Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals
Part five – Doing it somewhat!
What is beyond bass, sea trout, mullet and single hand casting?
This is the fifth of six articles, which I have written to help you in your saltwater fly-fishing adventures. We have already covered various topics such as when and where, including the best times, tides and places to fish near. Part two dealt with some of the pitfalls likely to be met along the way to success, and I made some general suggestions regarding equipment, gear, training and flies. In this article I hope to clarify some of the more technical elements of fly-fishing equipment, mainly the fly lines, the fly rod and the flies which you will be fishing with. Fly fishing technique, or the ability to properly cast a fly and put it where you want it, is the heart of fly-fishing. Without the ability to cast well and confidently, all the rest - such as your gear, your clothing, your flies - is rather useless. Ultimately, the ability to properly cast a fly while fly-fishing will make or break any fly-fishing outing. Choosing the right equipment will help you in all of this. Please remember that this is not an expert’s opinion – but one based on a year of very hard work.
Before the advent of the brilliant Irish Angler (had to get that in somewhere) I would read the latest issues of Today’s Flyfisher, or Trout and Salmon and various other fly-fishing magazines. It was over a period of some months that I had made my choices regarding tackle purchase, based on reviews and expert opinions, budget and angling requirements including training, and the technical arena of line and rod type. My choice of rod was the Shimano XTR biocraft range a SW#10, the reel was an Airflo T7 again a number 10/11 suitable for use in the sea, and line was an Airflo saltwater weight forward #10 floating. I have subsequently heard more opinions regarding all of these pieces of equipment that I simply don’t worry whether I made the right decisions or not. They all still work and they have caught me some superb fish over the last eight months including a Bass of 11lbs 4ozs. I can fish confidently with these pieces of equipment!
One of the biggest issues that the saltwater fly-fisherman will have to deal with is wind. Generally speaking, no matter where we go along the Irish coastline there will inevitably be some breeze blowing. This will range from the ‘moderate to fresh’ to ‘light and variable’, and it may be no harm to visit the met eireann site to understand these definitions. A lot of weather information can be had at http://www.met,ie
which can prove very useful to the angler. Looking back now over April and early May of 2004, (during this time I expected to catch a Bass on every cast) I realise that I was subconsciously looking for areas sheltered from the worst of the wind or worse still, even when the wind was light I would position myself to favour my cast. Doing this cut down hugely my chances of ever catching a fish. The equipment I had purchased was more than capable of throwing lines good distances with big flies in most wind conditions, the problem was, that I wasn’t. Andrew Ryan at the Clonanav fly fishing centre confirmed this to me when, after the second cast with my equipment he cast all the fly line from the reel into a head wind of force 4; At least I had done something right! Andrew was quick to point out to me that casting a #8 or #7 in the same conditions was entirely possible – provided the technique was correct!
Regarding lines and rods and things – It is, in my opinion, important for the would be saltwater fly angler to understand the basics of the ‘science’ involved in fly lines and rods! Now I don’t mean you should put on your white lab coat, carry a clipboard and wear an absurdly coloured tie, but study and understand the principles and mechanics behind some of the terms like – AFTM, weight forward, shooting heads, tapers, running line, belly etc. This is recommendation number eight; get a copy of a good book on the principles of fly-fishing! This should cover the basics of fly lines and rods, knots, leaders, and some casting techniques. It doesn’t have to be an encyclopaedia but should contain enough information for you to ‘visualise’ some of the principles. You may remember from part one that I suggested the purchase of a number 10-rod, line and reel, some of you might be saying this is over kill, but what I wanted to do was match the equipment to the requirements. Lets just quickly look at the requirements again
1. You want to catch fish in the sea using fly fishing techniques
2. You will more often than not be casting into a head wind.
3. If your target is bass then the flies you will be using will be quite big, some very big; you will need to cast them safely and efficiently!
4. There will often be rocks, seaweed and other obstructions where you fish.
5. On occasion waves and current will wash your line into these and you may need to exert some force to free your line.
6. You need to subdue your quarry as quickly as possible to prevent lactic acid build up and undue stress to ensure a positive catch and release.
7. Sometimes you may have to ‘bully’ your quarry through weed or rocks.
8. If you are targeting Bass and Pollack – then these are very strong fighting fish.
I don’t want to make the Irish coastline sound as hospitable as the surface of Mars, but it is a pretty demanding environment. It is perfectly capable of smashing your equipment and your emotions quite easily in a short space of time, we don’t want that to happen. Dare I say it but here is recommendation number nine; what you need initially from a line is good quality, one that’s not too expensive, has a short head and a weight forward profile and lasts well in saltwater. I would suggest that you start with a floating line then as you become more proficient purchase a clear intermediate line. Some fly lines are better than others, of that there is no doubt, but the right type rather than manufacturer is paramount. To a novice like myself the difference between a Hardy line and an Airflo line is not really going to be detectable for some time, except in price that is! Remember you will need about 150 yards of braid to back up your reel and attach to your fly line; this is readily available and quite inexpensive.
