Capt. Dave, proprietor of Fly Cast Charters, is an Officially Endorsed Orvis Fly-Fishing Outfitter
This page is designed as a place to share effective tips and techniques for salt water fly fishing. It can be anything from how to fish behind a shrimp boat for sharks with a fly or the best salt water leaders or flies. Please feel free to comment or e-mail me with your best tips. I will post them and give credit where credit is due. FlyCastCharters@gmail.com. After a while, this will become a great resource for salt water fly fishing “how-to” information. To learn more about the great fly fishing red fish in Georgia, click here to go to my Home Page.
Capt. Dave is the only Fly Fishers International Casting Instructor in the Golden Isles
Give an Intermediate Tip Line a Try
Most anglers use a floating line for fly fishing redfish in shallow water. One of the best tips and techniques I can offer is try using intermediate tip lines. Since using this line, I have found that anglers cast farther, have an easier time in the wind and catch more fish. The biggest problem anglers have with an intermediate tip line is trying to pick up too much line when re-casting. The heavy intermediate tip makes that difficult. To make things easier, try the roll cast pick up. Get the intermediate portion of the line at the rod tip, execute a roll cast to get the line to the surface, then make your regular cast. Don’t carry too much line. This type of line shoots like a rocket. I recommend either the SA Sonar Intermediate tip line which shoots line like you are slinging a rock tied to a string or the Rio Intermediate tip line.
NO SLACK IN THE SYSTEM
Having no slack line in you fly casting system is essential to success. You have to have all the slack out of the line when you start your cast. When you end your cast and present, present by stopping high and lowering your line to the water to present the fly. This keeps slack out.
After presenting, keep the slack out. Several times recently I have had clients miss a strike because there was slack in their line when the fish took the fly. With the slack, they were not able to set the hook.
Keep the slack out of your line and you will cast better and catch more fish.
PICK UP LAY DOWN CAST
In mid-March, 2015, I took a intermediate fly caster out sight fishing for redfish. As is usual this time of year, the water is warming, it is clear and the redfish are active. As the tide came in , we had school after school of redfish marching onto the flats. We were perfectly set up, but the only problem was, as soon as the fish got within casting range, they would go deep and disappear. I looked at everything I could to figure out how they knew we were there. The boat was silent, we were not making any noise, we weren’t rocking the boat, etc, etc. The only thing I could figure out was that the five or six false casts my charter made before making the presentation cast was spooking the school. All that movement over their heads, in the clear water and calm conditions put them down.
Before you go on a salt water flats trip, one of the best tips and techniques I can offer is to practice PULD. Pick up, Lay down. Start your rod tip low to the water, gradually accelerate your back cast, stop, make your presentation cast and shoot line. No need for hauling. The surface tension of the water will bend your rod (load your rod) on the pick up, setting up a great back cast. On your forward cast, remember to stop the rod tip high, and let the line shoot. (If you can haul, haul as you pick up the line. This will increase line speed and the bend in the rod, making for an even better back cast.)
If you learn the PULP (Pick up, Lay down cast) you will find that you use it in all your fly fishing.
The How and Why of the Strip Strike
Early in January, I had a client get two vicious strikes, have the fish on a short while, and then the line went limp. He raised the rod tip to set the hook on both occasions. In February, I had the same thing happen. I immediately noticed the client had not set the hook. He had the fish on a few seconds, Then the line went limp. On the second take, he was fishing the fly correctly and did a great strip strike. He was rewarded with an over slot red fish. Later in February, I had anther client miss a few strikes by raising the rod tip. On one strike, by reflex, he raised the rod tip, then remembered to strip strike while his rod tip was raised. When that fish came boat side, I got the big red on a boga grip. When I lifted the fish out of the water, the hook fell out of the fish’s mouth. He had not strip striked correctly and, as a result, failed to sink the barb into the fish’s jaw. One of the most useful tips and techniques I can offer is how and why to strip strike.
After casting to a fish or to a bank, you have to keep the tip low and your rod pointed DIRECTLY AT THE FLY LINE. Do not have any angle between your fly line and your rod. You should have the line and rod form a straight line pointed directly at the fly. Fish the fly in with your line hand, from behind the finger that is controlling your line on you rod hand. Try to make the fly look alive. Feed it to the fish. I do two short strips followed by a longer strip. I also vary the tempo of the retrieve, and I always have my rod pointed directly at my line.
I had a guide in Northern California once tell me, “A nymph fisherman is a nervous fisherman.” What does that mean? It means, if you think you have a bite, STRIKE. Salt water fly fishermen should also be a nervous fishermen. If you feel a bump or resistance, STRIKE; it doesn’t cost any extra. The worst you will do is get hung up on oysters, and the best you can do is catch a fish!!! If you don’t strike, you won’t catch a fish.
