- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
All aspects of fly-fishing have mushroomed in popularity in the past decade, but nowhere in the sport has its growth been more spectacular than on the saltwater front. Increasing numbers of fishermen have come to realize (and enjoy) the aspect of working the water and whistling line with the long rod. For several generations, this was pretty much the preserve of a select few. In truth, with some special techniques and the right kind of equipment, it is possible to catch virtually any saltwater species that can be taken on standard tackle.
Delving into all the specialized techniques is another topic in and of itself. For present purposes, let’s look at the basics for getting started in saltwater fly-fishing. If you have access to saltwater, you can catch fish of one species or another. That’s the important thing to keep in mind, and the appropriate place to start is with an overview of suitable equipment.
Saltwater fly-fishing requires special equipment, but a well-equipped saltwater fly-fisherman can manage with only two outfits. A 9-weight and a 12-weight rod, with reels to match, are excellent choices. The 9-weight will serve you well in the flats and for most inshore species, while the 12-weight is suitable for tarpon, tuna, sharks and billfish. If strong winds are blowing in places that normally call for the 9-weight, the 12-weight will give you the extra “punch” needed to cast. Fighting butts on the rod are a must, as are guides, reel seats, and the like that are non-corrosive.
Your choice of a reel will be at least as important as the rod. It needs to be a high performance one capable of holding plenty of backing (at least 200 yards) and dealing with the sizzling runs some saltwater species make. An adjustable, highly functional drag is also necessary, and all reel components should be able to deal with the corrosive threats posed by saltwater.
When it comes to line, some type of weight-forward one is essential. You can use the standard weight-forward line or a shooting head. Some weight-forward lines are designated “saltwater taper.” These enable you to get line out in a hurry and into the teeth of a wind, but they can be a bit more difficult to handle than standard weight-forward lines. Floating lines work well for fishing the flats and for any fish that hits on the surface, such as redfish. Slow-sinking, sinking-tip or fully sinking lines are the way to go when you need to get down into the depths, and selection should be determined by the depth and sinking rate you want to achieve.
Other equipment basics should include a suitable selection of flies, leaders and tippet materials, perhaps a stripping basket (to store line so you don’t get entangled with something at your feet when on a boat), hemostats, and any additional accessories you think helpful. Even for the beginner, investing in good equipment – which means spending a significant amount of money – is recommended. Cheap outfits will, sooner or later, result in disappointment in the form of lost fish.
Saltwater fly-fishing, to a much greater degree than freshwater angling, places a premium on casting ability. In many small trout streams, for example, the ability to cast just 30 to 35 feet, and do so with accuracy, will serve you quite nicely. In salt water, on the other hand, the fisherman needs to be able to get at least 60 to 70 feet of line out and sometimes do it in a hurry. That means, at the very least, learning to single haul effectively. For top-level performance, learning the double haul is highly recommended. Also, it is extremely important to be able to shoot a lot of line. That means you should have the ability to "load" the rod and get the fly to the fish on demand.
When done by a master, casting a fly seems the essence of grace and ease. It is all a matter of having the right equipment, good technique, and good timing.
Practice may not make you perfect, but it can make you proficient. However, all the practice in the world is useless without proper technique. My suggestion would be to read one of the many books available on casting (and there are excellent videos available as well). Works I would recommend include Joan Wulff's Fly-Casting Accuracy, any of Lefty Kreh's works on the subject, or the relevant portions of my own Modern Fly Fishing.
General Fishing Approaches
Most beginning saltwater fly fishermen concentrate on inshore fishing. This may involve wading and casting in the surf; working the flats from a poled boat (in many areas you can also fish the flats by wading); casting around jetties, piers, docks, shipwrecks and the like; or fishing in marshes, cuts, canals and tidal backwaters.
In every instance, you are likely to be fishing in comparatively shallow water. The basic idea is to present a fly pattern which looks like something the fish regularly eat, and then work it in such a fashion as to induce strikes. This can be simplicity itself during a bluefish blitz, when the ravenous fish hit anything in sight. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the extraordinary difficulty involved in getting something like a permit to hit.
Most flats fishing, along with some fishing for species such as redfish and snook, involves casting to visible fish. Polarized glasses are a must, especially when “sight” fishing, and the angler needs to learn how to anticipate the direction of fish movement and present the fly in a manner that will place it in their path. Where waters are murky, the angler turns to blind casting, although you still remain alert of telltale signs such as swirls, tailing fish and the like.
Learning the mysteries of patterns and proper presentations is a big part of unlocking the secrets of saltwater fly-fishing. For redfish or sea trout, casting a noisy surface popper is a common approach, whereas for bonefish a delicately presented streamer is likely to turn the trick. Obviously it helps to know the habits and habitat of the species you are seeking. A hungry barracuda, bluefish or shark may hit most anything, but other species can be exceptionally picky. Always pay attention to what is happening around you, and learning by experience should be an integral part of anyone’s approach to saltwater fly-fishing.
Once you have caught a few fish with a fly rod, you may never want to go back to conventional gear. The power of a 6-pound bonefish making its initial run will leave you shaking your head in disbelief, while an hour-long struggle with a hefty tarpon can leave the fittest of fishermen totally exhausted. Whether you enjoy the romance of flats fishing or simply the quiet pleasures of working the surf with a fly rod, this newest frontier of saltwater angling is one well worth discovering and exploring.
NOTE: Jim Casada is the author of the award-winning book, Modern Fly-Fishing. Inscribed copies of the fully illustrated, 234-page hardback are available from him for $24 postpaid (c/o 1250 Yorkdale Drive, Rock Hill, SC 29730).