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saltwater fly fishing

Saltwater Fly Fishing (A Quickstart Guide)

Saltwater fly fishing is an exciting and rewarding experience, and definitely worth giving a try! It may sound boring, but the thrill of spotting a whopping fish at a distance, throwing the perfect cast, and strip-setting that fish will give you an adrenaline rush like nothing else!

So if you want to give saltwater fly fishing a go for the first time or just learn some tips and tricks to catch more fish out on the ocean, our helpful guide has everything you need. From where to fish and what you might catch, to the best saltwater fishing gear and how to master that tricky double haul, we’ve got you covered!

Fly Fishing VS Spin Fishing

Some anglers like to spin fish on salt water – that is, by using a weighted fly with a light monofilament leader. With this combination, the fly pulls the line out to where the fish is, and it does create a quick cast that can cover a large distance. However, spin fishing has none of the intimacy, challenge, and excitement that fly fishing can give you. It’s just not the same experience!

When you’re saltwater flyfishing, you’re using a thicker fly line which gives your fly the shove to get it out to the right distance. There’s a lot of skill involved, and you get that greater sense of achievement when you land your fly in the perfect spot. You can also get a much more natural and convincing presentation when fly fishing on salt water compared to spin fishing, resulting in more bites from the fish.

What Can You Catch in Saltwater?

So you want to know what you might catch when fly fishing on the ocean? Here’s a quick guide to the main types of gamefish you might come across:

Barracuda

You’ll often find barracuda feeding in the flats. As they have great vision and can see up to 20 ft away, choose a clear line so as not to spook them, and tie on a needlefish fly for the best results.

Dorado

If you see dorado around, opt for darker flies that will make a splash and create a silhouette. These two techniques are sure to capture the dorado’s attention and draw it towards your fly.

Bonefish

When saltwater fly-fishing in tropical waters, bonefish are one of the most common gamefish you’ll see. Sight-fishing for bonefish is a lot of fun – try patterns that resemble the bonefish’s natural forage of crabs, shrimps, and other crustaceans.

Tarpon

Smaller tarpon will go for minnow and crab flies, but if you’re after the big ones, you’ll need to size up your patterns. Stock a few EP Tarpon Streamers and Tarpon Mouse flies in your box so you’re ready if you spot a mighty tarpon on the horizon.

Striped Bass

Large striped bass in particular will give you a run for your money, so make sure you have lots of backing on your reel. Lefty’s Deceivers and Clouser Minnows work well for hooking stripers. Try to throw your line into moving waters and be prepared for a fight!

What Equipment Do You Need for Saltwater Fly Fishing?

Even if you frequently fly fish in freshwater, you’ll need to invest in some specific equipment for saltwater fly fishing. You can get great fly gear and accessories designed especially for saltwater flies fishing much more easily thana few years ago. Whether you’re fishing from boats or you’re wading, your freshwater gear just won’t cut it out on the ocean.

You’ll need a rod designed especially for saltwater – they generally have larger butts to give you the power you need to make longer casts in potentially windy conditions. Stiff action rods are often recommended for saltwater fly fishing, although that can come down more to personal preference.

Choosing the right size of rod for your saltwater flyfishing will depend on what you’re hoping to catch. If you’re aiming for speckled trout, redfish, small bonefish or striped bass, you should be fine with an 8wt rod. But if you’re setting your sights on some hefty tarpon, permit, or barracuda, you’d be better off investing in a 9 or 10wt rod. 9 wt rods generally make good all-purpose saltwater fly rods.

When it comes to fly reels, you want one that is sealed so that it won’t be corroded by the abrasive salt in the water. Look for a reel with a strong drag and preferably a large arbor reel that will allow you to strip in your line quickly. Also, make sure the reel you choose can hold at least 150 ft of line and backing so you’re not cut short at a crucial point on your fishing trip!

Other than your rod and reel, you’ll need a floating line and a full sinking line, depending on the conditions and what you’re fishing for. We would really recommend taking both so you’re prepared for every eventuality.

If you’re not sure what to take out with you on your next saltwater fishing trip, you can get some inspiration from this video!

How to Pick the Perfect Fishing Spot

When you’re saltwater fishing, you can often cover large areas before coming across the perfect spot to cast your line. You want to find where the fish are feeding rather than just casting blindly, or you’ll waste lots of time and have nothing to show for it. Shallow waters pull the gamefish in with the temptation of shrimp, crabs, and other crustaceans to feast on – but not all shallow waters are created equally.

Promising places include anywhere with structure that allows the gamefish to get close to their prey, such as rocky shoreline and outcrops, bays, docks, and jetties. These structures also provide shelter from any larger predators such as sharks, so they are likely spots for fly fishing for bonefish and other gamefish.

Keep your eye out for tell-tale signs, from the obvious – fish feeding at the surface – to the more subtle, such as the dark marks that bonefish leave on the seabed when they feed on crabs.

In warm, tropical waters, mangroves can often provide you with a rich environment for fly fishing for everything from barracuda to tarpon, redfish, and even sharks.

best saltwater flies

The Best Saltwater Flies

It goes without saying that you’ll want to fill your fly box with patterns that are suited to the area you’re fishing in. Our top tip is to ask at a local fly fishing shop and which saltwater flies they recommend, as it can vary widely from area to area.

The best fly patterns for saltwater fly-fishing will imitate the natural prey, so shrimp, crab, and other crustacean patterns are excellent choices. You’ll also want to stock up on baitfish flies too.