So, you are stripping/fishing the fly back in. You feel a bump, you see a tail tip out of the water near your fly, or you feel pressure on the line. What do you do? You keep your rod pointed directly at the line and fish, grasp the line with your line hand at the reel, and pull as hard and as fast as you can with your line hand as far back as you can. I like to see a client’s hand end up literally behind their derriere (that is fancy for butt) after a strip strike.
Why keep the rod and line in a straight line? If you strip strike with the rod at an angle to the line/fish, the tip of the rod absorbs the pressure of the strip strike. The fly line and leader stretch enough, you don’t want to have anything else absorbing the power of your strike. When you strike, keep the rod pointed directly at the line. If you don’t, the rod will absorb the strike, and you won’t sink the hook/barb into the jaw of the fish. Don’t worry about breaking the line. You are not using 6X tippet.
Why do you raise the rod tip while trout fishing? Because it is easy to sink a size 14 hook into a fish’s jaw and you don’t want to break the fine tippet you are using. You want the rod tip to absorb the shock. That is exactly opposite of what you want in Salt Water.
When the Fish Get Spooky, Go Light
When the water is clear, when the air is still and when the water gets glassy calm, it might be time to break out the six weight. Eight and nine weight rods are the norm when fishing for red fish, but a fast action six weight with a good disc drag reel can come in very handy when the conditions allow. Heavier rods allow us to cast larger, bulkier flies; and obviously, help us handle larger fish. But a six weight with a good reel, can handle surprisingly large fish. I have landed Pacific Salmon up to fifteen pounds on a six weight. Our red fish are typically 5-8 lbs, a size a good six weight can easily handle.
A six weight rod, lightly weighted fly and a 10-12 ft. leader all matched with a good disc drag reel, might just might be the answer to fooling those super spooky red fish on the flats when the wind dies. The lighterline and fly land much easier on the water, causing much less disturbance. We normally fish in water less than 12″ deep, so throwing flies weighted with bead chain eyes get down quickly enough and are easy to throw with this six weight outfit. Next time you face slick calm conditions and super spooky fish, break out the six weight. You might be pleasantly surprised.
How to Straighten Mono for a V Shaped Weed Guard
For a weed guard on a fly, I like the traditional V shaped weed guard made with 20 lb. Mason’s Hard Mono. Bass Pro carries this sometimes hard to find leader material. One of the most annoying things about tying mono weed guards is the “set” the mono has after being wound onto a spool or from being packaged in a circle. It needs to be straight to tie an effective weed guard. Try this trick to straighten the mono:
Hold one end of the mono in your teeth and the other end with one hand. Pull it straight and tight. Then with your other hand, grab the mono with two fingers and quickly move it back and forth on the mono. You will feel the heat created by friction. When it gets too hot to take any longer, stop, keep the mono in place and straight for a few seconds. Voila, the mono is now straight and ready for being made into a weed guard.
Fighting Big Fish on a Fly Rod
Today was a day of frustration. There is a young angler who I am mentoring in fly fishing here in SSI. We have been practicing casting, double hauling and strip striking. Adam is throwing nice loops to 50-60 feet. Today he had four hook ups, and didn’t land a fish.
What I had forgotten to tell him is what to do after the strike. I have had several instances of clients not knowing what to do when they hook up to our big, strong reds.
Sometime, the angler simply clamps down on the fly line, and the fish pulls free. They simply don’t realize how strong these fish are. Sometimes they strip line in with their line hand, let go to reach for more line, releasing pressure on the fish, and the fish goes free. Sometimes they simply yell, “What do I do now!”
Succinctly, after the strike, you have to control the line, keep the line tight, give line under pressure when necessary, and get the fish on the reel so your drag can take over. This is called, “clearing the line.”
After you cast, the first thing you should do is put the line under your forefinger on your rod hand. Always strip the fly with your line under the forefinger of your rod hand. If you have the line under your rod hand forefinger, it helps you control the line, and applies initial pressure to the fish when he takes. After the take, strip strike with your line hand. (See below on strip striking.) After that, the fish usually runs away from the boat, and you have to slip line through your line hand, constantly maintaining pressure on the line. Sometimes the fish will turn and run back to the boat before you get the fish on the reel. If that happens, you have to strip line with your line hand, and get the line back under your forefinger on your rod hand before reaching for more line. You have to do this so you can maintain pressure on the line after you strip in line and reach up to strip in more line. You might have to do this several times until the fish runs away from the boat. Many times the fish will stop or wallow around, giving you time to get the fish on the reel.
