The flourishing interest in saltwater fly fishing brings with it a constant barrage of questions, many of which relate to local species and cannot satisfactorily be answered by the established American literature. This prompted our collaboration to produce Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals (1999), now reprinted after selling out in the first two yearstestament to the growing interest in saltwater fly fishing.
Yes, you can start by simply taking your 6 or 7-weight trout rod down to the local estuary for a flick, or you can bite the bullet and buy a dedicated saltwater outfit. Corrosion is the biggest concern if you use your trout rod and reel, and drag and backing capacity may soon be tested on the reel, even by the most common species such as salmon, tailor and queenfish.
What sort of FLY rod should I buy?
If you live in Darwin theres a good chance queenfish and barramundi are going to be your main targets in salt water. If you live in Albany its going to be salmon and bream, and in eastern Victoria, much the same. Someone in Mallacoota is probably also going to chase trout and bass from time to time so a good 6 or 7 weight may be adequate. In the west youre more likely to encounter bigger saltwater fish so a heavier rod as an initial purchase is a better idea, perhaps an 8 or 9-weight. In the tropics big GTs, tuna and many other hard pulling things can turn up at any time so perhaps a 9 or even a 10 weight rod is more appropriate.
These days good saltwater fly rods with a decent warranty can be purchased for $200 to $300extraordinary value compared to what was available a decade or so ago. No, the most expensive fast action rods are not necessarily the best starting point. Newcomers should look for a more user-friendly, slower action rod that will be easier to cast and more forgiving when casting a wide range of line densities and fly weights in a variety of situations and conditions.
Look for rods that have quality fittingschromed stainless steel guides, quality stripping guide(s) and good cork grips (synthetic grips are best avoided). An uplocking reel seat is preferable and the rod should have some sort of extension butt.
By all means shop around, compare prices and check out the fine print in relation to guarantees and availability of replacement parts (freight costs and time frame). In relation to specific brands, quality of service and value for money, dont be afraid to ask for advice. The forum on the FlyLife website is a good place to canvass independent opinions about tackle performance and reliability.
Are big, expensive reels REALLY NECESSARY?
Although you can literally spend thousands of dollars on a top of the range imported reel, there are now some quite robust models at the cheaper end of the market to complete an inexpensive set-up for the less than frequent swoffer. Those coming from a trout fishing background are more likely to be in the market for a relatively cheap, lightweight, multi-purpose reel, whereas the dedicated offshore enthusiast may be after something more robust.
Expect to pay $150-$250 for an entry level reel and $300-$500 for something more bullet-proof.
With bigger, faster fish in mind, a good saltwater reel will need to have a counter balanced spool, so the reel runs smoothly and does not vibrate itself to pieces. A relatively simple drag mechanism will do provided the reel has an exposed rim so judicious hand pressure can be applied if necessary. Large arbor reel configurations also offer considerable advantages in terms of line capacity, more constant drag pressure and faster line recovery.
How much backing will I need ON THE REEL?
Although far more expensive, gel-spun polyethylene line can increase the backing capacity of a reel by almost two thirds when compared to the older dacrons, encouraging the use of much smaller, lightweight reels.
What type of fly line is best FOR SALT WATER?
Floating fly lines can be used in salt water, particularly in shallow estuary and flats fishing situations, and they are the best lines if you are learning to cast. However, a clear intermediate line is far more versatile in terms of fishing the fly near the bottom and/or keeping it down during the retrieve. The latest clear sink-tip lines offer a further advantage when wading because the floating running line is less inclined to tangle around your feet.
In salt water, the ability to explore a range of depths is often more important than being able to cast a long way. With this in mind, most fly-line brands now offer models with interchangeable tip sectionsusually 15 ft in length the tips range from floating to clear intermediate, sinking and fast sinking, making it easy to change lines and explore different depths without carrying spare spools or reels.
Are the knots & leaders REALLY COMPLICATED?
For any rod less than a 10-weight, a nail knot is adequate for joining the leader butt section onto the fly line. A double uni-knot or double blood knot (whichever you tie best) can be used to join leader sections, bearing in mind that the uni-knot is better for joining lines of widely different diameters. Always lubricate knots with saliva before pulling them tight, and take extra care when using fluorocarbon. Knots must be pulled up fully tight to be effective, and for heavy lines you will need to use pliers. Experiment by tying and testing knots at home, not on the fish.
