Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Sun Mar 04, 2007 8:35 pm

Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Part one – Mind and body.

Work, determination, observation and skill

One early morning last summer I decided not to go fishing because I felt the weather had deteriorated sufficiently overnight to prevent me from catching fish. I was on a few days off and had a gap between customers so I wasn’t compelled to go fishing. I lay listening to the wind pushing things around in circles in the yard and then I rolled over in my warm bed and promptly went back to sleep. When I woke I knew instinctively I had made a mistake, the ‘bad’ weather had blown through quickly and as I stood in the warm sunshine the inevitable mind games began. ‘I wonder what I missed this morning?’ ‘I bet there was big fish passing through today!’ My mind having taken the easy option by staying in bed was now paying me back. Success in saltwater fly-fishing doesn’t come easily; it takes work, determination, observation and skill.

So what do I mean by ‘Work’? Lets assume you’ve made the correct tackle choices at this stage. A large arbor reel, a #8 or a #9 rod and a floating or an intermediate line, and a box full of flies and some tippet material all with a saltwater specification. This is where the work begins. Having the right equipment wont necessarily catch you fish. Neither will reading about casting get you casting effectively. Go to an instructor or guide and take some lessons. Then do some practice-practice and more practice. Work at your casting form over grass and then over water. Start with small ambitions and then work up slowly. Never try to fish and practice at the same time it doesn’t help.

It can take a bit of time to achieve the casting form necessary for effective saltwater fly-fishing, especially as it’s a little bit more demanding than some of the freshwater norms. Don’t be misled by some of the things that you will hear. It’s often said that double hauling is essential for saltwater fly-fishing. Not true. It’s often said that big flies are impossible to cast. Not true. It’s often said that shooting heads are required for long casts. Not true. Its often said if you can’t cast far you won’t catch fish. And so it goes on and on. This is where you need to be determined in body. Listen to your casting instructor. Learn from him where you are good in your casting and where you need to improve. If you have a good quality balanced fly-fishing outfit, some good instruction and determination then you can achieve the fundamentals required. Overlining the rod, punching your cast, shooting heads, forcing a double haul all and more are often totally unnecessary.

Late into October last year I got a phone call from a friend in Paris. He had a spur of the moment wish to go fishing in Ireland and was coming across, rain hail or snow. I was spurred by his enthusiasm and made the necessary arrangements for his short two-day stay. Tackle, a soft bed, some fish and wine were all he wanted he said. Tides were good but a cold front from the North West was passing over the country, I got out the thermals even though the water was still quite warm. So Nicolas arrived in a flurry. We were fishing the next morning. In the cold wet and dark, the last days of October.

We had dim light from overcast skies, temperatures were down to 6 or 7 degrees and when the wind howled it often went above force five. We fished for two hours non-stop in difficult conditions with sinking lines and we had no fish. We took a short break and with the accustomed determination of experience we continued to fish. We both knew that a sudden decrease in the turbulence of the surf or a change in the currents agitated by the wind, or a rapid change in the barometric pressure can all make things happen very quickly on tough weather days. Many fishermen would have checked that morning’s weather forecast and stayed at home. I remembered the last time I made a similar decision. And then suddenly the clouds thinned, the sun shone weakly for about twenty minutes, the front was passing through and we had a fish each. We had been fishing determinedly for three and a half hours.

You need to be determined in many ways I think. Determined to do things differently, determined to find new destinations, determined to improve your casting, determined to experience new and tough weather conditions, determined to learn from other sources and people, determined to analyse your fishing a bit more. Most of all you must be determined to enjoy the challenges that this fantastic sport can throw at you.

Through your hard work, solid determination new found dimensions of observation and skill you will become a consummate fly fisher. By honing your observation habits you will by default increase your angling skill. The world of the saltwater fly-fisher is hugely affected by environmental influences that are in fact very close to the angler. Its often a very ‘environmentally intimate’ experience and your mind must be open to these experiences. Observation should be practised almost to the point of obsession, and a never-ending catalogue of events noted mentally. Not wishing to sound too pedantic but observation often begins days before you go fishing, recent weather patterns, tidal states, venues where you have had recent success, times and phases of the moon. The time of day. The colour of your socks. Observation coupled to a little analysis forces us to move in a different angling direction. This often produces a better or worse result; we must remember the good results and why they happen.

Never stop watching and observing nature. Terns, currents, slacks, surface features, and regularly look at and in the water. Spend all the time you can and observe the waters surface. You’ll be amazed at what you will see; even fish relatively deep can be observed. If fishing slows or stops then you must move or stop. Take a short rest and change tactics or move slightly. Remember its all good for mind and body! Inevitably once you have the common factors working you will catch fish.

