Choosing the best saltwater fly fishing rod might seem like a daunting task. The number of manufacturers and rod ranges out there is staggering. While it might be feasible to look for cheap alternatives in a light freshwater fly rod, I recommend buying the best fly fishing rods specifically for saltwater purposes.
I spent 9-months guiding and fishing on a remote outer atoll in Seychelles. Here I had the privilege of experiencing first-hand what all of our oceans once was. But, even in these remote and wild destinations, shots at your dream fish don’t swing by every single moment. Shure, there are days where the tide, wind, and the guide’s plans work out perfectly and you land a super grand slam.
But these days are very few and far between. For those moments you were dreaming of you need reliable gear. Your entire outfit needs to be dependable. The backing, fly line, leader, hook, knots, reel, and most importantly, the rod will have to stand up to the task.
|Sage Salt HD||Check Sale Price|
|Scott Sector||Check Sale Price|
|G. Loomis NRX+||Check Sale Price|
|Orvis Helios 3||Check Sale Price|
|Hardy Zephrus SWS||Check Sale Price|
5 Best Saltwater Fly Rods
In this section, I go over 5 of my favorite saltwater fly rods. I have actual experience with all of them:
Sage Salt HD
- Price: RRP $950
- Available weights: 6wt – 16wt
No “Best Fly Rod” article will be complete without mentioning Sage. They’ve been top of their game for years. The Salt HD is incredibly light in hand. The 8 and 9 weight variants are a joy to cast, especially at medium to long-range distances. Sage has truly come to the party offering the discerning saltwater fly fisherman a choice from an ultra-light 6-weight to a tuna-hauling 16-weight.
- Price: RRP $985
- Available weights: 6wt – 15wt
Scott’s latest offering, the Sector, replaces the Meridian that so many of us loved. This Saltwater specific range features rods from 6 to 15-weight, offering a premium solution for any fishing need. The Sector is fitted with some of the most advanced materials and components available ensuring that you get a rod that performs well and lasts.
G. Loomis NRX+
- Price: RRP $895
- Available weights: 7wt – 12wt
The NRX+ replaced the standard NRX a while ago. Together with the Asquith, G Loomis offers two high-end saltwater rods that will suit any fly angler’s needs. The diameter of the butt section on the heavier rods is substantial. This, combined with the high modulus carbon fiber, produces a rod with incredible pulling power. The NRX range has always been highly regarded in the outer atolls of Seychelles as being incredibly durable. The + is no different.
Orvis Helios 3
Trident Fly Fishing
- Price: RRP $898
- Available weights: 8wt – 12wt (in the saltwater specific range)
The Helios 3 is Orvis’ high-end rod that replaced the Helios 2. The rod features Orvis’ dependable 25-year guarantee. It is a great fishing rod, especially in the 8 and 9-weight varients. The rod features modern styling with a white finish on the butt section above the cork handle. You can never go wrong with an Orvis.
Hardy Zephrus SWS
- Price: from RRP $699
- Available weights: 8wt – 12wt
This is hands down one of my favorite 12-weight rods. The Hardy Zephrus is as durable as they get. It’s also one of the more affordable premium rods on the market. The rod has a fast recovery rate channeling all the casting energy to the line. The Zephrus range may not be as comprehensive as the other brands, but it features the most popular saltwater rod weights.
What Makes a Great Saltwater Fly Rod?
The question “What is the best saltwater fly rod?” will undoubtedly provoke many lengthy discussions. A perpetual circle of debate that is fueled by our personal preference, limited experience, and good old fashioned stubbornness.
Even though most anglers have their favorite saltwater fly rod, there are some characteristics that these rods share. Apart from the specific action and cosmetic finish, the best all-around saltwater fly rod will be durable, have plenty pulling power, and comes with a decent warranty.
They say never take a knife to a gunfight. Well, in the saltwater fly fishing world you need to arrive equally well-armed. The rod you’re fishing with should be suited to the intended species, size, and fishing situation. Having a rod with sufficient pulling power will enable you to turn that big fish around. A good 8-weight fly rod will protect lighter tippets but have the power to handle bonefish.
Durability is an area where many saltwater fly rods fall short. If you’re going on a trip to a remote island you want something durable. Usually, there isn’t a Cabella’s around the corner where you can pick up a new stick. Saltwater fly rods are also frequently used in and around boats. On the bow of a skiff being poled around the flats in Cuba or on a transfer in a beat-up panga in Southern Sudan. These are the scenarios where rods take the most beating.
The components and finish of a saltwater specific fly rod are selected to be hard-wearing and deter corrosion. This feature doesn’t mean you won’t have to look after the rod. Rinse the rod after every day’s use and thoroughly clean and polish the finish once you arrive back home. This regular practice will ensure that your favorite rod will last for years.
After Sales Service
I deliberately refrained from choosing the heading of this section as “Lifetime Warranty”. This term is thrown around very easily these days. What it actually means is that if there’s a manufacturing defect, the rod will be fixed free of charge. To the angler that spends $1000 on a rod, you would expect that. When last have you heard of a premium rod’s cork coming loose or a ferrule that won’t stay secured properly?
