Let's go back in time over a decade ago. Sage has always made some pretty mean fly rods for saltwater, but in my opinion the Xi2 was a real breakthrough. I treated myself to a 7 weight shortly after their release and was blown away by the way it felt. I remember reading something about the increased line feel during the cast (or something like that), but I pretty much thought it was just more marketing fluff. Well, after casting one, I was genuinely impressed with the way that blank performed. It was definitely a beefy rod with some serious hardware, but that bad-ass blue stick was a pleasure to use and caught me a ton of fish.
Fast forward to today, and Sage's premium saltwater-specific rods have evolved up through other recent beasts like the Xi3, SALT, and now the brand-new SALT HD. Unveiled at IFTD 2017 in Orlando, SALT HD fly rods are equipped with premium components, subdued cosmetics, and not-so-subdued price tags. I never fished the last-gen SALT rods and only have distant memories of the other sticks, but nonetheless I was expecting some awesome performance out of our 6-weight tester. Are these Sage's very best saltwater rods yet?
Length: 9 feet
Line Weight: 6
Rod Weight: 3 3/4 ounces
Stripping Guides: Stainless Frame/ Fuji Alconite insert
Guides: Hard-chrome snakes/tip top
Reel Seat: Aluminum
Rod Tube/Sock: Yes/Yes
On our brand-new test rod, the full-wells super-plus cork handle looked so clean and tight that I almost hated to take the rod fishing and dirty it up! The quality is simply superb. Above the SALT HD's grip there's no hook keeper visible, but that's because it's hidden in the reel seat. Well, I should say they are hidden, because there's actually a little built-in hook keeper on each side of the reel seat hood.
The reel seat is equally top-notch. It's a non-glare satin black color with double up-locking rings and a big squared-off slide band with the rod's line weight laser-etched in white. One thing I would suggest to Sage is to put a line under the 6 to help eliminate possible confusion with a 9 weight on the same rack. Otherwise, the up-locking rings spin extremely smoothly and lock a reel in place solidly. Below the seat is a relatively long fighting butt with a flared end.
One thing I love about rods like that old Xi2 and now the SALT HD is that, well, they look like saltwater rods! Part of this is due to the robust components they equip them with. Although this is the smallest rod in the HD lineup, it still sports a generously-sized hard-chrome tip-top and snake guides along with dual stripping guides. Over the years I've found these larger guide sets great for clearing knots in the line, reeling a leader into the guides, or simply for shaking the last of the leader knots out of the guides.
The "squid-ink" blank color looks to be a dark but glossy purplish-blue shade, guide wraps are black, and there's contrasting blue trim around the logo and ferrules. The blank itself is constructed using the new proprietary KonneticHD technology graphite/resin composite for better strength, lighter weight, improved tracking, power, and in Sage's words "the highest energy transferring material we have ever created."
My Sage SALT HD 690-4 fly rod boasted flawless build quality from tip to butt. When all four pieces were joined together, the rod flexed smoothly with no detectable ticking due to poor-fitting ferrules. This is a finely-built rod!
While the SALT HD is obviously designed with salt in mind, there's no law against using it wherever and for whatever you want. I specifically requested the little 6-weight model because most of my fishing at the time of this writing was for peacock and largemouth bass. In addition to salt, this rod makes a great bass stick.
I had high expectations when it came to casting, and this rod didn't let me down. It felt lightweight, there was tremendous power when I needed it, and it boasted ample feel for presentations at any range. Being a fast-action saltwater rod I knew it would probably like heavier-than-standard lines, and I found the WF6F RIO Bonefish Quickshooter (210 grains @ 35.5 feet) matched the rod very well. In addition, I threw this same line with a Scientific Anglers SONAR Sinking Leader looped-on (an additional 50 grains) which it of course handled without breaking a sweat.
For what it's worth, I also lawn-casted a WF6F Seeker line from Shadow Fly Fishing (35 foot head but no grain specs indicated) and the rod felt plenty satisfying with it. I was fully expecting to have to up-line this rod for any kind of performance but that lighter line worked out quite well.
Casting this rod was extremely satisfying yet instantly familiar. Like those old "Xi" rods I loved so much, the SALT HD sports a blank I'd describe as powerful, smooth, and intuitive. With just the floating line, feel was pleasant at very short ranges but predictably got much better with additional line out of the guides. This rod likes a quick casting stroke and will throw a tight loop very well. With that said, I personally enjoyed it the very most at those all-important mid-range "average" fishing distances.
Regardless of distance, another benefit of KonneticHD is a blank that feels like it tracks on invisible rails for extreme accuracy. If you've read any of my previous reviews you'll know I'm not shy about pointing out a product's shortcomings, but I can't really give this rod any big knocks in the casting department—it's a premium experience.
Without doing side-by-side comparisons to past Sage saltwater rods of the same weight, it's hard to say if I personally prefer this one over those. What I can say is that you absolutely can't go wrong with the SALT HD 6-weight. This is simply an outstanding choice for light-duty saltwater and certain freshwater fishing situations. The $950 price point may be in another galaxy as far as some folks are concerned, but if you're seriously shopping for a new top-tier saltwater 6-weight, do yourself a favor and go test cast the SALT HD 690-4!
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