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Saltwater Rod and Reel Guide 2017

Posted on 25th Jan 2012 @ 4:31 PM


Feeling salty?  If you’re planning a saltwater trip this year, 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:

dunc-with-really-nice-bone-andros.jpgBonefish: 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 Meridian Series (line weights 6-12): This game-changing fly rod won the 2015 ICAST Best of Show Award and has since been reviewed by countless dedicated anglers as among the finest saltwater rods ever made.  What makes this rod really special is that it is just as easy for a beginner to operate as for an expert.  In the spectrum of modern saltwater fly rods, the Meridian rates an 8 out of 10 in stiffness.meridian.jpg

Choose a Scott Meridian if: 

1)      You want a saltwater rod that is light and easy to cast

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

3)      Your saltwater casting distances are generally 75 feet or less

4)      You need an "all around" saltwater rod, rather than one designed specifically for the windiest situations

Sage SALT Series (line weights 5-16):  Sage’s new saltwater fly rod accommodates a wide range of casting styles and fly line tapers.  Line weights 5-9 are wonderful, versatile, easy casting saltwater fly rods. Stiffness (scale of 1:10): 7.5.  Line weights 10-16 are classic Sage saltwater sticks, ultra-fast action with extremely powerful butt sections.  Stiffness (scale of 1:10):  9.5.

Choose a Sage Salt, line weight 5-9, if:

sagesalt10wt.jpg1)      You generally fish for trout with medium action rods.

2)      When making the transition from trout to saltwater, the rods seem heavy and stiff.

3)      You have a relaxed casting stroke.

Choose a high line weight Salt if:

1)      You want the most powerful saltwater fly rod available.

2)      You cast with a powerful stroke at any distance.

3)      Heavy, deep running fish are on your radar.

4)      You love the classic Sage saltwater fly rods, including Xi3 and Xi2.

Sage X Series fly rods:  Sage X 7-10 weight models are described as "all water" fly rods.  Don't be deceived.  These are pure saltwater fly rods in the classic mold.  So far, Sage only makes them up to a 10-weight, but the 7, 8, 9 and 10-weights deserve your consideration.  Like the trout models in the X Series, these saltwater rods lie at the center of the action spectrum for their purpose.  They are faster than the low line weight Sage Salt models, but not as stiff as the 10-16 weight Salts.  They have a progressive taper, meaning that they flex evenly according to how much line you are casting.  If you like the feel of Sage X trout rods, you will love the saltwater models.  Stiffness (scale of 1:10): 8

Sage X Saltwater fly rodChoose a Sage X rod if:

1)      You fish a Sage X, Z-Axis or XP for trout.

2)      You prefer fast action fly rods, but not ultra fast (like the Method).

3)      You may cast flies of different size and weight.

4)      You need a versatile saltwater fly rod.

5)      You’re heading to a notoriously windy destination but don't have much experience with saltwater casting.

G.Loomis Asquith:  The only conceivable drawback of Loomis Asquith saltwater rods is their price.  The really good stuff in life is sometimes expensive.  Asquith rods are simply the best Loomis saltwater rods ever designed, and that's saying something.  All Asquith models are exquisitely light in the hand with very little swing weight.  They are as fast or faster in action than the NRX, but noticeably lighter and easier to cast.  You'll cast spectacular loops on your first cast with an Asquith.  Their combination of power, accuracy, lightness and ease of casting is just plain rare. Stiffness (scale of 1:10):  8.5  

G.Loomis AsquithChoose a Loomis Asquith if:

1)     You would enjoy using the lightest saltwater fly rod.

2)     You like very fast action saltwater fly rods, but sometimes find them hard to cast.

3)     You want greater accuracy from your saltwater fly rod.

4)     You like your NRX and are attracted by a new Loomis rod that is lighter, more powerful, more accurate and, somehow, easier to cast. 

G.Loomis NRX Saltwater:  Loomis anglers become addicted to the slingshot feeling of a rod that flexes deep into the blank and recoils with spectacular snap.  The NRX is a classic, extra-fast action saltwater rod that delivers more feel than most in its class because it loads a little deeper into the blank.  Stiffness (scale of 1:10): 8.5

Choose a G.Loomis NRX if:nrx-salt-10wt-blue.jpg

1)   You own other Loomis rods and love them.

2)   You need a powerful saltwater rod without going to the extreme stiff end of the spectrum.

3)   You are an experienced caster looking for a finely tuned, high performance saltwater fly rod.

4)   You want a fly rod that generates major line speed without an overpowered casting stroke.

Scott Tidal saltwater fly rod

Budget Saltwater Fly Rod: Scott Tidal Series.  The new Scott Tidal Series represents the best sub-$500 saltwater fly rods available.  Released in July 2014, these are true saltwater fly rods, much faster action than their predecessors in the A4 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 FinaticHatch 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 G Series ($540-$870): Light, smooth, beautiful, durable and reasonably priced.  The Nautilus NV G 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 $670, the NV 8/9 is widely regarded as the best value in modern bonefish/redfish/salmon reels.



Nautilus NVG SilverNautilus CCF X2 Series ($435-$685):  Introduced in 2014, the CCF X2 features a true large arbor, narrow spool and Nautilus's sensational X2 drag system.  We know of no other saltwater drag with greater range, sensitivity and consistency.  Not surprisingly, the CCF X2 has proved wildly popular, but anglers should give careful consideration to reel size for fly rod pairing.  Choose the 68 size for 9' 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). The 1012 is recommended for the use of 30 lbs dacron with 10-weight lines and with all 11-weight lines. The largest CCF X2, called "Silver King," is among the finest tarpon reels on the market and recommended for line weights 10-12.  In fact, for both capacity and retrieval rate, we recommend the Silver King over the CCF X2 1012 for all 12-weight lines.


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.


Abel Super Series ($625-$880):  Long the benchmark for overall quality, the Abel Super Series is virtually unmatched for reliability over prolonged use in saltwater.  Abel shares the Tibor philosophy that a reel without sufficient wall thickness will eventually get beaten into submission, and that large surface area cork drags are the best in the business.  We have seen every brand of reel fold under the pressures of saltwater fly fishing, but the track record of the Super Series is likely unequaled.  These are neither the lightest nor the smoothest reels on the market, but the overall reliability and function of the modern narrow spool models have earned Abel the most loyal angler fan base in the industry.  


Tibor Signature Series ReelRoss 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.


Lamson Speedster 3.5 and 4, standard and HD models ($349-$429):  The Lamson conical drag is sufficient for bonefish, redfish and other inshore species.  All of Lamson's best quality reels feature this drag, but we really only recommend the Speedster as a deligate to the salt.  From our experience, Lamson's internal anodizing is suspect for prolonged use in saltwater, but these reels are a pleasure to use and cost up to 50% less than other saltwater reels.  The Speedster is incredibly light weight and has an enormous arbor, so it feels great on any fly rod and retrieves line as fast as fire.  The 3.5 is an excellent budget bonefish and redfish reel -- just make sure to soak in freshwater after fishing.