The same principle applies to rods and reels the more expensive the rod or reel the more technically adept the equipment. Please remember - expensive equipment does not always automatically translate into long casts, and long casts do not always translate into more fish! I think you can work it out for yourself. You need a rod that does the job by throwing these lines and your flies where you want them to go as far as you want them to go, as safely as possible. Length, however, should be seriously considered before making your purchase. Saltwater fly-fishing does unfortunately require casting and re-casting, sometimes made while standing in chest deep water. So, recommendation number ten is; a minimum of a nine-foot rod is needed to be effective out there. Some individuals have gone to 10-foot or longer rods, but they can be hard on the wrist to cast, especially in the heavier weights of nine or ten, and they will tire you out much quicker than a nine-footer. The rod needs to be saltwater resilient, anything that is exposed to saltwater will, with time corrode and rust if not attended to. Please pay particular attention to the reel seat and the rings. A quick rinse in warm water and then a rub with a rag sprayed lightly with WD40 will add years to your equipment.
While rods and lines are very important, do not overlook your reel when considering saltwater fly-fishing. Recommendation number eleven is; spool capacity and rust/corrosion resilience are the main things to look for in a saltwater fly reel, (if you find a saltwater proof reel please let me know) also extremely important is a durable, and smooth drag system. Bass and Pollack are known for their long, fast initial runs and you don’t want your reel to seize or simply fall apart in the middle of one. There is nothing more disconcerting (or funnier to other anglers) than having your spool literally separate from its housing and fall into the sea in the middle of a sensational Big Bass fight. Unlike trout fishing, where you can set the drag to nearly nothing and palm the spool, you will have to rely on the drag from time to time to slow bigger bass or Pollack. The reel holding your lines needs to be of a large arbour type (they also look sexier than the traditional type) to help take the memory out of your line and it also needs some capacity for backing - that’s the brightly coloured line you put on your reel before your fly line, you do get to see and feel it from time to time! So what’s next? We’ve looked at lines, rods and reels I guess that only leaves flies leaders and tippets, simple!!
So, flies are big? Small? Blue? White? Or that fancy one - chartreuse and white? Deceivers? Clousers? Poppers? Bangers? What’s going on here? Day, night, evening, dusk, and dawn. Hold it together now, we’ve come this far, remember always try and make it simple, break it down into easy parts. If you remember from part one, a long time ago I know, we decided that when we are beginning the best times to go fishing were early morning or late evening; well this has an effect on the colour of fly you should use at this time also. The following I will add as recommendation number 12; a list to help you make your decisions regarding colours, remember this is a very broad list and is matched to your early morning and late evening trips
1. Before the sun rises over the horizon use a white fly with some yellow like a deceiver.
2. When the sun is just above the horizon and it looks like becoming a bright day then switch to an all white fly again using a deceiver pattern.
3. When the sun is rising to just above the horizon and it looks like becoming a dull day then switch to a darker fly with some patterns in it. A possible change to a clouser or a darker more patterned deceiver of brown or olive.
4. If the day looks like its becoming broken with sunny spells then switch to a coloured fly like blue and white or olive and white or even red and orange again a clouser pattern.
5. During evening time before sundown go back to your white and yellow deceiver.
6. At night a black fly works best.
Now I know you have become a naturalist over the last few months, especially with respect to the wildlife at your chosen fishing grounds. If you have local knowledge regarding baitfish like sand eel or gobies or young pollack and their patterns then use this to your advantage and experiment with chosen flies and fly colours. I like to use a particular colour that works for me. Two years ago I collected two Rapala J13’s off one of the local beaches after a storm. Both were pretty battered but both had a distinctive colouring – like that of a goldfish. I asked around and found out that local boatmen use this pattern all the time; it’s their number one choice. I subsequently use very frequently a fly that contains red, orange and yellow, particularly during daytime hours and it works very well. I still get blank days of course!
Regarding the type of fly when you are starting out, two or three flies come to mind, deceivers clouser minnows and surf candy. If you can, purchase 4 deceivers - two chartreuse and white and two white, then add 4 clouser minnows – two blue and white and two of olive and white. Finally get a mixed bunch of surf candy. This should set you back no more than 30 euros and it is enough spend for you to get started. Recommendation number 13; use this first set almost as a write off – an experiment if you like, don’t worry what happens to these first flies. Get used to casting the different types, feel the difference between the deceiver and the minnow. Drop them, attached to your leader of course, in the water in front of you. Watch how they behave when moving in a current or in slack water. Do they sink or hang, do they look natural and can you invoke some ‘life’ into them. Cast them into and across the wind – get used to how they feel when wet and dry on the cast. What do they look like at the end of a session? In part six we will discuss some methods I found of how best to fish these flies.
For some reason tapered leaders and tippets and co-polymers and fluorocarbons and all of these things still cause huge sense of confusion. I’m not really sure why but they do! At the end of my fly line I have a braided loop attachment. To this I attach about 6 feet of 15kg BS clear Rio alloy mono and then to this I attach about 3 feet of fluorocarbon of 5kg BS, to this I then attach a fly using a rapala knot. I join the two lines using the surgeons knot. I find fluorocarbon more resilient in rocky areas than mono. And that is about that as regards your equipment requirements to get you fishing in saltwater. Recommendation number 14; if you already have some fresh water fly fishing gear it is possible to use this in the sea. You may need to maintain your equipment more often and you might be restricted to certain less demanding species and localities but you will be already skilled in fishing with the lighter lines and rods so have a go this spring and summer!