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Our Newsletter

Saltwater Rod and Reel Guide 2014

Posted on 25th Jan 2012 @ 4:31 PM


Feeling salty?  If you’re planning a saltwater trip this spring, consider Telluride Angler’s fly rod and reel recommendations to make sure you have the gear you need while packing efficiently and respecting the family budget.  Whether this is your first saltwater outfit or an exciting new niche rod, we’ll help you choose the right gear for the right fish.

Before offering our opinions on specific rods and reels, we’ll make some observations about saltwater fishing conditions.

Most popular line weights for specific species:

Bonefish: 8-wt
Redfish: 8-wt
Permit: 10-wt
Roosterfish: 10-wt
Tarpon: 12-wt
Giant Trevally: 12-wt
Sailfish: 14-wt
One rod for both bonefish and permit: 9
Most versatile “light” saltwater rod: 9-wt
Most versatile “heavy” saltwater rod: 11-wt

Must-have rods for popular destinations:

Bahamas: 8-wt
Belize: 8-wt + 10-wt
Christmas Island: 8-wt + 12-wt
Florida Keys: 9-wt + 12-wt (unless specifically targeting permit, in which case you’ll need a 10-wt)
Florida, East Coast inshore fisheries: 8-wt
Florida, West Coast: 9-wt
Florida, West Coast tarpon fishing:  12-wt 
Honduras: 8-wt + 10-wt
Mexico (Carribean): 8-wt + 10-wt
Mexico (Baja): 10-wt
North Carolina-South Carolina inshore fisheries: 8-wt
Seychelles: 8-wt + 12-wt
Texas-Florida Gulf Coast: 8-wt

How many rods should I bring?  Some fishing destinations, like the Bahamas, have one predominant species that allows for easy packing.  In most destinations, however, you’ll have primary and secondary species that provide compelling variety but also require more fly rods.  If you will be distinctly fishing for different species, take a rod for each species class (example: an 8-weight for bonefish, a 10-weight for permit and a 12-weight for tarpon).  If you will primarily fish for one species (let’s say bonefish), but might see others (for example permit, baby tarpon or barracuda), then try to cover the range with a second rod that could also serve as a backup for your primary species.   In this example, we would recommend taking an 8-weight and a 9-weight.  The 9-weight gives you upward capability for permit and small tarpon, but is still in the bonefish range.  You might throw your 9-weight on windy days for bonefish, or use it if something grim happens to your 8-weight.

Do I need a backup rod and reel?  Yes.  Rods and reels break regularly on saltwater fishing trips.  Outfitters that claim to have gear at their lodge often don’t (or, they have gear that someone left with them twenty years ago).  If you are fishing with a group of friends, you can generally get by with one backup rod for every two anglers, but we honestly recommend that every angler bring a second outfit, just in case.  Every one of these trips is “the trip of a lifetime” for mortal trout anglers.  Take an insurance policy.

Action and line weight considerations:  In choosing your rods, remember that wind is your number one enemy.  Heavy wind, extremely common in virtually all saltwater destinations, will end your fishing if your rods are too light.  That is why we recommend 8-weights rather than 7-weights for places like Christmas Island and Belize.  Most bonefish in those destinations are “7-weight fish,” but the wind can shut you down just as surely as in the Keys or Bahamas.   It is generally ok if your fly rod is a little too powerful.  Fishing 6 or 7-weight rods is a luxury.  We love them, but would never go on a saltwater trip of any kind without 8 and 9-weights onboard.

Telluride Angler’s most recommended saltwater rods:

Scott S4S Series (line weights 5-13): A serious saltwater fly rod that is slightly more flexible than the Sage Xi3 or Sage ONE rod.  Stiffness (scale of 1:10):  8

Choose a Scott S4S if: 

1)      You want a rod to help make the transition from trout casting to saltwater casting

2)      You generally prefer medium or medium-fast action fly rods

3)      You generally fish for trout on small and medium-sized trout streams

4)      You usually fish for trout with dry flies

5)      Your morning routine includes oatmeal and classical music

Sage Xi3 Series (line weights 5-16):  Sage’s tried and true saltwater workhorse.  Like all classic Sage saltwater rods, the Xi3 Series is extra-fast action with very beefy butt sections for lifting tarpon and other heavy fish that stubbornly work deep at the end of a long fight.  These rods are for the open-throttle angler who demands power in every casting stroke.   Stiffness (scale of 1:10): 9.5

Choose an Xi3 if:

1)      You generally fish for trout with fast-action rods

2)      You often fish for trout from a driftboat or in windy situations on larger rivers

3)      You normally fish nymphs or streamers for trout

4)      Your saltwater destination offers species that run deep and require “lifting.”

