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Freshwater Rods

Sage R8 CORE 9-foot 5-weight Fly Rod

A line-speed machine with a gentle side.
Kirk Deeter author.
Kirk Deeter
January 1, 2024
Sage | R8 CORE 590-4 Fly Rod
product description
“The Sage R8 CORE is a rod family focused on maximum versatility when applying new and revolutionary material technologies.” – Sage
company ethos
“Craftsmanship is our people. We’re not a big faceless factory, but rather a workplace of craftspeople who design and build the world’s best fly rods and reels using our hands and hearts.” – Sage

The first two casts I made with a 9-foot 5-weight R8 Core fly rod resulted in tailing loops. I didn’t blame the rod. Tailing loops (when the line crosses itself during the cast, effectively crushing any hope for distance and accuracy, and often resulting in tangles) are truly caused by only one thing–a bad cast. But those loops did tell me something about how the flex and taper of this rod combine to generate line speed: a lot of it. I’m not really a bad caster, but I am an abrupt starter and stopper of the casting stroke. So I had to ease off the throttle a bit, and find the stroke that worked with this rod. Once I did, I started throwing really compact, laser-like loops–the kind that bust through wind and cover water. It was pretty exhilarating, actually.

Product story

Sage says of their 9-foot 5-weight R8 Core: 

“Our most versatile and most popular rod model. The 590-4 handles trout flies of nearly any size, lines of varying densities and does so with superb feel, accuracy and line control. Elongated energy transfer shifts the sweet spot closer to the hand creating a more natural extension of your arm for greater range, quicker reactivity and less wasted effort.” 

Performance

I only fished the 9-foot 5-weight, though the company professes that each R8 model has its own personality. I rigged the rod with a RIO Gold line. (Had I put a RIO Grand line on, the 5-weight would have become a 6-weight.) I fished mostly on larger rivers (too wide to cast across) and lakes. There were situations when I felt invincible and absolutely loved the action, cast with little effort and dropped flies on feeding fish with surprisingly little commotion for a fast-action rod. It definitely has a softer side–but, usually, this was when fishing a single fly or tandem dries. Because I tend to form compact casting loops with the R8 Core, it isn’t my favorite rod for dry-dropper rigs. But tossing a Woolly Bugger? Great. Chuck-and-duck with a weighted nymph rig? Perfect. It’s a good mending rod. And there’s definitely a better-than-average level of feel transferred through the rod well into the mid-section of the grip when fighting fish. Make friends with this rod, and you can take it anywhere, and not just freshwater.

Pros

If you know how to self-diagnose casting issues and adapt your own mechanics, the sky’s the limit when it comes to what you can do with this rod.

Cons

It’s not an “off the shelf” match for some anglers/casters and beginners. For some, it will be love at first sight, and for others it seems like the tail wagging the dog. The rod has a high learning curve.

Pricing

Well, they finally did it. Sage broke through the $1000 barrier for a freshwater, graphite fly rod with this model ($1050). I have a hard time swallowing the cost of a fly rod being the same as a shotgun, or set of golf irons, or a decent imported guitar. 

Craftsmanship

But I have been to the Sage factory on Bainbridge Island, Washington, several times, and I’ve seen the craftsmanship and dedication to detail among the people firsthand. It’s an expensive fly rod, but yes, the value is backed up.

  • Price: $1050
  • Dimensions: 9-foot 5-weight, 4-piece fly rod
  • Weight: 2.7 ounces
  • Construction/Materials: Proprietary aerospace graphite composite, nano-sintered resin application (we know, it’s a mouthful)
  • Guides: Fuji ceramic stripper guides with hard chromed snake guides and tip-top
  • Rod action: Fast
  • Rod tracking: Straight
  • Rod recovery: Fast
  • Warranty information: Sage warranty policy

Technology behind the R8 CORE fly rod. “Since our founding on the shores of Puget Sound four decades ago, Sage has repeatedly revolutionized graphite fly rod technology.”

Sage warranty policy.

Sage doesn’t offer an “unconditional” lifetime warranty, like some other companies do. They’ll fix what they deem to be a manufacturer defect for free, but that almost never happens. On the other hand, they can rebuild a broken part to match your rod exactly, which is a pretty cool deal. But when your puppy munches your 5-weight, you’re going to pay.

“Every new Sage rod, blank, and Sage series reel purchased through an authorized dealer is covered by our original owner warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. This warranty is limited to repair and replacement of the rod, blank, or reel and does not cover direct, indirect, consequential, incidental, or any other type of damage resulting from the use of the product. This warranty does not cover misuse, neglect, normal wear, fire, theft, missing/lost rod sections, intentional breakage, modification or customization of the finished rod, or damage during the assembly of a blank into a finished rod by a non-Far Bank custom rod-builder.”

Likely buyers

The R8 Core is a wolf in sheep’s clothing–almost a saltwater rod with a freshwater wrapper. That’s not to say that it lacks feel or sensitivity. It isn’t a cannon like the Ignitor (and that’s good), but it is a line speed machine, and some anglers will have to ease off the throttle a bit, or risk throwing tailing loops. Once you find the stroke, it’s very easy to pack tight loops with less physical effort. Moreover, it’s the kind of rod that allows a good caster/angler to really play around and have fun. Challenge yourself with curve casts, pile casts, single-hand spey moves and more. Even simple details like mending the line or snapping roll casts seem to benefit from this taper and the R8 Core materials.

Added opinions

“It’s definitely a powerful fly rod that can move a lot of line at high speeds–also remarkably light and responsive for the caster. It also makes me wonder about the day when ‘hoop fiber technologies’ will become so advanced, fly rods will basically cast themselves. Intermediate-to-advanced anglers should love this rod, providing a solid and versatile platform to improve casting and angling skills. The price isn’t for the faint of heart.” – Andrew Steketee

Conclusion

I often use golf analogies: When the average duffer buys irons, they usually get what that industry refers to as “game improvement” irons with a larger sweet spot, more forgiveness and so forth. But the pros, and people who actually know how to shape shots, put spin on the ball, and so on, get “tour” or “player” irons, sometimes affectionately just called “blades.” R8 Core is a player-level/blade fly rod. That’s not to say that there won’t be oodles sold (at over a grand per) to anglers who really won’t get much more from the rod than the “prestige” (which only matters to themselves) of hanging it on the rack at the lodge.

Sage R8 Core fly rod lifestye image.
Sage R8 Core fly rod lifestye image.
Woman fighting fish.
Sage R8 Core fly rod lifestye image.
Sage R8 Core fly rod lifestye image.
Sage R8 Core fly rod lifestye image.
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