Obsession like no other…
Hi, my name is Jari and I’m a Saltaholic 🙂 … would be one way of introducing myself to you guys. I am just totally hooked on chasing all types of predator fish in the salt and tying flies for those feisty fish. Stuart of Baltic Flyfisher is one of the people I can blame for this obsession, because it was his help on planning my first Los Roques trip that got this mess started. Since I got the saltwater bite I have been all over the world fishing for these fast and furious fish and have caught over 20 different saltwater species on the fly. So please bear with me for this short article as I let some steam out of my system…
It’s all in the chase as my American friend says. Whether your stalking a bonefish on a shallow and clear pancake flat, making a long cast to the big lead fish of a group of Striped Bass on a sandy beach or chasing a pod of tuna (any kind of tuna) in the open waters there’s nothing like the feeling that the chase gives you.
The perfect scenario is quite simple, but yet so exciting and sometimes very difficult to come by. First you visually find the fish, then make your cast, choose your presentation and finally if it all comes together, hook the fish.
Chasing these fish is something very different then we get here in Northern Europe. Sea trout fishing and Pike fishing is as close as we can get to it and still that’s pretty far off.
The chase differs from species to species and from venue to venue, but you always get that special feeling from it. I won’t go in to detail about every spot and species on this article as I have saved something for later articles. Just imagine speeding your boat close to a pod of false albacore that’s whoozing (they really make a loud WhooZZ sound when they are eating baitfish) through a ball of Bay anchovy and having one second to cast your fly in to them or they are gone or seeing a school of BIG 40-44” Bass cruising along a shallow beach and you have to get your fly perfectly thrown to the lead fish from as far away from the boat as you can or they will scatter. You really feel like a hunter when you’re doing this type of fishing.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other ways to catch salt water species with a fly then just sight fishing. It’s just that aspect of this sport that was the thing that sealed the deal for my obsession.
Tools to do it
There is a lot of literature around about gear for saltwater fly fishing. I’ll just give you my preferences about this subject. Remember that I’m not a full time pro at this sport so don’t take this too seriously. These are just my preferences.
The most important thing about your saltwater rod is that you are familiar with it and have tested it with the lines you’re using for that particular fishing. I think the biggest mistake you can make with your saltwater gear is to go on a trip with brand new gear that you haven’t tested. Even the best rods take some getting used to. Don’t lose precious fishing time getting use to your gear.
I like a rod that has a fast-medium/fast action. A nice blend of power and feel is the thing I aim for. In my opinion a line that matches your fishing is more important than your rod, but a good, high quality saltwater rod will make you fishing even better.
To me small things matter on a saltwater rod. A grip that fits my hand (and is long enough), a reel seat that really holds the reel in place and a fighting butt that’s big enough and soft enough to keep me bruise free. A very good example of a real, well thought through saltwater rod is the Echo E3s. It’s the real deal. I know that this doesn’t sound like a big thing, but when you’re lifting a big fish from 100’ of water little things turn into big things. Fighting a fish with a well thought rod will shorten the fighting time and save you energy to fight another one! In all the other types of fishing that I’ve done these things have not mattered a lot. In the salt it does, especially with the bigger fish.
There are a few things that are paramount for me on a saltwater reel.
Reliability is very important. You obviously don’t want anything to brake with these brutes.
I also like a reel that has a short drag adjustment area. It helps you really put the heat on fast when the fish is running and ease up quickly when the fish is close to the boat. It also makes stripping your line out after a fought fish a lot easier because you can just quickly turn the drag off and strip the line out and when you’re ready to cast just crank it up and you’re good to go and all set to fight another one.
A good saltwater reel should give in my opinion at least 6lb of drag power – preferable 8-10lb. I would not be comfy fishing in the salt with a reel that has a lighter drag, but that’s just me. I am a strong believer that drag power shortens the fight.