5)      You start your day with heavy metal and coffee on an empty stomach.

Sage ONE Series fly rods:  These clever rods were introduced in the fall of 2011 at an average of 25% less weight than comparable Xi3 models.  They are very fast action and so much lighter that they are quickly usurping the popular Xi3 in comparable line weights.  So far, Sage only makes them up to a 10-weight, but the 7, 8, 9 and 10-weights deserve your consideration.  Stiffness (scale of 1:10): 10

Choose a Sage ONE rod if:

1)      You fish a Sage TCX, Sage ONE, Orvis Helios or Loomis GLX for trout

2)      You prefer the fastest action fly rods for all of your fishing

3)      You play professional rugby

4)      You want to err on the side of fishing powerful rods

5)      You’re heading to a notoriously windy destination

Budget Saltwater Fly Rod: Scott A4 Series.  The new Scott A4 Series represents the best sub-$500 saltwater fly rods available.  Released in October 2011, these are true saltwater fly rods, much faster action than their predecessors in the A3 Series.

Saltwater reels:  Quite simply, saltwater fishing tests reels in ways that freshwater fishing does not.  Any experienced saltwater angler will warn the newcomer that reel breakage is common and that the durability and performance of your reels is truly essential to the success of your trip.  Our favorites are not necessarily the most expensive models, but saltwater reels generally cost more than trout reels.  First, a few strategic observations:  

1)      Buy machined reels (not “machine-finished,” a complete hoax) that are anodized for saltwater protection.

2)      Any reel that is not “large arbor” is at a significant disadvantage in saltwater fishing.  These fish run exponentially farther than their freshwater cousins.  Your ability to retrieve quickly will, beyond a doubt, result in more landed fish.

3)      Extra spools are not nearly as useful in saltwater as freshwater.  Generally, you want as many rods with reels rigged and ready as can be safely stored on your boat so you can take advantage of unexpected opportunities if they present themselves (if your guide swings the boat sharply and says “pick up the tarpon rod,” you should listen to him).  Unlike in trout or steelhead fishing where it is common to fish the same water twice with floating and sinking lines, you will normally rig each saltwater rod with a preferred line and leave it for the whole week.

4)      Any reel could break on a saltwater trip, so again, we highly recommend taking a backup.

5)      For bonefish and redfish, a lightweight reel with a sealed drag system and large arbor spool is optimal, but you don’t really need the massive stopping power of a tarpon reel.  Upper end drag tension is a bonus, but not a requirement for bones and reds.   A smooth drag that functions consistently is critical.  Bonefish are incredibly fast and make very long runs, but you don’t need to “stop” them like a tarpon or billfish.

Most recommended saltwater reels:


Hatch Finatic Series ($600-$900): the redesigned Hatch Finatic combines the most proven drag system in the industry with modern salt-proofing and flawless machining.  Are Hatch reels the most beautiful in the world?  Yes, we believe they are, but you should buy one for the spool design and drag system, and consider cosmetics a bonus.  In 2012, the Hatch Finatic became our most popular top quality fly reel.

Nautilus N/V Series ($540-$770): light, smooth, beautiful, durable and reasonably priced.  The Nautilus NV is our #1 saltwater reel.  The drag discs are completely protected inside a bullet-proof housing.  The spool is large arbor, narrow and tall, so it picks up line faster than most other reels.  At $600, the NV 8/9 is widely regarded as the best value in modern bonefish/redfish/salmon reels.

