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Saltwater Flyfishing - Starting Out

Steve Binckes

A lot of people shy away from fly fishing the salt, mainly for two reasons. The first problem lies with size! The sea is an enormous place, so just where do you start on such a big expanse of water. My answer to that is, stop looking out to the horizon. Instead try concentrating on an area no further than the end of any breakwaters that might be there.

If the beach you have in mind does not have these features, then gage it at around forty to fifty yards maximum. Study the water carefully, what you are looking for are little tell tale signs, swirls, an out of place splash, anything. But remember to keep your gaze limited to within that distance. The odd glance up to survey the general area wonít hurt but any signs of fish you see further out, unless they are moving in, will be out of reach of a fly rod anyway. This might seem strange but I have encountered it myself on numerous occasions. It nearly always ends the same, frustration on my part as you wish you had brought the spinning rod along.Now we have narrowed things down a little, what I look for are features where there are none or very few features. 

                                            Steve on a beach with reefs, gullies, sandbars and bays

I mention the smaller ones because these can be represented easier with the fly. Once you feel you have found a nice beach with a feature, the next step is to try and see it at all stages of the tide. I find it best to start at dead low, this way you can see if there are any features on the beach that will be submerged as the tide floods. Sand bars, gullies, drop-offs etc. Then watch or fish it up to high water.

Half a dozen breakwaters on an otherwise open beach, a pier, some of those rocky groins or better still an estuary. All of these features attract food that bass like. Small crabs, sandeels, white bait to name but a few.



This will take about six hours, so time is a factor here. If you canít spare that sort of time, try it in 3 hours slots. Obviously it will take a bit longer to build a picture of your beach, but it is a sad fact that time is the most precious commodity these days. Some beaches fish better on a falling tide, some on a rising or flooding tide.

Only time spent at the water will tell you that. Usually the dead low and dead high stages of a tide will be very slow as there is no current flowing, fish tend to switch off so nowís your time for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Be ready when the tide turns though.

The second reason lies in tackle and is much easier to answer. A lot of people have been mis-informed on what you require to fly-fish in the salt. Articles gleaned from far away places have almost become set in stone as to what gear you must have and the like. From my own experience you actually require very little, yes there are those additional but optional luxuries like a pair of breathable chest waders. But an old pair of thigh waders will do the job. A nice Sage rod, paired with a top-notch reel is beautiful to use, but again there are now a whole host of rods well under eighty pounds that will do the same job. So just what will you require to start?

Rods are the obvious No1 question, and their size. Anything from a 6 to a 9 weight will do the job. From 8ft 6Ē to 10ft long. As long as you remember to rinse your gear with fresh water on your return, even those anodized reel seats are not mandatory. Wind will dictate what rod size you will be able to use.

A No 6 is not going to make much headway in a strong wind so common sense prevails on this one. Reels have come on in leaps and bounds during the last two years with wide arbours being flavour of the moment. Use a reel that matches the rod size you have chosen, making sure you have some good quality backing on it. Chances are you wonít see it, but if you do youíll want to rely on it. Personally I have only been into backing around three or four times. These fish took no more than fifty yards, but to be safe I would put on 100 yards of backing then your fly line. If the fish takes all that then it deserves to get away!

On to lines, most of my fishing takes place in relatively shallow water of 10ft or less so I tend to use mainly floating or intermediate lines. But if where you intend to fish has steep cliffs with water 20ft or more then you obviously need something thatís going to get down and fairly quickly. A fast sinking line will be required to get the fly down to where the fish are. This is true of fish like Pollack who like to stay deep among the kelp, bass however could be anywhere in the water column, so never leave home without at least two different density lines. 

Leaders are the next stage of the set-up. They donít require too much said on them, as it really lies with personal preference of material and length. I use a 5 or 6ft braided leader, looped at both ends, then attach a 3-5ft length of tippet. This is also looped one end. I then tie on the fly. I like the loop connections,  they are quick and easy to change. But some people donít, it really is a personal thing and not something to get yourself worked up about.

Flies are the last of the actual set-up and to be fair there are several books on the subject alone. Nearly all the information and the flies available are from US origin. Some of them are perfectly fine for the UK, others will be of no use at all. Trying to find patterns that regularly work has been my aim and is how Oceanflies came about.  

My style of patterns are tried and tested in the UK. On normal beaches available to all and sundry. You do not require an arsenal of flies to fish in the sea. Six patterns will see you through an entire season. It is only when there are no fish present that doubt sets in. If you are not catching, chances are there are no fish present. 

Casting. This is going to determine how you get your imitation out to the fish and could also fill a couple of books. Briefly though if you can cast a fly rod then you are 90% there. If you cannot, take lessons from someone who knows. Personally I would go to a qualified instructor (S.T.A.N.I.C or A.P.G.A.I) and learn properly. This way you wonít inherit any bad habits from the start. If you can cast already then a lesson on the double haul will put you in a much stronger position.  

Stripping basket / casting basket whatever you like to call it. This is an important part of your kit as it will let you strip line and store it safely within. This will become paramount when you next want to make a cast. If your line is stored neatly within the basket it will be free to fly out on the next cast. Just repeat many hundreds of times! If however, you have not got a stripping basket, your line when retrieved will end up back in the sea, around your legs. Add the tide, weed and just about anything else. Next time you want to make a cast you will have real trouble, as the line will develop a will of its own, tangling around anything it can find. This makes for a frustrating situation and can be easily avoided. The basket is worn around the waist at a comfortable level and even off to one side, this can make stripping line a bit easier as they are quite bulky but well worth the discomfort.

Polarized gasses

The last point but certainly not the least is light, I put more emphasis on this subject than nearly all the others. Dawn and dusk are by far the best times to concentrate on. Fishing can be quite intense for a brief period before either the rising sun or pending darkness changes the odds. After dark though fishing will normally pick-up again, but sunlight will invariably end the fishing. Low light days are my favourite as they have that dawn/dusk feeling about them that lasts all day, even if its raining the fishing tends to be really good. There is weather to fish in, and there is weather to catch fish in. Unfortunately they are very different conditions, unless you fish for Bonefish!

 Good luck. 

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Last modified: January 11, 2005