Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

Bare Feet

By Capt. Douglas Sinclair

Congratulation Doug - You Made It!

He looked down. From around his toes, a puff of dust rose like a small cloud. With every step, and with a watchful eye, he studied these little clouds. A look of approval washed over his face. A hearty smile said it all. The boy, with one hand clutching his grandfather's hand, kept stepping softly. His bare feet made contact with each step. Each step followed a rise on the dirt path to the ramp. He never looked up until he reached the dock. And his whole expression changed when he saw my dog Robbie, the boat, and me. But he was still smiling. "Grandpa, we catch fish now?" he asked.

Grandpa just nodded, "yes, my boy."

"Robbie going fishing too?"he asked.

Everyone nodded yes.

I studied him. His name was Dillon. He had his dad's big blue eyes and blond hair. His Grandpa and I were good friends. Like Dillon, we never wore shoes until we were in the first grade. I knew the feeling of dry, loose dirt. Also, of wet grass early in the morning. Mamma would shoot us if we came running in the house without wiping our feet on the straw mat. Going bare foot had its pluses. Even through the tall grass and the creeks. We almost never wore shoes. Shoes were reserved for Sunday. And since they were always hand-me-downs, they didn't fit that well. We had to put newspaper or socks in the toes. Eventually you grew into them. I knew Dillon's Grandpa well and I knew he never wore shoes except when it was really cold. Neither one of us wore shoes in the boat. Dillon looked into the clear water and watched some fish swim along the shallows.

I'm sure he would have loved just sticking his feet in the creek. The cool water would have felt great. But we were going fishing. Gramps took a towel and brushed the dirt from Dillon's feet. Then picked him up and handed him to me.

"My, you're getting bigger every day," I said to Dillon. He just looked at me with bright eyes and smiled. He put his arms around me and gave me a big hug. Then he put his arm around Robbie and hugged him. Robbie just sat down and arched his head back toward Dillon. The signal was clear; "You can scratch my neck and ears now." Dillon obliged Robbie. This was going to be a great day. What better company, than my best friend and his grandson.


We motored down Strickland Creek. Gramp gave the guided tour. "Look, over there." He pointed to an Osprey who just lifted off a branch. They hunt in pairs and are a good sign when fishing. Then Gramp spoke about the old days. We listened intently, as he talked about things that were very familiar to me. Growing up in the backcountry was a simple way of life with few complications.

"Our folks worked really hard. Dad had a steady job but also did extra work like clearing land with my uncles. They did this by hand with double-bladed axes and bow saws. They cut timber on weekends just to make some more money. Mom and her sisters did wash and sewing and all kinds of odd jobs just to keep food on the table." Gramps told Dillon about chores the kids were responsible for and how important it was to obey your folks. "There was no sassing then - the penalties were too great," he said. We didn't have TV and you couldn't be sent to your room, because you didn't have a room to yourself. Suddenly talking about the past took a turn when a tarpon rolled on the water.

Never leaving sight of the bubble trail, Gramps reflected on fishing the creeks when he was Dillon's age. "We used old sticks with string and some hooks. We fished the creeks with gigs we made from sticks and would spear fish. There were no slot or bag limits then. We fished for a reason - food. We kept only the bigger fish. That made it different." That's why we are real selective about keeping fish now. Mostly we catch and release them.

We followed the bubbles laid out by the rise. Quickly, Gramps took a rod from the holder and cast a top water plug to the leading edge of the bubbles. He worked the lure back and forth, like a dead mullet. He was a master angler. He always caught fish. We all learned from him. Two casts later there was nothing following the plug. We moved farther down the creek. We checked the banks for signs of movement or tailing fish. The grass was covered by the high tide. On the last turn in the creek we entered the river and headed west. This has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. Gramps and I love this river and so few people fish here.

We rounded a switch back and a place we call the bucket. It got its name years ago when someone had left a large blue bucket hanging from a tree. The strangest thing is that on the opposite bank you can always catch fish. This is one of those places that few people know about and fewer less know about fishing the bucket. As we got closer to the bucket we made two casts along the grass line. I started a quick retrieve on a white popper. Gramps started from the bow using the top water plug. We both worked the grass line when Gramps hooked up. The snook came crashing out of the grass after the plug and hit it so hard that I thought Gramps would loose the rod. The fight was fast and furious. Gramps' snook was almost to the boat when I hooked up another snook on the popper.

Dillon was beside himself, "let me fish."

"Ok, Dillon, here take my rod," I said, as I grabbed a fly rod with a pigfish popper tied to the tippet.

I quickly stripped thirty feet of line onto the back deck. I held the popper with my left hand as I started a fast false cast. Then I let the popper go and did one back cast and hauled as I let the fly cast forward to the edge of the grass line. Strip, strip, BAM! A big snook came out of the grass and slammed the fly. Now we had three fish on. Dillon was doing all he could to just hang on to the rod. My snook took off towards the bow. Gramps had already taken his snook and released him. With his quick hands, he grabbed my line and moved it slightly upward and snagged the snook by the tail with his hand. I have to say that I have never seen this done. That snook came to a screeching halt, and spit the hook. Gramps held him upside down by the wrist in front of his tail. Wow. Talk about fast reflexes. "Gramps, were did you learn to do that?" I asked him. Maybe we don't need the fishing rods. Gramps just smiled. I think he was shocked that he actually did it.