All this time-which is usually a few seconds-you have to be sure you aren’t standing on the line, the line isn’t wrapped around your legs and try to maintain your cool while a 10 lb red is hellbent on getting away! That is what makes it so exciting.
The bottom line is you have to give these fish some line under pressure on the initial take, you have to maintain pressure on the fish and you have to GET THE LINE ON THE REEL AS SOON AS POSSIBLE to FIGHT THE FISH FROM THE REEL. Stripping line in to fight a fish is OK for a 10″ trout, but not for a 10 lb red.
I fish pretty heavy tippets, but only set the drag for four or five lbs of resistance. When the fish wants to run, hold the rod tip up and let him go. When you can, reel in line. If he wants to run again, let go of the reel, and let him take line. Keep your rod at an angle to the fish so the rod can absorb shock when the fish decides to take off. Moving the rod tip to the side opposite of where the fish is headed will tire him out more quickly. Change directions on the fish often, and you can tire him out more quickly. You have to tire these fish to land them. The last step is to get the fish close enough to the boat to land. Gingerly grab the leader-be ready to let go for that last run-and either net, boga or grab the fish under his belly.
Red fish are a precious resource. After landing one, he deserves respect for the challenge he presented. Photograph him quickly, take the time to revive him properly, and when he swims off say good bye until you can catch him again.
Your first cast to a fish is the best chance you have in catching that fish. Several times during the last few weeks, we had water clear enough to actually see the fish in the water and to see how he reacted to the fly presentation. One of the most telling moments of the last few weeks was when a client was casting to a tailing red. When we first saw the fish, he was tailing away and grubbing for crabs. The angler’s first cast was too far in front of the fish and a little long. The fish didn’t seem to react. His second cast was also off, and the fish stopped tailing. The third cast was behind the fish. All of a sudden the fish became motionless, and froze in place in the water. We kept our eyes on the fish and he simply disappeared by sinking down in the water and quietly finning off.
Even though the angler didn’t line the fish or make such a bad cast to completely spook the fish, after a few casts, the fish felt the vibrations of the line/fly hitting the water and became wary and quit feeding. Then after another cast, the fish knew something was wrong, and pulled a disappearing act. If the angler’s first cast had been 12″ in front of the fish’s nose, that fish would probably have rushed the fly.
The moral of this story is to practice accuracy. Take some paper plates into the yard and space them at 20, 30, 40 and 50′. Practice casting to the plates. To make it even more realistic, tie on a lightly weighted clouser (hook point cut off) and practice casting with that. Also practice in the wind. Practice with the wind to your back, to your side and into your face. Wind is almost always a factor in salt water fly fishing. I don’t know anyone who can ALWAYS hit the plate on their first cast, but the practice will help you become a more accurate caster and to catch more fish.
Minimize False Casting
Successful fly fishing in salt water requires, quick, accurate, and sometimes, long casts. Too many times, when an angler is sight casting to a fish, they make four or five false casts. It is almost like they are trying to dry a dry fly before presenting it to the fish. By the time they are ready to present the fly, the fish has either moved out of range or disappeared. Fishing size 20 midges to finicky trout requires a delicate presentation with a high floating fly. Typically the trout will rise repeatedly in the same spot. In this situation, multiple false casts are helpful. This is not the case in salt water. In the salt water, the fish are typically moving and multiple false casts waste time and are unproductive.
When fishing in the salt water, the best way to present the fly is with one false cast and boom–shoot it to the fish. The classic ready position on the deck of a flats boat is with 10-15 feet of line outside the tip of you rod, shooting line on the deck with your holding the fly at the hook bend. When you see a fish, make a quick roll cast, one back cast with a haul and shoot the line to the fish with a haul. This is sometimes called the Redfish Roll.
If your line is in the water, and you have to make another cast, make a steady haul as you pick up the fly from the water, make your back cast while giving line. Haul on your forward cast, shoot line and present the fly. In essence, you are doing a double haul cast while picking up the line from the water. This is a great technique that will result in more hook-ups for you. After all, I never saw a fish bite a fly why it is ten feet in the air. NO MULTIPLE FALSE CASTS ARE NEEDED.
Presenting the fly to the fish
A common problem fly anglers have is presenting the fly to the fish. Many fly casters make a good false cast and when they get ready to present the fly, they “push” their arm forward, drop the rod tip and kill their cast. By pushing your arm forward and dropping your rod tip before the loop is formed to try to present the fly, you open your loop, kill your distance and limit your accuracy. Anglers do this because they are trying to give the final cast a little extra “oomph” and push the fly to the target. This is the exact opposite of what you should do.
I see this problem when anglers are double hauling or simply casting. It is a hard habit to break.
