Eye of the Guide

Saltwater Chronicles (part 1)

Tom Travis - May 5, 2014

For the past twenty five years I have made trips to the saltwater, some of the trips were for just a couple of weeks, while others lasted for months. In 2008 my wife and I bought a place in Sebastian, Florida. Here I have the Indian River and Sebastian Inlet (Which is listed as one of the top ten fishing Inlets in the world) to fish, as well as the St. Sebastian River.

Long before I moved to spend my winters in Florida I had a saltwater fishing boat which I stored when I wasn't using it. I had fished the saltwater in many other areas before I chose Florida. Shifting from the challenging spring creeks of Paradise Valley, the delightful variation of the waters of Yellowstone Park and drift boats on the Yellowstone, Missouri, Madison and Big Horn Rivers is quite a change.

Like everyone who fishes the saltwater I had a lot to learn about the wide variety of fish species that there was to catch. I had to learn about the bait that those fish feed on and the seasons for the bait. Learning about the tides and the effects of the weather on the fish and learning about the tackle that would make the fishing easy and comfortable was equally challenging.

There is much to learn for the fly fisher who is new to the saltwater and for me it was the challenge of delving into a new aspect of our wonderful sport which drew me on like a moth to a candle. Now, I make no claims of being an expert and I am still learning and progressing as a saltwater angler, however I do know that teaching and sharing the knowledge is the best way I know of improving my own abilities and the abilities of other anglers.

Therefore I wish to share the lessons I have learned and the experiences I have enjoyed over the years. The information in this column will be drawn from my saltwater fishing journal, and is concentrate on the time period from October to June as the rest of the time I am in Montana.


As I grow older I find that I am less excited by the winter fishing in Montana than I once was, so several years ago I began to take trips to Florida during the cold weather months and became very interested and excited by the opportunities and challenges offered by saltwater fly fishing.
However the switch from three to six weight rods to rods that handle eight, nine and ten weight lines takes a slight adjustment. When I first began my adventures in saltwater the bulk of my knowledge was confined to the books and magazine articles that I had read on the subject. Fortunately I also had made friends with several saltwater guides and their advice and information was very important to my success in those early years.

I spent time in the Florida panhandle fishing around Destin and Panama Bay, I spent time fishing Tampa Bay and Newport Richey, but I finally settled on Sebastian Inlet where I could divide my time between the Indian River and the Sebastian Inlet and the St Sebastian River. A few years ago we finally bought a place in the quite town of Sebastian and now I spend my entire winter down in Florida fly fishing the saltwater and occasionally chasing some largemouth bass and bluegills. The entire adventure has been one of constantly learning and adjusting to the differences between saltwater fly fishing and freshwater fly fishing and realizing that, though there are some major differences, there are also many similarities. Regardless of whether you are fly fishing for trout, steelhead, warm water or saltwater the angler still has a number of steps to follow that will lead toward a successful day on the water.

Salt-Water Fly Fishing:

Just those four words bring visions of sun, warmth and mental images of leaping silver tarpon, screaming runs from bonefish and the challenging fishing of the permit.

For some fly fishing the salt is a way of life for others it is a yearly trip or two to fish for species not found in their home waters. For others it is the dream that someday they will have the opportunity to fish in the saltwater. If you are an occasional saltwater angler or an angler new to the saltwater there is some information that you should obtain if you are going to be successful.

Where do you plan to fish the salt?

What time of the year are you going to fishing the salt?

What are the targeted species?

What bait will these species be eating?

What is the weather outlook for the time period of our visit?

How will the tides affect you fishing?

What information have you been able to find on the inter-net?

What tackle has been suggested? (Rods, Reels, Lines and Leaders)

What are the recommended fishing methods?

 What fly patterns are suggested?

All of this seems like a lot of information but it is not all that hard to obtain this information. But now for the big problem; chances are if you are fishing the saltwater the suggested rod weight run from a seven weight to a twelve weight. The question is how much time do you have casting the heavier weight outfits? True, the basic principles of casting are the same whether you are casting a four weight or an eight weight, however you also need to cast with the recommended line and flies that you will be using, that way you will avoid any surprises that can create problems or basically ruin your day!

