Beyond Trout: Your First Saltwater Fly Fishing Trip
Unfortunately, some trout fly fishing gear will not cross over into saltwater. Good polarized sunglasses, raingear, gear or boat bags, dry bags and comfortable quick dry clothing would be items used in trout fishing that will make the transition. Equipment failure is a real concern on a saltwater trip and other lighter trout gear will simply not hold up.
Rods are a prime example. In the salt, depending on species, a rod with a fighting butt of least eight weight is almost always required and often heavier sticks are needed depending on species. Fast action rods with large stripping guides that will push bulky, heavier flies a long ways through the wind accurately are a must.
The same is true with reels and this is where an angler should spend as much money as he or she can afford. A fly reel plays a much bigger role in saltwater. A stout drag and lots of backing capacity are required. Saltwater fish are simply stronger and faster than any freshwater fish and a cheap reel will quickly result in disappointment.
Additionally, flies need to be tied on rust proof, heavy guage stainless hooks. A good pair of saltwater pliers will help handle toothy critters like barracuda or bluefish. Flats boots are also needed for wading in many areas. Leaders and tippet need to be heavier and more abrasion resistant.
There is no way around it. You need to learn how to cast farther, faster and more accurately for saltwater fish. Throw in nearly constant wind and casting twenty feet to a stationary trout is a simple task compared to fish that are always on the move, spook easily and have a knack for staying beyond normal trout casting ranges. learning to double haul is crucial. Take a lesson prior to your trip at a local fly shop. Practice with the rod or rods you’ll be using on your trip. Practice in the wind and on the water.
Keep in mind there is a limit to how far anyone can cast quickly and accurately. It is better to be fast and precise at sixty feet than to be able to cast an entire fly line that missed the mark by ten feet and five seconds. It is also important to be able to instantly put a fly on target at short distances. Fish can show up anywhere without warning and the largest tarpon I have ever landed ate the fly three feet off the tip of rod.
Hiring a guide is par for the course on most saltwater fly fishing trips. They have the boats and know where the fish are, what they’ll eat and generally speaking make it possible for anglers to enjoy their first saltwater experience. You will catch more fish and learn how to see fish, cast to them and fight them from a quality guide. In places like the Bahamas, Belize or Mexico fishing with a guide may be your only option. In places like this, gear and flies are often appreciated as much as cash when it is time to tip your guide.
During a good hatch or on private or rarely fished waters, landing twenty trout in a day is not unusual. For many saltwater species that is an unrealistic number. On a search for giant tarpon or beach cruising roosterfish, you may only cast twenty times in an entire day and landing one fish is an excellent outing. Ditto for permit. Curb your expectations and enjoy your new surroundings, try to learn as much as possible and enjoy each opportunity and fish as they present themselves. The great thing about many salt species is they will leave you weak in the knees and shaken up in ways trout rarely can manage. And, it is possible to have those days when you will put twenty redfish or stripers in the boat.
Choosing a Species and Destination
Carefully consider your choice of species and destinations. Some places are easier and some fish are more accommodating to novice salt anglers. Belize is a much better choice than the Florida Keys for your first flats trip. Belize has more fish willing to eat a fly than the difficult denizens of the Keys. Redfish are almost always a good choice for an initial shallow water trip. They are less spooky and picky than bonefish. Blitzing stripers, blues and false albacore will provide fast action and continually bent rods without needing to accurately target a single fish.
Research possible destinations, types of fish and times of year. All trips are not created equally. Less popular fly fishing species like jacks, bonito or dorado eat aggressively and offer great sport. Recently, I fished the Outer Banks for shark and cobia on fly and had a fantastic time with the only fly fishing guide working among dozens of other captains.
A great way to get started in saltwater fly fishing is to sign up for a hosted group trip. The host fly shop will take care of many of the annoying details and they set up their trips in locations with well-established lodges and guides that are familiar with clients new to saltwater fly fishing. Gear lists are provided as well and having a familiar face hosting the trip and dealing with any problems is a huge bonus. Cost is usually less than booking on your own would be. Vail Valley Anglers will be hosting upcoming trips to several saltwater destinations. Stop by or call the shop for inquiries or if you need advice on what flies or rod is appropriate for your saltwater trip.
Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Content Writer