Saltwater Fly Fishing Overview

Saltwater fly fishing is the art and science of using a fly rod and reel with very light, usually hand tied, flies (or lures), to catch a saltwater species of fish. This usually occurs in coastal areas of the various oceans, gulfs, bays, sounds and river estuaries. The saltwater fly fisherman generally fish to species that are clearly visible before making a cast, a process called sight casting. There are two main groups of fish to be fished to: 1) flats fish (fish that move through and feed in very shallow sandy, coral or mud under terrain) which includes bonefish, redfish, tarpon and stripers and 2) top water feeding fish, which can include tuna, jack, bonito, and bluefish. There are also those fish which do not normally feed on the surface, but which must be baited or "chummed" to the surface before a fly rod can be used to toss a fly (lure) to the fish. These fish can include sharks, snapper and grouper. Another saltwater fish susceptible to the fly rod is the ling (orcobia or lemon fish). These fish are brought to the surface with sound and are sometimes swim near the surface while not necessarily feeding.

There is much debate surrounding the exact origin and development of saltwaterfly fishing. Most sources locate the first mention of fly fishing in salt water in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans sometime around 200 A.D. Some point to the Greek Oppian in A.D. 176 who discussed fly fishing for the fish Scarus(unknown today) in salt water (Samson). Other sources credit the Roman Aelianwith the first mention of fishing in the ocean using a fly (Herd). After being absent from literature for hundreds of years saltwater fly fishing re-emerges in the historical record around the 1800s, where fly fishing along the coast of England is mentioned briefly in Blaine's 1840 Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports (Herd), as well as of the coasts of Australia and in estuaries of South Africa (Samson). While, as these accounts demonstrate, the sport has been practiced for many centuries, saltwater fly fishing as it is known today truly developed in the United States. Many of the earliest accounts of the sport in the U.S. come from the East Coast, with mention being made of fishing for saltwater fish along the shoreline with flies, including striped bass, as early as the 1875. In Florida, more often credited as the birthplace of saltwater fly fishing, there are reports of fishing for

tarpon, redfish and bonefish with flies from around the turn of the 19thcentury. Yet, it was not until after the mid 1900s that saltwater fly fishing really took off, especially in New England and the Florida Keys (Samson).

Saltwater fly fishing is practiced in anumber of varied locations worldwide. Locations where the sport is practiced are generally costal in nature and can be in either cold or warmwater. In the United States alone, saltwater fly fishing is practiced in New England and along the East Coast, in Florida and the Gulf Coast and in some locations along the West Coast of the country. Saltwater fly fishing is also practiced in Mexico, Central and South America and in many locations in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Popular locations for saltwater fly fishing outside of the Americas include Australia and areas of Africa. Different species of fish are found at these various locations. To name only a small few, species such as striped bass are fished from Nova Scotia through the Mid-Atlantic states. Bonefish are fished in the Florida Keys and in most tropical ocean and inland saltwaterflats throughout the world. These include the Bahamas, the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and a number of Pacific Islands. Redfish or Red Drum range from the mid-Atlantic, often in coastal outflow, through the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. This fish ranges from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico to the saltwater marshes from Florida to Texas. In Louisiana, the redfish is the predominant saltwater fish to be caught and some of the largest redfish have been caught near the Mississippi River delta, including the majority of the world record redfish caught on a fly. Fly fishing for Tarpon, Jack and Bonito also occurs in the open ocean all over the world, often of the coasts of the eastern and western United States, Mexico, Jamaica, and other Caribbean Islands.

There are hundreds of saltwater species that can be fished using a fly. Some of the most well known fish in saltwater fly fishing include tarpon, redfish, bonefish, tuna and barracuda. Yet, lesser known specifies, often specific to certain locations, are also frequently pursued by salt water fly fishermen. These include,

but are certainly not limited to, bonito, jack, roosterfish, bluefish, dolphin or mahi mahi, groupers, shark, billfish, marlin, stripers, roosterfish, ling, trout, permit and striped bass.

The essential gear required for saltwater fly fishing includes a fly rod, fly reel, fly line, tippet and fly. Two major issues to be kept in mind that differentiate salt from fresh water tackle include the often larger, more powerfulsalt water species and the corrosive effects of saltwater on fishing gear (Samson). These two issues are very important in the selection of the fly rod and reel. In saltwater fly fishing, the strength of the rod and the reel, as well as the reel’s resistance to corrosion and smoothness of operation or ‘drag’ are essential characteristics of these pieces of tackle. It is also important that the rod and reel are appropriate for the specific fish that will be pursued, which is reflected in the wide range of these products that are available. For example, fishing for Tarpon requires a 10 to 12 weight rod and a reel with a friction drag capable of stopping fish which range from 20 to 200 pounds, while fishing for bonefish requires a 6 – 9 weightrod and a reel with friction drag for fish which range from 1 to 10 pounds. Like bonefish, Redfish are fished with a 6 to 9 weight rods and they require a reel with a friction drag for fishing ranging from 2 to 40 pounds (Uptown Angler). As in all fly fishing, there are a great number and variety of flies used in saltwater fly fishing, with many new types being created all the time. While many flies are designed to mimic common food of the species being fished for, others do not mimic specific fishand are instead designed to attract the fish using characteristics like color and shape (Pfeiffer). Common flies include those that imitate small crabs, shrimp and minnows and others, in the second category, called wobblers and poppers (Uptown Angler). Sources:
Herd, Andrew. A Fly Fishing History. Pfeiffer, Boyd. Fly Fishing Saltwater Basics. Stackpole Books: Harrisburg PA (1999) Rosenbauer, Tom (2007). The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide. Connecticut: The Lyons Press. ISBN 978-1-59228-818-2.

Samson, Jack. Saltwater Fly Fishing. Stackpole Books: Harrisburg PA (1991). Uptown Angler.

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