-weight Shootout the Sage Salt didn’t fare too well.  We were excited to see how the new Salt HD compared, especially with all the good press it has gotten.  Well, I have to tell you that we are stilldisappointed with the new Salt HD.  Some of the same problems we found in the original Salt still plague the HD.  Namely, it is heavy, especially in the all important swing weight category, and the tip is still too stiff.  If you are a Sage Fan, we are confident that you’ll like the X much better.  The X has a much faster action and softer tip, giving it a whole lot more feel combined with tighter loops and better accuracy than the Salt HD at short to medium distances. Even though the HD is stiffer than the X, I didn’t feel it cast better until I was trying to hit 100 feet. 

Craftsmanship was the same excellence we have come to expect from Sage.  The rod itself is an extremely dark blue called “Squid Ink,” with some blue trim wraps on the butt.   The cork handle is Sage’s full wells design that does not have as pronounced a swell in the middle as most.  To me, it felt very comfortable.  The cork itself is that same stack of small width, very high quality cork rings that many of the best rods are using now.  

The matte finished black anodized double uplocking seat is one of the best we’ve seen.  The line size designation is marked on the top of the sliding band; a nice touch.  If you have multiple rods in the rod rack in say, a skiff, you can tell at a glance that this is the 8-weight.  The locking rings are much larger that the ones on the X, and very easy to grip and tighten.  Sage uses a nylon face on the front of bottom ring, which allows a very secure lock up on the reel.  A short fighting butt is used with a wide rubber end that will be comfortable fighting fish.  The guide set up is two SiC stripping guides similar to what we found on the X, followed up with large size hard chrome snake guides and an oversize tip top.  The snake guides are larger than we found on the X, which is good, but they are also heavier, and this hurts the swing weight. For a rod that costs $950 Sage should be using the best Recoil nickel/titanium snake guides similar to the flexible and far lighter guides that Loomis and Scott use.   These make a dramatic difference in reducing swing weight on the tip sections of a rod.

The Salt HD is manufactured at the Sage plant on Bainbridge Island, WA.    

Performance at 35 feet:  18 points out of 20

All that weight combined with a stiff tip provided very little feel and pour accuracy compared to the X.   The Meridian and Helios 3F were FAR better.

Performance at 60 feet:  18.5 points out of 20

Good, not great. Both the X and the NRX were a lot better.  I wasn’t getting good tight loops as I did with the X.

Performance at 80 feet:  19 points out of 20

With more line in the air, the performance is better. Surprisingly, the X gave me tighter loops and was more accurate at long range.

Performance at 100 feet:  19 points out of 20

Only at extreme long rangedid the HD feel like the best rods.  But both the NRX and Asquith blew it away.  

22.  Sage Salt HD 9’#8 4pc $950

Sage Salt HD
Sage Salt HD
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James’ Notes:

You’ll read a lot of hype about the new Salt HD fly rods.  All I can say is that this is definitely a rod that I recommend you try before you buy. And when you try it, be sure to cast it against the Sage X and a couple of the other top rods in our shootout.  I think you’ll find the Salt HD is much heavier and less accurate than Sage’s other rods or all the top dozen rods in our Shootout. The important thing, as always, is to find a rod that works well for you.   

The HD did not work well for me.  Its heavy swing weight and slower action than the X made this rod disagreeable to cast at close to mid-range.  It was much more difficult to dial in accuracy with the Salt HD than with the Asquith, Meridian, and Helios 3F. Those other rods felt effortless to cast compared to the Salt HD.  I felt like I was constantly fighting the HD’s heavier/stiffer tip, and my accuracy and enthusiasm suffered.

There are a few things I do like about the Sage Salt HD.  First is its stylish paint job.  The squid ink blank and blue highlight wraps make this rod look cool.   I also like the reel seat on this rod better than what we found on the X.  The locking rings worked well, and feel a little beefier and easier to grip than the ones on the X. Last but not least, the larger guides seem more saltwater appropriate than the guides on the X. 

