Fly-fishing (or fly-casting), whether in fresh water or salt water, is a method of fishing that involves the presentation of artificial flies to a variety of game fish via a fly rod and fly line (housed in a fly reel). The rods, reels and terminal tackle differ significantly from those used for conventional, bait-casting, spinning and spin-casting methods. Flies are relatively small and much lighter than other artificial lures, and are delivered by a unique casting stroke and usually retrieved by hand sometimes not at all. While the majority of freshwater flies are tied to imitate insects, saltwater flies are mostly designed to resemble baitfish, crustaceans, shrimp and other invertebrates.
The most fundamental difference between fly-fishing and other styles of fishing is that a heavy line is used to cast a near weightless fly, rather than a heavy lure or bait that carries a near weightless line. The line is made of a flexible plastic that is much larger in diameter than conventional fishing line, providing the weight and mass necessary to propel the fly toward the target.
Though fly-anglers make up a small segment of the saltwater fishing population, their numbers are growing fast. Fly-fishing has been a popular method for several inshore species for years, but anglers have only recently discovered the opportunities it offers for large offshore fish. Saltwater fly-fishing is generally confined to shallow-dwelling fish or fish that will feed at or near the surface of deep waters.
Fly-fishing is one of the oldest methods in the history of freshwater fishing, but its saltwater history is relatively short. Although fly-fishing in general is over 1,800 years old, the first recorded mention of saltwater fly-fishing was in a book published in 1884. Written by a doctor who fished and hunted both coasts of Florida, the book talks about fly-fishing for large snook, redfish, bluefish and tarpon.
Much has changed since then, especially over the past two decades. Technology has done much to expand opportunities for saltwater fly-anglers. Advances in boat design can better accommodate fly-fishing and provide access to once unreachable waters. Use of new materials and product designs have produced stronger rods that allow anglers to land larger fish more effectively than they ever could before. As a result, more anglers explore fly-fishing opportunities and are lured to the challenge of light-tackle fishing.
Fly-fishing works just about anywhere there are shallow-dwelling fish or deepwater fish that will feed near the surface. These include inshore areas such as the surf, jetties, piers, mangrove banks, tidal rivers and estuaries, tropical flats, canals and bays. Offshore saltwater fly-fishing usually occurs 20 to 40 miles offshore, but can occasionally be even farther out to sea, typically near the edges of continental shelves and around oil rigs, wrecks and reefs.
Popular inshore species include bonefish, tarpon, snook, red drum, striped bass, bluefish spotted seatrout and permit. Offshore species commonly caught on fly-fishing tackle include wahoo, yellowfin and bluefin tuna, king mackerel (kingfish), dorado (dolphinfish), and marlin and other billfish.