A common belief is that soldiers of the Roman Republic were paid not in gold or silver coins but in salt. From a centurion's viewpoint, if one of his soldiers was not performing well, "he wasn't worth his salt." This phrase is likely due to the fact that the English word salary is derived from the Latin salarium. The root sal is the Latin word for salt, but a soldier's salarium wasn't actually salt—it was a coin allowance for soldiers to spend on salt.
For fly fishers at least, not much has changed in the past 2,000 years. Much of our disposable income also goes toward salt: Saltwater rods, reels, lines, and places where the fish are bigger, faster, and stronger than they are at home.
These home waters and far-flung corners of the world—saltwater flats in the tropics; Northeast tidal rips, beaches, and jetties; and the blue water of the open ocean—are the most demanding environments for your skills and your tackle. Salt water is corrosive. If your pliers and other tools can't stand up to it, they are not worth their salt.
Sometimes you'll stand for hours watching and waiting for something to happen, then you've got one cast at 2 o'clock. 80 feet. Backhanded. If your rod can't make it, it's not worth its salt.
Your reel, your fly line, your sun protection, and your footwear all have to perform at a premium when you're tackling your dream fish. Otherwise you're out there just wasting your time and your salarium.
Scott Meridian $865
Meridian designer Jim Bartschi has developed a saltwater rod that doesn't feel overly stiff or difficult to load, but still recovers quickly, snapping back to the straight position with high line speed, delivering your fly to the target with a minimum number of false casts. "It's a step forward in getting your fly to the fish quickly," said our tester, who used the 8-weight Meridian for both inshore cold water, and tropical flats fishing for bonefish. "But what you notice most when you're fishing it is the thoughtful improvements to the user end of the rod." The machined aircraft-grade aluminum reel seat has a self-indexing sliding hood so it's always in the right position, deeply knurled lock rings so you can set your saltwater reel securely, and get it off easily with wet or slimy hands. The rod weight is engraved on the up side of the reel seat, so when you've got an 8-weight, a 10-weight, and a 12-weight stored in the rod holders of a flats skiff, it's quick and easy to identify the correct rod and get it out quickly when you need it. Even the shape of the modified full-wells grip, the taper of the fighting butt, and a transitional check ring to help line coils slide off the fighting butt more easily show that Bartschi and his crew spend a lot of time on the flats thinking about every opportunity to make a saltwater rod better. scottflyrod.com
Sage Bolt $650
Our tester used the latest rod with Sage's Generation 5 Technology for Biscayne Bay bonefish, and later to battle the wind in the open valleys of Iceland's North Coast. "The Bolt launched a conehead Dalai Lama against a wet, 20-knot Arctic Ocean wind, and proved to be a dependable workhorse for big flies in tough conditions," he said. "When the sun came out, and we switched to small stuff, it turned into a weapon for compressed loops and laser-straight casts to the far bank." While technically neither a saltwater nor a freshwater rod, the punchy rod from the same family as the Sage Method fills all the requirements, in terms of stiffness, range, durability, and lifting power, and comes in line weights from 12 all the way down to a beefy 5-weight for throwing big streamers with sinking tips. sageflyfish.com
Hardy Zephrus $650-$800
When the tackle giant Pure Fishing bought the venerable Hardy, the first order of business was to secure the exclusive use of 3M's nano-silica Matrix Resin. Now, no one else in the fly-rod world has it. Using that resin together with a carbon fiber system called SINTRIX, Hardy rebuilt its premium fly rods from the ground up with Fuji titanium stripper rings and super-hard REC Black Pearl Recoil guides. The new Zephrus is available in 11 freshwater and 9 saltwater models. hardyfishing.com
Echo Boost $230-$250
This is a stiff, powerful rod that is built for fresh water in line weights 2 through 6 and for salt water in weights 6 through 12. The high-modulus graphite makes it surprisingly light for the power it generates, and although you feel a reserve tank of power when you cast long, the tip is tapered thinly so you can make quick tip casts at short range. According to designer Tim Rajeff, this softer top end helps the rod tip travel in a straight line, making for tighter loops with more accuracy. The matte black finish cuts reflection from the rod, and on the freshwater models even the guides are black. rajeffsports.com