The leader used will ultimately be dictated by how shy the fish are, the depth of water being fished and the accuracy and delicacy required. Keep it simple and stick to these basic rules. Shy fishlonger leader. Fish with teeth and sharp finstougher thicker leader. Deep watershorter leader if using a sinking line; longer leader if using a floating line and weighted fly. Accuracy requiredtapered leader.
All this can be made simpler by a visit to the local fly shop where purpose built saltwater leaders are available to cover all eventualitieseven coated wire for mackerel and the like.
A large fly moves better when tied to the leader with a loop knot. Leftys improved loop knot is superior in this regard, retaining high strength which is vital when using finer tippets.
If setting up loops to backing and fly line is causing concern, ask the staff at the local fly shop to spool your reel, ready to go. If you prefer to do it yourself, study the knots and rigs in Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals.
What do I need to know about SALTWATER FLIES?
Identifying particular saltwater flies and learning how to tie and fish them need not be a problem. Chris Beech has detailed a different fly pattern in every issue of FlyLife and advertisements will lead you to suitable mail order and online fly catalogues. Chris and others conduct saltwater fly-tying classes for those keen to learn.
As far as possible it pays to buy flies tied and/or endorsed by local experts to guarantee quality and suitabilityChris Beech, Chris Dunham, Mike Felton, Geoff Skinner and Murray Wilson are names that come to mind.
Is CASTING likely to be MUCH OF A PROBLEM?
Overlining refers to using a line weight heavier than recommended for a particular rod. This can be useful when learning to cast because the rod loads more readily and you really get to feel the action of the rod.
Casting lessons, offered by experts including Rod Harrison himself, are readily available and advertised in the pages of this magazinethey will save years of whip cracking on your own. Lefty Krehs fly-casting videos are also highly recommended.
Will I need to learn some NEW RETRIEVES?
The hand twist nymph retrieve used so often in trout fishing is a valuable retrieve in the salt water to just tick flies across the bottom. The single strip retrieve is the normal retrieve, with the line passing under the fingers of the rod hand. You can strip fast or slow with the line hand, but allowing a pause between strips is often important, causing the fly to sink and rest momentarily before darting off again. At times a double strip retrieve, with rod tucked under the arm, is needed to get the fly moving fast enough to interest fast swimming predators. Continuing with the same retrieve makes little sense when you are not catching fish. Mix your retrieves up until you find something that works.
Yes, you can use berley if you want, and yes, on a slow day you can just hang a fly out the back of the boat and wait for a fish to hit. It is not fly fishing in its purest sense but you will work that out for yourself along the way.
Are saltwater fish hard to HOOK AND LAND?
A stubborn or large fish should not be fought with one continuous pulling direction. Alter the pulling point constantlypull it from below, then pull it from the left, then the right. Try to roll the fish over and upset its swimming pattern or you will be there all day.
Extra care must be taken to avoid breaking a rod tip when a heavy, strong fish is almost ready to landremember to keep the rod tip low and avoid high sticking.
You will need pliers and gloves to handle toothy and abrasive fish, and pinching down the barb on hooks is recommended to minimise damage to flies, fish and anglers alike.
What about SALTWATER TACKLE MAINTENANCE?
Fly reels need extra attention. Avoid dunking reels in salt water as much as possible and keep them out of the sand. Reels and rod fittings should be washed down in fresh water and dried after each outing if possible. Reels should be thoroughly cleaned and lubricated between trips. If in doubt, take reels back to the tackle shop for annual maintenancemost good fly shops offer this service by return post if you are not close by.
Where should I GO TO CATCH A FISH?
Get the right gear, study the tide charts and you will soon be catching fish close to home. Local tackle shops are good places to acquire some much needed local knowledge, and the growing membership of dedicated saltwater fly fishing clubs reflects ever increasing interest at the grass roots level. Club meetings, outings and competitions can help to fast-track the learning process.
More and more fishing guides and charter operators are catering for the growing numbers of fly fishing travellers. If you can afford their services and take care to seek out fly fishing specialists (as advertised in FlyLife) it is hard to go wrong.
Rest assured, the saltwater fly fishing information trail is ever expanding and is no longer hard to find or to follow. Our message is to use the resources available to gain as much knowledge as possible and to fill in the gaps between trips.