How to use flies to catch saltwater fish

If you are wading, be aware that undertows can drag you out in deep water before you realize it. Do not carry fish on a stringer, a creel or basket that is attached to you, or close to you. This attracts predators that don’t really care if they bite you, or the fish. Take your catch to shore immediately. Also, watch for holes and drop-offs. Make sure you use a wading staff, mainly to move sting rays and other harmful bottom-dwellers out of your way. A sting from a stonefish is deadly, and they can fin you through a wading boot! A stingray can drive its spike through the thickest souls. Watch for a particular kind of creature called a Portuguese Man-o-War. They look like a floating jellyfish, but are actually a colony of polyps with a vicious sting. They can sting through your waders, so stay away from them! While usually not fatal, their sting is incredibly painful and will leave scars. I have my share of them. Do not wade while fishing for bluefish. They will bite you! Likewise for sharks and barracuda. A little common-sense goes a long way. You are really better off fishing from a boat, or shore.

The best flies I’ve used in bayous and bays are crab imitations, squid and baitfish patterns. Shrimp imitations work well here, too. Top water poppers can be very effective, especially in the early morning and at dusk. For speckled trout, a double fly rig works well with Sea-Ducer type flies.

For fishing the flats, a guide is very handy, at least for the first few times. The flats can be a long way from shore, and specialized flat-bottomed skiffs are the boat of choice. In some cases, floatplanes are used to get you on the flats. A Charter Service will supply you with everything you need, and take you to where the fish are, all for a very reasonable fee. And you won’t have to lug all that equipment around. Once you are on the flats, its get-out-and-walk time. The flats are in southern waters where the water is always warm, so waders are not necessary. Flats ‘booties’ to protect your feet from coral, sharp rocks and finny fauna, a pair of shorts, sunglasses and a baseball hat is the normal Uniform of The Day. The water on the flats is usually about 2’ to 4’ deep at most, so drowning isn’t really much of a concern.  Your main threat on the flats will be the sun, and competing predators. Your quarry will be snook, tarpon, bonefish, permit, pompano, barracuda, and sharks. Your competitors will be barracuda and sharks. The nice thing about the flats is that you can see sharks and barracuda coming from a good ways off, plenty of time to get back in the boat/plane. Oh, as a rule of thumb, don’t go any farther away from the boat or plane than you can wade in a few dozen seconds! If you hook a shark or barracuda, get back in the boat/plane before you bring them in (duh!). Sometimes, (ok, a lot of times) a shark or barracuda will make a grab for your fish while you are bringing it in. LET THEM HAVE THE FISH. There are plenty more out there, but you only have 2 hands! I have had sharks try to take a fish out of my hand, before. If a shark does bump or nick you and draws blood, leave the water immediately. Your fishing day is over! If the sharks or barracuda appear to become overly interested in you, or act aggressively, leave the water! Remember, it’s their home. You are just a temporary guest.

Classic flies for the flats are Gotcha-type flies. These resemble fresh-water jigs, with large eyes, and riding hook-up. Crab and shrimp patterns work well, as do most baitfish imitations.

Unless you plan to buy a large sea-going boat and run charters, just go with a Charter Service if you want to fish offshore. The fly gear is very expensive, and you won’t get to use it that much. A Charter Service will supply you with everything you need, and take you to the best places, all for a very reasonable fee. You will definitely need help with off-shore species. This is not a one-man job! Billfish and other large pelagic fish are dangerous! Most of them regularly eat stuff bigger than you! This is the dream trip of fly fishing. Go out with a guide and savor the experience of battling fish on their own terms! Some of my fondest memories are of when I was a Mate with a Deep Sea Fly Fishing Charter Service. Life doesn’t get too much better than that!

Give salt water fly fishing a try. You’ll be hooked for life!

Happy fishing!

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Daniel Eggertsen
Dan Eggertsen is a fellow saltwater fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on saltwater fishing since 2004.

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