I could tell Dillon was getting tired. My offer of help was refused and he held on to the rod with all his strength. Gramps and I just looked at him and admired his gumption. This little guy was hanging on to a large snook. But the snook was running out of steam. Dillon kept reeling. After a while the snook was close to the boat.

"Dillon, let Gramps help you bring in your fish," I said.

"Ok" was his reply. Gramps took the line and eased the snook to the boat. This was a terrific catch for anyone, let alone a seven-year old boy. This snook weighed eight pounds, eight ounces. This snook was almost as big as Dillon. The bucket served us well. Time to move on.

We passed under two bridges and kept working our way west. Getting to the island before nine thirty was important. There is a spot, like the bucket, called "many-reds-tree." An old wooden boat sunk in the river about twenty years ago and only the gunnel and part of the hull remains. It acts like an artificial reef attracting lots of baitfish and black drum and redfish (red drum). The island is a submerged bed of rotten trees, brush and roots. The river seems to flow evenly around it.

The many-reds-tree

The eastern end is protected from the wind by tall pine trees while the western end is exposed by low vegetation on the north and south facing banks. The island is about three hundred yards long and maybe fifty yards wide in the middle. It is shaped like a football. On the south side, large live oak trees line a hillside that slopes to the water's edge. Small streams feeding the river interrupt this line and provide great cover for redfish and black drum. The tail outs send baitfish, including crabs and grass shrimp into the river. Just east of one large tail out is where the gunnel is located. That's where we're headed.

Big Gator

"Dillon. See the big gator?" asks Gramps. A gator slid off a palmetto log as we approached. This part of the river is where fresh and salt water mix. Once in awhile you'll see a Gator sleeping on log. I've seen rattlesnakes swim across the river, too. Wildlife includes razorback pigs, bobcats, bear and lots of other critters. There is even "Willy" - a bull shark that lives up here in the river. Gramps has caught Willy about four dozen times. We have also caught bowfin and long nose gar. Our approach to the 'Tree' is slow. The edge is mostly marsh grass. We don't want to spook any fish, especially redfish. The redfish tend to be large here. They don't get pressured by a lot of fishing because few people know this area. So they get big and fat and they'll take just about any kind of bait, but they really love cut mullet.

Gramps readies a rod with some cut mullet. He makes a twenty-foot underhand cast and gives the rod to Dillon. As usual, I grab my fly rod and change to a red assassin fly and cast to the outside and above the sunken boat. Gramps uses a mullet and casts to the stern. Not ten seconds after Dillon's mullet starts to sink that his line gets a huge tug and line starts singing off the spool. Gramps and I reel in and work with Dillon to land his fish. This is going to be a BIG redfish. Dillon instinctively hands the rod to Gramps. This fish is way to big for Dillon to handle, maybe even for Gramps. We know it's a red because we saw him in about two feet of water. He came and devoured that mullet. Gramps set the hook hard. An explosive run took the line over to the grass line near the 'Tree'. He turned and crossed the river towards the island. Gramps started reeling. Then the red made a run back towards us, then back to the tree. This went on for forty minutes. Back and forth, that fish just kept making this big circle.

Gramps had that look of 'when is he going to slow down.' After fifty minutes it was clear that the redfish did not want to be boated. He made several runs very close to the boat. It was time for a net. Next run by the boat I'd reach over with the large net and snag him.

Gramps led him around the boat. I got ready with the net. As he approached I put the net in the water so he'd go in headfirst. I held the net firmly in my hands. He went in the net so fast that the net was pulled out of my hands. "Ay, ##$@@" I said. Off went the net with the redfish. I couldn't believe it. This redfish was really big. Dillon was laughing he thought this was the funniest thing he'd ever seen. Now we started chasing the redfish using the trolling motor. Well, you know it took another twenty minutes and this redfish was still pushing the net through the water. Gramps finally got him to the boat, but he was a lot to handle. We gave the rod to Dillon and Gramps and I managed to grab the red, take the hook out first and then take him out of the net. He was barely hooked on the lip. That's why he made so many runs and he still wasn't tired. We figured since he was partially in the net we'd pick him up and photograph him with Dillon. It took the two of us to lift him. He was a magnificent fish. When we released him, he swam right back to the gunnel. Someday we'll catch him again. Dillon waved goodbye and Robbie barked. Catch that smile. Dillon was smiling all the way back.

Dillon and BIG fish

We headed down the river and into the creek. Call it a day. Gramps and I were tired, as were Rob and Dillon who were asleep on the deck. When we reached the dock, Dillon woke up and looked around. Familiar places again. Gramps lifted him out of the boat and off he went to the dirt path where he watched the puffs of dust rise from under his feet. Gramps and I just looked at each other and smiled. ~ Doug

About Doug:
Capt. Doug Sinclair has relocated from New Smyrna Beach, Florida to Grantsboro, NC. He specializes in fly-fishing and light tackle charters. Doug charters the Coastal Carolina area of New Bern or Oriental. Catch him on the web at www.flyfishacademy.net or call him at (252) 745-3500. Doug is also a Sponsor here on FAOL.

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