Several years ago my son and I were fishing by the Grass Flats just off of Sebastian Inlet, and on this day the Ladyfish, Jack's, Spanish mackerel, Bluefish and the occasional sea trout (Spec's) were all willing and eager to take our flies. Soon another boat anchored about a hundred yards off to the west of our position and a husband and wife, as we discovered later, began to fly fish, and their problems began immediately. Their rods appeared to be too light for the flies they were attempting to cast and we could see that they were using floating lines as we were using type III sinking tip lines.

There appeared to be a great deal of noise coming from their boat and several times both my son and I saw them have encounters of the wrong kind with their flies. An encounter of the wrong kind can often occur when you are under gunned and the flies which are normally weighted hit you in the head, ear or middle of the back on the forward cast. A situation of this type can be amusing to watch but painful for the participants.

The water was clear and the fish were very visible and on occasion they did hook a fish, as a matter of fact the gal hooked a ten pound Jack on what turned out to be a six weight rod. The Jack took off and finally they followed it in the boat and twenty minutes later we saw them slip a net under the fish.

When the returned to their previous position the problems continued and finally they reeled in and sat down, looking over at us they said "This saltwater fly fishing is a lot harder than it looks."

We decided to take a break from our fishing and see if we could help them. We moved our boat over next to their craft and began to talk with them. This was their first trip to the saltwater and they were frustrated and discouraged. I asked about their outfits and they told me that one was an 8½ foot for a six weight and the other one was a 9 foot for a seven weight. The nine foot rod had recently been won at a fishing club raffle and this was their first time fishing the rod. My son was deeply impressed that they had landed a ten pound Jack on the six weight but commented that his lightest rod was an eight weight.

They explained that they had only fished for trout around their home in the Catskills and seldom used anything heavier than a five weight rod. Though their fly patterns were of the right colors they were much larger and heavier than the flies that we were using. I gave them a few flies and explained and demonstrated some power casting methods that work for me and we left them for the rest of the day, or so we thought.

Later we ran into them at the dock and they told us they had caught many more fish with the patterns we had given them and after a casting lesson on the grass they insisted on buying us dinner. At dinner we explained how to find the information on the Internet and that bait shops will also provide information on what the fish are eating and where to look for them.

It turns out that the boat they were using belonged to a friend they were staying with but he only fished bait and lures and knew nothing of fly fishing but had taken the time to obtain some flies for them at one of the area fly shops.

So as you can see how a little practice and a little information can make your first trip or two to the saltwater a little less frustrating and a lot more fun. Now for the individuals who plan on using Lodges and Guides you still need to practice casting the heavier rods and flies. Remember the guides are there to teach and assist the angler but they are not miracle workers!

We will delve further into the knowledge needed to become a successful saltwater fly angler in forth coming issues of the column.

Tackle Systems

The following is the tackle systems that I use for my saltwater fishing. Now I will tell you right now that there are many find rods and reels that will do the job. The rods and reels I use have served me well but you will have to make your own choices.

My main fly rod for saltwater fly fishing is an Orvis nine foot rod with a fast tip for an eight weight line, I would name the rod type but in a year or two it no longer be made or the name will change. I also have a Sage of the same length and weight that I rely on. For reels I have a couple of Islanders, Fin-Nor's , several SA System II Reels and extra spools and a few of the Dan Bailey Large Arbor Reels and all have been very serviceable. As for fly lines I carry floating lines, 10 and 14 foot sink tips both type III and type V's, full sinking lines type II, type III, type IV and type V. I also carry a nine weight shooting head type V. I also use a ten weight system using the same line types including a ten and eleven weight shooting heads type V. In addition I also have a twelve system with a Tarpon line, floating line and sink tip line, and all of the reels I have carry 250 yards of 30 pound backing.

As for leaders, for general species my butt sections are 40 pound mono which is 50% of the length of the leader, followed by 30 pound mono which is 30% of the leader follow by a section of 25 pound mono which is 10% of the leader length and this section is looped and a bite tippet which will vary and it is looped and is 10% of the leader. This leader formula can be adjusted to the length of the leader desired. Now this leader is not to IGFA standards but it will turn over the flies I use. For fresh water bass and bluegill I sometimes use a six and even a four weight rod system depending on the situation.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

Sysadmin Note
Part 2 can be found here

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