Another technique that experienced fly fishermen and women use is to match the color of the seabed with the color of their fly. Dark, weedy seabeds call for darker flies, whereas in sandy areas you should go for white or beige fly patterns.

Which fly you choose will also depend on whether you’re sight-fishing from a boat in shallow water, or if you need to get the fly down deeper to where the fish are. This calls for weighted flies and a sink line that will get the fly right in front of the fish just at the right moment to set off a chase.

When Is the Best Time for Saltwater Fishing?

You’ll get more out of saltwater fishing if you can get your head around the tides and work out when the best times to fish are. Generally, you’ll find more gamefish if you hit the water at high tides rather than low tide, when the water is too shallow and dry for the larger fish that you’re after.  One challenge when fishing at high tide is that it can be harder to spot the fish due to the deeper waters.

However, by far the most rewarding time to fish is when the tide is either coming in or going out. This water movement provides the richest feeding opportunities for the gamefish from striped bass to bonefish and even tarpon. In turn, this hikes your chances of coming across larger numbers of gamefish that you can tempt and chase with your flies!

Before you set out in your boat, make sure you check the local tidal movements and try to plan your trips accordingly. But don’t feel restricted by this – feel free to experiment with fishing at both low and high tide and in between, as it really can vary from place to place.

Top Tips for the Best Results When Fly Fishing in Saltwater

Whether this is your first time fly fishing in saltwater or you just want to learn some new tips or tricks, here are some of the techniques that experienced fly anglers use to catch more fish when fly fishing in the ocean! Give these tips a try and you should see some great progress and take your saltwater fly fishing experience to the next level:

Master the Double Haul Cast

The Double Haul cast is ideal when fishing out on the open ocean, because it is a strong, aggressive cast that can stand up to strong winds and long distances. If you plan on making saltwater fishing a regular thing, mastering the double haul cast is pretty much a necessity. With some practice and a helpful friend or family member, you should get the hang of it in just a few days.

It basically involves pulling on the line with your other hand while casting. To execute the Double Haul, on your back cast you should haul your line around 18-24 inches with your free hand, then drift and set up for the forward cast. On the forward cast, again you want to haul and drift.

The easiest way to understand exactly how to do the Double Haul cast is by seeing it, so watch the video below to get some tips from top Orvis instructors:

The Double Haul does involve a bit of coordination and practice at first. Thanks to this technique, you’ll be able to present your fly quickly and accurately to those fast-moving fish and land many more fish this way.

Make Sure to Always Strip-Set

One of the most common mistakes that many trout fly anglers make is to lift their rod as soon as they feel a strike. This is a major mistake when fly fishing for gamefish in the sea – it’s almost guaranteed to lose you that fish.

Our tip is to set the hook by stripping, instead. This has two benefits: Firstly, it is the best way to strike and set the hook on saltwater fish – by lifting it, you just pull the fly away from the fish. Secondly, even if you do miss the fish, if the fly is still in the water, it will often chase your fly and take it for another time and you might just end up landing it in the end anyway! You’ll lose the chance to do that if you lift your rod and pull the fly out of the water.

Come Prepared with the Right Tackle

You never quite know what to expect when you’re fishing on the ocean. With a variety of fish species all living in the same environment, you could be wading for bonefish in the morning and finish the day by going after tarpon in deeper water. And that’s just part of the thrill of saltwater fishing – why we love it, and why we think you will too.

Don’t let not having the right tackle cause you to miss out on amazing opportunities! Try to take tackle suitable for all the fish you might come across, or at least have two different rods rigged up and ready for action at any time! You won’t regret it!

Keep On Top of Your Line

We’ve mentioned how important speed is when you’re casting or stripping in saltwater. Lose a few seconds, and you’ll lose that fish. This is why it’s essential to keep your line neat and tidy, to avoid tangles and missed opportunities.

Make sure you always know where your line is – don’t stand on it accidentally or allow it to become tangled on the floor of the boat. You’ll be kicking yourself for it when you spot (and miss) a trophy-worthy whopper of a fish.

Communicate With Your Guide

If you’re fishing with a guide, establish a good communication back and forth between you. Your guide will be your best asset, helping you to locate and hook more fish. As soon as your guide alerts you to a fish, cast in that area rather than standing around trying to spot the fish yourself. Trust your guide’s knowledge and experience and work together as a team.

Guides have the knack of spotting many a fish that you might miss, as they have spent the time out there honing their skills and instincts. Even more importantly, your guide will often have the vantage point and a better view out over the waters too. You’ll have way more success by doing this than by trying to do everything yourself.

If you’re looking more more awesome tips on saltwater fly fishing, check out these episodes of the Orvis podcast, where Tom Rosenbauer digs deep into fly fishing on saltwater!

The Wrap Up

So there you have our complete guide to saltwater fishing! If we’ve talked you into giving it a go, you’ll have all the info you need for a successful and enjoyable fly fishing trip out on the open ocean.

All you need to do is:

    • Grab some saltwater fishing gear – rod, reel, and line.
    • Stock up on some of the best saltwater fly patterns for your chosen destination.
    • Find a good guide if you want some extra help,
    • And get on out there on the water and hook some huge saltwater beasts!

Keep in mind the tips and techniques mentioned here, and you’re good to go! Thanks for reading, and as always, we love getting your comments and questions, so drop them in the comments section below. Let us know if you found this article useful!

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