The transition from freshwater fly fishing to saltwater does not need to be an intimidating one. While the gear and target species may be different, you can use a lot of the knowledge and skills you have acquired freshwater fishing to help establish a saltwater foundation to build on.
One of the major differences you will notice is that saltwater fish have a different attitude. It is an “eat or be eaten” world in the ocean and these fish act like it. Saltwater targets aren’t all super aggressive, they will still spook if not approached correctly, but they do not require the same type of finesse you got used to while fishing a 4 wt at rising trout.
The first step to take before your inaugural saltwater trip is to learn to double haul. A double haul is a type of cast that focuses on increasing your line speed to achieve more distance. This is not necessarily needed while freshwater fishing but compulsory for most saltwater action. For more advice on learning to double haul, check out previous articles here. Not all casts in saltwater fly fishing will be 60 plus feet but being able to consistently place the fly where you want in the 40-60 foot range will greatly increase the amount of fish that see your fly. When learning to double haul, really work on getting more line out with fewer backcasts. These fish are almost always moving so the quicker you get the fly in the water the better.
Once you feed the fish, you have to remember to avoid the dreaded “trout set”. In saltwater fishing, you want to work on a strip set to secure the hook versus raising the rod tip straight up. Unfortunately this can be a tough habit to break but some of the time, the best way to learn something new is to make a mistake. Don’t get frustrated with yourself if you blow your first fish with a trout set. Just focus on keeping your rod tip down, and continuing to strip the fly. Depending on your target species, the set doesn’t always need to be very hard or aggressive. For bonefish, I try and use my line hand (left for me as the rod is in my right hand) and do a slightly exaggerated strip, basically following through with my left hand so that it finishes about a foot past my back. More tips on properly setting the hook can be found here.
Once you hook the fish, you will quickly see why saltwater fly fishing is so addicting. Saltwater fish are powerful and erratic fighters. You can forget about simply “stripping” a fish in like you would a 12 inch brook trout. Everything you hook will peel line. You will want to make sure you clear your excess fly line and get the fish on the reel as quickly as possible. When saltwater fishing, you actually get to use the drag of the reel that you paid for. These ocean fighters will put all your gear to the test. Reel’s with a large arbor and smooth drag will greatly increase your success of landing fish. Reels should also hold at least 250 years of backing. Make sure you test your knots from the fly line to the backing and the backing to your reel as you ideally will be seeing plenty of line fly off your spool.
Continuing with knots, saltwater fish pull with a sudden burst so making sure your knots are correct is a very important part of the game. Many of the same knots you use in freshwater fishing (ie non slip mono loop or even the improved clinch) will be fine in the salt, just make sure you are comfortable tying them with heavier line. It is also important to tighten or cinch down your knots all the way. The heavier the line the fewer the twists of the knot you should do. For example when tying a non slip mono loop with 12 pound line, you can do 5 line twists, when using 60 pound line, you only need to do 2 or 3 twists. With heavier line it can be more difficult to “snug” down the knot all the way, fewer twists should help with this without compromising the knot’s strength.
When the day is over, you will probably have a sore arm and are maybe even a little sunburn. But there is one last important step. Always remember to clean your gear after fishing. Most all fly fishing products are anodized but that shouldn’t be confused with “rust proof”. Grab a hose and rinse your gear with some clean water. Even if your products didn’t get wet, there is always salt in the air which can cause things like zippers on boat bags to corrode.
Want to enter the addicting world of saltwater fly fishing? Our trips to Andro’s South are the perfect environment for both beginner and experienced saltwater fishermen. We even provide loaner gear to help make the process more affordable. Give saltwater fly fishing a shot, we promise you wont be disappointed. As always, please reach out with any questions!
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