A fly line that matches your fishing scenario, rod and casting style is in my opinion the most important piece of equipment you need on your saltwater trip. A floating, intermediate and a fast sinking sink tip line are a good trio of lines to go with on just about any destination. Test your lines before your trip and make sure that they are a good match for you. It’s the most important tool you’ll have in a successful trip to salty waters.
Weight and taper of the line makes all the difference.
For shallow water fishing I like a line that has a decent amount of back taper so that I can use a long line if necessary. The front taper doesn’t have to be super long and whimpy in my opinion – it’s not like your casting #14 Black gnats at these fish and it can be pretty windy out there. For example I much more prefer the Tarpon taper of the Airflo tropical lines over the Bonefish taper, even for super spooky fish like bonefish. Just adjust your leader accordingly to your fly and the rest is just up to your casting. With a line that has a long and fine front taper you’re kind of stuck with just one thing and you won’t be able to “power” stuff out there if the weather suddenly gets ruff, right? Of course there may be some super clear and calm days when a finer line could give you some extra edge on the fish, but in my experience that’s very rare. A floating line is pretty much the one and only line for really shallow water, but an intermediate tip is also doable.
Sight casting for fish in deeper water is also best done with a line like described above. I just like to change to an intermediate in this situation. The intermediates cut through wind better and they stay under the swell nicer than a floater. Even though lines like these don’t have to be super heavy, but you do need enough weight to quickly launch your fly to its target. So if given the choice of either going a bit too light or a bit too heavy, I would always go on the heavy side. The reason for that is that even on the calmest situations in the salt, time is something that you don’t have much to spare. A slightly heavy line is always quicker to cast then a light one.
For those unfortunate days that the fish stay down you need a sinker. A heavy, super-fast sinking head with an intermediate running line is my choice. You can fish with them reasonably well in 40-50’ of water with a weighted fly, but I do think that 30-40’ is more doable. I have used a lot of 400gr and 500gr heads on 10 and 12 weights and a 600gr for my 14 weight. These sinking lines are also good for fishing channels and other spots with current in them and if the weather gets really tough there’s no line like a 400gr fast sinking head to cut through it. These lines also double as a “blitz line” which I’m going to explain in the next paragraph.
A “blitz line” is something that I call my short and heavy lines that I use for chasing fish that are pushing bait fish on top and then “blitzing” on them. If you have never heard of that term I suggest you to go on Youtube and watch a few videos on the subject. It’s one of the most amazing things you can witness when fishing in the salt. These things are usually very short lived moments and for that reason you need something that you can throw in a nano second. For that you need a short and heavy line. Not something that’s going to look pretty, so forget about tight, sexy loops and long, long cast. That’s not the purpose of these lines. You just need to be as quick as possible with your cast. A line with a head of 25-30’ and short tapers is the best for this job. It also needs to be seriously overweight if compared to the AFTM standard. So think of having a short, blunt and heavy fly line and you’re in the right direction. Usually the surest way to go on these lines is to go with a sinker and as explained earlier on they are also handy when you need to get down. There are however some occasions when an intermediate or even a floater will get a bite better than a sinker. Sometimes the fish are just so focused on the bait that’s on the surface that a fly presented with a sinker will be refused. An intermediate or especially a floater is also quicker to re-cast if you don’t hit your target. These lines are also very good at throwing big flies. So when you need to take out your 10” Mack patterns or similar beasts, this is the line for the job.
Flies, terminal tackle and other accessories
There are many different fly patterns that catch these predators. I’m writing a separate article of my favorite patterns so I won’t go to detail about them now. I can however say that I am a believer of the “match the hatch” way when it comes to flies. Something that’s similar to what the fish are on is usually the ticket – especially when it comes to size and shape of the fly. It’s also a good idea to have some flies with something extra on them. Like a dash of pink or extra flash to make it stand out from the “crowd”. All in all be prepared and do your homework on the destination you’re going to. There are always local specialties that can be very valuable on your trip, even though a white and olive fly is in some weird way never the wrong color to go with… Remember, don’t use cheap hooks! Gamakatsu hooks have been the most reliable ones for me.
