Saltwater Fly Fishing Tips and Tricks (2021)
When people think of fly fishing, targeting trout and bass in freshwater rivers and lakes is normally what comes to mind. There is a whole different world to fly fishing, and that is saltwater fly fishing. I fished freshwater rivers and lakes for 8 years before I ever tried my hand in saltwater. If you live on the coast, or vacation there regularly, then saltwater fly fishing is not new to you, but the rest of the country hasn’t got a clue about it!
Most of the same principles apply in saltwater as they do freshwater. I thought it would be great to outline the different gear, flies, tactics, and fun that a person can come to expect if they are going to give it a try. Is saltwater fly fishing worth it? Yes, absolutely. If you like fly fishing half as much as me, then you will have a blast! I fly fished for trout and other mountain species of fish for a few years before heading south and trying bass fly fishing and targeting different types of fish. It was a great change, and I am always up for a new challenge and adventure.
Let’s dive into saltwater fly fishing and why you should give it a go!
What rods, reels, lines, and flies to use when saltwater fly fishing
When it comes to saltwater fly fishing, the equipment weight will be based on what type of fish you are trying to catch. This is the exact same as freshwater fishing. My 6-weight 9-foot fly rod is perfect for trout but is brutal if I am targeting large salmon or bass.
- Rods – A quality fly rod is worth every penny, fly fishing anglers from coast to coast know this. As for the weight, I would go with a 9-11 weight rod at 9 feet in length, again, depending on what size of fish you will be targeting. Keep in mind, when you are saltwater fishing, there are an incredible number of fish species in there.
- Fly Reels – Your reel weight should match your rod weight. When it comes to the drag system, a center disc drag is ideal. You want this to be completely waterproof, so the saltwater doesn’t get inside and wreck your reel. As for the arbor, the size of the wheel, you will want a mid to large size arbor. This is so that you can have a good amount of fly line and backing wrapped up on your reel. If you hook on a large fish, it might run quite the distance before you bring it in.
- Fly Line – Unless you are fly fishing on the flats, you will want a full sinking line. On a 9-weight rod, 325-350 grain fly line works great. The sinking line will get your fly down quickly and it won’t be too heavy. The weight of the line matters because casting the line all day will get very tiring. As for the fly line backing, 20-pound test should be fine.
- Fly Patterns – The fly pattern you choose will all depend on where you are fishing and what type of fish you are targeting. It is best to talk to local fly shops or anglers to get a feel for what everyone likes to use in that area. Some common saltwater fly patterns are the Surf Candy, Gartside Gurgler, Floating Sand Eel, Lefty’s Deceiver, and the Clouser Minnow.
Having backup equipment is not a bad idea. With either saltwater or freshwater fishing, having 2 rods is way better than 1. There are multiple reasons for this.
- Fly equipment breaks. It sucks when it does but having backup equipment means that you do not lose out on any fishing. Tips of fly rods will break, drags on reels will cease or break, line may snap, etc.
- Having multiple reels and rods means you can easily change what fish you are targeting. When freshwater fishing, I carry 2 rods. One is for nymphing and dry fly fishing and the other is for streamer fishing. Not having to change over line or anything saves me a bunch of time down at the water. When saltwater fishing, it is common to own 4 different rod setups. One might have full sink line, the other with sinking tip line, another one floating line, and at different weights. One rod might be a 12 weight and the other an 8 weight.
- The last reason is if your buddy breaks his rod or reel and needs to borrow one. It is always best to have more than enough equipment, especially if you are travelling when fly fishing. If you are fishing your local river, then it’s not important.
Line control when saltwater fly fishing
If you have fly fished from a boat before, then jump ahead. When stripping your line, it is best to lay the line out right in front of you on the boat. Make sure not to step on it or get it tangled. You do not want your fly line sitting outside the boat, as it can get tangled very easily. Keep your fishing gear and backpacks away from the platform on the boat that you are fishing from.
You also need to be mindful of the guide and or your buddy on the boat. You do not want to hook one of them with a large saltwater fly!
Casting when fly fishing in saltwater
Often, when you are out on the saltwater, the wind will be present. Learning different casting techniques like the double haul, will ensure you to have a better chance of catching fish. If you or your guide see fish in the water, you will want to try and cast your fly over to that spot. The fish are generally on the move in saltwater, so there will be times you won’t have to cast far from the boat, but other times you will need to put your back into it.
Practicing different casting techniques before heading out on your saltwater trip will be ideal. There are saltwater inlets where the wind won’t be as bad, and you may opt for fishing from shore instead of on a boat. Typically, when fishing from shore, you will need to get your fly out further than if you were on a boat.
If you have fly fished in freshwater, then casting in saltwater shouldn’t take long to get use to. It is just using a heavier rod, line, and fly.
If you are fly fishing with a guide on a boat
Guides are professionals at what they do. Their sole job is to get you to the fish so you can latch one on. Communication in the boat is a must have. Let the guide know if you spot fish, and if he spots them and tells you where they are, cast your fly in that direction, even if you don’t see them. You can generally trust your guide as they do this day in and day out. Guides will also have great tips on what fly patterns to use or line and other equipment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Cleaning off the saltwater from your fly fishing equipment
If you are anything like me when it comes to freshwater fishing, then you’ll take your rod apart, put it in the case, along with the reel, jump in the truck an header home. With saltwater, you have to clean everything thoroughly with warm soapy water and rinse well. I’m talking, rods, reels, lines, accessories (pliers, snips, etc), zippers on your vest or packs, etc. I oil my zippers so they continue to run smoothly. You should even go as far as backing off the drag on your fly reels when you store them between trips. The saltwater and air absolutely destroys gear.
Wear proper clothing and gear to protect from the sun
If you thought the sun was bad when fishing on your local river, the ocean puts that to shame. Often, the rays down in warmer climates are much stronger than you will be use to. Either lather up with high SPF sunscreen or fully clothe yourself.
I would suggest wearing light colors while out on the water. Long sleeve shirt, pants, fully covered footwear, hat, gloves, and a good pair of sunglasses. Zinger fishing has a blog on the Top 10 Fly Fishing Sunglasses for fishing and another one for the 7 Best Fly Fishing Hats.
Depending if you are fishing from shore or from a boat, proper footwear is definitely required. There are times you can go barefoot, if you have a solid tan that is. However, you will want good wading boots or other gripped footwear if fishing from shore.
Face shield masks are very important if you don’t want to lather the sunscreen on your face. Zinger Fishing has a few options for face coverings on their store.
I mentioned above that you will want to wear gloves. This is because the stripping of the line can cut your hands up pretty bad, especially if your line has been sitting in sand or in the grit from the floor of your boat.
Saltwater fly fishing is just as good as freshwater fly fishing
I have heard some anglers that prefer saltwater over freshwater and vice versa, but I think they are equally as fun. Both of them come with their challenges and fun factors. You can land very large ocean fish, but landing a picky brown from a mountain stream is also great. If you have the opportunity to get out and fly fish the saltwater, I would 100% take the opportunity. You can fly fish in the Bahamas, Mexico, either coast of the United States and Canada, literally anywhere with water.
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.