So what happens after you have caught your fish well in the U.S. Catch & Release has been practiced since the late 30’s. Lee Wulff said in 1938, "a game fish is much too valuable to be caught once." He was an engaging, aggressive, abrasive and tireless advocate of catch and release. And, he was right. He was the first to encourage sport fishermen to start thinking about the protection of the species they were catching by forcing them to realise the taking of too many adult fish causes a serious imbalance.

This is the reason for catch and release. It is more commonly accepted as the ethic of fly-fishing but all anglers should practice catch and release. Good catch and release policies ensure the survival of properly released fish. Proper handling of fish is really important. In the photograph an angler cradles the fish for a quick picture and then is placed into the water, not thrown back. Released fish are available for other anglers to enjoy. I’m not saying that you can’t keep some of your catch. But you don’t have to keep the legal limit. If you don’t intend on keeping your fish use a barbless hook or pinch down the barbs with pliers. This allows a quicker release and less stress on the fish. Especially with fly-fishing there really isn’t any need to have a barbed hook. Barbs are only on hooks to keep the bait there. If you aren’t using bait then you don’t need a barb.

Proper catching and realising of fish extends your angling skill and knowledge.

Next issue I will discuss how to get the best from your equipment and some common misconceptions.

Jim Hendrick

Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals

Sun Mar 04, 2007 8:38 pm

Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Part two – the equipment

Function, application, cost and rewards

Saltwater fly-fishing is one of the fastest growing areas of current angling techniques. Inevitably accompanied by the growth in interest in the sport is a diversity of equipment that beggar’s belief, and of course the equipment can range in price from a hundred euros to thousands for many items. Many people look at the idea, like it and are then put off by these and other ‘barriers’ often associated with fly-fishing. Unfortunately saltwater fly-fishing is not as simple as taking a rod and reel to the nearest stretch of coastline, casting and then waiting for a fish to bite. It’s about using proper casting techniques, tactical fishing, choosing and using the right equipment and understanding the function and application of each element.

I hear and see the following statement quite often- ‘I bought a saltwater fly fishing rod, reel and two lines for 100.00 euros, I got a really great deal and I’m going to go fishing with it tomorrow’. What generally happens is after the first attempt the gear ends up in the back of the garden shed. Mine was there for a while, somewhere between the golf clubs and the garden rake, except I had spent a little bit more than 100.00 euros. Before you buy any equipment I urge you to read and understand as much as you can about the functions of the various pieces of equipment. There is a lot of information to digest but when you have done so you can pay an informed visit to any tackle shop and make valuable personal decisions regarding your purchases.

If you don’t have the time to invest in all of this information at least pay a visit to a shop that knows the equipment they are selling is good and it functions correctly. If you know the owners are also fly fishermen ask them what equipment they use and why. Basic rod and reel set-ups are the best for novice fishers and beginners. Usually, high-end rods and reels made of top quality material are only suitable for advanced fly fishers, so beginners should learn the sport with less expensive equipment. Novice fishers should mainly look to improve technique through casting lessons and should start with basic gear. Remember with correct casting form it is possible to lay out thirty yards of fly line with very inexpensive rods. With improved casting form and tuition the fly fisherman will realise the limits of his equipment. Only after you have gone through this process should you search for better equipment.

Determining where you will be using your equipment the majority of the time will help you decide on the appropriate set up and its application to your fishing. Will it be that small estuary over the hill and not too far from home, will you be standing on a local beach with big breaking waves as you throw large flies into a head wind, or maybe you want to travel to Florida or some other destination for hungry toothy fish.
Inextricably linked to the function of each fly-fishing element is its application. In other words don’t expect to fish in strong head winds at sea with light trout fishing equipment. Understanding the function of each element will lead you to make correct decisions regarding its application

In general, a rod with a small weight number will cast a shorter distance and require lighter flies. If this is going to be your only rod, I would recommend picking a rod weight that represents the largest, heaviest fly you plan to fish with, a bigger rod can also cast a small fly. In general a 7 to 8 weight rod is capable of casting up to 100 feet with pretty heavy and large flies. They are typically 9’-0” to 9’-8” in length and are best suited to fishing large estuaries and on open beaches during calmer spells of weather.

The 9-12 weight rods are designed to cast wet towels when wrapped around the family dog, and they can also throw some huge flies up to and over 120 feet if you are inclined to do so. They can reach lengths of up to 14 feet and are typically used for large flies and distance casting. I will cover the benefits of double-handed rods in the next issue. For general saltwater fishing in Ireland I would recommend a number nine-rod. Regarding the action of rods; medium action rods often flex in the upper third of the rod and are most common for the beginning angler or those looking for medium length cast. These rods are an excellent all around choice to fit most saltwater fishing situations. They are comfortable to fish with over long periods of time. The faster action rods allow anglers to cast tighter loops (back cast and forward cast) that increase line speed and distance. The higher line speed also makes these rods very capable of casting in heavy winds but they also need a very good casting form and technique

If at all possible before you invest in a rod, determine if you can test cast it. I've picked up some amazing looking rods, cast them and known right from the start I preferred its less expensive counterpart. Again it goes back to your ability to understand the function of the equipment and its application. You’re carefully garnered knowledge will help you make an informed decision and by the way don’t be afraid to ask some question about what comes with the rod and reel. Is there an unconditional guarantee? How about a rod tube or sleeve? Little details like these often have a way of emerging later during your valuable fishing time. My experience is that many of the cheaper rods don't come with these items some of which are very valuable in the long-term. Walking home one dark night I arrived at the car to find the cap at the bottom of the tube had fallen off – two pieces of my rod had disappeared also!