The other thing that is not worth saving on is your leader material. I prefer to use high quality mono whenever it’s possible and have not seen any affect in using it over fluorocarbon even on super spooky fish. The reason I don’t prefer fluoro is that I can’t make consistent knots on it. Thankfully that’s only a problem with the thinner stuff – thinner than 0.45mm. So I do use a lot of the thicker stuff in fluoro, but I am inclined to use mono even in the thicker diameters when possible.
A good set of pliers is also a handy thing to have and a hook sharpener is a must if you want to keep your hooks sharp and ready. A pair of gloves is also something I recommend. Golf gloves are good and so are the thin, cut proof gloves you can get from a hard ware store. I mainly use those as I’m so used to them from work. The gloves are great to protect your hands (I actually use a glove only in my rod hand) from line burn and other abrasions. The ability to control your line whilst fighting a fish and casting is very important.
A good pair of polarized sunglasses is also a must. Sure, they are not exactly fishing gear, but even more important than the most expensive rod you have if you want to make the most out of your trip. There are many preferences on lens color, but there are two colors that I prefer the most – an amber lens for shallow water and a blue on amber/yellow lens for deeper water. Oakley and Costa Del Mar are in my opinion the best you can get. They really make life on the water much easier. When you see the fish clearly, there’s a much bigger chance of catching it. Also in the category of non-fishing stuff… Remember to drink during your day out to stay focused. I love beer… 🙂
A word or two about casting in the salt
You don’t have to be a certified fly casting instructor to catch fish in the salt, but it has been the only venue where casting skills really make a difference whether your catching fish or not. Versatility is the key to success, not ultimate distance.
The fish can literally be anywhere and the ability to cast with your backhand is the most important skill you can learn for salt water fishing. Second most important thing is to learn how to cast in to the wind and learn how to cope with different wind directions. The third thing is line management and presentation. My good friend and a real veteran of this sport Gil Berke once told me that the surest way to tell if someone is a freshwater fisherman is to watch how he releases the fly line after a cast. Shooting high and letting go of the fly line after your haul is ok at a trout pond but when fishing for fast moving fish on the salt that is less then desirable. Why? If you shoot high and let go of the line there will be a lot of slack on the line, which means that it will take time to get some movement on the fly. Most fish are enticed with those first ten strips of the line so it’s very important to have direct contact to the fly right from the first strip. So aiming only as high as you need to and keeping control of the line through the cast is mucho importante. I personally make a ring out of my thumb and index finger after the haul and let the line run through it during the cast to keep control. You might lose a few feet of distance this way, but gain a whole lot in fishability. This also helps in accuracy as you can feel the line going out.
Whichever method you adopt for versatility, remember to practice your cast before going on a trip. In my opinion there’s nothing stupider than going on a hard earned trip to learn how to cast. Hook up with a good instructor (I’ve heard Silja is pretty good 😉 ) or ask a friend with more experience to help you out with the basics. Strong basics in fly casting develop into versatility. Also remember, that the fish give no style points. So even though it’s important that you can cope with different situations and cast your line with some level of certainty, remember, it’s not how you get your line out that catches the fish. It’s how you get it back in that get’s the bite…
Making dreams a reality
I work in a factory for a living. Not the most media sexy way to make a living, but working hard and doing a lot of overtime and nightshifts makes saltwater fly fishing a reality. So you don’t have to be a millionaire to fish for saltwater species. Do your research and homework and don’t spend your money on gear that’s not a necessity. Low-mid price stuff is very good nowadays and Echo products have been a number one choice for me for years.
Thankfully there are many choices out there regarding destinations that don’t break the bank. Sure a week on a high end lodge on the Seychelles would be nice, but that would mean that I would have to skip at least three years of fishing to save up the money, so I leave that stuff for the rich and famous. There’s a lot of good fishing out there for the middle classes also! For me the next big thing is to catch a big tarpon and see what all the fuss is about them…
If you guys need any info on the topic of fishing salty waters on a budget, I’m your man! 🙂