What most die-hard saltwater anglers need is more than a warranty, it’s an honest and dependable after-sales service. I let a 124cm giant trevally fall on top of the butt section of my old Sage Xi2. It doesn’t matter how durable your rod is, it will snap. I sent the complete rod to Sage and had it back after a couple of weeks. When you spend your hard-earned money on premium saltwater fishing rods, you want the peace of mind that the manufacturer will be around for a while.
Only after satisfying the above mentioned 3 characteristics and features, we get to the castability. This is where labeling a rod as the “best” gets a little tricky as it has to do with feel and casting style. For example, although I’ve been fly fishing for most of my life, I prefer a slightly slower action saltwater fly rod. Especially in the 11 and 12-weight variants. Other anglers prefer super-fast action fly rods.
That being said, the best saltwater fly rods will enable you to do the following, regardless of casting style and personal preference:
Generate High Line Speed
In many saltwater fly fishing situations you’ll be faced with a couple of casting challenges. Casting a relatively large or heavy fly, sight casting to a fish at 60-plus feet, and wind. All these difficulties can be overcome, to some degree, by increasing the line speeds during your cast. For this reason, a fast action rod has become the standard in saltwater fly fishing. Learning to double-haul will also enable you to get the most out of your rod.
The best fly rod suited to your casting style will enable you to deliver a fly to the intended quarry. Saltwater fly casting is all about accuracy. Being able to deliver the fly into the feeding zone of the fish is the single most important element in saltwater fishing.
Can You Use a Freshwater Fly Rod in Saltwater?
I get asked this question quite frequently by beginner fly anglers. The answer is derived from the abovementioned section. Compare a freshwater fly rod to these criteria and most rods will fall short. However, there are certain conditions where a freshwater rod could be suitable.
When using a freshwater fly rod in the salt, pay special attention to cleaning and maintaining the rod. Avoid using a rod with a wooden reel seat. A fast action rod will advantageous as this will assist you to generate higher line speeds – often needed to combat the ever-present wind. If you’re planning on using as 7-weight or lighter, target small saltwater species. Although you might be able to land a large saltwater fish on a 6-weight, the prolonged fight, due to the low pulling power, will place excessive stress on the fish. This fatigue often results in poor catch and release statistics.
How Many Fly Rods Do You Need?
I must admit, I have been diagnosed with extreme GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). In my saltwater arsenal, I have all rod weights from 8 to 12. However, two specific weights will allow you to cover all saltwater fishing scenarios – a 9 and a 12-weight. With these two rods, you will be able to target all saltwater species with success.
I recommend buying a spare rod for each of these two weights. That means when you go on a trip you’ll take 4 rods with you. In the event of something happening to your primary rod, you have the backup to fall back to.
Rod Weights and Their Application
Below, we take a look at 6 different fly rod weights and their intended purpose. By no means is this set in stone. Use this as a starting point and work from there.
An 8-weight is great for protecting lighter tippets and casting smaller flies. If you’re looking for a dedicated bonefish rod – this is it. The rod will enable you to present flies to shallow water bonefish delicately. A good 8-weight saltwater fly rod doubles up well to target larger freshwater species such as bass, golden dorado, and salmon.
The 9-weight is the most versatile saltwater fly rod. A great fishing tool for big bonefish, triggerfish, and permit. I’ve even seen one land a 95cm giant trevally in large surf conditions in South Africa. If you’re planning a trip to fish the Indian Ocean, this is the rod you’ll spend the most time with. For this reason, I recommend buying the best 9-weight you can afford.
The 10-weight is a perfect rod for targeting permit and small tarpon. In Seychelles, this rod weight is primarily used for targeting milkfish. A good 10-weight fly rod has ample pulling power, but can still protect tippet down to 20lb breaking strain.
An 11-weight marks the switch over to a rod that is dedicated for large fish. The 11 is much more comfortable to cast than the heavier 12-weight. It is popular for anglers planning on spending a long time on the casting platform due to it being more forgiving on the arm. This rod has no problem dealing with tarpon and jack crevalle.
Choose a 12-weight rod of you’re going to target the biggest fish on the flats. The rod can handle large giant trevally and tarpon. I do recommend spending as much time as possible casting this rod before going on a fishing trip. A 12-weight takes some time to. get used to, especially when you’re used to casting trout fly rods.
13-Weight and Over
13-Weight and heavier rods are reserved for large bluewater fish. These rods aren’t meant to be cast consistently, and therefore mainly used off boats and during sight fishing scenarios. Choose this caliber rod when targeting tuna, giant tarpon, and marlin.
I hope that you now feel confident to select a saltwater fly fishing rod suited to your needs. My favorite 5 rods are a good starting point and I’m sure that they won’t disappoint you. I must, however, point out that these rods will not make you catch more fish. They are fishing tools that can improve an already great cast.
Before going on any saltwater trip, spend enough time practicing your cast. Go for a casting lesson or two. Being comfortable with these heavy rods, especially the 11 and 12-weights, is critical to catch your dream fish.