Many saltwater fly-anglers began their fly-fishing journey in fresh water. For most, that meant fishing in a pair of waders or simply walking a shoreline trying to feed a fish their fly. While many of the lessons learned while freshwater fishing can be applied to saltwater fishing, it is not always the case. Saltwater fly-fishing brings with it a new set of circumstances not always seen when in fresh water, especially in shore-break conditions. Let’s look at the basics of what the beginner saltwater fly-angler needs to know in order to be successful in the surf.
Having the ability to make longer casts is essential when pursuing fish in salt water. While 20- to 30-foot casts could get you a bite or two in a trout stream, they’re simply not efficient in the ocean. Forty- to 50-foot-long casts are certainly the minimum, and truth be told, the goal is to eventually reach the 70-plus-foot mark. While longer rods can help anglers achieve those distances, nothing will have more of an impact on cast than perfecting the double-haul technique.
The size and weight of your rod will vary depending on the size of the fish you are targeting and the conditions you will be fishing. For anglers targeting redfish in the backcountry, a 9-foot-long 7- or 8-weight rod would be the norm. However, if your fishing were taking place on an open beach where wind conditions could play havoc with your casting, a 9-weight rod might be a better choice. The same holds true for Northeastern striped-bass anglers. An 8- or 9-weight rod will work just fine in most estuaries, but if your fishing takes place on a jetty with lots of rocks and wave conditions to contend with, a 10-weight rod might be a better choice. For the open-ocean beach angler, a 12- to 13-foot-long two-handed rod might be an even better choice. These rods allow anglers to shoot their lines over and past the breaking waves with minimal effort.
The type of water you plan on fishing will help determine many of your equipment needs. This is especially true when selecting fly lines. For you Northeast anglers fishing stripers, an intermediate line is probably your best choice. An intermediate line has slow sinking properties that allow your fly to cut through breaking waves and currents during the retrieve. When fishing an intermediate line in calm conditions, you can be assured that your fly is traveling through the fishes’ feeding zone just under the surface. Many anglers in the Southeast will use a floating line as they ply very shallow water in search of redfish or speckled trout. If you’re fishing off of a jetty or some other rocky type structure, you can employ an intermediate line; however, many anglers prefer a quicker sinking line (like an integrated shooting head). These lines can get your fly under the surface more quickly and will work well in fast-moving water where getting your fly down to fewer than 20 feet is called for.
Having an assortment of flies that will allow you to fish all levels of the water column is going to be your best bet. You always want to have flies with you that fish on the surface, slightly under the surface and near the bottom. Differentiate the sizes of your flies so you can match the size of the bait that is present. Also, it is recommended that you bring along a variety of colors. Olive, gray and white-and-chartreuse are probably going to be the most popular color choices. Carrying a few Clousers, crab patterns, Deceivers, gurglers and surf candies will get you started in the right direction for most every fish that swims in the ocean. Planning ahead and doing some homework can help make fly selection a little easier.