What Type Of Gear You Need For Saltwater Fly Fishing?

angler caught bonefish

There was a time when all fly fishers were trout fishermen. In fact, the earliest written accounts of anglers fishing with artificial flies dated all the way back to the Romans.

Let’s Backtrack

Claudius Aelianus was a Roman author who described the practice of Macedonian anglers on the Astraeus River. They fished with flies made from red wool and two cock feathers tied on hand-forged hooks.

The practice was elevated to the level of an art form by British anglers who observed large brown trout feeding on mayflies and caddisflies hatching in their local chalk streams.

Since then, the sport of fly fishing has grown to encompass nearly every fish species on Earth, especially those that inhabit the saltwater environment.

Due to the popularity of saltwater fly casting, fly rod and reel manufacturers responded by producing entire lines of saltwater-specific gear that can help a fly angler catch any species, from spots to blue marlin.

 

What is the Proper Equipment?

saltwater fly fishing gear

Since the saltwater environment encompasses various habitats such as estuaries, salt marshes, mangrove swamps, sounds, bays, inshore waters, and offshore waters, different equipment is needed to successfully fish each type of habitat.

Choosing the correct outfit starts with picking the right fly line.

 

Fly Line

saltwater fly line
Scientific Anglers

Fly lines are designated by weighing the first 30 feet of the line in grains (440 grains = 1 ounce) and they are categorized on a scale of 1 to 14 — one weight (1 wt) being the lightest and 14 weight (14 wt) being the heaviest.

Saltwater fly lines usually range from 6 to 14 wt. Take note that if the fly line is heavier, it casts larger too. The fisherman can also cast it better in the wind that often accompanies saltwater fishing.

 

Types

While some saltwater fish species don’t mind coming to the surface to feed, others prefer to feed deep down the seabed. So saltwater fly lines are available in two varieties:

  • Floating lines are designed to float on the water’s surface for pursuing fish with dry flies and wet flies.
  • Sinking lines are specifically designed for fishing below the water’s surface with streamer flies.

 

Taper

Fly lines are available in three different taper designs: level, double taper, and weight forward. Since saltwater fly fishing often requires long range casts, they have weight forward tapers.

 

Material

All fly lines are made with a thin, braided Dacron core that is coated with a specialized plastic. By varying the diameter of the coating, manufacturers can optimize the performance of saltwater fly lines for specific habitats and fish species.

Since there are cold and warm saltwater habitats, they also produces both cold water and tropical fly lines. The difference is the stiffness of the core’s coating.

 

Based on Fish Species

There are numerous species-specific fly lines.

For instance, bonefish are very much like trout in the sense that they like to inhabit the crystal clear water found over shallow, sandy flats and shallow weed beds where they feed on baitfish, crustaceans, and invertebrates.

Like the trout fisherman, the bonefish angler needs a line that can cast small flies and delicately land on water so that the fly line does not spook the fish.

For the offshore angler who pursues sharks, tuna, or marlin, the delicacy of their presentation is not a matter of concern. Instead, they need an extra strong fly line that is capable of casting very large flies.

Regardless of what saltwater fish species you choose to pursue, it is rest assured that there is a saltwater fly line for you to catch them.

 

Fly Rod

angler with saltwater fly rod

Fly rods are designated by their length and the weight of the fly line. For example, they are designed to cast a 9 ft 8 wt (the classic bonefish outfit).

Saltwater fly fishing often involves casting over long distances so most fly anglers prefer either 9 ft or 10 ft fly rods.

Why? Because the longer a fly rod is, its moment arm is also longer during the casting arc. So more speed is transmitted to the fly line at the end of the forward cast which causes it to travel farther.

However, the longer a fly rod is, the less leverage an angler has to fight and land a large fish. Thus, 9 ft rods are by far the favorite among saltwater fly fishers.

 

Fly Reel

saltwater fly reel
Orvis

There are saltwater-specific fly fishing reels. Fly lines are commonly only 90 feet in length but when fighting large, saltwater fish species, the fish often make long, extended, runs far beyond 90 feet.

Consequently, it is a common practice among saltwater fly fishermen to back their fly lines with 200 to 300 yards of thin, braided Dacron line called backing.

Retrieving 100 yards or more of fly line with a large, stubborn, fish attached to the other end is not only tiresome, but it also requires a significant amount of time!

 

Arbor

The drum located at the center of a fly reel is called an arbor. The larger it is, the more quickly it can retrieve the fly line. Nearly all saltwater fly reels these days have large arbors.

The heavier a fly line is, its diameter is also larger. The larger the fish species you pursue, the more backing you need on your reel. Therefore, a larger fly reel is necessary to hold the fly line and an appropriate length of backing.

In line with this, most manufacturers produce several sizes of fly reels that are designed to hold a weight forward taper fly line plus a given amount of backing.

 

Fly or Lure?

saltwater flies

As you can see, saltwater fly fishing is quite dynamic. There are many types of habitats with numerous fish species in them.

In fact, any saltwater fish species that will strike a lure will also hit a fly. In some cases, flies work better than lures because of the appearance of movement due to the materials used. The flies cause the fish to believe that it is real.

Thus, saltwater fly anglers can choose to pursue different fish species in their respective habitats while enjoying the challenge of making the perfect presentation to fool their prey, and then wrestling them to submission.

 

Bill Bernhardt

Bill Bernhardt is a professional fly fishing guide and instructor with over fifteen years of experience. Also, he is a professional editor and outdoor author who has published eight books and written more than 1,500 articles and, he has contributed to both American Outdoor Magazine and Southern Trout e-zine.

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