This is a multi-part series on how to get into saltwater fly fishing. For Part 1, “The Intro,” click here.
If you’re thinking about wading into the salt game, you’ve probably experienced at least one anxious moment contemplating the gear investment to get you there.
Don’t worry, you probably won’t have to take out a second mortgage. As with anything else in fly fishing, you can spend as much or as little as you want. Chances are, however, that you already have a good amount of gear that you’ll need.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
Anything between a seven-weight and 10-weight could be appropriate, depending on how and where you fish the saltwater. Eight-weight and nine-weight rods are going to be the most practical and versatile.
This is one area you can really go crazy spending. I didn’t. Before I buy any rod, I scour the Internet for reviews. The Yellowstone Angler shootout write-ups are very helpful.
I bought a nine-foot, nine-weight TFO BVK, and I love it. Great stick for relatively low cost. I also recently got a seven-weight switch that I’ll be using for The Salt as well. It fishes similarly to an eight-weight single-hand. These are worth looking into but less versatile than a single-hand nine- to 10-foot rod.
Much like choosing a rod, you can spend as much or as little as you choose to. Yellowstone Angler also reviews reels, which is a helpful place to start. I think the latest reel update was a couple years ago, but most of this info stays pretty relevant.
The general consensus is that you need a fully-sealed drag. I went with the Galvan Torque-8, even though the drag technically isn’t fully sealed. I just do my best to keep my gear out of the sand and give it a nice bath after saltwater use (which you should do anyway for all your equipment). Can’t say enough good things about the Galvan T-8.
Another very nice and very low-cost option for saltwater reels is the Redington Behemoth. I own one of these reels, which I bought for steelhead this winter, but haven’t been able to try it yet in the saltwater. It seems sturdy enough to handle tough saltwater fish and the elements faced when targeting them.
Believe it or not, this was where I made my biggest mistake on gear purchases my first season getting into saltwater fly fishing.
I had read online that you want an intermediate line to target bass. I had also read that being able to vary the depth of your presentation can mean the difference between a lights-out day and getting skunked. So, I got it in my head that a sink-tip line was the way to go.
If I wanted to fish it shallower, I could just begin my retrieve as soon as the fly hit the water and burn it in a little faster if necessary, right? Wrong.
I paired up a 350-grain sink-tip that was recommended to me by an online retailer. For those who don’t know, this is an incredibly heavy sink-tip line, and the sinking portion was 26 feet long. Learning to cast a saltwater rod with such an extreme sinking belly was a painful process (literally resulted in a few Clousers ringing off my dome).
Furthermore, the line was rendered pretty useless for any fishing where average depths were under eight feet, which takes a lot of prime water off the table. That said, the sink-tip is incredibly useful when fishing deep basins, heavy or deep current flows, and heavy wind conditions.
Although not much else will effectively get your offering into the strike zone when fishing these scenarios, an intermediate line remains your best bet. Buy one to match the rod weight you have elected and call it a day.
LEADERS AND TIPPET
I’m still working out my set up, but most will say to use a tapered leader with a blood knot or triple surgeon’s knot connecting your tippet to leader. The leader should be 18# to 22# test, the tippet should be 10# to 16# test, depending on what you are looking to hook into.
As with many things fly fishing, I’ve modified this to make it my own. I wanted to find a way to construct my own leaders and strengthen them (I had to after all the hangups on bottom that my extreme sink-tip caused).
So, I bought some 25# fluorocarbon and started tying perfection loops on both sides. The idea is that you’re using loop-to-loop connections (theoretically stronger than knotted lines) to secure your leader to your fly line and another perfection loop on your tippet to secure it to the leader. So far, this setup has brought many fish to hand and has held up my hangups.
It also saves money! You can buy 25 yards of Seaguar Fluorocarbon for about $15, while a two-pack of Orvis Mirage tapered leaders costs $24, and you’re only getting 6 yards total between the two. Caveat emptor!
So many to choose from…. Generally, you should try to match whatever “hatch” you see. When in doubt, throw a Clouser. Chartreuse and olive Clousers are definitely my top-performing flies.
Some folks, like my very talented friend Rich Malloy, don’t have the same love for Clousers because the added weight from the eyes can impact the casting dynamics. Rich has advised it’s often best to find what works best for you, as confidence is half the battle.
If you know you’re on fish but can’t buy a hit, change colors or switch to a new fly entirely. If you aren’t sure, cover as much ground and depth as you can with each cast. I always carry a variety of baitfish patterns and Clousers in a smorgasbord of colors.
Here’s a couple tips for beginners. Cheap flies are fine to use, and check out Big Y Fly Co. if you need a good source. Be careful of cheap Clousers, as they break really easily if and when when they slap water or land during your back cast.
A simple trick to solve this is to finish them yourself with a thin coating of epoxy, especially where the bucktail is cinched over the eyes. Use a non-slip mono loop (i.e., the Kreh loop) to tie your flies to your tippet. This adds a greater range of movement when they are in the water. Trust me, it works great. See the pic up top.
WADERS AND BOOTS
Chances are, you already have waders and boots. For the most part, you can use these interchangeably for fresh and saltwater alike. Just wash them between uses.
You don’t even need waders to be honest. I wet-wade for over half of the season, wearing my Korkers boots and wading socks with a pair of wool socks underneath. You don’t need anything fancy if you’re fishing flats, beaches, marshes, etc.
However, if you’re fishing bouldery areas or jetties, spikes are an absolute must. If you’re not married to a brand of wading boots yet, I definitely recommend Korkers. You can swap the soles out pretty easily and switch from spikes to felt to rubber soles in minutes.
Polarized sunglasses are an item that I’m sure most readers already have, so bring them on your saltwater excursions.
Buff headgear, which you also likely have already, is very helpful, too. Not only do they keep the sun off you, but they can also help protect you from dodgy casts.
What you may not have yet under this category, is the stripping basket. These are absolutely essential when fishing saltwater. If you buy one, it will cost between $50 to $90 for a solid mold basket. You can probably make one for under $20 using simple household items. There are plenty of resources online that you can check out to help you navigate this process.
I bought mine, but have friends that swear they’ll always prefer to make them. There’s functionally very few differences between a bought or built stripping basket, so the choice is yours. In either case, buy or build a basket that isn’t going to drain out water. Drainage sounds like a good idea but will work against you in deeper water (your basket will fill and want to pull you under with it).
I’d also recommend a pair of saltwater pliers. They come in handy with a line cutter and will help in removing hooks (especially if one of your flies lands in the mouth of a toothy bluefish).
I just threw a lot of information at all of our readers, but hopefully some of you find this helpful. You can literally spend thousands of dollars to fly fish the salt. You can also get into the game for under $300 or $400 if you are motivated enough to sniff out the best deals.
Feel free to drop a DM on my Instagram or in the comments below if you have any questions. The bass will be back in a month or less, so get out there this season and make some memories!