Narrowing down the best saltwater flies you can buy or tie is a tough task. There’s a lot of ocean out there and tons of different species of fish. However, despite the differences in where you fish and what you fish for there are just a handful of saltwater flies that will get the job done just about anywhere. Just spin the globe and point to the blue and these flies will help you catch fish.
It is amazing how the same basic patterns and designs work all over the world. Whether you are fishing off the coast of England for sea bass or fishing for snapper off the coast of Florida, this same group of flies will be your foundation. In this article, we will cover the most important aspects of a good saltwater fly. We will also cover the top 10 patterns for your fly box. If you need a new fly box for your saltwater flies, we recommend any of the best streamer fly box options here.
If you haven’t got all your saltwater fly fishing gear for beginners together then start with that article, then head back here.
What Makes a Saltwater Fly Work?
As is with any fly design, there are three factors that must be addressed. These are attraction, imitation, and action. Most saltwater fish we would target are larger predators you will find in rougher water. This means that mobile and soft hair or long feather patterns work especially well. The nature of these bigger predators is to attack any food source instinctually. This means that small fish will often strike on lures that you would think would be too large for them. You can also visit our post here on the common types of fishing lures.
You want your action in salt water to be more aggressive. The movement needs to be exaggerated to be noticed in this lighting. Usually, hair wing patterns along with poppers will work well in this lighting. The tidal movement of the water will make it come to life and draw in those big fish.
Saltwater flies do not have to exactly imitate a specific food source as you would need in crystal clear freshwater. In general, the fly just needs to look like a bait fish. That should be enough to get a hungry predator moving.
Because of the instinctual nature of saltwater fish, attraction may be the most important aspect of a saltwater fly. Anything shiny or bright will help, especially if you are fishing in tropical waters.
Types of Saltwater Flies
- Hairwings – These flies are presented much as you would present freshwater flies.
- Plugs – Not traditional fly fishing, but still effective.
- Poppers – These little beauties create sound by trapping air bubbles on the water surface. You just need to give it a little pop with your wrist and it will pop your lure. This sends out the sound like a dinner bell for fish.
10 Best Saltwater Flies
1. Oz’s Live Bait Fly
This highly effective hair wing pattern is for fishing from the shore. It has a brown or olive top hair on a lighter underbody of hair. It is finished off with a pair of bead eyes. This fly was made for bass in Europe but can work anywhere.
2. Lefty’s Deceiver
This hair wing pattern is bright orange and red feathered. These colors always draw a crowd. When in a pinch to catch some saltwater fish, many anglers rely on the deceiver as their go-to fly. This design along with its variations have probably produced more caught fish than any other modern fly design. There are currently over 100 variations of this highly effective fly. This fly allows the owner to modify it for each angler’s needs. There are dozens of saltwater fish species that will bite on this fly. Those modifications can make it look like just about any baitfish, which means you can catch just about any species you want. You just need to use the proper lines to get the depth you desire.
The Deceiver really solves one simple problem. Previous streamer patterns were designed with longer, flexible hackles. These often caused movement that could ruin a good cast. By attaching the tail feathers close to the bend in the hook, it reduced this issue. The fly also was designed to create a large profile in the water despite having a sleek profile for casting. This makes it ideal for casting into the wind.
Like the Clouser Minnow, there are countless variations of the Deceiver, which can easily be sized accordingly for specific species and fly rod weights. A hybrid of the Clouser and the Deceiver, the Half-N-Half, though underutilized, merges the great virtues of both patterns and is very effective.
You can also see our full how to tie a Clouser Minnow Fly here.
3. White Deceiver
Unlike the darker previous options, this fly is a white hair fly that works well when your lighting changes.
4. Sunray Shadow
It has a long, skinny back wing and lots of contrast. The black and white coloring makes it easy to see in muddy water. It was first used to go after bass and salmon but is also great for saltwater fish.
5. Crab Patterns
The fish you are after will not only bite on baitfish. They also go after small crabs that come out to eat. They are tied with a foam body, weight, and rubber legs. These are a good backup when nothing else is working.
6. Classic Hairwing
This fly has an extra feature to attract fish. The body is wrapped with a shiny cordage that really catches their eyes. The design is simple with a tail and a wing of bucktail. Dumbbell eyes work well on these whether they are a painted plug or glass. This fly was one of the first designs created in the 50s when saltwater fly fishing gained popularity. These are an adaptation of freshwater streamer flies to work in saltwater. These also can be adapted to look like just about any kind of baitfish.
7. The Clouser Minnow
This design comes in lots of different colors. It originally came in olive, but bright colors like yellow and orange can work well with tuna or similar fish. This fly was designed originally for smallmouth bass in fresh water in the 80’s. The designer claims he has caught 87 different fish species on this particular design. It slowly gained chatter as working on several other species. It’s simple design with a hair pattern, a wing, some flash, and barbell eyes has now become popular in salt water as well. You can tie this fly for different sizes or profiles, and you can achieve your desired water depth by changing the weight of the eyes.
I should also mention that the Clouser and the Deceiver were merged into what is called a Half and Half. It would make sense that these two highly successful designs would work well combined since they work so well on their own. It takes the best features of each pattern for maximum effectiveness. It can also be customized for your needs, so you can adjust the size, profile, color, and weight. They sometimes work better weighed down as a dredging pattern when fish are near the bottom.
These mylar flies give a loud popping sound. They give off a bright flash that will catch the light on bright days.
9. Cuban Shrimp
This is a skinnier tying of a normal shrimp design with flexible legs to provide movement. You may need to adjust the profile of this fly based on the fish you are targeting.
10. The Avalon Fly
This is a normal bonefish and tarpon design, but much of the body is separate from the tail.
You might think that you need to have dozens of different flies to travel around the world fly fishing. That is not necessarily the case. Many saltwater fish will act in similar manors as they respond to flashes of light. They go after any movement that could be a meal. This allows us to focus on the flies that accomplish these things.
While it takes some practice to work with these different flies, the way you present several of them will be similar. Once you have mastered using these 10 flies, you will have the bulk of what you need for success. You can hit up any ocean you want and know that you will have a good chance of bringing home some saltwater fish.