Price might not be such an issue with fly-fishing if all you had to buy was the rod, but that's often not the case. You need a reel, fly line and backing. If this is your first foray into the world of fly fishing then you are also likely to be buy a whole lot of other fly fishing equipment such as, tippet, fly boxes, vests, flies, etc. So where should you spend the bulk of your hard earned cash? The rod wins, hands down. The rod is the most critical piece to the puzzle. Besides skill (which you learn through practice and instruction) the rod has more to do with your ability to make quality presentations to eager fish than any other element in the system. Remember what I said earlier, a less expensive rod is capable of making quality casts, but often the quality in build is not consistent and they can be much harder to learn or improve your casting ability on. But making the best cast to the biggest fish in the strongest wind may not be enough.

Many saltwater fly fishers make large investments in reels, rods, and flies. There is a tendency to overlook a very important factor, fly lines. Anglers tend to resort to two basic lines-the workhorse intermediate and a floater. When you are searching for better equipment it will pay to invest more resources in fly lines and their applications. Rather than ploughing your money into a new shiny go faster or slower reel, rather than collecting boxes of flies that might fill a research, lab, buy a range of fly lines. Floater-yes, intermediate-yes, get a slow sinker or a sink tip line and a fast sinker too.

When we look at an expanse of water that we know fish are present in, putting the fly where the fish are is going to depend on in part the fly line that you have selected. Many fly fishers, and rightly so, will choose a WF intermediate line as their workhorse line and they fish this line throughout the season. For Irish waters this is the recommended choice but it shouldn't stop here. You should begin to compile as many different types of lines as part of your arsenal as you progress through this sport. To many fly fishers concentrate too much on the flies and not enough on the lines. By wisely applying the function and presentation of these lines to your fishing I will guarantee you will catch more fish.

In descending order the following rate of investment applies. First tuition, then you’re rod, then lines, and then you’re reel.

The rewards will be priceless.

Jim Hendrick

Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals

Sun Mar 04, 2007 8:41 pm

Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Part three – the species and the possibilities

What is beyond bass, sea trout, mullet and single hand casting?

For most people who are not saltwater fly fishers, along with a considerable percentage of those who are, often seem to think that saltwater fly fishing is limited to wading or being poled in a spectacularly white, extremely powerful speed boat over shallow tropical flats in search of tarpon, bonefish or permit. Admittedly, this may be the best-publicised aspect of the sport and the three species above are regarded as the "holy grail” of saltwater fly-fishing. Here in Ireland it’s a little different and while it may often be less glamorous it is by no means and may indeed be, more difficult than the warmer water fishing.

Sea bass were, at one time, abundant along most of Ireland’s coastline. Due largely to over fishing by inshore gill-netters and the continued illegal practice, today they are more restricted in distribution but still occur in some areas with well-developed and difficult to access natural shoreline areas. Sea trout have also suffered but are now beginning to recover. Mullet are present in large shoals – often seen mooching around estuaries and backwaters. So what are we saying then? Well sea bass are somewhat abundant and are often the prime target for the saltwater fly fisher, even sea trout and mullet can be caught if one knows where and when to fish, but what other challenges can a saltwater fly fisher face in Ireland. Apart from these three species what else is there?

As we have discussed in previous issues, under the right conditions, all of the species above can be caught using the same fly outfit: an 8- or 9-weight rod and a reel with a smooth drag and a capacity of at least 75 to 100 yards of 20-pound backing, in addition to a weight-forward fly line. Depending upon the conditions and the type of fish, a floating or sinking line may be employed. The best all-around line choice for experienced anglers is probably an intermediate (slow sinking) line, but beginners may want to stick with floating lines until they hone their casting skills.

Any number of flies work well on these fish; deceivers, minnows, poppers, and baitfish patterns are often employed. One of the best all-around patterns is the deceiver; it is successful all over the world for many species. Trout often show a preference for baitfish flies; adding Mylar or crystal hair to one's offering and using body material dyed yellow, orange, and red can make a difference. Mullet have a preference for maggot or bread imitation flies and are often caught in the most unexpected circumstances.

I believe most of the effort expended by Irish fly fishers along the coastline could be directed at other fishes and other alternative fly fishing methods. In a bid to expand and further understand our potential quarry four of the possible ‘unexploited’ and dare I say it somewhat ‘unexplored’ fly rod targets are wrasse, garfish, pollack and flounder. Regarding techniques other fly-fishing methods might include the use of the double-handed rod and distance overhead or spey casting methods. The options are limitless and surely present true frontier fishing for us all.

