Saltwater fly fishing is one of the fastest-growing niches in the sport. It is also the niche that is the most demanding when it comes to gear.
If you’re going to be an effective saltwater fly angler, you need the best possible tool for the job. Today, we’ll take a look at the best saltwater fly rods on the market, as well as different features you should look for when choosing your own saltwater stick.
Our top saltwater fly rod picks
Echo has long made a name for themselves as a great manufacturer for rods at reasonable prices. While their really cheap rods aren’t all that great, the Echo Boost Salt is one of the best budget saltwater fly rods on the market.
At $250, you get a rod that has the backbone to punch big flies through stiff wind, that generates decent line speed, and will perform well when fighting fish.
Scott has long been synonymous with trout fishing. With the release of their near Sector series of fly rods, though, Scott has made a huge splash in the saltwater scene. The Sector is one of the best fly rods currently available, with a fast action that still l feels like a Scott. You might think it’s hard for Scott to one-up their cult favorite Meridian fly rod, but the Sector is arguably the best fly rod for fishing in the salt right now.
Sage has long built some of the best fly rods in the heavier weight classes. Their saltwater fly rods have gained a cult following, and for good reason. They just flat-out work, and previous saltwater-specific iterations of Sage rods have often performed very well, especially their higher weight rods.
The Sage Salt HD takes the best of the Konnetic HD technology Sage uses in their top-of-the-line rods, and perfects it for casting big flies at necessary distances for success in saltwater.
What to consider when choosing a saltwater fly rod
Now that we’ve taken a brief look at the best saltwater fly rods, it’s time to really dig into what you need to look for when buying your own. The requirements for a saltwater fly rod are completely different than a fly rod for bass or a trout fly rod. For saltwater fishing, you’ll want something with good accuracy, a smooth casting motion, and the power to pick up and place line in a single motion. You’ll want a rod that’s still smooth when performing a double haul, that places flies directly in front of cruising bonefish, and still throws tight loops against the wind.
All of these variables play into which fly rod you choose. We’ll break things down by location, species, and casting comfort to help you narrow down your search for the best saltwater fly rod.
Saltwater fly fishing location and type
While some saltwater anglers are lucky enough to fish all sorts of locations, most tend to pick a certain geography and stick with it. Where you do the majority of your saltwater fishing will dictate what kind of rod you need.
On the flats, there’s nothing more important than accuracy. If you’re wading flats, especially, you need a rod that has outstanding accuracy and a high line speed. These two features combined allow you to punch line directly where your fly needs to be.
Flats fishing is the most challenging of all saltwater endeavors. Some of the most sought-after saltwater fish are found on the flats – permit and bonefish, to name two.
A lightweight rod is important here too, since you’re usually on foot when fishing the flats. A heavy fly rod will wear you out unnecessarily.
The trick to effectively fly fish reefs requires a rod with specialized performance in mind. Fly fishing reefs requires you to use heavy sinking fly line – stuff that gets down deep, and does it quick. You’re also casting heavier flies than you do on the flats, because you want your flies to aid in sinking to where the fish are hanging.
Fly fishing reefs requires less accuracy, and more raw power. I wouldn’t stalk reefs with anything less than an 8 weight fly rod, although I’m sure some folk out there would disagree with me.
Fast action rods are your best bet for fishing in and around reefs.
Estuary or bay
The trick with fishing estuaries or bays is dealing with the tides. You’ll likely be casting multiple distances, with multiple setups, to get the most effective presentation in this environment. That means you’ll need a rod that’s versatile – something that feels great to cast, but has some backbone to it as well. Chasing redfish in coastal bays is an activity that demands a heavy weight rod, but you don’t need to sacrifice feel and presentation for raw power.
Spend time looking for a fly rod that’s a do-it-all model, and you’ll have found one that’s great for saltwater fly fishing.
Boat or land-based
If you’re shore-bound, don’t worry. You can still get into plenty of fish. What you’re looking for here is a fly rod that just flat-out throws line. Accuracy isn’t as important when you’re stuck on the sand, because you just need to get your cast out past the breakers. A powerful rod will be your best tool here.
If you’re on a boat, you need to opt for accuracy over raw power. Pinpoint casts in front of cruising tarpon, or tailing roosterfish, is key. Go for something lighter, with laser-like precision, and you’ll have a great saltwater fly rod for fishing from a boat.
Best saltwater rod weight for various fish species
Just like freshwater anglers have their favorite fish – and specialized tactics to chase them – saltwater fly anglers are no different. Knowing the right rods, rod weights, lines, and flies for various species is key to success in saltwater.
Today, we’re going to focus solely on the right rods for fishing to certain saltwater fish species. Unlike in freshwater, you really do need specialized fly rods to get the most out of your attempts to case bonefish, or tuna, or roosterfish.
8 weight – bonefish, redfish, and snook
Bonefish are notoriously tough to catch. They’re among the most sought-after saltwater fish, and you’ll find tons of info online for catching these critters.
An 8 weight is the rod of choice for bonefish, redfish, snook, and similar fish because it has enough backbone to fight these fish, but the accuracy to place flies where they need to be. A misplaced fly is a surefire way to lose your chance at a redfish.