I wish Sage used the larger, but thinner titanium snake guides like those found on the Asquith, Meridian, 3F, NRX, Exocett, and Cross SW. These lighter guides would dramatically reduce the heavy swing weight.  If they are going to charge $950 the least they can do is provide the best components available on the market.  This year’s epoxy work over the thread wraps looks better however… 

1st impressions:  Nice reel seat.  Nice paint job – this rod looks sharp.  Feels tip heavy with stiff/slow tip and a softer butt section.  Lackluster performance for a rod approaching the $1000 mark.

Performance at 35 feet: 16.5 points out of 20

Very tip heavy and not pleasant to cast in close. Accuracy was mediocre at best.  I wasn’t able make a delicate presentation with the HD; it was more of a plate slapper than the top rods. 

Performance at 60 feet: 17 points out of 20

Again, the tip feels too stiff and I didn’t have the control or feel I was looking for. And the accuracy suffered accordingly. I had my best luck with this rod once I stopped trying to control the rod and just let it do its thing.

Performance at 80 feet: 18 points out of 20

The Salt HD felt best to me at 80 feet.  It took a lot of effort and energy on my part to get the rod going compared to other rods, but I have to admit, once it was in motion it did a good job of finishing longer casts.  I don’t see many people throwing tailing loops with this rod either, which is a good thing.  

Performance at 100 feet: 18 points out of 20

The HD will hit the 100-foot mark with practice, concentration and a lot of effort. I just think the lighter rods with stiffer butt sections felt a lot better here.  Sage rods like the TCX, XP, Xi2, ONE, Motive, Method, and X all feel better to me at 80-100 feet.   

#18. (tie)  Sage Salt HD     $950.00

Sage Salt HD
Sage Salt HD
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Logan’s Notes:

The new Sage Salt HD is a very nice rod, although I admittedly anticipated better performance in Sage’s premier saltwater rod.  After casting the Sage X, I fully expected the Salt HD to blow it out of the water, but this was not the case.  I think a good part of this was due to the stiffness, as well as the heavier swing and overall weights, than we found in the X.  The overall look and craftsmanship are the same high quality you’d expect from Sage.  The Salt HD has a very nice dark blue finish with blue trim on the wraps, giving it a clean saltwater look. 

Performance at 35 feet: 17.5 out of 20

I was not a huge fan of the Salt HD at 35 feet.  Its stiff tip and softer midsection wasn’t the best combo for shorter casts.

Performance at 60 feet: 18 out of 20

The more line you cast on the Salt HD, the more it displayed its good qualities.  It was a smooth rod at this distance.

Performance at 80 feet: 18.5 out of 20

Longer distances were much better than shorter ones for the Salt HD.  Overall I preferred the Sage X at all distances.

19. (tie)  Sage Salt HD   55.5/60   $950.00

Sage Salt HD fly rod
Sage Salt HD fly rod
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JG’s Notes:

The Salt HD is a strange rod.  Sage lists it as a fast action rod however, after deflecting it, we saw that it was one of the slower rods in our test.  It’s very stiff, especially in the tip, and I think this is why it has a slower action than a rod like the Sage X.  The wiggle test left me with a disappointing initial impression.  A little heavy, but it seemed like it might still perform well.  Once I got it lined up, and did some casting, it fell on its face.  For me it was mostly a lack of feel, combined with its poor performance.  Actually testing this rod is, I found, critical, since if I believed all the hype that has been written about the Salt HD, I would have been severely disappointed with its performance.  There are definitely far better rods than this for the money.

Performance at 35 feet:  18

The Salt HD left a lot to be desired.  If I were spending this much money I would want a lot more feel, less weight, and a better presentation.  Accuracy was just OK.

Performance at 60 feet:  19

This was my favorite distance for the HD.  I liked it here because it had good power, combined with decent feel and accuracy for the distance.  But the weight is a big issue for me on a rod this expensive.

Performance at 80 feet:  18.5

The Salt HD certainly has the power to hit long distances.  I took points from it here because fishing is about more than just hitting the distance.  The HD doesn’t present a fly well, it’s tiring to cast, and doesn’t give the angler much feedback.

Performance at 100 feet:

I could cast the Salt HD 100 ft. but there was no degree of accuracy. I continually found that my cast would cut to the left of the target, not tracking as well as the best rods.