Winston BIII Plus $855-$895
While most BIII Plus rods will go to salt water, they will also work anywhere you deal with big flies, fat fly lines, nasty headwinds, and powerful fish. Musky fishing? This is the rod. The sweet spots in this series are the 8- and 9-weight "jungle rods" with a longer cork handle and fighting butt, and a reinforced butt and midsection for more lifting power when you're dealing with stubborn peacock bass and golden dorado. All BIII Plus rods have oversized chrome snake guides, Nanolite stripping guides, over-sized tip top, and green anodized aluminum reel seats. winstonrods.com
Manufactured in Miami, Nautilus reels are famous for their smooth, lightweight carbon fiber and Teflon drag systems, and for their light weight. Designer Kristen Mustad's latest X design maintains the light-and-strong design ethic, but reduces the machining time and materials to create a reel that is also relatively inexpensive. As an extra bonus, the X design gives you two rims to palm for extra manual drag control if you want it. Available in four sizes. The largest 8/9 Nautilus X weighs in at 4.7 ounces and handles striped bass, bonefish, carp, and anything else you choose to throw at it. nautilusreels.com
The new super-large-arbor reel from Orvis has a lot more than circumference going for it—although with 8.25 inches of line pickup in the size III trout reel, it's the first thing that jumps out at you. Orvis kept the name that matches with its popular mid-priced line of fly rods, but made the reel more rugged and durable, jacked up the performance of the sealed drag, and made the drag knob more user friendly. The thicker, stronger frame and spool together with an upgraded and now sealed clutch bearing and more closely machined tolerances means there's less wobble and therefore less wear and tear on the reel and less opportunity for your running line to migrate outside the line guard. The big, clunky, line-catching drag knob from the old Hydros is gone—replaced by a low-profile knob with a thumb indent and positive knurling that works better on hot sweaty sunscreen days and on freezing-drizzle days when you have to wear gloves. The Hydros SL is available in sizes to handle anything up to a 10-weight line with 250 yards of backing, just right for Florida bonefish, big stripers, or Great Lakes carp. orvis.com
Redington Behemoth $110-$130
Never before has so much stopping power been packed into a $130 die-cast reel. With more than 30 pounds of drag, you can crank the drag down on a giant trevally or a tuna to the point where you might break your rod or the fly line itself, but the reel keeps working. The deep V spool design gives exceptional backing capacity in all four sizes, so we don't recommend turning this drag all the way up. Let the fish run a little. redington.com
Tibor Series $640-$770
The original Tibor Series has for 20 years set functional standards in saltwater fishing. With a simple cork disk drag and very few moving parts, it's proved dependable everywhere from Papua New Guinea to Boca Grande, Florida. The drag remains unchanged in the new 2016 Tibor Series, the only thing different is the spool design which takes the Pacific size from 14.5 ounces to 13.2 ounces, the Gulfstream from 12.5 to 10.9, and the Riptide from 9.7 to 9. The new spools fit all previous frames. The Everglades spool also sports the new look, but the weight remains unchanged. tiborreel.com
RIO InTouch Striper Line $90
Striper fishing often means night fishing during the summer months, which is why RIO's intermediate version of the InTouch Striper Line has a luminous running line for easier handling in the dark. The 30-foot sinking-tip versions are density compensated, and all the lines including the floating Striper Line have RIO's low-stretch ConnectCore so you can maintain more sensitive contact with your fly and set the hook more solidly when the bite comes. rioproducts.com
Scientific Anglers Sonar Big Water Taper $90
Scientific Anglers has consolidated all its sinking lines for everything from stillwater trout fishing to surf and offshore saltwater fishing into one line family called Sonar. There are 14 new sinking and sinking-tip lines in this category, including a triple-density line called the SONAR Titan Intermediate/Sink 3/Sink 5 with an intermediate running line, a Sink 3 (about 3 inches per second) handling section, and a Sink 5 head to get the flies down deep. Our favorite in the series is the Big Water Taper, which has the Titan taper for big flies, but a 100-pound-test core for dealing with truly massive fish like giant trevally without an IGFA-legal line class tippet. With this line you can use a flat 60- or 80-pound-test leader and use maximum pressure without worrying about your fly line breaking. scientificanglers.com