Nautilus CCF X2 Series ($435-$550):  The 2014 CCF X2 is a much improved version of the original Nautilus CCF, widely regarded as the best sub-$600 reel on the market.  The CCF X2 is improved in every way.  It weighs 15% less than the original, has a taller, narrower spool and features a new drag tensioning system that provides spectacular range and sensitivity.  Not surprisingly, the CCF X2 has proved wildly popular upon its introduction.  We have discovered two cautionaries with the reel, however:  1) there has been a waiting list of up to 6 months on every model.  Telluride Angler is one of the largest Nautilus dealers and has priveledged access to the reels, but a moderate wait is still possible or likely, depending upon the time of year, and  2) the CCF X2 is sized differently than the original.  Anglers should order the 68 size for 8-weight fly rods.  Choose the 810 for 9 and 10-wt rods.  The 810 balances well on a 10' 8-wt, but is too heavy on a 9' 8-wt). 

Nautilus FWX Series (7/8 model $300):  The FWX 7/8 is a freshwater reel that has a completely enclosed drag system and a narrow large arbor spool that makes it well-suited to light saltwater use.  This is a fantastic reel for the money, but lacks the drag range and bearing systems of true saltwater reels.  Ultimately, we expect to find a significant durability difference between the FWX Series and its big brother NV and CCF reels.  Still, if you buy the FWX 7/8 for freshwater, you can definitely fish it in salt.


Tibor Signature Series ($775-$865):  The chief advance in the Tibor Signature Series is that Signature reels have an enclosed drag system, whereas Quickchange reels do not.  The Signature Series has now usurped the QC Series, the torchbearer for the world's most trusted brand in saltwater fly reels.  Ted Juracsik himself testifies that these are the best saltwater reels he has ever designed.

Ross Momentum LT Series ($445-$595):  Introduced four years ago, this is the first Ross saltwater reel to consistently pass the durability test.  From our experience, all past Ross saltwater reels show the propensity to succumb to salt corrosion, needing to be sent back for cleaning by Ross.  The Momentum LT is different.  In four years, we’ve sold and fished quite a few of them and never sent one back for repair of any kind.  The spools could be a little taller and narrower, but these are still definitely “large arbor” reels with fast line retrieve capability.  Also, for a mid-priced reel, the drag system has a phenomenal range with very smooth function.  If you’re a Ross angler, give this saltwater reel a try.

Ross F1 #4 & #5 ($550-$625):  Quietly, the F1 is usurping the Momentum LT as Ross’s leading saltwater reel.  The distinguishing feature of the F1 is the overbuilt drag housing and internal tensioning system which features a formula-1 style 8-point caliper that presses on a heat-resistant disc.  There is no reel in the world with such a wide, smooth drag range.  Not even close.  That’s nice (but mostly a cosmetic bonus) for trout fishing, but a huge design advantage for saltwater and steelhead fishing.  The trout reels in the F1 series seem expensive, but the saltwater models seem downright inexpensive relative to the technology in these spectacular reels.  Some anglers will choose a Tibor or Nautilus for their narrower spools, but the overall drag function of the F1 is probably unequalled by any reel past or present.

Ross CLA #4-7 ($240-$305):  Once again, we maintain that there is no such thing as a $250 saltwater reel.  The larger CLA models, starting with the number 4, have a brass bearing that really helps with salt resistance.  The CLA is a mid-arbor reel without ball bearings, so the function is not as smooth as more expensive reels.  The drag range is adequate for small and medium-sized saltwater species, but not for tarpon or offshore species.  The guts need regular cleaning to prevent “squeakiness,” but for short term use, the CLA is a capable budget saltwater reel.

Lamson Vanquish #7.8LT-12 ($699-$899):  If you fish Lamson reels, you’ll love their Vanquish saltwater models.  These are classic Lamsons, much lighter, larger and airier than their competitors.   We recommend the Vanquish over the ULA Force (Lamson’s other saltwater series) because the Vanquish has a significantly larger drag surface.  This is our only saltwater reel with a conical drag rather than flat discs, which really makes sense in terms of maximizing the surface area within a concealed housing.   Like all Lamson reels, the Vanquish is a work of modern art.  The most distinguishing feature, however, is the physical weight (or lack thereof).  The size 8LT weighs only 6.5 ounces (on the Telluride Angler mail scale).