One doesn't have to spend $200-$300 a day for a tropical saltwater guide to experience fly fishing for some tropical bone crushing predator — many of the spots where sea trout, flounder, garfish, and pollack can be caught around Ireland are accessible from shore and can provide their own reward often greater than landing a large GT on a #10 outfit while labouring over the fish in 100 degrees for two hours. These rewards may often come in the form of new personalised techniques, guile and watercraft not yet available to the ordinary fisher. One of the techniques I would like to mention is the use of longer double-handed rods between the length of 11’-0” and 15’-0”

The conventional single hand overhead caster will depend on the single or double haul to achieve maximum line speed; the effort of constant casting is spread across both arms as well as the shoulders. Irrespective of your casting efficiency, during a long session it can become very tiring, especially when using the heavier weight rods. Some people never really adjust to the proximity of big flies whizzing past their heads at considerable speed whilst fishing with nine-foot rods and hence a lot of would be saltwater fishermen pack in early. Lets talk about the double-hander or two-handed rod.

The two-handed overhead cast does not rely on the haul to achieve line speed; rather it depends on the rods power dynamics to utilize line weight and profile as a means to increase casting distance. This powerful casting technique has definite advantages. The most obvious advantages are the substantial distances that can be achieved with very little expended energy on the part of the caster. With a balanced line system, a moderate caster can easily achieve massive distances with a minimum of effort. With a moderate amount of practice, 90 to 110 ft. casts can easily be achieved with only one false cast.

The two-handed caster does not depend on just the wrists and forearms to work the line, as would a single hander. Rather, the work needed to accomplish the two-handed overhead cast is efficiently distributed throughout the casters entire upper body. When constant extreme distance presentations are required, this advantage can definitely create an easier, more relaxed day on the water. Your arms and shoulders will not be beaten up by the double haul. Your long distance casts can become more consistent, and they will be accurate. Back or face wind can be penetrated very effectively with a shooting head system, especially when throwing heavy, wind resistant flies. More time can be spent with your fly in the water rather then in the air!

There is also an element of safety here- two-handers allow you to avoid deep wading or creeping out to the end of dangerous and exposed rocky promontories. While working in big surf the longer rod will hold your line above the breaking waves during the retrieve. The ability of these rods to carry very large flies vast distances cannot be underestimated. It really has to be seen to be believed and here too lies a vast hunting ground for the surf fly fisherman. And remember these rods although long are available in all the lighter line ranges from #8 through to #14. All and all, whether you fish estuaries, surf, or fast moving waters, this is an incredibly effective caster and fishing friendly system to add to your fly-fishing technique portfolio.

So what have we covered in these three articles. We recognise there is a lot work, determination and observation required to increase and maintain your fly-fishing skills. It is necessary to be in tune with nature, to have confidence in casting and presentation and to posses a well balanced and effective fly-fishing outfit. Training in fly casting and fishing is more necessary than having a very expensive fishing reel. There are many species waiting to be caught effectively and efficiently with new techniques and flies and methods. But most of all I feel what we have to learn is what lies ahead of us.

Can any of us fly fishers’ say with confidence yes – I can catch many species on the fly in Irish Saltwater no problems, I don’t think so. And therein lies the challenge. Its new, its undiscovered, there are no experts – only you, as you forge the new ground and limits of you own and ever improving saltwater fly fishing techniques, ranges and species.

If you haven't started to attempt to catch these ‘new’ fish on fly tackle, you're missing a lot of fun — give it a try!

Jim Hendrick

Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals Part 4, 5 & 6

Sun Mar 04, 2007 9:15 pm

Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Part four – When and Where

1. Fly-fishing in the sea is difficult and can be hard work.

2. Confidence, but not over confidence is essential.

3. Always try to keep things simple

4. Success, when it happens, is a moment to be proud of and is extremely hard to beat.

My wife suspects I’m having an affair! I often go out fishing for three or four hours, with little or no visible stacks and boxes of gear – no long rods, umbrellas, beach lights, jackets, heavy boots or smelly stuff in pink boxes from California. When I come home her suspicions are often compounded, I am clean, I don’t smell badly I am still wearing the ‘good’ clothes I went out in and most of all, the singular most damning piece of evidence (apart from the lack of fish that is) is the often euphoric state of mind in which I return. Singing and humming vacantly to myself as I go about the domestic routine, I am often visibly and inwardly engaged in the somewhat ‘other worldly’ and mysteriously compulsive world of fly-fishing. My wife can often be seen standing at the living room door watching me dubiously, go about various chores in a happy go lucky sort of way. This of course creates doubt in her mind as to how I can be contented with a tin of Mr Sheen in my hand. It will bode all saltwater fly fishermen well to remember that -

1. The continuation of the existing marriage/relationship into the foreseeable future is not dependant on successful saltwater fly-fishing.
2. Regular confirmation with your partner/spouse of the benefits to your person through saltwater fly-fishing is essential.
3. It is essential to continue this development of the new improved you and it is intrinsically linked to the new pastime of saltwater fly-fishing.
4. You will need a strong ally to persist in this long and difficult challenge, someone who will listen attentively to boring fishing stories etc
5. Confirmation for tomorrow evening between 7:00 and 10:00 is ok for next session.