9 weight/10 weight – permit, striped bass, roosterfish, triggerfish
Once you move past fish the size of redfish and snook, it’s time to look at 9 and 10 weight rods. These fly rods are heavier, but they pack such a punch that you’ll have no problem hauling in the hard-fighting permit, stripers, roosterfish, triggerfish, and other similar species you catch. You still need great accuracy out of the rod for permit, but you’ll love the extra power from the heavier weight rod.
11 weight/12 weight – tarpon, sailfish, tuna species
If you’re chasing the big boys – the kings of saltwater fly fishing – like tarpon, tuna, and sailfish, you need a big rod. These fish can top 200 pounds – you’re not bringing that in on an 7 weight. Add to this that you’ll cast a big fly for these big fish, and it’s clear why you need an 11 or 12 weight rod for these fish.
13 weight/14 weight – giant trevally
As far as fly rods go, a 14 weight is the heaviest. It’s a rod that’s built for one thing, and one thing only – raw power. Accuracy isn’t something you generally get from a 14 weight. And you don’t need it, either. You just need a rod that’ll cast heavy lines, flies, and pull against big fish thank can break weak gear.
Things to consider in choosing the right weight rod
Finally, there are a few other things to consider when you’re picking the best saltwater fly rod:
- Pulling power to fight big fish
- Castability – you don’t want something that’ll wear your arm out all day
- Action that’s appropriate for the species you’re chasing. Moderate action rods are great when you need accuracy. Fast action is what you want when you need to cast 50 feet or more in the wind.
- You don’t want to break off your fish of a lifetime. Pick a rod that’s powerful enough to horse in fish when you need it, so you can end fights quickly.
- Price. Finally, make sure you don’t exceed your budget. There’s no reason to spend above what you can afford on gear. There are tons of great options with strong performance at lower price points.
At the end of the day, you’ll probably be best off with a rod in the 9 weight range. That’s the do-it-all rod for saltwater fly fishing, and it can handle just about anything you throw at it.
Detailed reviews of our best saltwater fly rods
These are some of the best saltwater fly rods on the market. If you’re serious about fly fishing the salt, you’ll want to give long consideration to these saltwater fly rods.
The Scott Sector is an outstanding fly fishing tool. It’s one of the best rods on the market, regardless of where you’re fishing it. The rod has a progressive, crisp action that makes it ideal for using all day long. It’s perfect from a boat, shore, or while stalking fish on foot in the flats.
The Sector is also one of the few rods that’s lived up to its own buzz. Saltwater anglers everywhere love the Sector, and it’s proving to be just as good as it’s talked up to be. It comes in three lengths: 8 feet four inches, 8 feet 10′ and 9 feet.
Some more key features of the Sector:
- Scott’s classic, progressive action
- Lifetime warranty
- Outstanding build quality
If you’re in need of a rod that can just force flies to fish with brute force, look no further than the Sage Salt HD. Sage has long been known for building fast-action rods, and that’s the niche the company fills.
The Salt HD is no different from the rest of the company’s rods. It’s fast, recovers quickly, tracks straight, and has little swing weight for a rod of its caliber.
Sage also knows how to combine fast action with stellar accuracy on the cast. If the Sector didn’t exist, the Salt HD would probably be the best saltwater fly rod on the market.
- Sage’s lifetime warranty
- Sage’s fast-action combined with accuracy
- Great build quality
The Orvis H3D is one of the most decorated rods in recent memory. It’s won tons of awards, but more importantly, it’s won the hearts of anglers. The H3D is one of the best rods you’ll find, because it’s probably the most accurate. It doesn’t have the feel of the Sector, and doesn’t look as fancy as the Salt HD, but it’s still a fantastic rod nonetheless.
What you’ll notice with the H3D is that you can pick up a ton of line for immediate re-casts when needed. That’s a byproduct of the H3D’s incredible torsional stability.
- Incredible torsional stability
- Great against the wind
- Not as eye-catching as other rods
If you’re in the market for a rod with stellar accuracy and a remarkably easy casting motion, the Winston Saltwater AIR checks all the boxes. Though a bit heavier than other rods on this list, the AIR is the pinnacle of Winston’s foray into saltwater fly fishing.
Winston is known for building dry fly rods, but their saltwater rods have gained a cult following, and for good reason. Winston’s progressive action lends itself well to casting long, graceful loops on the flats.
While it doesn’t have the wind-beating power of other rods, the Winston Saltwater AIR is probably the most accurate.
- Stellar accuracy
- Outstanding build quality
- Less powerful than other rods
The G. Loomis Asquith certainly has the weirdest name on the list – shoot, maybe in the history of all fly rods – but it makes up for it with unique features.
The Asquith is a quick rod, but light in hand and in swing weight. It’s accurate, but it features an action that does take some getting used to. The rod costs a bit, but it does come with the standard Loomis warranty.
- Light swing weight
At $250, the Echo Boost Salt is the budget pick here, and for good reason. Echo rods are designed by Tim Rajeff, a world-champion distance caster.
The Boost Salt is a fast rod that focuses more on raw power than it does accuracy. That said, if you know your way around a fly rod, you can likely get the Boost Salt to place flies exactly where you need them.
- Solid fast action
- Not as accurate as other rods
At the end of the day, you’re looking for a saltwater fly rod that performs extremely well under various circumstances. The best way to find the rod you need is to spend time casting and trying out models at your local fly shop – and doing your online research. And don’t forget to pair your rod with a quality reel. Saltwater fish can really test a reel’s performance so make sure you get a reel with a decent drag and interchangeable spools so you can switch types as required.