The proper way to present the fly is to stop the fly rod high, let the loop unroll, then drop the rod tip to present the fly to the fish. Joan Wulff calls this the “follow through”. To practice this technique, try to trick yourself. Make a back cast, then a fore cast just like you are doing a false cast, but instead of making another back cast, just stop the rod. Let the loop unroll, and see how much farther the cast goes. Do this a couple of times to get used to watching the loop unroll. Then let the loop unroll almost all the way, then drop the rod tip. This is the proper way to present the fly to the fish.
Setting the Hook in Saltwater, 101
One of the biggest problems with anglers I encounter on my boat is setting the hook. Most anglers graduate from freshwater fly fishing where they set the hook by gently raising the rod tip. This works fine when you are fishing a size 22 blue wing olive to ten inch trout. When you gently raise the rod tip on a 10 lb red, you gently slide the fly out of his mouth.
When fishing to these big fish, you need to point the rod tip directly at the fly line and strip the fly back to you. The strip technique is dictated by the time of year, water temperature, tide and other factors. Your captain will tell you when, how fast and how long to strip the fly. When a fish takes he might explode on the fly and hook himself. More typically, the fish slowly sucks in the fly, and you feel a slight resistance. Whenever you feel any resistance, strike. When you strike, keep the rod pointed directly at the fly, grasp the fly line tightly with the line hand and quickly and aggresively strip the line. I like to see an angler pull the line from right at the reel to behind his back in one swift motion. Do not raise the rod tip. An effective strip strike will improve your salt water angling success by 50% or more.
Flycasting for Saltwater, 101
To be consistently successful fly fishing in the salt water, you have to be able to cast at least 50′-60′ with tight loops and good accuracy. For most people, this will require mastering the double haul. Once you master the double haul, you will find yourself using it on short casts as well because it takes much less effort. If you can put a fly into a 24″ circle at 50′, you should be able to catch salt water fish. The only way you can do that is practice. I highly recommend Joan Wulff’s fly casting video. Purchase that video and study her techniques. It will make you a better caster and a better fly fisher. Before you come to the Golden Isles, practice casting in the wind. This practice will mean more fish for you.
Tight loops and accurate presentations,
How to practice to fish from the deck of a flats boat
Many anglers practice their casting on a lawn prior to a trip on a flats boat. After practice, they find it easy to cast 60-75′. However, once on the casting deck of a flats boat, standing on a 17″ high platform, they find it is a completely different situation. To help simulate casting from a casting platform, I recommend lawn casting while standing on a cooler. Place several hula hoops up at 30, 40, 50 and 75′. Stand on the cooler and try to put the fly into the hula hoop with a maximum of two back casts. Tie on a lightly weighted clouser with the hook clipped off. Practice with the weighted fly and practice when the wind is blowing. You will be surprised how much more difficult it is to cast in the wind with a weighted fly.
If you are going to be spin fishing, this practice will also help you connect when the time comes.
You will be surprised how bad a case of buck fever you will get when you cast to your first sight fished salt water fish. Just realize you are going to get buck fever, calm down and remember what you did in practice. While nothing can totally prepare you for when you are on deck and a school of a dozen or so reds are bearing down on you, this practice will go a long way to prepare you for that moment.
Fishing to schools of low tide reds
If you are fishing on low water, chasing schools of reds, try to stay well away from the school. Try to cast to fish on the edges of the school. Go slowly and try not to “bust” the school. Once the fish know you are there, getting them to bite is hard.
Salt Water Leaders
Keep it simple and tie your own to save $$$. Try this simple approach for a salt water leader for an 8 weight. Five feet of 40 lb test mono, one and a half feet of 30 lb mono, one and a half feet of 20 lb mono and two feet of twelve to fifteen lb fluorocarbon. I like using fluoro for the tippet because of its reduced visibility. I prefer to tie the pieces together with a double uni knot, but a barrell or double surgeon’s knot works well too. Keep it simple for salt.
When the wind is light and the water is flat, look closely and look for little swirls and tiny disturbances on the surface of the water. This is true for high tide fishing in the grass and low tide fishing on the mud flats. These disturbances are different from the wakes and splashes that bait make. It is hard to describe, but it is just a little disturbance made by a red as he is swimming by. The wakes are easy to see, these are much more subtle. You can only see these when the water is flat. Once you see it a few times, you can easily recognize it.
Casting with wind
Wind is always a factor in salt water fly fishing. When casting with the wind, keep your back cast short and the loops tight. On your forward cast, try opening your loop and letting the wind carry the line forward. When casting into the wind, you can make a longer more open loop back cast, and tighten your loop on your forecast.
Feel free to e-mail me with your tips, and I will be glad to post them and credit them to you. email@example.com