Over the next few pages I would like to recount my experiences of saltwater fly-fishing to date and to share some of those experiences with you. I want to try and make saltwater fly-fishing easier for you, based on what has happened to me, right or wrong. Right now if you are reading this you are probably on your Christmas holidays or are just about to begin them. It’s probably fairly miserable outside, the days are short, you go to work in darkness and you come home in darkness. The last of the flounder are running down the estuary and there are no cod to be caught. The end of January is a long way of and the distant summer seems like an eternity away. Take these few pages and use them to cast your mind back six months to the summer of 2004. Remember those days, it got light at 3:30 and was warm at 4:30; there was a distinct possibility of sunburn at 5:30 in the morning! Remember those early mornings? You had three hours of fishing done before you started work. What? You mean you don’t?

Lets come to terms with this one first. There are times during the day (or night) when it is easier to catch fish. These two times are generally considered to be – early morning time, before sun up, and late evening time, just after sun down. I have found that successful saltwater fly-fishing has an incredible amount to do with confidence. On the long and twisty road to success, one of the first steps is to ensure that you have determined the best fishing time for your fishing efforts. Recommendation number one is to buy a cheap and noisy alarm clock. Recommendation number two is to buy a copy of the local tide tables and learn how to read them or learn how to calculate the next few day’s tides and times available from If you find calculating the tides and their times six months ahead of your Christmas dinner a bit daunting, then it might be worthwhile joining a local sea angling club or talking to someone who sea fishes regularly. They will gladly entertain you over some Christmas cheer about the vagaries of spring and neap tides, heights and times and stages of the moon. Recommendation number three is to determine the dates when rising tides coincide with a rising sun (not exactly of course) or, when rising tides coincide with a setting sun. Three recommendations in the last paragraph – total cost 5 euros!

No need to be foolish here, you can’t continue to fish every early morning tide and expect to remain human in an office or other work environment! Fish the tides that fall correctly on Friday Saturday or Sunday mornings and at least you can play catch up during the day! And then a few days later you can fish the corresponding evening tides. For example, if you fish a 4:30 tide early on Friday morning you can fish a 7:30 evening tide on Monday. You have now determined the best tides and the best times for you to put yourself in position. The question is where do you put yourself? On the road to success it is important to know where exactly you are going and, as we have seen when we will get there.

I’m going to ask you to spend some more money now. Recommendation number four is to buy an ordnance survey map, a compass, and a car. You may already have a compass and a map; if you don’t own a car they can (with some persuasion), be obtained from Fathers, Mothers, wives, partners, sisters and brothers, even close friends. Go out and buy a copy of the Irish Times as well, the weather page is fantastic. Go home and clear the kitchen table and spread the map out, place the compass on the map and let it settle. Look at all that blue stuff around the coast – that’s where you are going to fish and isn’t there an awful lot of it? What I want you to look for is

1. The mouth of estuaries.

2. Rocky headlands.

3. Points of land that stick into the sea.

4. Long stretches of beach that suddenly stop.

5. Deep patches of water that lie close to shore.

6. Where rivers flow into the sea.

Circle these places on the map – these are all possible fish holding areas. Pick some that are relatively close together but offer different types of topography and concentrate on those. Open your tide tables look for the next low tide, and then when the time is right pop the children in the car and tell your wife/partner that you are taking the smallies on a picnic/treasure hunt, hence the map and compass. Remember you will often be travelling to these places early in the morning so a long distance journey is not recommended. Look at the map in the weather section of the newspaper and note the wind direction When you arrive at low tide look for deep pools, rocky patches and reefs, holes and gullies, imagine when the tide is rising where does the water flow and how does it flow around and within the area. Are there any ambush sites where predatory fish will be lying in wait? Is it possible to access these areas as the tide is rising and are these areas a safe place to fish? Note what way the wind is blowing and how is this going to affect your casting ability/range/accuracy. Keep visiting the areas with the children or for long romantic walks with your loved one and as the year moves closer to summer, activity in the water should increase, baitfish should appear, sea trout, bass and mullet will show themselves on or above the surface. Keep constant notes of wind direction, temperature, tides, phases of the moon, natural activity. These notes will, over time become your bible.

Of the areas that you have chosen perhaps two or three will have most if not all of the following

1. A strong geographical feature – like rocks, headland, or river mouth etc.

2. Will have displayed high levels of natural activity – bird life, and fish life.

3. Is prone to tidal currents like slacks and fast eddies

4. Is easy to access and safe to fish

5. Is fishable in different wind directions.

This is where you are going to fish. Let these three places be your own private hunting grounds, get to know them like your back garden. Begin to feel comfortable there in all conditions and begin to anticipate the effects of the combinations of wind, tide, and temperature on the environment and the wildlife that inhabits the area. You have now determined the best tides, the best times, and the best places to fish. There is always the opportunity with time spent at the water either fishing or simply observing to add to that vast database that is necessary for success. For instance, you will learn that a sudden drop in temperature (by two degrees or more) or a sudden change in wind direction, or a slight combination and change of these factors will turn fish off and make them harder to catch. Weather will also play havoc with your casting and mood, I am not saying that you shouldn’t go fishing, but on the road to success -sometimes its better to say no to going fishing rather than simply going and getting a bad result. We will deal with this later.

All of this so far is leading me to say that fly-fishing in the sea in Ireland is not a straightforward task. If you want to catch fish from the sea on the fly you are going to have to find them, you are going to have to understand why, that the next time you came back the fish weren’t there. But instead of being afraid or daunted at the task we will continue to break it down it smaller more manageable pieces. Everything that you have read on the previous pages is also applicable to most fishing scenarios. The next few pages are dedicated to the more technical aspects of fly-fishing and the pitfalls you can encounter along the way. It’s a long time since I made a recommendation so here comes one Recommendation number five if you are interested in fly-fishing in the sea, find someone else who is already reasonably competent at it and go fishing with them and talk the hind legs off them. These experienced saltwater fly-fishermen have learned how to combine the ‘natural’ parts with the ‘technological’ parts and are well down the road to success.

Jim Hendrick

Sun Mar 04, 2007 9:33 pm

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!

Jim Hendrick

Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals Part 4, 5 & 6

Sun Mar 04, 2007 9:42 pm

Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Part six – Improving on doing it somewhat!

Its March already can you believe it? When I started writing part one of this series back in November of last year the saltwater fly-fishing season was coming to an end. I remember driving home from what would be one of my last sessions of the season. It was a calm, dull cold and overcast Saturday. Already the days were getting dark at 4:30 and blue-grey smoke from fires lit in country houses hung low in the sky across fields of stubble. Geese had replaced terns on the estuary and the constant sounds of a thousand waders filled the air. As I drove home I saw some forgotten carved pumpkins lying tossed in gardens, their crooked smiles testament to the season passed. I noticed air temperatures (a constant hobby of mine) had dropped by more than seven or eight degrees and I told myself that maybe the warm sea might hold the fish into December. I was finding it very difficult to let go. I managed one more long session at the end of November on the fly – I had no fish – it was inevitably coming to an end!

And now it’s nearly beginning again! What does this year hold in store…. who really knows with fishing! Before we move on to some words about flies and things I just want to mention the importance of recording data that’s relevant to your fishing. Its March now and heading towards the start of the sea trout season. What I want you to consider doing is laying out on some paper or in a notebook from you local stationers, or indeed on a computer, a sheet that would look something like the one below.

I have this sheet laid out in Microsoft excel and it’s done in a way that I happen to like. You can add or subtract the columns and amend it as you see fit. It simply records the day, the date, the atmospheric pressure, maximum temperature, minimum temperature, sunshine hours, tides and so on, all the way across to the part on fishing activity. Start recording data into the sheet on a daily basis whether you go fishing or not. When you are fishing you can record the details of flies/lines used and fish catch. When you are not fishing you should still record data, and overtime you will achieve an almost intimate closeness with the weather and tides. If you hear information from friends who have gone fishing, put it in here too! Recommendation number 15 - I really can’t emphasise enough the benefits of this exercise. It is definitely another tool to help you succeed, now and in the future. If you require the spreadsheet in Excel please feel free to e-mail me at for a free copy.
What I am asking you to try and achieve is an ever-increasing awareness of elemental factors and the more than probable effects they will have on your fishing. When you build data into the sheet over a season or indeed a number of seasons you can then perform some extraction analysis and build patterns that occur on the occasions when you have and haven’t caught fish.

The second and I promise this is the last of the homework that I would recommend for number 16 is to get the detail of your local tides and condense the information into something like the sheet below. I know some of you are thinking –‘ this a bit of overkill...?’, ‘I think Jim mentioned this before…’ I realise you probably have spent a lot of time in ‘set up’ mode and this is more of the same but I personally think the benefits for the beginner and even for the seasoned angler who has never done anything like this before can be enormous. It will greatly help your decision making process and guide you down the path to further success.

Start to mentally couple the weather and the tide in your mind and before you go fishing you will almost certainly get that primeval feeling of what to expect from your best angling marks. Subconsciously you will begin to make decisions about when and where to fish and even when not to fish. Then slowly begin to establish natural patterns and rhythms that represent success and when you notice them falling into place a few days before you know are the best tidal times, the anticipation of waiting to go fishing can be incredibly exciting.

So it’s Wednesday and its June 15th 2007. You know from your tidal guides it’s going to be a good morning tide on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th, the weather has been excellent with high pressure hanging over Ireland for the last 6 days, winds speeds are low, and air temperatures are constant at around 17/18 degrees. It looks like its not going to change either. The anticipation should start to build, a bit like a pressure cooker! You go home from work on Wednesday and get your rod, waders, reel, line and flies, clippers, forceps, ready. Now I know you have them ready since April but you get them ready again anyway, you make a few false casts in the back garden and get tangled in next doors telephone cable! Thursday the weather is good, you begin to want to go on Friday morning but you know you cant. You’ve told the relevant person/s where you are going at least twenty times and at what time and then finally we get to it.

You arrive at your venue at 4:15am put on your gear at ramming speed and charge to the spot, you make several casts (false and other) over your hotspots in a lather of sweat and shakes while you remember you forgot your sunglasses. Suddenly you spot some explosive surface activity twenty yards to your left, well within your casting range– I never really know who is responsible for the next guaranteed sequence of events but it happens - you pull too much line from the reel causing an overrun, when you are repairing this your favourite clouser gets the taste of freedom, likes it, and decides it wants to hide in a bed of bladder wrack and set-up permanent residence there, meanwhile your loose fly line winds its way around your ankles and as you bend over to sort it, whilst stepping on your leader, your fly box slips out of your jacket into the water, you watch it bobbing away when you spot a passing bass veering slowly out of its path on its way to this mornings favoured hunting spot, which now looks like a boiling cauldron. Then and only then you see the other angler. A little bit away, he’s staring at you biting the inside of his lip, he has stopped reeling his surface lure, rod still pointing at the horizon he’s completely motionless, frozen in time, in fact he hasn’t moved since he saw your frantic arrival and first cast. You straighten up and wave and wish you were dead! He smiles (you think) and thankfully keeps his thoughts to himself, shakes his head, looks for his lure, locates it, and gives it a sharp pull, splashing it across the surface three feet from the hot spot and…. Then you cry!!!

Anyway I was going to tell you a few things about how I fish with the deceivers, clousers and other flies, well, recommendation number 17 is, slowly works for me. I learned this the hard way – a bit like the guy above. Take your time, get your gear on, if you have to walk a bit and you are using neoprene waders and temperatures are up then carry them in a rucksack, put your rod together, put your reel on but don’t pull the line through the rings yet and check that you have everything again. Lock the car. Put the keys away safely. Walk towards your venue. You know those little pairs of binoculars that you can buy quite cheaply? If you can, get yourself a pair. Recommendation number 18 is to study the venue from a distance before walking up to it. Are there birds about feeding in the area, can you see what they are feeding on, is there any surface activity, breaking shoals of fry, what state is the tide at, (which you should already know,) does it look like there is weed in the water? Sometimes what you are expecting may not actually happen. You arrive, put on your waders and walk into the water. Think again. I cant say how surprising this might seem but if you can cast 20 yards make your first cast is made 15 yards from the shoreline away from your chosen spot in such a way as to cause a minimum of disturbance. Then let the fly work its way to the correct place by using the tide and natural flow of water. Watch your shadow and sky profile. Remember during the previous few hours fish will have spent the time in darkness, they will often still feel secure in the pale early morning light and will lie very close to shore. Move slowly closer to the shoreline, quietly, working your fly further and further out nearer any hotpots that you know are there. Cover as much ground as possible. It is here I still have a lot to learn; by a lot I mean a huge amount. But I will tell you what I like to do. Using a floating line and a leader of about 10 feet. If the tide and flow is moving from right to left and I know where the ‘hotspot’ is, rock or other underwater obstruction, then I make a cast uptide in such a way and at a distance that I know by the time the fly is carried down towards the ‘hotspot’ without retrieving the fly that it will start to lift and flutter in the tide. It is then that I will often make a sharp short pull and stop on the fly line, maybe a foot or so to cause the fly to streamline and then open enticingly and then turn and drift back. Let it drift back more slowly than the tide include a few ‘short tugs’ and then repeat with a pull of about two feet and so on. Impart random life into your fly and separate it from other ‘non natural objects’ etc. This method has worked well for me using both the deceivers and the clousers. Retrieve rates and movements are best determined on the day I’m afraid. I think from my own experience, fly selection and fishing method is still where I need to spend most time learning. If you ever have the opportunity to watch bass or other predators like mackerel chasing baitfish at close quarters then do so. I had such an opportunity to watch mackerel chase sprat up a long narrow yet deep inlet this summer. They were rapidly followed by bass mopping up on stunned sprat and not really bothering to work for their supper. It was the action of baitfish hit, and then missed by mackerel that interested me most; their action was very similar to one that I could impart in my deceivers. A slow moving twitching and turning baitfish that moves randomly and enticingly in the tide. Alternatively fishing with an intermediate line and a sparse closer minnow with similar methods allows you to fish deeper and closer to the bottom. The unique nature of the upside-down swimming action of the closer allows this with minimal tackle loss.

But my real favourites are the surface lures, the poppers and crease flies. When I started trying to cast these at first, all my old mistakes came flooding back. I was flaying about like a mad thing! Because they look so big, mentally, I was trying to cast the fly like a spinner, but of course the original principles I had learned held through and eventually I managed to get it somewhat right. One morning early in May and purely by accident I used one of these flies. I had tried every other fly in the box and I had had no hits. I knew there was fish moving through on a regular basis and a local angler had landed and returned four on spinning baits. So I sat down, growled to myself and tied on one of these big guys, I knew they floated and I had on a floating line, so I tied on a shorter leader (six feet) and I slowly walked straight into the middle of a complex rocky reef structure and made a goodish enough cast. I applied the same thinking as the ‘traditional’ plugs and things I use, and pulled the lure through the surface water, splashing and spitting the fly and then stopping and waiting. I counted to ten and then repeated the sharp pull when wham, it was smashed into by a very nice fish of about 5lbs. Such is the ferocity of a Bass when hitting these lures that a strike is unnecessary. When you experience these surface attacks it remains with you forever and it does nothing but to further increase the deep obsession, excitement and sheer enjoyment that is saltwater fly-fishing.

Since the summer of 2001 I have guided a lot of people from all around the world along the Wexford coast. I have some brilliant photographs of various clients and their well-deserved fish but this year, if I have the opportunity, I am definitely making a conscious effort to photograph the faces and reactions of people as they experience that first surface lure Bass hook up. From a slightly raised eyebrow to simply falling over in the rush of excitement, I have witnessed many and I hope to witness many more this summer and autumn.

Hope you enjoy this series

Jim Hendrick

Sun Mar 04, 2007 10:07 pm

wow :shock: thats alot of writing dude. :D

excellent stuff

Sun Mar 04, 2007 10:18 pm

I think they were articles from Irish angler? i may be wrong though!!!

Sun Mar 04, 2007 10:54 pm

silly me! :oops:

Sun Mar 04, 2007 11:07 pm

Its ok he did write them at some stage, so he still did a lot of writting :D

Mon Mar 05, 2007 1:28 am

thanks jim, very usefull
i hope to be down your way during the summer for a while!


Mon Mar 05, 2007 10:16 am

Hi TS1500

call here anytime for a chat and a cup of tea - maybe even some fishing. By the way parts 1, 2 and 3 are in the previous post!


Mon Mar 05, 2007 10:58 am

Good article there Jim well done. :D

Mon Mar 05, 2007 1:11 pm

i may take you up on that,
a friend has also just lent me the past issues of the magazine where your articles apperared. I only started buying it recently.
looking forward to a more productive summer

SWFF fundamentals

Mon Mar 05, 2007 3:33 pm

Thanks Tony

These were originally written for Irish Angler - a friend suggested to me to post them here - no point in having them sitting on my hard drive doing nothing for anybody. They might be of some help out there to people beginning. They do look a bit lifeless without the foto though.

Call or mail me when you are coming south !

Am writing a new series at the moment for IA - tactics for species - i'm going to take my time with it though and make it a really good sequence.


Re: SWFF fundamentals

Mon Mar 05, 2007 7:38 pm

JimH wrote: Am writing a new series at the moment for IA - tactics for species - i'm going to take my time with it though and make it a really good sequence.


Sounds good Jim cant wait to read it.


Re: Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Wed Mar 11, 2009 12:36 am

Thanks so much for this Jim, it has opened my eyes and has been a great help.

I just took delivery of my swff outfit today and am looking forward to the weather getting warmer. The casting is not a problem for me, I was virtually born with a fly rod in my hand, but swff is a new venture for me and I am very sure that without reading your excellent series of articles I would be somewhat going about things in the wrong manner.

Thanks for an excellent series and for taking the trouble to help all us not so experienced as you. Good luck for the coming season Wez

Re: Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Wed Mar 11, 2009 12:33 pm

Good man Jim. Alot of usefull information there. Some of it I have learned after years of this game, if only you wrote those a few years ago :D

Tell me. Do you really find slowly fishing deceivers to be better?
I have had the chance to observe (pollock now, no bass) fish that never moved when my fly was striped slowly. Sped up to 2-3 mile an hour and they lunged at it everytime.

Re: Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Mon Jul 13, 2009 3:43 pm

Quick question Jim, your articles indicate that in the beginning its best to use an instructor, where do you suggest I go to locate the nearest swff instructor to me? all of my fishing is done around North Clare?

Re: Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:11 am

go here ... ctors.html